Agatha Raisin Book Titles

As mentioned in the blog on M.C. Beaton and Agatha Raisin, there are many more books for creating PBS shows. From the list of book titles below, look for the words in capital letters. Solution to follow at a later date.


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M.C. Beaton and Agatha Raisin

As many of you would agree, British television does a marvelous job with developing and presenting mystery shows. And fortunately for us, PBS brings many of these shows to this country.

After watching hundreds of episodes of the various British series, I’ve come to the conclusion that these mystery shows fall into three categories. There are the dark story lines like, Sherlock, Vera, Case Histories or Jack Taylor. There is the cozy type of mysteries like all the Christie stories with Poirot and Miss Marple or Midsomer Murders. Then there is the last category which I classify as the lighthearted mysteries. The lighthearted mystery shows definitely investigate murder but are sprinkled with a heavy amount of humor and social behaviors. Examples of these shows include Murder in Suburbia, Father Brown and one of the latest entries Agatha Raisin.

Marion Chesney and M.C. Beaton MC Beaton 1

Agatha Raisin is a series based on the books by British writer Marion Chesney under her pseudonym M.C. Beaton.

M.C. Beaton/Chesney was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1936. Her first job was in the fiction department of booksellers, John Smith & Sons Ltd.  While working for Smith she received a job offer from the Scottish Daily Mail where she was a reviewer of variety shows and then advanced to the job of theater critic. She left Smith when she took on the duties of fashion editor with Scottish Field magazine. Her next job was at Scottish Daily Express where she was a crime reporter. Once more she made a move to the Daily Express where she became the chief woman reporter. All these reporting jobs provided her with a variety of writing experiences.

She married Harry Scott Gibbons and had a son, Charles. Harry took a job as editor of the Oyster Bay Guardian and the family moved to the United States. This job did not work out and they moved to Virginia where Marion actually worked as a waitress. Finally, they both found jobs in New York on Rupert Murdock’s new tabloid, The Star. However, Marion wanted to spend more time with her son and her husband agreed.

She left her reporting career and switched to writing Regency romances under her maiden name of Marion Chesney. After authoring over 100 romances, she eventually tired of writing about the limited period between 1811 to 1820. She turned to writing detectives stories using the pseudonym M.C. Beaton.

The family eventually returned to England. Marion continued writing while Harry raised black sheep in Scotland. However, it was a long commute from London to Scotland. When their son finished school, they moved to the Cotswolds which also happens to be the home of the Agatha Raisin series.

Agatha Raisin-the Early Years

We learn from the short story Agatha’s First Case that Agatha Raisin is a 26-year-old woman working at a public relations firm. She is doing all the work and receiving little reward for her effort. She’s willing to do this because she is trying to better herself from her humble beginnings in a block slum in Birmingham.

Raisins 1st case

When Sir Bryce Teller is charged with murder Agatha is sent to break the news that the firm will no longer keep him as a client. However, during the interview Agatha decides to help with the press. Once he sees her ability at handling the press, he sets Agatha up in her own PR firm.

While establishing her PR firm, Agatha also proves that Sir Teller didn’t kill his wife and thus, establishes her detective credentials.

Her understanding of people, in addition to her PR skills over the years helps Agatha grow her business into one of the most successful agencies in London.

Agatha Raisin Retires to the Cotswolds

Now we jump ahead in time with the first book Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death. This is also the first episode in the PBS series. Agatha is now 53 and owns a highly successful PR agency with top clients. She has made her fortune and has also made the decision to retire while she can still enjoy life.

Based on a childhood memory of a camping trip she decides to leave London and retire to the fictional village of Carsely in the Cotswold. She is ready for a quiet retirement by enjoying life in a quaint village. And village life and all it has to offer would be perfect if it wasn’t for the murders.

Agatha decides the best way to fit into village life is to participate in the various activities. Her first attempt at blending in is by entering the local contest for baking the best quiche. There’s only one problem−Agatha doesn’t cook. Her cooking is limited to having a selection of prepared and frozen food items that she microwaves for most of her personal meals. For her entry in the baking competition, Agatha purchases a quiche from “The Quichery,” a top delicatessen in London. However, even with a professional entry, Agatha doesn’t win.

After the contest, the judge, Mr. Cummings-Browne takes home Agatha’s left-over quiche. The next day he is found dead after eating a second slice of the spinach quiche. However, this slice of quiche was laced with cowbane and Agatha quickly becomes the top suspect.

In order to help her defense as the potential murderer, she is forced to admit that her quiche was store bought. This faux pas immediately reduces her standing in the village to that of a cheater. In order to get back in the good graces of the villagers, she decides she must solve the crime.

Agatha Raisin on PBS 

Agatha Raisin Season 1

In the television series, the story lines tend to follow the original plots of the books. However, there are several character modifications from those in the books. However, the changes seem to add to the television drama.

Agatha, played by Ashley Jensen is clearly not 53, but an active forty something This age difference is reinforced when Bill Wong, the local constable, fills out his on-line dating profile and lists he is interested in women 40-50. He’s hoping to attract Agatha.

In addition to Bill, Agatha relies on an eclectic group of helpers including Roy Silver from her PR days in London and her house cleaner, Gemma Simpson and her daughter.  James Lacey, Agatha’s good-looking neighbor, is introduced early in the first television episode and plays a role in saving Agatha from danger. To make your own character comparisons be sure to check out the books as well as the PBS series.

This crew of amateur detectives under Agatha’s guidance plow through the list of suspects who can be just as eclectic as her helpers. Sometimes they stumble into misadventures but at the end of the day, they uncover the killer of quiche judge Cummings-Browne.

And so, life in the village continues with a sprinkling of murders to keep it from becoming too complacent or dull for the dynamic Agatha Raisin.

This is only one example from the first season of the television series. There are many more adventures based on the books to entertain PBS viewers. In fact, there are many more books available beyond those represented in this first season. To date there is only one season of this delightful series. Hopefully, with the added interest from American PBS audiences, producers will be persuaded to film several more seasons of Agatha Raisin.

Note: Marion Chesney is the author of the Hamish Macbeth detective series, which she also writes under the pseudonym M.C. Beaton. Perhaps in a future blog we will discuss this series.

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Methods of Murder #3 Word Search- Solution

Here are the answers for the latest Methods of Murder Word Search. How did you do? Did you find all the dastardly ways to commit murder?

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Methods of Murder # 3

Yes, we still have more Methods of Murder for you to consider. In some ways, it’s hard to believe there are so many ways to murder our fellow citizens. I might mention that I’ve already started list #4.  To solve the puzzle, look for the words in capital letters. The solution will be posted at a later date.

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John P. Marquand/Mr. Moto Crossword Solution

I know you worked very hard on completing this puzzle. Just in case you need some extra help, here is the solution for the John P. Marquand/Mr. Moto crossword.


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John P. Marquand/Mr. Moto Crossword

You’ve had a couple of weeks to look at the blog about John P. Marquand and Mr. Moto. Now it’s time to test your knowledge. Check out the crossword puzzle below. Remember, most of the answers can be found in the blog. Solution will be posted in a couple of weeks.


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John P. Marquand’s Mr. Moto

What Pulitzer Prize winning author of satirical novels also created one of the most memorable spy detectives in both books and films? The answer is−John P. Marquand.

John P. Marquand won the Pulitzer Prize for The Late George Apley (1938). His title character, George Apley, is a Harvard-educated, white, Anglo-Saxon protestant living on Beacon Hill in downtown Boston. Beacon Hill is one of the oldest and wealthiest areas of Boston where the old money families live. It is located near the Massachusetts State House which sits prominently at the top of the hill, which gives us the term “Beacon Hill.” It was this world of wealth, privilege and power with its strict code for social behavior that Marquand was born into and later satirized.John_P._Marquand

Marquand’s Early Years

Marquand was descendant from several of the early governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. His mother was the great niece of well-known feminist writer, Margaret Fuller, and a cousin of Buckminster Fuller. Aside from his prestige lineage, there was the family fortune made from shipping and merchandising.

However, during the crash of 1907 the family lost their money and suffered a financial downturn. Marquand was sent to live with two eccentric aunts in an old deteriorating mansion in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Unable to afford the tuition for an elite private school he attended the local public high school. He did go to Harvard by winning a scholarship for Chemistry.

At Harvard, he had wanted to write for the newspaper but was turned down. Instead he was elected to the editorial board of the humor magazine, the Harvard Lampoon. After graduation, he finally worked for a newspaper when he was hired by the Boston Evening Transcript in 1915.

In 1922 he married Christina Sedgwick, niece of The Atlantic Monthly editor, Ellery Sedgwick. In 1925 Marquand published, Lord Timothy Dexter. This was considered an important book about the life of this Newburyport eccentric. His other well-known satirical novels include H. M. Pulham, Esquire (1941), B.F.’s Daughter (1946) and Sincerely, Willis Wade (1955).

By the mid-1930’s he was a prolific and successful writer and a regular contributor of fiction for slick magazines like The Saturday Evening Post. By the late 1930’s, Marquand, had created a series of novels about life in the upper-class.

Although he had been snubbed by his college roommates for his lack of wealth, he ultimately joined and embodied the lifestyle of the upper-class including owning luxury homes in Newburyport and the Caribbean. He was part of the very social scene that he often portrayed in a negative light. He was even linked to the Rockefeller family through his second wife, Adelaide Ferry Hooker, whose sister, Blanchette, was married to John D. Rockefeller III.

However, since this is a mystery blog, we think Marquand’s most important work was the creation of Japanese master spy and detective, Mr. Moto. Marquand achieved great popularity and commercial success with his spy novels about this fictional detective.

The Creation of Mr. Moto

Marquand was asked by The Saturday Evening Post to write a series of stories featuring an Asian character. In fact, the magazine sent him on a trip to Asia to do research. The magazine was attempting to fill the void created by the death of Erle Derr Biggers, the creator of Charlie Chan.

His first Moto story appeared in the magazine under the title, No Hero but later when published as a novel it was changed to, Your Turn, Mr. Moto.

Marquand wrote six Moto novels between 1935 and 1957.  All six novels were serialized first as magazine stories in The Saturday Evening Post except for Last Laugh, Mr. Moto which was serialized in Collier’s Weekly.

Marquand’s Moto novels were adapted into 23 radio shows starring James Monk. The first radio show was called A Force Called X07 (May,1951) and ended with The Dry Martini (October, 1951). Eight motion pictures were developed by Twentieth Century Fox starring Peter Lorre and Henry Silva starred in a 1965 film, The Return of Mr. Moto. In 2003 Moonstone Books published a graphic novel called Welcome Back, Mr. Moto.

Who Is Mr. Moto

When Mr. I.A. Moto is introduced to us, he appears as an eccentric Japanese aristocrat. In Think fast, Mr. Moto, Moto is described as a small man, delicate, almost fragile. book moto

He was dressed formally in morning coat and striped trousers. His black hair was carefully brushed in the Prussian style. He was smiling, showing a row of shiny gold-filled teeth, and as he smiled he drew in his breath with a polite, soft sibilant sound.

The focus of the novels is on westerners who experience problems involving some international intrigue. They are written from the westerner’s point of view. Mr. Moto is an international spy that operates behind the scene and enters into their lives to help them find a solution to their problem and extract them from danger.

In Think Fast, Mr. Moto he mentions other skills that he possesses:

Yes, I can do many things. I can mix drinks and wait on tables, and I am a very good valet. I can navigate and manage small boats. I have studied at two foreign universities. I also know carpentry and surveying and five Chinese dialects. So very many things come in useful.

Later in Mr. Moto Is So Sorry, we learn that one of the foreign universities he attended is American where he was a student of Anthropology. Later in the film versions of Mr. Moto, we will discover he has added several more skills to his list.

Plots of the Novels

In all the novels, Moto is a shadowy figure that seems to have numerous contacts in the Orient underworld that he manipulates to achieve his desired results.  Let’s take a look at the first Mr. Moto book.

In Your Turn, Mr. Moto, Flying Ace Lee Casey finds himself stranded in Tokyo when his transpacific pilot job for a tobacco company is cancelled. Low on funds Casey accepts a lucrative job offer from Mr. Moto and finds himself on a ship bound for Shanghai. His fellow passenger and female lead in this story is Sonya, a White Russian, who also seems to be assisting Mr. Moto. When a Chinese man turns up dead in Casey’s cabin, the trio is caught in a game of danger that could affect all of their countries.  Your Turn Mr. Moto

In the final novel, The Last of Mr. Moto (Stopover Tokyo-magazine title) is set in the 1950’s. Mr. Moto is now an intelligent officer for the pro-western Japanese government.

Jack Rhyce, a former paratrooper from World War II, has changed careers to becomes a secret agent in the early years of the Cold War. Rhyce and fellow spy Ruth Bogart have been dispatched to Tokyo to foil an assassination attempt. However, while the team is working to stop a murder they must also deal with an additional problem. Japan is now forming close ties with America and a communist ring is stirring up anti-American sentiment.

Jack and Ruth are pretending to be representatives of the Asia Friendship League and are met by Mr. Moto at the airport. Mr. Moto is undercover as a would-be tour guide who offers to make their stay more pleasant.

The American spies immediately suspect that there’s more to Mr. Moto than what appears. They need to stop the sinister plot and discover if the mysterious Mr. Moto will be their ally, or their enemy.

Both of these examples are representative of the plots in the novels. A westerner is in peril in the world of spies and deadly plots. The constant danger is offset with a romance between the male hero and the female lead.

The characters may not always understand the motives of Mr. Moto but he is ultimately there to help them. There’s also a sense that the people he is helping are talented individuals who emerge as a new form of hero. Moto recognizes this when he says:

“Undercover work is always like that,” …the people one encounters are much the same. They may be shady and raffish, but don’t forget they’re all of them brave. They do their work like a piece on a chess board and nothing stops them from moving along the diagonal. … they’re working for their respective countries and that’s more than a lot of people do.”

Mr. Moto Films

During one of the winter months this year, there was a very snowy day. This is the kind of day where you don’t want to leave the house and curling up with a good book is the perfect solution.

On this day, instead of opting for a good mystery book, I decided to do my own film fest. I had just received the collection of Mr. Moto movies. These are the eight movies from 20th Century Fox filmed between 1937 and 1939 featuring Peter Lorrie. I started with the first film, Think Fast, Mr. Moto. Think Fast Mr. Moto

Unlike the novels, there are several differences with the Mr. Moto in the films. Mr. I.A. Moto of the novels now has the first name of Kentaro. Mr. Moto is no longer the shadowy figure behind the scenes, but the focus of the films with the westerner playing a subordinate role. Occasionally he may be the seen in a tuxedo, but he does not wear formal morning attire as his normal dress and there is no signs of a gold tooth.

And perhaps based on the athleticism of Lorre we are aware that Moto is both an expert in Jiu-Jitsu and Judo and capable of circus like feats. He is a master of disguises and is also a skilled magician. For his personal enjoyment, he composes a form of poetry known as Haiku and draws caricatures.

The film plots are loosely based on the original stories but always involve spies and expose Mr. Moto to danger from some foreign government or group. And there is still the westerner who needs help in saving the secret plans, protecting their country or finding the hidden treasure. With the help of Mr. Moto, the problem is solved and for just a little while life returns to normal, until the next Moto film.

Mr. Moto Continues to be a Good Story

Mr. Moto was a good solid replacement for the Charlie Chan stories. I recommend on snowy days or on any day for that matter, to treat yourself to the detective stories of John P. Marquand’s, Mr. Moto. They are full of intrigue, spies, romance and plots that keeps the reader entertained.


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Erle Stanley Gardner Book Titles #2-Solution

Hope you found all the Perry Mason titles. Just in case you didn’t, here is the solution. I also hoped you enjoyed our posts about Erle Stanley Gardner.


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Erle Stanley Gardner Titles #2 Word Search

I’m going to finish our current set of blogs about Erle Stanley Gardner with a second word search puzzle of Perry Mason titles. Gardner was such a prolific writer that I couldn’t fit all the titles in just one word search. And these are just the Perry Mason titles. Who knows maybe I’ll have a word search of Cool and Lam titles at a later date. As always, find the words in the list of titles that are capitalized.


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Erle Stanley Gardner Crossword- Solution

There were a couple of tough questions in this puzzle, so I understand if you need to check your answers. I also know you are a mystery puzzle expert so I’m sure you did a great job!


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Erle Stanley Gardner Crossword Puzzle

If you’re searching for an answer, be sure to read the previous blog about Erle Stanley Gardner. You’ll find the answers for this crossword puzzle within that blog. Solution will be posted in a couple of weeks.


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Erle Stanley Gardner

Mention the name of actor, Raymond Burr and most people will immediately respond− “Perry Mason.” Burr made his acting mark playing this television lawyer.  But ask this same audience the name of the writer of the Perry Mason stories and many people will struggle to remember −Erle Stanley Gardner.

Erle Stanley Gardner

Gardner is the prolific writer who created over eighty Mason stories along with two other lesser known mystery series Cool and Lam and Doug Selby and numerous other works.

Gardner’s Legal Background

Gardner attended law school in Indiana but only lasted about a month. He had an interest in boxing which included organizing illegal boxing matches. This endeavor resulted in his suspension from school.

He came home to California where he secured a job as a typist at a law firm. Without any formal schooling, but with the knowledge he learned at the law firm and self-study he passed the bar in 1911. He opened a law office in 1917, but soon closed it for a better paying sales job. By 1921 he returned to the practice of law and was a partner at the firm of Sheridan, Orr, Drapeau and Gardner where he remained until 1933.

As a lawyer, Gardner preferred case strategy and courtroom tactics and was bored by other elements of law. His preference for strategy and tactics are clearly found in his stories.

Gardner’s and Pulp Magazines

The existence of Pulp Magazines helped launch many a Golden Age mystery author and Erle Stanley Gardner was no exception. He produced hundreds of stories for the pulps. Long before the Perry Mason stories became popular Erle Stanley Gardner was considered the “King of the Pulps.”

As the Mason novels became more popular Gardner reduced his contributions to these magazines. Of course, by the 1950’s the pulps were also on their way out.

Gardner’s Perry Mason

The Perry Mason stories are the largest body of work that Gardner produced. And the Mason books rank third in the top ten list of best-selling series.

As a young boy in Massachusetts Gardner read a magazine called the “Youth’s Companion” which was published in Boston by the Perry Mason Company. It was from this company that Gardner took the name for his Perry Mason character.

Gardner’s Perry Mason Stories

The Mason stories tend to follow a set formula with a wrongly accused client seeking Mason’s help. Then Mason and Drake investigate.  The guilty party is usually revealed during the preliminary court proceedings. In addition, other crimes like blackmail, embezzlement, missing persons and fraud are often discovered along with the solution for the current murder.

Although most of us probably picture someone who looks like Raymond Burr when we think of Perry Mason, very few descriptive details are presented in the stories. He leaves the true description of Mason to the reader’s imagination. We also know very little about Mason’s private life. He lives alone in an apartment and his only romantic interest seems to be Della, although this relationship is never fulfilled. We actually know more about Mason’s food likes because many scenes take place in restaurants.

Mason is also a very good detective. In The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat, District Attorney Hamilton Burger says “You’re a better detective than you are a lawyer.” It’s not enough for Mason to simply get his client off.  He needs to solve the crime.

Perry Mason−Early Films

In the 30’s Warner Brothers purchased the film rights for several of the Mason novels. However, Gardner was not thrilled with the results. In one film the emphasis was on Mason as a Latin lover. In another, film he marries Della Street. In all the films, Mason acted as a lighthearted detective solving the crime with no courtroom trials. Some of the actors portraying Mason in these films were Warren William, Ricardo Cortez, and Donald Woods. These films were purely entertainment without emphasis on the legal element.

Perry Mason Radio

Even though his experience with Perry Mason movies was not a positive one, Gardner decided to put Mason on the radio. The Perry Mason shows were developed as part of detergent giant Proctor and Gamble’s afternoon soap operas or as they became known − “The Soaps.” These shows were extremely popular and built a large audience.

Perry Mason Television

By the time audiences were switching from radio to television, Perry Mason was at the top of the radio ratings.

CBS approached Gardner about turning Perry Mason into an afternoon soap opera for television. Gardner refused, but CBS did create the long running soap, The Edge of Night starring John Larkin. Larkin had been the voice of Perry Mason on the radio and later had guest appearances on the Mason television series.

In 1957, CBS again approached Gardner for a television show featuring Perry Mason. Gardner along with actress Gail Patrick (Jackson) and her husband, Thomas Jackson (Gardner’s literary agent) formed a production company. This provided Gardner with the creative control he wanted.  Burr as Mason

Canadian actor, Raymond Burr, was chosen for the starring role. Burr had originally auditioned for the role of Hamilton Burger. However, once Gardner saw Burr he said Burr was the character he had in mind when he created Mason. Paul Drake was played by William Hopper, the son of Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Della Street was played by Barbara Hale who also appeared in several Falcon
movies. And many future stars had early appearances on the series including Burt Reynolds, Robert Redford, Cloris Leachman, Leonard Nimoy, Dick Clark, Angie Dickinson and even the genie herself, Barbara Eden. In the final episode of this series, The Case of the Final Fade-Out, even Gardner had a cameo appearance as the judge

[Note: Barbara Hale was the last remaining star from the original series and just passed away in January (2017) at the age of 94.]

Perry Mason Continues

For one season from 1973-1974 a second television series was produced featuring Monte Markham as Mason. Then in 1985, thirty new episodes were created. The series once again featured Raymond Burr as Mason with Barbara Hale as Della Street and ran until 1995. Barbara Hale’s son, William Katt played Paul Drake. For new generations of viewing audiences, the original and the later series featuring Burr can still be seen on television. And HBO recently announced the possibility of a new series featuring Robert Downey Jr. So, stay tuned for more Perry Mason.

Other Gardner Crime Series

Gardner’s Doug Selby

Doug Selby is on the opposite side of the legal system from Perry Mason. He is a newly elected District Attorney who works crime cases with the newly elected Sheriff, Rex Brandon.  In the first book, The D.A. Calls It Murder, Selby must not only solve the murder with reluctant witnesses but face constant criticisms from a hostile and corrupt press. The-D-A-Calls-It-Murder-FE

His antagonist in many of the stories is Alphonse Baker (A.B.) Carr. Unlike Mason, he’s a shyster whose clients are usually guilty.  There are nine Selby books, a radio episode and a television film. The television film starred Jim Hutton who also played Ellery Queen in the television series.

Gardner’s Cool and Lam,

Cool and Lam was a series about a detective agency that Gardner wrote using the pseudonym A.A. Fair. He produced twenty-nine books featuring Bertha Cool and Donald Lam starting with The Bigger They Come (1939).

Bertha Cool takes over the detective agency after her husband’s death. She is described initially as being overweight with white hair, miserly, but persistent.  In the first novel, she hires Donald Lam as an operative who does the leg work for the agency.

Lam is not your typical hardboiled detective. He doesn’t weigh much and is constantly getting beat up. He doesn’t carry a gun for fear of losing it during a fight. However, like a true hardboiled detective he has his own code of justice which doesn’t always include following the normal legal process. Although, he wants a partnership in the agency, Lam doesn’t receive it until after he leaves the team and Bertha finally realizes how valuable his skills are to solving the crimes.

One final note about this series. The Knife Slipped which was written in 1939 as the second book in the series was lost among Gardner’s papers. When it was discovered it was finally published in 2016.

Still More Gardner Writings

Gardner did a great deal of radio work where he created characters such as Christopher London in 1950 (played by Glenn Ford) and characters for a Life in Your Hands which aired from 1949-1952.

Gardner also spent many hours working on a project called the “Court of Last Resort.” Working with legal, forensic and investigative experts, the project reviewed criminal cases and sought to reverse miscarriages of justice. Gardner wrote a book about the project’s work and won an Edgar Award in the Best Fact Crime category. The project was also made into a television series.

In addition to his fiction work, Gardner wrote documentaries about his travels through the Baja California peninsula. He loved the area and traveled extensively writing about his explorations. When he passed away on March 11, 1970 at age 80, his final instructions were that he was to be cremated and his ashes scattered over his beloved Baja peninsula.

Personal life

Gardner married Natalie Frances Talbert in 1912 and they had one daughter, Grace. Gardner and Frances separated in the early thirties, but never divorced. After her death in 1968, Gardner married Agnes Jean Bethell who had been one of his secretaries since 1930.

Gardner typed his stories on a typewriter using only two fingers.  Of course, as he became more famous he dictated his writing to a team of secretaries.  Jean had two sisters Peggy and Ruth who also worked as Garner’s secretaries. It is said that Jean, Peggy and Ruth inspired Gardner’s creation of Della Street.

Earl Stanley Gardner’s Contribution to Mysteries

The massive volume of work produced by Gardner makes him stand out from other crime and mystery writers. At the time of his death, he was the best-selling American writer of the 20th century.

With his courtroom stories, Gardner established a format that has continued to influence legal dramas through today. Gardner’s lawyers were more than the legal arm of the law. They were detectives who helped solve crimes. More importantly they insured that justice was done for both the innocent and the guilty. And like his Perry Mason TV series Gardner’s work continues to live on for new readers

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Erle Stanley Gardner Book Titles #1-Solution

A couple of weeks have passed since I posted this first word search puzzle of Perry Mason titles. Did you discover all of the key words? If not, here is the solution so you can check your work.


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Erle Stanley Gardner Titles #1 Word Search

Over the next several blogs, we’re going to take a look at Erle Stanley Gardner’s writings. Let’s start with a word search puzzle. This list represents the early Perry Mason titles through 1953. As always, search for the words from the titles in capital letters.


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Raymond Chandler Crossword Puzzle-Solution

Here’s your chance to see if you are a Raymond Chandler expert. Below are the solutions to the crossword puzzle.


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Raymond Chandler Crossword Puzzle

Hopefully, you have read the previously published Raymond Chandler blog. Now it’s time to test your knowledge about Raymond Chandler with this crossword puzzle. Solution will follow in a few weeks.



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Raymond Chandler

What do you do when you’re a top executive with a large oil company and you lose your job during the depression. If your Raymond Chandler, you become a writer of hardboiled detective fiction. He may have started his writing career late in life −at the age of forty-four− but he created one of the most iconic detectives of all time in Phillip Marlowe.


Chandler was born in 1888 in Chicago, Illinois to Florence and Maurice Chandler. He spent his early years living in Plattsmouth, Nebraska near relatives of his mother’s family. However, life was not easy for him and his mother. His father was an alcoholic and then abandon the family. His mother, who was originally from Ireland, made a decision that the best place to raise Ray was to return nearer her home. They arrived in London in 1900 where they lived with her mother while one of her Irish uncles supported them.

Chandler’s Education

After his early education, Chandler continued at Dulwich College in London.  Other famous authors who received their education at this institution were C.S. Forester and P.G. Wodehouse. He did not go on to attend university but spent time traveling in Germany and France. In 1907, he was naturalized as a British subject.  This allowed him to take the civil service examination and get a job with the British Admiralty. Also during this time he published his first poem.

Chandler soon discovered he did not like civil service and disregarding family objections he resigned. He next worked as a reporter for both the Daily Express and the Bristol Western Gazette. He was not considered a particularly good journalist, but he published reviews and continued writing poetry.

In 1912 he returned to the US and his mother joined him at the end of the year. In 1913 they moved to the city of Los Angeles.

In 1917 when World War I started he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and he did see action in France. He had just started flight training in the Royal Air Force when the war ended.

Chandler’s Personal Life

After his military service, he returned to Los Angeles and fell in love with Pearl (Cissy) Pascal. She was 18 years his senior, married and the step mother to one of the men that enlisted with Chandler. Cissy divorced her husband but Chandler’s mother was still not happy with her son’s choice of a partner. Chandler waited and in the interim supported both woman. Then after his mother’s death in 1923, he married Cissy.

Chandler was totally in love with Cissy. When Cissy died in 1954 Chandler was absolutely heartbroken. His loneliness after her death along with his increased drinking led to bouts of depression. He attempted suicide in 1955. He even forgot that Cissy’s ashes were stored in the basement of Cypress View Mausoleum. It wasn’t until 2010 through the efforts of lawyer, Aissa Wayne (John Wayne’s daughter) that Cissy finally joined Chandler at his grave site in Mount Hope cemetery. On the gravestone are the words “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”

Chandler and Pulp Fiction

Chandler explained that he started reading pulp fiction because he never cared for the short stories found in women’s magazines. Chandler said he taught himself to write pulp fiction by reading and studying the stories from Erle Stanley Gardner.

The Black Mask magazine, which was featured in a previous blog, published Chandler’s first story, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” in 1933. In his first stories the detective’s name was Mallory. However, when Chandler was at Dulwich College he was a member of Marlowe house and it is believed this influenced the name change. The last pulp fiction short story Chandler penned was “The Pencil.” (1959)

Chandler’s Marlowe Novels

The first full length novel that introduce his detective Philip Marlowe was The Big Sleep in 1939. Chandler was 51 when this book was published.

After, The Big Sleep he wrote six more Philip Marlowe novels. The last Marlowe novel that Chandler completed was Playback. He was 70 when he finished this book.

Chandler Plot Summaries:

The Big Sleep (1939) In this first book, Marlowe is hired by aging millionaire General Sternwood. He tells Marlowe that his daughter Carmen is being blackmailed. However, Marlowe also learns that sister Vivian’s husband Rusty Regan has disappeared.

What appears to be a simple case of paying off a blackmailer turns into a complex case of kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murders. And under Marlowe’s code of justice all the murders must be solved regardless of who committed them.

Farewell My Lovely (1940)  While working a dead-end case, Marlowe spots felon Moose Malloy in a nightclub called Florian’s. He’s  looking for his ex-girlfriend Velma Valento.

Marlowe on a separate case is hired to deliver a ransom to retrieve a set of stolen jewels. The separate searches for the missing showgirl and the missing jewelry merge into a string of related crimes for Marlowe to solve.

The High Window (1942) Marlowe is asked to recover a missing doubloon which is a rare and valuable coin. Is the coin’s disappearance related to the son, Leslie Murdock’s gambling debts? Was the husband’s fall from a window really a murder? Several murders are interwoven with the search for the coin and the players connected to it. the-high-window

The Lady in the Lake (1943) Marlowe is hired by Derace Kingsley to find his estranged wife, Crystal. It’s believed that Crystal has run off with Chris Lavery, until he turns up dead.

There are three women challenging Marlowe’s detecting skills. The missing wife, the daughter found dead in a car with the motor running and of course the lady in the lake. Marlowe needs to sort out stolen identities, the murders and a crooked cop to bring justice to this case.

The Littler Sister (1949) This book incorporates Chandler’s film experience in several scenes, but does not portray Hollywood in a positive light. It focuses on a starlet, Mavis Weld who has a gangster boyfriend and a couple of siblings in her life. The plot includes multiple murders, black mail and family secrets that weave in and out of the plot.

The Long Goodbye (1953) This book was written while Chandler’s wife was dying and is considered his most personal. It concerns two men who are both alcoholics and one, Roger Wade, a successful novelist who now finds it hard to write.

It opens with Marlowe meeting a drunk named Terry Lennox who he later drives to Mexico. When he returns from Mexico, he finds that Lennox is accused of his wife’s murder. Lennox confesses to the murder in his suicide note. However, Marlowe is not convinced about Terry’s suicide.

In the meantime, Marlowe takes a case to keep novelist Roger Wade writing and not drinking. However, when Wade is murdered Marlowe finds the two cases are connected.

Playback (1958) Marlowe is hired by an anonymous client to find Betty Mayfield. She was acquitted of her husband’s murder but her father-in-law does not accept the outcome and wants her tailed. Marlowe finds he’s becoming romantically involved with the woman he is tailing. He must save her from both her father-in-law and a new murder charge.

Chandler’s Unfinished Novel

The eighth Marlowe novel was completed after Chandler’s death. When he died in 1959 he left behind four chapters of a new Phillip Marlowe novel. Robert B. Parker of Spencer fame was tapped to finish the book which was published in 1989. It’s called Poodle Springs and portrays Palm Springs in a negative light. poodle-spring-cover

Detective Phillip Marlowe

The location for most of the Chandler’s stories is the city of Los Angeles. In these stories he takes the reader from the high life of society into the underbelly of the seedier side of the city. However, none of the social groups depicted were free from corruption.

Marlowe follows the general guidelines for hardboiled detectives. He was fired from the D.A.’s office for insubordination, but he maintains his contacts within law enforcement. He doesn’t engage in fights just to prove a point, but he can take care of himself.  When he’s on the receiving end of an encounter, he’s tough and always manages to survive. He’s a drinker of hard liquors like brandy, whiskey and bourbon, but will indulge in cocktails like Gibsons and Gimlets when he’s with the ladies.

However, there’s a softer side to Marlowe.  He is more of a thinker and a man who is fond of poetry and enjoys a game of chess against himself. But true to typical hardboiled behavior he’s a loner and maintains a one-man office with no secretary.

Like Hammett’s Sam Spade, Marlowe is able to avoid the seduction of the story’s femme fatales. In the end his code of moral justice will always win out over the ladies.

Chandler and the Film Industry

The film version of Chandler’s first book, The Big Sleep (1946) is probably remembered more for the two stars that played in the movie rather than the plot of the book. Of course, I’m referring to actors Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. In fact, Bacall’s role was enhanced from the original story in order to give her more screen time with Bogart. the-big-sleep-movie

His second novel Farewell, My Lovely was made into three different Hollywood movies. The 1944 version Murder My Sweet marked the screen debut of Phillip Marlowe played by Dick Powell. Chandler liked Powell’s Portrayal of Marlowe. However, many actors besides Powell portrayed Marlowe including James Mitchum, Powers Boot, James Garner, Elliot Gould and James Caan.

Because of the success of the Marlowe books, Chandler was in demand. He decided to try his hand as a screenwriter. In 1944 he worked with Billy Wilder and adopted James M. Cain’s novel Double Indemnity. Wilder said the dialogue which is the heart of the film was largely Chandler’s contribution. Chandler also wrote the screenplay for The Blue Dahlia (1946). Both of these screenplays were nominated for Academy Awards.

Chandler worked on the film Strangers on the Train (1951) with Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock and Chandler did not get along and rumor has it that Hitchcock threw Chandler’s first two drafts in the trash. However, when the screen credits were listed, Chandler was in first position.

Chandler’s Contribution to Mysteries

Chandler’s strength was not in the plots that were often intricate, complex and sometimes incomplete, but in the emotion revealed in his descriptions and dialogue. Chandler was considered to be a more thoughtful writer weaving various style elements into his stories which make the people and places seem real.

Marlowe is also perhaps more romantic than other hardboiled detectives of this period.  He is often seen as a Sir Galahad coming to save the day.

Even though his style was different, Raymond Chandler along with Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain are credited with creating the standard for hardboiled detective fiction that we continue to enjoy today.





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Mystery TV Shows (#3) –Word Search

Over the years there have been some great TV shows featuring an assortment of detectives. Here is another sampling of those shows. Find the capitalized words from the list below.


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The Value of Clues in Mysteries

It’s hard for me to believe that five years have passed since I started my Dark and Stormy Night Mysteries blog. During this time, I have written about mystery authors, characteristics of mysteries, crime methods, detectives and I even sprinkled in some mystery word search and crossword puzzles. However, the one overwhelming lesson I’ve learned is how many well written mysteries are available for our reading pleasure.

This brings me to one of my pet peeves about my favorite genre. I often read in articles that mysteries are not serious literary fiction. Yet the rules of writing both literary fiction and mysteries require that a story be told. In a mystery there is the crime, most often a murder. Then the author must take the reader from the crime to a solution through story telling.

Sue Grafton asked when being interviewed about literary fiction−”where is the story.” She went on to say that literary fiction often has a “meandering quality” and she only gives a book ten pages to hook her. I agree with her assessment.   So much of literary fiction meanders through scene after scene featuring the main character and their life experiences. Eventually after a wandering path we sometimes reach a conclusion.

Do all literary fiction stories meander? Of course not. There are many great stories being told. Are all mysteries great stories? Well… of course not.

However, there is one major story difference between literary fiction and mysteries. I believe this one difference hooks the reader and makes a mystery story more challenging to write. What is that difference? It’s the clues. clue-image-1

Sometimes in mainstream literary fiction there may be a secret where hints are given about what did occur or may occur within the story. In mysteries there’s no option not to give hints through the use of clues. These clues help to engage the reader.

As Ellery Queen would say it’s the reader’s challenge to see if they have been an astute reader in following the same information that’s presented to the detective. The reader is pitted against the detective with the same opportunity to solve the crime.

What is a clue?

By definition it’s a piece of evidence or information that helps a person find something or discover something which solves the mystery. A secondary explanation is that it is something that guides one through an intricate procedure or maze.

This explanation about helping a person through a maze comes from the origins of the word. The word clue is a late Middle English variant of ‘clew.’ The original meaning of clew was ‘a ball of thread.’ It referred to the idea that a string is used to guide a person out of a maze by tracing backwards following the string.

The most famous example of the word clew is that of the Greek hero Theseus. He killed the monstrous bull-headed Minotaur in its lair and then escaped from the Labyrinth. He was able to escape because the princess Ariadne gave him a ball of twine. He unraveled it as he went in and followed the twine back to find his way out again. From this original example the definition of clue was broadened to mean anything you follow to solve the problem or find a solution.

Clues have a dual purpose

Clues are designed to help the reader solve the murder. They put the reader on an equal playing field with the detective. If the author plays fair−and mystery authors should always play fair−the reader has the same information as the detective. There can be no surprise suspects that pop up in the last chapters, no finger or foot prints that are overlooked or no information that the detective forgets to mention.

Remember that clues can also serve to misguide the reader and the detective. When first presented an item could appear to be a legitimate clue but ends up sending the reader and the detective down the wrong trail. When this happens this clue becomes what is known as a red herring.

Types of Clues

Forensic Clues

These are the clues we all know because of TV shows that emphasize this type of evidence. They include footprints, fingerprints, blood splatter, strands of hair, pieces of fabric and all the other items that lend themselves to scientific analysis.  footprints3

Visual Clues

These clues are the items that are observed by the detective as they pursue the case. It may be the photo on the mantle of someone not seen for years or presumed lost. It might be an item spotted in the room at the time of the murder that has now disappeared. It might be observing that the lady who vanished filled a suitcase full of clothing and jewelry but forgot to take her underwear.

Verbal Clues

This may be one of the hardest clues for the reader to spot. They really have to be paying attention. It is usually slip of the tongue that no one but the detective notices. The suspect may say he never knew the victim. However, later a book in the library is discovered with an inscription from the dead man to the suspect. Or it might be the time table given by the suspect of their activity around the time of the murder.  The time table is very close but there’s just enough of a gap for the person to have committed the crime.

Behavioral Clues

These clues of course bring to mind Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. There was always a person from her village of St Mary Mead that’s a mirror image of someone involved in the current crime. She knows the psychology of how people behave and this is the clue that always leads her to the solution of the crime. For Quill in Lillian Jackson Braun’s cat mysteries there is the behavior of Koko, the Siamese cat, who provides a clue to what has happened or is about to happen.

Yes, it’s the clues that helps solve the crime. But more importantly, it’s the clues that help guide the reader through the story. It’s the clues that take the detective and the reader in a certain direction. They are not meandering through experiences but checking out specific locations, doing dedicated research or interviewing potential suspects.

I do read literary fiction all the time and there are many books and authors that I have enjoyed and recommended to others. However−you knew there would be a however −I love a book with a delicious murder and a story that challenges me to solve the puzzle. This challenge is enhanced by a series of clues and yes, even some red herrings woven cleverly into the story. For me, clues make mysteries a literary story worth reading.




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Mystery Crossword Anniversary Puzzle Solution

Thanks for participating in our anniversary crossword puzzle. Below are the answers. Hope you had as much fun solving the puzzle as we had creating it.


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Mystery Crossword Anniversary Puzzle

Can you believe how quickly time passes? This September marks the 5th anniversary of my mystery blog. I’ve written about types of mysteries, characteristics of mysteries, writers of mysteries and the detectives who solve the mysteries.  And occasionally I’ve even told you about the mysteries I’ve written.

I’ve also had great fun creating mystery word searches and crossword puzzles. Speaking of puzzles. In honor of my upcoming anniversary I’ve created a crossword puzzle based on  many of the past blogs. I hope you enjoy this special puzzle!


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Jules Maigret Word Search-Solution

Georges Simenon was a very prolific writer producing up to 80 pages a day. Our word search only listed some of the titles from the selection of Jules Maigret stories and novels. Below is the solution for checking your answers.


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Jules Maigret Word Search

Jules Maigret is George Simenon’s popular fictional detective. Simenon wrote seventy-five novels and twenty-eight short stories between 1931 and 1972. Below you will see a list of  some of the titles. Look for the capitalized words which are hidden in the puzzle.


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Georges Simenon & Jules Maigret

Georges Simenon was a Belgium writer who produced 200 novels and numerous short stories. Of course from a mystery perspective he was best known for his creation of fictional detective Jules Maigret. His sales from the Maigret series are estimated to be twice as many as those of the Harry Potter books.

Georges Simenon was born February 13, 1903 in Liège, Belgium. However, due to prevailing superstition his birth was registered as the 12th of February.

In 1911, the Simenon family moved to a larger house where they took in lodgers. No doubt the influence of these lodgers helped Georges create his characters when he began to write fiction.

Georges used his father’s heart condition and the need to help the family as a reason to quit school. At the age of 15 he took a job at the Gazette de Liège. This newspaper experience taught him editing skills and the ability to produce stories quickly. He wrote 150 articles and published his first novel Au Pont des Arches in 1919 under the pen name G. Sim. He also produced hundreds of humorous pieces writing as Monsieur Le Coq. One of his mother’s relatives was the criminal Gabriel Brȕhl who was hanged for his crimes. Simenon would later also use Brȕhl as one of his pen names. georges_simenon2

At the newspaper he was usually assigned human interest stories. These stories exposed him to the seamier side of life. He was known for his visitations with prostitutes and his drunkenness. He socialized with bohemians, anarchists and even some future murderers. He was often in the company of artists where he met his future wife, Régina Renchon (nicknamed Tigy).  After his father’s death in 1922 Georges along with Tigy moved to Paris. In 1929 they returned to Liège to marry.

A 1928 newspaper assignment sent Simenon on a sea voyage and he fell in love with boating. In 1929 he had a boat built named Ostrogoth.  Tigy, their dog, and their housekeeper Henriette Liberge who was nicknamed Boule moved aboard the boat and traveled the French canal system. Boule’s nickname meant ball and was a reference to her pudgy weight.  Boule who lived with the family for ten years is said to have been romantically involved with Simenon.

Between 1932 and 1936 Georges, Tigy and Boule moved to a manor house in Marsilly.  This was followed by his renting a villa in La Rochelle in early 1938 and later in that year he purchased a farmhouse in Nieul-sur-Mer. His son with Tigy, Marc, was born there in 1939.

During the Second World War, Simenon’s loyalties were called into question. The local farmers thought he was a Nazi sympathizer while the Gestapo suspected him of being Jewish. Most historians think he was simply apolitical. However, by the end of the war he was under investigation because he had negotiated film rights for his books with the Germans. In 1950 he was sentenced to a five-year period in which he was forbidden from publishing any new works.  This had little effect on the amount of work he produced or his later publishing credits.

In 1945 Simenon avoided more questions about his war loyalties by coming to North America with Tigy and his son. Boule was delayed in joining the family because of visa issues. The family spent several months in Canada and then traveled extensively throughout the United States. Simenon lived for a short time in Florida and then he rented a house in Arizona where Boule finally rejoined the family. The Simenons left Arizona for California and then returned to the East where they bought a farm in Connecticut.

Simenon made frequent trips to New York City where he met Denyse Quimet. She was originally from Montreal and she was also much younger than Simenon.  She was initially hired as his secretary but soon was involved in a relationship with him.

In 1949 Tigy and Georges were divorced and he married Denyse in 1950.  They had three children together. The family returned to France in 1955 and then settled in Switzerland. In 1964 he separated from Denyse. Teresa Sburelin, who was hired as a housekeeper in 1961 had also become romantically involved with the author. She remained with him until his death of natural causes at the age of 86.

While the Simenon children were strictly raised in the Catholic faith Georges continued to visit prostitutes and have numerous affairs including one reportedly with Josephine Baker. He once said he had slept with 10,000 women. Simenon claimed his fondness for prostitutes was necessary research for him to understand the working class that was the foundation for many of his stories.

Simenon was made a member of the Académie Royale de Belgique in 1952. For his most well-known work, a statue of Maigret was created in 1966 and placed where Simenon wrote the first Maigret novel. Many of the actors who had played Maigret on film joined Simenon at the unveiling. He remained a Belgian citizen throughout his life although he did not reside there after 1922. In 2003 he was honored with a commemorative Belgian coin “100 Years of Georges Simenon.”

Detective Jules Maigret

Commissaire Jules Maigret made his first appearance in 1930 in a story for Detective magazine.

Maigret is a well-known and an accomplished detective that has moved up through the police ranks. He is described as being of average height, slightly overweight but not obese. Unlike his creator, Maigret is loyal to his wife. Her name is Louise but is always referred to in the stories as Madam Maigret. They had one child, a daughter, who died at birth. While the couple never had any additional children he is fond of the youngsters he encounters. He savors the home-cooked meals that Madame Maigret prepares and the time he spends with her. Maigret Book Cover

He prefers to take a police car or a taxi even for short distances. When he does walk he often gives his attaché case to a junior officer to carry and he prefers not to climb stairs. Maigret is easily spotted in his overcoat which he wears even in warmer weather and is rarely seen without his pipe.

He finds that smoking his pipe along with his frequent visits to pubs and cafés helps him to think. He has a fondness for beer and wine although he is never drunk.

He approaches his cases a little differently from other detectives. Crime facts are important for solving the case, but for Maigret the solution is more of a journey. He examines in detail the people and places surrounding the crime rather than just the gory details of the murder.

While his men are focused on the crime scene and interviewing the obvious suspects, Maigret will spend his time checking out the surrounding area. He will roam the streets of the city, town or village to see what is important in the lives of the people who live there. He might interview the concierge of a nearby building, or a retail shop owner. Of course there’s always the opportunity to stop at the local pub for a light lunch, a glass of wine and the gathering of information.

He tries to determine what made the criminal commit the crime. Along with Maigret, we discover a cast of characters that help to create a picture of what happened leading up to the crime.  Because his research provides a deep understanding of the criminal act he rarely passes judgment on the villain when he is finally captured.

Many critics feel that Jules Maigret ranks second only to Sherlock Holmes as one of the world’s best known fictional detectives. While Holmes relies on his deductions Maigret relies on his empathy and understanding of the human character.

Maigret on Film

For those of you that follow my blog, you know that in addition to reading mystery stories about the detective I enjoy watching films of the detective’s adventures.

Rupert Davis is probably one of the best known portrayers of Maigret and Simenon thought he was the perfect actor for the role. However, his appearance in 52 episodes for the BBC were filmed in the 1960’s and are no longer readily available. So when I was looking for a DVD, I selected a more recent British television version of Maigret.

The role of Jules Maigret is played by Michael Gambon. For those of you who are fans of the Harry Potter films you will recognize Gambon as the actor who took over the role of the wizard Dumbledore. In many ways Gambon brings the same calm demeanor and great wisdom to his Maigret cases as Dumbledore provided to Hogwarts’ students. 
Jules-Maigret 2

While Maigret is a French detective, this is a British version.  Most of the actors are English. Occasionally there are some French phrases along with street and character names. And of course the locations are those of French villages and cities. As previously mentioned Maigret spends a lot of time in pubs and cafés. These scenes very much reflect a French atmosphere. However, because Gambon is the right actor for the part I think he does the character justice even though he is not French.

This series was produced between 1992 and 1993. I think fans of Simenon and Maigret are ready for a new production. If PBS and other producers are listening, a new series would be appreciated by today’s mystery lovers.

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Poisons–Word Search Solution

Did you find all the poisons? Did find a favorite poison? Here’s the solution in case you had trouble finding some of the hidden words.


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Poisons–Word Search

It’s always fun to throw a few poisons in between the serious blogs. Here is an interesting list of deadly options should you ever need one.  You want to search for the words that are in capital letters. Solution will be in a separate posting.


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Dorothy Sayers–Crossword Solution

All right, all you Sayers’ fans! Here’s your chance to check your knowledge of this great mystery author and see if you answered all the questions correctly.


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Dorothy Sayers–Crossword Puzzle

Hopefully by now you’ve had a chance to read the previously published Dorothy Sayers–Lord Peter Wimsey blog. If not–take a quick look because you’ll find most of the answers for this crossword puzzle in that blog. Solution to be published at a future date.



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Dorothy Sayers-Lord Peter Wimsey

I’ve blogged many times about Agatha Christie and her characters, but there was another well-known mystery writer from the same time period −Dorothy Leigh Sayers. Christie and Sayers are in a select group of writers from the early Golden Age of Mystery whose books have remained popular. They knew each other and were both members of The Detection Club. Sayers Holding Skull

Sayers was a poet, an essayist, a playwright, a translator and a fiction writer. She is perhaps best known for her mystery novels and short stories that featured her detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. She was also an admirer of Wilkie Collins who she felt took the mystery genre to a new level and also had a profound influence on her writing style. Over the years she worked on a biography of Collins which was still unfinished at the time of her death.

Sayers-Early Years

Sayers was an only child born to Helen Mary Leigh and the Rev. Henry Sayers. Her father was a chaplain of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford and the headmaster of the Choir School. He began to teach her Latin at an early age followed by a formal education at a boarding school in Salisbury. Then Sayers won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford where she studied languages and medieval literature. When she finished in 1915 with honors, women were not awarded degrees. Later when this rule changed, she was one of the first women to receive her degree in 1920.

She held several positions after college but settled in as a copywriter with SH Benson advertising. She worked on many different accounts including Guinness Stout and is credited with the phrase “It pays to Advertise.” She felt the ‘Literacy Department’ where the advertising copy was produced was similar to the congenial sharing and discussions she experienced during her college days.

Sayers-Personal Life

Sayers was very tall and her long neck earned her the nickname ‘Swanny.’  What she lacked in beauty she made up in her sharp intellect and her body of literary work.

Sayers during her lifetime was not very lucky with love. One unfortunate affair produced a child −John Anthony− who was cared for by Sayers’ aunt and cousin. Very few people knew this secret and it wasn’t revealed to the public until after her death.

She did marry Captain Oswald Atherton Fleming (Mac), a Scottish journalist who was twelve years her senior. In the early years of their marriage there were shared adventures as Sayers joined Mac on his journalistic assignments. However, the later years proved more difficult. Fleming had been injured in the war and ill health, drinking and Sayers success began to take a toll on the marriage. Fleming was eventually unable to work and money was tight as Sayers provided for her husband, her mother and her son.

Sayers-The Detection Club

For Sayers, Anthony Berkeley’s invitation to join The Detection Club was an opportunity to escape some of the problems of everyday life. Sayers was one of the founding members of the club and later served as president. She helped to create and take part in the elaborate ritual new members were required to endure. The ceremony included candlelight, robes and a skull named ‘Eric.’

The club developed a series of rules that mystery stories should follow and Sayers also believed that mysteries could be more than light entertainment. Sayers contributed to The Detection Club publications and books including, The Floating Admiral (1931), Ask a Policeman (1933) and Double Death (1939)

The meetings were a social event where fellow mystery writers shared dinner and writing projects. They discussed real life crimes and often used these crimes as a basis for their plots. They also borrowed each other’s personality traits and adapted variations on member’s names when creating the fictional characters in their mysteries.

Sayers-Detective Lord Peter Wimsey

Sayers developed a unique and memorable character with her Lord Peter Wimsey. Sayers once commented that Lord Peter was a combination of Fred Astaire and Bertie Wooster.

Although a fictional character, Sayers created a complete profile for Wimsey. He is from a wealthy old family that can be traced back to the crusades. He is described as being of average height with strawberry blond hair, a beaked nose and a foolish looking face. He is an expert on food and wine and has an extensive library. He excels at playing the piano and is considered a bon vivant.

He was the second of three children of his father the 15th Duke of Denver. His mother Honoria Lucasta Delagardie appears throughout the novels as the Dowager Duchess of Denver. His brother Gerald is married to a snobbish wife who dislikes Peter. Peter’s sister, Mary married beneath her station to a police sergeant, Charles Parker. However, Parker gradually moved up to the rank of Commander and is often involved with Peter’s cases.

Wimsey served as a major in World War I where he was severely wounded and suffered from shell shock. During his war service he met Sergeant Bunter. They became friends and Wimsey promised that if they both survived the war he would give Bunter a job. Bunter becomes Wimsey’s valet and helps him through several relapses brought on by war memories. Bunter’s photography hobby is also helpful to Wimsey in solving cases.

Another major character in the Wimsey stories is Harriet Vane. Vane writes detective novels and is said to be the alter ego of Sayers.

Sayers’ Mysteries

Wimsey first appeared in the short story The Vindictive Story of the Footsteps that Ran. The story offered an interesting discussion between Wimsey and Bunter who we meet for the first time. In addition to the Wimsey tales Sayers also wrote a series of short stories with Montague Egg, a wine salesman who solves crimes.Sayers whose body

The first Wimsey novel was Whose Body. A dead body is found in a bath tub wearing only his pince-nez. Understanding why he was wearing the pince-nez leads Wimsey to the murder solution.  The following year Sayers published Clouds of Witness. In this novel we get a closer look at Wimsey’s family as he defends his brother.  Gerald is accused of murdering his sister, Mary’s fiancé. Mary is also involved as she saw Gerald leaning over the body.

Then there are a series of books featuring Harriet Vane. Wimsey first aids Harriet’s defense team in Strong Poison when she is charged with the murder of her former novelist boyfriend. After her successful defense, Harriet goes on a vacation to work on her new detective novel. During her walking tour she discovers a dead body on the beach. Wimsey reads about the event and rushes to help her solve the murder in Have His Carcase.  Wimsey eventually marries Vane in Busman’s Honeymoon. Following their wedding they travel to a house near Harriet’s childhood home where they discover the former owner’s body in the cellar.

Sayers-Life in Books

All authors rely on elements from their personal lives for their books and Sayers was no exception. Her experiences at college are the foundation for the novel Gaudy Night. Harriet is asked to help her former school with a series of disturbing events including poison pen letters, vandalism and a hint of murder. Murder Must Advertise draws on Sayers’ experiences while working at Benson. Wimsey replaces a copywriter who has died from falling down a flight of stairs. The Nine Tailors is based on the names of the bells at a church where Wimsey and Bunter are stranded one New Year’s Eve. Sayers provided a very accurate description of the church rectory and it is also said that several of the names for her characters came from the tombstones in the graveyard at her father’s church.

Sayers stopped writing Wimsey material in the late thirties. She continued writing plays, radio programs, religious books and translations. Her last Wimsey novel Thrones, Dominations was completed in 1998 by Jill Paton Walsh.

Sayers-Mystery LegacySayers Five Red Herrings

Sayers’ Wimsey stories always included a complicated murder plot. Her plots concentrated on the villain’s method of murder and then the villain’s attempt to cover up the murder. There are many avenues of inquiry presented that need to be unraveled to get to the core of the crime. These subplots provided an assortment of red herrings to divert the reader. And in all the Wimsey stories there’s always an element of humor.

Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries give readers a glimpse into the society and values of the time. The stories follow the rules for Golden Age Mysteries and provide the reader with all the elements of a good story.



Latest Book by Millie Mack: Take a Byte Out of Murder:



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More Methods of Murder (#2) –Solution

All right loyal puzzle fans–did you find all of the words for killing off your victim? I will also mention that at some point in the future look for a third puzzle of ways to commit murder.


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