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The Locked-room Mysteries

The Locked-room Mysteries - Otto Penzler

“When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

This 1400+ page mammoth of a book is a collection of short stories; each of them (as should be obvious from the title) is a locked room mystery. This term is used very loosely as mysteries deal not only with a person shot, stabbed, poisoned, or otherwise disposed of in a completely inaccessible room locked from inside, not only with things stolen from equally inaccessible room/storage/safe,

Locked Room Mysteries
but also with other seemingly impossible crimes, like a guy stabbed in a snow or a sand field with the only footprints appearing being his own.

There are stories of well-known authors, some of them with status of classics of literature and some approaching it. To give you an idea I will just name the writers mentioned on the cover (yes, I am too lazy to look through the whole book myself): Stephen King, Dashiell Hammett, Lawrence Block, Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon, Dorothy L. Sayers, P.G. Wodehouse, Erle Stanley Gardner. Just like myself you might be surprised to see some names in the list as some of these became famous writing in a completely different genre.

I am puzzled by the reason why such giants as Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle did not get mentioned on the cover. The former wrote mysteries featuring the first private investigator ever which also happened to be a locked room mystery (this is the first story of the book) and the latter made genre immensely popular. Speaking about his best-known character Sherlock Holmes, this collection includes The Speckled Band which I consider to be one of the best Sherlock Holmes mysteries. In my opinion any collection including this one cannot be rated lower than 4 stars, but this was not the only reason for my rating.

Continuing my discussion of the most famous detective I would like to return to one of the best ideas mentioned by him - or his author to be exact: I used it as an epigraph. More than half of the mysteries in here can be solved by stripping away the impossible - in fact several times the investigators did just this and one of them even quoting Holmes.

Still speaking about the guy I will have to mention something else. What does a good mystery need? A great fleshed out investigator (Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot being two best examples from this book) is a must. While a detective needs to be a good character, his sidekick can make or break a story. In my opinion Dr. Watson is greatly unappreciated.

Dr. Watson
Surely he is not the brightest guy around, but he is a loyal friend, he never hesitates to rush into a danger following Holmes, and most importantly he never ever gets in the way of an investigation.

The reason I talk about Arthur Conan Doyle creation so much is that it is an excellent example of how to create a great mystery. The sidekick I just mentioned: in one of the story there was a good mystery, interesting investigator and absolutely awful sidekick (in this case a husband of a woman who played the detective). The guy kept getting in a way of his wife's investigation and as a result the story itself suffered.

I became convinced of the following fact. If you read an anthology of locked room mysteries, sword-and-sorcery fantasy, or anything else whatsoever you can tell the quality of the story without reading a single line. Is the author well-known? The story is most probably good (4 and 5 star level good). Is the author forgotten? There is a very good reason for this: the stories are forgettable. This idea fully applies here. I mean 100% fully. Speaking about literature in general I can only think of one or two exceptions.

Yes, there are forgettable stories in the collection. However even the weakest ones never fail at something mysteries strive to do: they never ever fail to entertain and sometimes even make your brain work trying to find the solution.

So yes, to make a long story short (I will not make you suffer by reading my 1400+ page review as I am not going to write the one so huge): the book is good, especially if you like this kinds of mysteries. The solutions to some might seem kind of similar, so it is not a good idea to read the whole thingy in one sitting - but who would want to do it considering its length?

The last unsolved mystery still remains though: that the heck does the last story has anything to do with locked room mysteries? Is somebody was able to puzzle this one out, I would dearly love to know the explanation. For me it looks like the editor owned a guy a favour and he paid it off by including his story in here. 

The Dragon Never Sleeps

The Dragon Never Sleeps - Glen Cook

Of all the books I read this one most probably has the highest number of subplots per page. It feels tightly packed with them like this:

Tightly packed

For this reason it is very hard to see the overall picture and even harder to give a plot outline. Actually when I mentioned outlining the plot in the review to my buddy readers they sincerely wished my good luck and all the moral support they could provide (right, guys?). With such encouragement I could do nothing but try.

 

The very beginning of the book strongly reminded me of the movie Alien, its first several frames:

Alien

A crew of a spaceship was minding its own business sleeping - hibernating to use a scientific term. Suddenly something very unexpected happened and our guys and girls had to interrupt their sleeping beauty rest. In the book it was an unscheduled launch of an escape pod from a nearby passenger space vessel. This seemingly harmless incident ultimately involved several galaxies - explored and unknown.

 

The part of the space we are talking about was ruled and protected by Guardships. A Guardship can be best described as a Death Star on some very serious steroids.

Death Star

Unlike a Death Star a Guardship did not have any weaknesses similar to one exploited by Luke Skywalker in the original movie. One of the most rich and powerful people of the known space decided he wanted one as a personal toy. Why? Simply because he wanted to be even more rich and powerful - the more of these people have, the more they want. The guy also thought he had the means. Obviously nobody in their right mind would want to surrender a practically invincible spacecraft with some awe-inspiring weaponry, so extremely complex behind-the-scenes machinations are in order.

 

At this point I need to make clear that right here I am walking a fine line between giving away too much and giving away the fact that I still have no clue what was going on at some places and subplots after finishing the book. This would be a very appropriate point for me to stop outlining the plot.

 

After reading quite a few books by Glen Cook I became firmly convinced that in the most unfortunate case the muse

Muse

will leave the guy forever (like the capricious lady left George R.R. Martin) the author can make a very comfortable living teaching Writing Backstabbing and Double-Crossing 101. I have yet to see anybody in any genre who does it better - some are equal, but none exceeds him. This time is no exception and it is fun and highly surprising to see close allies dispose of each other at a drop of a hat. After all the stakes are high: galactic-level high.

 

I would hesitate to call any single character even slightly nice, but a lot of them were very interesting - another Cook's trademark. I even rooted for some of them. I guarantee you will be curious about the fate of some after you finish reading.

 

Now come the negative parts. All of my buddy readers as well as my friend Bookwraith agree that this would work much better as a trilogy. As a standalone book it really does not have enough space to give a good picture about what is going on. Sufficient to say, I began to understand some subplots when I was at about 80% mark. The rest of them I still do not understand. In fact I was really tempted to throw my book against the wall because quite a few times I was sure Cook simply mocks me as a reader. As a space opera trilogy it would easily rival Dune; as it stands now calling it very confusing is a huge understatement.

 

So if you think you are very smart and always understand that goes on in a book - consider this one as a challenge; it will humble you. If you look for a very complicated space opera look no further. If you are a fan of Glen Cook read this one, but prepare to be absolutely clueless until the later chapters. If you are new to the author, it might be a good idea to start with his other books. For me the excitement of the parts I understood was enough for 4 star rating: not Cook's best, but way above average and forgettable science fiction flooding the market lately.

Reading progress update: I've read 33%.

The Locked-room Mysteries - Otto Penzler

I said it once and I will say it again. For a mystery book to be really good it needs two things:
1. A complicated mystery (sorry for a bad pun).
2. Great characters, in particular investigators.

This book never fails at #1, however only the well-known writers featured here deliver colorful investigators (Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and others).

A Night in the Lonesome October

A Night in the Lonesome October - Gahan Wilson, James Warhola, Roger Zelazny

Half of the fun in most of Zelazny's books is to figure out what is going on. For this reason I have to be as obscure as possible. Imagine Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes, Count Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein, Rasputin, Larry Talbot (if you do not know who he is, I am not giving a spoiler), and some other well-known and interesting characters gather in one place waiting for the Halloween night when they are supposed to do something. The tale is told from a dog's POV who for some reason reminds me of following:

Chase

Are you confused? Sorry, this is the best I can do. If you are really lost everything will be explained later in the book.

The tale is fairly lighthearted with quite a few jokes and puns, but when you stop to think about it, the plot is actually quite spooky. It takes a real master writer of Zelazny's caliber to make it work - and it does work, even when it seemingly goes over the top. The author pays homage to the creators of all of the characters I mentioned above as well as Poe, Bradbury, and Lovecraft (Cthulhu makes a brief appearance as well); I am sure I missed somebody.

This is my first time I read the novel. After finishing it left me wondering, why the heck have not I read it earlier - several times. After the initial confusion there came a moment when I realized I really do not want to put the book down. Fortunately, Zelazny was also the master of cramping a lot of thoughts and plot movements into a very limited number of pages, so I still had several hours of much needed sleep left when I finished reading - going to bed before that was totally out of question.

In conclusion, if you are looking for a spooky Halloween read, look no further.

Grumpy Halloween

Heck, if you are looking just for any good read, look no further as well. Just read the book. This is my second October when I read this one; it looks like the book becomes my traditional Halloween treat.

Halloween

Reading progress update: I've read 63%.

The Dragon Never Sleeps - Glen Cook

In case somebody is delusional about being too smart this book cures this without fail.

Reading progress update: I've read 3%.

The Dragon Never Sleeps - Glen Cook

I have a traditional question which always appear whenever one starts reading a new Glen Cook book: WTF is going on???

Reading progress update: I've read 23%.

The Locked-room Mysteries - Otto Penzler

“When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

 

This piece of wisdom by immortal Sherlock Holmes (or to be exact his creator Arthur Conan Doyle) can really help solving about half of the mysteries here, including the one starring The Great Detective himself.

Baptism of Fire

Baptism of Fire - Andrzej Sapkowski

In the previous book Geralt's POV ended with him getting beaten the crap out of, in a really bad way. In the beginning of this book he did not recovered, but he really had no time for full recovery as he needed to finish what he was trying to do before he was stopped. He left the sanctuary he was staying in and went straight toward the war front - all the nearby kingdoms were entertaining themselves in all-out war. Geralt still had an illusion that he would be able to stay neutral. To make a long story short, his failure in this was nothing short of spectacular.

Geralt 

 

On his way he somehow managed to collect a ragtag group of followers. I cannot say that is was his winning personality as he was either brooding, or big jerk all the time. Seriously in the beginning I was very exciting to know that the vast majority of the book would be told from his POV. It turned out to be one of the most boring ones because of his behavior. Yennefer had very little screen time - practically a couple of pages, but it was very exciting to read them. First, she finally realized what exactly she was playing with (forces way beyond her abilities, sorceress or not). I really hope this would bring her attitude down a couple of levels: she desperately needed that. Second, as the result she ended up being very pissed off and she has enough competence as a magic user to do something about it.

Yennifer

 

So Geralt is boring. None of his companions however are. Everybody's favorite bard still provides comic relief. Zoltan and his parrot are very colorful. Do not let me get started on a vampire healer (yes, you read it right and no, he does not sparkle). 

 

Oh I almost forgot. Geralt's protégé firmly moved to my could-not-care-less category. Somehow I am not crazy about that development.

 

The ending was somewhat abrupt, but highly ironic. Otherwise it was a great book and my only wish for the next one is less Geralt's brooding or failing that - less Geralt. 

The Case of the Empty Tin

The Case of the Empty Tin - Erle Stanley Gardner

We all have an aunt like this (if not aunt, then some other close relative; you do not have to go as far as second cousins to find such person). The kind who loves make homemade preserves: pickles, jams, and such. The preserves are carefully stored on shelves in a basement, labeled and ordered.

Preserves

Florence Gentrie was such person. Imagine her righteous indignation when she found an unlabeled closed empty tin can on her shelf. To a casual observer it would seem like much ado about nothing, but it looked like this can was somehow connected to a crime committed in a nearby house.

 

The crime was a strange one. People heard exactly one shot in the middle of the night and the car of the apartment tenant from where the shot came from was all in bloodstains in the morning. Both owner and his housekeeper disappeared. This meant it was not even clear who was the victim and who was the (possible) murderer. Where does Perry Mason come in? He was hired by a reclusive handicapped guy living above the apartment where the crime was committed. Mason’s task was to keep his client in the background as much as possible – from the police interrogations and the resulting publicity mostly. Obviously the best way to do it would be to solve the crime before the police starts meddling.

Police investigation

 

Perry Mason is very good at investigating, even if it means lying to the police hiding behind client-lawyer confidentiality, breaking into somebody’s home, finding a dead body or two, and generally put his life in danger. Do not feel bad for the guy as his fees clearly show all the excitement he had to go through.

 

The mystery was complicated enough to make me keep guessing about not only the identity of the villain, but also about what exactly was going on. I admit that the vital clues were given early, but it was practically impossible to recognize them as such behind all the red herrings thrown in. I also learned a simple but effective method of encrypting your messages which would put all the modern computer cryptography to shame.

Cryptography

 

I had one fairly big problem with the book using one of the worst trope of a mystery story. Not to spoil anything I will use a completely different situation from another book with the same trope. A guy was murdered. The investigation uncovered two facts from his history – among others. Some time ago the victim was driving a car being completely intoxicated, lost the control and ran over a wife and a kid of a guy named X, used a good lawyer and avoided the jail. Some other time the victim looked at another guy called Y the wrong way. Now for the trope itself: the investigators completely forget about the existence of X and build their investigation around Y trying to find (non-existing) evidence against him. I consider this to be an insult to readers’ intelligence.

 

This book had one such trope. Fortunately it was not about the main clue, otherwise I would have lowered the rating a lot, my love for the series notwithstanding. This was one additional very obvious lead which Mason overlooked. I came to expect better from one of the most famous lawyers in literature.

Reading progress update: I've read 86%.

Baptism of Fire - Andrzej Sapkowski

A vampire with a golden heart has only one problem: he loves to start a long philosophical rants with the slightest provocation. I consider myself a patient person, but this guy makes me want to grab a wooden stake and go full Buffy on him - golden heart of not.

Reading progress update: I've read 34%.

Baptism of Fire - Andrzej Sapkowski

Yay! Geralt is the main character in here.

The Ace of Skulls

The Ace Of Skulls - Chris Wooding

Vardia was in the middle of a civil war thanks to actions of Ketty Jay crew in the previous book. Its infamous captain Frey still pursued his lost love, the rest of the crew and all the consequences be damned. The crew finally began getting clued in that their captain would not think twice about putting their lives on the line only to get closer to the woman he was obsessed with (I cannot call this feeling love and keep a straight face) - took them long enough. Slag the rum-drinking cat got old. Fun and exciting times were coming.

 

I want to make it clear from the start: for two thirds of the book I was sure I would give it two stars; I even briefly thought about DNF-ing it. Last quarter improved the situation somewhat so that the final rating is 3 very weak stars. 

 

Mercifully Frey's love interest appeared very briefly in the first book. In the second his love was cute, in the third it became really annoying.

Puppy love

How bad was it in the last book? Sufficient to say, it made me a thief. Yes, I confess I stole the following stress reduction kit from my buddy reader and generally good friend Sarah.

Stress reduction kit

I hope she can find forgiveness in her heart, but my read was really stress-inducing.

 

The book actually has high rating. People say the writing quality is good. I can only answer that the writing quality by itself does not make a good book. People say the character development is great. I can only answer with a longish rant (yes, finally!!! I was waiting for a chance to talk about it for a while).

 

Read enough reviews written by different people and you will eventually come to the same conclusion as I did: every single person has his/her/its own definition of character development. I saw two reviews from two different people of the same book; in one of them the character development was mentioned as its main strength and in another the book was trashed for a complete lack of the said development. So in discussing the topic as it relates to this book I will use my own definition.

 

Frey finally developed into a weak-willed lovesick puppy, is it good? The only character who was really developed was Silo. Asked nicely (especially if this involves a large wad of cash) I might admit that sudden and complete change of personality of Harkins in the last part of the book could qualify as a development. As to the rest of the main players: they were just present for the purpose of moving the action along. Some of them actually became boring (I am looking at you, Jez).

 

One more point which kept bothering me a lot. During the whole series the crew got shot at often. Sometimes on practically every page, multiple times. I am not going to spoil this book, but how many times they were hit by bullets in the first three books? One time. In the previous book. Pinn shot himself by accident. I can only think of three explanations of their invincibility. First, the Ketty Jay folks got in shooting matches only with retired Stormtroopers.

Stormtroopers always miss

Second, they all have the same superpower: bullets always miss them. Third (with credits to my friend Bookstooge for this one), Aliens! I cannot think of any other reason.

 

As I already mentioned the last quarter saved the book from being completely hopeless by showing some larger-than-life action scenes. The ending though was a little on the cheesy side. Rant mode off.

The Time of Contempt

The Time of Contempt - David French, Andrzej Sapkowski

The person everybody was searching for in the previous book was still at large with Geralt being one of the two people who could guess the whereabouts.


Dead or Alive
This means everybody was still conducting the search, but this time it became clear that the aim was to make sure the person in question is really dead just like the rumors started by Geralt stated. As we all know sometimes little people can get in the way of movers and the shakers of the world and make them very much inconvenienced by just being alive and breathing. This was exactly the case here. A big political game went on with different parties hoping to outsmart and backstab everybody else. In this climate nobody wanted any additional complications which Geralt and his protégé seems to bring despite the fact that he continued to do his damned to remain neutral. Would it be a big spoiler to say he miserably failed at the end?

True Neutral


The first half of the book looked exactly like the previous one: lots of talk and behind-the-scene machinations, but not much action. Some secondary players that happened to be in the way of the mighty got removed, but nothing major happened. The moment I hit 50% (according to my ereader) I was sure I would rate this one with 3 stars as I already saw practically the same happenings in book 3.

In the second half it all began innocently enough. Geralt woke up in the morning in a castle and decided to play a sophisticated person. So instead of peeing in the first available quiet corner of the castle (yes, this is what the nobility did in the Middle Ages) he went looking for a real toilet. The result made me gave one extra star to the rating: the double-crossings and back-stabbings that followed would not put to shame even the true master of those in fantasy, Glen Cook – read his Black Company if you do not believe me.

My minor complaint would be that the most interesting characters do not get enough screen time, Geralt included. It is not that the ones that do are boring, but in this case others are more exciting.

Anyhow after all the excitement the fallout that followed is shown in a very unusual way. The last part was a little too long in my opinion, but not long enough for me to lower the rating: 4 stars. I am very eager to start the next book of the series.

Reading progress update: I've read 32%.

The Ace Of Skulls - Chris Wooding

Despite the opinion of the majority of readers I found this book to be weaker (so far) that the previous ones.

The Case of the Silent Partner

Case of the Silent Partner - E. Gardner

All the previous books of the series followed roughly the same general plot. A client came to Perry Mason office with a non-trivial but also not critical problem. Mason began investigating (usually involving Paul Drake) until a dead body showed up with all evidence pointing to his client being the murderer. Mason continued the investigation while avoiding the obstacles created by his archenemy Sergeant Holcomb until the court hearing where he would finally show the truth with skillful cross-examination of witnesses.

 

This book signifies the departure from the formula above. For starters it contains not just Mason's POV which was the case before. Sergeant Holcomb is gone replaced by Lieutenant Tragg. This was quite surprising as Mason mentioned that he was partially responsible for Holcomb's departure - and I thought the two finally came to (reluctant) understanding in the previous book. Tragg is smarter than Holcomb and tries to cooperate with Mason most of the time. Paul Drake does not make his personal appearance, but he will be back in the next book.

 

Two sisters opened several flower shops.
Flower Shop
Later when they become successful one of sisters - Mildred Faulkner began to suspect a guy who was holding a virtual monopoly on the business was trying to take over by buying off their stock.

Monopoly

So her part of the stack was safe, but when she checked on her sister it turned out the sister let her husband manage it. The husband could not produce it immediately and Mildred realized she needs a good lawyer - say Perry Mason - to protect her interest. Before she came to him she did her own investigation which led her to an illegal casino and its poisoned employee.

Illegal Casino

By the time Mason got involved another employee was shot with clues pointed at Mildred. To his complete surprise Mildred did not want Mason to represent her.

 

It was fun to see Mason closely working with police represented by Tragg for a change. I did miss Paul Drake and his attitude on life, but I am happy to say he will be back in the next book - as I already mentioned. Due to the cooperation the case was solved before it got to the courtroom, but it was complicated enough to make up for the absence of Mason's interrogation of witnesses. Even despite the fact that I was able to figure out what exactly was going on, I still rate the book with 4 stars.

Blood of Elves

Blood of Elves - Andrzej Sapkowski

This book signifies a sharp departure from the previous two. The first and second ones were collections of short stories mostly told from Geralt the Witcher POV. This time this is a full-length novel with multiple POVs. Actually we only see Geralt's POV in just one chapter - and a shortish one too. In my opinion the book still shows its origins in short story format as the transitions between the chapters are mostly not continuous. Instead they start with a jump in time to give a flashback to connect the events between the previous chapter and current time.

 

As to the plot it is quite easy to outline. The last story of the second book left Geralt stuck with - supposedly - his destiny; namely a child (not his). The poor Witcher was doing all he could and even more to prove that destiny does not exists - at least in his case, only to fail spectacularly. Coming back to destiny's child:


Destiny's Child
oops sorry, wrong picture. It turns out everybody and their brother want to find the poor kid. I mean it literally: it was easier to count the number of named characters of the novel who could not care less about Geralt's protégé than the searchers. I also need to mention some of them were so insistent they would not hesitate to leave a dead body (or ten) if somebody happened to be in their way. Now Geralt needs to provide the protection. He also wants to remain neutral in the intensifying political games and this task turns out to be practically impossible unlike disposing of hired thugs.

 

I have some complaints about the book. Geralt is supposed to be a monster hunter first and foremost. Well he hunted exactly one monster in here; none others bothered even to show up. There is something to be said about the evil created by humans being the biggest monster of them all, but I seriously missed a tentacled multi-headed poison-tailed chitin-armored creature waiting for its butt to be kicked by a skilled professional.

Chtulhu

Now that I finished the book, I cast my mind back and realize that not much actually happened here: a lot of talks, a lot of politics, but by the end most of the characters remained right where they started. Things were brewing, but had not come to boiling point yet.

For all the slowness the book has charm. I cannot quite put my finger on it, but somehow I was never bored reading and the read itself was quite fast. For this reason I give the higher rating than I usually do for such book: 4 stars.