MYSTERY WEEKEND. This weekend was not so much mysterious, as mystery-reading. Great fun, and a nice “vacation” from reality.
1. Freeman Wills Croft’s Antidote to Venom. Originally published in 1938 and reissued last year in the British Library Crime Classics series, it is an “inverted story,” told partly from the culprit’s point of view, partly from the detective’s. It is a very fast read, the writing is good enough, and, oddly, it is more noir than Golden Age Detective story. Croft wrote 30 detective novels, and Detective French was a recurring character. What fascinated me most was not the detective work, but Croft’s understanding of psychology.
George Surridge, the director of the Birmington Zoo, would seem an unlikely murderer, but, like so many murderers, he wants money. He is unhappily married to Clarissa, a materialistic, brittle woman who always wants more money, and has a mistress, Nancy, who is a companion to an old woman. George wants to buy a house for Nancy, and envisions them living together cozily. He will be the heir of his rich aunt–if only she would die! She does die soon (of natural causes), and he borrows money on his expectations of the legacy. Then his aunt’s barrister, Capper, confesses he speculated and lost all her money. But Capper has devised an ingenious murder plan that will bring them both money. And the zoo is imperative to the murder.
Loved the scenes at the zoo! I raced through this book. The writing’s not in the same league as Dorothy Sayers or Margery Allingham, but the puzzle and the psychology are the thing!
2. CAT MYSTERIES. Everybody loves Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who… books, but have you read Lydia Adamson’s cat mysteries? The heroine, Alice Nestleton, a New York stage actress, is a cat lover who supports herself by cat-sitting.
In A Cat with No Clue, Alice investigates the murder-by-poison of her friends, Alex and Lila, an elderly English couple who used to be on the stage. The two ex-actors owned a quirky restaurant, The Red Witch,where out-of-work actors congregated, worked, and sometimes were taken in to live rent-free in Alex and Lila’s apartment. They also recently adopted two bouncy kittens, who tumbled around happily at the couple’s 55th anniversary party. Who would want to kill these wonderful people? Alice is a suspect, because the restaurant meal she ordered to be delivered to them after she left the party was poisoned with amphetamines.
Alice wants to know who did it more than do the police. When Asha, the couple’s current lodger, shows her a bizarre poster sent in the mail to Lila, which depicted three kittens, one with the face of a gargoyle superimposed on its face, Alice and her friends connect the poster to an old kidnapping case. The restaurant business is key to the crime, and I love Adamson’s insights into this fascinating world. Entertaining, well-written, funny, and full of cats.
3. The Dutch writer Janwillem van de Wetering, a police officer and a Zen Buddhist monk, was a brilliant mystery writer. In Tumbleweed, the second in his Amsterdam Cops series, the Detective-Adjutant Gripstra, a brilliant, overweight, middle-aged officer who plays the drums, and Sergeant de Gier, his handsome, moody, and much stronger young partner, a flautist, investigate the murder of Maria van Buren, a beautiful, intelligent prostitute, found stabbed in the back on her houseboat. They learn she also practiced black magic. They investigate her three wealthy clients and come up with zilch. Who was angry enough to kill Maria?
By the way, I wrote about Van de Wetering’s first novel here.