Last Update 1/20/21

Empire of Evil by Sterling Noel, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1961)  

Someone recommended this to me, but it’s not the kind of story I generally enjoy. The protagonist is a lawyer who gets drawn into the MAFIA, and we follow his meteoric rise. He also has a secret that not even his closest associates know. Not badly written but I just didn’t care about any of the characters, and there is no suspense or mystery involved. Not even much action. 1/20/21

Final Proof by Rodrigues Ottolengui, British Library, 2020 (originally published in 1898) 

This is a large collection of 12 stories, one of them a short novel, featuring two detectives – one professional and one amateur – who sometimes cooperate and sometimes compete in solving crimes. “The Phoenix of Crime: is one of the first stories to mention forensic dentistry – the author was a prominent dentist. It is surprisingly modern in tone, very readable, and has some delightful red herrings and reversals. It alone is worth buying the collection. The others are mostly quite good, with a couple of clunkers. One of them is SF - it involves an ape intelligent enough to pass for human. There are stolen gems, swindlers, embezzlers, murderers, and such. This is really quite a good book and I will be looking for the three novels in the series. 1/18/21

The Beast of the Stapletons by James Lovegrove, Titan, 2020

Sherlock Holmes returns to Baskerville Hall when the current tenant's wife is killed, apparently by a giant moth. With his usual aplomb, he correctly determines the truth about the moth, but it takes him longer to find out who is behind the ruse.  I was actually way ahead of him this time. The red herring solution was obviously  not correct and there was really only one other viable candidate. I was mildly disappointed as this does not seem up to the standards of his other pastiches. 1/17/21

The Case of the Three Strange Faces by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1933)

Aka The Crank in the Corner. Ludovic Travers is traveling by train across France in a car carrying five other people, two of whom will be murdered by different methods before the night is over. He is himself a suspect for a while, and eventually travels back and forth between England and France helping to solve the crimes. I suspected the killer fairly early, despite the fact that Travers kept praising his personality. There is some questionable psychological profiling and a couple of the characters appear to be oddly inconsistent in their behavior. Enjoyable enough but not one of his better books. 1/15/21

Who Killed Caldwell? by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1942  

This was the author’s 83rd and final mystery novel. A young man who ran away from home for fourteen years returns and his father is murdered a few days later. His nurse disappears the same night. I expected this to be another impersonation story, and sure enough, that’s what it is. The end is one long serious of cheats – people appearing for the first time bearing information we didn’t know, the detective withholding information. And Wells thought you could remove tattoos with some kind of ointment and clearly did not know that it was ink. 1/15/21

The Death Merchant by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1971 

This series began as a story about the Mafia and the eighty or so subsequent volumes included alien bases and other SF, as well as the usual round of spies. The title refers to a hitman, Richard Camellion, who has more equipment than James Bond. He’s the protagonist but not by any stretch a hero. His job is to assassinate a man the FBI is protecting before he can testify, and this is complicated by an attempt by a faction of the mob to kill him and his boss as part of a power struggle. He triumphs over them all, of course. The prose is not awful. The moral tone pretty much is. I found it hard to empathize with a professional killer even when he is occasionally kind hearted and even has a romantic encounter. 1/12/21

Hands of the Ripper by Guy Adams, Hammer, 2012 

This is a novelization of the 1971 Hammer film in which the daughter of Jack the Ripper is mentally troubled and begins committing ghastly murders. A psychologist who is unaware of her killing spree tries to help her with some of her obvious psychological trauma, and eventually discovers that things are much worse than he thought. Although technically a horror film, there is no fantastic content and for me psychological horror in just mystery/suspense. The novel is also a bit dull at times. 1/12/21

Darkling Death by Francis Vivian, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1956) 

Shortly after a violent fight with his brother-in-law, a man is found mortally wounded from a shotgun blast. This is a very oddly structured novel. The recurring detective is barely present and asks almost no questions. The killer never appears at all and dies off stage. There are no physical clues, or much of any detail about the crime. The prime suspect’s wife is supposed to be an admirable person, but she is portrayed very negatively and her reversal at the end makes no sense. The detective possesses knowledge he never explains. I also found it completely implausible that a young child would sleepwalk through a journey that took an adult six hours or more on foot.  And the title has no relevance to the plot. Very disappointing. 1/10/21

The Terror of Gold-Digger Creek by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1928)

Sexton Blake and his companion Tinker are off to Papua to track down a murderer who is running a drug smuggling operation. The villain this time has a hook for a hand and kills his victims by tearing out their throats. Blake gets kidnapped early on and is off stage for the bulk of the story, reappearing only after Tinker, a friend named Fen-Lo, and some pygmies come to the rescue. Both Blake and the bad guy are surprisingly inept in this below average installment in the series. 1/8/21

The Spanking Girls by Carter Brown, Signet, 1979 

This appears to be one of the Brown titles where the publisher grafted in some gratuitous and explicit sex scenes. That’s a shame because they’re juvenile and do not match the tone of what is otherwise one of the best Al Wheeler books. A young woman is found murdered in an empty house, which leads Wheeler into the world of pornography, a rich man who has a fetish for virgins, a dysfunctional family, and impersonations. There are also two climaxes, the second of which took me completely by surprise. 1/8/21

Kiss the Babe Goodbye by Bob McKnight, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1960) 

There is a hint of an interesting story in this mystery in which a pilot is convinced to look into the death of another member of his profession. There’s a gorgeous woman involved, of course, along with various shady characters. About a quarter of the way through, the story bogs down and becomes relentlessly routine. Ace published this in its double mystery line originally and it did not really deserve resurrection. 1/7/21

The Woman in the Wardrobe by Peter Shaffer, British Library, 2020 (originally published in 1951) 

Before becoming a successful playwright, Shaffer wrote three mystery novels, of which this is the first. It’s very light hearted despite a bloody murder, and rather clever as well. The body of a blackmailer is in a locked room that was visited by two of his victims. One could have locked the door from the inside and escaped through the window. The other could have locked the window from the inside and escaped through the door. Neither could do both. On top of that, a third victim is found tied up in a wardrobe inside the room, and the wardrobe was also locked. The solution is clever and took me completely by surprise. 1/6/21

Murder at the Casino by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1941

An autocratic husband is murdered and the obvious suspect is the man who has been romancing the dead man’s wife. But there are complications, including a jealous woman who makes voodoo dolls, a nephew who would not mind inheriting his share of a fortune, a secretary who is perhaps a bit too loyal to be believable, and other potential killers. About average, although the murderer’s identity was pretty obvious. If you read a lot of Wells, you can usually guess the killer easily.1/4/21

Murder Will In by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1942  

Also known as Murder on the Avenue. A young wife is suffocated in her cloak room in the middle of a party. Four men visited the cloak room and presumably one of them is the killer. The police select one – apparently at random – and place him under arrest. The plot is complicated by the death of a wealthy relative of the incarcerated man. His will specifies that he must marry a specific woman within ninety days to inherit. How can he do that from jail? The search for the missing woman is actually pretty well done. The murder investigation is as incompetent as always and relies on luck, intuition, and withheld information. 1/4/21

The Sex Clinic by Carter Brown, Signet, 1971  

W.H.O.R.E.! by Carter Brown, Signet, 1971 

Two lightweight mystery novels, the first featuring Danny Boyd, the other Al Wheeler. Boyd is a private detective rather than a police officer but otherwise he is indistinguishable from Wheeler. He is hired when an employee at a sex clinic disappears along with some confidential files, after which the clinic receives a demand for ransom money. Boyd tracks down the blackmailer, but the solution is not as straightforward as it appears. Some portions of the story are relentlessly silly. Al Wheeler finds another dead woman in the second, but the body disappears before anyone else sees it and everyone begins to think he is having a nervous breakdown. The trail leads him to a caricature of a women’s rights group, which advocates kinky sex and conceals the motive for more than one murder. This was one of the last, and least, of the Al Wheeler mysteries. 1/3/21

The Sleeping Island by Francis Vivian, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1951) 

When the female half of an obviously unhappy couple is murdered, everyone in the community believes the husband was responsible. Inspector Knollis, and the reader, think otherwise despite some damning coincidences. The fact that two of the neighbors are actively trying to frame the man – whom they believe murdered his wife’s first fiancé as well – makes things even more difficult. This was okay but the killer’s motivation – he wanted to commit a perfect crime – makes it impossible to find the solution logically. 1/1/21

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