Saturday, April 21, 2018

Death in Ecstasy: Review

Death in Ecstasy (1936) by Ngaio Marsh finds Inspector Roderick Alleyn's some-time Watson, Nigel Strangeways, bored on a rainy, blustery London night. He gazes discontentedly out his window and notices a sign glinting in the light as the wind gusts and jostles it about: House of the Sacred Flame. A mysterious-sounding place and as he watches members of the obscure sect enter the sacred portals, he decides that attending the services of a strange religious group is just what he needs to liven up a dull evening. Who knows--there might even be a story in it. Little does he suspect just how much news he's going to find behind the doors.

This particular Sunday night was a special one--a monthly service in which The Chosen Vessel, in this case one Miss Cara Quayne, having been prepared through a month of preparatory sessions with Father Garnette--the founder, reaches a state of Ecstasy through ceremony. Bathgate watches as a sacred chalice is passed among the faithful. There's a bit of chanting, Cara drinks from the cup, and falls down at the feet of the priest. 

My friends...My friends, our beloved sister has been vouchsafed the greatest boon of all. She is in ecstasy. Let us sing our hymn to Pan, the God-in-all.

But--as one of the Initiates points out...

It's not. It's not. She's dead. I touched her. She's dead!

Dr. Kasbek, a member of the congregation comes forward and confirms the Initiate's declaration. They are about to clear the House when Nigel suggests that no one should leave just yet and perhaps the police should be called. After all--the woman's mouth and eyes look a bit odd and there's a certain smell. The doctor investigates further and agrees with Nigel that it looks very like poison. The newsman uses the phone to call in his old friend Inspector Alleyn.

Alleyn walks into a place of mystery that is nonetheless full of very familiar worldly motives for murder--greed, jealousy, and lust to name a few. There are seven suspects all with reasons to want the lovely Cara dead--from those who were jealous of her chosen position with Father Garnette to those with a taste for the "special cigarettes" that light the way to ecstasy to those who were greedy for her wealth...either for themselves or to fill the coffers of the Sacred Flame. It's up to Alleyn with the help of Inspector Fox and Nigel to sift the clues and find those that point to the murderer.

Marsh does atmosphere very well in this one. Her theatrical background lends itself to creating the slightly over-the-top trappings of the Sacred Flame. A cult that embraces all the gods of everywhere and every time and the sacred words and chants of them all. And she presents it without it seeming like the incredible mishmash that it is. Alleyn may raise his eyebrows at it, but while the ceremony is in progress, even the worldly journalist Bathgate is swept up in the moment and lulled by the words of the priest. It's easy to see how the Initiates could be wrapped up in the cult. 

Well-written with skillful plotting, though not quite as mystifying as her previous work. ★★

[Finished on 4/7/18]

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Wrong Box: Review

 Body, body--Who's got the body?!

The Wrong Box (1889) is a hilarious mystery spoof by Robert Louis Stevenson and his stepson Lloyd Osbourne. It revolves around Masterson and Joseph Finsbury, two brothers who are the last surviving beneficiaries of a tontine. A tontine is a rather diabolical "investment" scheme--subscribers pay into a fund that is then invested for the lifetime of the participants. It is a winner-take-all scheme meaning that the only one to benefit is the last man or woman standing. This, of course, puts all sorts of temptation in the way of the participants (and/or their heirs)--especially once the numbers start to dwindle naturally. I, mean, after all if you have to live to be 100 in order to outlive the competition just how much are you going to be able to enjoy the spoils? And one's sons or nephews might also think it a good idea to shuffle the competition (and you--last, of course) off the playing field so they have an opportunity to enjoy it for you.

Michael Finsbury is Masterson's son. He is a successful lawyer who isn't afraid to skate a little close to the wind if necessary to get a client off and win a case. Morris and John Finsbury are nephews (and wards) of Joseph. Because Joseph was not the best of businessmen and managed to fritter away what little money he held in trust for his nephews, Morris has gotten the old man to sign over his winnings from the tontine (should he outlast Masterson). So--more than ever, Morris spends his days watching over dear Uncle Joseph just to be sure that he doesn't catch a cold that turns into pneumonia and leads to death before tontine. 

He also has a vague feeling that his Uncle Masterson is really dead and Michael is just pretending the old boy is still alive and kicking while he waits for Joseph to keel over. Once that happens, he [Michael] will produce a "tame doctor" who will verify Masterson's death (after Joseph's) and Michael will scoop the pot. This must be avoided at all costs.

Morris decides that the best plan would be to head to the country with Uncle Joseph and keep him all cozy at the seaside where he can breathe the lovely country air and be just as healthy as can be. Plans go awry when there is a train smash-up and an elderly dead body is found in the rubble--with bruised face and wearing what seems to be Uncle Joseph's coat. Morris and John are in despair--there goes their inheritance! So they decide to stash the body in an out-of-the-way cottage until Morris comes up with a plan to ship uncle's body to himself in a huge barrel. The barrel gets mislabeled and the body winds up going on an unexpected journey--from barrel to packing crate to piano and back again. Who has the body? And is Uncle Joseph really dead? Is Uncle Masterson really dead? Who is going to inherit all that money?

This is an absolutely delightful story--the black comedy is a little unexpected from Stevenson, but it is hilarious. Watching Morris drive himself quietly crazy as he tries to outsmart Michael and track down his missing uncle is great fun. Who would have thought that the most prominent and interesting character in a book would be a dead man who won't sit still long enough for you to get a really good look at him? Not that the other characters aren't interesting, they are. Stevenson always provides great characters and those in The Wrong Box meet his standards. Highly recommended. ★★★★

[Finished on 4/3/18]

Go Down, Moses: Mini-Review

Go Down, Moses (1942) is a book of seven interconnected short stories by William Faulkner. The stories' most prominent character and the character's voice which becomes most familiar is Isaac McCaslin, also known as Uncle Ike. Isaac lives to be a quite old man who is "uncle to half a county and father to no one." Faulkner uses the McCaslin family to highlight the very complex and changing relationship between whites and blacks. The McCaslin family itself has two branches--a white branch which descends from Carothers McCaslin and his wife and a black branch which descends from McCaslin's sexual relationship with a slave named Tomey. Tracing the history of the families, Faulkner presents events to the reader that take on significance only in later stories. He also uses the stories to underline the painful racial divisions that permeate the South and wants the reader to know that without an understanding of that basic fact of Southern life, there can be no understanding of the South as a whole.

I've mentioned before my difficulty with stream of consciousness writing, particularly in relation to Faulkner's work. I struggled with Intruder in the Dust seven years ago, but I found the struggle to be rewarding and didn't mind the slog through the stream. Unfortunately, that was not the case here. One would expect that the shorter format would limit the exhaustion of the stream of consciousness format--it didn't. The shorter format only seemed to make the long, convoluted sentences more obvious and more work for less reward. 

Intruder, in my opinion, is even more crucial to understanding the division in the South than these stories...or Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. "The Fire and the Hearth" (included here) is tagged in the fly-leaf notes as a kind of prelude to Intruder in the Dust, but I can't say that I really see the connections (of course, that may be because that happens to be one of the stories in this collection that I understand least). And it certainly doesn't have the power of the longer work. I do appreciate Faulkner's technique in weaving the stories together and I found his stories about Uncle Ike's younger years to be most interesting. ★★ and a half.

[Finished on 3/30/18]

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

TNB: The Great Detectives (Professionals on the Prowl)

As I noted last week, when The Tuesday Night Bloggers heard that a book called The 100 Greatest Literary Detectives, edited by Eric Sandberg and including contributions from various writers – including our own Kate Jackson was coming out to educate the unsuspecting about some of the best detectives in the business, we were excited. But then as we sat and munched on toasted crumpets and sipped our tea, we decided to revive our weekly meetings and discuss the detectives we think ought to be included in any list of the "Greatest" detectives. Because no matter how good Eric Sandberg is, he's bound to miss somebody worthwhile. We also wanted to include some of the really good detectives who don't get as much press as say a Sherlock Holmes or a Miss Jane Marple or (ahem) Hercule Poirot [many press clippings for our Belgian sleuth may found over at Brad's place Ah Sweet Mystery Blog aka "The Shrine To Agatha Christie"].

As Moira mentions over at Clothes in Books, some of us have decided to divide our detectives up into categories--including yours truly. This week on the Block I am turning the spotlight on some outstanding professional detectives who may not be as familiar to detective fiction fans. Up first is Inspector Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte, featured in the novels of Arthur W. Upfield. Bony is an unorthodox, half-Aboriginal, half-white detective who works out of the Queensland police force, although his investigations take him to various places in Australia. He is particularly self-assured for a man who might well have found his mixed heritage to be a burden rather than an asset. He states in The Bachelors of Broken Hill: "I always finish a race, always finalise the case I consent to take up."And it is often mentioned that he has an unblemished record when it comes to solving the cases to which he is assigned. 

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His spotless record is good for keeping him employed--because sometimes his self-assurance gets him into trouble with his superiors. He has a habit of going his own way and often finds himself sacked for disobeying orders. But that never last long, because his commanding officers know that his is intelligent, has the patience to unravel the most snarled case, and has charm enough to get evidence from those who don't want to give it. His mixed heritage allows him to work equally well in the outback as well as in more suburban areas and his pride and stubbornness keep him on the case until the culprit his brought to justice because he doesn't want to lose that perfect record.

Helen Reilly's Inspector Christopher McKee is on the other side of the world, heading up the Manhattan Murder Squad in New York City. In the early novels, he is an efficient leader of men with a strong personality, a vast storehouse of facts in his memory, and who strikes an imposing figure when confronting suspects. He figures in one of the earliest police procedural series by a female author and his stories feature the line-up, the radio room, the morgue, the mysterious depths of the fingerprint department--all the varied and exciting activities of one of the greatest police departments in the world on full view in mysteries of the 1930s. This is especially true of the case related in McKee of Centre Street.

In [this novel] you will meet Inspector McKee, tight-lipped, cold-eyed, a hunter of men and the most absorbing sleuth since Lieutenant Valcour; listen with him as the telephone call that is the first information in the case of the murdered dancer comes into Spring 7-3100; watch as he throws out swiftly the far-flung net for a subtle and brilliant killer. [from my copy of the book] 
The story revolves around the murder of Rita Rodriguez, a beautiful dancer in a high-tone speakeasy. The murderer takes advantage of the dim lighting, the audience's attention to the silver-clad beauty dancing on the stage, and the spotlight which oh-so-conveniently brings his target into sharp outline. Although the police are called in immediately by the ultra-alert spotlight handler, there are still fish which escape the net and it is McKee's job not only to sift through the statements of everyone still within the establishment, but also to try and discover who is missing.

When he is finished he's left with a small group of suspects. There is the missing waiter; the rich playboy, his wife, and step-son; the wife's very attentive friend, the colonel; the young woman found hiding in the phone booth; and the couple who can't quite decide where they were when the dancer fell to the floor. As he follows up their stories (and amended stories), he soon discovers that there are connections between the characters that lead back to the past....with blackmail and stolen emeralds lurking in the shadows.

What follows is a detailed account of how the police department of the 1930s operated. The reader follows closely on McKee's heels and is given what is described as "real inside information, high-pressure thrills, suspense." Reilly manages to deliver without boring the reader with those details. I have read other (later) mysteries by Reilly and was a bit disconcerted by the description of McKee as a tight-lipped, cold-eyed hunter of men. This didn't really connect with the McKee I had met in these later novels. Granted, this earlier version of McKee is a bit more steely and there is far more procedural detail given, but in the end he is the same detective I recall...showing a good deal of compassion and humanity in the closing scenes. Not quite the cold hunter of men that the blurb served up.

My last professional detective is most certainly the least well-known and will probably be completely unknown to many. His author, Harold Kemp certainly is: According to Classic Crime Fiction, Death of a Dwarf (1955) is the fifth in a mystery series by Harold Kemp and features Detective Inspector Jimmy Brent and his team of sleuths. Like me, the folks at CCF have found very little information about Kemp out on the interwebs. If anyone has any information beyond his birth year (1896) and short bibliography (seven titles in all), I'd love to hear about it. 

Detective Inspector Jimmy Brent was first introduced to me when I discovered the near-pristine, dust-jacketed Death of a Dwarf sitting on the shelf of Half Price Books. I mean, who could resist a vintage mystery with a title like that?  But I wasn't sure whether I should be glad to have brought it home or not. 

The story is quite good with a standard motive given a nice little twist. Fairly clued--it's certainly not Kemp's fault that I completely forgot a little tidbit that he prominently displayed for me back in the early chapters. Likeable characters--the interactions between Jimmy Brent and his superiors, colleagues, and underlings are delightful and supporting characters from the village are just as good (save for a few suspects...but then we're not supposed to like them). There's even a knowing little old lady calmly knitting in her little apartment--but none appear to be stock characters used purely for effect. Finely drawn surroundings--nice country village and there's even (see the cover) a menacing castle with ruins. My uncertainty lay in the fact that I was quite sure that future installments of Brent and company are going to be rather difficult to come by (unless I want to break down and search for him through internet sellers). I did manage (through the generosity of my boss--who doesn't mind using the internet to buy books and who got it for me as a present) to get hold of a second Jimmy Brent novel--Red for Murder.

Brent is an educated man, having been at York, St. Peter's and Cambridge, where he had taken his B.A. He is still in his thirties, but has risen rapidly through the ranks due to his native wit, determination, and integrity. He has a quirky sense of humor and an easy relationship with both his superiors and his assistants Gregg and Lewis. He brings a fresh point of view to a division that is made up of policeman who have less imagination and no eye for the unusual. Brent certainly isn't one to accept an easy answer just to close a case quickly and if he has to sort out vicars who hide under hedges and tell unnecessary lies as well as doctors who feign hearing loss to avoid answering questions, then he's perfectly willing to do so to ensure that justice will be served. His investigations are straight-forward, though the circumstances surrounding them rarely are and the clues are readily available to the reader which makes for interesting reading. Brent is another detective whose greatness lies in the fact that I have been left wanting more of his adventures and may have to resort to internet treasure hunting to fill that need.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Just the Facts Checkpoint Winner!

After finally unwinding from a busy day at work, I dragged out the Custom Random Number Generator, fed in the fourteen entries and our winner is Link #7, Joel with his Death by Drowning! Congratulations, Joel! I'll be contacting you shortly with a prize list and instruction for claiming a prize.

Thanks to everyone who checked in and to those who are busy scribbling in their notebooks and missed the checkpoint. See you all in a few more months!

Mount TBR Checkpoint Winner!

After finally unwinding from a busy day at work, I dragged out the Custom Random Number Generator, fed in the nine entries (including comments) and our winner is Link #7, Gilda Felt! Congratulations, Gilda! I'll be contacting you shortly with a prize list and instruction for claiming a prize.

Thanks to everyone who checked in and to those who are busy climbing and missed the checkpoint. See you all in a few more months!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Murder Out of Turn: Review

Bill Weigand finds himself on a busman's holiday in Murder Out of Turn (1941) by Frances & Richard Lockridge, the second in the series featuring Pam and Jerry North as well as their favorite policeman. Having met the Norths in The Norths Meet Murder, Weigand has become friends with the couple and accepted an invitation to join them at their lake cottage cabin on the banks of Lone Lake for a bit of well-deserved R&R. The setting is picturesque, the autumn leaves are colorful and lovely, and the evening hours around the lake are serene and peaceful. He has just gotten introduced to the folks in the neighboring cabins, including the beautiful Dorian Hunt who has a mysterious aversion to policemen (or, as she refers to them, hunters) and attended his first party with them all when he goes out for a bit of fresh air and stumbles upon the body of one of the charming and popular young women.

Helen Wilson has been viciously killed with a knife to the neck and at first it is difficult to see why anyone would have wanted to murder the charming woman. When the State Police arrive--in the person of Lieutenant Merton Heimrich (and crew)--the two policemen beginning digging and discover that there are many people who may have wanted Helen dead--from those who benefit under a will to which she would have been the primary legatee to the beautiful Dorian Hunt whose father was hunted by policeman and was convicted in part by the testimony of his secretary....Helen Wilson. But then a second female camper is killed by a booby-trapped fire and it becomes difficult to decide who should have died first. Did the unpleasant Jean Corbin witness something connected to Helen's death...thus leading to her own fiery death? Or did Helen see somebody setting up the booby trap and have to be eliminated before she could realize the importance of what she saw? In other words, was somebody murdered out of turn?

This a particularly good entry in the North series for a number of reasons. Most importantly, because it introduces both Lt. Heimrich and Dorian Hunt. Heimrich would later feature in his own series with his first book coming out in 1947. It's difficult to decide whether the Lockridges intended for him to become a series character or not in this first outing. I tend to think not--he is most definitely overshadowed by Weigand here, even though Bill is clearly out of his jurisdiction. Heimrich tends to follow the city policeman's lead and Heimrich's characteristic methods of investigation are definitely not on display. I think it a good bet that once the Lockridges had set several mysteries (ten or so) in New York City, they found that it might be good to shake things up with some murder and mayhem in the rural areas.

The book also provides the moment for Bill Weigand to meet his future wife, Dorian. Not a very encouraging introduction to be sure--to find that a young woman pretty much hates the sight of policemen when one just happens to be a policeman. But Bill and Dorian work their way towards a more friendly footing as the book comes to a close and it's easy to see (even for those who don't know a wedding is in the cards) that they will be seeing more of each other in the future.

More things to like about the book: The plot itself. Clues are laid down and the observant reader has every chance to solve it along with Weigand and Heimrich. The characters are interesting and drawn well--even if some of them are more sketches than full portraits. And there's a quite exciting denouement waiting at the end. The biggest drawback--how slow our good lieutenants are to figure out that it just might not be a good idea to hold interviews beside an open window. Just how many times do you need proof that "X" must have overheard your interviews with "A" and "B" and....before you stop providing opportunities for "X" to do that? 

But, overall, a highly entertaining mystery and the Norths do well with their characters out of their natural NYC habitat. ★★

[Finished on 3/27/18]

We meet everyday people who appear, from the outside, to be irrational. It may merely mean that their minds are quicker than ours--that they jump steps, in speech and in action. Inside, to themselves, they are completely rational. we meet emotional people who do things on impulse, and they are usually fine people--people we like, interesting people. And then, if you are a policeman, you meet other people who look much the same, and act on impulses--and when they have an impulse to kill somebody, or set fire to a tenement, they act on that impulse, too. ~Bill Weigand

We talk about motives for murder, but there are no rational motives for murder. The hazard is always greater than any goal, unless you are immediately defending your life. Murder becomes possible only when a motive--and advantage to be gained, that is--swells up irrationally in the mind. Gets out of perspective. When the possible gain swells so that you cannot perceive the risk. You needn't be insane for it to do that, or much more emotionally--well, swept--than the average. It may merely catch you when your resources are weak. ~Bill Weigand

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Book Scavenger: Review

Book Scavenger (2015) by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is a book that I would have LOVED as a young reader. It has a premise that I could wish as an adult were true. What if there were a secret online world of book scavengers? Book lovers who who hunt for books and win points and prizes for finding them? Who can hide books and leave clues for others to find. How awesome would that be? I mean, hunting for long-desired books in used book stores is great fun. It's one reason why I don't like to do my book-shopping online. I like the the thrill of the hunt. It would be an added bonus if that hunt could be part of a shared book-scavenging community.

In the book, that's exactly what we've got. Garrison Griswold has created the online scavenger hunt for readers called Book Scavenger. There's the usual hiding and finding of books by participants, but every once in a while Griswold does something big, something spectacular and special for his friends in the Book Scavenger world. He has been putting the finishing touches on his latest game and is preparing to do a big announcement when he is mugged at the BART (subway) station. He has just time enough to hide his special edition of Poe's The Gold Bug which was to be part of the promo.

Enter twelve-year-old Emily who has just moved to San Francisco (her parents have this weird goal to live in every single one of the 50 states and uproot the family all the freaking time to do this....). Emily has just made her first friend--James--who shares her passion for word games and reading and who has never hear of Book Scavenger. She gets to introduce him big-time when they accidentally find the hidden Gold Bug. With Emily's Book Scavenger savvy and James's cipher-smarts, the two are able to plunge full-throttle into the ultimate scavenger hunt--one that Griswold himself designed and No One Else in the Book Scavenger world knows about yet.

Or do they? Somebody is stalking them online and following their every move. Could Griswold's prize be that fabulous? 

This is a fantastic adventure book for middle graders. Shoot, it's a pretty fantastic for those of us far, far beyond the middle grade years who still crave a chance for a great bookish adventure. I liked the way Emily's older brother chose to help her and James when they needed it most--instead of treating them like little kids. I also enjoyed watching Emily start to learn what it means to have a friend and be a friend. Some have labeled her selfish--but, honestly, it's her parents who have been selfish, uprooting the kids whenever the whim to head to a new state hits them. How on earth was Emily supposed to learn how to connect and think about others when she hasn't been allowed to connect with anyone outside her family for any length time? 

A really fun read. ★★★★

[Finished on  3/34/18]

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

TNB: The Great Detectives (Medical Mayhem)

Word has passed among The Tuesday Night Bloggers that a book called The 100 Greatest Literary Detectives, edited by Eric Sandberg and including contributions from various writers – including our own Kate Jackson is coming out to educate the unsuspecting about some of the best detectives in the business. As we sat and munched on toasted crumpets and sipped our tea, we decided to revive our weekly meetings and discuss the detectives we think ought to be included in any list of the "Greatest" detectives. We also wanted to include some of the really good detectives who don't get as much press as say a Sherlock Holmes or a Miss Jane Marple or (ahem) Hercule Poirot [more press clippings for our Belgian sleuth may found over at Brad's place Ah Sweet Mystery Blog aka "The Shrine To Agatha Christie"].

As Moira mentions over at Clothes in Books, some of us have decided to divide our detectives up into categories. This week's feature here at the Block is on Medical Mayhem with the spotlight focused on Mignon G. Eberhart's Nurse Sarah Keate and Dr. Hugh Westlake in a series by Jonathan Stagge
(aka Richard Webb & Hugh Wheeler). Sarah Keate was most likely the very first nurse I was introduced to in detective fiction. The book was The Mystery of Hunting's End and it was also my first taste of a locked room/impossible crime.

It is a mystery that revolves around a weekend party at Hunting’s End, a lodge owned by the rich Kingery family. Matil Kingery has invited a strange collection of guests to join her on the outing—the same people who were at the lodge when her father died of “heart failure” exactly five years ago. She knows that her father was murdered and intends to find out which of the guests is the guilty party.  She has to find out....she's in love with one of the young men and wants his name cleared.

Added to the guest list is the dapper young detective Lance O’Leary who is posing as an

acquaintance of Matil's and O'Leary has, as he often does, requested Keate to use her position as a nurse to help him sort out a mystery. In this case, he wants to know who was responsible for the death of Matil Kingery's father at the lodge some five years ago. If one of the requirements for detective greatness is the impact the character has on the reader, then Nurse Keate definitely qualifies. I reread Hunting's End countless times when I was young and every time I enjoyed watching Nurse Keate take on the assignment of the care of Aunt Lucy at the hunting lodge featured in the title. The nurse's eagle eyes, strong nerves, and knowledge of human nature all serve her well in spotting the clues that lead O'Leary to the solution of the murder. Without her assistance, Matil would never know which of the "friends" gathered at the hunting lodge had killed her father...and would be responsible for another death as well.
Such was Nurse Keate's personality and impact in the story, that I could relate whole scenes of the book which featured her for years after reading it--even during the years when the book was lost (see my review linked above) and I had no access to it. Given my sieve-like memory for books read pre-blogging, that's saying something. I could tell you about Sarah and her knitting needles and Sarah's descriptions of Aunt Lucy as a huge spider, for example.

Dr. Hugh Westlake is a more recent acquaintance. I discovered him in 2010--just as I was launching my blogging career--in Death's Sweet Song. Westlake is a small town practitioner and a widower with a precocious daughter. He often finds his medical practice leading him into situations where he feels impelled to act as an amateur detective. He's not a brilliant amateur à la Philo Vance, but his medical acumen gives him insights that allow him to spot clues not obvious to others. He's not infallible by any means, but the way he works his way through the twists and turns of the mysteries he becomes involved in is very realistic. I find him to be a very relatable character. 

Westlake leaves an impression on me because he represents the kind of every day individual who might get involved in mysteries and behaves in ways that real people might. The books I've read so far feature nicely-plotted mysteries with enough intricacy to please and puzzle. There is also a bit of the macabre and odd throughout the series that might titillate. I think it adds to the oddness to have such an ordinary amateur detective working his way through the clues. 

His investigation into fear and how it is used in the persecution of an actress is the foundation of the mystery in The Three Fears and uses the oddness of the human mind as the backdrop. Westlake is invited by his wartime friend, Dr. Macdonald "Don" Lockwood, and his wife Tansy to spend a month at their home in the Massachusetts resort of Bittern Bay. There will even be entertainment on hand in the form of two rival  acresses--Daphne Winters, with her "five sweet symphonies", budding actresses to whom she gives summer tutelage, and Lucy Millken, ""America's Most Beloved Actress"", one time understudy to the Divine Daphne, now her bitter rival. They expect fireworks and maybe even a cat fight or two, but no one expects murderous attempts to made on Daphne. 

Someone very clever is using the atmosphere to make attempt after attempt on Daphne's life and sanity--using knowledge of her three fears: fear of poison, fear of being closed in, and fear of fire against her. The culprit is relentless and doesn't even seem to mind that innocent victims are collected along the way. Two of Daphne's Symphonies are caught in the killer's web. The first intercepts a poisoned capsule meant for Daphne while they are at tea at the Milliken's house and the second dies in a fire in the summerhouse. Westlake, having previous experience with murders, joins the police in the search for the murderer, but they run into blank wall after blank wall. It isn't until one of the Symphonies makes an urgent phone call to Westlake that he begins to see the intricate plot behind it all. 

Although I have less of an acquaintance with Westlake (than with Keate), I can definitely say that he is a detective that I'm eager to read more of and hope to find more of the novels featuring him. So--if another feature of a great detective is to make readers want more of him, then Westlake definitely has that going for him.