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All Things Mysterious Volume One Hundred Twenty Four--The Winter Hiatus edition

Dear loyal readers, if such there be,

After two years, y_r friendly blogger is feeling somewhat burned out. Accordingly we are going to take a hiatus and post intermittently for a while.  Mind you, if anyone writes us and pleads for more Brand, Lt. Jones, Harold Who, Missy What, George Mandible, or especially Cinnamon and Raffles the cats, then we'll just have to listen, won't we?  But we aren't abandoning our loyal readers, if such there be, just taking a short rest.

Your pal,

Y_r friendly blogger here at All Things Mysterious 

Written by Ian Kern — January 18, 2018

All Things Mysterious Volume One Hundred Twenty Three

Resolution: No More Resolutions

 

It was the Eve of a New Year, and Brand had resolved to turn over a new leaf. Mind you, this was the sixteenth year in a row that he’d promised himself that he would turn over a new leaf and he hadn’t yet, but no one was perfect, were they?  And who actually kept New Year’s resolutions anyway?  

And it was a pretty simple resolution. Brand promised himself to be more considerate of other people and to try and help them if such a situation came up. He’d had a dream in which a girl called him a selfish beast, and when he woke up he felt bad because he didn’t want to be a bad person, even in his dreams.

But, bad dreams or no, he needed bread, milk, and potato chips, and so he bundled up and set out on the rather long walk to the grocery.  On the way he pondered everything from leftover Xmas tree lights to the English Restoration to the dearth of ashtrays in public spaces to the beauty of the sunflower to the majesty of the Grand Old Game to the violence on television to the purring of cats to the barking of dogs to the silence of goldfish to the odor that follows an automobile to the lack of trash pickup in his neighborhood to the fact that he really really needed a new coat--but here he was at the grocery already!

It was but the work of a few moments to pick out his bread and milk and potato chips and then he joined the other sad lonely men on the express line.  But wait!  What was this?  A woman on the express line?  Unprecedented!  Unusual!  Unfathomable!  Uncalled for!  He found himself staring at her, maybe forty, a little rotund but quite attractive, bundled up in layers against the cold and then all at once she wasn’t in Brand’s field of vision any more.  She was lying on the floor gasping for air and thrashing about.  It looked like a fit or a seizure of some kind!  Did she have epilepsy?  He remembered reading somewhere that whenever someone was having a fit like this that the thing to do was to make sure that the victim didn’t swallow their tongue.  Oh boy!  A chance to try out his newly minted New Year’s resolution, and it wasn’t even New Year’s Day yet!  Brand knelt beside the stricken woman and carefully inserted two fingers into her mouth, casting about for her tongue that she could keep it in place.  

 

When Brand woke up he couldn’t have said how long he’d been out, but it was pretty clear where he was.  The iron bars on the door made sure of that.  And, oh, how his head ached!  He hadn’t had anything to drink, had he?  And where was his bread and milk and potato chips?  Nowhere to be seen in this cell, that was for sure.  As he was trying to wrap his mind around this new and unwelcome development, he heard footsteps clacking down the corridor, growing louder and louder until presently a big fat sergeant stopped in front of his cell, smirking.

‘Well, you done it now, boy.  Just what was you thinking, stickin your hand in that girl’s mouth like that?’

Brand began, ‘I--’

‘Button it, boy!  You’re just lucky that lady has the holiday spirit and isn’t pressing charges.  You know what I would have done?’

Brand figured the less he had to say, the better off he was, which was wise.

‘I’d’a thrown the book at you!  But then, your type don’t go for old guys like me, do ya?’

Brand said nothing again.

‘Well, maybe ya do!  But I figure a night in the cooler will teach you a good lesson!  You hear me, boy?’  And with that the big fat sergeant turned on his heel and walked out, the clacking footsteps growing softer this time, until Brand was left alone with silence.

There wasn’t anything to do but exercise or sleep or stare out the barred window at the full moon, so Brand sat there and stared out the window, wondering if he’d get his milk and bread and potato chips back when they let him out in the morning.  If they let him out in the morning.

He also had yea time to ponder how they’d manage to mistake his honest attempt to help the woman with some kind of assault?  Brand hoped they wouldn’t make him pay a fine or anything, but the big fat sergeant said that the lady wasn’t pressing charges so hopefully come daybreak he could just leave, he hoped with his milk and bread and potato chips. He didn’t fancy another trip to the store to buy the same things.

He must have fallen asleep, for the next thing Brand knew, the clock tower was chiming midnight.  The start of a New Year, and how about that!  Shedding an old resolution and making a new one before the New Year had even got going!  No more good deeds for me, Brand thought.  From now on I’m keeping myself to myself, and that’s it!

Was that a scratching at the window?  There is was again!  They were on the ground floor, so Brand went over to the bars and peered out.  There was the woman he’d tried to help!  

She said, ‘Sorry about that--I tried to explain that I have epilepsy, but Sheriff Dunarb needed one more prisoner to make his quota and you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.’

Brand, dumbfounded, could only stare.

‘I don’t blame you for being mad, but let me make it up to you.  How about a nice New Year’s breakfast in the morning when they let you out?  My treat!’

Still speechless, Brand could only nod.  ‘Ok, see you!’ she chirped.  She sure seemed happy for a person prone to fits.  And he hadn’t even gotten her name!  Still, it was nice to have something to look forward to when he got out in the morning.  Maybe he’d have to rethink this whole resolution thing.  And maybe it would be a Happy New Year after all.

 

Here’s hoping for a swell 2018 for one and all!

 

Questions/Comments/Broken Resolutions Already?  mike@mysteriousbookshop,com

Written by Ian Kern — January 05, 2018

All Things Mysterious Volume One Hundred Twenty Two

 

‘Tis the Season To Be Dead Part Fourth and Final!


Everyone in the bank--there were no customers, it was all bankers and tellers, or so it seemed--was crouched down on the floor around the huge quiltish thing that was covered with coins. Each was selecting a piece, carefully inspecting it, and then putting it back. How did they tell which had been examined and which hadn’t? I thought, shaking my head.  This small head-shaking moment caused the stack of cash sacks upon which I was perched to wobble, tilt, and finally topple to the vault floor with a crash.  That brought some folks running, and next thing I knew Myrna Hofsteder was in my face shouting, ‘Put him to work!’  Everyone seemed to agree that one more pair of eyes couldn’t hurt, and so I found myself squinting at the edges of dozens and dozens of coins. I was happy to do something other than be locked in a vault, believe me!  When she wasn’t shouting at me or behaving inexplicably, Myrna explained to me that we were looking for very faint marks of separation along the edges, as might occur if one could split the coin in half and hide something in a tiny compartment inside.

It sounded like a bad spy picture; what, were they looking for A-bomb secrets on microfilm?  Turned out that the people who put ‘donations’ in the kettle were plants.  And for what? Rumor had it that we really were looking for a phony coin that had microfilm in it but the coin had got mixed with a batch bound for the local branch of Mendacity Savings and Loan. This microfilm was supposed to contain a map of a long-lost gold mine.  Hard to believe, I know, but now it was beginning to dawn on me just what was going on.  Fowler’s Fortunate Folly contained scenes in which a character very like Myrna Hofsteder supposedly inherited a map bearing the location of what must have been one of the very few untapped veins of gold anywhere around.  In the book it was in the Southwest, very lucrative and had been stolen by the villain’s father who then died suspiciously, as did the leading lady and the innocent bystander.  I knew I’d better watch my back--I knew too much!

Just then there was a shout from the floor. Someone was hopping up and down, holding what looked like half a coin in each hand.  But in her zeal, when she split the coin open, the microfilm was nowhere to be found. It must have slipped out of the chamber while the lucky finder was jumping around celebrating.  So now all the ersatz bankers were still crouched over the floor, but this time instead of inspecting coins they were looking for a few frames of film!

Then, another shout!  ‘I’ve got it!’ yelled Myrna herself.  ‘I saw it first!’  ‘No, I did!’  ‘I know how to handle these things!’  ‘Let go!’  Predictably now several of the searchers were fighting over the scraps. Ostensibly they all wanted credit for the discovery of the microfilm, but of course the object was to find the gold mine!  It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that they needed some kind of projector to read microfilm or that the film might be unreadable after being locked inside a coin for some years or that all these people sharing might cut the take a bit, or even that the mine itself was played out.  But first everyone charged Myrna to try and snatch the film out of her hand, then everyone charged back in the other direction when Myrna zigzagged. What a circus with everyone racing back and forth pell-mell! At last someone got their wires crossed and turned too soon and then everyone ended up in a giant heap on the floor and the blankie full of coins was forgotten. I sidled over. I’d been an avid numismatist (coin collector to you) when I was a kid and it couldn’t hurt to eyeball the pile to see if there were any key dates in the collection, if you could call it a collection.  Nothing much there, though, but--wait!  There was a shiny one!  WOW! A 1955 doubled die Lincoln Cent in AU condition!  Surreptitiously I scooped it up, along with a bunch of other samples, and slipped them into my pocket, throwing down a quarter to make it even.  As far as I know my quarter did not now, nor did it ever, contain microfilm.  Speaking of microfilm, a commotion was developing. I was really beginning to wish I hadn’t got involved with the whole thing, in fact I started thinking that as soon as I was locked in the vault, however briefly that lasted.  Emerging out of the scrum was Myrna, who was triumphantly holding up the now decidedly tattered scrap of microfilm.  

A portly man, red-faced and panting, followed her out of the mass of humanity and shouted, ‘You tore it out of my hand!’ to which Myrna shouted right back, ‘You tore it out of MY hand!’ and now nose to nose, it looked for all the world like they were going to have a scuffle but I took it upon myself to intervene, mostly because I wanted to go the heck home and have my long overdue supper.  Attempting appeasement, I said, ‘Kids, kids, let’s keep our feet on the ground here--there’s plenty of microfilm to go around!’  Now they both turned on me--Portly shouted, ‘Why don’t you mind your own business!’ while Myrna glared at me. ‘You’re not helping!’ she hollered as I once again regretted opening my big fat bazoo.  Suddenly Portly slapped his head. ‘What a dunce!’ a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agreed.  ‘Remember when we sponsored that science fair?  I think one of those nerdy kids left behind an old microscope, I bet we could see what’s on here with that!’  Everyone, including me, allowed as to how that was a pretty good idea, so newly self-important Portly dispatched one of the junior ‘bankers’ (personally I thought this fellow looked like a career criminal. You know the type--weak chin, close-set eyes.) downstairs to search for the ‘scope. In a surprisingly short time he was back with it, and set it down on a desk.  I knew a little something about the things, chemistry being a youthful study along with numismatics, so I carefully put the snippet of film on a slide and adjusted the reflector to steer enough light on the subject to illuminate it. As I bent over the eyepiece I felt something cold, hard, and uncomfortable pressing upon me just behind my right ear.  It was Portly and his portly pistol. ‘Hand over that film, jerk, or I’ll kill you right here and now,’ he hissed.  Oddly I didn’t care about my fate, I was just mad, not only that HE was the jerk, not me, but that he would have the gall to pull a stunt like this on a nice guy like me. So I pretended to acquiesce and carefully slipped the slide off of the tray and made like I was going to hand it over. But instead I grabbed the microscope and went upside his head with it. As he tottered, I leapt at him, figuring if I knocked him down, some of the other men there would separate us, or at least help me. No one even moved. So, now I’m forced to fight for my life?  What a night!  Would it never end?  Luckily being so portly meant he wasn’t in such good shape so I was able to subdue him while still preserving the film scrap.  I slid the gun under a nearby desk where Weak Chin/Close-Set Eyes grabbed it and beat a hasty retreat. No doubt we’d be reading about HIM on the police blotter in the near future. I got up and picked up the microscope, which was bent but still looked like it would work, and set it on the desk.  I re-adjusted it and replaced the slide in the viewing tray and focused.  This was a very strange map to a gold mine:


In a bowl, mix the flour, butter, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Do not add frosting until later. Fold in milk and four eggs. Lick the sides of the bowl for all the creamy goodness. Blend in the blender for 30-60 seconds, then pop in the oven for 45 minutes.  When it’s golden brown and is just starting to pull away from the edges of the pan, it’s done!  Yum!


Good gravy!  It wasn’t a map to a lucrative gold mine at all!  It was a recipe for golden cake!  I shouted, ‘Hey, everybody!  You can all relax now!  This is a cake recipe!’  Of course this caused quite a commotion, and of course Portly, having picked himself up off the ground, said, ‘Nuts!  I know a microfilmed map when I see one!’  Without pausing to reflect on just how he managed that, I lost patience and yelled, ‘Well, if you don’t believe me, look for yourself!’ and pointed the eyepiece in his direction.  He came up for air looking rather sheepish and simply said, ‘It’s cake.’  Sullenly everyone started to slowly file out of the bank.  Quietly crying, Myrna Hofsteder came up to me and asked me to help with the coin-filled comforter.  As we scooped the coins into the coin-counter, she was visibly trembling.  ‘Come on, it’s not so bad!  The cake would probably be good!’ I offered.  This raised a wan smile and she said, ‘Maybe I’ll make one. It’s my son’s birthday tomorrow and I really wanted to give him a share in a gold mine.’  

‘Pish-tush!  You know how it is with gold mines, here today, gone tomorrow!’This got a genuine laugh and soon we had everything shipshape for the bank’s business to resume after the holiday.  We made our way to the door and Myrna locked it up. ‘I don’t know what to do for a present now. If only I could afford one of the things he wants for his coin collection.’  THAT sure caused me to prick up my ears!  ‘May I offer a gen-yoo-ine 1955 Lincoln doubled die?’  Myrna’s eyes fairly glowed as I showed her the treasure. ‘But where--how--’  

‘Tut tut, now, no questions.  It’s a Christmas Miracle (™)!’

She was looking at me gratefully as she whispered, ‘I’m sorry I hit you with that book.’

‘A mere bag of shells!’

We walked away from the bank, hand in hand.  It was Christmas Eve and it was snowing.




Aaand a Happy Merry to all of our friends out there in the interwebs!  Hope your holidays were sufficiently mysterious! Y_r friendly blogger may or may not take next week off, but we’ll definitely see you in 2018--if you don’t see us first!


Questions/Comments/Charitable Donations? mike@mysteriousbookshop.com

Written by Ian Kern — December 22, 2017

All Things Mysterious Volume One Hundred Twenty One

‘Tis the Season To Be Dead--Part Three

 

I was standing there, ringing the bell, feeling kind of like a tool, well what else could I do, all by myself?  When I got my first ‘customer,’ so to speak, a well-dressed gent in a Homburg and ascot which you don’t see much anymore, strolled by and dropped some coins in the kettle and moved on without speaking.  

Doing my part for sweet charity, I thought, and just as I thought it, along comes a similarly turned out couple, who each put what must have been several dollars worth of change in the bucket. This time I said, ‘Thank you,’ and was rewarded with twin smiles for my modest effort.  Then, and for the next forty minutes, a steady stream of seemingly well-heeled folks paraded by, each contributing to the Salvation Army in their own way.  Just like that, it seemed, my time was up and here came Myrna Hofsteder, who said without preamble, ‘Nice job, hand over the suit.’  Kind of brusque, but to the point.  I liked that. The Santy suit was plenty big enough to wear over my street clothes, so I peeled it off and handed it over.  I started across the street to retrieve my coat and backpack, then remembered something.  ‘Hey, how’s about my fifty?’  Myrna kind of smiled and kind of smirked and shook her head a little, muttering ‘Twenty. Nice try though,’ then rooted around in her giant handbag.  Gosh, was she looking for another projectile?  My face hadn’t recovered from the last one!  At least it wasn’t broken.  

But she extracted a blanket which she unfurled and laid down on the ground.  Whereupon she emptied the kettle contents all over it!  She extracted nickels and dimes evidently totaling twenty and, yanking my Yankees hat off my head, dumped my pay into it before I had a chance to protest and ask for my compensation in currency.  

‘You’d best get to your bank, most of the biggies have branches on Broadway.’  Then she gathered up the four corners of the change-laden blankie and, hoisting it like a hobo’s bindle, disappeared, leaving the Santy suit and the kettle sitting on the sidewalk.  Now what was that all about? I pondered to myself as I walked east toward Broadway.  Change is still legal tender, for now, though, and soon I got to the Broadway branch of Mendacity Savings and Loan and sure enough they were just about to close, even with their extended holiday hours.  They may have been taken aback by my coin-filled hat, but I wasn’t expecting it to be snatched, well, not snatched, but taken from me and next thing I was minus one hat and approximately twenty in change.  Two or possible three strong arms hoisted me by the elbows and then came the plus side of the affair, which was that I’d never seen the inside of a bank vault before. My enjoyment of new experiences was tempered, though, when the door to the vault slammed shut, leaving me alone and hatless.  

My first thought was that I hoped bank vaults were not airtight. After breathing normally for a couple of minutes I began to worry less about suffocating in here and more about a course of action.  I was locked in a bank vault, for gosh sake!  There was a small window high up in the middle of the door, so I stacked some sacks of money (I got a kick out of them, they all were plain white bags with ‘$’ on them, just like in the cartoons), clambered up to the top of the pile and peeked out.  I was astounded by what I saw and I’m not easily astounded.

 

What has astounded our narrator? Tune in next week and see!  And while you're at it, drop us a line for great gift ideas for everyone on your list!  The best in current and vintage crime fiction, and don't fail to check out our Crime Clubs, in which a signed first edition in any of seven different genres is mailed right to your front door, or that of your giftee!

Questions/Comments/Vegetarian Reindeer Food?  mike@mysteriousbookshop.com

Written by Ian Kern — December 15, 2017

All Things Mysterious Volume One Hundred Twenty

 

'Tis the Season To Be Dead Part Two!

For a moment I was too surprised to speak, which is unlike me.  I picked the book up off the floor and, after I brushed off the bloodstain, examined the flap.  The title was Fowler’s Fortunate Folly and was about a swashbuckling spy named Fowler who had gone on a secret mission and somehow ended up with a ravishing bride and a claim to a played-out gold mine.  Turned out that the gold mine was ravishing and the bride was played-out, but it was selling pretty well as the kind of series where you pretty much know what you’re getting before you turn to the first page.

I said, ‘Your name is Fowler and you’re a freelance spy?’

‘My name is Myrna Hofsteder and I want this book pulled from the shelves right now!’ she screeched.  That was a better plan than burning the thing, but no more feasible.  But wait a minute now.  Wasn’t--it was!  The name of the bride in the book was indeed Myrna Hofsteder.

Foolishly, I tried to placate her. ‘Lady, if you’d just--’  

‘All right, I won’t sue if you do me a favor.’ Now I’m no lawyer but I’m pretty sure if anyone was going to sue anyone, it was going to be me for Assault With a Deadly Book (ADB), but if I could do something to calm her down and shut her up without any more throwing, then I would. With some trepidation, I asked ‘What’s that?’

She pointed out the front window across the street, apparently at nothing.

I peered out the window and saw the storefronts and the parked cars and the litter and the busted up sidewalk and the construction stuff, but other than that, nothing.  ‘So?’ I inquired.

‘So look,’ she came back.  I looked again, and again I just saw the usual downtown detritus. Myrna came up behind me, put her hands on either side of my coconut, and turned my field of vision to the right. ‘There!  See?’  And again, I saw nothing except one of those Salvation Army kettles on the tripod, but no one was staffing it.  ‘So?’ I inquired again.

‘I won’t press charges for you people selling this lousy book with my unauthorized character if you fill in for Jack, who is supposed to be collecting for the Army.’

‘Now wait a minute,’ I backpedaled.  ‘For one thing, you haven’t got a leg to stand on if you try to sue us. For another, how do you know I won’t abscond with the money?  And in case you didn’t notice, I already have a job of work to do!’

‘Abscond. That’s pretty good,’ Myrna reflected. ‘Did you read this trash? Good old Fowler--she spat the word--absconded with the gold claim and me!’

‘Turned out he only wanted the filthy lucre, didn’t it?’  Probably I should have kept my big bazoo buttoned, for she visibly seethed at me and for an uneasy moment I thought that she was going to throw something else at me, but with an effort she calmed herself and said, ‘Look, bud, just stand out there and make sure nobody including you takes anything from the collection, and we’ll call it even. If you don’t, I’ll make your life even more miserable than mine!’

No doubt that was true. I did think the ‘including you’ part was uncalled for, but after all, I had mentioned it first. And it was just about quitting time.

‘What’s in it for me?’ I queried.  Might as well get something out of the deal, and anyway it’s against my religion to work for free.

‘You’re all the same,’ she muttered.  That made me wonder. Men? Booksellers? Tall skinny guys covered in warts?  Then she sighed and said,

‘Just do this for me and I’ll take care of you.’  

‘You already took care of me!’, I exclaimed, indicating my swollen, bloody nose.

‘Look, I’m sorry about that, but you shouldn’t go around selling this slanderous material!  But forget about that! I’ll give you twenty if you stand there another hour.’

Forget about my nearly busted nose?  Easier said than done.  I checked my watch. Ten past seven. I was supposed to have been out of here ten minutes ago!  Still, twenty for forty-five minutes of standing around sounded ok, so I shut the lights and locked the door, and at seven-fifteen I found myself standing in front of a bright red kettle wearing a Santy shirt that was about twelve sizes too big, presumably for the insertion of a pillow, and clanging one of their bells.  And then I waited for something to happen.  And then it did.

 

What will happen? Tune in next time, have a Happy Merry, and check out our holiday themed mystery tales!

Questions/Comments/Deductible Charitable Donations?

crimeclubs@mysteriousbookshop.com

 

Written by Ian Kern — December 08, 2017

All Things Mysterious Volume One Hundred Nineteen

Just in time for Xmas, an original holiday story set right here at the Mysterious Bookshop!  Note that y_r friendly blogger made all this up, no actual persons, books, or incidents are contained in the story or should be inferred.

 

'Tis The Season To Be Dead!

She shouldn’t of done it. That’s what started the whole mess. Well, not only that she done it, but that she kinda threw it in my face. I mean, why did she come in here in the first place?  That’s what I can’t figure out.  If she didn’t want--what?  Oh.  Well, I’ll try. The beginning, huh?  Got to go back a ways for that, I guess.

I’d been at Mysterious since almost the beginning back in ‘79.  It just didn’t feel the same after we moved downtown in 2005.  Change is always hard, isn’t it?  But something was different.  Maybe it was the way the city and the world changed, too.  People were more touchy and less willing to listen.  What?  Sure, I’m just as bad!  I’m human too, you know.  Now where was I?  You’re making me lose my place.

So anyway I saw people come and go and all the time it was just me and Otto. I started in the shipping room after the guy who was there got busted for dealing. At least that was the rumor; he just stopped coming in one day and that’s what everyone said.  So I did that for a while and then I went up to the sales floor when Joanne left, ‘cause I read more than everyone else put together.  And not just mysteries, either.  I like books on classical music and sports and birding and a whole lot of stuff.  Ever since I can remember I just read and read all the time. Never did watch too much TV, there’s just too much crap out there.  But I never missed Perry Mason.  Did you ever see it?  Raymond Burr was just terrific in that part.  I heard he read for Tragg the homicide guy but the producers or somebody decided he would be a good Mason and they were right.

So I was at the front desk for a few years and then I was Oscar’s assistant for a while but that didn’t last long. Why?  I think it was because we were too similar.  We had no patience for nonsense and that included each others.

Back I went to the sales floor.  That was ok.  I liked it there. People were always asking what to read and I liked turning them on to new authors and new genres. Most of our customers were regulars and had been shopping with us for a long time. Being in downtown Fun City, we got a lot of visitors and tourists and between them and our regulars it got so everyone that came in or called fell into one of the two categories.  See, the crime fiction business is a funny one--folks ask us all the time, ‘What should I read? Tell me what to read!’  So we’d all make sure to at least have a handle on what was new and hot as well as the vintage stuff so we could point folks in the right direction as far as something they might like.  And very rarely did anyone come into the shop and complain about a title or author that we’d recommended.  In fact, I don’t think anyone ever told me that I’d pushed a dud on them.  Until one night just before Christmas.  A woman came in right before closing which we all hate but which comes with the territory.  As usual I was thinking about supper and my easy chair but on the surface I was polite.  This lady seemed perfectly reasonable, smiled, said hello, and reached into her bag and withdrew a book and hurled it at me with all her might.  And her aim was pretty good, she clocked me right in the nose. I caught the book as it fell and noticed that it was the new one from Fowler Hawthorne, who wrote swashbuckling spy stories with himself as the thinly disguised protagonist.  But no matter who the author was, I was dripping blood and hopping mad and for once I lost my cool with a customer.  ‘What the hell did you do that for?’

‘You can’t sell this!’

‘Say what!?’ I honked.

‘This story is all about me and I never gave my permission!  Burn all copies immediately!’

 

Well, now, what the heck is this all about?  Tune in next week for the next installment of 'Tis The Season To Be Dead!

And while we're waiting, we have several holiday-themed mysteries on hand, perhaps you saw our gift ideas email recently?  Drop a line or drop in if you'd like some thoughts on what to give those on your list! 

Questions/Comments/Cookies and Milk by the fireplace?

crimeclubs@mysteriousbookshop.com

Written by Ian Kern — December 01, 2017

All Things Mysterious Volume One Hundred Eighteen

 

Brand’s Heartwarming Thanksgiving Part Three

 

Heinrich Rott was in a towering rage, which was his usual state. He had conceived the brilliant plan to infiltrate the safe house down the street, but it had got off track somehow.  For one thing, it wasn’t a particularly ‘safe’ house any more, if it ever had been.  For another, they still didn’t have the priceless books and records from World War Two that had been sitting casually on the tv table for years.  They had been in plain sight when The Three Musketeers, as Rott thought of them, marched Brand out of the house, but now were nowhere to be found. Meanwhile Brand was incommunicado in the basement of the very dwelling in which Rott now sat, in the hope that he would sing and tell them where he’d hid the books and papers.

For his part, Brand had actually been telling the truth when he claimed that he knew nothing from nothing, had just moved into the cold-water flat, and that the German stuff had been there all along.  Bewildered, he simply sat and awaited his fate. Presently he heard a scraping sound at the door. It opened, and who should walk in but the sweet-face middle-aged lady who had ostensibly been collecting for the needy, but who was really reconnaissance for the German soldiers. She had a giant, old-fashioned key in one hand and was balancing a tray on the other, and most surprising of all, Leo the cat was perched on her shoulder just as calm as you please.  In a surprisingly strident voice she informed Brand that she had brought him cake and coffee and a furry pal to keep him company.  When Brand asked how long he was to be held here, and that he didn’t know anything about any German books anyway, she simply shook her head and left, locking the door behind her with the giant key.  For his part, Leo the cat, also known as Moritz, bounded across the room and settled on Brand’s lap. ‘If we get out of this, kitty, I’ll give you a good home!’ said the man. But he was interrupted in his reverie by another noise at the door. Ah! Another visit from the lady!  He hadn’t touched his coffee or cake and felt a little guilty. After all, someone had gone to the trouble of preparing this snack for him, the least he could do was eat it.  What am I thinking? Brand thought to himself. I’m being held prisoner and will probably be shot for a spy!  Then the door opened and lo! It was the Three Musketeers!  The tall one strode up to Brand and growled, ‘Are you ready to talk?’ Brand replied, ‘I told you, I’ll tell you whatever you want to KNOW!’ and on the word KNOW, he hurled the hot coffee at his adversary, scooped up Leo and ran for the door before the other two musketeers could move a muscle. Dashing down the corridor, man and kitty came upon a staircase and hurtled up it, entering a kind of foyer which had several nooks and crannies where they might hide. But the heck with hiding!  It was time for some action, Brand reckoned.  He set Leo down and looked around for some weapon to take the offensive against his adversaries.  He didn’t find one, but as he was searching, he did see something interesting on a shelf--the missing German books!  Now what were they doing here?  He didn’t have much time to ponder the matter, though, for just then Leo yowled, making Brand jump three feet straight up in the air. It was a handy alarm, though. It was the Three Musketeers!  The tall leader had seemingly recovered from the hot coffee attack.  Advancing on Brand menacingly (Leo had discreetly ducked under a table), the short fat one rumbled, ‘NOW are you ready to talk?  Where are the materials you stole?’

Brand cheerily replied, ‘I didn’t steal them, but they’re right there,’ pointing to the books.

All three musketeers smiled in unison, their hostility melting away by their apparent relief in finding the German stuff. ‘Oh, great!’  ‘Thanks!’ ‘Wunderbar!’

And here Brand thought he was about to be shot. And who knows, perhaps he would have been had it not turned mysteriously turned up.

 

It was four hours later, and all were seated around a sumptuous banquet table. Even Leo had his own place, with a few slices of turkey and a saucer of milk.  

Heinrich Rott spoke. ‘I was perhaps a bit overbearing in my methods, but forgive me--I know no other way.  You see, the previous tenant in the home you occupied was my brother Henrik, and he had kept these materials from our father, who served in World War Two. We wanted not only to keep them in the family but also to prevent any incriminating evidence of wartime violence from besmirching our good name.’  Rott wasn’t such a good name, thought Brand, but he was in an expansive mood, being fuller of food than he had been in many a day.  

‘Ah, forget it.’

And Leo purred.

 

We have holiday-themed books for your gift-giving needs, and non-holiday books for your gift-giving needs, and the best gift giving need of all:

 

Give the gift of a CRIME CLUB MEMBERSHIP TODAY!  Choose between a monthly pay-as-you-go plan or a three-, six-, or twelve month membership plan.  See details here:

 

https://www.mysteriousbookshop.com/pages/crime-clubs

 

Or call Mike at 212.587.1011, or write crimeclubs@mysteriousbookshop.com and we will help you choose the club and plan that’s right for your or for your giftee!

 

All Things Mysterious will be back on Friday December 1 with a new story!

 

Written by Ian Kern — November 17, 2017

All Things Mysterious Volume One Hundred Seventeen

 

Brand’s Heartwarming Thanksgiving Part Two.

 

Then, after what seemed like hours, one of the men in the doorway spoke.

‘May we come in, sir?’  said the tall one in a surprisingly high-pitched voice slightly inflected with a German or Eastern European accent..

‘What can I do for you gentlemen?’ asked Brand, outwardly calm but inwardly quaking.

‘We’re looking for a lost cat.  He is very small, basic black, and answers to the name of Moritz.  Hier, Katzchen!’ leaving no doubt that he, at least, was German.

‘Nope, nobody here by that name.  Now, if you’ll excuse me…’ said Brand with impeccable and unusual politeness.

‘Well, then, if there is nobody here by that name, you won’t mind if we trouble you to look,’ said the tall man.

‘Matter of fact, I do mind if you trouble me!’ shouted Brand as the three men clumped into the house from the stoop.

‘Just come right in, why dontcha?’ again shouted Brand.  Next thing, the short round German was holding a Luger under Brand’s nose. ‘Vat did you shay?’ he growled in a thick accent.

‘I don’t remember,’ whispered Brand, meekly.

‘Moritz! Moritz!’  And then of course Leo came out from behind the stove to be picked up by the third German, who hadn’t said a word yet and who was neither short nor tall nor fat nor thin. He had an air about him that made Brand think that perhaps this was the commander of the small unit.  ‘Ah, Moritz, there you are!  You bad cat!  Running away like that,’ said the commandant.  While this was going on, the other two, Tall and Short/Round were searching the apartment and not being particularly circumspect in so doing.

‘That old lady sent you, didn’t she?’ asked Brand.  At the smallest movement from Short/Round, Brand buttoned his lip and sat down hard on the one chair in the room.  Well, he lived there alone, except for Leo, briefly, so how many chairs did he need?

‘Here they are, Chef.’  On the low shelf on the tv cart, that’s where those books were!  And why did they call him ‘chef?’ Were they cooks?  Cooks of German food didn’t seem likely, so Brand figured it was a term of endearment. Strange folks, these Europeans. Brand thought of Europe as pretty much one monolith of strangeness as opposed to several different countries even though he was vaguely familiar with France, Italy, Germany, et al.  

‘SO!’  This shout from the Tall one brought Brand rudely out of his reverie.  With a start, he came out of his chair only to stumble and fall on his face before the three manner.  

‘Yes, that is it!  Grovel before us, swine!’

Good gosh, what was this, a bad WWII movie?  Brand struggled to his feet only to be pushed back into the chair.  Then the commandant spoke.

‘You are a spy!’

‘Are you kiddin’?’ sputtered Brand.  ‘Me, a spy!  That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard!’

‘Do you deny you have these incriminating materials?’

‘That stuff?  Those were here when I moved in!’

‘A likely story!  Frankly I expected a better cover story.  Was that the best you could do?’

‘I tell you, it was--’

‘Enough!  We will not stand here and debate uselessly!  You are a spy and we are taking you for the ultimate punishment!’

At that very moment, Leo/Moritz climbed laboriously into Brand’s lap, stomped his paws a little bit, and curled up to settle.  Good timing, Leo, thought Brand.

The tall German said harshly, ‘Don’t try and gain sympathy by playing nice with our cat!  You are a spy and you will be dealt with in the manner of all spies!’

 

Yikes!  Could this be the end for Brand?  One way to find out!  Tune in next time for another chapter in: Brand’s Heartwarming Thanksgiving!



Questions/Comments/Some kind of James Bond gadget?  crimeclubs@mysteriousbookshop.com.  

Written by Ian Kern — November 10, 2017

All Things Mysterious Volume One Hundred Sixteen

Brand’s Heartwarming Thanksgiving Part One

 

Brand stumbled out of his cold-water flat, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, to pick up the morning paper, which was in the bushes as usual, and the milk delivery.  Before he got two steps, he tripped and went sprawling onto the front lawn.  Well, ‘lawn’ was something of a misnomer, it was really more of a patch of dirt, but a fellow can dream, can’t he? At least he hadn’t had the milk bottle in hand, only to see it shatter on the ground.  But what had he tripped over?

Well, of all the---someone left a Russian Cossack hat on his stoop!  Now what the heck?

Brand bent to examine the hat and now wait a minute!  It wasn’t a hat at all-it was a cat!  A scrawny, soaking wet, mangy critter who looked up at Brand’s face and mewed.

Now, Brand wasn’t made of stone, so he left the milk and the paper where they were and gently scooped up the kitty and brought it inside.  Being the softhearted sap that he was, he got an old towel out of the rag bag and dried kitty off.  Then he rummaged around the fridge and found an old piece of semi-rotten fish that he couldn’t quite recall from whence it came and set it down on the floor where it disappeared in about two seconds.  Watching this, Brand realized he was hungry too and fixed himself a Dagwood sandwich.  As he was inhaling it, a slice of tomato fell to the floor and was also inhaled by the feline, who Brand was already calling Leo.  He knelt to pick up the towel and noticed that Leo was wearing a collar and there was something stuck in it.  

Interesting. There weren’t any tags on the collar, so Brand felt ok with calling his new pal Leo. Luckily at Brand’s place, the absentee landlord was satisfied if the tenants weren’t out-and-out criminals, so one little kitty shouldn’t pose a problem.  Still, it was a little strange--how did Leo end up on the doorstep in the first place?  He must have had a home at some point if he had a collar--and what was this?  Stuck in the collar was a bit of paper!  It was a note that said, ‘Fische müssen schwimmen, Vögel müssen fliegen, nach und nach bist du tot.’  Now what the heck did that mean?  It looked to Brand like some foreign language in very stern, flowery lettering. Now where had he seen that kind of writing before?

Meanwhile Leo, full of suspect fish and nice and dry, had curled up behind the stove and appeared sound asleep.  Just make yourself at home, why don’t you?, thought Brand.  Then he remembered where he’d seen the funny foreign lettering before.  When he moved into this apartment, the previous tenant had left a pile of stuff behind, including some books. Some of them had the same kind of writing.  What kind was it?  Just then there was a knock on the door.  It was a sweet-faced middle-aged lady who was collecting for Thanksgiving kitchens for the needy. The holiday was right around the corner and Brand had been trying to decide whether he himself was needy enough to go to one.  As he politely declined the invitation to contribute, he noticed the woman’s eyes darting this way and that, peering into the house.  She hurried away before Brand was even finished making excuses of relative poverty and left him standing in the doorway, more puzzled than ever. With a shrug, he shut the door and went back into the kitchen.  Leo was still snoozing away tucked behind the stove, so Brand sat at the kitchen table, after carefully propping up the short leg with a folded bit of cardboard, and tucked anew into his Dagwood.  Another knock on the door!  Never get this sandwich et, he grumped to himself as he went to yank open the door.

‘Yeah?’

Standing in the doorway were three men, looking for all the world like refugees from a WWII movie--Sluggo haircuts, wearing what appeared to be military surplus, one even had a billy club!  They stood, towering over Brand and eyeing him as if he were the sunrise and they were roosters, but saying nothing.  



Uh-Oh!  Now what’s in store for our man Brand?  Looks like he’s in another situation not of his own making!  And what of Leo the cat?  Tune in next time for the next exciting installment of Brand’s Heartwarming Thanksgiving.

 

Questions/Comments/Leo?  crimeclubs@mysteriousbookshop.com

 

Written by Ian Kern — November 03, 2017

All Things Mysterious Volume One Hundred Fifteen

 

Little Old Ladies Solving Crimes Part Two

Ah, but there’s more little old ladies solving crimes than Marple, Fletcher, or Withers! Heron Carvic (pen name/stage name, born Geoffrey Rupert William Harris) created Miss Seeton as a gentle parody of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple in a series of five novels from 1968 to 1975.  He was also an accomplished actor, appearing in Doctor Who, The Hobbit,  and The Avengers, among others.  He also ran away from Eton, for which he may or may not deserve kudos.  I wonder how many deserters they’ve had over the nearly six hundred years the school has been in operation?

Miss Seeton, a retired art teacher, works with (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say ‘works at’) Inspector Delphick and Bob Ranger once the proper and somewhat befuddled woman finds herself entangled in the seamier side of life, usually after a murder has taken place.  A lady of late middle age and an unconventional spinster (and good riddance to that term), she’s got a can-do spirit and has thwarted more than one would-be murderer with her trusty umbrella.  A kind of modern cozy, these tales are well past the Golden Age and so have an edgier feel to them, but certainly some of the characters are somewhat harsher than those found in older cozies.  Miss Seeton, as an art teacher, has an undeniable facility for drawing suspects and crime scenes, this sure comes in handy!  She’s nosy, somewhat naive, and a bit chauvinistic in a way that only the British can be, which qualities lend themselves well to the humorous aspects of the series.

 

Dorothy Gilman wrote fourteen novels featuring Mrs. Pollifax, a widow in her sixties.  When her husband dies, she unravels into a depression and, lacking a purpose in life other than her gardening club, offers herself up to the CIA as perhaps the Agency’s unlikeliest spy.  Their reaction is, shall we say, skeptical, but she’s accidentally recruited and with her common sense and moxie eventually gets the job done and is off on her missions. By and large the stories are adventurous travelogues which send the dowager spy off to various far-flung locales.

 

Miss Maud Silver is a retired governess. (Can governesses ever retire?)  She looks like any other harmless little old lady, but she’s really a tough investigator often involved in implausible plots who works closely with Scotland Yard. Some readers feel that she’s an early feminist model while some aver that she is not a credible character and that no elderly person could do what she does.  Don’t listen to them, judge for yourself!   Patricia Wentworth (pen name of Dora Amy Elles) wrote thirty-two adventures to choose from and they have a wide range to them, covering as they do the 1920s into the 1960s.

 

Most every fictitious woman sleuth over the age for forty or so is inevitably compared to Miss Marple, but no two detectives are created equal, so check out a few; the characters we’ve covered here just scratch the surface of some of the overlooked little old ladies of crime fiction!

The fourth of the five Miss Seeton tales that series creator Heron Carvic wrote, wherein the Bank of England and the Home Office find themselves in a spot of bother.


https://www.mysteriousbookshop.com/products/carvic-heron-miss-seeton-sings

 

Questions/Comments/An ever-present brolly?  crimeclubs@mysteriousbookshop.com

Written by Ian Kern — October 27, 2017

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