Last Update 1/22/19

Verses for the Dead by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Grand Central, 2018 

Agent Pendergast has a new partner for his latest case. Someone is murdering young women, cutting out their hearts, and leaving the severed organs on the graves of other women who have committed suicide. But there is something strange about the case. All of the suicides are from Miami but they all died while out of state and during a short two year period. And the killer leaves cryptic notes behind, which all contain literary references. Everything seems to be random otherwise, but Pendergast believes there is a pattern, and that is what eventually leads to the discovery of the killer’s identity. But there is another danger, and this one is specifically targeting the investigators. Excellent suspense story that was sufficiently tense that I read it in one sitting. 1/22/19

The Book Artist by Mark Pryor, 7th Street, 2019, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-488-5

The latest Hugo Marston thriller is a fairly conventional murder mystery set in France. Marston is attending an art exhibit and associated festivities when one of the guests is murdered by parties unknown. The local police are sure that they have figured out who is responsible, but Marston is predictably convinced that they are barking up the wrong tree. Naturally he has to solve the crime in order to set the innocent man free. But the story is more complicated than that because of a second plot. A friend of Marston has run into trouble with a dangerous enemy and now the enemy is determined to eliminate Marston for reasons of his own. So he has to hunt down one killer while being hunted in turn by another. A nice solid entry in this series. 1/21/19

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary by Terry Shames, 7th Street,2019, $15.96, ISBN 978-1-63388-490-8

This is the only series told in present tense that I find readable, although I still think it would be better if told more conventionally. Samuel Craddock is the recurring police chief and Singletary is another recurring character. When she disappears after getting involved with an online dating service, he is more than slightly alarmed, particularly when another woman who used the same service is found murdered. Craddock has to penetrate a world with which he is completely unfamiliar this time, and his investigation and what he finds are obviously the point of the story. About average for the series, which has been pretty good. And not everything is what it appears to be. 1/20//19

Will O’ the Wisp by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1928)

A man who believes his wife was lost at sea years earlier begins to receive hints that she might have survived. Mysterious notices appear in the newspaper and he receives anonymous phone calls suggesting that she is in England. He tries to investigate and discovers that his sister hid some letters and that a woman who might be his wife has been seen in the city. Although there is no real crime committed in the story, this is a fairly absorbing suspense novel that ages surprisingly well. 1/18/19

Death of a Bovver Boy by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 2014 (originally published in 1964) 

Carolus Deene’s gardener find a naked, dead boy in a ditch near their house. After contacting the police, Deene decides to look into matters himself and discovers that the boy was so mistreated and neglected by his family that there is some reason for his lifestyle, and he was good to some of his acquaintances including a young girl. Suspicion centers on a rival gang, or perhaps the nightclub operator who implied the dead boy to sell drugs for him. But Deene decides to look farther afield. I was a bit disappointed by this one because Deene seems to snatch the solution out of thin air, which is the only reason it took me by surprise. 1/17/19

The Witness on the Roof by Annie Haynes, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1925) 

Although not as overdone then as it is now, this is still a rather pedestrian suspense novel involving a long lost woman who returns to claim her inheritance – or is she an imposter? Add to that a young girl who witnessed an apparent murder and more than a decade later realizes that her new husband may be the man she assumed was the killer. The mystery element is missing for much of the book, which is more a story of family tensions and resentments, and while it is fairly well written, I was glad to reach the end. 1/14/19

Hue and Cry by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1927)

A young woman becomes a fugitive when she is framed by her employer, who believes incorrectly that she has stolen a document which could unmask his criminal activities. She is chased over the countryside with many near misses and a few too many coincidental encounters. There is no secret how it will all work out in the end, of course, but it’s the journey rather than the destination that is the point. There are several quite interesting characters and the pacing is very nicely controlled. 1/14/19

Narrow Gauge to Murder by Carolyn Thomas, Coachwhip, 2018 (originally published in 1952)

This obscure mystery novel contains one of the biggest and most effective red herrings of all time. The premise is that a writer and his research assistant have traveled to a tiny, remote community which went bankrupt after a train disaster led to charges of corruption and a suicide that many think was a murder. The assistant is harassed by an unknown party almost immediately and there are clearly secrets within secrets, including the true explanation for the supposed accidental death of an author who lived in the area years earlier. The motive never comes out until the solution and it is not something the reader is likely to guess out of thin air, so it’s a bit of a cheat, but as a suspense novel it is quite good. 1/12/19

Crime De Luxe by Elizabeth Gill, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1933)

I generally enjoy murder mysteries set on ocean liners. There is a distinct flavor to them that sets them apart. This one – a Benvenuto Brown mystery – has some of those elements. A woman falls overboard, or did she? And who was she? And what about the strange nature of her luggage? Brown is immediately convinced that it was murder and soon proves his case. But the pace is slow, Brown is not very interesting, and there are jumps of logic that are not entirely convincing. And what relationship does this have to the animosity between  a rich businessman and another man who believes the first stole his discovery?  Gill only wrote two other mysteries. 1/11/19

Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate, Poisoned Pen, 2018 (originally published in 1943) 

A rather irascible businessman travels home by train with his employer’s payroll in cash, but when he gets to the house, he is unable to speak and dies soon afterward of unusual lung problems. The money, of course, is nowhere to be found. The police detective assigned to the case focuses on the nine people who were in the railcar with him, although four of them did not get off at the dead man’s stop. Most of the book consists of biographical sketches of the various characters and the solution to the mystery is tacked on at the end. The sketches are not interesting enough in themselves and the mystery feels like an afterthought. 1/10/19

Corpse at the Carnival by George Bellairs, Penguin, 1964 (originally published in 1958)   

Superintendent Littlejohn arrives on the Isle of Mann for a vacation just as a mystery man with multiple identities who has been living there for years is stabbed to death in a carnival crowd. The dead man had left his fortune with his wife and retired to secret obscurity. Now his wife and his adult daughter, along with her avaricious husband, have arrived, apparently more interested in settling his estate than finding out who killed him. 1/7/19

 The Arsenal Stadium Mystery by Leonard Gribble, Poisoned Pen Press, 2018 (originally published in 1939) 

Murder at a soccer match. One of the players collapses on the field and dies a short time later, injected with poison. Was it the fellow player whose fiancé had been unfaithful?  Was it revenge for another woman driven to suicide years earlier? Was it related to rivalries on the team? And what was in the mysterious package delivered to the locker room? This is a good example of the fair play detective story popular at the time it was published by a prolific but now largely forgotten British writer. Filmed even as the book was being serialized. 1/5/19

The Case of the Famished Parson by George Bellairs, Ipso, 2016 (originally published in 1949)

Inspector Littlejohn is on vacation when a bishop is thrown off a cliff near his hotel. Although motives emerge, none of them seems particularly convincing and Littlejohn believes he is making no progress when he is ambushed and seriously wounded. The solution is reasonably well disguised, although I had figured out most of it well ahead of time.  1/4/19

The Amazing Chance by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1926)  

Three men disappear on a combat mission during the war. Ten years later, one of them revives from a long spell of amnesia and goes home. But he claims not to know his actual identity. One of them was married and heir to a substantial fortune, Another married a bigamous actress. The wife eventually figures out who he is and learns why he refused to speak, but only after some not very interesting shenanigans. This was a bit too artificial for my tastes and the elaborate steps the author takes to delay the revelation are actively irritating. 1/4/19

The Golden Dagger by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street,2017   (originally published in 1951) 

A valuable antique dagger is stolen from a private collection, used to commit murder, and then left in a telephone booth after an anonymous call to the police. No one knows anything about a body but two men are missing, a famous author and a small time con man and blackmailer. Bobby Owen of Scotland Yard is on the case and while he knows who the killer is quite early – though we don’t know this until very late – he has no proof and does not even know who the victim might be. A low key blend of classic detection and police procedural that slowly builds up tension as events unfold.1/1/19