Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bombproof by Michael Robotham

Mullholland Books, sadly only available in the U.S. in ebook format (try Powell’s Books for a Kobo copy or www.abebooks.com to get a British edition), c2008

Michael Robotham is the maraschino cherry in my fruit salad. Do I eat it now or savor it at the end? When I have a stack of books to read, I don’t just grab the Robotham first. His books are the rewards for reading (sometimes plodding) through other books.

Nah. Who am I kidding? Actually, I make a grab for the Robotham first, to hell with the other books.

It’s Robotham’s sense of humor, crazy good writing, and racing plot that hook me every time.

Robotham alternates his stories between his two protagonists, psychologist Joe O’Loughlin and retired police detective Vincent Ruiz. They usually make appearances in each other’s books, but this time Joe rates only a mention in what is definitely Ruiz’s story. I lean very heavily toward the Ruiz books, although I enjoy all of Robotham's books.

Bombproof begins with a bomb going off in the London subway. Sami Macbeth (“born in Glasgow, raised in South London, to an Algerian mother and a Scottish father”) is caught on CCTV running away from the scene. A dragnet is launched to capture him.

Through the course of the book, Sami is accused of many crimes (terrorism, theft, hostage taking, murder, murder again, yet another murder, and blowing up police headquarters). He is definitely NOT guilty of most, sort of not guilty of a couple. He has, however, as the result of bad lawyering, spent time in prison for a jewel heist. Although he is innocent of the crime, his reputation for being a master safecracker has gone viral. And that is what gets him into a world of trouble.

Crime boss Tony Murphy wants Sami to break into police headquarters and steal something from the evidence locker. It shouldn’t be a problem for a pro. Only Sami isn’t a pro. At best, he was a low-level musician with a group called Raw Liver (“Raw Liver seemed to be saying, ‘We might not be as good as the Stones, but we’re louder.’”). Because musicians don’t usually have the skills to break into evidence lockers, Sami makes a hash of it, resulting in the scene that opens the book: the bombing of a subway train.

In a darkly comic way, poor Sami’s life just spirals ever downward with farcical misunderstandings following one after another. There are three good things he has going for him: an understanding girlfriend, Kate Tierney, who shelters him at crucial points; a sympathetic parole officer, Miranda Wallace; and a contact Miranda gives him, her ex-husband, retired police detective Vincent Ruiz. Will they be able to extract Sami from the hell of a mess he and his sister Nadia have gotten themselves into, or will a sacrifice have to be made?

Finally, here are some quotes from Bombproof which should indubitably convince you why Robotham, if you haven’t already cottoned to him, should be next on your literary menu.

About a couple of characters with walk-on parts: “The desk sergeant is a doughnut short of being fat and has a torn piece of tissue paper, encrusted with blood, stuck to his neck.” And, “Mr. Dibbs is shaped like a sea elephant and is wearing a tartan sweater knitted with love but very little skill.”

About the story’s bad guys: “Tony Murphy might rip off mug punters, horny businessman and foreign tourists, but Ray Garza ransacks entire countries. Diamond mines in Angola, nickel mines in Botswana, platinum mines in Zimbabwe.”

About poor Sami: “Sami took the fall. He didn’t fall under the wheels of a truck like Andy Palmer. He fell onto the wrong side of the tracks. He fell through the cracks. He fell out of favor.” And, “He has a 150-point IQ, three A-levels and about as much common sense as a pork chop.”

Friday, November 22, 2013

My Venice and Other Essays by Donna Leon

Atlantic Monthly Press, 240 pages, $26    (release date 12/3/13)

The true voice of Donna Leon, not the one given to her popular character, Commissario Guido Brunetti, is funny and acerbic. She is passionate about the beauty and (eventual) neighborliness of Venice, although some of her essays bemoan the effect of tourism and lack of recycling, for instance. But Venice only headlines a segment of her essays. She has been saving up a lot of observations, it seems.

By turns sociologist (how she would hate that description!), anthropologist, historian, protester, teacher, and critic, her essays range widely. Pick a topic, any topic. How about "Moles" or "It's a Dick Thing" or dinner with Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell)? Although many of the essays are wittily amusing or laugh-out-loud funny, Leon also evinces a serious kindness and intolerance (i.e., rage) for many subjects. And, finally, to answer the question she probably has had to answer more frequently than any other, she tells us how she writes her novels in a series of essays under the heading, "On Books."

"My Venice" will put you in the company of a woman who is articulate, intelligent, passionate, and worth listening to.

P.S. Did you know she is an American, albeit one who will never again live in the U.S.? She talks about her family and being an American, too.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Police by Jo Nesbø

Knopf, 448 pages, $25.95

This review starts with a spoiler. I have to discuss the ending of Phantom, the last book in the Oslo murder squad series by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you read (at least) that book first. If you’ve never read any of the books in this series, don’t start here.

Since 1997, Harry Hole (pronounced Hah-ree Who-la, in a sing-song way) has been the central character of Nesbø’s long-running series. The start of Police resonated with his absence. His teammates are there but dispersed: Beate Lønn, head of Krimteknisk; Ståle Aune, a psychologist now back in private practice; Bjørn Holm, a red-headed detective with a Rasta affectation; Gunnar Hagen, head of the crime squad (“resembling a monk more and more with the rich abundance of hair like a laurel wreath around his blank, shiny pate”); and Katrine Bratt, a Lizbeth Salander-like character.

At the end of Phantom, Harry was shot by the son of his girlfriend. It’s hard to believe he’s dead, so when the character of a mysterious coma patient appears, diligently guarded by a 24-hour police guard, it’s hard not to hope that perhaps Harry somehow cheated Death. Hope despite the gloomy reminiscences of his fellow detectives: “Harry would have done this,” “Harry would have said that.” Implicit is the understanding that Harry can no longer do or say anything. Whatever his fate, the atmosphere is pregnant with his absence.

Aune says, “He missed having the tall, grumpy alcoholic with the big heart on the phone asking — or to be precise, commanding — Ståle Aune to do his social duty.”

Harry’s presence is definitely missed when one police officer after another is murdered. Murdered in an angry and twisted way. The first police officer’s body is discovered at the site of another murder years before. That time the body belonged to a young woman, a rape victim, whose murderer has not been apprehended. The second police officer dies under similar circumstances, placed at the scene of an older crime that has gone unpunished. Against the wishes of his new chief of police, the corrupt and ambitious Mikael Bellman, Gunnar Hagen reassembles the murder squad, the Delta team, to find the cop killer.

Police is a roller coaster ride, running amok with suspenseful moments taken from every thriller-movie convention. Nesbø plays his readers, but it works. Keep shouting “Don’t open the door,” “Turn around NOW,” and “If it smells bad, call the police — oh, wait, you are the police.” Maybe one of the characters will hear you.

Katrine is the shining star of this book, although there are many, many characters, both good and bad, running around from disaster to disaster or plotting each disaster, each capable of giving you an instant of horripilation. Her devotion to Harry’s memory, her research skills, and her willingness to go off on a tangent will make you do a fist pump.

As with other Jo Nesbø books, this one does not have a clean and simple story with a clean and simple solution. Take notes because Nesbø delights in tossing in red herrings and plot bombs. Like fireworks in a Fourth of July display, the herrings and bombs grow more profuse and elaborate as the show nears its end.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

True Crime

Yesterday the city of San Francisco became Gotham City for the day. The San Francisco Make-a-Wish Foundation granted five-year-old Miles more than his wish. He wanted to be Batman. The Foundation went over the top and got the whole city to play along.

The police, fire department, SF Giants, and many local sponsors created scenarios in which Miles would overcome Batman's archnemeses, The Penguin and The Riddler, while traveling through the city. A damsel was in distress, tied to a cable car. The Giants' mascot was kidnapped. The Riddler was trying to steal money and jewels.

A flashmob and thousands of San Franciscans lined the streets to cheer Batkid (aka Miles) on. The San Francisco Chronicle issued a special edition as The Gotham City Chronicle. Live feeds of Batkid's derring-do were broadcast by several television stations. Make-a-Wish's website crashed from overload. Tweets were received from all over the world. President Obama sent a video message.

Of course, in the end, Batkid saved the day. Good should always triumph over evil, especially in the world of a five-year-old leukemia patient. As he received the key to Gotham City for his bravery, he raised his fist to the sky. Indeed. Crime does not pay.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Identical by Scott Turow

Grand Central Publishing, 384 pages, $28

Scott Turow has written a Greek tragedy. Alluding to both the myth of Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins, and Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, Turow introduces us to his twins, Cass and Paul Gianis, in his expansive novel about identity and family.

It is 2008 and Cass Gianis is due to be released from minimum security prison where he has been for twenty-five years, serving a sentence for the death of his girlfriend, Dita Kronos. Paul Gianis is currently running for mayor of Center City, a fictional town in Kindle County. Kindle County will be familiar to Turow fans. He has used it as the home of most of his novels. (For instance, Sandy Stern of Presumed Innocent makes several cameo appearances.)

Complicating Cass’s release and Paul’s campaign are the smear tactics of former friend and neighbor Hal Kronos, now a billionaire real estate mogul. He is also Dita’s brother. He has been mourning her loss for all these years. Now he decides Paul, too, must have had something to do with Dita’s death, and he is hell-bent on getting justice for Dita. Of course, Paul files a lawsuit for defamation, and that sets the stage for some great legal gymnastics in the way that only Scott Turow can present.

Most of the first half of the book is devoted to the legal wrangling, but Turow slowly introduces Evon Miller, Hal’s head of security for his company, and Tim Brodie, a private detective and former homicide cop, who are charged with uncovering whatever Paul and Cass have been hiding all these years.

The second half of the book deals with what Paul and Cass, indeed, and a whole lot of other people, have been hiding.

Turow brings in a lot of characters. Each one, however minor his or her contribution is, receives a portrait. His main characters receive flourishes. For example, Evon Miller was on an Olympic field hockey team and was born DeDe Kurzweil. Nothing really to do with the main story, but nice touches.

There are many nice, descriptive touches throughout the book. In your rush to get to the surprises at the end of the book, don’t fly right by these gems:

  • Hermoine, Hal and Dita’s mother, was “thin and simple like a piece of blank paper.”
  • Sandy Stern appears briefly but he is accorded a stand-out mention: “Round and bald, and with an enigmatically elegant manner, Stern demonstrated there was an advantage to looking middle-aged when you were younger.” (One can speculate that ever after Turow has been trying to reclaim his vision of Sandy Stern after Raul Julia’s portrayal in the movie version of Presumed Innocent. Turow said in an interview with Powell’s Books’ Chris Bolton: “The Stern whom I imagined was stout and a good nine inches shorter than Raul Julia.”)
  • Describing the parole commission after deciding Cass Gianis’s fate: “The panel then rushed out the back door, like liquid through a funnel.”

Turow obviously believes that an author must present evidence to his audience as an attorney presents to a jury. An exhaustive speech about what DNA testing can show will enlighten you or make you fast-forward through it. The bottom line is that identity is a complex subject and identity for twins is not double-good, double-good, but doubly confusing, accompanied by more guilt, more love, more problems.

Identical is a lot of book. Turow’s surprises and convolutions are sometimes clever and sometimes too contrived, but they lean much more towards the positive. (For instance, why does Turow place his story in 2008? Brilliant story maneuvering!) The tragic potential of twins has had an enticing pull on audiences throughout literary history. Syracusan Antipholus says in Comedy of Errors, “I to the world am like a drop of water/That in the ocean seeks another drop….”  The push and pull of twin on twin is inevitable and makes them, in the end, less than identical.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Crown, 432 pages, $25, c2012

It’s so difficult to write about Gone Girl without disclosing at least one of the surprising elements of the book. Author Gillian Flynn should be accorded the “Gotcha” award at the very least, were such an award to exist.

There certainly are precedents in the mystery/crime/suspense world for this type of book. By that I mean, a book that doesn’t necessarily produce a heroic, stalwart character to pin one’s hopes on. Almost every present-day crime novel has a flawed protagonist, but Flynn takes that 20,000 leagues further down. You might throw a pity party for one or the other, but I defy you to like either Nick or Amy, Flynn’s marital combatants, by the end of the book.

Flynn flips the first-person narratives between Nick and Amy. They both agree that their life in New York after they met and married was exciting and romantic. The downhill slide begins when they both lose their jobs.

Nick is from Missouri. His parents are ailing and Nick’s twin sister, Margo (“Go”), needs help taking care of them. So they settle in Nick’s hometown to help. Amy has quite a bit of money in a trust fund set up by her parents, the authors of the “Amazing Amy” children’s books, a once-popular series about a precocious young girl with the same name as their daughter. Nick and Amy use some of that money to buy a bar, which Nick runs with Go.

Nick’s and Amy’s narratives begin to peel off from each other after they move to Missouri and more setbacks occur. Initially there is simply benign malice and a growing distance between them. Then one day, Nick arrives home to find the furniture in his home up-ended and blood on the kitchen floor. Amy’s blood.

Slowly clues pop up that point to Nick as the perpetrator of a crime. There is no body at the scene, so the million dollar question is: Where is Amy? To follow Nick’s narrative, it appears that he is as bewildered as the authorities. Is Amy dead? Did Nick murder her? The noose is tightening.

Flynn’s pacing is excellent, and her ability to keep the tension tight and her story compelling is amazing. Nick and Amy are caricatures of a married couple, but it shortly doesn’t matter if they are believable or not. The game they play with each other is everything.

Should you venture into Nick and Amy territory, as have millions of other readers — who have shelled out their dough for the hardcover and digital versions of this book, the paperback version having been delayed because of the book’s wild success — you, too, may have a strong, strong opinion about the direction the book takes. If so, you might be interested in the author’s view of the controversy her book has engendered: http://shelf-life.ew.com/2012/12/04/gillian-flynn-gone-girl-ending/

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Cross and Burn by Val McDermid

Atlantic Monthly Press, 416 pages, $25

Psychologist Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan of the Banfield Police in South Yorkshire, England, have been going at it for eight books now, but only professionally and platonically. South Yorkshire has been saved from a number of serial killers because of them. (Banfield has a high rate of serial killers per capita. If you live in Banfield … RUN!) But no longer, because they have gotten the platonic equivalent of a divorce.

After the horrible events set forth in The Retribution, Carol has resigned from the police force and has moved away from Banfield to her dead brother’s home. She blames Tony for what happened (read the book) and the two have not spoken in months. Tony, in his own dysfunctional way, pines for her. She, on the other hand, reviles him and actively works to put him out of her mind.

After Carol resigned and the Major Incident Team was disbanded because of budget cuts, the team members have dispersed. Tony is back at Banfield Cross Hospital. Paula McIntyre, Carol’s “bagman,” now fills that position under DCI Alex Fielding.

Here’s an interesting note. In the acknowledgements, Val McDermid says that Patrick Harbinson created the character of DCI Alex Fielding for the television series Wire in the Blood, when the actress who played Carol Jordan left. In art imitating art, McDermid now recycles the name for a character with a completely different personality than that of the TV character. Authorly humor, no doubt.

Someone is kidnapping middle-aged blonde women and returning them dead. We actually get to “see” the anonymous killer’s sick reasoning. He is looking for the “perfect wife.” She must be a good cook and totally submissive. When the women he takes fail his tests, he kills them. His current victim is Bev McAndrew, an acquaintance of Paula and her partner, Elinore. Bev’s 14-year-old son, Torin, has nowhere to go, so Paula and Elinore take him in.

The story really belongs to Paula. In order to find Bev, she calls on the skills of some of her former MIT teammates, including Tony and computer guru Stacey. Then Alex Fielding takes the information gathered to date and jumps to an incredible conclusion: Anthony Valentine Hill must be the killer. “I am arresting you on suspicion of murder,” she says to Tony. Gasp.

If you have been a reader of McDermid’s prior books, you know that Tony is a brilliant profiler but a pretty hopeless human being. He’s almost child-like in his inability to take care of himself and finds it difficult to establish normal relationships. His arrest astounds and mortifies him. To help him, Paula pulls a rabbit out of the hat, and the rabbit's name is Carol Jordan. 

Over the course of seven prior books, McDermid has slowly built up the strange relationship dance in which Tony and Carol are engaged. When their tenuous bond was snapped by Carol at the end of the last book, this created a back story that is almost more compelling than the mystery McDermid has devised.

McDermid is the top of the line when it comes to creating creepy-crawly serial killers. She has won awards and accolades. Her Tony Hill and Carol Jordan interplay is genius. Bringing Paula McIntyre to the forefront will keep her audience’s interest. Aren’t we all saying, What will Val McDermid do to top this?

The choice of Cross and Burn for the title comes from a quote with which McDermid starts her book. David Russell, another mystery writer, writes: “The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn.” Has Carol burned all her bridges, or is there still a way back?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

W Is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

Putnam, 496 pages, $28.95

In these days of “The Girl Who” and Gone Girl women, Kinsey Millhone is an anachronism, and not the least because Sue Grafton has most excellently kept her heroine in the 1980s. Kinsey doesn’t kick posteriors, anteriors, interiors, or anything. Given a choice, she hides in trash barrels, backs up slowly, runs away quickly. During a serious scene in this book, she has the equivalent of a bitch-slap fight with the murderer, using a lawn chair. That must be why so many of us love her. If you have come to Sue Grafton for neo-noir, ask for your money back.

First of all, I needed to get over the fact that Grafton didn’t title this book “W Is for Wanted.” (Surely many of us had anticipated what she would name her remaining books.) I still hold out hope for “X Is for Xavier,” as Grafton ventures out into X-Men territory; “Y Is for Yell Loudly,” keeping to the wuss persona that Kinsey has maintained; and “Z Is for Ze End,” in which Kinsey takes off for Paris to help the Sûreté.

Did I like W Is for Wasted? Well, duh, yes. In my opinion, very few authors are able to create as endearing, slightly dysfunctional, funny, nice, and ept (as opposed to inept) a character as Kinsey. I fell off the Kinsey wagon somewhere around “I” but have returned with born-again fervor to the fold. I don’t care what the mystery is anymore. I just want to finish the alphabet journey hand-in-hand with Grafton and Kinsey.

Grafton wafts the soft breeze of remembrance over the whole book. There are references to just about every quirk and important character. Peanut butter and pickle sandwiches? Bring it on. Her aunt, her newly discovered grandmother, past cars, Henry’s renovations, regimented cleaning of her apartment? It’s all there. Robert Dietz, a former flame, makes an appearance, as do other men in her life. At one point, Kinsey remarks that all the men she has slept with over the last six years are together in one room, not that that leads to overcrowding! Grafton allows us to wallow in reminiscence. She also places us firmly in 1980s Santa Teresa.

Santa Theresa. It’s almost real. It’s a thinly disguised Santa Barbara, an homage to Ross Macdonald. But Grafton’s Santa Theresa is her own creation, too. Kinsey’s P.I. offices, past and present, her work history from police officer to P.I., Henry’s home, Rosie’s tavern, the beach where she runs — they’re all mentioned in W and are all real, brought to life over the years by Grafton’s skill.

In W Is for Wasted, we meet more bizarre characters from Kinsey’s family. Until we met members of Kinsey’s mother’s family a few books ago, the only relative we knew about was Aunt Gin. After Kinsey’s parents died in a car accident, Aunt Gin raised her and effectively crossed out any other member of the family. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

As mentioned in the prologue, two men die and their deaths change Kinsey’s life. One is Pete Wolinsky, an “unscrupulous private detective,” who was murdered recently. In a separate third-person narrative, in contrast to Kinsey's first-person voice, Pete’s last case is described and, it is assumed, that case will eventually intersect with Kinsey’s life. The second dead man was one of the homeless people who now roam Santa Theresa. Grafton depicts their situation with humanity and depth of feeling. Inexplicably, because she’s never met him, R. T. Dace has named her the executor and sole recipient of his estate. Ha, ha, you say, “his estate.” (I can see you making air quotes, you know.) Dace, it turns out, had been wrongly incarcerated for murder and the State has paid up to the tune of $600,000. After his release, battling alcoholism and a broken life, Dace voluntarily chose the homeless community for comfort and companionship. And that money now belongs to Kinsey. Sort of. Maybe.

Without going into too much detail because of the surprise factor, I’ll just say that Grafton takes the time to make a social comment on the situation of homeless people and aspects of the medical research community. So it’s not just about Kinsey and the furthering of her background story.

As the series, I assume, draws to a close — I can’t imagine Grafton will continue after “Z” (1, 2, 3? AA, BB, CC? Chaos?) — it seems Grafton is giving us some closure.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Stone Boy by Sophie Loubière

Translated from French by Nora Mahony
Grand Central Publishing, 288 pages, c2011, translation c2013

Such is the state of publishing these days that this book is currently available in ebook format (e.g., Kobo through Powell’s Books), $9.99, but won’t be available in print until July, 2014, $15.

Sophie Loubière entices her readers with an is-she-or-isn’t-she story. Loubière’s main character, Elsa Préau, may be able to see ghosts. She may be crazy. She may suffer from dementia. Or not.

Loubière introduces Elsa in a pre-story that takes us from 1946 to 1997 before settling into a present day story. Gérard is infatuated with Elsa. “The touch of madness was irresistible,” he thinks. They have a son, Martin. Gérard, a physician, eventually leaves Elsa to move from France to Canada. When Martin also seeks a medical career, he moves to Canada as well. Meanwhile, Elsa has carved a career for herself as the headmistress of a school. Although she has a busy life, she pines for Martin. She is appalled when he returns to France with a wife, Audrette, but all is forgiven when their son, Bastien, is born. He is the light of Elsa’s life. The pre-story ends with an ambiguous scene in which Elsa, although forbidden to see Bastien at that point, takes her grandson after school for a picnic in the park. Elsa and Bastien are soon unconscious. What has happened?

When the main story begins in the present day, Martin is helping Elsa return to her childhood home, long disused and vandalized. Most of the book follows Elsa’s clear but tortured thinking.

Soon Elsa becomes concerned about a pale and dirty boy she sees in the neighbor’s yard, but only on Sundays. She senses something is wrong with him and discovers that officially he doesn’t exist. He reminds her of her grandson. At the same time she has disturbing dreams and hears unexplained sounds at night. 

Martin often asks Elsa if she is taking her medication. He says, “‘Now that I would have liked — a mum out of a mold, just like other mums, one who doesn’t talk to ghosts.’”

So where is this book heading?

Loubière establishes that Elsa, as a youngster, claims to have seen her dead mother. Gérard finds her quite fey. On the other hand, she has the makings of an eccentric and brilliant detective. She has, after all, infiltrated her old school to find out whether the current headmistress knows anything about “the stone boy,” as Elsa has taken to calling him. We learn then that Elsa had a great reputation for innovation at the school.

Elsa often writes to government officials, suggesting remedies to social problems. She reads articles about potential environmental and technological dangers. She even has written to a neighbor to address her hoarding and hygiene issues. Elsa cares. But everything she does and believes is slightly off and slightly wacky.

Loubière does a tremendous job pushing Elsa more and more off kilter, while making us wonder just what kernel of truth may lie in the midst of her madness.

The author has created a suspenseful, haunting, crafty tale of psychological disintegration in The Stone Boy.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart

APA The Circular Staircase, c1908, novelized in 1926 from a stage play, entitled The Bat. This was Mary Roberts Rinehart’s first book.

MysteriousPress.com re-release (available as an ebook, including on Kobo through Powell’s Books), c2013, 174 pages, $9.99

Reading The Bat was like watching some of those melodramatic old movies about ghostly stately mansions, with plucky heroines, staunch heroes, imperious old women, and hysterical maids. The stereotypes abounded in those shows and they abound in The Bat as well. It may be the case of which came first, the chicken or the egg, however. The Bat was written in 1929 and may be one of the influential progenitors of those movies. It, in turn, surely leaned heavily on mysterious gothic tales, like those of Wilkie Collins. And following the path downward, surely “Abbot and Costello in Hold That Ghost,” is a direct wacky relation.

Miss Cornelia Van Gorder is the imperious direct descendent of the hardy Dutch who infiltrated New Amsterdam. Mary Roberts Rinehart labels her an “indomitable spinster” in one of her chapter headings. (I seriously think everyone should have chapter headings in their books.) In a spur-of-the-moment decision, she rents a summer house and carts off her belongings and Irish maid, Lizzie Allen, to the premises. Lizzie plays the wide-eyed, superstitious, comic foil. Cornelia’s niece, a young woman named Dale Ogden, joins her aunt, and the upper class scene is set for a drawing room mystery.

Who is the thief and murderer called “The Bat”? Rinehart writes, “From a thousand sources now the clamor arose — press, police, and public alike crying out for the capture of the master criminal of a century — lost voices hounding a specter down the alleyways of the wind.” And, “Like a bat he chose the night hours for his work of rapine; like a bat he struck and vanished, pouncingly, noiselessly; like a bat he never showed himself to the face of the day.”

Cornelia’s new home was suddenly available because its owner, Courtleigh Fleming, the president of a bank now in turmoil, died recently. A young cashier, Jack Bailey, is accused of absconding with enough money from the bank’s coffers to plunge it into insolvency. So Cornelia also inherited some of the house’s staff, most notably the racially stereotyped Billy, a Japanese butler. He is both a “Jap” and “inscrutable.”

According to Lizzie, the house is haunted. According to Cornelia, her house is in the territory The Bat has been victimizing and she may be the next victim. She is thrilled that some adventure may come her way late in life.

Take these characters, plus a new handsome gardener, a determined police detective named Anderson, a dedicated doctor, a bedraggled stranger with amnesia, Fleming’s nephew, and an innocent bystander, and shake the mixture thoroughly, and you have a mysterious melodrama with a decent twist at the end.