Last Update 4/23/18

Murder in the Bowery by Victoria Thompson, Berkley, 2017

As the 19th Century draws to a close, Frank and Sarah Malloy discover that their latest client is lying to him. He is supposedly looking for a long lost brother, a homeless thirteen year old, but in fact he is a gangster trying to track down the boy because he may have witnessed a murder. The case is a particularly unpleasant one because a young woman is found dead almost at the same time as the boyís body turns up. There is a connection to a powerful gangster boss, an established but crumbling family, a dying man, incest, and other complications, all while Sarah is planning to open a free maternity clinic. There is some withheld information that makes it very difficult to anticipate the ending, but the story is otherwise as nicely done as usual. 4/23/18

The Pledge by Friedrich Durrenmatt, Signet, 1959

Although the police have badgered a man into confessing to the murder of a young girl, a senior detective believes he was innocent and that the killer is still at large. Because he gave his word to capture the real killer, he gives up his job and begins running a gas station on a road where he believes the killer travels regularly. He also entices an unmarried woman and her daughter to keep house for him, using the latter as bait.  But things don't work out according to plan. This is another of the author's books suggesting that justice is more important than the letter of the law. 4/22/18

The Big Get-Even by Paul Di Filippo, Blackstone, 2018, $26.99, ISBN 978-1504783910

Iíve always enjoyed heist stories, so this tale of an elaborate confidence trick was right up my alley. The protagonist is an ex-lawyer and ex-convict who has managed to kick the drug habit but has not gotten his life back together. Quite by chance, he connects to another ex-convict who has a plan to get even with his former employer, who ratted on him resulting in a prison term. Since the proposed target of the plan is a criminal himself, the readerís sympathies gravitate to the conspirators, who grow to five. The plan is to buy some worthless land and start the restoration of a motel, while planting information that will make the mark believe that the property is going to be bought by a casino developer. Naturally things donít go quite as expected. Among other things, their parole officer wants to keep an eye on them which forces them to make more than token efforts toward restoration. I can tell no more without spoiling the plot, which slowly but inevitably builds up toward the climax. But itís not entirely the climax youíre likely to expect. There are nicely drawn characters, a believable sequence of events, and a satisfying ending. 4/21/18

Crime on Their Minds by Dell Shannon, Morrow, 1969 

Although somewhat above average for the author, this one is marred by another major factual error Ė police cannot search mail without a warrant. The two main cases involve a confidence man found shot to death in his car and a landlady and one of her tenants killed in an apparent break in during which several pieces of clothing are stolen. There is another case that has tinges of voodoo, but not in an interesting way, and a routine shooting incident in a bar. The double murderer leaves his prints so the solution is pretty obvious. The confidence man was also acting as a fence for a burglar. The author does not know what mea culpa means. 4/19/18

Traps by Friedrich Durrenmatt, Ballantine, 1960 

Another clever short mystery novel. A salesman is stranded when his car breaks down and accepts an invitation to a dinner party with a retired judge and two lawyers. He agrees to participate in their game, a mock trial, as defendant, but insists that he has never broken any serious laws. Through clever questioning and reasoning, and helped by the salesmanís growing drunkenness, they ferret out a story wherein he caused the death of his predecessor, though indirectly so that the law cannot touch him. At the end, he hangs himself. Cleverly done, but the end is not entirely satisfactory as it is not clear whether he felt remorse or had some other reason for suicide. 4/18/18

The Case of the Black Lotus by Robert J. Hogan, Altus, 2017 (originally published in 1936)

The sixth adventure of Wu Fang, oriental mastermind, is much like the earlier ones. In fact, it has nothing at all new to say. Wu Fang and his minions are engaged in the systematic murder of prominent citizens and the authorities and our hero are out to stop him. After various light weight adventures, captures and escapes and rescues, his plan is foiled and we last see him supposedly being killed when a wall collapses on him. I wouldnít bet on it. This series got very old very fast and I'm not surprised that the magazine did not last longer. 4/16/18

Murder in Morningside Heights by Victoria Thompson, Berkley, 2016 

A young instructor at a womenís college in 1899 is stabbed to death on the campus. Frank Malloy is hired to investigate the crime and prevent a scandal, first by the victimís parents and then by the head of the school. He and his wife and an associate have to pick through a web of personal rivalries and secretive suspects to discover the truth. The atmosphere and characters are fine as always, but the mystery this time is not so hot. For one thing, the solution is telegraphed at least twice. For another, the killer is very obvious. There are no serious alternative possibilities, and even the motive is hinted at a bit too obviously in advance. 4/13/18

The Judge and His Hangman by Friedrich Durrenmatt, Avon, 1955 

A terminally ill Swiss police detective has been trying to bring a criminal mastermind to justice for forty years without success. The murder of one of his subordinates seems to provide another opportunity, but he concludes that in this case, his nemesis was not responsible. Nevertheless, time is running out for him so he decides to manipulate the situation to bring some form of justice for both this murder and his enemyís part crimes. The structure of the novel is very unusual, avoiding most of the tropes of the detective novel. It works quite well despite, or perhaps because of that fact, and there is a neat surprise ending. 4/12/18

The Red Tower by Mark Latham, Titan, 2018, $14.95, ISBN 978-1783298686   

Dr. Watson is trying to decide whether or not to move back to 221B Baker Street after the death of his wife when he is invited to visit an old friend. The friend has become obsessed with spiritualism following the death of his mother, and it is obvious that the sinister Madame Farr and her assistants are fakes, although very clever ones. When the friendís sister is found dead in a locked room, Watson calls for Holmes to help, and Sherlock arrives promptly and solves the mystery Ė as well as explaining events at the sťance Ė all in a remarkably short time. This was quite pleasant even though it involves a secret passageway. We are told that one probably exists early on, so itís not a complete cheat, but the fact that the crooks were able to find its secret in a matter of days when the family had not done so in many years is a bit of a leap. 4/10/18

A Perfect Shot by Robin Yocum, Seventh Street, 2018, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-417-5

A one time athletic star is now the owner of a brand new restaurant. Unfortunately, his brother in law is a mobster and there is immediate pressure to allow illegal gambling on the premises. Although he resists, the protagonist is outmaneuvered and frustrated in defeat, as well as upset that the process involved a murder. So he comes up with a plan to get revenge. This involves stealing some tapes from the bad guy that will get him in trouble with his superiors. This type of suspense novel is generally not my cup of tea, but the prose was so good that I liked it quite a bit, although I'm not at all sure that I liked the protagonist. And a change of pace is sometimes very welcome. 4/9/18

Whim to Kill by Dell Shannon, Doubleday, 1971     

Still another catch all novel with about ten separate cases, none of which take center stage. One of the recurring characters is kidnapped by three escaped convicts for a while, but we never see anything that happened among them until he wanders in from the woods, having escaped. There is no explanation why they would have taken a police officer hostage and kept him for days. There are several cases of police incompetence this time including failing to look up the license plate of a missing vehicle and instead stopping every car of that make in Los Angeles, failure to ask rudimentary questions that would have avoided wild goose chases, and a scene of crime team that misses a scorch mark and bullet at a murder scene, both of which are obvious to a detective when he walks in later. Very minor. 4/8/18

Murder on St. Nicholas Avenue by Victoria Thompson, Berkley, 2015

The two recurring detectives are away on their honeymoon, so it is the job of their young governess and a friend on the police force to investigate when a young woman is wrongly accused of murdering her husband. But contradictory evidence turns up and the accused wife turns out to be a pretty appalling person. And then a second murder throws the investigation into confusion. Quietly competent, a fair puzzle, and a plausible resolution. This is a consistently entertaining series, though at times it feels like a sanitized version of the period. 4/6/18

The Case of the Green Death by Robert J. Hogan, Altus, 2017 (originally published in 1936) 

Another adventure of Wu Fang, a bargain basement Fu Manchu. This time he has a death ray of sorts, but his plans go slightly awry when his nemesis traps him and he is taken into custody. But with an army of minions at his beck and call, Wu Fang is unlikely to stay confined for long, and pretty soon he is free and wreaking mass murder with his new toy. About as lightweight as they come, but certainly never a dull moment. 4/4/18

Schooled to Kill by Dell Shannon, Doubleday, 1969  

Another rather dull police procedural. One of the subplots is identical to one used in two previous books and the others all have similarities as well. Clearly Linington was running out of ideas. The major case is a child rapist/murderer, but there are juvenile killers, an accidental shooting, a sniper, a lost dog, and an attempt to murder a witness. There is an active shootout at one point, a comparatively rare moment of actual action. For the first time ever in her books, the police are denied a search warrant. The protagonist dismisses a prime suspect, without checking his alibi, simply because his eyes look honest! 4/1/18

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