Last Update 4/26/19

Murder at the Pageant by Victor L. Whitechurch, Dover, 1987  (originally published in 1930) 

Another very nice if rather forgotten classic detective story. Following a country pageant, a man is found dying in a sedan chair and a woman wakens to find that her jewels have been stolen. The protagonist, who once worked in military intelligence, witnessed part of the crime and he investigates further unofficially, even though he acknowledges that the police detective is brilliant. There’s a stolen car, another car wrecked, a missing nephew, a wayward scarf and a similar handkerchief, a poacher who hopes for a reward, an embittered romantic, a wealthy patron, a troubled vicar, an outraged husband, and much more. The author started writing late in life and only produced a handful of mysteries, but if this is typical, the others are worth tracking down. 4/26/19

The Bloodhounds Bay by Walter S. Masterman, Ramble House, 2012  (originally published in 1936) 

A reclusive aristocrat is murdered in his home and his body concealed in an empty coffin. His wife has been sleeping with the estate manager. The artist who has been allowed to use an empty cottage on the estate is actually a burglar. The governess is terrified that the dead man’s twin children are in danger. The old family friend is acting strangely and tries to isolate the people still living in the house. The butler inherits the entire estate but insists upon remaining in his position as a servant. The brash young police detective is a master of disguise. The bloodhounds have been trained to be vicious. Lots of mystery, not much logic. 4/24/19

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull, British Library, 2018 (originally published in 1938)   

The author constructs his story somewhat unusually in this one. It is a courtroom drama, the trial of the assumed killer of a most repellent man, who died after stilling poison laced snuff while on a train. The gimmick is that we do not know who is on trial until the final thirty pages. There are four people who had access to both the poison and the snuff box at the right time, and who also had motives, although they are rather tenuous ones. The butler had been threatened with discharge, but he maintained that this was a routine occurrence and that he took no notice of it. The secretary was outraged over the dead man’s politics and cruelty. The stamp dealer was concerned that the victim might unfairly call his reputation into question. The local vicar had been - unjustly – accused of theft a few hours earlier. The guilty party is convicted but even then we are left to wonder if justice was served. Pretty good. 4/22/19

The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories edited by Martin Edwards, British Library, 2018   

A collection of winter related mystery stories, mostly from the golden age of detection. There is a good mix of obscure and well known writers here, the latter including Julian Symons, E.C.R. Lorac, and John Dickson Carr. All of them are quite readable, but I didn’t find any of them outstanding and that may be because this is the third collection with the same theme and the better stories have already been used.  Even so, I found it hard to set the book aside even though I had planned to read no more than two stories per night. 4/20/19

The Bone Collection by Kathy Reichs, Bantam, 2016  

Four novellas about Temperance Brennan, three of them quite good, one mediocre. The good ones involve a frozen corpse retrieved from the top of Mount Everest that provides some interesting anomalies, another body found inside the body of a vulture found inside the body of a python, and the third a body found in a bag in a river. The last is kind of an origin story and is the only one not previously published. It lacks much of the feel of the other stories in the series, and is irritatingly written in present tense, which is particularly inappropriate because it is supposed to be a reminiscence.  4/19/19

Hole and Corner by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1936) 

A story of gaslighting. A poor young woman working as a secretary begins finding other people’s property in her possession. At first she fears that she suffers from kleptomania, but that is obviously not the case. She is being framed in order to disqualify her from an inheritance she does not even know about. Her boyfriend is a lawyer who just happens to have inside information, although he does not know that she is the heir. Pleasant but slight, and there is no mystery about who is responsible and no doubt that she will eventually be vindicated and get her money. 4/18/19

The Death of Mr. Lomas by Francis Vivian, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1941)  

The first case of Inspector Knollis. A shopkeeper insists that he is being slowly poisoned and sure enough, he dies a day later from an overdose of cocaine. Was it his son or daughter, or the man trying to buy his business? And how did he amass such a fortune selling newspapers? You have to pay close attention in the second half because multiple characters tell multiple lies and there are so many contradictions and possible explanations that it becomes almost bewildering. But Knollis sees his way through. There are some humorous touches, particularly in the first half, and plotting this must have been a real chore. 4/17/19

The Man Who Loved Clouds by Paul Halter, Locked Room International, 2018 (from the 1999 French edition) 

This fair mystery novel plays with fantastic elements. A young girl rumored to be able to perform miracles accurately predicts the deaths of several people. Is she responsible or is she genuinely psychic? Or is there another answer? The story proceeds reasonably well but I was not remotely convinced by the solution. Although the author is French, his detective – Twist – is an Englishman who works with Scotland Yard. He is something of a Holmesian figure. This was not one of the author’s better works, but it is readable enough despite the dubious ending. 4/17/19

Who Pays the Piper? by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1940) 

This was the second of three Ernest Lamb mysteries, although he would later be a recurring character in the Miss Silver series. A ruthless man is about to blackmail a young woman into marrying him. Her fiancé objects, naturally. But there is also the old business partner with whom he has just quarreled, his ex-wife who showed up unexpectedly, and several other people with good reasons to want him dead. So although it appears that the fiancé is the killer, Inspector Lamb is not so easily convinced and perseveres until he finds out who really pulled the trigger. 4/15/19

The House on 9th Street by John Stephen Strange, Doubleday, 1966 

Strange varied the type of suspense novel she wrote much more than usual, but not always with good results. This opens well enough with a house exploding and the discovery that some radical group was making a bomb inside, which segues into a search for a missing daughter. But then it becomes a rather strained quasi-essay about the evils of terrorism and the villains are so stereotyped and even irrationally evil – they murder a young white child as a protest against racism – that I lost interest in whether or not they were ever caught.  4/15/19

The Case of the Demented Spiv by George Bellairs, Ipso, 2016 (originally published in 1949) 

A dead man is found in a warehouse with greasepaint and a fake moustache, although it is not clear why he would do so. He is the company accountant and there is a suspicion that he has been altering the accounts to cover the clandestine sale of some of the stock. Inspector Littlejohn is called in when the local police are unable to solve the case, in part because of the influence of the town’s richest family. He soon uncovers infidelity, perjury, duplicity, and madness, but not before there is another murder. Although the story is okay, I thought the murderer was obvious a bit too early to be entirely satisfactory. 4/14/19

Blue Murder by Harriet Rutland, Dean Street, 2015 (originally published in 1942) 

Third and last mystery by this author. During the Blitz, a writer moves in with a rural family in which the father is a cruel sadist, the wife a hypochondriac, and the middle aged daughter an emotionless drone. The mother dies of an overdose of morphine and the husband seems the most likely suspect, but in due course he gets his head bashed in, which leads to a wider circle of suspects. This mildly humorous detective story has a rather unusual ending for its time – the killer gets away with it! I guessed who was responsible almost immediately but there were a couple of times where I had doubts. 4/13/19

Double Image by Roy Vickers, 1955 

This is a collection of five unrelated mystery stories. The best is the title story, in which a man and his wife are plagued by the apparent machinations of the husband’s exact duplicate. Did his twin really die as an infant or has he survived? It’s quite cleverly done even though I anticipated the solution. The others are all good as well, to varying degrees. People get accused of crimes they didn’t commit or get killed for no apparent reason and by parties unknown. Vickers spends more time on characterization that do most writers of short mysteries. 4/12/19

Blindfold by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1935) 

A maid runs in terror from a house where she stumbles upon a secret passage. Her replacement is actually the heir to a fortune, although her location was lost when she was a child and she has had a name change. The young man looking for her stumbles upon her by accident and in fact there are so many coincidences in the story that it becomes almost comical. The villains are interested in the woman who raised her, not her expectations of a fortune, which causes further complications. Pleasant but not among her best. 4/12/19

Mystery at Olympia by John Rhode, Collins, 2018 (originally published in 1935)  

Dr. Priestly strikes again. A rich, retired man with reclusive habits dies mysterious at a car show. Evidence is uncovered that at least two attempts have been made to murder him by stealth, not to mention that he has recently been lightly wounded by a shotgun. The bulk of his estate goes to a niece who was in France at the time, but there are lots of other candidates and possible conspiracies, including a long lost relative who may or may not be in England. Most of the work is done by Inspector Hanslet, who is rather too quick to rule out ideas that contradict his theories, but Priestly sets him straight. The murder method is a bit problematic – it would not necessarily have worked and a failure would have had disastrous consequences. 4/11/19

The Corpse Is Indignant by Douglas Stapleton and Helen A. Carey, Coachwhip, 2018 (originally published in 1946) 

A woman approaches a lawyer and insists that she murdered her husband after realizing that he was trying to drive her insane. But his body is missing. The lawyer, who is called the judge for some reason, is an enormously overweight man who speaks with a dialect so thick that any chance of my enjoying the story was completely destroyed. It’s artificial, awkward, and unnecessary. The attempts at humor – which are frequent – are inappropriate, poorly designed, and almost never more than mildly funny. Fortunately this is fairly short. I will not be looking for further adventures. 4/8/19

The Crime at Noah’s Ark by Molly Thynne, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1931) 

This is a delightful murder mystery in which a diverse group of people shelter at an inn during a snowstorm in rural England. Before they leave there will be murder and the theft of some jewels, as well as efforts by one thief to steal from another thief, and from the original thief to steal them back. The inn is large and sprawling with lots of staircases and outbuildings and there is a great deal of running back and forth trying to catch whoever is prowling about, all complicated by a secret love affair, a witness terrified to reveal what he has seen, an elderly chess master who puts the pieces together, a harried policeman who has to watch the entire complex alone, and other complications. It’s all great fun and I stayed up far too late to finish this after starting it at ten o’clock at night. 4/6/19

The Paddington Mystery by John Rhode, Collins, 2018 (originally published in 1925)

This was the very first appearance of Dr. Priestly, who would return in several dozen sequels. His daughter’s suitor comes home one night to find a soaking wet dead man lying on his bed. He has never seen the man before but there is evidence suggesting he swam across the adjacent canal, forced a window, and came inside, where he died of natural causes. That same night, a crate intended for the protagonist’s landlord goes missing. This was reasonably well done but there were too many clues and I knew what really happened long before it is revealed, and that despite a flagrant cheat – information available to the detective but not provided to the reader. This was quite short and is accompanied by a minor short story. 4/4/19

Silence in Court by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1945) 

A young woman is accused of giving an overdose of sleeping tablets to her elderly patron, who had announced her intention to disinherit one of her five beneficiaries. Circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a malicious servant convince the police that she is the killer, but her fiancé obviously believes otherwise and sets out to find out who the real murderer is. Fairly standard situation and resolution, a bit lightweight for Wentworth, who had written almost nothing during World War II. About half of the book is the trial, parts of which are extremely well done. 4/2/19

The Best Martin Hewitt Detective Stories by Arthur Morrison, Dover, 1976  

A sampling of short stories from a popular contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Hewitt was not as colorful, but he always solved his cases, some of which are quite puzzling. The best is the classic “The Lenton Croft Robberies” in which a jewel thief uses an acquisitive parrot to carry out his thievery. The prose is a bit stiff by contemporary standards but not unreadably so. Enjoyed almost all the stories found herein. 4/2/19

Cardinal Black by Robert McCammon, CD Publications, 2019, $26, ISBN 978-1-58767-704-5

Robert McCammon's first book appeared in 1978. Over the next few years he wrote others, all horror, all competent but unexceptional. Then he got really, really good in 1982 and produced some of my all time favorite novels, including the best werewolf novel I have ever read and a novelette I have read a dozen times since. After a gap of nearly twenty years, he returned to writing with a series of historical mysteries - not my favorite subgenre - set in colonial America. This is the eighth in that series. Although not supernatural, it has a nicely eerie atmosphere at times. A young woman has been given dangerous drugs which have addled her wits and which may ultimately kill her. The antidote is described in a book of potions that has been stolen by a mysterious figure, Cardinal Black, but our hero has learned that it will be sold at a secret auction to be held in London. Adventure and mystery follow as the situation proves to be even more fraught and complicated than was anticipated. One of the better installments in the series. 4/1/19

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