Every month at Past Offences we review all hell out of a chosen year, and September’s target was 1976, chosen by Santosh.
Karen published a handy bibliography over at Eurocrime, with big titles including Agatha Christie’s final novel, the first (and second and third?) Matt Scudder, the second Inspector Morse, and a Golden Dagger winner from Ruth Rendell.
Bev at My Reader’s Block started us off in comic vein with H.R.F. Keating’s novelisation of the Neil Simon comedy-mystery Murder by Death:
I’m not sure if Keating was working with an earlier draft of the screenplay or if there were changes made on the spot when filming was done, but there is a definite difference in the ending as filmed and as it appears in the book.
The book is a quick read and makes for a nice jaunt down memory lane for those who either saw the movie in the theater or (like me) who grew up watching it on television. Clearly intended as parody, there is no effort on the part of Simon and/or Keating to make this a fair play mystery, but it’s pretty obvious who culprit is meant to be.
Bev followed up immediately with hotel-based mystery The Fourteen Dilemma by Hugh Pentecost:
the twelfth installment in Pentecost’s series starring Pierre Chambrun. It’s exciting and fast-paced, but a fair amount of belief suspension is in order. A hotel manager who can hold off known international killers and government heavies?
And then for a 1976 hat-trick, Bev read Pauline Glen Winslow’s The Brandenburg Hotel, a post-war history-mystery set amongst former German interns living in a luxury hotel.
The good news is–I finished this one. The bad news is–Merle Capricorn is a remarkably uninspired detective. He comes from a show business family (magicians if you must know), so you’d think the man would have a bit of flair. But Winslow has made him so reluctant to acknowledge his roots, that he goes out of his way to be boring and nondescript. Just the teensiest bit of pizzazz would go a long way here
Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise looked at a favourite of mine, Lawrence Block’s The Sins of the Fathers, which introduced his alcoholic PI Matt Scudder.
Scudder is not a licensed PI and does his work for “gifts”, and calls in favours from former colleagues and friends. He shows a willingness to go beyond what those employing him might have expected him to do, and in the long run is not afraid to be candid about what he has found out. One of the striking features of this novel is the way the author handles dialogue.
And Kerrie scored a comment from the man hmself!
Another Block from the Puzzle Doctor: Time to Murder and Create. Wikipedia isn’t terribly helpful on the order of publication of the Matt Scudder books, but it looks like he may have published three in ’76.
It’s a fairly typical noir, so not my usual cup of tea. I reviewed the first book in the series a while ago and wasn’t that keen on it, but this is a big improvement. There are some typically dated phrases that wouldn’t be seen in a book these days, but I’ve seen a lot worse.
(I haven’t read a Matt Scudder for a while, but I can recommend Liam Neeson’s verson in the 2014 film A Walk Among the Tombstones.)
Scott at The Nick Carter and Carter Brown blog reviewed Carter Brown’s The Pipes are Calling:
Danny found his work really cut out for him when he started playing hide-and-seek with the wealthiest people in town, but one orgy, kidnapping, and bed-to-bed leap later. Danny was almost convinced he had the killer.
Carter Brown wrote 322 novels, so there’s plenty more for Scott to review!
A second 1976 H. R. F. Keating was Filmi, Filmi, Inspector Ghote, seen at crossexaminingcrime:
A key process which occurs in the novel is within the character of Inspector Ghote himself. He enters the case firmly believing in his duty as means towards justice and upholding the letter of the law. But very quickly the inspector becomes infected by the possibility of the fame and rewards he could receive for finding the killer and Ghote begins to see his role as a detective in a more film star light, perceiving himself as a star actor and even the courtroom as a film set.
Kyril Bonfiglioli’s Something Nasty in the Woodshed gets a bit of a kicking by Bernadette at Reactions to Reading:
Crass. Crude. Cringe-inducing. It reminded me of the similar-era TV shows my parents used to watch when I was a kid (e.g. Love Thy Neighbour). Even my not-yet-fully-formed brain knew something was wrong with them and their very existence is what prompted me to escape to my bedroom with a book rather than share the family TV viewing. And I’m pretty sure that if this book had passed my eyes even at the tender age of eight I’d have known it for drivel it is.
Colin Dexter’s Last Seen Wearing,
It is an entertaining story, easy to read, and written with a simple and clear style. The characters are nicely crafted and the dialogues are constructed with great detail and much accuracy. If anything, perhaps some questions remain unanswered at the end, but I don’t believe them to be extremely relevant. In essence, it is a really enjoyable detective story.
Nicest cover of the month, although there’s not much competition. 1976 was clearly very very drab.
Col enjoyed his 1976 pick, a standalone novel from Ed McBain: Guns.
We have a small gang of hold-up guys planning a liquor store robbery – their 13th job together. Colley wants to hold off because of the heat, more than superstition. Jocko, the leader is broke and insistent. You just know things are going to go wrong ……. and they do!
Tracy reviewed one of her favourite books, Peter Dickinson’s King and Joker at Bitter Tea and Mystery, an alternative history in which the royal family is being subjected to a series of practical jokes culminating in the discovery of a corpse on the throne.
King and Joker crosses genres, being both alternate history and a mystery. The book is set in 1976 (when it was written), and most of the story takes place at Buckingham Palace… I will be honest and say that I would not consider this a great mystery novel. I enjoyed it most for the coming of age story of Princess Louise and the beautiful way that the story is told from her point of view. Yet, it has quite enough mystery for me, both in discovering who could be getting away with practical jokes in such a secure environment and who perpetrated the murder that happens as a result of the practical jokes.
(Incidentally, this was another one for my Skulls in Hats Pinterest board. More candidates needed for this.)
Moira also liked King and Joker, and also put it into 1976 context:
As a matter of fact this is very much a book and an attitude of 1976, in a way that might not have been at all clear at the time. It is never discussed now – and wasn’t much talked about then – but the Royal Family was NOT very important and respected in 1976. The Queen’s Silver Jubilee came the following year, and suddenly revived interest in what had become rather an anachronism – a Victorian family trying to haul themselves into the 20th century. The Silver Jubilee was unexpectedly successful, and gave some point back to the family.
Santosh reviewed Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie at Goodreads.
Though this book was posthumously published in 1976, it was written in the 1940’s. This is a brilliant, intiguing and delightfully creepy mystery. Well conceived and well plotted. The characterisations are superb.It is suspenseful and a page turner with several twists and turns and ends with a perfectly satisfying solution. I have no hesitation in including this novel in Miss Marple Top 5. It is typical of her best writing.
My entry was a CWA top 100 novel, Lionel Davidson’s The Sun Chemist. This qualifies as a very ’70s book, being set in a world recovering from the 1973 oil crisis. Ivor Druyanov is a historian who holds the key to unlocking a great scientific mystery – the ability to manufacture a petrol substitute. A good book, even though the thrills are mainly cerebral.
A second entry from crossexaminingcrime was Josephine Bell’s The Trouble in Hunter Ward,
This was not an enjoyable book to read and it appears that Bell’s desire to portray the working lives of those who work in a hospital, overpowers the detective/murder side of the story, meaning the middle of the book has a lack of focus and the solution to the crime is contrived and uncomfortable at the same time.
It seems like the cover designer wasn’t terribly inspired either…
Tracy returned to 1976 with Margaret Millar’s Ask For Me Tomorrow:
The story was strange and different, which is what I expect from Millar. There is more than one twist toward the end and she kept me guessing. The dialogue is well done. Just enough dialogue, just enough story and description.
John at Pretty Sinister Books wrapped up 1976 for su with Richard L. Boyer’s The Giant Rat of Sumatra, a Sherlockian pastiche, ‘the story for which the world is not yet prepared’ mentioned in Conan Doyle’s ‘The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire’.
There is a kidnapping of young girl, several truly horrible murders, some sinister gypsies, Holmes in disguise at couple of points, and of course that mysterious beast of the title. What exactly is it? Do giant rats actually breed in Sumatra? Read and become enlightened, my friends.
Phew! Quite a crop of reviews. As usual, many thanks to everyone who played. Apologies if I missed you out.
I’ve asked Bernadette to choose October’s year, but there’s a time difference so watch this space…