Last Update 8/29/15

A Going Concern by Catherine Aird, St Martins, 1993  

A retired chemist dies leaving strange provisions in her will which suggest that she believed she might be murdered. Her niece tries to track down a missing illegitimate daughter while Inspector Sloan looks into two competing chemical companies run by a whole handful of disreputable characters and potential suspects. There’s a bit of a coincidence toward the end but not a serious breach. It was obviously one of the executives, but since they are pretty much interchangeable, it’s impossible to guess which one in advance. There is even a hint of science fiction – a suppressed discovery of a mechanism that predicts the lifespan of each individual. 8/29/15

The Body Politic by Catherine Aird, Doubleday, 1990   

An employee of an overseas mining company is involved in an automobile accident and flees home to avoid trial there. He dies himself a few days later, apparently poisoned by a pellet substituted for a paint ball in a military re-enactment. At the same time, two Members of Parliament have been receiving threatening letters and other harassment. Is it all connected or not? Not, as it turns out. The bulk of the plot is a gigantic red herring and the actual crime is almost an afterthought. An interesting set up but the payoff is a letdown. 8/25/15

A Dead Liberty by Catherine Aird, Doubleday, 1987 

A woman is charged with poisoning a man to whom she served a meal shortly before his death. She refuses to speak to anyone or even plead guilty and will not talk to a lawyer. Sloan is given the case months afterward due to an accident to the original investigating officer and believes that it is connected to a protest at a nuclear waste facility and to a development project in a small African nation. The killer’s identity is painfully obvious in this one. Aird draws attention to the moment when he acted twice, which is once too many. The writing is still witty and fast moving – some of the humor this time is quite memorable.  8/23/15

The Knock at Midnight by Charity Blackstock, Lancer, 1966 

The Shirt Front by Charity Blackstock, Coward, 1977 

Both of these have essentially the same plot and both reduce the mystery content to little more than a cameo. In the first, a woman inherits enough money to go on a vacation in Europe in 1938. She looks up her old boyfriend, who turns out to have become a Nazi working against the escape of Jewish refugees. He commits a murder. She finds out and brings about his death. In the second a woman is vacationing in Europe in 1948 and falls for a charming man who tells her he has a refuge from the imminent war, but it turns out he is the leader of a Nazi cult and she brings about his downfall.  Blackstock would never come close to writing a mystery again. 8/21/15

Malice at the Palace by Rhys Bowen, Berkley, 2015, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-425-26038-8

The latest in this light mystery series about Lady Georgiana has her acceding to a request by Queen Mary to help acclimatize a princess to life in London in preparation for her marriage into the royal family. The mission is barely begun when she finds a body on the grounds, a woman reputed to be involved in drugs and other unsavory activities and a former acquaintance of the groom to be. There are pressures to solve the crime and other pressures to hush everything up, and Lady Georgiana finds herself in the middle of things, as usual. There is a fair amount of detection, some mild adventure, even milder romance, and a good deal of satisfying entertainment. 8/19/15

The English Wife by Charity Blackstock, McFadden, 1964 

This historical suspense novel is more romantic suspense than anything else. Ringan Kerr is accused of murdering, or having arranged for the murder of, several poor tenants on the border between England and Scotland in the early 19th Century. It is actually part of a political plot to prevent the English from expanding their grazing lands. Most of the book consists of flashbacks from the trial, at the end of which he is found innocent. Not particularly interesting historically or engrossing literarily. 7/12/15

Monkey on a Chain by Charity Blackstock, McFadden, 1965 

The protagonist of this novel is a woman who leaves her family to travel to Southeast Asia and confront the man she believes murdered her twin brother in a prisoner of war camp. It takes her a while to track him down and when she does, he clearly doesn’t know who she is talking about, although it turns out he simply didn’t remember the name. He killed the brother in a fight that was mostly the brother’s fault. The woman finds herself attracted to him – I can’t imagine why given that he is rude, arrogant, bad tempered, and chauvinistic – but she eventually accepts the truth and goes back to her family. 8/12/15

Last Respects by Catherine Aird, Bantam, 1982 

A body is found floating in the ocean just off the English coast, but evidence indicates he was killed by a fall and originally immersed in fresh water. Evidence also turns up suggesting that someone has found an 18th Century shipwreck, which may contain a very valuable cargo. There’s a very good red herring in this one, but unfortunately the identity of the killer is almost impossible not to notice given that there are no other real candidates for the position. In that context, most of the other mysteries unravel too early. 

Harm’s Way by Catherine Aird, Bantam, 1982   1196 

A crow drops a human finger in front of two hikers and Inspector Sloan is off on a new case. Somewhere among four farms lies the rest of the body of an unidentified man, and unfortunately at least three men who fit the bill are missing, which leaves Sloan with multiple potential motives and nemeses. Even when the body is finally found on top of a barn – with its head missing – the police cannot identify the remains. This isn’t a mystery that you can analyze to guess the killer ahead of the detective because very little information is available until the last twenty pages when detailed police work and a slight misstatement by one of the characters leads to the solution. One of Aird’s better mysteries. 8/9/15

Mr. Christopoulos by Charity Blackstock, Ballantine, 1963 

Tom Raven was beaten and nearly killed by a man named Christopoulos during the civil war on Cyprus. Now Christopoulos is a government official about to attend an event at a British medical research facility on the island and Raven, an international journalist, is assigned to cover the event. He discovers that the British staff are largely racist and hypocritical and he makes sure that Christopoulos knows who he is. Eventually and predictably there is an attempt to kill Christopoulos, by Stavros who is accidentally killed himself before he can pull the trigger. Too long and too little payoff at the end. 8/6/15

Passing Strange by Catherine Aird, Bantam, 1980   

A village nurse is murdered while telling fortunes at a village horticultural show. Her death seems to be linked to a controversy about the proper heir to a local estate, but since no one seems to benefit financially, the police are unable to discover a motive, let alone a killer. But there is also some hanky panky about the judging process in the show, and that eventually provides the critical clue to the solution. Another pretty good blend of police procedural and traditional British cozy. 8/4/15

Some Die Eloquent by Catherine Aird, Bantam, 1979  

Although the villain in this one is pretty obvious, it’s still a good mystery. A modest school teacher dies, apparently because of her diabetes, leaving a fortune in her bank account. The police cannot find any reason why she should have come into such a large sum of money only days before her death. Her heirs, who presumably would share in the fortune, are pretty obviously ignorant of its existence. There’s a pretty clever solution this time and since this is a police procedural, the withheld information is not cheating. 8/3/15

Dante's Dilemma by Lynne Raimondo, 7th Street, 2015, $17, ISBN 978-1-63388-042-9

Third, I believe, in this detective series. The protagonist is a blind psychiatrist who gets involved in murder cases, this time because he is asked to evaluate the widow of a murdered university professor. She has confessed to the murder, which was somewhat grotesque, and while he doesn't question her guilt, he has emotional issues which make him less objective than he normally would be. His testimony is important during the trial but it is only afterward that he discovers evidence that she may be innocent after all. Naturally he decides to investigate further and naturally the real killer takes umbrage at his interference. I was a little bit disappointed by the ending of this one, but it was quite good otherwise. 8/1/15

The Shadow of the Rat by David Stuart Davies, Wordsworth, 2010 

This Sherlock Holmes pastiche is another take on the giant rat of Sumatra reference in Doyle’s work. A corpse is fished out of the Thames that displays the symptoms of bubonic plague. Holmes is suspicious of a private club known to have disdain for the law, but he is captured and an evil woman imposes her will on his, turning him into a villain until Watson rescues him and restores his self control. The plot is to blackmail the British government with threats to release plague infected giant rats into the sewers of London. There is a supernatural element; the evil baroness can read minds at a distance. Well above average and it’s nice to see Watson being the hero for a change. 7/27/15

The Gallant by Charity Blackstock, Ballantine, 1962 

Ross MacLeod is hired by a wealthy English businessman to disrupt the proposed wedding of his adult daughter to a man he believes to be a fortune hunter and potential wife killer. Ross reluctantly takes the assignment and finds confirmation of his employer’s low opinion of Raoul Lestrange. Ross and the daughter, Alice, argue back and forth for several days, and it’s no surprise that they fall in love with one another. Raoul never makes an appearance but his specter is everywhere. He is clearly conducting multiple love affairs. When Ross finally locates him, Raoul has been shot dead by parties unknown, but when he returns to England he discovers by chance who the murder is. This is in many ways the author’s best book. 7/27/15

Parting Breath by Catherine Aird, Bantam, 1977 

Against the backdrop of a student demonstration, Inspector Sloan has to figure out who stabbed an uninvolved student to death while he was on his way to visit the chaplain. The death appears to be linked to the theft of various items from the room of a pacifist student because the missing items are found not far from the body. This isn’t one of those mysteries where you can figure out the solution in advance because the motive isn’t revealed until the end, the killer is a spy who has no personal motive for the crime, and the red herrings are so clumsily done that it is apparent the author had no real plan for the story. Her first clunker. 7/27/15

Slight Mourning by Catherine Aird, Bantam, 1975 

A man dies in an automobile accident after being at a large dinner party, but the autopsy shows that he would have died soon in any case, poisoned. The motive seems likely to involve a large piece of land he was about to develop, which now goes to his wastrel cousin, although the laws of entail restrict his ability to profit from the inheritance.  Inspector Sloan puzzles his way through the evidence, such as it is, and while it is obvious that the widow is terrified, the reason is not entirely clear until the solution. About average for Aird. 7/23/15

A House Possessed by Charity Blackstock, Ballantine, 1961   

A small hotel is supposedly haunted by a young woman who was cast out to die by her tyrannical father for marrying someone of whom he disapproved. Various characters arrive in the present just in time to be treated to strange sounds in the night. Two of them were lovers a decade earlier, and this is their first meeting since then, unplanned and potentially disastrous. There is a fabulously valuable necklace, a proposed theft,  an exorcism, a young boy who possesses information that may have been provided by the ghost, a secret passage, and lots of suspense, though ultimately no actual crime. The female protagonist is overly submissive and her lover is not very appealing either, and surprisingly they don’t end up together. 7/22/15

Finders Keepers by Stephen King, Scribners, 2015, $30. ISBN 978-1-5011-0007-9    

King’s latest is a sort of distant sequel to Mr. Mercedes. A young thug who is clearly mentally ill murders a reclusive author – patterned after J.D. Salinger I suspect – and steals a great deal of cash plus two unpublished novels and other handwritten fiction. Unfortunately for him, he gets drunk and commits rape and assault and is sentenced to life and prison, but only after he buries the stolen goods in a trunk. More than thirty years later, the protagonist – a teenager at this point – finds the trunk and secretly gives the money to his family over the course of four years. Meanwhile, the killer finally is granted parole and he is still obsessed with the notebooks. The teen eventually decides to try to sell some of the notebooks, but unfortunately the man he approaches knew the killer and also that the killer had stolen them. For the most part I enjoyed this a lot, but the unnecessary and distracting alternation of presence and past tense narration added nothing to the story and tended to throw me out of its flow every time it happened. 7/20/15

Sherlock Holmes and the Devil's Grail by Barrie Roberts, Alison & Busby, 1995

This is a well above average Sherlock Holmes pastiche. He and Watson become acquainted with an American inventor who is experimenting with a new form of camera. The inventor has been receiving mysterious threats which Holmes traces back to an old crony of Dr. Moriarty. Eventually they are on the trail of the Grail of the title, although no one knows what it really is, and there are kidnappings, assassination attempts, chases, and escapes before the end. The Grail turns out to be an ancient guide to brainwashing, which is rather a letdown, and the time spent on decoding the secret message is perhaps too long, but I enjoyed this quite a lot. 7/19/15

Witches’ Sabbath by Charity Blackstock, Paperback Library, 1961   

Although this won an award from the Romance Novelists Association, it is one of the worst plotted suspense novels I’ve ever read despite a promising premise. A writer comes to a remote village to do research about a witch burned three centuries earlier, to whom she bears some physical resemblance. She finds her ex-lover, whose wife died some time earlier, living under an assumed name with his sister. The sister clearly wants to keep them apart but they overcome various obstacles including murder and attempted murder. The problem is that the man is physically abusive, hot tempered, and really rather stupid. The writer is just stupid. She is supposed to be well versed about witchcraft but doesn’t know the first thing about it and is tricked into making the villagers suspect her of having supernatural powers. There are coincidences in almost every chapter. An absolutely dreadful book about absolutely dreadful people. 7/16/15

His Burial Too by Catherine Aird, Bantam, 1973 

A prominent businessman who was about to sell out fails to come home one night and is later found crushed to death by a fallen monument inside a church tower. Although it’s obviously a murder there is some mystery as to how the killer got in and out of the tower, since the masonry has blocked both doorways.  There’s an interesting engineering device relevant to the solution but the guilty party is a bit too obvious, since he’s the only one with an “ironclad” alibi and therefore the only one who would want to alter the perception of when the killer struck. 7/15/15

The Shadow of Murder by Charity Blackstock, Ballantine, 1958 

Blackstock’s stock characters all return with different names for this, one of her better efforts. A writer recovering from a bitter divorce travels to a remote hotel in Scotland where he is one of three guests. There are immediate tensions among them, exacerbate by rumor that a wife murdered is hiding in the nearby forest. A blizzard maroons them temporarily as things come to a climax. A pretty good story but once again I found it very difficult to actually like any of the characters. 7/13/15

A Late Phoenix by Catherine Aird, Bantam, 1971  

Excavation of a World War II bomb site turns up the skeleton of a pregnant woman who died either during the war or shortly thereafter. The  police can find no missing persons to match the description, but the supposed suicide of the town doctor, the efforts to redevelop a chancy bit of land, and the later murder of one of the former residents points to something sinister and still present. Inspector Sloan figures things out despite the gap of years and brings the bad guy to justice. This was about average for Aird but there really isn’t any way for the reader to guess the solution. 7/12/15

The Foggy, Foggy Dew by Charity Blackstock, Ballantine, 1958 

Although this opens with the senseless murder of a young clerk in a restroom, it is actually more of a cold war spy thriller than a mystery. The protagonist is an anthropologist who becomes personally committed to finding out what is going on. The secret involves a group of smuggled refugee children and the frantic efforts of the people determined to stop them from escaping. This was rather too talky for me with characters giving long speeches on politics and ethics and the sorry state of the world at every opportunity. 7/10/15

The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird, Bantam, 1971   

This is a variation of the guest house murder format. During a tour of one of the private mansions in England, a young boy opens a suit of armor and finds a body. Although it is clear that the dead man – librarian for the family – found something out for which he is killed, it is not clear what that knowledge might be, or who killed him. There is some misdirection, another murder, and a couple of particularly clever clues whose significance I completely missed in this one. 7/9/15

The Woman in the Woods by Charity Blackstock, Ballantine, 1957 

Two young boys find a skeleton in the woods outside a small English town. We find out very early that the killer was the local doctor, who attempts to kill two more people before the story is over. Despite the lack of a real mystery, the suspense is constant and logically developed. There is a bit of the supernatural at the end, but it’s an embellishment rather than a feature.  Blackstock’s concentration on developing her characters is well illustrated here, but I found that I didn’t particularly like anyone. 7/7/15

Henrietta Who? by Catherine Aird, Bantam, 1968 

A woman dies in a hit and run accident and her adult daughter returns to identify the body. But the autopsy reveals that the woman has never given birth, and subsequent discoveries reveal that everything she has been told about her past – including her supposedly dead father – are fabrications. Who killed the woman and searched her house and why? Who is Henrietta really? Crosby and Sloan return for their second investigation and track down the answers to these questions and more. This one is entertaining enough but the plot depends on one enormous and one comparatively small coincidence, which is rather a stretch for such a short mystery. 7/5/15

Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day, 7th Street, 2015, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-73388-044-7

I generally liked the previous novel I read by this author. This was is rather different. The protagonist this time is a young woman who has pretty much been a failure for most of her life. Her current job is room maid at a sleazy motel. One night an old high school friend checks in, but the friend has followed a very different life track and is sporting some valuable jewelry. But that night the friend is murdered and our heroine finds herself the chief suspect. Predictably she has to investigate the case herself in order to avoid being arrested, but in doing so she discovers a great deal about her friend's background, and some of it is dangerous. The ending is a bit too low key, I thought, but the writing in general is much better than before, and the author is willing to explore new territory, which is always a plus. 7/4/15

Dewey Death by Charity Blackstock, Ballantine, 1958

Murder at a clearing house for interlibrary loans. The victim is a busybody who may have poked her nose into the wrong person’s business. There is an extra-marital affair, theft, and even drug dealing taking place behind the scenes, so there were lots of people with ample motive and because of the chaotic structure of the offices, everyone had opportunity as well. Blackstock features deeply drawn characters and suspense rather than detection; the police have little more than a cameo. I found the killer’s identity to be so obvious that I thought it must be someone else, and the female protagonist was a bit of an airhead, but the story is very effective. 7/3/15

A Most Contagious Game by Catherine Aird, Bantam, 1967 

There is a fairly minor contemporary murder mystery wrapped around a much more interesting historical one in this non-series blend of a cozy and a procedural. A retired businessman discovers a priest’s hole hidden in his new house, and inside is the skeleton of a young boy dead 150 years. By examining historical records and visiting graveyards, he is able to reconstruct the murder with reasonable certainty, while around him the police are searching for a man believed to have strangled his wife, although no one in the village believes that he did it. The two mysteries converge eventually. Although not part of the Sloan and Crosby series, this is set in the same mythical part of England. The characterization is much better done than in her first book and the detective work is smartly done. 7/2/15

The Religious Body by Catherine Aird, Bantam. 1966  1185 

This was the first adventure of Inspector C.D. Sloan, who is called upon to solve a murder mystery in a convent. This is a British police procedural so we’re more concerned with the process of uncovering evidence than in figuring out who did it or how it was done, although those are obviously still important elements. There are a few rough spots – the killer is obvious because there are no other real candidates even though his motive is not revealed until the solution, which is itself adequate but nothing special. A very good debut novel however. 7/1/15

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