Recently a man found “whale vomit” that was worth $50,000. The vomit is known as ambergris. I knew what ambergris was without having to look it up, as I had looked it up years ago. That’s because one of my favorite mystery books “Octagon House” featured a series of murders all because someone found ambergris on a beach. The funny thing is, you have to know what ambergris is to know it’s valuable. It just looks like a lump, maybe a tumor or something. This museum has something very valuable and they haven’t a clue they are sitting on thousands of dollars. (though I hope they were informed!)
“Octagon House” is by Phoebe Atwood Taylor. She wrote under two names, but now her books are usually published under her real name. Her books featuring Asey Mayo as the detective usually take place on Cap Cod. Her books featuring Leonidas Witherall (who bears a striking resemblance to Shakespeare) take place in a Boston suburb.
I’ve enjoyed reading all the books ,as my light summer reading, for over 10 years. I know it sounds crazy you can re-read a mystery. The thing is her books transport you to a time long gone, when Cape Cod was only slightly over run with tourists, or the police of a Boston suburb were outwitted by a professor at a boys academy. You like the people that populate the books. You like the towns and places where they are busy investigating. It’s like visiting friends to re read one of the books.
The books get better with time. Asey Mayo starts our pretty much a hick, and ends up fairly sophisticated and well to do. When he takes over as the main “voice” of the books,t hey improve greatly. “Octagon House” is probably Asey at his best. Bodies galore, something called “Pickled limes” (I had to look them up), and ambergris being moved around like a hot potato. You smile a lot despite the bodies. This is one series I would recommend not starting with the first book.
Leonidas Witherall was written as Phoebe Atwood Taylor was told by her publisher not to put out too many books at once. She came back with she had to pay taxes on her home. So she invented a new name, Alice Tilton, and began publishing books with a new detective.
Leonidas starts out poor, a former professor working in a used book store. He works his way up to head of a boys academy, through a series of misadventures. His books are pure screwball comedy. He’s always confident he can find solve a murder, and usually he has to as the police are after him as he’s the prime suspect, yet again. This series starts out strong as Taylor has the formula down well at this point. They don’t always make sense, but they are quite funny. If you like the movie “Bringing Up Baby”, you’ll do fine with the books.
Kindle has a more and more of the books up. Your best bet is to find a good old fashioned used book store. If you find a first edition hardback, that’s wonderful, but more likely you’ll find old paperbacks. The books have been re released over the years.
Categories: book review