Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Blast from the Past: John Rhode's Licensed for Murder (1958), Revisited; Plus Jane Wallace's (and Nedra Tyre's) Favorite Crime Fiction

My choice for a 1958 crime novel is John Rhode's Licensed for Murder, mainly, to be honest, because I posted this substantive piece about the book several years ago on this blog, where I addressed it specifically for what it had to say about the time when it was written.  John Rhode, aka Cecil John Charles Street, is one of the Golden Age crime writers I discuss in Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery, an attempt to recover some of the lost history of Golden Age British crime fiction.

At this blog there's some additional interesting personal background material on John Street here and here and reviews of some of his novels here and here and here. Discussion of Street's friendship with John Dickson Carr, which encompassed much drinking as well as a collaborative detective novel, is found here and here.  Street's writing on the infamous Constance Kent murder case is discussed here.  Of course there's lots on all this and more in Masters!

And speaking of British crime fiction, Nedra Tyre, discussed in my last post, expresses a great partiality toward it in her 1952 crime novel, Mouse in Eternity.  At one point in the tale her protagonist, Jane Wallace, presumably speaking for the author, lists the crime writers with books on her shelf--and it's a list dominated by the sceptred isle:

Edmund Pearson (A)
Dorothy L. Sayers
Oliver Onions
Ellery Queen (A)
Wilkie Collins
H. C. Bailey
Margery Allingham
Marie Belloc Lowndes
Joseph Shearing
Agatha Christie
William Roughead
Elzabeth Daly (A)
Graham Greene
Eric Ambler
Ngaio Marsh
Michael Innes
Dashiell Hammett (A)
Raymond Chandler (A)
Freeman Wills Crofts
Nicholas Blake

Only five American in the lot: two classicists (Queen and Daly), two hard-boiled (Hammett and Chandler), and a true crime writer (Edmund Pearson).  Many of the names will still be familiar today, although the true crime writers of fact and fiction (besides Pearson, Roughead, Belloc Lowndes and Shearing) likely are be less so; and no doubt many fewer people today have read Bailey and Crofts (another Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery author) than the Crime Queens (Christie, Sayers, Allingham and Marsh) and Detection Dons (Innes and Blake--was surprised not to see Edmund Crispin, by the way).  Given Tyre's evident tastes John Dickson Carr is a notable omission, as is the great G. K. Chesterton.

When Jane Wallace and her male invalid friend, Mr. Lawrence, discuss their "recipe for the perfect murder story," is it hardly surprising that Mr. Lawrence urges:

"I think it would have to be set in England."

Do you agree?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Higher Aims? Mouse in Eternity (1952), by Nedra Tyre

Native Georgian Nedra Tyre is one of the "domestic suspense" writers highlighted by Sarah Weinman in Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives who was unfamiliar to me.  I quite liked the Tyre story that Weinman anthologized, and I also enjoyed the one included in John D. Macdonald's interesting late Fifties collection of crime stories by women, The Lethal Sex.

Weinman notes that Tyre wrote more than forty short stories, which mostly were published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.  Tyre also authored six crime novels over two decades. This imbalance suggested to me that perhaps Tyre's talent was more suited for short fiction; and my reading of Tyre's first crime novel, Mouse in Eternity (1952), confirms this suspicion.

Tyre's first published book, Red Wine First (1947) is a collection of first person narratives based on her experiences as a social worker with clients in three southern states during the Second World War. This is an interesting book, having something of the quality of that American southern classic Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.  But it's not a novel, nor, strictly speaking, a collection of short stories. Rather, it's more a gathering of  fact-based dramatic monologues (this is the form as well of the two Tyre crime shorts I read).

Even though Tyre seems clearly to have had strong inclinations toward "straight," or "mainstream," writing, five years later she turned to the potentially lucrative crime novel market with the oddly titled (for a mystery) Mouse in Eternity. The title is derived from a poem by the foreign correspondent Paula Lecler:

When I measure myself by the grasses
Then I am good and tall;
When I measure myself by the mountains
I do not exist at all.

It is very, very curious
How one may either be
A cat that nibbles a moment
Or a mouse in eternity.

I loved these lines (especially "A cat that nibbles a moment/Or a mouse in eternity"), which suggest that Tyre had "artier" ambitions in mind than writing a "mere" puzzle (see Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery for my discussion of the disparagement of strongly puzzle-oriented mysteries at this time).

The novel is set among Atlanta social workers--write what you know, as they say--and initially it reminded me rather of Christianna Brand's delightful workplace mystery, Death in High Heels (1941), wherein, as in Mouse, a hated boss is killed.  Unfortunately, I thought the pace in Mouse dragged and by the time I was halfway through the novel I had completely lost interest in the narrative.  There just was not, I felt, enough of a crime interest to sustain this book as a crime novel.

Interestingly, from the evidence of Mouse Tyre herself clearly had a genuine interest in crime literature, because throughout the novel her female social worker protagonist, Jane Wallace, and Wallace's intellectual male invalid friend discuss crime fiction with the true fan's passion.

murder story?
At one point Jane names twenty crime writers whose books she has on her shelves (the list is forthcoming), much to the disgust of her friend Peg, who thinks crime writing is hopelessly lowbrow:

"Many intelligent people like murder stories," I said...."Some of the finest writing ever done has been in mysteries --even your precious Henry James tried them."

The Turn of the Screw is not a murder story."

"It's placed among mysteries--how else would I know about it?"

Jane names her favorite mystery short story as "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole" and her favorite mystery novel as The Nine Tailors ("Nothing touches it.").  Her invalid friend names his as "The Two Bottles of Relish" and The Moonstone.

I'm with the invalid friend!  How about you?

I'm afraid that I did not find Mouse in Eternity anywhere close to the level of the above classic crime novels, but I'll have another post about the observations on crime fiction in Mouse; for me they constitute the most interesting parts of the book.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Night Call: Another Ring

On my last post about Night Call Kevin Killian in his comments to the review stated that there are an additional dozen or more unpublished stories--good ones--in the Charlotte Armstrong papers. Moreover, going by the select bibliography provided in Night Call, there are some other Armstrong stories that were published but to this date never gathered in a Charlotte Armstrong collection. So is there enough additional material out there good enough for another book?  Hope so!

I also wanted to note that Doug tells me that just as Night Call was coming off the press, one of the editors, Kirby McCauley, passed away, at the age of 72.  He was a literary agent who, genre fans should know, edited the landmark horror anthology Dark Forces.

A fine tribute to McCauley is found here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Suspense is on the Line: Night Call (2014), by Charlotte Armstrong

Since I  last blogged two years ago about mid-century American crime writer Charlotte Armstrong (1905-1969)--see here and here--she was anthologized in Sarah Weinman's well-received and much-publicized book, Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives. Now another notable Charlotte Armstrong publishing event has occurred: the publication, by Douglas Greene's Crippen & Landru press, of the third, and presumably final, collection of Charlotte Armstrong short fiction: Night Call and Other Stories of Suspense.

During her lifetime Armstrong published two short fiction collections: The Albatross (1957) and I See You (1966); a third collection, composed of pieces that appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in the 1960s, probably would have followed in the 1970s had not Armstrong passed away from cancer at the age of 64 in 1969 (it's sad to think we missed possibly two decades more of original fiction writing from this gifted author).

Crippen & Landru's Night Call collects these works, which had never appeared in book form, plus two previously unpublished pieces. This makes a total of thirteen short stories--one a short short--and two novelettes.

Thirteen of the pieces appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in the 1960s--editor Fredric Dannay was a great fan of Armstrong--and, as stated, two of the pieces, a short story and a novelette, have never before been published. Night Call's editors, Rick Cypert and Kirby McCauley, have divided the book into four sections: Younger Female Protagonists, Older Female Protagonists, Male Protagonists and Novelettes.

Charlotte Armstrong (1905-1969)
My favorite of the short story groupings is the section that concerns the "older women protagonists." One of these tales, "The Splintered Monday," about an old woman who solves a domestic murder in her family, is included in Weinman's anthology.  The two in this section I had not read before are "The Case for Miss Peacock" and "The Cool Ones."

Writer Kevin Killian has memorably dubbed Armstrong's wise elderly women her "Norns." They are indomitable women who invariably surmount the various crises thrown into their lives in Armstrong's tales.

In "The Case for Miss Peacock," the protagonist of the title is an older woman living alone in diminished circumstances but quiet dignity.  When she is accused of having robbed a lingerie store she must prove her alibi to an investigating policeman.  In the course of this excursion we learn much about Miss Peacock, just as she learns much about herself and the way the world sees her.  This is the essence of Armstrong in her mature years: gently humorous and life-affirming.  In tone I was reminded quite a bit of her classic, Edgar award-winning suspense novel, A Dram of Poison (1956).

"The Cool Ones" is more overtly dramatic, in that it deals with the kidnapping of an elderly woman and her efforts to save herself from the certain death that awaits her after her ransom is paid.  The theme of this suspenseful tale is the affinity between grandparents and grandchildren.  Old Mrs. Finney knows it is her grandson who can save her, if she can only leave him the right clues....This fine story was published in 1967, at the height of talk about "the generation gap." Here it isn't grandparents who are clueless about young people, but middle-aged parents.

contemplating the foibles of man?
"The Light Next Door" is included in the "male protagonists" section. It's a tale of suburban suspense that focuses on a man and his Dalmatian dog, Miggs (personally, I think Miggs is the real protagonist).

The editors note that Armstrong's books have been dubbed "suburban noir"; yet as is so often case, I think that here the term "noir," while no doubt important-sounding, is inapt.  Armstrong's work doesn't seem to me to have noir's requisite bleakness. To be sure, there is bleakness in "The Light Next Door," but there is also a redemptive image left flickering at the end.

This is another fine story, dealing with that classic scenario of a couple who begins to suspect that there is something odd going on with their neighbors (a middle-aged man, a former widower, and his new bride).  It cleverly updates Gothic motifs to suburban California in 1969.  Had it been published earlier in the 1960s, one might have seen it televised on the series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Of the stories with "younger female protagonists" I liked best "From out of the Garden," another tale that draws on Gothic tropes (especially the work of Edgar Allan Poe). However, in contrast with then-popular (1968) neo-Gothics, Armstrong takes the relationship between the young woman--an intrepid journalist investigating the long-ago disappearance of a wife--and the brooding, middle-aged man in the gloomy, old house in rather a different direction....

Night Call's two novelettes occupy  a third of the book's 300 pages; happily both are very good tales. "The Second Commandment," about a minister suspected of murder when his wealthy, decade-older bride falls to her death over the edge of a cliff, is a quite moving story that uses the occasion of sudden death to probe deeper spiritual issues about the human condition.

The previously unpublished "Man in the Road" is a real find: a fully-developed mystery "situation" about a career woman, Hallie White, returning home to visit the small desert town she left behind years ago, who in the early morning hours on a deserted road outside town hits a man darting in front of her car, by a store building called "The Rock Shop."

When after reporting the accident Hallie returns to the scene with the police, they find a dead man; and some in the town are soon muttering that Hallie is a hit-and-run killer. This tale is more a full-fledged detective story--and a real winner of one at that.  In addition to the interesting mystery, there is a richly-developed small-town atmosphere and a pleasing heroine with an appealing love interest in her old grade-school sweetheart, now a cop.

With its previous collections of short fiction by Margaret Millar and Vera Caspary--stories from both these collections, incidentally, are found in Weinman's recent anthology--Crippen & Landru had already made an important contribution to the field of mid-century women's crime fiction.  That contribution has become even more profound with Charlotte Armstrong's Night Call.  If you liked Sarah Weinman's Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, you should definitely consider picking up Night Call.  It is available in paperback and hardback, the latter an especially well-fashioned edition.

Note: Also included in the book are an Afterword about Charlotte Armstrong by her son Jerry Lewi and a bibliography of Armstrong's published short fiction, serialized novels and novels.

Also note other Crippen & Landru volumes reviewed at The Passing Tramp:
The Casebook of Jonas P. Jonas (2012), by Elizabeth Ferrars

More Things Impossible: The Second Casebook of Dr. Sam Hawthorne (2006), by Edward D. Hoch
Banner Deadlines (2004), by Joseph Commings

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Douglas G. Greene and Mysteries Unlocked

Douglas Greene
Today is the seventieth birthday of Douglas G. Greene, the great American crime fiction scholar who, among his many other accomplishments, published the seminal John Dickson Carr biography, John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles (1995) and founded the mystery short fiction publishing house Crippen & Landru.

Over 2013 and 2014 I happily was able to shepherd into print Mysteries Unlocked: Essays in Honor of Douglas G. Greene, a collection of two dozen essays on detective fiction, in honor of Doug and his important work, published by McFarland Press.

Going by order of appearance in the book, there are essays by Bill Ruehlmann, Mike Ashley, Roger Ellis, Curtis Evans, Michael Dirda, John Curran, Martin Edwards, B. A. Pike, Julia Jones, David Whittle, Mauro Boncompagni, Steven Steinbock, Henrique Valle, Jeffrey Marks, Jack Seabrook, Tom Nolan, Marv Lachman, Jon L. Breen, Sergio Angelini, Joseph Goodrich, Helen Szamuely, Patrick Ohl and Peter Lovesey (there are also an afterword by Boonchai Panjarattanakorn, a prologue by Steve Steinbock and an introduction by myself).

The essays cover a broad range of crime fiction authors (and critics) from over a century, including Thomas W. Hanshew, Max Rittenberg, J. S. Fletcher, Carolyn Wells, John Dickson Carr (of course), Doug Greene himself, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Margery Allingham, Edmund Crispin, Patrick Quentin, Hake Talbot, T. S. Eliot, Fernando Pessoa, Raymond Chandler, Craig Rice, Fredric Brown, Ross Macdonald, Ellery Queen, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Horowitz, Jill Paton Walsh, P. D. James and Rene Reouven.

Doug's work over the decades has illustrated the richness of crime fiction from the gaslight era to the present time.

Although often today twentieth-century crime fiction is simplified as a dichotomous conflict between masculine American hard-boiled/noir and feminine British cozy/clue puzzle (and there are frequently unjustly dismissive attitudes toward the latter), Doug's ventures in both genre history and publishing have illustrated otherwise, that our mystery past in fact was so much more complex and rich.  I think the essays in Mysteries Unlocked do the same.

I wish you a most happy birthday, Doug, and I thank you for all you have given us!

Coming up for Friday is a review of the latest publication of Crippen & Landru, Night Call, a new collection of short fiction by the great crime writer Charlotte Armstrong (1905-1969).

For more on Mysteries Unlocked, see here and here.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"Wimsey-and-Pee": Nicolas Freeling on Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and the Golden Age of Detective Fiction

In 1992 Patricia Craig edited Julian Symons at Eighty: A Tribute, a collection of pieces in honor of the eightieth birthday of the great British crime writer and critic Julian Symons. There are original stories by Reginald Hill, Edward D. Hoch, Thomas Narcejac, Elizabeth Ferrars, poems by others (Symons was no mean poet) and also some essays, ranging from the incidental--a 200-word piece by Patricia Highsmith that reads like it was dashed off thirty minutes before deadline--to substantive: pieces by HRF Keating, a good friend of Symons, and Nicolas Freeling (1927-2003). Keating's piece, on Symons' critical writing, is characteristically charming, while Freeling's, "Gaudy Night in 1935," is surprisingly (or is it characteristic too?) caustic.

Julian Symons of course could be a tough critic himself, but he often found much of worth in Golden Age detective fiction.  Freeling, a crime writer very much of the modern school (indeed, his Guardian obituary, linked above, questions whether he was really a crime writer at all), found nothing of worth in the Golden Age, except some of the works of Dorothy L. Sayers, especially Gaudy Night, which he praised, with some qualifications, at length, referring to it in passing, incidentally, as a "locked-room mystery" (ironically, Symons himself did not like Gaudy Night, much to the future horror, as we know, of the book-stamping Lucy Worsley).

Nicolas Freeling (1927-2003)

Of the Golden Age and Gaudy Night Freeling writes:

In these years the writers of detective-stories proliferated.  They sold enormously, were thought intellectually respectable, and thought a great deal of themselves.  They are all unreadable; the great thing was to devise a new exotic method of killing people and without the killer being at once guessed. Sixty years have passed and point to a paradox: two survivors of this time, constantly reprinted, are Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. If the first is the darling of Hungarian students learning English, the second is reread and loved.  This phenomenon is often ascribed to snobbery, Lord Peter Wimsey being a pleasantly Woosterish figure (does anyone under sixty read Wodehouse?), but the explanation does not satisfy me.  Gaudy Night is arguably, to myself evidently, Sayers's best book. Wimsey appears only in the second half.  Indeed it is not a "detective story" and makes only a superficial pretence of being so....

Instead, it is a serious book, seriously written.....never a common combination, arguably unique in the crime-writing of the twenties and thirties in English-speaking countries....

Freeling also likes The Nine Tailors ("a sunny, happy work of immense charm"), is dismissive of Strong Poison ("undistinguished" except for its introduction of Harriet Vane, "a character full of vigor, struggling for life") and The Documents in the Case ("awkward" and "slight") and hates The Five Red Herrings and Have His Carcase ("alarmingly dull, conventional stodge, full of fingerprints and timetables").

Freeling also contrasts Gaudy Night with The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham, "a writer then highly thought of." I think both Tiger and Allingham were still pretty well thought of in 1992, but never mind, Freeling does not like the book or its author:

The Tiger in the Smoke was successfully published as late as 1952, so unwilling was the lending-library public to abandon Edwardian notions of bourgeois comfort. It is deplorable trash, notable for perfect fidelity to the Sayers pattern of thirty years before. There is an aristocrat-detective, Wimsey-and-pee, and a comic manservant far worse than Bunter, called Magersfontein Lugg. There's a kindly old vicar, and a redhaired beauty called Amanda from a Good Family. To sound Holmesian there's a lot about fog; street musicians talking fake cockney; a Scotland Yard man, very tough but properly subservient to the upper classes; and a preposterous theatrical villain. Everything is Rather-Frightening, and the result is flim-flam.

On the other hand, there is grit in a Sayers composition....

I do not like the Golden Age
(Thanks, Noah Stewart!)

Freeling cites as one example of Sayers' rare "grit" "the lesbian nurse in Whose Body?" I think he means Unnatural Death, but that's hardly the only point with which I find occasion to disagree in this essay.  What about you?

I wonder what Julian Symons thought of "Gaudy Night in 1935"?  Symons himself liked The Tiger in the Smoke, calling it the best of Allingham's books, "a thriller of the highest quality about a hunted man and his hunters." And Gaudy Night he thought a dull novel "full of the most tedious pseudo-serious chat between the characters that goes on for page after page."

Had Freeling ever actually read Symons' crime criticism opus, Bloody Murder?  If he had, he certainly did not let the book constrain in his tribute essay his own critical judgments, which were rather different in particulars from those originally made by Symons two decades earlier.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Sticky Wicket in Scotland: Double, Double, Oil and Trouble (1978), by Emma Lathen

In her long-running fictional series about Wall Street banker John Putnam Thatcher (of the Sloan Guaranty Trust), the American mystery writer Emma Lathen--actually two women, Mary Jane Latsis (1927-1997), an economist, and Martha Henissart (b. 1929), a corporate lawyer--produced detective novels that appealingly blended clever, credible mysteries with wry observations about the corporate world.

Nineteen Thatcher detective novels appeared between 1961 and 1982, then, after a fallow interval of a half-dozen years, five more between 1988 and 1997, the year of Latsis' death (Henissart then discontinued the series, even though an additional Thatcher novel reportedly had been 80% completed at the time).

The Thatcher mysteries surely constitute one of the most notable series of twentieth-century American detective novels, although they are out-of-print today (Latsis and Henissart also had another, more short-lived, mystery series, with an American congressman as sleuth; the two women produced seven of these mysteries, written under the name R. B. Dominic, between 1968 and 1983).

The Lathen Thatcher detective novels I have read all have been crisply and delightfully written, with considerable dry wit about business life exhibited. Typically in each Thatcher novel Lathen tackles a specific business with which the senior Sloan Vice President, in his capacity as head of Sloan's trust department, is currently involved.  During the course of cutthroat financial transactions, someone invariably gets bumped off and it takes the keen-eyed Thatcher to spot the culprit. The plots in the Lathens I have read have been uniformly excellent.  The mysteries are fairly clued, cogent and credible and the books include much fascinating business detail.

In some ways, Lathen reminds me of Golden Age British "Humdrum" mystery writers, particularly John Street, who also was involved with, and interested in, business, though Lathen is much more sophisticated and detailed in her presentation of business institutions and Lathen's dry humor is exceptional within the mystery genre (indeed, on account of the latter quality admirers have compared Emma Lathen to Jane Austen; interestingly, she was long enthusiastically championed by the notable British publisher Gollancz).

Lathen's seventeenth Thatcher novel, Double, Double, Oil and Trouble (1978), is a good example of the author's talents, though it is more of a globetrotting tale than many of her books.  Events are driven by competition between two construction firms, Macklin of Houston, Texas and Norddeutsche Werke GmbH (NWG) of Hamburg, Germany, for a contract to build "a billion facility in north Scotland," at Noss Head, involving "tanker berths, onshore pumping stations, and pipelines to outrun the imagination of man."  Other firms from around the world are involved too, but these two are the favorites.

"From the map...it looks like the most
godforsaken spot in the British isles.

During the height of the competition Davidson Wyle, Macklin's European manager, is grabbed by armed men in Istanbul, purportedly by a terrorist group ironically named Black Tuesday.  A 1.5 million ransom drop is demanded, and Thatcher is one of the people involved in this transaction.

Wylie is not returned when he was supposed to be after the ransom was made, and there are fears for his life; but happily after several weeks he does reappear, alive.  He is whisked back to Houston by Macklin, but there, as Interpol descends to interview him about the kidnapping, about which there are still unsettled questions, he is killed when his car explodes.

The car explosion was no accident.  So who killed Wylie?  Terrorists who thought he might give them away?  Or could he have faked the kidnapping to get the ransom and then been eliminated by confederates in the plot?  What does his beautiful Italian wife, Francesca--whom he was in the process of divorcing--know about all this?

Noss Head, Scotland

Eventually Thatcher solves the case, but not before more travel mileage is chalked up--there are trips to London and the construction site at Noss Head--and another death occurs.  The solution is fairly clued, quite interesting and all-too-plausible.  Along the way, the reader can also savor Lathen's sardonic writing, full of keen observation on the situation of the world in 1978.

Some of my favorite passages had to do with the indomitably conscientious do-gooder Roberta Ore Simpson, descended from Quakers and fired with zeal to stamp out corporate wickedness:

Some women in public life are invariably known by three names.  Occasionally this designation provides continuity for a career begun under a maiden name and continued after marriage.  More often it serves as a warning to the uinitiated that the lady's claim to fame rests on the grandeur of her own family rather than on her consort.  But sometimes the polysyllabic mouthful signals the inadequacy of the English language.  Under certain circumstances "Mrs." and "Miss" can be grotesquely inappropriate while "Professor" and "Doctor" are irrelevant.

The Lathen novels invariably offer fascinating historical and cultural snapshots of their times.  One such, as indicated above, is the role of women in business and public life (still a way to go in this novel, though changes are taking place). Another concerns, naturally enough, the oil business:

OPEC, Thatcher suspected, wanted to illustrate the distinction between promise and achievement. Just as every oil well, before it is drilled, is going to be the biggest gusher ever seen, so North Sea oil might become the bonanza of bonanzas.  Yields might outstrip those of the Persian Gulf, Europe might dispense with the Emirates, and world energy prices might plummet.

But, in the meantime, OPEC was doing very well, and they had decided to prove it.

Then there's this pithy observation on the influence of television news anchors: "He might accuse his wife of overdramatizing, but Walter Cronkite?"

You don't question Uncle Walter

And then this exchange between two policemen in Houston, discussing where the dynamite that destroyed Wyle's car might have been obtained by the terrorist group Black Tuesday:

"All that construction.  There's probably dynamite lying around on every [street] corner....Unless terrorists always carry their own brand with them."

"They would have had to come through Customs and Immigration at the airport....

"Ha! We've got over four million illegal Mexican immigrants.  Do you think they would have noticed a couple of Arabs?"

I strongly recommend the Emma Lathen detective novels to you if you have never read them.  Every time I read one I find a pleasing mystery and I feel I'm learning about an interesting place and time in world history.  I only wish Emma Lathen had been able to continue writing mysteries for another dozen years or so, up to the rise of the Occupy movement.  Death Is Occupied would have made a great Emma Lathen mystery title!