Last Update 3/29/23

The Norwich Victims by Francis Beeding, Arcturus, 2013 (originally published in 1939) 

This is one of those crime novels where we know in advance who the criminals are so we get to see both sides maneuvering throughout the investigation. Two people plan to murder a woman who just won a large French lottery and impersonate her in order to secure the money. Everything seems to have gone perfectly, but then little things result in cracks. This was marred for me a bit by the fact that the detective instinctively suspects a character against whom he has no evidence and expends considerable police resources to watch him. There is also a surprise ending – two of the characters are the same person – but it is absurdly improbable that this could have worked. 3/29/23

Psycho House by Robert Bloch, Tor, 1990 

Reportedly Bloch was talked into writing this and the previous sequel. It feels that way. Norman Bates is dead and a new motel has been built with a maniac killer theme. The day it is supposed to open, a young woman is found murdered inside. There is another crazed killer on the loose. A popular author decides to write a book about the whole thing and most of the book consists of her interviews with various people, which eventually leads to the solution of the more recent murder. No pun intended but the plot is pretty lifeless. 3/27/23

Bright Orange for the Shroud by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1965  

Travis McGee tries to recover some money that was swindled from a friend and runs into an insane killer as well as the swindlers. He gets shot in the head at one point but is ready for rough housing within hours, which I found a little hard to believe. This is the first book in which he actually moves his houseboat, and the first where the wounded dove is male. Not all of the bad guys get punished. Only a fraction of the money is recovered. It is a woman rather than McGee who is directly responsible for the death of the chief villain. Okay, but with some minor problems. 3/27/23

A Deadly Shade of Gold by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1965

The Travis McGee novels became considerably longer starting with this one. An old friend shows up and is promptly murdered. McGee and a female friend follow his trail back to Mexico in order to find out who was responsible. The case involves stolen ancient artifacts, Cuban exiles, right wing political groups, a blood feud, an ambitious actress, a boat rigged to explode, a man incapacitated by a stroke, tourists who are not tourists, an undercover agent,  and several murders. McGee’s companion is also killed, although by accident. Three of the four female characters this time are strong and admirable, which was rather a noticeable change in the tone of the stories.

Miss Seeton Undercover by Hamilton Crane, Berkley, 1994 

This installment in the series seems a bit repetitive to me. The police are concerned about a series of thefts of antiques in the vicinity of Seeton’s home village. The village is more concerned about the presence of media covering a rare apple native only to that region. Seeton is, as usual, right in the middle of things with her psychically inspired sketches, her obliviousness to her surroundings, and her ever present umbrella. The formula is unchanged – she stumbles into the solution of the mystery – but this time the story feels more like a paint by the numbers collage than a new adventure in its own right.

The Quick Red Fox by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1964 

An actress is being blackmailed with photographs of her participation in an orgy. Travis McGee agrees to try to find out who is responsible, and he finds himself mixed up with multiple murders. This was the first in the series to have a strong, admirable female character, who ends up in bed with him but breaks it off following a traumatic encounter. The killer does not even appear on stage until near the end so this is more satisfying as an adventure story than a mystery, despite the murders. McGee is softened a bit as well. 3/22/23

The Night of the Ripper by Robert Bloch, Tor, 1984

Bloch examines several of the historical suspects in the Jack the Ripper killings, and adds a man who is the prototype for Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is also a character. The story parallels the real case but adds fictional events, switching the reader’s suspicions several times along the way. That said, it is pretty slow moving and while the impoverished misery of the period is reproduced quire well, there is not a great deal of suspense. Still one of his better novels. 3/22/23

Peril in Paris by Rhys Bowen, Berkley, 2022

The latest in the Royal Spyness series is a nice though not innovative addition to the series. Lady Georgianna is now married and pregnant and is off to Paris to visit with her best friend. Her husband, who is a government agent, asks her to perform what should have been a minor errand but turns out to have much greater consequence than she expected. Europe is lurching toward war and she may have just helped it stumble forward another step. The local police, naturally, are convinced that she is a villainous foreign agent, which makes it even more difficult for her to find her way out of the mess. Light but fun. 3/20/23

The Jekyll Legacy by Robert Bloch and Andre Norton, Tor, 1990

A young woman seeking employment in England is startled to learn that she is the niece of Henry Jekyll, who disappeared at the same time as Edward Hyde committed suicide – not a mystery to the reader of course. Much of the novel deals with the deplorable situation for the poor and the efforts by the Salvation Army to deal with the challenge. There are murders which seem to be connected to Hyde, but the solution is not supernatural. A fair but slow moving suspense novel. 3/18/23

A Death in Tokyo by Keigo Higashino, Minotaur, 2022

This is another well done police procedural by one of my favorite authors, originally published in Japanese in 2011. A businessman is stabbed to death one evening and a suspect carrying his wallet runs in front of a truck, is badly imjured, and dies without regaining consciousness. It could have been a simple mugging, but two of the police detectives involved suspect that the case is more complicated than it appears. There are tensions in the first victim's family, an old swimming accident that was never adequately explained, mysterious visits to shrines, and the coverup of some workplace accidents. A bit of a cheat since the killer is barely mentioned and does not appear until the closing chapters, but a smoothly told story. 3/17/23

A Purple Place for Dying by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1964  

Third outing for Travis McGee. A prospective client is shot by a sniper while talking to McGee, after which her body mysteriously disappears. Her husband has stolen her trust fund, but it is clear that he is not responsible. Is it a shady business partner? There do not appear to be any other viable suspects. The truth is the result of a connection not even hinted at until very late, and a motive not revealed until the final scene. About the same quality as the first two, with somewhat muted chauvinism. 3/17/23

Nightmare in Pink by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1964  

Travis McGee investigates the sudden reclusiveness of a very rich man who left his wife and moved in with some of his employees. It’s all part of an elaborate scheme to steal millions of dollars. The villains are off stage for most of the book. McGee spends a lot of time bedding women, slaps one, humiliates a couple more, and flirts with still others. This was not nearly as good as the first in the series and the portrayal of the female characters is often problematic. 3/14/23

Psycho II by Robert Bloch, Tor, 1982

A suspenseful but not very innovative sequel to the original novel. Norman Bates kills a nurse and escapes from an asylum. He has learned that a movie is being made about the events that led to his incarceration, and he decides that only he can fill the title role. That means killing anyone else who might compete for the part. His antagonist is his psychiatrist, who tries to anticipate his moves and forestall him, but he is not particularly successful. 3/14/23

A Deadly Place to Stay by Josephine Bell, Walker, 1982   

Aka The Innocent. This was Bell’s final novel. It was also her worst by quite a margin, possibly because she planned another draft. A runaway woman – actually of age so not technically a runaway – gets trapped by a cult. The cult is what you might expect, and their internal discipline eventually leads to a murder, which is ultimately revealed to the police. The protagonist is a thief and is so obnoxious that I was almost cheering on the villains. There are no sympathetic characters in the story. 3/12/23

There Is a Serpent in Eden by Robert Bloch, 1979  

Aka The Cunning. A group of thieves operating as a catering service decide to use an event in a rich, gated community in order to force their host to open his safe. The neighborhood is full of trouble characters – imminent suicides, crazy people, failing marriages, dying careers, etc. The event finally comes but things do not go as planned because some of the residents are concealing dark secrets as well. The three thugs all get killed and their bodies are concealed because calling the police would reveal too much that they want to keep hidden.  Slow until the closing chapters. 3/12/23

Deathly Relics by Sam Siciliano, Titan, 2023

This author's latest Sherlock Holmes pastiche is set in Rome, where someone has stolen some important relics and Holmes is employed, despite his reluctance, to get them back. Siciliano's pastiches replace Watson with Henry Vernier as companion, also a doctor. It will not long remain a simple question of theft. Murder and violence erupt as Holmes penetrates a subculture that is new to him.  His skepticism about the authenticity and value of the artifacts makes an interesting contrast to the attitudes of the other parties involved. 3/7/23

Starring Miss Seeton by Hamilton Crane, Berkley, 1994 

Once again Miss Seeton finds herself inadvertently in the middle of a criminal investigation. She is simply trying to participate in the village’s annual Christmas pageant when she discovers a collection of silver items of great value. This leads promptly to a murder. Seeton’s intuitive sketches provide key clues to identifying the murderer, and for a change she is more or less actively involved in the investigation rather than drawn into events by happenstance. A fairly good mystery puzzle with a slight change of emphasis from the previous books in the series. 3/6/23

The Deep Blue Good-By by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1964 

The first adventure of Travis McGee, who recovers property that cannot be reacquired legally. In this case, he helps a young woman whose dead father’s secret hoard of gemstones was stolen by a particularly nasty villain. There are the usual MacDonald themes – three injured doves to be saved – though one dies, hidden goods of dubious provenance, contempt for civil authorities, some mild sex, etc. McGee is not that much of a change from several of his earlier male protagonists but he would develop a bit over the course of eighteen books. There is quite a bit of male chauvinism again. A good start to the series otherwise. 3/6/23

Wolf! Wolf! by Josephine Bell, Walker, 1979 

The first of two novels about Amy Tupper, an elderly woman who is a kind of cross between Miss Marple and Miss Seeton. Tupper believes that she has seen a famous killer in a hospital. No one believes her but then a nurse is found strangled. She is actually wrong – she saw the son of the famous killer – but her story contradicts the police theory and when she is attacked by two men, it throws the investigation into chaos. Rather sketchily told and Tupper is a bit bland. The identity of the killer comes our of thin air, however, and it is at best a mediocre puzzle. 3/4/23

A Question of Inheritance by Josephine Bell, Walker, 1980 

This is the second of two mysteries involving Amy Tupper, an elderly woman who encounters crimes. Florence Bennet is an actress trapped in a bad marriage. When their infant son dies of crib death, she flees England after secretly burying the child.  The husband dies days later, so Bennet returns with a baby she essentially purchased. Twenty years later, a mysterious visitor murders her. The façade rapidly unravels, thanks to a string of rather strained coincidences and several people who have surprisingly detailed memories of minor events twenty years old. The killer is a minor character who barely makes an appearance before the climax and whose motive is completely hidden until the end. 3/4/23

The Last One Left by John D. MacDonald, Crest, 1967 

A fairly long and very rewarding crime/adventure story. A private yacht carrying nearly a million dollars in bribe money disappears at sea. Only the captain appears to have survived, and he insists that an explosion killed everyone else and sank the yacht. But the brother of one of the passengers is convinced the man is lying and finds a connection between him and a former mistress of one of the men who knew about the money. And unknown to him, his sister survived thanks to a reclusive, mentally challenged veteran who lives alone on a small island. There is no real mystery involved but the story is very well plotted and the characters are deeply drawn even by MacDonald’s standards. I believe this was the last novel he completed before launching Travis McGee. 3/2/23

American Gothic by Robert Bloch, Tor, 1974   

Another novel based loosely on a real series of murders. The antagonist in the story is a pharmacist of sorts who lives in an enormous building he dubs his castle. After murdering his estranged wife, he lures young women there for a similar fate. Eventually of course he picks the wrong victim, a woman who has a competent male admirer who is suspicious and eventually saves the day. The female protagonist is rather passive, actually. The plot has its tense moments but moves a bit too slowly to sustain the suspense throughout. 3/2/23

Treachery in Type by Josephine Bell, Walker, 1978 

Aka A Swan-Song Betrayed. This is a somewhat convoluted mystery involving a plagiarized book and a string of murders that follows. The books are being used to convey drugs to certain users, which is so unlikely and unmanageable a plan that I found the plot completely implausible. The murders are off stage and so is most of the detection. Key discoveries are made by accident. The ending is perfunctory and not remotely satisfying. The author seems to have ambivalent feelings about her plagiarist, a young woman of limited intelligence who somehow manages to rewrite and sell the work she stole. Very disappointing. 3/1/23

Miss Seeton Goes to Bat by Hamilton Crane, Berkley, 1993 

Miss Seeton trades her umbrella for a cricket bat in this installment of her comical crime solving. There has been another string of burglaries in her village. Scotland Yard is stymied until Seeton attends a cricket match and draws a sketch of the scene. The sketch includes some faint clues about the crimes and their perpetrators. The subsequent investigation necessarily revolves around the sport, which I confess I don’t entirely understand.  She is briefly in jeopardy, but we know she will triumph in the end, although probably not because of anything she decides to do consciously. About average for the series. 3/1/23

Room to Swing by Ed Lacy, Poisoned Pen, 2022 (originally published in 1957)

This won an Edgar as best novel of the year and it was also one of the earliest to have a black private investigator as protagonist. He was hired to watch a man with a criminal past, but is soon on the run, having been framed for his murder. The author was white but his wife was not and she probably contributed some of the details about the problems black men faced in the rural Midwest in particular. It's lively and fast moving, although the solution is kind of grafted on at the last minute. I had never heard of Lacy, who wrote several other mysteries although only one more with this protagonist. I added him to my "watch for" list. 2/26/23

Stroke of Death by Josephine Bell, Walker, 1977 

Aka Such a Nice Client. A visiting caseworker suspects that a partially paralyzed elderly man is being starved to death by his daughter-in-law. She reports her suspicions and quiet investigations are started, but the people involved are incompetent and uncaring and it is a while before a serious effort is launched. Then the man dies suddenly in an obviously faked accident. A short time later, it turns out that the women was not whom she claimed to be, and the supposed son is also an imposter. This was rather dull despite another murder late in the story and was more about the failings of the welfare system than the murder and its solution. 2/22/23

The Essex Murders by Vernon Loder, Oleander, 2022 (originally published in 1930) 

The new owner of a manor house finds three dead bodies in a pond on the property on the day when he is moving in. It looks like either suicide and an accident, or murder and suicide, or murder and an accident. The police and the home owner pursue separate investigations. Who was the killer? Was it the long time housekeeper? The neighbor who pretends to be writing a book about birds? Or did one of the victims die after killing the other two and making it look like suicide. Who drugged the coffee? Who stole the boat? Why was the car moved? What about the strange lights on the night of the murder? Reasonably good but the ending cheats a bit. 2/20/23

The Drowner by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1963 

One of the best of MacDonald’s novels, and a rare private investigator story prior to Travis McGee. A woman is drowned in an apparent accident, but her sister is skeptical and hires a PI to look into the matter. She was estranged from her husband and having an affair with a rich but not entirely legitimate businessman who had asked her to conceal a large amount of hidden cash in her apartment. That seems to be the motive, although it turns out not to be. I guessed the killer early simply because the story made her look so dislikable that I was suspicious of her from the outset. There are two more murders and nearly a third before the truth is revealed. 2/18/23

Victim by Josephine Bell, Walker, 1975 

An elderly woman decides to sell her house, but is blocked by the local planning board. A neighbor decides to join her and is found dead of a drug overdose, probably a murder. There are two real estate developers interested in the property, neither of whom is businesslike or believable. Another neighbor owns the first, and he tries to bully her into selling the property to him, after manipulating the council vote. The police suspect that he was the murderer but have no evidence. Yet another neighbor survives a rather improbable murder attempt, but he turns out to be the owner of the second disreputable development firm. His rival is found shot to death and he in turn menaces the protagonist, but has a fatal heart attack when the police show up. The story is so full of artificial and improbable situations that it never seemed remotely real and hence I never became interested in either the story or the characters.  2/15/23

Night World by Robert Bloch, Crest, 1972 

A psychological thriller mixed with a murder mystery. The protagonist is called to the asylum where her husband has been confined. She finds the staff murdered and five patients have disappeared. One of them is obviously the killer and he pursues his love of death outside the asylum. The protagonist worries that her husband might be the killer, and that she might well be the next target. More suspenseful than most of Bloch’s crime novels although the plot is a bit forced at times. 2/16/23

Miss Seeton Plants Suspicion by Hamilton Crane, Berkley, 1993 

A young man is mistakenly arrested for murder. His friends are confident that Seeton can solve the crime and find the real culprit, but she is more interested at present in cultivating her garden. Unfortunately, the real killer is nervous about her uncanny ability to bring the gui8lty to justice, so he decides to kidnap her. As you might suspect, the kidnapping does not go as planned and the criminal essentially brings about his own capture. Fairly good, but a bit too light even for this series. 2/14/23

Trouble in Hunter Ward by Josephine Bell, Walker, 1976 

Until the closing chapters, this was one of the best of Bell’s later novels. Was the mysterious death in the hospital murder or accident? Is the prowler reported by the patients real or imaginary. A second death is obviously a suicide and is linked to the first death by the police, although there is in fact no connection. The solution involves a very minor character who appears to have no motive, and her mentally disabled sister, about whom we have never even been told. Several people know who the killer is but for no apparent reason they refuse to talk to the police until it is too late and there are further attacks. Good first half. Appalling second half. 2/12/23

On the Run by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1963 

Sid Shanley has been on the run for years after he beat up a highly placed figure in organized crime. He does not realize that his grandfather is still alive, though dying, and very wealthy. The old man wants to see his two grandsons before he dies so he hires a private detective to locate them both. The brother is a hoodlum as well and passes the information to his superiors, who send a professional killer to eliminate Sid. But the assassin makes a mistake and kills the wrong person. Shanley then decides to engage in a vendetta against the thugs, but the story ends at that point. Pretty good despite some really appalling chauvinism. 2/12/23

A Flash of Green by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1962 

This was the first of MacDonald’s novels whose theme was conserving the coastline of Florida. A reporter discovers that a group of investors and politicians have come up with an elaborate plan to develop a bay, destroying it, and is blackmailed into helping them discredit the conservationists who oppose the project. There is a good deal of dirty dealing, vandalism, threats, blackmail, and name calling. The reporter finally blows the whistle on the whole thing, He undercuts the ringleader’s plans to become governor, but the project goes ahead at the end. His romance with one of the conservationists is fatally undercut despite his last minute change of sides. A bit slow in parts but generally gripping.  2/11/232

Miss Seeton by Moonlight by Hamilton Crane, Berkley, 1992   

Miss Seeton and her umbrella return in one of the better pastiches. Someone is stealing valuable works of art, so Miss Seeton is asked to provide a bogus painting that can be used as bait. Before that plan is fully underway, another thief robs a wealthy family home and she is distracted into an informal and rather chaotic investigation of that case. Both villains are subdued in due course, but only after the usual frolics, pitfalls, and comic diversions. The ghost writer, Susan Mason, seems to have caught more of the flavor of the original series in this and the preceding book, which is promising for the later titles. 2/10/23

A Pigeon Among the Cats by Josephine Bell, Stein & Day, 1974 

A widow and retired school teacher goes on a tour of Italy and is puzzled by a young member of the group who claims to have run away from her husband, but who appears to be using a fake name unnecessarily. There is also a scar faced man who shows up at various stops on their route and who obviously knows the young woman.  This was a rather tedious book. The crooks are obvious, the motive generally apparent, and the developments mostly predictable. No real mystery involved, not much suspense, and the characters – particularly the villains – are flat and uninteresting.  2/10/23

The Curzon Case by Francis Durbridge, Hodder, 1971

Paul Temple investigates when two teenage boys disappear under mysterious circumstances. Is this connected to a recent airplane crash in the area?  Who is Curzon and why does his name keep turning up? Is someone smuggling things through a small village? Who killed the father of the two boys? Who killed the gangster while he was burglarizing a house? Who hired the pickpocket to steal a code book and what does the code mean? Why does a third boy disappear from a moving train? Not all of the answers are convincing in this relatively short novel. 2/7/23

The Defaced Men by Tim Major, Titan, 2022 

This is an unusual Sherlock Holmes mystery/adventure that is set against the backdrop of the early days of animated projection in England. An inventor working in that field has been receiving mysterious threats and while he asks Holmes for assistance, he refrains from providing a great deal of important information. Holmes seems distracted, as though he had another case in mind. Watson is frustrated even more than usual. The details about the science are as interesting as the mystery itself. Major has become one of the best of several writers who have produced pastiches in recent years, blending contemporary writing techniques with the well established Holmes formula. 2/5/23 

Death of a Poison-Tongue by Josephine Bell, Day Books, 1972 

A fairly good suspense novel although the protagonist is colossally stupid and the mystery element is disappointing. After a man attempts to kill her, she decides she is in love with him and is alone with him on further occasions, during one of which he tries to kill her again – he is smuggling art objects out of the Mideast. The village’s nasty gossip is an elderly invalid who is strangled in her wheelchair. There are two drug dealers and an obvious fake religious cult. All of these villains get caught by the police eventually, but none of them committed the murder. The killer is a minor character who was being blackmailed, and there was no hint of it until the end. 2/5/23

A Hole in the Ground by Josephine Bell, Ace, 1971 

As a young man, the protagonist was puzzled by some blood stains he noticed while hiking in Cornwall. Twenty years later he returns, feeling vaguely guilty because he never looked into the matter. Two sisters are clearly hiding something. There were two mysterious disappearances at the time of the earlier visit. There were in fact two murders, committed by two different people, and before the story ends there are two more, and those also are committed by two different people. So four killers and another attempted murderer. But an old mine collapses at the end and all the surviving villains die in the landslide. 2/2/232

Terror by Robert Bloch, Belmont, 1962 

Pre-publication title was Kill for Kali. A mentally ill young man in a Chicago suburb becomes obsessed with Kali after her aunt receives a stolen statuette and is promptly murdered. He becomes involved in the rivalry between two factions of a Hindu religious/political organization and at one time or another suspects the heads of both factions of being responsible for the murders. But then one of the two is killed and it seems unlikely that his rival was responsible. It actually turns out to be an ambitious woman who was allied with the dead man but turned on him when he did not measure up to her expectations. The solution to this one is not very convincing. 2/1/23

Where Is Janice Gantry? by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1960 

Shortly after unwisely helping an escaped convict who claims he was railroaded, the protagonist discovers that the man and a local woman have both disappeared. They are connected to a mysteriously reclusive couple who live on the beach. He decides to investigate and meets the woman’s sister, and the two of them begin discovering additional oddities about the couple. They have unexplained visitors, a puzzling source of income, and their small yacht suffers some unexplained damage after an unusual night time cruise. It is pretty obvious what has happened. The two missing people were murdered and their bodies – as well as their car – were dumped at sea. Exciting ending and a pretty good story. 1/29/23

One Monday We Killed Them All by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1961 

The narrator is a policeman whose wife’s brother has just been released from prison. He has a grudge against the town and is clearing planning some form of revenge. He is also involved with a prison break, a professional thief, a murderous woman, and other unsavory characters. Although he does get part of his revenge, the police close in on them before they can carry out the rest of their plan. The protagonist shoots his brother-in-law in cold blood because he appears to be a personal menace to his family, given that his wife seems incapable of realizing that he is no good.  MacDonald also has a rather cynical attitude toward governments, police, and how they interact. 1/29/23

Dead Beat by Robert Bloch, Popular Library, 1960 

I never really liked this story, but I’m not sure why. A minor thug convinces a family that he is a nice guy down on his luck, and then fakes an injury in their home so that they will ask him to stay while he is recovering. He is actually trying to extort money from an ex-girlfriend who recently married, but her husband has some rough friends and the thug eventually gets in over his head and is killed, fortunately before he can do any lasting harm to the family who helped him. 1/26/23

The Couch by Robert Bloch, Gold Medal, 1962 

This is a novelization of Bloch’s own screenplay for a movie about a serial killer who calls the police ahead of time to tell them he is going to commit a murder. He is obviously insane and is seeing a psychiatrist who has no idea of the severity of his mental disorder. There is a kind of surprise ending – the killings may not have been entirely random – but it’s not entirely clear that this is the case. There are a few too many coincidences in this for me – not unusual in stories based on screenplays where shortcuts are more necessary and more acceptable. I have never seen the movie. 1/26/23

The End of the Night by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1960 

The story of a murder spree by four young adults, told from multiple viewpoints, sometimes epistolary, and starting after they have all been executed. There is a lot of time spent trying to determine the motivations for the killers, based on the author’s assumption that the new generation is radically different from their parents and more inclined to be alienated, amoral, and self centered. Only one of the four criminals is developed as a character, and his motives are as confused at the end as they were in the beginning. There are a lot of subplots about parents, rivalries among law enforcement, and so on. Slightly above average for MacDonald. 1/26/23

A Hydra with Six Heads by Josephine Bell, MacMillan, 1970 

A new doctor has strange experiences at his temporary job and later finds a link between them and his new, supposedly permanent position. Several people are apparently involved in the smuggling of drugs and illegal immigrants. Their pre-emptive effort to discredit the protagonist does not make any sense – it would only serve to alert him that something is wrong, which is the case. Then it turns out that he was manipulated into taking the job by Scotland Yard, who would not be likely to put him in a life threatening situation without telling him something about what they suspected was going on. Eventually there are murders to be investigated, but there is no mystery involved. It’s a crime novel with minimal suspense.  1/23/23

No Bones About It by Ruth Sawtell Wallis, Bantam, 1940 

This is an old mystery novel that I picked up decades ago and never got around to reading. I don’t think I ever saw the author’s name again although she had another novel reprinted by Dell. The homecoming of two young adults after a decade away sets off a series of conflicts and emotional storms in a small town where old hatreds have been simmering for a long time. The mystery element is relatively minor as the story is primarily concerned with the relationship among the characters and families. It was okay, but I’m not going to be looking for the Dell book.  1/23/23

The Crossroads by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1959 

The title refers to a family owned corporation, within which are several subplots and conflicts. The main story involves a plan by a disgruntled employee to steal the hoard of cash held by the family’s retired patriarch. He arranges for a fall guy, whom he kills along with the woman who helped seduce him.  Unlike some MacDonald novels, almost all of the characters are good people, though each has flaws. The crime plot is only one of several so at times the novel does not feel consistent in tone. 1/21/23

Hands Up, Miss Seeton by Hamilton Crane, Berkley, 1992 

This was a bit of an improvement in the Sarah Mason entries in this series. Miss Seeton is mistakenly implicated in a crime when she tries to assist a man who has just been robbed. This causes confusion and irritation for her, and problems for her friends at Scotland Yard as well. The atmosphere of the original books by Heron Carvic is reproduced to some extent and Seeton becomes more of a character and less of a caricature. The mystery itself is okay but unremarkable. 1/21/23

The Fennister Affair by Josephine Bell, Hodder, 1969 

A cruise mystery, set in the Caribbean. The wife of a famous acrobat has disappeared from the ship, presumed to have fallen or been thrown overboard. The protagonist is a young woman who boards the ship the following day, along with a journalist who is predictably her partner in a shipboard romance. There are some dubious cardplayers aboard. They are never named or even differentiated, but they are swindlers and blackmailers and their activities are the cause of all the past and future problems. The reporter is poisoned and nearly died. A stewardess has wild claims about the acrobat, as well as dark secrets of her own. There is a murder attempt, a shootout with police, and other bits of melodrama before we discover the woman’s disappearance was somehow a response to a blackmail attempt. We are never told how that would have worked, we never find out why one of them tried to kill the protagonist, and the elaborate trick – the missing woman is actually being hidden by the captain – is pointless and was performed through a complicated procedure, even though they had no way of knowing that anyone was watching them – and in fact none of the criminals saw it. 1/19/23

The Wilberforce Legacy by Josephine Bell, Walker, 1969 

Horrible plot problems completely undercut this Caribbean mystery. A retired military officer is approached by two men, one impersonating his nephew, one the genuine article, both of whom are criminals. One of them is murdered and their proposed victim disappears. There are also sorts of plot problems. We are never told the reason for either of the two murders. Bell apparently did not know that you cannot insure a stranger’s life because you have no insurable interest. An attempted murder is designed to gain her property, except that it’s not her property but her mother’s. A killer tries to fool the police by putting a mask on a corpse so that it will be misidentified during the autopsy. Terrible novel. 1/19/23

The Beach Girls by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1959 

This is a low key suspense novel set mostly at a marina, despite the innocuous title. The beach girls actually play little part in the story. A new arrival seems to be nursing a mysterious secret. One of the permanent residents had had an affair with his wife, who committed suicide, but the two men had never met. He is trying to decide whether or not he should kill the man. There is another unconvincing “wounded dove” female character who needs the love of a good man to patch over her emotional wounds. That part of the story is saccharine and irritating and rehashes bits MacDonald seems obsessed about. The climax, which seemed to be a confrontation, is actually pre-empted by a horrible, fatal accident. Everyone else lives happily ever after.  1/17/23

Psycho by Robert Bloch, Crest, 1959 

Bloch’s most famous novel, of course, which led to a series of movies and a television show. I was curious to see how the plot diverged since I had not read the novel in over 60 years. There are a few differences – Norman cuts off the woman’s head in the shower – but nothing really significant. It is probably the best of Bloch’s novels as well. There is no padding and the surprise would be effective for anyone unfamiliar with the story. Unfortunately the movie has made the plot so familiar that it would be hard to find someone who didn't know the surprise ending right from the outset. 1/17/23

 Miss Seeton Rocks the Cradle by Hamilton Crane, Berkley, 1992 

I’m afraid I am not enjoying Sarah Mason’s continuation of the Miss Seeton novels. Seeton is increasingly less of a character and more of an artifice, an automaton who never really does anything knew. Her talent is that her subconscious picks up cues about situations which reveal hidden truths when she does a sketch of the subject matter. In this case, she stumbles upon an abandoned infant that eventually leads her to a plot against the English throne, which naturally she thwarts almost without trying. The humor is repetitive and the supporting characters are predictable. The mystery itself is decidedly dull. 1/16/23

Death on the Reserve by Josephine Bell, Macmillan, 1966  zz221 

A young couple disappear while visiting a nature preserve. She shows up a short time later and admits to having had a violent argument with the missing man. There are rumors of a smuggling operation connected with a local quarry, a mystery involving the victim’s parentage, a gang of thugs to complicate matters, and circumstantial evidence suggesting correctly that he is dead. This was the second and final appearance of Dr. Frost, who was introduced in The Upfold Witch. His quiet investigation takes off when the quarry owner is puzzlingly rude and secretive. No real mystery about who was responsible – it had to be one of two brothers – and a second murder leads to a similar conclusion. 1/15/23

Deadly Welcome by John D. MacDonald Gold Medal, 1958  zz278 

This is an exciting but implausible suspense novel. The protagonist is sent to his home town to try to convince an ailing scientist to return to government work. The murder of the scientist’s wife has led to permanent depression. The agent grew up in the town, was wrongfully accused of theft while he lived there, and a number of people resent his return. And almost immediately he is drawn into the murder investigation and the mystery of a large amount of cash that has disappeared. There is a completely implausible beating by the police, the use of a totally unnecessary cover story to explain why he is there, and then ratcheted up tension as events become more threatening. The killer’s identity is painfully obvious – and he kills several more people before the story ends. This could have been much better if MacDonald had avoided the artless artifices, which do not contribute to the story in any significant way. 1/15/23

Death of a Con Man by Josephine Bell, Lippincott, 1968

A rather slow moving story about an accident victim whose death in a hospital is at least partially caused by paperwork with the wrong blood type listed. He turns out to be a known criminal, and he has also been stabbed in the back, which obviously caused the wreck. There were two people in the car with him, both of whom disappear. A doctor, a reporter, and a police officer pursue separate but converging investigations into his past, previous victims, current associates, and uncover a lot of people who are happy that he is dead. The revelation of the killer’s identity comes out of nowhere and could not possibly have been anticipated by the reader – the ambulance attendant was an old enemy under another name.  Bell’s later mysteries often showed evidence of lazy plotting. 1/13/23

Soft Touch by John D. MacDonald,  Dell, 1958

Aka Taint of the Tiger. This is a heist story. A man trapped in a horrible marriage is visited by an old friend who has been working for a South American businessman. The friend proposes that they hijack a large cash payment intended to purchase weapons to support a civil war. The protagonist reluctantly agrees but the foolproof plan goes wrong because two other men have the same intention. They get the money but the friend is badly injured. Feelings between the two rapidly deteriorate, and when the protagonist accidentally kills his wife, he decides to murder his old friend, take all the money, and make it appear that his wife ran away. But he didn’t count on the reappearance of the gunmen. Pretty good, although every single character is a terrible person. This was filmed as Man-Trap. 1/13/23

The Scandal of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton, 1935 

This was the last and weakest of the collection, although “The Blast of the Book” is pretty good. A supposedly cursed book causes anyone who opens it to disappear. Except that it doesn’t. There are some routine murders which are explained because the villain screws up and/or reveals knowledge they could not have possessed at the time. Some of the stories hint at the supernatural but everything is always rationalized toward the end. Several of the stories are repetitions of older plots. 1/11/23

Cape Fear by John D. MacDonald, Crest, 1957 

Aka The Executioners. Twice filmed, this is the iconic story of evil vengeance. A lawyer and his family are tormented by a man who was sent to prison for rape on the evidence provided by the protagonist more than a decade earlier. Now he wants revenge. There is open intimidation, a poisoned dog, a sniper shot at one of the children, and a police officer is killed when a trap is set for the psychotic ex-convict. He actually dies off stage, wounded by one of the lawyer’s frantic gunshots in the darkness. Lean prose and a very direct story line have a strong impact in this one. 1/11/23

Terror in the Night and Other Stories by Robert Bloch, Ace, 1958 

Six crime stories. The first involves a crooked asylum. The second, “Water’s Edge,” was an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. A man and woman clash over stolen money and both of them end up dead. A man tries to drive his wife crazy at the urging of his best friend, who turns out to be imaginary. A man takes cruel revenge on his wife and her lover. A serial killer swaps bowling bags with another man, and his contains a severed head. A gambler believes that a stranger has brought him luck, but that ends when he kills her. Two crooks try to victimize a woman who turns out to be a professional strangler. A pretty good selection. 1/10/23

Shooting Star by Robert Bloch, Ace, 1958 

This is a fairly well done detective story, although it was written when authors thought marijuana was a powerful addictive drug that altered the personalities of those who smoked reefers. The hero is a literary agent who moonlights as a private detective. He is hired to investigate the unsolved murder of an actor, but his queries result in two further murders, threats against his own life, and a struggle against a gang of drug dealers who specialize in Hollywood customers. The identity of the chief villain is somewhat telegraphed but the story itself is nicely done. SF fans might enjoy knowing that there is a minor character named Hamilton Brackett. 

The Catalyst by Josephine Bell, MacMillan, 1966 

This is a very confused suspense novel in which a man, his wife, and his sister-in-law go on a Greek vacation together, even though they all hate each other. There are hints of murderously intended attacks – falling over a balcony, stabbed in a crowd – before the sister dies when she mysteriously falls down a stairway. On the trip home, it appears that the husband kills his wife, but she is still alive. He arrives home and commits suicide and the wife ends up in an asylum. Very far below Bell’s usual quality.

The Secret of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton, 1927

Chesterton reworks some old ideas in this collection of ten stories, including the killer impersonating his victim, the killer who is startled by his own reflection in a mirror, and a bogus family promulgated to obscure a crime. There is at least one – a man reaches out through one window and in through another – that is completely implausible. Several of the stories are repeats of previous plots, particularly those where the killer impersonates his victim. Flambeau makes only a token appearance. This was not a great collection, and it would be eight years before the next and final book appeared. 1/6/23

The Empty Trap by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1957 

A relatively short novel in which the protagonist steals money from his crooked boss, as well as his wife, but nearly dies when pursuing thugs drive him over a cliff. Badly injured, it is a year before he returns to track down his tormentors. He traps one of them, decides to spare his life, but the man dies anyway when a rope breaks. Then he is recognized and a second thug tries to beat him to death. He has changed, however, and it is the thug who dies. When the boss is confronted, he had a heart attack and dies. Lacking purpose, our hero goes back to live with the poor villagers who nursed him back to health. 1/5/23

The Will to Kill by Robert Bloch, Ace, 1954 

This is a short but effective serial killer novel. The protagonist is subject to blackouts, so for a while he thinks he might be the killer, since all of the female victims are connected to him in some fashion. The other suspects include his old friend, a crooked hustler, a lawyer who collects serial killer memorabilia, the crook’s wife, the hero’s girlfriend, and even one of the police officers. The real killer is, not too surprisingly, the blind man who has been a peripheral character throughout the story. A woman blinded him with acid and he has been nursing his grudge ever since. The ending is a bit perfunctory.  1/4/23

No Escape by Josephine Bell, Hodder, 1965 

A doctor rescues a drowning woman from the Thames. She is clearly terrified but not suicidal. When she leaves the hospital a thug causes her to fall from a train to her death. A woman working at the hospital was an acquaintance of the dead woman and by chance she is in possession of a roll of film in which the dead woman performs in some illegal pornography. But there is also something odd about the spool. It contains coded information about something far more sinister. The two protagonists are extraordinarily dumb for a while but finally come to their senses and notify the police. 1/4/23

The Incredulity of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton, 1926 

Father Brown returned after more than a decade, supposedly while he was off working as a missionary. The first few stories are set in the US. There is an insane collector, impersonations, locked room variations, hints of curses, a secret trapdoor, perfidious servants, and a retired jewel thief. Chesterton reworks some old ideas in this collection, including the killer impersonating his victim, the killer who is startled by his own reflection in a mirror, and a bogus family promulgated to obscure a crime. The stories are all competent, but some are drawn out too long and none of them are as notable as the few excellent tales in the first collection. 1/1/23

The Upfold Witch by Josephine Bell, Ballantine, 1964 

A retired doctor finds human bones when he decides to restore an old garden, but the entire village seems to be conspiring to cover up the death of a woman ten years earlier. She was reputed to be a witch and disappeared under odd circumstances – we know from the prologue that she died, although we do not know the cause of death. It’s murder of course. The ending is rather weak and the mystery is almost an afterthought. I did like the family whose arrival begins to unravel the mystery, however, and the rendition of small village superstitions is chilling. 1/1/23