Patricia Highsmith / Strangers on a Train


Patricia Highsmith
Selected Novels and Short Stories

Edited with an Introduction by Joan Schenkar
W. W. Norton & Company, 2011

From the dust jacket, “Patricia Highsmith’s {1921-1995] dark talents, obsessive interest in love and murder, and macabre sensibility produced some of the most influential and deeply unsettling fiction of the twentieth century. For the reader uninitiated in the deadly world of her canon, this collection offers the first serious introduction to her remarkable range and psychological insight.

“…Even with her first novels, Highsmith tore at the very fabric of 1950s middle-class society, revealing the stark emotional brutality that lurked beneath the sunny façade of Eisenhower suburbia.

“Chosen by Joan Schenkar, the selections in this book – two iconic American novels and a trove of her most representative short stories – chart the virtuosic range of Highsmith’s voice, as she deftly leaps from suspense to horror, from biting social satire to deeply moving psychological drama. In Strangers on a Train (1950) – Highsmith’s debut novel and the inspiration for the classic Hitchcock film – a casual conversation between acquaintances devolves into a tangled web of murder, desperation, and manipulation. This thriller provides as thorough an examination of guilt and obsession as can be found in contemporary literature. Highsmith’s second novel, The Price of Salt (1952), is a seductive tale of sexual obsession that demonstrates the astounding versatility of Highsmith’s insight into human nature, and has only recently begun to receive commensurate literary recognition. Written during the intensely creative period of her late twenties, The Price of Salt blends Highsmith’s richly figured language with the then-scandalous subject of lesbian love. The accompanying thirteen short stories demonstrate Highsmith’s mastery of the short story form and reveal her to be as fine a craftsman as any American twentieth-century novelist.

“This volume introduces a new generation to the haunting fiction of one of our most underappreciated literary geniuses.”

Strangers on a Train – I saw the Hitchcock movie first, which is how I became interested in the author, and found it to be fascinating. Now, after having read the novel, the movie seems hokie. It’s certainly a product of its age (1950s) – with the hero winning in the end and having an all around positive ending. The novel, however, is dark and twisted with psychological torture and doesn’t have a nice, pat, happily-ever-after ending. The theme of ‘I-kill-for-me-you-kill-for-me’ has been used in other movies and television shows, but Highsmith did it first and best.

I didn’t finish the rest of the very large book. I wasn’t interested in reading the novel, The Price of Salt nor the author’s later short stories. I did read the earlier ones and after having read one that only alluded the sexual abuse of a child, I was sufficiently turned off to read any more.

Rating: for Strangers on a Train – 4 out of 5 paws; for the rest of the book, 2 out of 5 paws because I didn’t read all of it but the rest of what I did read was uncomfortable.
Reviewer:toby-loc Toby



Cat Got Your Diamonds

cat got your diamonds

Cat Got Your Diamonds
A Kitty Couture Mystery

Julie Chase
Crooked Lane Books, 2016

From the dust jacket, “Grandeur and opulence are everything in the famed New Orleans Garden District, where pets are family and no bling is too big. Opening Furry Godmother, pet boutique and organic treat bakery, is Lacy Marie Crocker’s dream come true. After returning home following a nasty breakup with her (now ex) fiancé Pete the Cheat, it’s exactly the fresh start she needs, despite her old money mother’s disapproval.

“Full of peanut butter pupcakes and bacon-infused pawlines, and displaying sparkly Shih Tzu tutus and swanky cat headscarves, Lacy’s pink-and-green, chandeliered shop is a pet lover’s paradise. That is, until a man attacks her in her shop only to turn up dead the next morning – with her glitter gun as the murder weapon. And Lacy becomes public enemy #1.

“Now handsome yet dogged Detective Jack Oliver is hounding her, her business investor wants out before his name is tarnished by association and a string of jewel heist has locals on edge. To save her dream, Lacy must make a stand, put her keen eyes to work, and unravel what really happened at her shop that night. But can she sniff out the killer in time to get her tail-raising designs on the catwalk?”

This was a fun book to read even though it’s a formulaic cozy mystery. I consider books like this a day at the beach for the brain – they’re relaxing and easy to read after taxing day at work or reading what I call a heavy or thought-provoking book. There’s a beautiful woman who has turned to sleuthing to prove her innocence, the dashing male detective who thinks she’s guilty at first, and an odd assortment of family and friends who come to her aide. The only thing missing in this first book is a four-legged companion!

Rating 4 out of 5 paws – the lush New Orleans atmosphere is palpable; the mystery is nicely twisted and the solution was a total surprise! Plus, there’s recipes for Pupcakes, Pawlines, and Tiny Tuna Tarts in the back of the book that sound really good – especially the tarts because, well, it’s got tuna!! Get your human to make you some snacks, then sit back, read and enjoy!!



A Familiar Tail

a familiar tail

A Familiar Tail
A Witch’s Cat Mystery #1

Delia James
Obsidian, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2016

From the back of the book: “Unlucky-in-love artist Annabelle Britton decides that a visit to the seaside town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is the perfect way to get over her problems. But when she stumbles upon a smoky gray cat named Alistair and follows him into a charming cottage, Annabelle finds herself in a whole spellbook full of trouble.

“Suddenly saddled with a witch’s wand and a furry familiar, Annabelle meets a friendly group of women who use their spells, charms, and potions to keep the people of Portsmouth safe. But despite their gifts, the witches can’t prevent every wicked deed in town….

“Soon, the mystery surrounding Alistair’s former owner, who died under unusual circumstances, grows when another local turns up dead. Armed with magic, friends, and the charmed cat who adopted her, rather than the other way around, Annabelle sets out to paw through the evidence and uncover a killer.”

Wow! I enjoyed this book so much I read it straight through in one day! It’s always exciting to start a new book, especially when the book is a new series and the author has to do a lot of world-building. Love it! Portsmouth, New Hampshire – never been there, by the way – is wonderfully described – I felt I was there amongst the gardens, old shops and cottages and fancy houses. And of course, the star of the book is Alistair, a lovely gray cat who is magical and helps Annabelle solve the mystery – actually, he knows what’s really going on, but you know humans. They are inept at discerning our obvious clues so it takes his new person the whole book to figure it out.

Speaking of which, the mystery was well done – I didn’t figure out who the culprit was, nor any clue as to why, until it was revealed towards the end of the book. I hope the follow-up books are just as well done as this one; I’m seriously looking forward to them!!! The book is perfect reading for any mystery lover of any age – as long as you don’t mind practicing witches!

Rating: 4 ½ paws out of 5 – my highest rating, without it being a 5-paw rating, ever! Why 4 ½ and not 5? Well, while the story was fabulous, I’m not likely to read it again and there was no real emotional investment on my part which is the hallmark of a 5 paw book!




Elementary, She Read

elementary she read

Elementary, She Read
A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery, #1

Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books, 2017

From the dust jacket, “Gemma Doyle, a transplanted Englishwoman, has returned to the quaint town of West London on Cape Cod to manage her great uncle Arthur’s Emporium. The shop—located at 222 Baker Street—specializes in the Holmes canon and pastiche and is also the home of Moriarty the cat. When Gemma finds a rare and potentially valuable magazine containing the first Sherlock Holmes story hidden in the bookshop, she and her friend Jayne (who runs the adjoining Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room) set off to find the owner, only to stumble upon a dead body.

“The highly perceptive Gemma is the police’s first suspect, so she puts her consummate powers of deduction to work to clear her name, investigating a handsome rare books expert, the dead woman’s suspiciously unmoved son, and a whole family of greedy characters desperate to cash in on their inheritance. But when Gemma and Jayne accidentally place themselves at a second murder scene, it’s a race to uncover the truth before the detectives lock them up for good. Vicki Delany’s outstanding series debut is sure to charm the most discerning fan of the great fictional detective.”

What an enjoyable book to read! It was a fast paced read with some good twists and turns. I liked the setting – a bookstore with an adjoining tea room and a pretty New England town. My dislikes are minor – the history between Gemma and the handsome detective confused me at first. I thought that there was a previous book with the two of them in it but once I was satisfied I was only reading history, I wasn’t confused any more (I guess that’s really more of a like than a dislike – so well written was their background story!) I also didn’t like (at first) the fact that the only cat in the series, Moriarty, loved everyone else except for Gemma, whom he thoroughly hated. Then as I thought about it, I realized that Moriarty (the character) would never like to Sherlock Holmes, so it stands to reason that the cat Moriarty wouldn’t like Gemma, the Sherlock-like human. So, that’s also more of a like – another example of fine writing! (I also didn’t like the character of the female detective, but she was very well written to be mean and that’s good!)

As in all the cozies we’ve read, the violence takes place off stage – which we like – and the gory details are left to an absolute minimum. The mystery was good and although my initial suspicions about the murder were correct, I wasn’t absolutely sure until the big reveal. I will be reading the next book in this series.

Rating 4 out of 5 paws for a cozy atmosphere in which to learn more about the fans of Sherlock Holmes!




Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d


Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d
A Flavia de Luce Novel

Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press, Penguin Random House, 2016

From the back of the book: “In spite of being ejected from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada, twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce is excited to be sailing home to England. But instead of a joyous homecoming, she is greeted on the docks with unfortunate news: Her father has fallen ill, and a hospital visit will have to wait while he rests. But with Flavia’s blasted sisters and insufferable cousin underfoot, Buckshaw now seems both too empty—and not empty enough. Only too eager to run an errand for the vicar’s wife, Flavia hops on her trusty bicycle, Gladys, to deliver a message to a reclusive wood-carver. Finding the front door ajar, Flavia enters and stumbles upon the poor man’s body hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door. The only living creature in the house is a feline that shows little interest in the disturbing scene. Curiosity may not kill this cat, but Flavia is energized at the prospect of a new investigation. ‘It’s amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for one’s spirits.’ But what awaits Flavia will shake her to the very core.”

I was so excited to read this book. I’ve been mildly disappointed in the previous two, with The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches being so depressing and As the Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust not being set in England and Flavia filled with so much angst and homesickness. But this book – oh, this book.

Another really great mystery that I didn’t figure out at all, and Flavia with her brilliance and smart-aleck nature made for another great story. However, with Flavia’s father sick in the hospital she is, again full of angst and heartache. We don’t see him through the entire book and – I’m breaking one of my taboos here – SPOILER ALERT – neither does Flavia – ever again. I was so mad at the author after I read the last chapter, the last page, the last paragraph – I wanted to throw the book across the room!! I’m still mad about it. I’m not going to spell it out specifically what happened because I’ve already told you why I’m so mad! I hate it when an author messes with a character I love so much – I know it’s their right, it’s their creation and they can do whatever they want with it. But I don’t like it when they write so much pain and heartache into their fictional lives. I was already on the fence about reading another Flavia novel due to the depressing heartache in this one and then I finished it. So, I don’t know if I’ll read the follow-up novel or not. I’ll decide when it comes out. I suppose if I want a happy-ending mystery I’m going to have to read Nancy Drew.

Rating 5 out of 5 paws because any book that makes me so furious about what happens that I want to throw the book against the wall (I wouldn’t – [a] because it’s a book and [b] because it’s a library book) deserves the highest rating I can give it.