Last Update 6/30/19

Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart, Crest, 1965 

The pace in this thriller is relatively slow. The protagonist goes to Austria when she discovers that her husband is not where he claims to be and finds that he is investigating the death of another man in a circus fire. He admits that he occasionally indulges in espionage although in this case the trail leads to a stolen horse and a saddle filled with illegal drugs. Although nothing overt happens until quite late in the novel, the story is sufficiently engaging as it slowly reveals a long concealed mystery. Some nice supporting characters keep the story moving along.6/30/19

Murder on Trinity Place by Victoria Thompson, Berkley, 2019 

The latest in a series of gaslight thrillers involving a police officer turned private investigation in 1900 New York. A relative of one of their neighbors is strangled on New Year's Eve. Was it the restless son? The cheating wife? The wife's lover? The crime boss? The impudent employee? The rival businessman? The husband and wife team pursue the investigation in their own individual ways while also acting as Cupid in an unlikely marriage arrangement. I've gotten used to the characters in this pleasant and undemanding series, which makes good use of period backgrounds to present good to vary good puzzles. This one is about average for the series, but the series itself is above average. 6/27/19

Pass the Body by Christopher St. John Sprigg, Bruin Crimeworks 2018 (originally published in 1933) 

This was the author’s first novel and it shows. A gossip columnist with higher ambitions is invited to a plush hotel party where he happens upon a murder and decides to solve the crime to secure a better position with his employers. The characters are exaggerated and the dialogue bizarre at times, which robs the story of its verisimilitude and which becomes quite irritating halfway through. His later novels were much better although he only wrote seven total. The UK title was Crime in Kensington. 6/25/19

The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart, Crest, 1967.

The protagonist is touring the Middle East when she decides to visit a reclusive aunt whom she has not seen since she was a child. The aunt lives in a sprawling estate with just three servants and a visiting writer whom we soon discover is a drug addict. The aunt is only awake at night and their interview is brief, but her visitor suspects nothing until the following day when mysterious comings and goings and a badly timed minor flood force her to become more familiar with the state of affairs. This was a bit slow to start and I guessed most of the surprise well in advance, but it has some very good moments and like all of Stewart’s heroines, she doesn’t rely upon a man to save her. 6/24/19

The Blackheath Poisonings by Julian Symons, Penguin, 1978 

A tightly knit family lives in two adjacent mansions, apparently in general harmony, although there are obvious frictions before long. When the first person is poisoned, it is believed to be natural causes. The second death leads to an exhumation and the trial of one of the family members. She is convicted and sentenced to hang, but before the execution, a third poisoning suggests that she is innocent and she is set free. Symons provides an unusual ending that clears things up only many years later after all but one of the people involved has died. The characterization is particularly impressive and the plot moves quietly but effectively. Amusingly, Penguin’s blurb writers use the word “ancestors” when they mean “descendants”. 6/23/19

Below the Clock by J.V. Turner, Collins, 2018  (originally published in 1936) 

The author is better known for his crime novels as David Hume, but this is more of a traditional detective story. A prominent British official is about to give a speech before the House of Commons, when he suddenly drops dead. The wine he had been drinking is found to be free of the poison responsible, a rare type made from African seeds which he just happens to have brought home from a trip because of their unusual appearance. His secretary was in love with the dead man’s wife, and he had recently been in frequent company with a man whom it appeared he did not even like. The restrictions on investigating inside Parliament are further complicated by the discovery that the victim had been using his position to illegally profit from advance knowledge of the government’s budget. A cantankerous civilian and a police officer team up to solve the crime, which includes a mysterious burglary. A bit confusing in the opening chapter, but it moves quite well from that point forward. 6/22/19

This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart, Crest 1964   

A woman vacationing on Corfu befriends a dolphin, which eventually saves her life when she gets involved with a Russian agent who is attempting to stir up trouble between Greece and Albania. There is also an alcoholic actor and his son, a local family, and a smuggler in the mix, but the plot is rather narrowly circumscribed and there are not a lot of side issues. The protagonist is even more daring than most of Stewart’s characters and takes some unnecessary chances along the way. 6/19/19

The Mathematical Bridge by Jim Kelly, Alison & Busby, 2019

In 1940 children were already being evacuated from London because of bombing attacks. The protagonist, a police detective, is horrified when someone throws a five year old boy in a sack into the freezing Thames, but he is unable to rescue the boy. Evidence points to his family's possible peripheral involvement with Irish revolutionaries, who were allied after a fashion with the Nazis. There will be more deaths before he uncovers a terrorist cell and tracks down its members, only to discover that his original premise was in one way quite mistaken. Although this new series does not impress me as much as the author's previous work, that's a high watermark and this is certainly an impressive mystery thriller. 6/18/19

The Wench Is Wicked by Carter Brown, 1955

Blonde Verdict by Carter Brown, 1956

Delilah Was Deadly by Carter Brown, 1956

These were the first three Al Wheeler detective stories by Australian writer Alan Yates, in an omnibus from Stark House. Wheeler is a police detective in a mythical California city who solves crimes by wise cracking and using unorthodox methods. Brown's prose was quick and concise but surprisingly readable. He turned out several hundred books but his quality is significant above that of most pulp writers who were similarly verbose. In his debut, he responds to the report of a dead body in a gravel pit and notes immediately some inconsistencies in the story by the officer on the scene. He investigates a film crew and cast shooting nearby and uncovers lots of crosscurrents before discovering the truth and is almost killed in the process. The women, as will be the case almost universally in his adventures, are sexy and provocative. The second involves a series of murders committed by curare poisoning and I thought the guilty party was obvious too soon, although there is also one murder which she actually could not have committed, although Brown never addresses this point. The third opens when a dead body is found in the safe owned by a fashion magazine,  and Wheeler has to deal with a large number of red herrings before uncovering a satanic cult. Brown makes factual errors from time to time. Wheeler survives one attack because - in Brown's universe - heavy objects fall faster than lighter ones. He also does not understand if someone dies leaving his estate split between two parties and one of them subsequently dies, his or her money goes to their own heirs, so a key motive in the third title is based on his misunderstanding of the law. Lightweight, but rather fun, 6/17/19

Cari Mora by Thomas Harris, Grand Central, 2019, $29, ISBN 978-1-5387-5014-8

This is a crime novel rather than a mystery. The basic premise is that two groups of South American gangsters are each hoping to retrieve a secret store of gold concealed somewhere on the property a drug lord owned in Miami. Cari Mora is a refugee from Colombia who was an involuntary recruit in the Communist insurgency until she escaped and made it to the US. She works as caretaker of the house until its new renters, led by a really depraved madman, impress her with how awful they are. She is friends with members of the other group of criminals, even though she stays on the right side of the law. The cached gold is located, but it is in a booby trapped container, and the only man who knows how it is rigged is another criminal, currently on his deathbed back in Colombia. Mora seems likely to be the victim in what follows, but she was well trained as an insurgent, and she has not intention of being victimized a second time. Although not as impressive as some of the author's earlier work, this is a tense, convincing, and sometimes disturbing thriller that held my attention completely from beginning to end. 6/11/19

The Moon-Spinners by Mary Stewart, Crest, 1962

One of Stewart’s best novels and the only one made into a movie. A young woman vacationing in Crete encounters a wounded man who has been shot by one of a group of jewel thieves. Unfortunately, the thieves run the hotel where she is staying, which she figures out rather quickly.  The injured man’s younger brother was taken captive, which makes it difficult for them to develop a plan or contact the authorities. A delicate game of deception follows but eventually the protagonist is in jeopardy and the injured man has to come to her rescue. Very nicely told. The story seems to zip by. 6/9/19

Case with Four Clowns by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 2010 (originally published in 1939)  

This author’s Carolus Deene mystery series is excellent, but the earlier Sergeant Beef stories – not so much. Beef is retired from the police in this one and decides to investigate a murder predicted by a fortuneteller at a circus which has not yet taken place. The story was moving pretty well until a scene where one of a pair of twins, for no discernible reason, impulsively stabs her sister, almost killing her. Not only does she not understand why she did it but no one, including Beef and the injured sister, think twice about the situation and everyone proceeds as though nothing had happened. All verisimilitude was gone and I couldn’t take anything else seriously in the story, which is probably Bruce’s longest and most disappointing novel despite the colorful circus setting. 6/7/19

The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart, Crest, 1961 

This was not among my favorites by Stewart. A woman agrees to impersonate her double in order to fool an old man into writing a will that will favor her. For two thirds of the book, we really don’t like the protagonist. Then we are told she is not an imposter after all but the real person. This partially redeems her, but at the same time it makes early plot elements make little sense and the whole thing is too contrived to be convincing. The story also goes on far too long and wanders around at times. 6/5/19

Six Queer Things by Christopher St. John Sprigg, Valancourt, 2018 (originally published in 1937) 

This was the last of the author’s seven mystery novels – he died fighting in the Spanish Civil War. A young woman takes a live-in job with a medium and begins to deteriorate physically and mentally. She consults a doctor, but while undergoing supposed treatment, she has a bizarre experience one night and wanders out into the street, where she is abducted. The medium is poisoned the following day, and it turns out that he was actually a woman in disguise. The mysterious plot involves certifying people as insane and holding them in a bogus asylum so that a relative can take over control of their money. I could have sworn that I have read this before – unlikely – so I’m guessing that there is at least one other novel with the same plot. 6/4/19

A Bone and a Hank of Hair by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 1985 (originally published in 1961) 

A delightful mystery in which Carolus Deene agrees to find out what happened to a missing couple. It is suspected that the man murdered his wife and absconded but when Deene looks into the matter, it appears that the man actually had three wives, all of whom have now disappeared. And two other women connected to the case have both died under suspicious circumstances. But things are not what they seem to be and events get slowly unraveled to present a quite surprising – although I guessed most of it – solution. One of his best mysteries with a methodical investigation to uncover what is really going on. 6/2/19

Murder by Matchlight by E.C.R. Lorac, Poisoned Pen, 2019 (originally published in 1945) 

I only recently discovered this mystery writer and I’m enjoying what little of her work I can find. This one involves a mysterious murder on a bridge during a World War II London blackout. There were two quasi-witnesses but the motive seems more obscure. The dead man was using a false identity and it takes a while just to figure out who he really is. The solution is only mildly cheating. One of the people involved misjudges a period of time badly and we are not told of the close proximity of a restaurant to the murder scene, but generally it is quite well done and the characterizations are much better than in most novels of this type. Looking for more. 5/31/19

The Death Coins by Walter S. Masterman, Ramble House, 2018 (originally published in 1940) 

A man calls the police and tells them he is about to be murdered. They arrive to find him garroted by a bizarre device. An investigation turns up a number of suspects, but there is nothing to connect any of them directly to the act. A painstaking but somewhat erratic investigation follows until the killer is caught. The puzzle is interesting at the start, but Masterman’s writing is definitely subpar and some of the events in the book are hard to take seriously.  5/29/19

The Perfect Murder Case by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1929)  

The second Ludovic Travers case has an abundance of detectives, three from Scotland Yard, a private investigator named Franklin, and Travers himself. A man has been murdered in a locked room after his killer writes letters to the newspapers announcing his intentions. The obvious suspects are the four nephews who will benefit from his death, but each of them seems to have an unimpeachable alibi, confirmed by neutral observers. Clearly one of those alibis is flawed and since one is far more elaborate than the others, I correctly guessed who was responsible. There are some clever literary devices in this that might have been clumsy but manage not to be. The author speaks directly to the reader on several occasions, and there are some early vignettes which appear to be unrelated, but which become very relevant toward the end. Only 61 more titles in this series! 5/28/19

My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart, Crest, 1959 

This is one of Stewart’s best novels, similar to some of the work of Hammond Innes. A woman vacationing in Greece meets a man who has come to see the place where his brother died during the war. But there is a secret surrounding his death involving a cache of stolen gold. The traitor who supposedly died at the end of the war is still around and only an earthquake that changed the contours of the hills has prevented him from carrying off the loot, but now his chance has come at last. But will the brother allow him to get away with it? Full of colorful scenery, mild but mounting suspense, and a handful of interesting and complex characters. 5/27/19

Missing or Murdered by Robin Forsythe, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1929) 

This is a prison novel, that is, it was written while the author was in prison. It is a lightweight murder mystery, although as the title suggests, it is not evident until quite late that a murder has been committed. A prominent English government official appears to have walked away from his hotel one morning, never to return. The police believe he has been murdered and have some suspects, but they don’t have a body. The executor of his estate is even more determined and he uncovers evidence that the man was impersonated and was actually killed earlier than is assumed, which leads to apprehension of the criminal. I found this one a bit tedious. The protagonist is rather whimsical about the whole thing and there is no sense of urgency and not much suspense. I was happy to reach the end. 5/25/19

The Tormentors by George Bellairs, Ipso, 2017 (originally published in 1962) 

Inspector Littlejohn is back on the Isle of Man to have another vacation interrupted. A local man is found mortally stabbed in an alley and a young thug is caught running away from the scene with the dying man’s wallet. But he insists he did not stab the victim and there is no knife to be found. Before the story is over, we will have a suicide, two accidental deaths, and other mayhem as Littlejohn plumbs the secrets of a wealthy family that has one too many secrets to be comfortable.  About average for the author, who is consistently entertaining if not astoundingly good. 5/24/19

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart, Crest, 1958   

A young governess finds herself in danger when the boy she is watching over becomes the object of a murder plot so that his substantial inheritance will go to someone else. This was the classic plot line for the wave of neo-gothics published during the 1960s. Protagonist falls for the handsome young man, then thinks he is a potential murderer, runs through the woods with the small boy she is sworn to protect, and eventually exposes the plot, which brings the villains to justice and brings her back to the romance she thought was over. But Stewart does it so much better than her peers that it feels like an entirely different kind of story. This is an excellent book - one of the best works of a very fine writer. 5/22/19

The Seventh Guest by Gaston Boca, Locked Room International, 2018 (French edition 1935) 

Two private investigators answer a letter just in time to find a man hanging in an outbuilding, apparently but obviously not a suicide. Six people then find themselves trapped on an extensive estate, and there appears to be a seventh person there as well. The author uses lots of short sentences rather than paragraphs and switches back and forth from present to past tense narration. This all might work in French but it does not survive translation well. The real problem with this one is implausibility and the overly familiar solution of the locked room. At one point the narrator is sitting on a stairwell while the others search the house. His job is to make sure no one is slipping from room to room ahead of him. But despite this, the phantom takes the gun out of his pocket. He is vaguely aware that this happened but doesn’t pay attention until later. From that scene onward, I had lost all interest in the story. 5/20/19

Case With No Conclusion by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 1984 (originally published in 1939) 

One of the better Sergeant Beef novels. He is hired by the brother of a wealthy man accused of murdering a local doctor. The case against the man appears strong – there are rumors of infidelity, a damaging letter, fingerprints on the alleged murder weapon, and so forth. Beef finds out a lot of puzzling information but nothing that points definitely to another killer or that proves the accused man of being innocent. In due course, the man is hanged. Only then does Beef reveal that he knows who the real killer is, but also that he knows the executed man had committed an earlier murder for which he cannot be held to account. So justice is served, after a fashion. The story contains some satire about the mystery writing profession. 5/19/19

Death Among the Sunbathers by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2015 (originally published in 1934)  

The second Bobby Owen has very little of the clever Constable, although that’s because he is in disguise and we believe him to be one of the villains until almost the end – although I guessed it well before that. Someone has murdered a journalist who had just visited a sun worshipping group – including nudists – while the police are investigating a series of arson incidents. The two cases are obviously related. Inspector Mitchell takes a personal interest because he was the first to reach the murdered woman’s body. There are a couple of odd moments in this one. Supposedly the woman died in his arms but later we are told that she was dead a long time before that. Owen’s cover story seems to have been established even before the police were interested in the nudist colony, which doesn’t make sense. Otherwise this was pretty good, although not as satisfying as the first in the series. 5/17/19

Thunder on the Right by Mary Stewart, Crest, 1969 (originally published in 1957) 

Jennifer Silver visits a convent in France to see her cousin only to be told that the cousin died of pneumonia. But there are suspicious circumstances and she believes the dead woman was not her cousin at all. And how does a small convent come to have recently acquired items of great value, including an original El Greco? Obviously the cousin is still alive. She is living with a smuggler but contrary to expectations, she is not a prisoner. So what’s going on? I found this one rather dull, actually. Despite the nice set up, there is not much mystery thereafter and the action sequences are brusquely written and uninteresting. 5/16/19

The Instrument of Death by David Stuart Davies, Titan, 2019

Davies is one of the better Sherlock Holmes pastichers, although the story in this one did not appeal to me as much as has his previous work. It amounts to a duel of wits between Holmes and a particularly nasty, almost Moriartylike villain who attracts attention when he murders a woman involved in Sherlock’s latest case, although the murder has little relevance to the original crime, a jewel theft. Holmes and Watson feel authentic, however, and he certainly has a villain worthy of his efforts. 5/13/19

Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart, Crest, 1963 (originally published in 1956) 

A woman decides to take a vacation at a fishing and hiking lodge on the Isle of Skye. She finds a cast of odd characters including, much to her dismay, her ex-husband. A murder has recently been committed and there is evidence suggesting someone from the hotel was responsible.  Then two hikers go missing and eventually the body of one of them is found in a ravine. The first murder had ritualistic aspects but the second seems completely random. Nicely done and almost as good as her first novel. 5/10/19

Slow Fuse by Masako Togawa, Pantheon, 1995 (Japanese version 1976)

This is more of a film noir psychological thriller than a mystery. A psychiatrist is presented with a murder confession by one of his patients, but the supposed victim is still alive. Has there been a crime at all? Who is lying and who is telling the truth? There are some interesting details about Japanese culture but the mystery is less appealing and I was just as glad that this was relatively short, although it was well written and the translation quite good. 5/8/19

Death at Breakfast by John Rhode, Collins, 2017 (originally published in 1936) 

A rather unpleasant man is poisoned one morning after the reader learns that he expects to come into a large sum of money. His two half-siblings, who inherit his modest but not small estate, are the prime suspects. Some time later, his employer – who runs an accounting firm and whose partner is now retired – disappears under mysterious circumstances that suggest that the partner’s son murdered him, dismembered the body, and threw it into the ocean. The money he was carrying turns up in the possession of another man, who also disappears mysteriously and who might have been murdered. Two missing bodies and a strange poisoning – the poison was in his shaving cream – make one of Rhode’s more interesting puzzles, although I guessed what was going on at the halfway mark. 5/4/19

The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson, British Library, 2019 (originally published in 1932)  

Wilkinson was one of the first women to serve as a Member of Parliament and this was her only mystery novel. It involves an impossible crime – a financier shot to death while sitting alone in one of the private dining rooms in the House of Commons. A young MP is the first to find the body and is subsequently drafted into assisting the detective in charge of the case because of his inside knowledge of the institution. There are lots of little glimpses of life in Parliament along with the unraveling of the mystery. I thought the guilty party was fairly obvious – and his minions are never caught or identified – and the mechanism by which the murder is committed was mildly disappointing, but overall this was quite good and it’s a shame that Wilkinson never returned to the genre. 5/3/19

Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart, Crest, 1969 (originally published in 1955) 

Stewart’s “gothic” novels straddled mystery, romance, and adventure fiction, and they were the best of the many novels published and republished during the pseudo-gothic craze of the late 1960s and 1970s. In her first, a woman is vacationing in France when she meets a charming young boy and his somewhat cool stepmother. The boy’s father was tried, but acquitted, of murdering his best friend and he is trying to track down his son. The protagonist initially tries to keep the boy away from him but eventually discovers she is backing the wrong side. The story includes a delightful chase sequence and is admirably well constructed for a first novel. 5/2/19

The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons, Poisoned Pen, 2019 (originally published in 1957)

There is an interesting structure to this novel. The first half is mostly a statement made by the main character to a psychiatrist. He and his wife hate each other and he has fallen in love with a library worker, who has no interest in him whatsoever, although he constructs elaborate fantasies to convince himself otherwise. The second half is an account of his trial for murder, although his wife is not the victim. He suffers from blackouts so he is not even certain that he is not guilty. The ending is quite unusual – justice is not served except secondhandedly. This didn’t sound interesting to me when I read the blurbs, but I ended up reading it straight through so it was obviously much better than I expected. It was an award winner when it was first published. 4/29/19

Secret Agent X Volume One by Paul Chadwick, Altus, 2008

This pulp magazine lasted forty-one issues. It featured an unnamed secret agent who works independently to solve crimes including murder, espionage, etc. He is a master of disguise and has unlimited financial resources.

The Torture Trust by Paul Chadwick, 1934

Secret Agent X magazine ran 41 issues, and these are the first four novels in the series. The unnamed hero is a kind of government sanctioned vigilante, a master of disguise, and a dedicated crime fighter. In his first adventure, he has to figure out the identities of three hooded men who have psychologically conditions men to make them sadistic enough to throw acid in the faces of their victims. This is part of an elaborate extortion racket which falls apart when the agent impersonates a minion and discovers where they meet to plan their nefarious activities. This was a pulp series so it contains logical and factual errors along with hasty writing, but I found it every bit as “well” written as most Shadow adventures, and better than Doc Savage. 

The Spectral Strangler by Paul Chadwick, 1934 

Secret Agent X returns. Someone is murdering people by strangling them in plain view of others, even though no one is visible. Neither are there any marks on the dead person’s throat. Our hero impersonates a bunch of people and avoids getting caught as he seeks to avenge the death of an old friend. The criminal responsible is trying to sell his secret to a foreign power and there is also a femme fatale to complicate matters. The solution is very disappointing. The “strangulations” are caused by breaking vials of caustic chemicals near the victim’s head. This would, of course, have been obvious to the doctors examining the bodies and it would certainly not have been something that foreign spies would be willing to pay bundles of cash to learn. 

The Death-Torch Terror by Paul Chadwick, 1934 

Someone is robbing banks using a souped up flamethrower to annihilate any opposition. Secret Agent X suspects a shady private investigator for no discernible reason. The suspect has offices in the same building as a querulous and secretive inventor, which pretty much gives the game away. And why were three bankers so thoroughly burned that they were unidentifiable? Apparently the author had never heard of dental records. The usual captures and escapes follow before the truth comes out, but the reader will have guessed most of it early on. 

Ambassador of Doom by Paul Chadwick, 1934 

Someone has stolen the only (naturally) copy of plans for a new paralysis ray. Secret Agent X infiltrates a network of spies to discover who is responsible while his suspects turn up paralyzed, eliminating them from the list. The government has really sloppy security throughout this one. The protagonist gets captured a couple of times but always has an ingenious method of escaping. This is the weakest of the four adventures, with some plot holes that really should have been filled. 4/28/19

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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