Last Update 6/30/18

Murder Will Out by Murray Leinster, Hamilton, 1932 

This appears to be the novelization of the 1930 remake of a movie based on a short story by Leinster. A Chinese secret society is extorting money by threatening to kill their victims at a very specific time if they don’t pay. The protagonist gets sucked into the web when two people he knows are murdered. He teams up with a British secret service agent and eventually brings the villains to justice. There are some irritating plot holes that were probably in the screenplay. Leinster tries to paper them over. And he does not seem to have known the difference between blackmail and extortion. A good story despite its flaws, but rather superficial. 6/30/18

The Whistling Shadow by Mabel Seeley, Pyramid, 1954  

This was the author’s final book, although she lived until 1991. The protagonist is a widow trying to deal with the death of her only son in an automobile accident. She discovers belatedly that her son was married and searches out the young woman, who is pregnant, and takes her into her home. But someone is threatening them, apparently a former boyfriend, although the truth is much more frightening. Although this was the author’s shortest novel, it moves so slowly that it feels much longer. The solution comes out of nowhere. It is possible that at this point she had decided that she did not enjoy the writing process. 6/29/18

Cold Trail by Dell Shannon (1978)

There is actually a fairly good puzzle at the center of this one – a woman who disappears apparently of her own free will, although her body turns up under a condemned house ten years later. There is also a minor locked room mystery. That said, the author’s racism and snobbery are particularly apparent and this one, and the author contends that one can tell the gender of a person from their fingerprints, even though this was not in fact possible until 2015. Her detectives make a couple of other procedural boners, one acknowledged but still not credible – they fail to search the scene  when they find a body, even though they believe it to have been a murder. 6/27/18

Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann, 7th Street, 2018, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-415-1

Latest in a series of mystery novels set in 16th Century Japan. This particular culture interests me enough to overcome my aversion to historical mysteries and the previous two books in the series were both quite good. The latest is even better. There is a Buddhist temple on top of Mount Koya and someone is murdering the priests who live there. Each body is ten posed in a ritual fashion. Our hero, a priest himself, must solve the crime before he becomes the latest fresco. A good puzzle, a tense plot, and a well told story. 6/26/18

Dead If You Don't by Peter James, St Martins, 2018, $24.95, ISBN 978-1509817354

There are over a dozen novels in this series, although I have read only two. Roy Grace has to deal with a young boy who has been kidnapped from a sports stadium. The father has ignored the usual warning about not talking to the police and Grace is assigned what initially looks like a routine kidnapping. But as the investigation proceeds, Grace discovers that all is not as it appears. Before the case is resolved, more than half a dozen people will be murdered and the detective will find himself with one of the most dangerous and difficult cases in his career. The story moves very quickly and smoothly and I was surprised at how fast this relatively long story went by. So far James has yet to disappoint me. 6/23/18

The Pharaoh Key by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Gallery, 2018, $28, ISBN 978-1-4555-2582-9 

The latest adventure of Gideon Crew, although he has only weeks to live this time. This really isn't a mystery and it has a lost world, although it's non-fantastic. He and a colleague steal information they believe will lead them to a treasure hidden in an unexplored part of Egypt. After various adventures, they and a young woman reach the target area, where they discover a lost tribe of pre-Islamic Egyptians, who are guarding a mysterious vault. More adventures ensue, but while I found the book entertaining enough, there were times when the story dragged a bit and I was not unhappy when it reached its conclusion. 6/21/18

Appearances of Death by Dell Shannon (1977) 

Ten more cases, all of them pretty much repeats of plots from earlier books. Muggings and hold ups, a serial poisoner, a gunfight in a new car dealership, an accidental death caused by a teenager. There’s another unjustified search warrant incident and some casual racism, and Mendoza becomes an even less likeable character when more of his prejudices are revealed. The author was well settled in her formula and the cast of recurring characters had by now become fairly large, but still not particularly interesting in their own right. 6/13/18

The Beckoning Door by Mabel Seeley, Pyramid, 1950 

The protagonist is from the disinherited branch of a rich family whose flighty cousin invites her over unexpectedly. When she arrives, she finds the woman dead and there is circumstantial evidence suggesting that the protagonist and her mother may have been blackmailing her. There are some minor problems in the closing chapters, but for the most part this was a solid mystery, although I did guess the killer. The characters are well defined and the red herrings are neatly done. The title is a puzzle, however, since there is no significant reference to a door anywhere in the story. 6/12/18

Death at St Asprey’s School by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 1987 (originally published in 1967) 

A series of sometimes cruel pranks at a private school leads to an attempted murder. Carolus Deene is asked to look into the matter and head off a major scandal, but shortly after he arrives, one of the staff members is murdered. There are also mysteries concerning the dead man’s stated intention to buy the school and the sudden departure of a female teacher some months earlier. I guessed the method of the murder very early but I still had three suspects when the solution was revealed. Deene’s sometimes annoying sidekick is completely absent this time. 6/10/18

The Ginza Ghost by Keikichi Osaka, Locked Room International, 2017 (originally published in 1932) 

A collection of Japanese stories of varying interest. A couple of the solutions struck me as implausible and a few of the plots were not particularly interesting. The rest hold up well – they were originally written in Japanese during the 1930s and 1940s. The author uses a detached narrative style in several instances that feels vaguely surreal. He was one of the earliest Japanese mystery writers and the genre was in the process of inventing itself. All of the stories present some variation of the impossible crime and some are quite clever. 6/9/18

Foreign Bodies edited by Martin Edwards, British Library, 2018 

This is an anthology of vintage mystery stories which were not originally written in English. I had read only one of these previously and it was more like a Hitchcock episode than a mystery. For the most part, these are very enjoyable and sometimes the different cultural expectations add considerably to the story. Some of the stories are newly translated and appear here in English for the first time. A nice little package for the money and, as is always the case with Edwards anthologies, they are varied and always meets at least an acceptable quality level. 6/7/18

Streets of Death by Dell Shannon (1976) 

More of the same routine police cases, although there is a relatively interesting plot involving the disappearance of a handicapped man. There are no real procedural errors and no lectures on the shortcoming of modern society. The byplay about the families of the various detectives remains dull but inoffensive. Mendoza is almost a minor character this time. 6/7/18

Case of the Bedeviled Poet by Simon Clark, Newcon, 2017   

A poet and script writer during the Blitz is accosted by a soldier who threatens him because he failed to join the military. Terrified, he escapes into a bar where he encounters two elderly men who claim to be Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. They agree to take his case, even though he does not really believe in them, and eventually we learn that the menace is actually a product of the protagonist’s subconscious. This is occasionally surreal but never really fantastic. It’s also rather plodding and if it hadn’t been so short I probably would not have finished it. 6/5/18

Deuces Wild by Dell Shannon (1975)  

A handful of routine cases fill out this slightly unusual novel in the Mendoza series. For one thing, parts of the story are told from the viewpoints of criminals and victims. For another, the main plot involves the kidnapping of Mendoza’s own children. The author’s vendetta against the younger generation in general and marijuana in particular verges on the hysterical this time. There is also a brief interlude in which we are told that coincidences are actually much more common in real life than in fiction and that this somehow makes the Mendoza books more realistic because such a large percentage of the cases are solved that way. 6/4/18

Eleven Came Back by Mabel Seeley, Pyramid, 1943 

This was Seeley’s least interesting book. Various people arrive at a remote ranch for various purposes. Their hostess is an avaricious woman whom, we discover, is involved in blackmail and other nefariousness. Everyone present except for one individual has a good motive for wanting her dead, so naturally it’s the exception who does the deed, although he kills someone else first. The characters are shallow, the situations implausible, the motives murky, and not much of anything happens. The solution comes by chance rather than reasoning. 6/3/18

The Devil’s Whisper by Miyuki Miyabe, Kodansha, 1989 

Three young women all die in what appear to be accidents or suicide. Then the protagonist discovers that all three were part of a confidence game, and that their fourth partner is still alive. At least so far. The nephew of a man unjustly accused of negligence in one of the deaths sets out to discover the truth and slowly unravels the puzzle.  This wasn’t bad but I had a lot of trouble getting into the story because it jumps around so much in the opening chapters. 6/2/18

Death in Springtime by Magdalen Nabb, Soho, 1983 

Two young tourists are kidnapped while visiting Florence, Italy. One is immediately released with a note from the kidnappers. The local police suspect Sicilians who have moved to the area in large numbers. Most are legitimate shepherds and farmers, but there are some who have made an industry out of kidnapping foreigners. This was well enough done that I would pick up another book by the author if I chanced upon it, but not remarkable enough that I would specifically go looking for her other work. 5/31/18

Crime File by Dell Shannon (1974)

This is one of the uglier of the Mendoza books. The author apparently admired him but he’s a petty bigot. He asserts that he doesn’t care who killed one woman because she slept with multiple men. There is a really intemperate speech about brainwashed young people who think love and peace are worth pursuing and an assertion that marijuana is worse that other drugs that completely misrepresents its effects. Civil rights advocates are “racists in reverse,” and judges are too lenient with murderers. The main cases include a pair of men who specialize in robbing restaurants, the murder of a wealthy, elderly widow, and the killing of two people who were distributing drugs. Dull cases embellished with bigotry and ignorance. 5/29/18

Sex Slaves of the Dragon Tong by F. Paul Wilson, Wilson, 2012

This is a very short book of pastiches of the Yellow Peril stories of the 1930s. The first, which appeared elsewhere, is about a kidnapping ring operating in Chinatown.  The other two are sequels apparently designed to flesh out the book, which looks as though it is self published. Amusing, but Wilson is too polished a writer to really capture the ambience of this type of story when they were originally appearing in the pulps. 5/28/18

The Chuckling Fingers by Mabel Seeley, Popular Library, 1941 

The protagonist goes to visit her newly married cousin only to find herself in the middle of a mystery. Someone has been playing cruel tricks and arranging it so that it looks like her cousin is responsible. Family tensions and other conflicts are all apparent and it’s no surprise when someone is murdered, although it was not the person I expected to die. Then there is an attempt to commit a second and it becomes a race against time to find out who is responsible before someone else dies or the cousin is unjustly arrested for one or both of the attacks. Although not quite as good as the first two books, this is thoroughly satisfying. 5/27/18

Spring of Violence by Dell Shannon (1973) 

There are way too many cases for Mendoza and company this time. I had to take notes to keep track of which name went with which crime. The most interesting is the theft of some valuable fish, who are returned without the eggs they were about to produce. There’s a missing woman, a gang of thieves, someone who deliberately runs down young boys on bicycles, a corpse in a parking lot, a thief who pretends to be a telephone repairman, an elderly woman who robs banks and escapes on a bus, and others.  A couple of these might have made the basis for a good novel but the author was so wedded to her formula by now that she probably never realized that. 5/25/18

A Stone's Throw by James W. Ziskin, 7th Street, 2018, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-419-9

Latest in the Ellie Stone series. Stone is a rare female investigative reporter during the 1960s. Her latest case begins with an apparently routine accidental burning of a barn. The local sheriff has already dismissed the case from further consideration, but Stone finds some puzzling aspects and looks deeper. She turns up a couple of bodies, clearly murder victims, and the authorities have to reconsider their initial verdict. They're not far from a race track, so it's a sure bet that horse racing is involved in some fashion. But when Stone uncovers evidence that some races have been fixed, she is putting her own life in jeopardy. This series has been uniformly good though perhaps occasionally too predictable. 5/22/18

The Whispering Cup by Mabel Seeley, Pyramid, 1940 

After a scandal that was not her fault costs Solveig Nayes her job, she returns reluctantly to her home town where an old rival once stole her fiancé. A friend is trying to dig up some dirt on the rival when she suddenly disappears. Her body turns up in a grain elevator and all the clues point to her and the old rival’s husband. The plot strongly suggests that the old rival is the killer, but then she turns up dead as well, thrown into the same grain elevator. The resolution involves two separate murderers, but it is sufficiently telegraphed that most readers will have figured that out before it is revealed. 5/19/18

No Holiday for Crime by Dell Shannon, Doubleday, 1973 

More routine police work, this time with a Christmas theme. Someone is hijacking trucks and somebody else has dumped a young woman’s body at a construction site.  There’s a copycat killer, a case of fatal child abuse, and the usual array of robberies and assaults. There is no central case and some of the subplots are obviously just filler. There is a mild break in the usual pattern in that one of the men arrested refuses to talk for several chapters, although eventually he confesses. Mendoza vetoes photographs at one crime scene because he already “knows” what happened, although in fact he does not. 5/17/18

The Man Who Made Maniacs by Jim Harmon, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1961) 

I recall enjoying some short stories by Jim Harmon many years ago, but I wasn’t even aware of this novel’s existence. It’s a not very coherent muddle about a man accused of being the head of a sadistic sex cult. He argues that just because he wrote a book about them does not mean he’s a member. But the evidence, and subsequent events, are ambiguous. So badly written that I really didn’t care, and when the murder plot begins to emerge, I was already anxious for it to be over with. 5/15/18

The Crying Sisters by Mabel Seeley, Popular Library, 1939 

A librarian somewhat implausibly accepts a job watching over a strange man’s toddler son for a few weeks at a string of cabins on a lake. The man sneaks out each night to prowl the area and eventually a dead body turns up. The librarian suspects her employer, although the reader will not, and eventually she learns about an undiscovered murder from the past, a contested legacy, and the danger in presents in the present. Death will strike again and old secrets will finally come to light. The suspense is steady and it is unlikely that the reader will guess the identity of the villain. Very similar in structure to the author’s first novel but the ending is too rushed. 5/13/18

See Also Proof by Larry D. Sweazy, 7th Street, 2018, %15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-279-9

During the 1960s a freelance writer and recent widow She gets caught up in the investigation of the disappearance of a local girl which quickly leads to the discovery of an actual murder. Although she does not seem to be getting anywhere, someone is afraid that she has and it isn't long before she realizes that she may be the next victim. No one is going to come riding to the rescue so she is going to have to overcome her squeamishness and stand up for herself, unless she is willing to die without resisting. Fairly good mystery puzzle and the nicely developed protagonist raises it above the somewhat overly familiar story line. Sweazy is a consistently entertaining author.5/12/17

The Great Darkness by Jim Kelly, Alison & Busby, 2018, £19.99, ISBN 9780-7490-2161-0  

The setting for this mystery novel is London during the early days of World War II, when the blackout was in effect even though Germany had yet to begun bombing the British Isles. The protagonist is a police detective whose injuries in the first world war left him with eyes sensitive to light. He spends most of his waking hours in the darkness and knows several other people who prefer the night whom he thinks of as nighthawks. One night he notices a party of soldiers burying something in a remote area and becomes curious. He is also interested in the body of a man supposedly killed in an accident with a barrage balloon whose shoes are on the wrong feet. His inquiries about the runaway balloon bring him into contact with an army officer of questionable character, whom the reader knows is involved with something shady, though as yet undescribed. A conscientious objector is murdered before he can divulge something that he knows. All of these strands will be drawn together. Not as focused as was the case with Kelly's earlier novels but still quite engrossing. 5/11/18

The Listening House by Mabel Seeley, Pyramid, 1964 (originally published in 1938) 

This is a marvelous example of the rooming house murder mystery. A young woman rents rooms in a building run by a nosy, unpleasant, and possibly demented woman who suspects that her tenants are going through her things. When she dies, it is not clear whether or not she was murdered because she was locked up with her cats for almost a week and the cats got hungry. There are locked rooms, long buried secrets, blackmail, attempted murders, and other delights before we finally learn what has been going on and who the killer is. I hadn’t read this in more than fifty years but I remembered some of the scenes even before I read them again. This was Seeley’s first and arguably best novel. 5/9/18

With Intent to Kill by Dell Shannon, Doubleday, 1972 

There are far too many separate cases in this police procedural, so many that I had to make notes to keep track of which was which. People are beaten to death in bathtubs, shot in parking lots, shot while walking the dog, shot by a sniper, shot and dumped in someone’s backyard, shot by drug addicted thugs, shot while trying to issue a ticket, inadvertently suffocated by parents, or commit suicide. There is slightly more effort to fill in background detail about the recurring characters, but none of them are particularly interesting people so these sections just sap what energy the story possessed. Mendoza tells the reader that it is fortunate that most hippie types die young. 5/8/18

Murder on Union Square by Victoria Thompson, Berkley, 2018, $26, ISBN 978-0-399-58660-6 

The latest in this gaslight mystery series involves the murder of an actor in his dressing room. Frank Malloy finds himself accused of the crime since he was the one who found the body, so he and his associates have to track down the real killer. Before he does so, a second murderis committed which suggests that two people were involved. Nicely done as always and it’s only toward the end that the identity of the killer becomes slightly obvious. There is a nice red herring and the recurring characters are all distinct and interesting. This series has been very consistent in quality since the first book appeared. 5/7/18

Murder With Love by Dell Shannon, Doubleday, 1971 

There is an earthquake in this Luis Mendoza novel, adding to the usual complications, although it really has little to do with the plot.  The central case is the shooting of a doctor, his wife, and his nurse by an unknown assailant. A police officer is badly beaten in his home by drug addicts. There is a mercy killing and a hotel room murder. The author gives a brief endorsement of Velkowsky’s pseudoscience. There are some minor factual and procedural errors and uncharacteristically only one case is unsolved by the halfway point, which required the addition of new subplots in the second half. Maybe slightly above average for a Shannon novel. 5/6/18

Death in the House of Rain by Szu-Yen Lin, Locked Room International, 2015, from the 2006 Taiwanese edition 

A man kills his wife, apparently because she was unfaithful, and is then killed himself, along with his daughter. The police believe that the wife’s lover was the second killer, but he commits suicide so they simply close the case. A year later another group of people arrive at the same house and begin dying in impossible situations. I didn’t really enjoy this. Parts of it read like a treatment for a horror film – shallow characterizations and minimal descriptions – while others dwell at length on elements that are not important. Some of the explanations are clever, others are too contrived. 5/5/18

Dead Man's Shoes by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 1987 (originally published in 1958)

Carolus Deene is a history professor whose hobby is solving crimes. When a rich man is murdered near his home in England, and the likely killer jumps or is thrown from a ship en route back from Tangiers, his curiosity is aroused. The dead man's heir seems to be a likeable characters genuinely sad about the death of his uncle. His servants have no strong motive and his mistress none at all. The second dead man is a mysterious figure whose character is sometimes contradictory. I guessed the solution early this time, but Bruce's prose is delightful. 3/4/18

Mark of the Laughing Death and Other Stories by Francis James, Dancing Tuatara, 2013   

Editor John Pelan goes to heroic efforts in his introduction to this collection to try to make these stories seem better than they are, but the truth is, they are dreadful. They are drawn from the weird detective pulps where the formula was to create a crime situation which appeared to be supernatural as well as melodramatic, then provide a rationalized explanation at the end. Sometimes these explanations were essentially science fiction, but sometimes they just don’t make any real sense at all. I couldn’t manage more than one a day and I only finished through curiosity rather than because I was being entertained. 5/1/18

The Ringer by Dell Shannon, Doubleday, 1971 

Another batch of routine crimes, this time complicated somewhat when one of Mendoza’s subordinates is investigated after being identified as a leader of a car theft scheme. Is it an attempt to frame him, apparently at random, or does he have a near twin who really is a crook? The interaction with Internal Affairs is sometimes well done but sometimes somewhat naïve. Mendoza certainly would not be allowed to conduct a parallel investigation of his own, particularly since he is in homicide and not larceny. The other subplots are predictable and as usual the solutions owe more to luck than intelligence or even thorough police work. That said, this was one of the author’s better books. 4/30/18

The Green Mummy by Fergus Hume, 1908  

Hume was one of the earliest mystery writers but, alas, not a very good one. This convoluted effort – which relies on entirely too many coincidences – involves the theft of a South American money after it is purchased by an eccentric British scientist. The attendant involved is murdered. The mummy itself turns up some time later in the garden of the woman the scientist plans to marry, but two valuable jewels are missing, suggesting the motive. And the real owner of the mummy shows up to claim it, insisting that the mummy is one of his personal ancestors. Choppy prose and a fumbling plot don’t help. 4/27/18

The Assignment by Friedrich Durrenmatt, Random House, 1986 

This is technically a mystery but is more an example of surrealism. A film maker is asked to film a documentary about the rape and murder of a psychiatrist’s estranged wife in an unnamed Arab country. She arrives and is immediately caught up in a web of confusion and cross purposes with spies spying on other spies and government officials battling each other rather than actual enemies. Then she discovers the woman was not murdered after all, but she herself is in danger. The book consists of 24 chapters, but each chapter is one very long extended sentence.  4/26/18

The Execution of Justice by Friedrich Durrenmatt, Pushkin Vertigo, 1985  

A prominent citizen walks into a restaurant, shoots one of his friends to death, and then continues his day as though nothing had happened. The police arrest him, of course, but although he insists he had no motive, he will neither confess nor deny the crime. After his conviction, he hires a lawyer to find an alternate solution to the crime and, rather improbably, the lawyer succeeds. The killer is freed but the lawyer decides that it is a moral requirement to kill his former client. The novel is filled with bizarre characters and situations, and while there is an element of mystery, the novel is more a satire of the legal system.4/26/18

Unexpected Death by Dell Shannon, Morrow, 1970 

The major case in this one is a woman who disappeared from a restaurant and ended up dumped dead in an alley. A migrant worker poisons all five of his children to collect on their insurance. A woman is found raped and murdered in her apartment and police believe it was done by someone she knew. A teenager murders his parents in a fit of rage. This one is very sloppy. There is the usual over reliance on coincidence, but on more than one occasion the police “know” things they could not possibly know and the discovery of proof that marijuana causes mongolism is a fantasy of the author’s imagination. The characters are unusually shallow even for a Dell Shannon novel. 4/25/18

The Quarry by Friedrich Durrenmatt, Black Cat, 1951   

A seriously ill police commissioner is facing retirement and convalescence when a chance conversation about a photograph leads him to suspect that the owner of a posh medical clinic in Zurich is actually a Nazi war criminal. He is right, of course, as he discovers when he arranges to be sent there under an assumed name. But the ex-Nazi knows his real identity and guesses his purpose and has already murdered one of the man’s acquaintances when he tells the commissioner that he only has hours left to live. Excellent buildup but a disappointing ending which includes a deux ex machina escape and the offstage end of the villain. 4/24/18

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 boy’s 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

I’ve 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 reader’s 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 don’t 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 it’s not entirely the climax you’re 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 – 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 salesman’s 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 wouldn’t 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 women’s 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 victim’s 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 enemy’s 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 friend’s sister is found dead in a locked room, Watson calls for Holmes to help, and Sherlock arrives promptly and solves the mystery – as well as explaining events at the séance – 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 it’s 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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