Loves Music, Loves to Dance

A high-heeled shoe stands in a puddle of bloodLoves Music, Loves to Dance explores the dark side of media-mediated dating 1990s.

Two college friends work in New York. Erin Kelley is recognized as a rising star among jewelry designers. Darcy Scott is carving a niche for herself as decorator for the budget-conscious.

The two women are helping a third friend, a TV producer, with research for a documentary by placing and responding to personal column ads and keeping notes on the experiences.

One Tuesday evening after she was to meet a guy from an ad, Erin disappears. Later, her body is found on an abandoned pier. She’s wearing her own shoe on one foot, a high-heeled dance shoe on the other.

A cop tells Vince D’Ambrosio, FBI investigator specializing in serial killers, about Darcy’s unsuccessful attempt to file a missing person report on Erin.

Vince springs into action, investigating red herrings Mary Higgins Clark has sprinkled through the novel like ice melt in January, missing the clue that practically stands up and yells, “CLUE.”

At least Clark has the sense not to pair Darcy off with Vince.

With its big print and lavish use of white space, Loves Music, Loves to Dance will occupy readers for a couple hours before they toddle off to an early bedtime.

Loves Music, Loves to Dance by Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster. ©1991. 319 p.
1991 bestseller #10; my grade: C

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

While My Pretty One Sleeps

Title page of "While My Pretty One Sleeps"Mary Higgins Clark’s While My Pretty One Sleeps is a traditional murder mystery in the “cozy” tradition, but set in New York City.

The novel opens with a man from New York driving 35 miles through a snow storm to dump the body of a woman he murdered beside a steep path in Morrison State Park.

Safely back in the city, he realizes “the one ghastly mistake he had made, and knew exactly who would almost inevitably detect it.”

The late Ethel Lambston hadn’t been a particularly popular woman. The 60-ish freelance writer had a knack for annoying people which she practiced until her tongue was lethal.

Her ex-husband had been so glad to be shut of her that he opted for life-long alimony payments that are keeping him and his second wife in poverty 20 years later.

Douglas, her nephew and sole living relative resents her treating him like a lackey.

Even the fashion designer Ethel paid to select her outfits for her, Neeve Kearny, didn’t like her much.

And Neeve’s father, former NYC police commissioner Myles Kearney, had met Ethel once and never wanted to see her again.

Well-plotted and well-paced, While My Pretty One Sleeps is formula fiction, but done well enough that readers won’t object.

While My Pretty One Sleeps by Mary Higgins Clark
Simon and Schuster. ©1989. 318 p.
1989 bestseller #10; my grade: B

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Hound of the Baskervilles Sniffs Out Wide Audience

When Sir Charles is found dead outside Baskerville Hall, his doctor notices dog tracks near the body. Locals recall the legend of the huge hound who kills Baskervilles who venture onto the moors at night.

Sherlock Holmes discovers the new lord, Sir Henry, is being watched. Holmes sends Dr. Watson to Devonshire with orders to report regularly and not to let Sir Henry wander out alone.

When Sir Henry falls for the sister of a local naturalist, Holmes finds Sir Henry prefers her company to his, which makes being a body-guard difficult.

Of all the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales about Sherlock Holmes, only The Hound of the Baskervilles is achieved bestseller status in its day. Oddly enough, it’s a story in which Holmes is mostly off stage.

What is on stage is the atmosphere. The moors are inhospitable, sucking to their deaths any unwary traveler who misses his footing in the fog. Baskerville Hall is a gloomy place of creaky floors and lugubrious ancestral portraits. And with an escaped convict on the loose, even Watson is spooked when he hears the howl of a hound at night.

Just as in 1902, The Hound‘s mix of mystery, romance, and the supernatural will appeal to a diverse audience today.

The Hound of the Baskervilles
Arthur Conan Doyle
1902 Bestseller #7
Project Gutenberg ebook #2852
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Cousin captivates, then leaves you cold

My Cousin Rachel is a murder mystery. The mystery is whether there was a murder at all—or whether there might have been two.

Philip Ashley tells the story. His bachelor cousin Ambrose, who brought him up as his heir, goes off to Italy for his health. While there, Ambrose meets and marries a half-Italian distant cousin, Rachel. Ambrose’s health deteriorates and he dies abroad, but not before sending Philip letters full of dark hints that Rachel was trying to poison him.

Osborne House
Osborne House

Philip is fully prepared to hate Rachel, but when she arrives in England on his doorstep, he is as smitten as Ambrose. Before long, he has turned over to her the family estate, the family jewels and his own virginity.

The tale is dark and sinister in the tried-and-true English manner, all polished mahogany and deviled kidneys for breakfast. Rachel in her mourning dress is appropriately bewitching and mysterious, as befits a leading lady of foreign birth. But Philip is simply a twit, a condition caused, perhaps, by growing up entirely without hormones.

Daphne Du Maurier writes well enough that you will keep turning pages, but when you’re finished you’ll wonder why you bothered.

My Cousin Rachel
Daphne Du Maurier
Doubleday, 1952
288 pages
1952 Bestseller #4
My grade: C

Photo credit: Osborne House, uploaded by dubock

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Greene Murder Case Decent Potboiler

The Green Murder Case presents Philo Vance one of his most perplexing mysteries. Two women are shot, one fatally, in a New York mansion where four adult children and one adopted daughter live with their invalid mother, according to the terms of the father’s will.

The police think it was a robbery gone wrong. A brother of the murdered woman doesn’t believe that theory. Neither does Philo Vance, wealthy New York aristocrat and amateur sleuth.

Before long the brother is murdered, then a second brother.

By then, Vance and his friend the DA know the murders are being committed by someone in the household — and everyone seems to have a motive.

Could the “paralyzed” mother be the culprit? Or perhaps the doctor, who is treated almost as a member of the family? The butler? The cook?

S.S. Van Dine sprinkles clues and red herrings throughout the novel so readers can make some headway toward solving the mystery.

Despite its age, the novel doesn’t appear terribly dated. Van Dine translates any essential foreign quotations for the benefit of those whose Latin and German is rusty.

Vance is less obnoxious than usual in this case, making the novel a pleasant read.

The Greene Murder Case
By S.S. Van Dine
Grosset & Dunlap, 1928
388 pages
1928 bestseller #4
My Grade: C+
© 2008 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Readers Keep Coming Back for Dinner at Antoine’s

Dinner at Antoine’s is an endlessly pleasing novel. Since I found it on my mother’s bookshelf back in the ’60s, I’ve read it many times. I never remember reading it until I’m almost done, but I enjoy it every time.

Orson Foxworth gives a dinner at Antoine’s restaurant to introduce his niece Ruth Avery to his New Orleans friends, including Amélie Lalande, the woman he plans to marry, and her family.

Ruth is immediately drawn to Amélie’s married daughter, Odile, but repelled by the sexually charged relationship between Odile’s husband and her sister—as well as by Amélie’s refusal to notice anything wrong.

When Odile is found shot to death the day after her doctor diagnoses her trembling as the first sign of an incurable condition that will paralyze her, there’s no shortage of suspects. Everyone from Odile’s mother to Foxworth appears to have a motive for murder—if it was murder and not suicide.

To the murder mystery, Frances Parkinson Keyes adds two love stories, a conspiracy to overthrow a Latin American government, and generous dollop of New Orleans insider tittle-tattle.

The result is as pleasant an evening’s reading as you could hope to find.

Dinner at Antoine’s
By Frances Parkinson Keyes
Julian Messner 1948
366 pages
My Grade: B
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni