Last Update 1/20/22

Citadel of Hell by Norvell Page (as Grant Stockbridge), Altus, 2019 (originally published in 1934) 

The Spider takes on a conspiracy by a small group of food producers. They are using a new kind of incendiary to destroy rival food suppliers, resulting in a nationwide famine, riots, and nearly the collapse of the US government. The action is frenetic and the Spider gets shot through the shoulder – twice – and nearly dies. The secret identity of the villain is obvious early on but it doesn’t really matter. There’s a femme fatale, an over reaching district attorney, a sympathetic police detective, and lots of bodies – over two thousand casualties during the course of the book, though mostly off stage. The plot has some very large holes but it’s kind of fun, like a rollercoaster. 1/20/22

The Atlantean Horror by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1985 

An American scientist communicates with a dead Atlantean – who was not human – and learns the location of a superweapon buried in Antarctica. Somehow the Russians learn about this as well and they are prepared to risk a world war by sending large numbers of troops to attack the American base and capture the equipment. Naturally they fail. There is a subplot about the Atlantean actually being a villain and tricking the Americans, but Rosenberger apparently forgot about this because it is never mentioned again or resolved. The device is taken to the US. This was the last book in the series from this publisher, which went out of business. The remaining seven novels appeared from Dell. 1/20/22

Odds on Miss Seeton by Heron Carvic, Farrago, 2017 (originally published in 1975) 

The author died after this was published although the series has since been continued by two different writers. This time Miss Seeton is sent undercover to a gambling casino which is believed to have been seized by organized crime. Multiple attempts are made on her life, always with unpleasant consequences for her attackers despite her naivete about the entire situation. Some gentle humor, occasionally a bit over the top, and a nice little surprise at the end. I will try the follow ups by Hamilton Crane, but with some trepidation as it will be hard to capture the essence of the character. 1/19/22

The House of a Thousand Lanterns by Victoria Holt, Crest, 1974

The protagonist of this adventure/mystery has a rough time in Victorian England and Hong Kong. Her father is killed in a climbing accident, her mother dies of tuberculosis, and her new husband is startled to discover that his first wife is not dead as he believed, which invalidates the second marriage. She marries his paralyzed uncle in order to legitimize the baby she is carrying, and in due course they move to Hong Kong. The paralysis is the result of a mysterious hunting accident that might not have been an accident at all.  1/18/22

The Bachelors of Broken Hill by Arthur W. Upfield, Collier, 1951

Someone has been poisoning elderly, overweight bachelors with slovenly eating habits. Obviously a case of insanity, although another murder occurs outside the pattern, a not very effective red herring. There are a couple of goofs. Early on, Bony knows the motive but not the killer, but later on he does not know the motive. I suspect Upfield changed the direction of the plot but forgot to backtrack and make it consistent. The killer is a master of disguise, but we don’t know that until the closing chapter. One of his least successful books. 1/17/22

Miss Seeton Sings by Heron Carvic, Farrago, 2017 (originally published in 1973) 

The fourth Miss Seeton novel takes her off into an investigation of international counterfeiting, art theft, and fraud. As usual, she is oblivious to her surroundings and through pure luck survives multiple attempts to murder her and causes several villains to reveal themselves, oftenwith lethal consequences. Not very realistic but immensely amusing and inventive. The author was killed in an accident shortly after the next in the series appeared, but it has been continued by two other writers since then. I'm not really a big fan of cozies but these rise above the form. 1/16/22

The Soul Search Project by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1985 

The author’s penchant for the occult recurs in this one, in which a scientist has found a way to communicate with the dead, who exist on a different astral plane. The plot is another recycle – the Soviets have kidnapped the scientist because his research will somehow help them develop teleportation. And once again, he is the only man who knows how his equipment works, so he has to be recovered alive or the knowledge will be lost forever. The protagonist kills more than a dozen police officers in this one in order to kidnap a foreign diplomat, and he summarily executes a woman.  1/13/22

The Pakistan Mission by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1985 

The Russians have established a secret base on the Afghan/Pakistan border from which they plan to launch destabilizing attacks against the Pakistani government, followed by a full scale invasion. The Death Merchant works with Pakistani dissidents who cooperate because they would be the first victims of an attack, and eventually he destroys the base. How this would avert the invasion, particularly given that the facility is rather small, is never explained, but the author was not big on explanations. 1/13/22

The Complete Waldo Vol II by Edwy Searles Brooks, Mark Hodder, 2021 

Four more novella length encounters between Sexton Blake and Waldo the Wonder-Man, these originally published in 1919-1920. The adventures/mysteries are not very varied. Waldo poses as a medium to steal some jewels, he inadvertently causes the death of a murderer while trying to commit a robbery, he uses an elaborate device to steal a collection of rubies from inside a locked steel room, and he saves Sexton Blake’s life while trying to steal more jewels in another outing. These were very hastily written and the prose is sometimes rather less than scintillating. Blake prevails in each instance, but Waldo escapes every time as well. 1/10/22

The Bulgarian Termination by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1984 

The Death Merchant is in Bulgaria to destroy a spy training facility. As always his cover is blown by leaks at the CIA and he has to shoot his way out of multiple situations. He eventually contacts the Bulgarian underground and arranges for truckloads of fertilizer to be gathered and weaponized for an attack on the complex, which is also a local KGB headquarters. For a change, the mission is only partially successful as two of the trucks are warded off and the building are damaged but not destroyed. 1/9/22

Witch Miss Seeton by Heron Carvic, Berkley, 1988  (originally published in 1971) 

The police ask Miss Seeton to help them investigate two religious movements – a very public one preaching the end of the world, and a mysterious hidden one involved with witchcraft. Both are actually the same organization working alternate veins of criminal fraud. With her usual luck, she falls – quite literally at one point – into their arrangements and disrupts them. Two attempts to kill her fail and the last results in a disastrous exposure of the villains and their apprehension by police. Not entirely serious but quite amusing. 1/7/22

The Widows of Broome by Arthur W. Upfield, 1951 

Two widows in a remote town have been strangled. In each case they were found naked and their nightgowns and underwear had been savagely torn. Bony has to track down an obviously insane serial killer before the next moonless night or see another victim fall. Each victim also had a nightgown stolen, so Bony has all the clotheslines of other widows watched. He cannot arrest someone just for stealing a nightgown, and in fact he is not even able to identify the thief, but this tells him who the next victim will be and he sets a trap. Once again I thought the killer’s identity was telegraphed, but it’s not a bad story. 1/6/22

New Order edited by Mark Hodder, Rebellion, 2021 

This consists of three full length novels featuring Sexton Blake, all from 1960. He had been given a makeover and now runs a detective agency with recurring characters among the staff. Tinker has become Edward Carter, though the nickname is still used. He is often consulted by Scotland Yard but also works for insurance companies, etc. Two of the three novels collected her are science fiction, though in both cases the science is ridiculous.

The World-Shakers by Rex Dolphin 

This is an absolutely dreadful story. A man is murdered when a flying saucer lands and an alien figure appears. The British government believes that aliens have established a base in the Arctic and are brainwashing humans into helping them. After adventures in England, Blake is off to Iceland where he survives multiple attempts at assassination. He actually sees what appears to be an alien but it is actually a horribly deformed human, a genius, who has gathered other geniuses together to build superweapons, a brainwashing machine, flying saucers, and other technological wonders. He hopes to establish a benevolent but powerful world government. Some of his associates are just hungry for power. They fight among themselves and Blake finally defeats the bad guys. This was unbelievably silly from start to finish. 

The Big Steal by Jack Trevor Story 

The second novel is not bad at all. A group of conmen trick a locksmith into opening a vault, then blackmail him into a repeat performance. He ends up going to prison while the rest get away, but only temporarily. Blake has an elaborate plan for using the man to trap the rest of the gang and recover the stolen money. It all works, although another man is murdered accidentally in the course of the investigation. Pretty nicely told. 

Bred to Kill by Martin Thomas 

The third novel veers back to SF. Someone has been brutally killing people in a rural community but never leaves any tracks. Blake suspects several people, including a reclusive scientist who allows no one to visit his laboratory. Blake breaks in and finds that he has somehow been able to cause animals to regress to species now extinct – not by breeding, mind you, but by some arcane process that changes the individual. When we learn that he had adopted a son who disappeared years earlier, we know that the boy has become an apeman who attacks from the trees and mauls his victims. Not badly written but scientifically absurd. 1/5/22

The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas, Vintage, 2006   

The author is a noted French archaeologist who also writes detective fiction, most notably a series about a police murder squad. An opera singer wakes up one morning to discover that someone has planted a tree in her garden during the night. The mystery is not resolved a few days later when she is found dead in a burned out car. Is there a connection? Of course there is, which is ferreted out after a lengthy and somewhat idiosyncratic investigation. This was an early novel and her later work is much better. 1/4/22

The Curse of the Kings by Victoria Holt, Crest, 1973 

A Victorian adventure romance involving an Egyptian curse. Although two men involved in excavating a tomb in Egypt have both died suddenly, the son of one of them is determined to continue the search for artifacts and secret chambers. He brings his new wife, the protagonist, with him and she begins to suspect that she is the target of a murderer. She is right, but it is not her husband and the woman believed to be his lover. It is actually a hired killer in the employ of a local official who does not like the British and wants the tomb to remain undisturbed. Starts pretty well but founders long before the action actually starts. 1/3/22

Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Burglar by Maurice Leblanc, 1907

The first book about the affable rogue consists of nine novelettes. Lupin is foiled and arrested while leaving an ocean liner, but a young woman helps conceal the evidence that would convict him. He then orchestrates an elaborate theft while still in prison, then arranges a clever and complex escape, and has to reverse his role when he is robbed on a train by another clever thief. The fifth adventure describes his first caper, the theft of a valuable necklace when he was only six years old.  He manages to recover stolen submarine plans, is himself fooled by a clever couple whom he planned to rob, and then tracks down a murderer, outwitting Herlock Sholmes in the process. Inventive and fun. 1/2/22

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