Read Recently — June 2015 — Mysteries

Striding Folly by Dorothy L. Sayers

This book is a thin collection of Lord Peter Wimsey stories (3 of them). 162 pages long, of which the first 37 are an introduction by Elizabeth George, and the last 12 are the same bio of Peter written by his uncle that has been in every other book in this edition of the series that I have seen. Surely it only needed to be included in one or two books?

Of the three stories, two occur after Peter and Harriet marry and have children and the third is mostly from the point of view of another character, so who knows when in the series it occurs? My point is that the same unaltered character bio can’t fit the circumstances of every book and it’s madly out of date for at least two of these stories.

The first tale, “Striding Folly” is set in a valley called Striding, which is home to Striding Hall and the giant, useless medieval-esque tower called the Folly. The main character is Mr. Mellilow, who moved to the area to retire because he figured it would never change and would be nice and pastoral for the rest of his days. But the Squire died, and the estate was bought by Mr. Creech, who Mellilow at first befriended because no one seemed to like Creech and he played a good game of chess, which Mellilow enjoys. They meet every Wednesday evening to play. Now Creech tells Mellilow that he is selling land to the Electric company, who will soon be generating power down by the river and building cheap cottages for the workers. Creech then tells Mellilow that he is expecting company next week and may not be able to make their Wednesday game; in that case he’ll come Thursday.

Mr. Mellilow goes for a long walk, showing us the layout of the valley and also showing off his innate neatness: he keeps his galoshes on the veranda so as not to get the floor muddy. Later that night he has a strange and ominous dream involving the folly and the bridge leading to it.

Mr. Creech does not come the next Wednesday; instead a Mr. Moses, who travels in electric parts and is staying at the village inn, drops by to play a game. He gives Mellilow a good challenge, but then heads back to the inn before it closes. Oppressed by the heat of his rooms, Mellilow goes to take a walk, but his galoshes are not where he left them! Suddenly irrationally convinced that they are at the Folly, he walks up there, and finds not only the galoshes, but the corpse of Mr. Creech, as well as a chess piece–one that seems to be missing from his own set.

Of course, the police can’t find any trace of Moses at the inn or anywhere in the village, including in Mellilow’s own living room. They are certain to hold him in suspicion . . . until the Chief Constable’s friend, a toff detective, manages to clear things up.

My write-up here is almost as long as the story itself, and Wimsey is barely in it: 5 of the appr. 20 pages of the story. I would say it’s not even all that interesting.

The second story, “The Haunted Policeman”, is better. As Harriet sleeps off the aftereffects of the birth of their first child, Peter celebrates by inviting a random passerby, a policeman (really the only person up at that hour of the night) in for a drink. The cop, who is new to the area, is in trouble with his sergeant because he claims to have seen something bad happen at a building that seems to have disappeared! Peter clears things up.

The third story, “Talboys”, has the Wimseys (Harriet, Peter, and sons) staying at their country place with an annoying guest, Miss Quirk, foisted on them by Peter’s sister-in-law. Peter must deal with the issue of the gardener’s missing peaches, as well as Miss Quirk’s annoying attempts to intervene in domestic discipline issues.

The collection is small and one of the stories is not quite. I’d suggest skipping this one and seeing if you can find a copy of the complete stories. Mildly not recommended.

Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby: a Spenser novel by Ace Atkins

This is Atkins’ first Spenser novel; as noted before I somehow missed picking it up. I’m going to go a little more easy on this one, since it’s his first.

But, that said, it isn’t bad. Spenser is hired by 14-year-old Mattie Sullivan, whose mother was killed four years ago. A man was arrested for it and convicted, but she thinks he’s innocent. She saw her mom with two other, badder, dudes that night, but no one listens to the kid. Spenser agrees to work for her in exchange for a bunch of donuts.

Spenser doesn’t often work in South Boston, though he stands out rather less than, say, Hawk would. The case being rather cold is a problem, but he does manage to find some people who are willing to talk about it, or at least about the victim. But he can’t get hold of the two guys Mattie says she saw with her mother, even though they are still around. And then his car gets stolen and he’s chased out of the south end by a quartet of bruisers. Problems multiply when he learns that Gerry Broz, son of former Boston kingpin Joe Broz, is somehow involved. Gerry hates Spenser and has for years. If the junior Broz is involved, something more than just a hit and run must be going on.

Unlike the last one, Hawk appears in this book but he, like Susan, is slightly off. Atkins doesn’t have the character quite right, but since Parker didn’t have the character quite right in his first appearances, I’m willing to give Atkins a little leeway.

Mattie’s a great character. Like Paul Giacomin and April Kyle, she’s a child in need and Spenser is unable to turn her away. Unlike both of them, she’s already self-sufficient (since the death of her Mother Mattie and her two younger sisters have been living with their grandmother. The grandmother, who is younger than Spenser, is an alcoholic, so in addition to her own schooling Mattie is taking care of the other kids). What she needs is a chance to be a kid for a while. Surely Spenser can provide that?

“Not Bad” may seem to be damning with faint praise, but when one writer takes over a beloved series it’s a good start. Mildly recommended.

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