Thursday, January 1, 2015

Movie - Young Sherlock Holmes

Young Sherlock Holmes
Directed by Barry Levinson

So just how did Sherlock Holmes and John Watson get together? I'm no authority on the canon of Holmes but the way Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote it differs a good bit from how the makers of Young Sherlock Holmes handled it - something they take pains to note at the end of the film.

But what's a little dramatic license among friends? As the filmmakers would have us believe, young Watson meets young Holmes upon arriving at a new boarding school, where his future pal proceeds to do one of those fancy Sherlock Holmes things and tells him all about himself, based on a few subtle clues.

Which is all well and good and to be expected and if things had proceeded in this fashion I might have stayed on board. But as things moved along the movie began to take on a tone that would have been more suitable to Young Indiana Jones (which came along in the form of a TV series less than a decade later) than Young Sherlock Holmes. There's something of a mystery at the heart of all this, with blow darts that cause people to hallucinate wildly and ultimately end up dead, and an Egyptian cult, but it's more about fast-paced, big-budget action and spectacle than deduction.

Which is fine if you like that sort of thing. I didn't mind and it's certainly a well-made film, though the relentless pace became wearying at times. Much of this can probably be explained by considering some of the principals. They include Steven Spielberg, the executive producer, who had just done his Indiana Jones thing a few years earlier and who was producing another YA adventure flick, The Goonies, in the same year.

Writer Chris Columbus would go on to do Home Alone before too long and later took a crack at some Harry Potter movies. Which not so far removed from what he did here, when you think about it but without all that magic stuff. At first I thought Barry Levinson seemed like an odd choice to direct but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. After all, his big score up to this point had been with Diner, a coming of age tale. Which is not unlike what's done here, although with a lot more action.

To summarize, if you're looking for a good Sherlock Holmes movie you should probably keep looking. If you're looking for a good young-adult adventure movie this should do the trick.

Friday, December 26, 2014

White Corridor, by Christopher Fowler

White Corridor
By Christopher Fowler

(No overt spoilers ahead, but perhaps a few mild ones. There’s your disclaimer.)

This site has been on an unofficial hiatus of sorts for the simple reason that I haven’t been reading as much mystery fiction lately. But not so long ago a light bulb went off above my head and I realized that there were a number of Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May books that I haven’t read yet. So I set out to clear up that problem forthwith, jumping back into the fray with White Corridor.

A lot of ink has been spilled in praise of the exploits of Bryant & May. They’re an aging pair of British detectives – one quirky and one normal – who take on a variety of offbeat crimes as part of their work with London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit. I’ve spilled a fair amount of this ink myself, but I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about White Corridor as the others I’ve read.

Which is not to say that I didn’t like it because I did. I’ll just say that of the two primary threads that move the plot along I found that one didn’t quite work for me. It was the thread that felt more like it belonged in a “thriller” than a “mystery” and the device of a killer on the loose stalking people wasn’t really my cup of tea. Not to mention that the resolution to that plot line seemed to come from way out of left field. But it did make for some decent suspense and the bit with Bryant & May being stranded on the road in a blizzard was interesting.

The other thread of the plot – which involves a somewhat prominent member of the supporting cast – was more to my liking. Though this thread suffered somewhat because much of the legwork was carried out by the other members of the PCU, rather than our heroes. This due, of course, to the fact that our heroes were stuck in a snowstorm and could only offer limited assistance.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Too Many Clients, by Rex Stout

Too Many Clients
By Rex Stout

One of only a few Nero Wolfe books that I haven't read yet, Too Many Clients is now one of the Wolfe books that I'd rank near the top of the heap - with perhaps one relatively small reservation. But I'll get to that in a moment.

Things kick off in fairly standard fashion for a Wolfe novel. A high-powered business type approaches Archie due to concerns that he's being followed. Archie doubts that Wolfe will take the case and sends the man away and what do you know - it's not long at all before said businessman's body is discovered and there's little doubt that he's been murdered.

But there's a pretty interesting twist in all of this and one that I won't reveal. One of the frequent criticisms of the Wolfe books - and it's one that I've made quite a few times myself - is that he wasn't exactly what you'd call a master of plotting. I'd be willing to call this book one of the exceptions to that rule, although it hardly is in the rank of the likes of Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr.

But it wasn't the plot that stood out for me in Too Many Clients, interesting though it was. What really worked best in this one was Nero Wolfe himself and specifically his interactions with the various players in this particular drama. You could make the argument that Archie Goodwin is the tough guy, hardboiled, private eye counterpoint to Wolfe's cerebral great thinker of a detective, but something that's not so often remarked upon is what a formidable opponent the big guy can be.

No, Nero Wolfe is not likely to come at you with guns blazing or fists flying, though he did show a considerable amount of physical toughness in The Black Mountain and it's been made pretty clear that in his younger days he was hardly a pushover when it came to this sort of thing. But as this book in particular shows, Wolfe is still no pushover even now that he weighs a seventh of a ton, but simply prefers to use words as his weapon, something that he does with great skill.

So about that small reservation. That would be the ending. Not the whole thing, but just a portion of it, which seemed to be a bit clich├ęd and just didn't quite ring true. It's the sort of thing that Stout used on at least one other occasion, if I recall right, and while it didn't really detract from the story that much overall, I would give it one minor demerit.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, by Agatha Christie

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
By Agatha Christie

You're talking like a thriller by a lady novelist. (Inspector Japp to Hercule Poirot)

In my relatively limited experience with Agatha Christie's Poirot books, it has almost always seemed that the great Belgian detective was a supremely confident and rather unflappable sort. So it came as something of a surprise as this volume opened to find that confidence shaken by something as mundane as a visit to the dentist.

Of course, this being Christie, it stands to reason that we're not seeing Poirot go to the dentist just for purposes of character development. As coincidence would have it, not long after Poirot's appointment concludes he finds out that his dentist has apparently done himself in. Or has he? Well, yeah.

And the plot thickens, as they so often do. The interesting thing about this one is that it's not long before it takes an abrupt turn from being a garden variety whodunit - for lack of a better term - into being something rather different. It would be a mild spoiler to get into this, in my opinion, and it's the type of thing I don't usually care much for in crime and mystery fiction but Christie handles the whole affair so skillfully that I quite liked it.

At one point in the proceedings Poirot remarks that one of the other characters has "the brain of a hen." Which is about how I felt when Christie finally began to work her way around to the solution. This came from way out in left field, if you ask me, but I thought it was nicely done and there was nothing in it that made me want to cry foul.

Then there's the mystery of why this book needed at least three different titles. The 1964 Dell paperback edition that I read was titled An Overdose of Death, with a cover note that the original title was (the quite dreadful) The Patriotic Murders. But apparently the book started life as One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, which makes a great deal more sense, given the content of the book itself. Perhaps the ways of publishers are one of the truly great mysteries.

In any event, whatever you want to call this one, I'd call it an entertaining piece of work that's likely to befuddle the average reader - or maybe it was just me.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Many Deadly Returns, by Patricia Moyes

Many Deadly Returns
by Patricia Moyes

I read a book by Patricia Moyes some time back, before starting this site. If memory serves, it was Twice in a Blue Moon and it was okay but it didn't knock me out of my socks. Many Deadly Returns, which was published almost a quarter of a century earlier, came close to doing just that.

There's nothing in this book that brings anything new or revolutionary to the whodunit - which would have been quite a feat for anyone writing such a work in 1970. But for my money Moyes succeeded in taking some of the time-honored conventions of the form and shaping them into an eminently satisfying whole.

As the story is getting underway, the children of Lady Crystal Balaclava - Primrose, Violet, and Daffodil - and their spouses are preparing to make their annual pilgrimage from various locations around Europe to her English country house to celebrate her birthday. As per custom, one daughter will bring a fancy custom-made cake, another a case of fine champagne and another a bouquet of exquisite roses.

As the celebration is going strong Lady Balaclava proceeds to keel over. Detective Inspector Henry Tibbet (Moyes' regular series character) happens to be on hand because of Lady Balaclava's (well-founded) fear that she was about to be snuffed out and he is rather distraught that the victim was taken out - apparently by poison - right under his own nose.

It's hard to give much more in the way of specifics from here on without spoiling things so I'll just reiterate that Moyes went on to weave a skillfully told tale that kept me riffling through the pages. The fact that I was able to identify the killer - something that I don't often do - may be a commentary on the author's skills with plot, but I'd like to fool myself into thinking that I'm getting better at this sort of thing.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Movie - The Corpse Came COD

The Corpse Came COD
Based on a story by Jimmy Starr

I'm no scholar when it comes to this sort of thing but I'd say that by 1947, when The Corpse Came COD was released, the best days of the comic screwball mystery movie were already in the rear view mirror. It was the same year that saw the release of Song of the Thin Man - the last (and some would say the least) of the Thin Man movies.

But Corpse showed that there was still a little life left in this old sub-genre. The story for this one was based on a 1944 book by one Jimmy Starr, who was a Hollywood reporter and whose protagonist Joe Medford just happened to be in the same line of work. Other Medford books include Three Short Biers (1945) and Heads You Lose (1950). More on this offbeat trilogy here.

Let's start with that title, while we're at it. No symbolism there, but a rather literal interpretation of the events that open the movie, when a Hollywood starlet is asked to cough up 400-some odd dollars to take delivery of a rather large crate that contains some fabric samples and, know. Turns out that said starlet knew the stiff, who was a costume designer who worked with her at the movie studio.

Not knowing who to turn to starlet Mona Harrison decides on Medford, a sort of friend and would-be paramour. He honors her trust by turning the incident into a scoop and before long another reporter - Rosemary Durant - begins to sniff around. And of course it's right about here where that whole screwball battle of the sexes thing begins to kick in, though perhaps not to such good effect as in other films of this breed.

The plot thickens quite a bit from here, with more than a few twists and turns until winding its way to what, at least for me, was a decidedly offbeat and unexpected finish. Maybe a more attentive viewer would have seen this one coming but not me.

I found this one entertaining enough and quite a bit more so than this contemporary reviewer from the New York Times.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Murder She Wrote: The Murder of Sherlock Holmes, by James Anderson

Murder She Wrote:
The Murder of Sherlock Holmes
By James Anderson

If you hang around this site at all you might know that James Anderson is one of the authors I go out of my way to praise. That's the late James Anderson, by the way, who wrote a bunch of mystery fiction but most notably a trilogy of country house mysteries that were published between 1975 and 2003. Read my reviews of these books and an overview I wrote about the trilogy, here.

What I didn't realize until recently is that among the other books Anderson wrote were three novelizations of episodes of the Murder She Wrote series. They are The Murder of Sherlock Holmes, Hooray for Homicide, and Lovers and Other Killers and were apparently issued in a convenient omnibus edition for anyone who absolutely has to have them all.

Just for the fun of it, I decided to try out the first one - The Murder of Sherlock Holmes, which is based on the two-part series opener that was in turn based on a story by series creators Richard Levinson, William Link, and Peter S. Fischer. I've watched a few episodes of Murder She Wrote but not this one, although after reading the book I'll probably seek it out just for curiosity's sake.

Given the constraints inherent in writing a novelization I had no illusions that much of Anderson's style was going to shine through here and for the most part it didn't. Although it seemed that perhaps a few flashes of his dry wit managed to reveal themselves. As for the mystery, it's not a bad one, given that it first saw the light of day as an extended TV episode.

The gist of the thing is that aspiring mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher hits it big with her first book as the story opens and is whisked off (reluctantly) to New York City for a whirlwind publicity tour. At a costume party hosted by her publisher someone in the guise of Sherlock Holmes gets bumped off. Fletcher soon finds that she has a stake in determining who did the killing and works along with local law enforcement - who are actually pretty amicable about this - to crack the case.

I don't know that I'd go quite so far as to recommend this one and I probably won't read the other two by Anderson but there are certainly worse ways to pass the time.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Dark of the Moon, by John Dickson Carr

Dark of the Moon
By John Dickson Carr

Gather round while I relate to you the epic saga of how I attempted to make my way to the end of John Dickson Carr's Dark of the Moon. I picked up a cheap paperback copy quite some time ago at a used bookstore and I was rather keen to read it. After doing so for a short time I put it aside. Then I came back to it. Then I put it aside. Then I came back to it. Then I put it aside. You get the point.

Finally I put it aside for good, on a stack of books that I intended to trade in at the aforementioned store. Or so I thought. Many months later, more or less on a whim, I dug the book out of the stack and started it again. And found, to my surprise, that it was relatively smooth going. For a while, anyway, until about the two-thirds mark, when I put it aside again. Finally, not so long ago, I came back to it and finished it off.

Which might lead one to believe that I didn't like this book very much. But that's not quite true. Right here, I'll note that I'm not real well versed in Carr, having read perhaps ten of his books in all. But from reading the opinions of others I gather that his later books are not nearly as well regarded as the earlier ones. If Dark of the Moon is any indicator I think I can see why. This was the fourth to the last of the books to be published before his death in 1977 and the last to feature his series character Gideon Fell.

Who is called to the house of an acquaintance on a coastal island in South Carolina, a state where Carr apparently spent his later years. After rather a lot of slow-paced preamble and working around to the point someone is bumped off in a manner that anyone who knows Carr will find familiar. This time around the master of the impossible crime trots out another of those sandy beach type gems, in which the victim is found in an expanse of sand with no footprints around but his own.

The pace hardly picks up from here, if I do say so myself, but eventually the whole meandering conglomeration of a contraption of a story works its way around to one of those lengthy reveal scenes. As for the explanation of the crime, I wouldn't go quite so far as to cry foul, but I would say that the author really stretched my credibility to the limit. Of course, if the killer had merely clocked the victim with a blunt object and been done with it it would hardly have been a proper John Dickson Carr book, now would it?

I guess what I found trickiest about this book, as I've noted, was that languid pace and meandering nature of the plot. Perhaps it was because he was getting up in years and living in and writing about a place where things move at a slower pace that things played out this way. On the plus side, however, Carr does what I've always felt he does best - perhaps as much or even more than all that impossible crime stuff - and that's to create a truly memorable atmosphere and sense of place.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Amendment of Life, by Catherine Aird

Amendment of Life
By Catherine Aird

I haven't read a lot of Catherine Aird's books but I've been impressed with those titles I've taken for a spin so far. I actually read Amendment of Life some time back, before starting this site, but I thought I'd give it another go, something I rarely do regardless of who the author is.

I'll say at the outset that while I liked this one I didn't think it quite measured up to some of the other Aird books I've read, especially The Stately Home Murder, which is at the top of my heap thus far. Like all of Aird's books (with perhaps one exception?) this one focuses on Inspector C.D. Sloan, who solves crimes with the help of - or perhaps in spite of - his dimwitted sidekick, Constable Crosby, and his clueless boss.

This time around Sloan is called to Aumerle Court, another one of those grand estates that turn up in so much British mystery fiction. The nifty twist this time around is that the estate boasts a hedge maze (think The Shining) of the sort that people pay to wander into and get lost.

Well, as the discerning mystery fiction fan could easily deduce, this would be a pretty blitheringly obvious place for a stiff to turn up and what do you know? Of course, it's only a matter of time before Sloan and Crosby run the culprit to the ground and it's here where I felt that Aird faltered perhaps just a bit.

I'm not all that fanatical about the need for fair play in this type of mystery novel and I didn't think Aird really did play completely fair, mind you. But what I had the most problem with was that the solution ultimately seemed just a bit too farfetched to swallow. There were also a few too suspects to really make things sporting for the reader.

So I probably wouldn't recommend this as the first Aird book someone would want to read but even Aird on an off day is worlds ahead of a lot of other writers.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Formula for Murder, by Carol McCleary

The Formula for Murder
by Carol McCleary

As I've noted before, there's something about the Moors that I find an appealing setting for a novel. Which was what first drew me to Carol McCleary's The Formula for Murder. When I found out that it was a historical mystery that paired real-life reporter Nellie Bly with the likes of H.G. Wells, Oscar Wilde and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle I have to admit that I was a bit put off by what seemed like a gimmicky Superheroes of Literature type premise.

But since I already had the book in hand I thought I might as well give it a try and I'm glad that I did. McCleary has apparently written three of these Nellie Bly books in all and they all seem to take a similar approach in teaming the famed muckraking reporter with other well-known personalities of the day.

This one doesn't quite count as a whodunit, for my money, but there's a pretty interesting mystery at the heart of it all. It kicks off with a rather gritty scene that finds Bly in a morgue in London identifying the corpse of a young female colleague. McCleary doesn't really pull any punches here or anywhere else in the book and she provides an interesting perspective on the life of a female reporter in an age when that sort of thing wasn't really done.

As for the mystery, you could safely say that there are some elements of pulp fiction here, with a mad scientist, of sorts, doing some of those unholy experiments that mad scientists always seem to dabble in. As for the guest stars, H.G. Wells - who is not yet a popular writer - gets the most screen time. Wilde, not surprisingly, is a likable rogue with no apparent concern for what anyone else in the world thinks of him. Conan Doyle only makes a few brief appearances, but when he does he more or less serves as the anchor of this diverse group.


Trivia fans, take note. The real Nellie Bly apparently tried her hand at mystery fiction, with The Mystery of Central Park, which was published in 1889.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Movie - Dangerous Blondes

Dangerous Blondes
Based on a story by Kelley Roos

So you've got a well-heeled husband and wife couple who solve crimes in their spare time. He's been known to raise an elbow now and then and he definitely has an eye for the ladies. She tolerates the latter with good grace and there's plenty of witty banter going back and forth between the two. Well, that's gotta be...Barry and Jane Craig.

I have yet to read any fiction by Kelley Roos, but I hope to get around to it eventually. More about this husband and wife mystery fiction writing duo here. Dangerous Blondes is based on the Roos novel If the Shroud Fits and I can't help thinking that the resemblance to Nick and Nora Charles is not wholly accidental. The Thin Man movies were never short on comedy, which is a quality that seems even more evident here, but there's also an okay mystery at the heart of things - the killing of a wealthy old dowager type at an advertising shoot in a gloomy photo studio.

Which was a pretty entertaining piece of work as these comic mysteries go and I found as watchable - or more so - than most of them. Watch for the elevator gag that was resurrected in a Don Knotts movie some decades later and there's a fun quiz show parody that opens the movie and pits a team of police detectives against a team of detective fiction writers (headed by Barry Craig). Can you guess who wins? For that matter, can you guess which of the aforementioned cracks the case? Well, no prize for that one.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Movie - Forty Naughty Girls

Forty Naughty Girls
Based on characters created by Stuart Palmer

Having watched the other five of the Hildegarde Withers movies that were made in the Thirties I couldn't very well skip over this one. But I have to say that I wasn't expecting much - and that was about what I got.

I've reviewed all of the other installments here and written an overview article on the Withers character so I'm not going to devote much ink to this one. It was the last and the least of the movies to feature spinster schoolteacher Withers and her partner in (solving) crime, Inspector Oscar Piper.

The problem here, as with the previous installment - The Plot Thickens - is Zasu Pitts, who simply was not right for the main role. The mix of ditziness and befuddlement that she brings to the character is not what one really expects after the first three movies starring the formidable Edna May Oliver and a follow up starring Helen Broderick. James Gleason turns in a typically good performance as Piper, as he did in every one of the movies, but it's not enough to save the sinking ship.

The plot, if you must know, mostly takes place backstage at a theatre, where various acts of mayhem take place, mostly while a show is going on - a show Withers and Piper just happened to be attending.

Leonard Maltin's capsule review says, in part, "Final Hildegarde Withers mystery-comedy is just plain awful, with Pitts and Gleason getting involved in a backstage murder." I don't know if I'd go quite that far - or maybe I would. But I did kind of like the armor scene. Maybe it's the Stooge fan in me.

Here's a brief take on things from the New York Times, who weren't quite as hard on this gem as Maltin or yours truly.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Crime-Solving Couples of Yesteryear

Crime-Solving Couples of Yesteryear
By William I. Lengeman III

In kicking off an article about amateur detectives of yore, most of whom just happen to be married, the obvious opener would a play on the phrase “’til death do us part.” Since I’m not clever enough to come up with anything I’ll invite the reader to insert their own. In any event, here are a few great couples from way on back. Some are best known for their appearances in fiction while others are remembered for their time spent on the big screen.

Tommy & Tuppence: Chronologically speaking I suppose you’d have to start this list with Agatha Christie’s Tommy and...


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top 12 of 2012 - Fiction and Film

I suppose I would be remiss if I didn't put together a list of favorites for the year. So here it is. Since I've taken to reviewing quite a lot of mystery film, as well as fiction, it's almost evenly divided between the two. No particular order of preference here, although if you twisted my arm I might let it slip that I really did like Fowler's Seventy-Seven Clocks quite a bit...

The Stately Home Murder
by Catherine Aird
Published in 1969, but with (at least) one foot firmly in the Golden Age of Detection. An imposing English mansion, a few murders and plenty of dry wit.

Cards on the Table
by Agatha Christie
One of Christie's more clever Poirot books, if you ask me. The host of a party is killed by one of a foursome of bridge players who are actively engaged in their game at the time of his murder - in the same room.

Seventy-Seven Clocks
by Christopher Fowler
The fourth of Fowler's Bryant & May books and for my money the best. Certainly the wackiest plot/premise of the four I've read and probably the highest body count as well.

by Anne Holt
My first foray into Norwegian mystery fiction. A couple hundred people are stranded in a lodge in the mountains following a train wreck. A blizzard rages without and nefarious deeds are committed within.

Wobble To Death
by Peter Lovesey
It's the late nineteenth century and a hardy band of contestants are vying for a large cash prize at a tough six-day marathon race in London, also known as a wobble. Would you believe that a murder or two breaks out? Imagine that.

Murder of the Bride
by C.S. Challinor
I've become a great fan of Challinor's series about the Scottish barrister, Rex Graves, and this was one of the best of the bunch. Not surprisingly, most of the misdeeds take place at a wedding in a manor house and mostly over the course of one day.

Death on Demand
by Carolyn G. Hart
A bit of a cheat, this one, since I actually wrapped it up two days before 2012 commenced. So sue me. Hart has written a couple dozen books in this series, which concerns an amateur detective who runs a mystery bookstore on a South Carolina island that caters to the tourist trade. This was the first one and the only one I've read thus far, but I'd call it a pretty decent Agatha Christie tribute and a nice showcase for the author's extensive knowledge of the mystery genre.

The Hound of the Baskervilles
One of the more recent incarnations of Doyle's famous work. I particularly liked Ian Hart's portrayal of Watson, which was a bit different from the standard second banana to the great Holmes.

Death on the Nile
One of the great Agatha Christie works, brought to the big screen in a big way, with big stars and whopping big cinematography. Big, big, big.

Fast Company
The first of a series of three comic whodunits featuring Garda and Joel Sloane, a crime-solving pair of rare book dealers. Different actors took on the main roles each time out, but Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice turn in performances here that any Thin Man fans would be advised to take a look at.

Another Thin Man
Speaking of the Thin Man, my favorite of the five installments I've seen thus far. This time out a wealthy friend of the Charles family is bumped off and Nick and Nora are called upon to crack the case.

Francis in the Haunted House
As I said in the review, it's "the best movie that I've ever seen that featured a talking mule investigating a murder in a haunted house." I stand firmly by that position.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

7 Questions for Author R.T. Raichev

I've been thinking about doing this feature for a while and when R.T. Raichev happened to get in touch recently after reading my reviews of two of his books, I thought I'd see if he'd like to kick things off. He was kind enough to agree and so we present the first installment of the 7 Questions feature.

Though R.T. notes that The Riddle of Sphinx Island is his next book, what he doesn't mention is that it will be, as he put it in a recent email, "a take on Christie's And Then There Were None." Which sounds like it will be well worth the wait.

7 Questions for Author R.T. Raichev

What's your favorite (or most offbeat) murder method?
It's got to be the beheading with an ancient Samurai sword in Murder at the Villa Byzantine, though that's very much a one-off. I don't think I have a favourite murder method. I don't like blood at all. Looking at my books, published and  not-yet-published it goes like this: poison, gun, knitting needle, poison, manual strangulation, fruit knife, enforced drowning, gun, poison, knife, blunt instrument, gun, gun.

What's the first mystery book you ever read?
Doyle's The Sign of Four. I was about twelve, I think. I remember being haunted by the discovery of Sholto's hanging body.

Who would be your desert island mystery author?
Agatha Christie, as she stands the test of re-reading marvellously.

Who would you cast if your characters ever made it to the big screen?
Who should be cast as Antonia Darcy and Major Payne? If it is TV series, Emma Thompson and Nigel Havers. If for the big screen, perhaps, Demi Moore and Bill Nighy, or for a super-glamorous production, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, though they must acquire cut-glass English accents.

What would your readers find most surprising about you?
That I have completed five more Antonia Darcy mysteries, well ahead of schedule?

How did you come up with the your characters?
Antonia Darcy, bookish and introspective, was meant to act solo in The Hunt for Sonya Dufrette (my first published mystery), but in Chapter 1 she was teased by her son about having an admirer at the Military Club where she was a librarian. Her son had heard a certain widowed Major mentioned. Antonia had just divorced her husband and was unhappy. I needed a Watson for her and then decided that if I did introduce a retired Major who fancies Antonia, that would not only resolve the Dr. Watson problem, but would provide a touch of romance, which most readers -- especially the female readers -- like. That's how Major Payne was born. He courted Her in Sonya Dufrette and they were already married in The Death of Corinne. Antonia Darcy and Major Payne owe something to Hammett's Thin Man series, the Francis Durbridge mysteries, the screwball comedies of the 40s and of course Christie's Tommy and Tuppence.

What's next for R.T. Raichev?
My next Antonia Darcy and Major Payne mystery, The Riddle of Sphinx Island, will be published on 8/1/13 by the Mystery Press. The MP have also got my number 9, The Killing of Olga Klimt, which they are hoping to bring out in early 2014.