Last Update 9/30/14

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens, Seventh Street, 2014, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-998-7   

I have mixed feelings about this novel, which includes a genuine mystery, but even though thatís the core of the story, the focus feels like itís elsewhere. The protagonist is a college student assigned to do an interview who chooses a convicted murder with a terminal disease who has been moved to a nursing home. But our hero begins to wonder if he is really guilty and sets out to discover the truth. This is a relatively traditional mystery setup but the story spends a lot more time on the various personal problems of the characters. Although these details give more detail and increase the verisimilitude of the story, after a while I began to find them distracting, as though the balance was subtly altered in the wrong direction. It kept me reading to the end, but my attention wandered. 9/30/14

Enter the Lion by Michael P. Hodel and Sean M. Wright, Playboy, 1979   

Mycroft Holmes narrates this early Sherlock adventure, set several years before his move to Baker Street. Mycroft is puzzled by a supposed trade delegation from Alabama, newly reintegrated into the Union, who possess a code phrase related to military secrets. An attempted murder, a femme fatale, a freed slave turned mercenary, and a stern diplomatic note from the US all stir the plot as the brothers Holmes attempt to figure out what is going on. It is clear that it has something to do with the restoration of the Confederacy, but everything beyond that point is vague. I usually prefer Holmes as a detective rather than a secret agent, but this one is quite good even if it is obviously throughout just who is responsible for the one murder. 9/28/14

R. Holmes & Co by John Kendrick Bangs, 1906  

Raffles Holmes, son of Sherlock and grandson of Raffles the infamous, tells the story of Holmesí campaign to bring Raffles to justice in 1883. He falls in love with and marries Rafflesí daughter instead. That story out of the way, his son now had adventures of his own which he wishes the world to know. The balance of the book consists of short adventures wherein Raffles struggles with his fondness for thievery and his leaning toward honesty, solving crimes that he has sometimes committed himself, sometimes capturing villains but not quite unsympathetically. The stories are not tremendously clever but theyíre briskly told and witty, more reminiscent of Raffles than Holmes. 9/20/14

The Glendower Conspiracy by Lloyd Biggle Jr., Council Oaks, 1990 

Sherlock Holmes and his assistant, Edward Jones, are approached by two Welsh businessmen who want him to help prevent a coerced marriage to a rival whom they believe has killed two people. The fact that they are being followed by a mysterious person with links to what appears to be a secret society suggests that they have some justification for being suspicious. There are people spying on other people all over the place, and the setting Ė rural Wales Ė is beautifully evoked. I didnít even guess who the mastermind really was, although I had a good idea about what was being planned behind the scenes. This was one of the best Holmes pastiches Iíve read. 9/14/14

The Quallsford Inheritance by Lloyd Biggle Jr., Penguin, 1987 

Edward Jones, who replaces Dr. Watson as Sherlock Holmesí assistant, is the narrator of this pastiche. Holmes is informally looking into an odd incident in a local market when he is approached by Emmeline Quallsford, who believes that her brotherís death was not a suicide despite the police verdict. Jones is sent to do some preliminary investigating and discovers that Edmund Quallsford was apparently an honest businessman seeking to revitalize his community with a small, marginally profitable importing business. Jones suspects smuggling, but all indications are that Edmund was scrupulously honest. Biggle, who wrote some indifferent SF, is actually quite good here. Holmes uncovers a very clever gang of smugglers before solving the murder, which is related. 9/13/14

A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, Anchor, 2005   

An ageing, retired Sherlock Holmes is still tending his bees in 1947. Thatís the frame around a retelling by Holmes himself of some of his earlier adventures. We also learn about his postwar travels in Japan. The retroactive mystery is a mild one, more a psychological study than a mystery, as is the frame story. Although richly written and interesting in its own right, it has little to offer fans of Holmes because there is very little of the traditional Holmes involved. 9/11/14

Ten Years Beyond Baker Street by Cay Van Ash, Perennial, 1984   

Nayland Smith has been abducted by agents of Dr. Fu Manchu, so Dr. Petrie goes off to convince Sherlock Holmes to come out of retirement and save the day. Holmes offers some advice but insists that he cannot get further involved, but the situation changes when a bomb goes off in his cottage.  The twosome are off to the rescue of Smith, which involves lots of running around, a bit of detection, some luck, and a few side issues. This feels much more like a Fu Manchu novel than a Sherlock Holmes story and Holmes has only superficial differences from Nayland Smith, as the author portrays him, and Petrie and Watson are almost indistinguishable as well. It was an interesting idea to match these two larger than life characters and generally it works, but I would have preferred a little more of Holmesí intellect and a little less of his action. 9/8/14

The Button Man by Mark Pryor, 7th Street, 2014, $15,95, ISBN 978-1-61614-994-9

The fourth adventure of Hugo Marston is actually a prequel to the first three. Marston was at the time running security for the US embassy in London, but he is also providing protection to two film stars who accidentally ran down a man with their car, arousing understandable bad feelings. The female of the pair is abducted and found hanging before Marston can even get started and then the male actor disappears as well, possibly of his own volition and for purposes of his own. Further murders ensue as he tries to track down the man he is supposed to be guarding but the reality is very different from what it appears to be. There's a very nice surprise ending on this one, which I think is the best of the four. Given the loop back through time, I have no idea what Marston will be doing next, or when he will be doing it, but I plan to be there to watch. 9/4/14

The Haunting of Torre Abbey by Carole Bugge, Minotaur, 2000

Holmes and Watson respond to a call for help from Torre Abbey, where there have been several sightings of a ghostly headless monk and an ominous family ancestor. Holmes very uncharacteristically tells Watson that he believes in intuition and even the supernatural, which jarred a bit. He also makes several guesses, which is also out of character. Despite the supposed urgency of the situation, the investigation proceeds rather lackadaisically for the first three days. Then the irascible cook is found dead, apparently of fright, and her mentally ill son dies a short while later. The solution involves disguises, an old family secret, and an overly elaborate method of camouflaging a crime and its only moderately interesting. This was too slowly paced for me and Holmes never quite seemed like Holmes. 9/3/14

Prisoner of the Devil by Michael Hardwick, Pinnacle, 1990 (originally published in 1972)

Sherlock Holmes is called upon to look into the Dreyfus Affair, the famous trial and conviction of a French soldier believed to have sold information to the Germans. The story has numerous historical references, of course, and a handful of subplots interwoven around the main story. Although the Dreyfus Affair is one that interests me, and while parts of this are very well done, the pacing is a bit off and the story goes on much longer than it should. I found myself getting impatient for something to happen on more than one occasion. Hardwickís second Holmes adventure is far superior in almost every way. 9/1/14

The Revenge of the Hound by Michael Hardwick, Pinnacle, 1989 (originally published in 1987)   

Sherlock Holmes is rather annoyed when an animal attack on the heath causes a panic as people believe it is the ghost of the Hound of the Baskervilles. An excavation at Tybyrn Tree unearths a mass grave of criminals, included in which are those of Oliver Cromwell, which are promptly stolen by persons unknown. Holmes is then persuaded to attempt to free the new king of England from the clutches of a potential blackmailer. There is also the apparently motiveless murder of an unassuming Chinese steward aboard a cross ferry ship. Naturally the disparate cases all turn out to be interconnected. This is a delightful Holmes pastiche, well paced, inventive, and cleverly plotted. 8/30/14

Misdirection by Austin Williams, Diversion, 2014, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-62681-355-7

First volume in a trilogy. Rusty Diamond has given up his ambitious plans and returned to his roots where he hopes to make a living as a private detective. This career move is given a new impetus when his landlord is found murdered and he finds himself on the list of suspects. Naturally he tries to investigate to clear his name, pissing everyone else off in the process, but the death is only a small part of an expanding web of murder and deceit. A nice little twist is that the protagonist is actually a practicing magician - not the fantastic kind - and his sleight of hand comes in handy as things progress. This is more about gangsters than detection but the story is deftly told and has a few nice twists worked into the fabric of the plot. I did have a little trouble visualizing the physical setting from time to time as more detailed description was apparently sacrificed in favor of a faster moving story. 8/29/14

The Sun Is God by Adrian McKinty, 7th Street, 2014, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-068-7

Murder in a nudist colony? Sounds like the premise for a comic novel in the style of Carl Hiaasen. A bunch of German nature worshippers populates a remote island where one of their number dies, apparently of malaria, although a subsequent autopsy reveals foul play. A retired police officer - it's all explained in the book - is investigating but he is convinced that the community is united in an effort to keep him from learning the truth. Things begin to escalate toward what could be an even more deadly climax. The prose is rather spare which makes the bulk of the book move by very quickly, but toward the end the author shifts to present tense and even second person narration, which was such a shocking turnaround that it completely ruined what had been up to that point a pretty good story. 8/27/14

One of Us by Tawni O'Dell, Gallery, 2014, $25, ISBN 978-1-4767-5587-8

Rural Pennsylvania is the setting for this fascinating murder mystery. The protagonist is a forensic psychologist who has psychological problems of his own, and they're more than just dropped in bits to develop his character. His mental baggage is intricately involved in the progress of the main plot. To exorcise some of these ghosts, he returns to his home town, only to stumble upon the dead body of a young man who is part of a family of influential mine owners whose ancestors were responsible for the murder of striking miners a century earlier. This suggests more than coincidence because the body is found at the same place where the miners were killed. Our hero decides to assist the local detective by profiling the killer or killers, but his involvement puts his own family in jeopardy. I pretty much guessed the solution but not with enough certainty to spoil the effect. A new name to put on my watch for new books list. 8/24/15

The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katherine Green, 1878

This classic early murder mystery, one of the earliest such novels by a female writer, was used in Yale law courses to demonstrate the fallibility of circumstantial evidence. Leavenworth is found shot in the back of the head while sitting at the desk in his library. Death was instantaneous and the circumstances suggest that he was not alarmed by footsteps behind him. He leaves behind two nieces, one of whom is to inherit almost the entire estate. One of the maids disappears that same night and the cook believes she saw one of the nieces pocketing some paper she took from the murder scene. This same niece, Eleanor, was known to be familiar with the victimís handgun, which is apparently the murder weapon and which was found in his bedroom. Eleanor is clearly hiding something from the investigators and is caught trying to dispose of the key to the library, which had been missing. There is some estrangement between the two cousins, who are not sisters, and the obvious implication is that each of them thinks the other is guilty, although the lawyer narrator believes she is actually protecting the male secretary.  The secretary, for no apparent reason, suspects an acquaintance of the family, one Henry Clavering. He insists that Clavering, using a different name, was in the house on the night of the murder in a futile effort to see Eleanor. Clavering apparently secretly married one of the nieces, but which one? The language is a bit archaic at times and the pacing is a bit off but this is otherwise a very fine early detective story in the classic style. 8/18/14

The Seventh Bullet by Daniel D. Victor, Titan, 2010 (originally published in 1992) 

This Sherlock Holmes pastiche takes forever to get going. A young American woman prevails upon the retired Holmes and Watson to travel to America and find out who really killed her brother, who was supposedly assassinated by a madman. She is suspicious because seven bullets were fired from what was apparently a six chambered weapon. It all involves political machinations and while there is some mildly interesting intrigue toward the end, it takes too long to get going and itís never entirely convincing. One of the least interesting Holmes adventures Iíve read. 8/10/14

The Nameless Dead by Paul Johnston, Mira, 2011  

Fourth and last of the Matt Wells series, and I would have stopped reading at this point anyway. Another series of murders starts which resembles that of the previous book, so the FBI uses Matt Ė who has been conditioned by the neo-Nazis Ė to track down the leader of his former captors. His old enemy Sara the assassin is back as well, along with some other subplots, all of which swirl around and demonstrate lots of activity but not much sense. The tone in this series changed so dramatically that there is virtually no character continuity and the plot changed from nicely constructed suspense to wild action. I liked the authorís earlier books quite a bit but this series is way below his skill level. 8/9/14

Sherlock Holmes and the Crosby Murder by Barrie Roberts, Carroll & Graf, 2002

Someone mails the shrunken head of a missing man to Scotland Yard. His yacht is also missing along with at least one of his crewmen. It all involves a lost gold mine in the American southwest and an Apache who has come to England to kill anyone who might know its location. The set up isnít bad but the execution is very dull. Essentially, Holmes and Watson go visit various people who tell them long stories Ė sometimes spanning more than two chapters Ė from which they are able to piece together the explanation that was reasonably obvious from the outset. There is a pretty good climax in which the killer nearly escapes from a horde of policeman but it comes too late to affect the pacing of the novel, which otherwise plods unmercifully. Holmes does almost no actual detecting. 8/8/14

Maps of Hell by Paul Johnston, Mira, 2010   

The third Matt Wells novel takes off in a new direction. He has amnesia and is imprisoned in a brainwashing camp somewhere in Maine. He eventually escapes and learns that his captors are members of a whacko militia group. While trying to escape the pursuing nutcases, he discovers that his girlfriend is missing and that his fingerprints have been found at a crime scene. Thereís plenty of action but not only did this not feel like the same Matt Wells as the one in the previous books but it just became too farfetched for me to get involved with its outcome, which involves the programmed assassination of the President. Very disappointing. 8/5/14

The Scroll of the Dead by David Stuart Davies, Titan, 2009 (originally published in 1998) 

Sherlock Holmes investigates the theft of an Egyptian papyrus from the British Museum. Although he believes he knows the identity of the thief and murderer almost from the outset, his deductions are derailed briefly when he learns that the man is dead. Further investigation reveals that the body in his coffin belonged to someone else entirely. Then a prominent Egyptologist is kidnapped and Holmes and Watson are off to the rescue, although it is soon apparent that they are being misled by a clever criminal who wants to turn their skills to his own purposes. Quite well written and with the distinct feel of the original stories, this is another example of those cases where the best Sherlock Holmes stories were often those not written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 8/1/14

The Soul Collector by Paul Johnston, Mira, 2009   

In the first book in this series, Matt Wells and his friends thwarted and killed the White Devil, a serial killer, but were unable to capture his accomplice, who was also his sister and his lover. Now sheís back, a training assassin, building confidence by preying on drug dealers. But is she responsible for the murder of some mystery writers which has a strong resemblance to the White Devil murders? The sister, Sara, manages to kill one of the group, which alerts the others, but we have evidence that the other killings are being done by Satanists, at least two of them.  I was a little disappointed in this one because itís so much like the first. There is even another sibling responsible for some of the carnage, and she gets killed, but Sara is still around to return in book three.  The story is fast moving and graphic, but too many of the small bits were reprises. 7/28/14

Gods of War by James Lovegrove, Titan, 2014, $14.95, ISBN 978-1781165430   

Sherlock Holmes comes out of retirement to solve a minor jewelry robbery, but then stumbles into the middle of a more complex case. A young man is found dead on the beach, though he did not drown. He had recently broken off his romance with an older local woman of whom his father disapproved. Suspicion is directed toward a secret society, and other questionable accidents in the past are called into question. There are a few brief action sequences and quite a bit of detection before Holmes discovers the truth that I had suspected much earlier. Good, but not as interesting as Lovegroveís earlier Holmes novel. 7/27/14

Blood Moon Alley by John Florio, Seventh Street, 2014, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-887-4   

Second in a series about an albino bartender with mob connections who gets into and out of trouble. Itís set during Prohibition and the author does a good job of setting the stage. This time our hero receives a request from a friend scheduled to be executed which catapults him into a fresh round of trouble, during which he reunites with an old friend for whom he once had romantic feelings. The real strength of this book is the characterization. There are several well developed if rather quirky friends as well as the inevitable heavies. Not your ordinary crime novel, and that in this case is a good thing. 7/25/14

The Stalwart Companions by H. Paul Jeffers, Titan, 2010 (originally published in 1978) 

This pastiche of Sherlock Holmes is narrated by his young, temporary partner, Theodore Roosevelt. The book opens with the pretense that no one knew for certain that a real Sherlock Holmes existed until this manuscript surfaced, which is pretentious nonsense since at the same time the author notes the difficulty of Holmes visiting the US quietly given his game. The story itself has nothing of the feel of a Holmes story and large sections of it consist of trivial dialogue. The mystery is routine and the plot stumbles along awkwardly. Itís great asset is that it is very short. 7/22/14

Dragonís Triangle by Christine Kling, Thomas & Mercer, 2014, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-4778-2313-2   

Sequel to Circle of Bones. Riley is a security consultant who foiled a villainous plot in the first book, but who lost the  man she loved when he didnít come back from the final battle. Three years later she receives a mysterious letter from a man who claims to have known her grandfather during World War II, the same man that a rather cold blooded killer is looking for because of something the elderly man stole from his organization. The boyfriend isnít really dead, of course, and he shows up in time to save her from a hitman with a blowpipe and other weapons. The plot involves looted Asian war prizes supposedly hidden in the Philippines and there are flashbacks to a renegade American submarine during 1945.  Captures and escapes follow in much the same fashion as they did in the first book. There are quite a few coincidences to keep the plot moving. At one point one character is called by the wrong name, which threw me until I realized it was a mistake. An exciting ending caps off a very nice thriller. 7/21/14

Cat on a Cold Tin Roof by Mike Resnick, 7th Street, 2014, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-889-8 

Eli Paxton returns for his third case. A one-time accountant for a crime ring is murdered after stealing money from a South American cartel. His widow hires Eli to find their missing cat, but sheís actually only interested in the catís collar, which he eventually discovers was fitted with precious gems. Thereís a freelancing hitman in town who wants the diamonds for himself, three more from the cartel, and a mystery man who dropped the cat off at a shelter without its collar. And who murdered the accountant? Why not shoot the cat and take the collar then? I thoroughly enjoyed the first two and I think this one is better than either of them. The progression is logical, the characters are distinct and interesting, and the humor is effective without being overbearing. Unreservedly recommended. 7/20/14

The Butcher by Jennifer Hillier, Gallery, 2014, $25, ISBN 978-1-4767-3421-7 

Hillierís third crime thriller is about a serial killer who was supposedly killed in 1985, but the man who died was innocent and the policeman who killed him was the mass murderer. In the present, he has moved to a retirement community and leaves his house to his grandson Ė not a particularly appealing character Ė who quickly discovers the truth, as his grandfather had planned. He wants to make it a family business. Grandson does in fact commit a murder, but heís an amateur compared to the older man, and his own girlfriend becomes a potential victim as well. Much of this is quite well done but the setup in the opening chapters is a bit shaky and overall itís not as good as the first two. 7/19/14

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith, Mulholland, 2014, $28, ISBN 978-0-316-20687-7 

This is the second Cormoran Strike detective story by a pseudonymous J.K. Rowling. Strike is hired by the wife of a not very distinguished author who has gone missing after submitting a novel that openly accused various people in the public industry of scandalous behavior, although initially no one will tell Strike what he said in particular. His wife thinks heís sulking, his ex-agent thinks itís a publicity stunt, and no one is saying very much. Eventually the authorís body shows up, mutilated exactly as does the one in the closing scenes of his controversial novel. The police have made the widow suspect number one but Strike is working for her and believes sheís innocent. The backstory about his secretary, her desire to be a partner, and her fianceís animosity all develop predictably although perhaps a bit repetitiously.  With a few minor problems, this is still a very good detective story.,7/14/14

The Death List by Paul Johnston, Mira, 2007   

First in the Matt Wells series. Wells is a down on his luck writer who receives threatening emails from an anonymous person who sends him a substantial amount of money along with very real threats against his ex-wife, their daughter, and other friends and family members, all to manipulate Wells into doing what he wants. The killer, who is eliminating people who wronged him in the past, wants Wells to write a novel based on his murder spree. Wells, obviously, wants to know the identity of the killer, who uses the name White Devil, but it appears that his apartment has been bugged and he is at times under surveillance, so his efforts are severely constricted. At the same time, Detective Karen Oaten of Scotland Yard is investigating the brutal murder of a child molesting priest, one of the White Devilís victims. The tension ratchets up quickly and brutally as the murders continue and Wells is drawn deeper into the miasma. Eventually he gets all of his friends to go into hiding and contacts the police, but Iím not sure Iím convinced that he would really trust his daughter to a friend rather than the police, particularly when the friend is careless about using his cell phone and even decides to go to work one day. Very good but readers should be warned that the killerís accomplice escapes, presumably to return in a later book. 7/13/14

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King, Scribner, 2014, $30, ISBN 978-1-4767-5445-1  

Not even Stephen King could hold my interest consistently with a novel written in present tense. Within a few pages I was thrown completely out of the story by the artificiality of it and I read the remainder mentally changing it to past tense. This was not enough to make it more entertaining and despite the fact that the story itself was quite suspenseful, I felt none of the rush I normally get reading one of his books. A retired cop is pitted against a man who already committed one mass murder and is now planning another and more spectacular one. There are some nice twists in the plot, particularly in the second half, and most of the characters are as interesting as always in Kingís work. Those not bothered by present tense will probably like it just fine, but I felt more relief than satisfaction when it was over. 7/12/14

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon, Fourth Estate, 2003   

This novella doesnít call its elderly detective Sherlock Holmes, but thatís obviously who it is. He is asked for help following the murder of a man at a local rooming house. The victim had previously had a fight with the landladyís boorish son, but there is evidence that he may be a government agent of some kind. Also present at the boarding house is a nine year old mute German boy with a loquacious parrot. Holmes agrees to investigate only upon learning that the parrot is missing. The secret is, of course, the parrot, who has memorized code keys which a foreign agent wishes to acquire. The boy provides the clue but is dyslexic and it takes a while to figure out the truth. An interesting, brilliantly written, and rather sad little tale. 7/11/14

The Green Spider by Sax Rohmer, Black Dog, 2011   

This is a collection of early mysteries shorts by Rohmer, about half of which I had read in other collections. Four of the stories have never been available in the US prior to this volume. Included as well is the first Fu Manchu short story, which was incorporated into the first novel. The title story is a locked room murder mystery and itís one of the best of the new material. A couple of the others are pretty good but theyíre really minor compared to the more familiar stories like ďThe Secret of Holm PeelĒ and ďThe Haunting of Low Fennel.Ē Of more interest historically than for entertainment. 7/9/14

Sherlock Holmes and the American Angels by Barrie Roberts, Severn House, 2007  1972 

Holmes deciphers some coded newspaper ads and stumbles into a pair of murders that are connected to a shipment of gold that was supposedly lost in Scotland during the American Revolution. He and Watson proceed to the small village where one of the victims was employed and find a plethora of suspects, rumors, legends, and mysteries to solve. Why was a dog killed one night? Who poisoned the local laird?  Are there really ghosts on a small island? Who were the gypsies who were buried in non-sanctified graves? What connection did a mysterious artist have to all this? My one quibble here is that they know that the killer has a limp, yet neither of them bothers to observe their suspects in order to identify the guilty party. Otherwise, another fine pastiche. 7/1/14

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