Thursday, April 30, 2020

"The Apartment Murder" by Roy Lewis

I’ve become a big fan of the Eric Ward mysteries by British author Roy Lewis, but I’m reading them faster than the publishing is reissuing them (they were originally published in 1980s, and 1990s). And now I’ve reached the eighth novel, and there’s no word on the next nine. 

Eric Ward is a former policeman forced to resign because he was losing his eyesight to glaucoma. He turned to the study of law, and a successful eye surgery has saved his eyesight. He maintains a practice in commercial and maritime law in Newcastle in Yorkshire. He’s married to the former Ann Morcomb, a wealthy woman some 13 years his junior and who operates both the family estates and a considerable number of investments. An ongoing source of tension between them is his refusal to act as her attorney and maintain his own practice.

Over the years of their marriage, Eric has found himself involved in a number of legal cases that spill over into criminal law. He’s made a name for himself, not only for what’s accomplished in Newcastle but also in business circles in London. 

Roy Lewis
In The Apartment Murder, Eric and Ann are both attending a reception in London when they meet Eileen O’Hara, chairman of the board of Broadlands, a manufacturing company that is likely the focus of a leveraged buyout. And O’Hara wants Eric to be her adviser; she’s heard his reputation.

What looks like a high finance / merger and acquisition activity begins to edge into personal animosity, old scores to settle, and, ultimately, murder. And it’s Eric ward who begins to ferret out the truth. He’s also sensing a dangerous attraction to O’Hara. 

Lewis is the author of some 60 other mysteries, novels, and short story collections. His Inspector Crow series includes A Lover Too ManyMurder in the MineThe Woods MurderError of Judgment, and Murder for Money, among others. The Eric Ward series, of which The Sedleigh Hall Murder is the first (and originally published as A Certain Blindness in 1981), includes 17 novels. The Arnold Landon series is comprised of 22 novels. Lewis lives in northern England.

The Apartment Murder is a riveting story of greed, corporate duplicity, and passions run amok, with Eric Ward trying to hold on to his reputation for honesty. My only regret is that I have to wait until the ninth in the series is published.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Romancing the Billionaire, Part 4

You find billionaires in some unexpected places. Like a college campus. And a mountain cabin in Montana.

Colin Fitzgerald is a professor in his late 30s. He studies mushrooms. What most people don’t know is that he’s also extremely wealthy. He’s also quiet, shy, and isn’t interested in dating. He thinks.

Abby Summerhill is in her mid-30s, and she’s convinced herself she’s still in love with the old boyfriend. This is the guy who uses her to clean his garage or his basement while he chases women he’s interested in. Friends tell her to drop him, but he seems to be all she’s got, so she hangs on. Perhaps a date with someone else might get the boyfriend’s attention. 

A friend fixes her up with Colin, and the date is a disaster. And then Colin hires her to teach him how to be a better date. And Abby begins to learn that the professor without social charms is not at all what he appears. It’s a sweet story – and you’ll also learn a lot about mushrooms.

Blind Date with a Billionaire Professor by Evangeline Kelly tells the story of Colin and Abby. Abby has to learn how to unhinge herself from a relationship, while Colin has to learn how to have a relationship in the first place. It’s a story of broken people finding their way to each other and within themselves. The Christian fiction novel is part of Kelly’s “Blind Date Disasters” series, and it’s actually fun to watch someone teaching someone else how to be a good date.

In Her Secret Billionaire Roommate by Bree Livingston, Livy Weber is a highly successful romance writer. With a scarred childhood in a series of foster families, Livy has grown up to rely upon herself. But being dropped by the guy she thought loved her has left her bereft and with a major case of writer’s block. Her agent rents a cabin for her in Montana and tells her she needs to get to work. Not to mention the fact that it’s rumored that her publisher is about to be acquired by a much bigger publisher, one that always expects its writers to meet deadlines.

Gabe Saxon is packed off by his mother to their cabin in Montana. He’s worked himself to exhaustion and actually collapsed at work. He’s running the family publishing business, and he’s driving himself to forget how he things he disappointed his father and to wipe out the memories of being left at the altar by the woman he thought he loved. 

The cabin in question, turns out to be the same place for Livy and Gave. One of Gabe’s employees had been quietly renting it without the family knowing anything about it. He’s not happy to find Livy already there. Soon he realizes that he will be acquiring her publisher. And then a snowstorm arrives.

It’s a fun story, with a lot about writing and publishing, and about families, both broken and whole. It’s occasionally a stretch to suspend belief with a few scenes, but this is romance, and you end up just going with the story.


Top photograph by Ian Keefe via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Pandemic Journal: Rejoicing Over Bleach at the Grocery Store

I decide to try grocery shopping at the time set aside for those 60 years old and older – 8-9 a.m. Some 60 people are waiting for the store to open. One man, wearing mask and gloves, becomes nearly hysterical when someone stands three feet too close. He moves deeper into the crowd, making himself more threatening than the person he was upset with.

The doors open. As I enter the store, I watch elderly people grab a wipe from the dispenser and break into almost a run. They are rushing to the paper aisle, where they will find – no toilet paper. This is the last time I come at the senior citizen hour. It’s too painful to watch.

We live in a culture that has never known want. Few people remember what Norman Borlaug called the moving geography of starvation, including the Great Depression of the 1930s. This country knew hunger, and not on a small scale. My mother, who grew up in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, told us stories about going to bed hungry, not even a loaf of bread in the house. I’ve never had that experience, not am I interested in having that experience.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Photograph: A pandemic grocery shopper.

Monday, April 27, 2020

"The Bishop Murder Case" by S.S. Van Dine

The 12 mystery novels of S.S. Van Dine, published between 1926 and 1939, have a number of unusual features, but the most unusual is likely the prolific use of footnotes.

In The Bishop Murder Case, published in 1929, elements of the narrative rely upon mathematical theory, physics, chess, and plays by Henrik Ibsen. Philo Vance, who helps the police and district attorney’s office solve a series of crimes, is a type of Renaissance man whose intellectual interests are wide and rather dazzling. He can discuss music, art, science, chess, psychology, the history of crime, and just about any other subject you care to manage. He also likes translating from the original ancient Greek. 

Van, or S.S. Van Dine, is a character in the stories. He’s attorney who’s left the family practice to work with Vance full time, and it is he who is actually recording the events that happen. The stories are written in retrospect, including an editorial review by Vance himself. The footnotes imply this account is what we call true crime today, but, of course, it’s fiction. 

Basil Rathbone played Philo Vance in the movie.
Here’s an example: “Vance’s M.A. thesis, I recall, dealt with Schopenhauer’s ‘Ueber die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde.’” This is a reference to an actual philosophical work by Arthur Schopenhauer, “On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason.” Almost all of the footnotes refer to real works, events, or people. The use of footnotes builds a fascinating impression that what you’re reading really did happen.

In The Bishop Murder Case, New York City District Attorney John F.X. Markham is called to the home of Bertrand Dillard, a physics professor who lives with his niece and an adopted son (who’s also a professor, but of mathematics), A friend of the family and especially of the niece, J.C. Cochrane, has been found in the home’s archery range, with an arrow through his heart. The victim’s full name is Joseph Cochrane Robin, teasingly known as “Cock Robin,” the avian victim in “Who Killed Cock Robin?”

It’s a bizarre crime, soon supplemented by more bizarre crimes with overtones of the same and similar nursery rhymes. A sinister mind is at work and is going so far as to send notes to the newspapers connected the deaths to the rhymes. Even Vance finds himself perplexed and stymied, with no obvious motive for the murders except madness. 

S.S. Van Dine
Willard Huntington Wright (1888-1939) was an art critic who had been literary editor of the Los Angeles Times, an editor of The Smart Set, a novelist, an art historian, and art exhibition organizer. A friend of H.L. Mencken and an admirer of the novels of Theodore Dreiser, Wright hated romance and detective fiction with a passion, until he needed money. In 1926, he published the first Philo Vance story, The Benson Murder Case, with Scribners. And he used the pen name “S.S. Van Dine.” 

But in The Bishop Murder Case, Vance will eventually ferret out the culprit, whose identity keeps changing as first one, then another, then still another possibility is identified. A fascinating story with all of its twists and turns, it’s one of the best of the S.S. Van Dine mysteries.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Fleeting thoughts

After Romans 4:13-25

That promise to an old man,
what did he think? His wife
laughed a hollow sound,
because she knew better.
How does an old man
become a father
of many nations?
How does that happen?

He sat there. Overwhelmed.
The exact thing he wanted,
he hoped for, he prayed for,
the thing beyond his grasp,
the hope that could not be
fulfilled, was put before
him, a promise that all
common sense said was
not possible.

He could choose to laugh;
he could choose to shake
his head and move on
to his old man’s life and
death, but, instead, 
he chose to believe,
no matter how ridiculous
it sounded. He believed
the stranger, and it was
counted to him as
as faith.

Photograph by Donald Teel via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Saturday Good Reads

Some years back, I discovered I liked the art of two German contemporary painters – Gerhard Richter and Anselm Kiefer. The St. Louis Art Museum has works of both artists, and I was able to attend a major exhibition of Kiefer’s work at the Royal Academy of Arts in London when we vacationed there in 2015. The Met in New York opened a major exhibition of Richter’s work on March 4; then came coronavirus and lockdown. Susan Tallman at The New York Review of Books has a good review of the exhibition, and you can actually tour it via video.

Some of us are writing, some of us are painting, and some of us are creating poetry in the age of the coronavirus. Poet James Matthew Wilson, working with Dappled Things, has been posting poems from the Quarantine Notebook, and they are all well reading.

And some interesting things occurred this week involving favored and revered authors. Bradley Birzer at The Imaginative Conservative discusses J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lost Road,” calling it brilliant but unfinished. And Laura Miller at Slate says there’s an eighth Chronicle of Narnia, and now is the perfect time to read it.

More Good Reads


When Dvořák Went to Iowa to Meet God - Nathan Beacom at Plough.


Some Thoughts on Christian Civil Disobedience – Kyle Borg at Gentle Reformation.

The Christian Faith Is Not Based on Evidence of the Resurrection – Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition.

Faith in a Time of High Anxiety – Hugh Whelchel at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.

American Stuff

Ending the War: John Wise’s Eulogy – Sarah Kay Bierle at Emerging Civil War.

Writing and Literature

Mark Twain in the Time of Cholera – John Miller at National Review.

The Shakespeareans – Brooke Allen at The Hudson Review.

British Stuff

Life and Culture

The Last Glimmer – Tom Darin Liskey at The Cultivating Journal.

1917 and the Futile Pilgrimage – Mary Meynell at The Rabbit Room.


Deep Pocket – Jerry Barrett at Gerald the Writer.

The Watchskulls of Erringtide – poem by Joe Spring at Joe Spring Writes.

The ancient ones – Dana Gioia at New Criterion.

Five New Poems – Maurice Manning at A New Decameron.

Christ Be All, a new hymn – Grace Worship

Painting: Woman Reading at a Dressing Table, oil on canvas (1919) by Henri Matisse.

Friday, April 24, 2020

My inner Pharisee

After Luke 15

I often talk with
my inner Pharisee.
I like to pretend
he’s not there, really,
but something happens,
always, to remind me
that he’s alive and well.
I avert my face from the beggar;
my inner Pharisee smiles.
I avoid that area of town;
he chuckles.
I ignore the poor
and sick; he laughs out loud.
My inner Pharisee is always
there, telling me he’s my friend,
when I know he’s not. But
he has a nice smile.

Photograph by Ahmed Zid via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

"The Case of the Missing Letter" by Alison Golden

Detective Inspector David Graham has much to be proud of with his team. As the story in the newspaper reports, since his arrival on the island of Jersey, crime has dropped 16 percent and solved cases now constitute half of the statistics. And when a policeman is feeling proud of his and his team’s accomplishments, the reader knows trouble lies ahead.

A lot of trouble.

First, Graham is called to the island’s cultural museum. It appears that a burglary went very, very wrong. The night guard is found dead next to the museum’s prize possession, an 18th century desk made by a master carpenter, one of only three in the world. It appears that the guard interrupted a burglar, but the man had a heart condition and actually died of a heart attack.

The desk was damaged when the guard fell, and a local furniture maker and repairman is capably restoring it. Then he’s found with his head bashed in. It’s that desk again. And if a burglary-gone-wrong and a murder weren’t enough, someone is out to kill the new librarian in town.

Alison Golden
In The Case of the Missing Letter by Alison Golden, DI Graham and his team suddenly have their hands full. What the reader knows, if the police team doesn’t, is that two people are after a letter believed hidden in the desk, one that could smear a well-known family and upend a parliamentary election race. 

Golden has three mystery and suspense series involving signature detectives. The Diana Hunter series is set in Vancouver; the series includes HuntedSnatchedStolenChopped, and Exposed. The Rev. Annabelle Dixon series is set in Cornwall. And the Inspector David Graham series is set on Jersey, one of the Channel Islands. The last two are officially “cozy mysteries,” which translates as minimal violence and any romantic interest will not involve graphic sex. Golden also includes recipes mentioned in the books at the end of the Anabelle Dixon stories. Raised in Bedfordshire, England, Golden now lives in the San Francisco area. 

The Case of the Missing Letter is fast-moving, with an intriguing plot and more villains running around than you can shake a fist at. But Graham and his team will persist, and they will catch more than one guilty party. 


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Romancing the Billionaire, Part 3

Romance stories involving billionaires involve a certain level of suspension of belief; seriously, how many billionaires date restaurant servers? Here are two stories that push suspension of belief right to the edge – and somehow manage to not go beyond it.

In The Billionaire’s Secret by Lorana Hoopes, Maxwell Banks is almost the stereotyped image of the young billionaire. Not yet 30, he spends most of his free time pursuing women who are easy to pick up for one-night stands. He’s just brought one of these women home when his doorbell rings, and the girl he truly loved three years before hands him the three-year-old daughter he didn’t know he had. The young woman is off to New York for cancer treatments, and the prognosis is not good. 

Her best friend, Alyssa Miller, has agreed to help. Max knows nothing about children or being a father, and Alyssa agrees to teach him, with the help of an older nanny. For a time, Max keeps slipping back into his dissolute lifestyle, but things slowly change. And Max finds himself falling in love with his daughter and Alyssa, in spite of her Christian faith.  

Hoopes is the author of several romance novels and a collection of stories. She’s also published three children’s novels in The Wishing Stone series. She’s an English teacher and lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family. 

The Billionaire’s Secret (originally published as A Father’s Love) is a story of unexpected fatherhood, finding love, and coming to faith.

In Gambling with the Billionaire by Agnes Canestri, Bianca Biagi is the marketing director for a small-town Italian restaurant. She has to meet with Ryan O’Connor, a billionaire who is buying the restaurant to turn right around and sell it to a chain. Bianca is proud of what she’s down for The Sapphire, with its emphasis on old, romantic 1950s music and wonderful food.

Ryan is returning to his hometown, where his father still lives, to complete the sales transaction and return to Philadelphia. He’s currently dating an aspiring actress, although “dating” is too strong a word. He’s going out with her; she’s using him to further her career. And then he meets Bianca.

Bianca and Ryan feel an immediate attraction for each other, but both keep telling themselves this is about business and nothing else. Except the “nothing else” keeps intruding. Bianca finds a way to keep Ryan in town, and soon he’s taking her paragliding and introducing her to his father. But the sale os the restaurant is a problem.

Canestri is the author of seven romance novels, five of which (including Gambling with the Billionaire) are part of the Gems of Love series. A native of Hungary, she’s moved several times with her husband and family and currently lives in Germany.

Gambling with the Billionaire gets a little heavy on the oldies music (especially at the end), but it’s an easy-to-read, lighthearted romance about love overcoming business.


Top photograph by Danilo Capece via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Poets and Poems: Matt Duggan and "The Kingdom"

Memory, and memories, can become tangled in the reality of current experience. The backyards or gardens of the homes we grew up in somehow shrink over the years. Beloved teachers age and retire. Images and scenes from vacations or holidays rarely remain how we remember them. Even books and poems seem to change over time, becoming sometimes less and sometimes more impactful and profound. 

A high school English teacher once told me class that you needed to read Don Quixote by Cervantes three times – once in youth, once in middle age, and once in old age, because, she said, the book would change. I’ve read it twice – in youth and middle age – and discovered she was absolutely correct. Reading it at 40 was not the same as reading it at 17.

Poet Matt Duggan is no stranger to how memory gets tangled. His latest chapbook, The Kingdom, is about, among other things, returning to what’s past, and wondering if the past never really was. Too often it’s not what we remember it to be. And we feel a loss.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, April 20, 2020

"The Greene Murder Case" by S.S. Van Dine

A few other writers of the Golden Age of Mystery did it, too, but no one used diagrams of the scene of the crime as extensively as S.S. Van Dine did in his Philo Vance mysteries.

The diagram might be of the room where the murder occurred. It might be the room and the floor of the building. It might be the property and how it was situated on the street. But Van Dine invariably used diagrams to illustrate his mysteries. In The Greene Murder Case, published in 1927, the position of the rooms, and who occupied them, play a critical role. 

A diagram from the story
The family of the deceased patriarch, Tobias Greene, all live together in the Greene mansion in New York City. They have to, if they want to inherit under the terms of the old man’s will. Attended by a nurse, his widow lives almost completely in her room, paralyzed and believing her children have no regard for her. The five children are all adults, and it would be an understatement to say they disliked each other. 

District Attorney John F.-X. Markham is called into what appears to be a burglary gone wrong at the Greene mansion. He drags Philo Vance along with him. One daughter, Julia, has been shot to death, while another was injured after being shot in the back. Nothing has been stolen. Brother Chester Greene believes something else is going on, but there are footprints in the snow leading to and from the house. 

A poster for the 1929 movie
And then there’s another death, and it appears someone is out to kill the entire family. Markham and the police are frustrated in making headway in the investigation, and even Vance is stumped for a considerable period of time. Answers will begin to come with the opening of a long-locked library in the house, but this develops into a case where nothing is at it seems, and everyone and anyone is a suspect.

At times, the novel reads like a movie script, particularly for how people enter and leave rooms when being questioned in the case. Like several of the Van Dine novels, The Greene Murder Case was also made into a movie in 1929, starring William Powell who would go on to greater fame as Nick Charles in The Thin Man movies. Powell projects just the right nonchalance to pull off a credible Philo Vance. 

The story culminates in a rather wild car chase, which also seems like a movie script. But it is fascinating to read how Vance gradually and meticulously unwinds the solution to the murders.