Bubble Tea, A Mystery Swap, and Cindy or Sandy?

My cousin and I are sitting on the porch on a windy day slurping bubble tea.  We’re wearing old paisley bandannas (circa 1970s) to keep the hair out of our eyes while we pore over books for our annual mystery swap. My pile has surplus copies of Dorothy Sayers’s Have His Carcase and Busman’s Holiday, while hers tends toward  Laura Lippman and Patricia Cornwell.  We’re opposites, but we both do love mysteries.

We agree to swap Simenons:  The Two-Penny Bar, a moderately enjoyable book in which Maigret learns from a condemned man about a murder committed six years ago, for Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses, which my cousin (a librarian) stole from a discard pile at the library. Though I never understand the Maigret mystique–all Simenons are alike–at least they’re fast reads.

With some reluctance, I agree to part with one of my favorite Patricia Moyes books.  (“That isn’t in my pile; you’re cheating.”)  If you haven’t read Patricia Moyes, who wrote 19 books in the Inspector Henry Tibbets series from 1959 to 1993, I can affirm that they are utterly delightful.  In the third book, Death on the Agenda, Henry goes to Geneva to a police conference on devising ways to stop narcotics smuggling. Emmy, his wife, goes along to see friends and shop.  And Moyes, who once worked as an assistant editor at Vogue, describes fashions in detail:  I yearn for the peignoir Emmy buys, a “white chiffon peignoir scattered with embroidered roses and edged with lace.” But the day after a posh party,  Henry is accused of killing an American cop who’s suspected of leaking information to the drug dealers.  Emmy helps Henry investigate, and what a web of lies, sex, money, and crime they untangle!

And so it’s philanthropy to part with a Moyes.  This is such a fun book!  But then we reach a crisis: should I trade my Janet Evanovich pile for her Laura Lippmans?  I love Evanovich’s heroine, Stephanie Plum, a doughnut-eating New Jersey bounty hunter, but the titles, which all have numbers (One for the Money, Four to Score), are interchangeable.  Which have I read?

“It doesn’t matter, because she eats doughnuts in every single book,” says my cousin practically.

We make the trade.

And then it happens.

A woman approaches.  With a clipboard.  That can’t be good.  And before we go inside, she is upon us.  She is campaigning for a candidate for the Democratic primary, and have I heard of Cindy?

“Which Cindy?” my cousin says.

The campaigner is startled.  “There’s only one.”

“I’m sure there are two.  Or is that Sandy?”

“I’m here for Cindy ___.  She’s concerned about Planned Parenthood, the environment, and mental health.”

I’m concerned about mental health,” my bipolar cousin says. “Does she know that a corporate psych hospital chain has been barred from moving in here, though the state has shut down five hospitals?  And that mental hospitals no longer allow the mentally ill to smoke, or take supervised breaks outdoors?”

Now the woman is rattled.  “Cindy wants to increase funds for mental health care facilities.”

Sandy wants to increase funds for research for psychotropic medications that will improve the lives of millions of people.”

“I do agree with Cindy on the environment,” I say, just to cut this short.  “I will vote for Cindy.”

The poor woman ticks off a bunch of boxes on her clipboard and thanks us.

“Now that,” I tell my cousin, “was outrageous.”

“I’m voting for Sandy.”

“Except there is no Sandy.”

Mystery Weekend: Freeman Wills Croft’s Antidote to Venom, Lydia Adamson’s A Cat with No Clue, & Van de Wetering’s Tumbleweed

MYSTERY WEEKEND.  This weekend was not so much mysterious, as mystery-reading.  Great fun, and a nice “vacation” from reality.

antidote-to-venom-71plthdtf0l1. 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.

a-cat-with-no-clue-51ba-tes6slIn 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.

tumbleweed-van-de-wetering-51efzixqqcl3. 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.