Friday, November 07, 2014

The Black Cabinet by Patricia Wentworth

So this begins quite a bit more slowly than The Astonishing Adventures of Jane Smith, which I loved. There is a lot of setting up and backstory. I think it could have been condensed, but I can feel Wentworth conscientiously trying to not confuse the slower readers. ;-)  And she's trying to work in a romance, and that takes a bit of time too.

It's a fascinating premise, and I'm tempted to lift it for some kind of a period mash-up -- a young woman inherits the entire estate of a distant relative -- including his thriving blackmail practice complete with villainous partner.

LOVE this cover.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Crime and Cocktails - The Zombie

The Zombie has a very interesting history. You can read about it here.

3/4 cup crushed ice
1 1/2 ounces aged Jamaican rum
1 1/2 ounces gold Puerto Rican rum
1 ounce 151-proof Lemon Hart Demerara rum
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons white grapefruit juice 
1 teaspoon Cinnamon Syrup
1 teaspoon Grenadine
1/2 ounce falernum
1/8 teaspoon Pernod
1 dash aromatic bitters, such as angostura
Ice cubes
1 mint sprig

Place all ingredients except ice cubes and mint sprig in a blender. Blend on high until frothy but not slushy, no more than 5 seconds.

Pour into a tall, narrow glass and add ice cubes to fill the glass. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Looking Ahead (From Very Far Behind)

I want to thank everyone who over the years has taken the time and trouble to send helpful notes and updates to the Girl-Detective website. Unfortunately, because of the logistics of trying to run two different writing careers in two different publishing hemispheres, Girl-Detective as a resource site sort of got short-changed. As in completely neglected for the past five years or so.

I’ve been speaking to Mr. Thrilling (Thrilling Dectective Website Guy) and we’ve decided it makes more sense to break Girl-Detective away from Diana Killian. It’s less confusing for everyone if the site exists independently of my author site. Plus, once GD is no longer attached to DianaKillian, it stops being work and goes back to being a hobby -- which means I’ll have fun with it again. As in might perhaps actually do something with it.

What that might be, I’m not sure. Mostly review vintage books and movies. Or perhaps “review” is not the correct term for my, er, exploration of some of these old titles. But continue to…offer them up for your consideration perhaps?  

And perhaps even occasionally review contemporary (historical mystery fiction) books or interview authors of such? I don’t know. I’m not going to commit to anything because next year is going to be ferociously busy -- even more so than usual -- plus I’ll be traveling quite a bit (quite a bit for me, anyway).

So this blog will be attached to the Girl-Detective website. And the Diana Killian blog will be attached to the new Diana Killian website. Which doesn’t exist yet, but it will be up and running in some form before Bouchercon this year.

As for those helpful notes and updates…I hang onto everything, so chances are I’ve still got them and we’ll hopefully be able to make the updates at long last.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

This is how you properly unmask the killer

licensed thru Shutterstock
From 1943, Evidence of Things Seen (A Henry Gamadge Mystery) by Elizabeth  Daly:

Gamadge provided Hunter with ice, whiskey, a tumbler and a siphon; but after pouring himself coffee, he rose, shut the dining room door and the stairway door, and returned to his seat at the end of the narrow table.

"I want to tell you the whole story," he said, "and then we can edit it. It's not for women's ears--it's a tale of Indians, shooting, villainy unmasked and buckets of gore."

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Bouchercon Update

As mentioned on my Diana Killian blog, I did -- to my surprise and pleasure -- end up with a panel for Bouchercon.


Make 'Em Laugh: Balancing the Lows of Loss with the Highs of Humor

Moderator Terry Shames

Melodie Campbell
Sharon Fiffer
Sue Ann Jaffarian
Diana Killan
Helen Smith 

 Friday Nov. 14, 2014 11:30- 12:30 Shoreline

I haven't had a chance to even peek at the list of who's going, but I hope to see some of my old friends. Heck, after all this time, I'll be thrilled to recognize anybody!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Seven Sinners

With female sidekick in tow, a wisecracking private detective follows a trail of corpses around Europe shaking up a sinister criminal network which will stop at nothing -- even causing major train wrecks -- to cover their crimes. Edmund Lowe, Constance Cummings.

Seven Sinners (later titled Doomed Cargo) is based on a story by Arnold Ridley and Bernard Merivale (which I’ve looked for but not been able to find)

This delectable little British trifle is from 1936, so obviously audio and visual are not pristine, but still this is a very engaging crime flick.

It opens when two men dressed in costumes meet at the Hotel Gallico at Carnival at Nice. It's your normal Carnival: fireworks, champagne -- in fact, one of the two men is quite the worse for drink -- and general merriment smacking dames in scanty outfits. The gentlemen part ways and it turns out the fellow in the devil's costume is actually our hero, the "European representative" of an American insurance company, and he's hoping to hook up with an associate from the New York office. But "Fenton" has not registered yet. Harwood heads back to his room only to find the man he'd met earlier dead inside. 

It takes him a while to notice, given that he's so plastered. In fact, it's actually a pretty effective moment when the body slips out of its chair and crumples to the floor. Harwood goes downstairs to report the death and meets an attractive, smart-alecky female in the elevator who turns out to be Fenton.

When they return upstairs with hotel management...the body has vanished!

Fenton insists there is no time to investigate because they have to get to Scotland posthaste because Lady Beckinsale (okay, but not Beckinsale, but Lady Something-That-Starts-With-a-B) is expecting them momentarily because...I forget. Probably something to do with her jewels. They manage to catch their train and Harwood collapses in a drunken stupor dreaming about the murdered man. 

BOOM! Catastrophic train-wreck. And the story is off and running.

This is a fast-paced and witty -- if convoluted -- effort in the vein of  Hitchcock's The Thirty-Nine Steps or The Lady Vanishes. The chemistry between Lowe and Cummings is great and their back and forth is very amusing. There are some genuinely funny bits of dialog.

Friday, September 19, 2014

John Atkinson Grimshaw

I can't think of a single painter who better captures that mix of melancholy, mystery and romance that I'm always hoping to find in vintage mystery than John Atkinson Grimshaw. It's very much the mood I wanted for the Poetic Death stories.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Crime and Cocktails - Pink Lady

4 parts Gin
2 parts Apple Brandy
2 parts Lemon Juice
1 part Grenadine
1 Egg white for each two drinks

Shake all ingredients except liquors with cracked ice, until foamy. Add half of liquors and shake. Add balance of liquors and shake. Strain into cocktail glass.

From 1953's The ABC of Cocktails

Friday, August 08, 2014

Fast Company

Rare book dealer Joel Sloane (Melvyn Douglas) and his secretary/spouse Garda (Florence Rice) are investigating a book swindle when the case takes a homicidal turn.

1938's Fast Company is based on the book of the same title by the pseudonymous Marco Page. In the book (which I own, but haven't read yet), Joel's last name is Glass, but that's neither here nor there. I love the mix of --as the book jacket says "raw murder and rare books."

I want to digress here and ask who the heck was Florence Rice? She's so adorable! She's really good in this. She's got a bit of a Myrna Loy thing going on (in fact, the movie is unabashedly trying to ride that Thin Man train) but she's so natural, so unaffected, so darned cute.

And Melvyn Douglas, who was always a little more goofy than dashing, actually holds his own in this one. They do a great job together and it's puzzling and disappointing that the studio did not continue the series with them.

I'm having trouble explaining the plot of Fast Company as it's not exactly linear. Basically Joel and Garda try to help a young ex-con who was convicted of stealing rare books from his fiancee's father. The girl's father is involved in his own nefarious book dealings and eventually he's bumped off and the kid is accused of murder. Garda urges Joel to take the case.

The dialog is snappy, the chemistry between the leads is strong, the plot makes as much sense as these things ever do. It's definitely entertaining.

The subsequent movies are progressively weaker although the star power is higher in the second film, Fast and Loose, with Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. The third film, Fast and Furious, is painful and pretty much a complete waste of time.  

Friday, August 01, 2014

McCauley Connor

I love discovering new art and new artists. This summer's discovery is Mac (McCauley) Conner who was an illustrator back in the Mad Men days. I'd never heard of him until a reader directed me his way and I learned that there was going to be a retrospective of his work at the City of New York Museum.  

His work is all clean and energetic, a bit like a pared-down Rockwell, but what I really love is his crime related illustrations. There's such a great vibe to works like this one:

Honey, whatever he is about to tell you, don't believe it. RUN.

There's a book available -- which is now on my Christmas list -- Mac Conner: A New York Life.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Crime and Cocktails - Gypsy Queen

4 Parts Vodka
1 Part Benedictine
1 Dash Orange Bitters to each drink

Shake with ice and strain

Friday, May 16, 2014

Adventures in Book Hunting

A very kind reader sent me a box of Leslie Ford mysteries last week. Yesterday morning I finally had a chance to go through them and check them against the books already in my library. I am now only missing two titles: The Sound of Footsteps (or Footsteps on the Stairs), 1933 and Murder of a Fifth Columnist, 1944.

I’m thrilled, to say the least. There were four titles I didn’t own and several copies were in much, much better shape than my own. I’m giving some of the duplicates to my mother who first introduced me to Ford’s work. I know she’ll be equally thrilled to see these books again.

I don’t have any of the three Brenda Conrad novels yet -- they appear to be very rare -- and I am long overdue going over my David Frome books to see what I’m still missing.

And so the hunt continues. I plan to spend my summer catching up on my Leslie Ford reading. 

Friday, May 09, 2014

Bouchercon Bound

So we're going to Bouchercon.

I really don't have much to say beyond that because I am partly (greatly) horrified I even agreed to this. It's so long since I've done live and in person at an actual conference. I mean conference not writing retreat (retreat I am good at)!

But it's right here in our own backyard, and I couldn't seem to come up with a decent reason NOT to go. So...Bouchercon. November.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Dr. Holton, I Presume

For years I’ve been trying to find a goofy semi-gothic adventure romance novel I read as a kid. I used to ask periodically on DorothyL (does DorothyL still exist?) for help, and I would always get all these interesting but ultimately not useful suggestions. Since the only thing I could remember was a scene where someone throws something in the fireplace and it turns color and poisonous gas issues forth… Oh, no. I had the title. But it turns out the title was wrong. Somehow I believed the book was called Smile and Be a Villain.

I don’t know where I got that from. It turns out it was called The Gilded Sarcophagus (which sounds like something I would love, doesn’t it?) and it’s by Charlotte Hunt (Doris Marjorie Hodges). It’s amusing seeing Hunt’s author bio. It seems she wrote a lot of scholarly articles on the occult, etc. In purely mundane matters Miss Hunt is addicted to walking, cooking, tape recording, and Siamese cats.

We authors don’t change much through the ages, do we? Of course no one is a “Miss” anymore. And you don’t see a lot of authors addicted to “tape recording.”

Anyway, I read the description of the book -- which turned out to be first in a series (I did know there was a sequel, but a series!) and I decided to take a chance and I ordered about five different Hunt novels. So The Gilded Sarcophagus arrived last week, and I flipped through it and…

…the letter floated from my hand into the fire…

“Damn,” I muttered, and tried to snatch it back. But it already caught on, bursting into purple flame--a weird, evanescent flame. Suddenly my nostrils were flaring to the scent of some sickly, unknown perfume. A plume of white smoke puffed out, thick and suffocating, catching at my throat and making me want to retch.

So it turns out that this is a series about psychiatrist Paul Holton and his battle against Dr. Blackton and the mystic Circle of Ra.

The adventure begins…

Friday, March 21, 2014

No wonder they always sprained their ankles

Running barefoot down those dirt roads with only moonlight and that lamp in the tower window to guide them? How scared out of your wits would you have to be to take off sprinting into the night without so much as your peignoir and mules?

I've been reading and thinking and thinking and reading. I need to write something as Diana Killian, but what? I'm over my burn-out, but I'm not ready to write the last Mantra for Murder or Poetic Death books. They need to be written, that I know. It's not fair to leave readers with an unfinished series.

But...I'm just not there yet.

So I've been fooling around with Gothic mysteries. I found a couple of really entertaining sites:

Gothic Romance Reviews

Women Running from Houses


Anyway, for some reason I have a treasure trove of Gothic romance novels in my garage. I use the word "treasure" lightly because we're talking about Genevieve St. John and her sisters.

Well, there's some of the good stuff too, Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney...ah, memories of my adolescent summers! But there is really also a lot of terrible stuff. My grandmother used to buy these by the bushel. I can remember staring, mesmerized, at those covers when I was a kid. All those weird old houses with the single light in the window. I used to wonder about that light. Was someone being smart about electric bills or was something far more sinister at work? Now days I figure someone just forgot to turn the light off. We have a lot of that going on at Castle Smith & Browne.

Anyway. Maybe some kind of a mash-up? Something funny but maybe a little scary at the same time? I'd have to somehow work it in around everything else, but seeing that Mr. Thrilling and I have committed to Bouchercon this year, I do probably need to publish something as Diana.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Crime and Cocktails - Champagne Cocktail

In a champagne glass, soak a piece of lump sugar, or a teaspoonful of granulated sugar, with a few dashes of bitters. Fill with chilled champagne.

From 1953's The ABC of Cocktails.