Last Update 9/28/16

Assignment Helene by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1959 

Sam Durell is off to the mythical island nation of Salangap to find out who is smuggling arms to the rebels and who was behind the killing of the American counsel. There are several people with motives for the latter act, although it turns out at the end that he was killed by accident, having spent the night in the wrong bedroom. Durell spends much of the book as a captive of the rebels, but the young woman of the title who arranges for him to be taken changes sides before the end. This was one of the better books in the series, with a well conceived plot  and less reliance on coincidence than in some of the earlier volumes. 9/28/16

Assignment Lili Lamaris by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1959 

An American criminal is dealing in drugs, the payment for which is underwriting an espionage operation, so Sam Durell is sent to Rome to look into the situation. He discovers that the criminalís mistress, Lili Lamaris, is kept as a virtual prisoner by Martinís thugs, and that her estranged father has hired a small army of his own to rescue her, although his motives appear to be more complicated than that. There is reason to believe that Martin has been forcing him to cooperate in the drug smuggling, but thing are actually more complicated than that. Several murders and a kidnapping follow. Aarons seems finally to be getting control of his stories after a half dozen weak opening books. 9/28/16

The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens, 7th Street, 2016, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-205-8   

I found two previous books by this author pleasant reading but in both cases the mystery element seemed almost an afterthought. Itís a little more central this time. A police detective and a lawyer find their friendship fretting when they disagree about the nature of a murder case. One is defending a man accused of killing his wife while the other is convinced that the charges are valid. They are both still troubled by elements of another case four years earlier. A good chunk of this one takes place in a courtroom, never my favorite setting, but the solution is pretty clever. 9/27/16

Assignment Carlotta Cortez by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1959   

A renegade air force officer crashes a plane filled with nuclear weapons so that they can be stolen by partisans of a rebel force who want to overthrow a South American nationís government. Sam Durell is on the job, and itís obvious to him and everyone else that the officerís wife is behind the plot. But they have to be certain they can recover all of the weapons simultaneously lest they be faced with nuclear blackmail or disaster. There are a couple of really contrived plot elements but the story as a whole is pretty good. 9/24/16

Love You Dead by Peter James, MacMillan, 2016, $27.95, ISBN 978-1-4472-5581-9

I have fond memories of a handful of horror novels this author wrote early in his career, but I had never read one of his Roy Grace police procedurals until now. This is one of those stories where the identity of the killer is not a secret Ė the tension is in how the police work their way through the clues and identify him, or in this case her. Sheís a black widow, a woman who marries rich but widows herself quickly. Grace is a well drawn character who has pre-existing emotional problems, as well as old enemies who havenít forgotten the past. He is also under a lot of pressure from city officials and when he realizes that another killer is at work in the city, he seriously underestimates just how deadly she is. Liked this enough to put the rest of the series on my want list.9/23/16

Real World by Natsuo Kirino, Knopf, 2006 

Although this thriller almost opens with a murder mystery, it is more psychological suspense than detection. A young girl overhears violent sounds from next door, but the boy next door tells her that it was nothing. Later that day she discovers that the boy is missing, his mother is dead, and someone has stolen her bicycle and cell phone. The police obviously think the missing boy is responsible. The protagonist enlists the aid of several female friends, but the plot quickly thickens with suicide and some surprise revelations. I liked this better than the authorís first novel, which I thought moved too slowly. Thatís not the case this time. 9/22/16

Spade & Archer by Joe Gores, Knopf, 2009 

Joe Gores emulates the terse style of Dashiell Hammett in this prequel to The Maltese Falcon. The story covers several years and several cases, although there is a recurring thread about a mysterious thief who systematically kills all of his confederates before moving from one enterprise to the next. He is twice thwarted by Spade, though he escapes both times, and their mutual hatred is exacerbated when he kills a woman Spade had sworn to protect. Toward the end of the novel, Spade takes Archer as a partner despite his limitations, because it is the only way that he can tap into a new market. This was quite surprisingly good, fast moving, intricately plotted, and Spade feels like Hammettís Spade. I didn't think Gores would be able to imitate the style this well. 9/20/16

 Assignment Madeleine by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1958 

Sam Durell is sent to Algeria to bring back a renegade American who has been selling arms to the rebels, and who has killed the US agent on the spot, one of Durellís oldest friends. Durell is accompanied Ė for no good reason Ė by the killerís girlfriend, who eventually learns that her loyalty to him is misplaced. In fact, he kills her late in the book when she turns on him. Durell has to get his prisoner out of the country, but rebel attacks reduce them to traveling by foot in the desert. This was decidedly better than the previous book in the series, with only one major coincidence Ė the leader of the rebels is an old war buddy of Durellís Ė and a reasonably believable plot. 9/18/16

Death Invites You by Paul Halter, Locked Room International, 2015 

A mystery writer is found dead in a locked room, with a recently cooked and still hot meal laid out that  no one in the house prepared. His face and fingerprints have been destroyed, but evidence suggests that he is not the very similar looking brother, who appears to have disappeared. Is the brother the killer? If so, how did he accomplish it all and leave the room unobserved? There are a handful of other interesting and perplexing clues.  This one cheats a lot. We are never told the explanation of some elements of the mystery, such as how the killer moved all of the food back and forth without being noticed. Not up to the authorís usual standards. 9/17/16

He Ought to Be Shot by Joan Fleming, Doubleday, 1955 

When a young woman moves in with the artist who has been painting her nude, her mother and friends are scandalized. Several of them independently utter the phrase ďhe ought to be shotĒ and not surprisingly, eventually thatís exactly what happens. There is a false confession, a missing body, a surprise revelation about the identity of one of the characters that really isnít at all surprising, a conscientious detective, and a few other ruffles around the edges, but overall this is predictable and rather slow to develop. 8/15/16

Sherlock Holmes and the Rule of Nine by Barrie Roberts, Severn House , 2003 

This is the least interesting of the Holmes pastiches Iíve read by this writer. Holmes is up against an Italian-American gangster who has relocated to England and launched a protection racket. The case is complicated by the involvement of a highly placed official in the Roman Catholic Church, an undercover American policeman, some peripheral Vatican politics, a Protestant fanatic, and an older case involving stolen religious artifacts. The solution comes a little too easily and there are a couple of unlikely coincidences to help the plot along. 9/14/16

Assignment Angelina by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1958 

A missing document taken from a German laboratory during the war leads to a string of murders, and Sam Durell may be next on the list. He teams up, somewhat unwillingly, with a former lover to track down the four killers. Their secret is a new gas that can easily be used to knock out everyone in, say, a bank so that it can be robbed. My guess is that this was a trunk novel that Aarons refurbished for the series. It has nothing to do with Durellís actual job, and he doesnít act like the same character. It is also pretty bad, relying on a half dozen major coincidences to keep the plot going, some of which are actually laughable.  Lousy ending as well. 9/13/16

The Case of the Sharaku Murders by Katsuhiko Takahashi, Thames River, 2013 

 The suicide of the leader of one school of thought in the Japanese art world leads the other school to quietly celebrate. One member of this group who finds this discomforting has also turned up evidence of a potentially significant historical discovery and sets out to investigate further. I found it very useful to have Wikipedia open so that I could see examples of the work of various artists while I was reading this, because quite a bit of it involves stylistic critiques. Most of the detecting involves research into the real identity of an 18th Century painter, and some of this is quite fascinating. The suicide turns out to be murder, however, although this part of the plot almost feels as though it was an afterthought. 9/12/16

A Kiss of Fire by Masako Togawa, Dodd Mead, 1988  

The second book Iíve ready by this author is about an arsonist. We know who he is right from the outset, so there is not a lot of mystery involved. It also involves three friends who were connected to a fatal fire in their childhood, one of whom is now a fire fighter. The story moves along pretty quickly but unlike the previous novel Iíd read, this one never really caught my interest. The characters are less well drawn, the story rambles a good deal, and there were times when I didnít understand why some of the characters acted as they did. The ending isnít particularly engaging either. 9/11/16

Assignment Budapest by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1957 

A less than impressive installment of the Sam Durell series, opening with a completely implausible sequence about a communist assassin coming to the US to kill Durell and kidnap a prominent scientist. We have senior CIA official acting in the field, skilled spies acting with extraordinary stupidity, an encounter with the villainous of the previous book that contradicts what was established in that adventure, a girlfriend who has a completely different personality than she did up until now, and who now asserts that she never realized the nature of Durellís work Ė which completely contradicts what went before. It is almost as if Aarons had someone ghostwrite this one for him. 9/9/16

Assignment Stella Marni by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1957   

CIA agent Sam Durell is looking into the disappearance of a friendís brother when he ends up involved with murder, a rogue FBI agent, and a group of criminals who are being paid by the Soviet government to coerce refugees into returning to their homeland where they can be quietly executed. This usually involves threats against family members. Durell gets romantically involved with the title character despite supposedly having found the love of his life in the previous books in the series. Heís technically operating illegally himself, but he has the unofficial blessing of his boss. This one is somewhat less action oriented than the first three, and has a bit of a mystery involved. 9/8/16

You Only Live Until You Die by Sol Weinstein, Combustoica, 2011 

The fourth Israel Bond spoof was announced in 1968, but not published until almost forty years later. Bond is off to Japan to foil an attempt to launch a devastating attack on Israel. He gets involved with a femme fatale named Kopy Katz, plays a deadly game of high stakes Monopoly, learns of the existence of a giant clam, and has various other generally very silly adventures. Spoofs have to different every time or they become repetitive and boring, and Weinstein never managed to find a new twist. 9/7/16

The Terror in the Fog by Norman Berrow, Ramble House, 2005 (originally published in 1955)  

A man gets lost in the fog in Gibraltar and bumps into a young woman, knocking her unconscious. He carries her into a blind alley and finds an open door. Inside the building three Spaniards are hanging, dead, with accusations that they are traitors pinned to their clothing.  Later someone wearing a nunís habit tries to kidnap the girl, whose uncle may be another prospective victim because the deaths have to do with the Spanish Civil War.  More mildly creepy events follow including a couple more murders and an abduction. Not the best of Berrowís novels but a nice, solid mystery. 9/5/16

Assignment Suicide by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1956   

Sam Durell sneaks into Russia when a dying Russian spy reveals that a faction within the Soviet government is planning to provoke a nuclear war by using ICBMS Ė which the US had not developed at the time this novel was written. A resistance group is supposed to help him but they are split themselves and in fact plan to assassinate the man responsible, possibly in such a way that the US will be blamed. Durell is faced with a variety of choices, all bad, and then has most of them taken away when he is made a prisoner by his theoretical allies. Lots of coincidences keep this from being a really good thriller, but itís an entertaining one. 9/3/16

The Hunter by Asa Nonami, Kodansha, 2006

A female homicide detective in Tokyo is partnered with an older, misogynistic officer and assigned to investigate a man who was killed when his belt proved to be an incendiary device that resulted in a major fire with multiple injuries. A second victim is mauled to death by a wolf dog whose bite marks replicate those on the first victimís leg, and there are other connections between the two victims. Then a woman is attacked in the same fashion. This is a very well constructed police procedural and the interplay between the two detectives is handled skillfully as their relationship evolves. 9/2/16

Enigma of China by Qiu Xiaolong, Minotaur, 2013 

Inspector Chen of the Shanghai police is on another case where police work and politics come into conflict. A corrupt official dies while in unofficial custody and everyone seems happy to declare it a suicide. When the police detective in charge is killed in a suspicious accident, Chenís own curiosity and desire for revenge rise and he threads a torturous path through entrenched interests and murderous thugs. A nicely wrought and often quite subtle mystery which unfolds in a logical and enthralling manner. 9/1/16

Assignment Treason by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1956 

This is a familiar plot. Sam Durell agrees to pretend to be a turncoat from the CIA in order to track down the real spy at the agency, and circumstances make it look as though he really did cross over, so the only ones who know about the original plan now believe him guilty. There is a right wing nutjob, a cold blooded killer, a luscious lady, murder, chases, assaults, torture, gun battles, fist fights, double crosses, surprise revelations, and other plot elements. The action is rapid and reasonably well described but there are some flaws in the plot that help the story along but undercut its realism.  8/30/16

Sherlock Holmes and the Harvest of Death by Barrie Roberts, Chivers, 1999

Hereís another pretty good Sherlock Holmes adventure, although the mystery element is not particularly mysterious. A young constable is troubled by the fact that his superior apparently ignored a confession to the unsolved murder of a young girl a year earlier. Holmes and Watson go incognito to the rural town where it occurred and learn that there has been at least one similar murder, plus sightings of a strange figure in the woods. It is pretty obviously a cult conducting human sacrifices to bring good harvests, but the identity of the cult leader is not so obvious, although I did manage to guess correctly. 8/29/16

The Master Key by Masako Togawa, Dodd Mead, 1985 

This is an odd little mystery set in an apartment house for unmarried women in Japan. The master key, which gets stolen from time to time, opens any of the doors and it is because of this that various personal secrets get revealed. There is the woman who stole a valuable violin, another who prepares a meal for a guest who never comes Ė every night for several years, a compulsive thief and hoarder, a nosy desk attendant, and others. There are quite a few surprises in the closing pages, and much of what we thought we knew turns out to be false.  8/27/16

Out by Natsuo Kirino, Kodansha, 2003 

A Japanese woman strangles her husband and asks one of her co-workers on the night shift to help dispose of the body. The friend does so, talking a third person and into helping, and involuntarily taking on a fourth who sees something she shouldnít. Four people obvious canít keep a secret for long, and there is a blackmail, a predatory loan shark, and a few other complications to flesh out this rather long novel, which has little mystery and is more of a suspense thriller than a detective story. The police may be slow but they are steady and the truth cannot hide forever. I lost most of my interest in this about halfway, in large part I think because there were too many characters and subplots, which bled most of the tension and pacing out of the story. 8/26/16

You Wonít Let Me Finish by Joan Fleming, Collins, 1973 

A man wakes up in an alley in Helsinki, with his ear cut off and a large sum of money in his attachť case, but he has lost his memory. A South American ambassador has him taken inside the embassy and arranges for medical treatment. It is clear that the man does not know about the money, which may be linked to a robbery in the US, and the ambassador finds himself too curious to let the matter drop. Various other characters are drawn into the mix but despite the promising open, the story dawdles and wanders around and never really comes to a satisfactory resolution. 8/25/16

Donít Cry, Tai Lake by Qiu Xiaolong, Minotaur, 2012

This Inspector Chen mystery takes place while he is on vacation near a polluted lake. The director of the company dumping the most waste is murdered in his private bungalow. Suspicion is directed toward two environmental activities, one of whom has used questionable tactics and the other of whom becomes Chenís romantic interest briefly. There is also the widow, who knew her husband was having an affair, the girlfriend who may have resented not being legitimized, ambitious rivals within the company and without. Chen finds the case interesting and gets involved unofficially, until he realizes that internal security has arrested the wrong man, and possibly for the wrong reasons. Quite good. 8/24/16

Assignment to Disaster by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1955 

This was the first adventure of CIA agent Sam Durell. A scientist involved with a hush hush operation has gone AWOL and Russian agents are pursuing the missing manís sister, determined to find him before the US can do so. He turns up dead but Durell and the sister have his papers, which prove that the director of the project is a traitor. Unfortunately, they end up on the run from the Russians and from his own agency, which suspects he has gone rogue.  Thereís plenty of action and the story is mostly plausible. I wasnít quite convinced that the sabotage could be fixed so easily or that it could have gone undetected, and a couple of plot points depend upon coincidences, but otherwise it was a fun read. 8/22/16

Crowned and Dangerous by Rhys Bowen, Berkley, 2016, $26, ISBN 978-0-425-28348-6   

The latest adventure of Lady Georgiana starts when her romantic interest, Darby, discovers that his father has been arrested for murdering his employer. Or rather, the plot sort of starts then, although it stutters and nothing much happens until after the midway point. My attention wandered considerably before that. The mystery itself is not very interesting this time and there are no surprises at all in its unraveling. The characters, however, are better drawn than usual and the story is appealing in its own right, with the mystery element sort of an extra. 8/20/16

The White Worm by Sam Siciliano, Titan, 2016, $9.95, ISBN 978-1783295555   

Sherlock Holmes has to solve another mystery, this one based very loosely on Bram Stokerís Lair of the White Worm, but with everything rationalized. A shy young man approaches him about letters he has been receiving warning him against the woman he plans to marry. She is living with her attractive but domineering aunt, and it is quite obvious quite early that she is somehow behind the plot, which eventually leads to murder, although there are a couple of red herrings that somewhat obscure the obvious. This is the best of the three Holmes pastiches Iíve read by this author and even though I was far ahead of Holmes this time, he wasnít lagging by much and the story contains some nicely eccentric characters. 8/19/16

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, Minotaur, 2005 

A quick summary of the plot wonít do this one justice. A woman and her teenaged daughter kill her ex-husband during a violent confrontation. The next door neighbor, who is infatuated with the mother, helps them conceal the crime. The police investigate but are unable to gain any traction because the two women have unshakable alibis, although the reader knows that they did in fact kill the man. How is it possible given their proof that they were not there? A great many mystery novels depend upon a misinterpretation of time. The obvious example is where the murderer resets a clock so that the witnesses are honestly mistaken. Other devices including freezing the corpse to retard decay, or heating it to accelerate it. Sometimes tracks are left in such a way as to confuse us about the order in which events took place. This novel, however, finds a new way to do it, one I have never encountered before, and I was so puzzled that I sat up until the wee hours of the morning in order to find out how it was done. And the solution Ė which I wonít tell you Ė was not disappointing at all. 8/17/16

Hangmanís Tie by Christopher Hale, Bart, 1943

Another obscure mystery writer who has been almost completely forgotten. This is the second Hale novel Iíve read and itís not bad at all. A city official has been murdered in his house, apparently by the grandson of the man who has dominated the community for most of his life. The protagonist is a woman who works for the city in an undefined but very powerful capacity. She decides to intercede, even if that means breaking a few laws, in order to see that justice is done rather than merely the letter of the law. I didnít have any trouble figuring out who the real killer was fairly early, but the story flows so smoothly and quickly that there was still an element of suspense. Very hard to find but worth it. 8/16/16

Repo Madness by W. Bruce Cameron, Forge, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7750-0   

I believe this is the second in a series, although I have not seen the first. Ruddy McCann has gotten his life together and is working as a repo man. He has a dog and a beautiful girlfriend and he gets to steal things legally. Aided by the bodiless voice of his dead soon-to-be father-in-law, McCann is on top of the world until things start to go bad. His girlfriend wants a break, the helpful voice has fallen silent, his job is in jeopardy, and he may be in violation of the terms of his parole. Just the time to get involved in another murder mystery. This is the kind of humorous mystery thriller that Carl Hiaasen does so well, although itís not quite as wildly zany as Hiaasen. I could not take a steady diet of this type of story, but once in a while it makes a refreshing change. 8/14/16

A Mystery of Errors by Simon Hawke, Tor, 2000 

I think this was intended to be the first in a series of murder mysteries involving William Shakespeare and a friend, but as far as I know no other titles appeared. Iím not usually fond of mysteries set farther back than the Victorian Age, but this was lively and witty and Hawke drew his characters well. A woman seeks to escape an arranged marriage, but her supposed fiancť seems to have a split personality. The title provides a strong hint to the solution, but the characters carry the story rather than the puzzle. 8/12/16

Any Minute Now by Eric Van Lustbader, Forge, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8551-2 

An elite commando group has a disaster on their current mission, an attempt to capture a terrorist. One of the team dies and the team itself is split up without explanation a short time later. On their own, they find new allies and decide to complete the aborted mission. They promptly step into a hornetsí nest of problems because secret groups within the US government are involved with unorthodox terrorists and a man with strange beliefs and ideas that could result in a change of dramatic portions in the relationships among nations. This is a typical Ė though quite well written Ė conspiracy thriller, and there are even a few surprises along the way. 8/11/16

The Ninjaís Daughter by Susan Spann, 7th Street, 2016, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-53388-181-5

I am not usually a fan of historical detective fiction, although there are obviously exceptions. This is the fourth in a series, but the first Iíve read. The setting is 16th Century Japan and the detective duo consists of a Portuguese priest and his ninja bodyguard, who pretends to be just a secretary. The mysterious death of the daughter of an actress starts the current investigation, which is complicated by the fact that the victimís father is also the ninjaís uncle. Spann has a nice sense of place and the setting and background culture are well done. The mystery itself is okay but not exceptional. I would read more in the series if I happened across them, but would not go out of the way to find them. 8/10/16

The Paris Librarian by Mark Pryor, 7th Street, 2016, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-177-8 

Hugo Marston, security specialist, is back for his sixth adventure. A personal friend is found dead in a locked room in a French library, and it looks like it was death by natural causes. Marston isnít so sure and he decides to poke around himself. He hears rumors about a recently donated cache of papers and letters that are related to events during World War II. And then things start to get really complicated. I guessed how the crime was committed rather early in the game, but it didnít substantially affect my enjoyment of the story. The tone is slightly more relaxed than I recall from the previous books in the series, but I think it works well because I liked this better than its predecessors. 8/9/16

The Kowloon Contract by Philip Atlee, Gold Medal, 1974 

Joe Gall is off to Hong Kong to find out why a Portugese crook is buying up failing businesses and also to investigate the possible use of an acoustic weapon that causes women to spontaneously abort. The two are linked, of course, but the connection feels artificial. An old friend shows up to act as his partner, and an old enemy returns to attempt to kill him Ė unsuccessfully. There is a plot involving a Taiwanese businessman, Soviet agents, and a criminal syndicate whose ultimate purpose is never made clear. Uneven and not well thought through. 8/8/16

The Black Venus Contract by Philip Atlee, Gold Medal, 1975 

Contract agent Joe Gall has sex multiple times with four different women in this very boring, meandering thriller. He has been sent to Brazil to pose as an American businessman so that he can be kidnapped, which he never manages to do. His fake wife is kidnapped instead, but he never even investigates that and when she turns up free at the end, we never know what happened to her or how she escaped. There is a major theft of gold bullion which he attempts to help resolve, but he fails completely and the gold is recovered by someone else. He does manage to effect the rescue of an American diplomat, but more by luck and coincidence than by actual effort. Atlee was clearly running out of steam when he wrote this one. 8/8/16

The Last Domino Contract by Philip Atlee, Gold Medal, 1976 

Joe Gall is sent to South Korea to find out what happened to some purloined plutonium. His cover is blown almost immediately, as it always is, and heís on the run from agents of both Koreas and renegade US army officers who are behind a plot to launch a pre-emptive war against the North that will undoubtedly result in World War III. The middle part of this one is deadly dull and some of the questions raised in the opening chapters are never answered.  8/8/16

The Makassar Strait Contract by Philip Atlee, Gold Medal, 1976 

The final Joe Gall adventure was pretty much the same thing as its recent predecessors. Gall is sent to Indonesia to find out who is mining manganese from the ocean floor so efficiently, and the first quarter of the book consists of his trip there, using a completely unnecessary subterfuge. For some reason the US government decides to use a nuclear weapon to destroy a drilling platform using a new technology to mine manganese, even though this is perfectly legal. And for some reason the people running the platform have an elaborate Ė and quite unbelievable Ė network of killers to prevent anyone from finding out, even though they are selling the ore openly and obviously anyone interested would know. Completely awful. 8/8/16

The Mao Case by Qiu Xiaolong, Minotaur, 2009 

Inspector Chen is asked to look into the possibility that some controversial documents were given by Mao himself to a woman who may have passed them down to her granddaughter.  The case has obvious political undercurrents and Chen would prefer not to take it, but is given no choice. He quietly investigates, posing as a writer Ė he does in fact compose poetry and does translations Ė and narrowly escapes an attempt on his life. A young womanís body is found and then an investigator from internal security is killed in the same fashion planned for Chen. There is an odd mad man involved, and purists are likely to be put off by the fact that the killer is not even mentioned until nearly the end, but itís a police procedural where that isnít as important a factor. As with the previous book I read in this series, it presents a fascinating look at life inside China during the 1990s. 8/2/16

The Ripper Legacy by David Stuart Davies, Titan, 2016, $9.95, ISBN 978-1783298590 

Sherlock Holmes is called in when a young, adopted boy is kidnapped for no apparent reason. Although initially at a loss for clues, he eventually follows a slim lead that generates more excitement than he expected. There is a link to the Jack the Ripper killings, and a more personal enemy whom Holmes did not expect to face. This is a pretty good pastiche that doesnít cheat outrageously to let Holmes solve the case. Iíve read several of similar books by this author and he has always been up to his ambitions.  8/1/16

Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong, Soho, 2000  

A womanís body is pulled out of a disused canal in China. Inspector Chen, who has recently been promoted as part of a political reform, takes the case in part because he feels that he needs to prove that he can handle his new job. The first half of the novel moves very slowly with few leads and little hope of a resolution, but it doesnít feel slow because Chen is an interesting character and the portrayal of everyday life in modern China is fascinating.  Eventually the identity of the murderer emerges, but there is insufficient evidence to convict him, and he has powerful party connections which Chen finds frustrating and then increasingly dangerous to his own future. A very impressive police procedural, written by a Chinese exile who quite clearly has affection for the country but sees some serious problems with its government. 7/31/16

License Expired edited by Madeline Ashby and David Nickle, Chizine, 2015  

Since James Bond is in the public domain in Canada only, this anthology of new Bond stories could only be published there. The contents vary somewhat in quality. Jacqueline Baker has a very good story about a young Bond in school, but it is followed by a disappointing mashup with the Cthulhu Mythos. Kelly Robsonís story really isnít about Bond at all. E.L. Chenís is more conventional and is the first to feel like Ian Fleming. Jeffrey Ford provides a short, violent tale about Bond under the influence of an experimental drug. Michael Skeet provides a mildly funny story about a plot to adulterate the flavor of food. Bond kills an innocent man because he is ordered to in Iain McLaughlinís ďA Dirty Business,Ē which feels more like a poke at US foreign policy than it is a Bond story. Several of the stories are surreal and I didnít think any of these were successful. Overall the collection is always interesting and usually entertaining. 7/30/16

The Underground Cities Contract by Philip Atlee, Gold Medal, 1974   

Three Americans have been kidnapped by a terrorist group in Turkey and Joe Gall is assigned to get them back. He goes to Turkey where he arranges the escape from prison of a condemned terrorist who is to be traded for the Americans, but the terrorists double cross them, predictably, and Gall has to escape from being entombed underground. This isnít bad except that it opens with Gall having a psychotic break, which is never mentioned again. There is no mention of the boy he adopted in the previous book in the series. The ending is flat and while his mission is successful, it feels otherwise. 7/29/16

Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey, Scribner, 2016, $26, ISBN 978-1-5011-2414-3

A man recently released from prison gets a frantic, truncated call from his sister indicating that her life is in danger, but she doesnít tell him where she is. So he has to track her down, which proves to be somewhat easier than he expected right at first. He is directed to a semi private bar where he learn that she was last seen in the presence of the ownerís brother, who is not a nice guy. Heís not a subtle guy, so he smashes his way through to a solution. Unfortunately, the author has made him into such a superhuman that he defeats five  thugs in a fight early on, which let a lot of the air out of the story right at the outset. The bull in the China shop school of mystery fiction rarely works for me, so while the prose in this is fine and fans of that sort of story should be happy, it was less of a hit with me than it might otherwise have been. 7/25/16

Loxfinger by Sol Weinstein, Pocket, 1965 

Matzohball by Sol Weinstein, Pocket, 1966 

On the Secret Service of His Majesty the Queen by Sol Weinstein, Pocket, 1966

The three adventures of Israel Bond, Agent Oy Oy Seven, are obviously spoofs of the James Bond series. About half of the jokes are general silliness not specific to the James Bond books, and a lot of it is puns Ė Fawn Connery, Pungtang Plenty, etc.  Each book mixes tropes from various Fleming novels, and most of the jokes are pretty obvious. The three books were moderately funny at the time Ė they appeared in Playboy - although each goes on for just a bit too long. There was supposed to be a fourth but I believe it only appeared recently from a small press. I reread these nostalgically but found myself impatient to get to the end in all three cases. 7/24/16

The Spice Route Contract by Philip Atlee, Gold Medal, 1973   

A below average entry in the Joe Gall series. He is sent to Yemen to track down an American expatriate who may or may not be assassinating people friendly to the US. He finds him, makes a deal, but the other man betrays him and nearly gets everyone involved killed. There are a couple of spots where Gall makes decisions that are really stupid, but the author had to have him do that to set up further plot developments. It is a very lazy way of writing and I suspect that at this point he had gotten tired of writing the series, although he would do six more of them before he died. 7/23/16

The Shankill Road Contract by Philip Atlee, Gold Medal, 1973 

Someone has been conducting a series of apparently random assassinations against the backdrop of the troubles in Northern Ireland. An American politician believes that his wayward son is involved and Gall reluctantly agrees to try to bring the young man home, although he is half convinced that he will have to kill him. The situation turns out to be trickier than he anticipated, however. He ends up on the run from both sides, and the British arenít that sympathetic either. He completes his job, in a rather unorthodox fashion, and ends up with custody of a four year old boy. Slightly above average for the series. 7/23/16

Alligator by I*n Fl*m*ng, Vanitas, 1962 

This spoof of the James Bond novels is actually just a novelette written by the Harvard Lampoon staff. Bond runs into Lacertus Alligator, a shady but rich man who is also a crook working for TOOTH Ė The Organization Organized to Hate. There are mildly humorous takes on the elaborate drink preparation, the card game with the villain Ė in this case Go Fish, the secret scuba swim to the remote estate, etc. Alligator steals the houses of Parliament and everyone in them and transports them into hiding in Bermuda. Bond saves the day. Cute. 7/22/16

Insidious by Catherine Coulter, Gallery, 2016, $27, ISBN 978-1-5011-5029-6  

This was my first time trying this author, although Iíve seen her books many times. This is part of a series with which I am obviously completely unfamiliar. Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock are FBI agents who are called in to investigate when a powerful entrepreneur tells them that she believes someone is trying to poison her. Presumably this limits the guilty party to those who have close access. Elsewhere another FBI agent is sent to help track down a brutal serial killer who specializes in young actresses. There is some light romance mixed with police procedural as the two cases slowly take form. I was mildly surprised by the conclusion, part of which I had already guessed. Coulter has a pleasant, easily red open style and her characters are lively enough that I would read more, even though this really isnít the kind of story I generally prefer. 7/22/16

Honeymoon to Nowhere byAkimitsu Takagi, Soho, 1985 (Japanese edition 1965)   

A young woman is very unhappy about the man her family expects her to marry, particularly since she has become interested in another who lectures in economics at the university. But he also has obvious secrets in his life, including connections to a right wing monarchist group and others. They finally get married and on their wedding night he is called away for an emergency and never returns. His body is found the following day in a remote area. The investigation includes his successful brother and another who supposedly died in a fire, but as soon as the reader learns that the body was unrecognizable, it is obvious that he is still alive, and almost as obvious is his present identity. An entertaining police procedural follows with another murder, various revelations, and an exciting ending. Most of this authorís mystery novels have yet to be translated but Iíll be watching for them. 7/21/16

The Judah Lion Contract by Philip Atlee, Gold Medal, 1972 

Joe Gall has to smuggle a deposed African dictator out of Ethiopia, avoiding agents of the man who removed him from power, General Pangolin. He also manages to annoy the local government in the process, so thereís no help there. He and the fugitive, along with two women, travel cross country toward Kenya, hoping to rendezvous with unknown parties arranged by the US government. They have several adventures along the way. This was one of the best of the Gall novels, relatively free of misogyny, reasonably plausible, fast moving, and with a somewhat jaundiced view of international politics and the openness of the US government. For a change, all of his companions survive. The end is slightly ambiguous Ė we never find out whether or not the plan to restore him to power works Ė but otherwise satisfactory. 7/19/16

The Informer by Akimitsu Takagi, Soho, 1999 

The protagonist of this mystery novel is an ex-stock broker who lost his job after getting involved in an illegal sideline. He is recruited to conduct some industrial espionage at a company where an old friend of his has a highly placed position. Having few scruples, he agrees to do so, but his position becomes less tenable when he gets involved with the friendís wife, after which the friend is himself murdered. Although he is innocent, he has no alibi until a woman asserts that they were together at the time of the murder, but the police donít believe her and itís only a matter of time until he is arrested. His only chance is for the police to find the real killer. Not as good as the first novel I read by this author, but still a well done mystery story. 7/18/16

The Kiwi Contract by Philip Atlee, Gold Medal, 1972 

This is a pretty sad entry in the series, and one of the dullest. Much of the book consists of Gall impersonating a geologist and touring New Zealand. The author has apparently forgotten that Gall lost a finger a few books back and could not possibly have pulled off a convincing impersonation. The geologist is being targeted by parties unknown, but there is actually no sign of them until the last 25 pages. There are several factual errors in the book Ė the US government does not have the power to arrest people at will in foreign countries, for example Ė and the plot is plodding and contrived. Thereís a bit of a reversal at the end, but the motivation of the various characters makes no sense when the shooting is over and the reader stops to think about what just happened. 7/16/16

The White Wolverine Contract by Philip Atlee, Gold Medal, 1971 

Joe Gall is sent to Vancouver to look for a missing CIA agent and to investigate rumors linking the agency to a separatist movement when he becomes involved in the murder of a local politician. The missing agent turns up dead and both he and the politician were found with a wolverine carving. Gall tracks down the source of the carvings and is nearly killed himself in the process. The plot he uncovers is absolutely absurd Ė an army of hippies plans to seize control of the province but the RCMP secretly disables all their weapons and rounds them up. For a change he manages to save the girl this time but the novel itself is unsalvageable. 7/15/16

The Black Wizard and Beast in the Shadows by Edogawa Rampo, Kurodahan, 2006 

These two short novels are by one of the most popular writers in Japan. Both are pulp style thrillers reminiscent of the Arsene Lupin novels, and in fact Lupin is mentioned in both of them. The first is the longer and the better. Itís a duel between a sinister female jewel thief and a brilliant private detective. She wants to kidnap the daughter of a rich man in order to demand a fabulous jewel as ransom, although she actually wants to add the young woman to her secret Madame Tussaud style museum of stuffed humans. Each side seems to have won at one point or another, but ultimately good prevails over bad. The second is somewhat more mysterious. A woman begins receiving death threats from an ex-lover and convinces a detective story writer to help her figure out what is happening. Then her husband is murdered, but it turns out that there are wheels within wheels and some things that appear obvious really are not. Both quite entertaining in a very pulp reminiscent way. 7/14/16

The Three Tiers of Fantasy by Norman Berrow, Ramble House, 2006 (originally published in 1949) 

This mystery novel opens with what appears to be a phantom lover. Janet Soames thought she would never find a man to lover her, but then Philip Strong arrives in her life. She is never quite certain about his background. He claims to be an actor but always in inconsequential parts. She never sees him in the company of other people and when they elope to a mansion with a single servant, the servant apparently sees only Janet. She has entrusted Philip with her life savings but when she remarks upon the strangeness of the situation, he and the money promptly disappear.  And the servant tells her that Mr. Strong has been dead for seven years. An entirely new set of characters appears, gathered at a supposedly poltergeist infested inn. One of them has a valise of stolen money with him, and he is being extorted by his secretary to take her with him to Argentina. They check into their room, then go downstairs to eat, only to discover that the room they have selected doesnít exist and the money is gone. In the first case, since the woman didnít report the missing money, no crime was deemed to have been committed, and in this the thief doesnít dare mention the stolen cash. As mysterious as the events are, there are physical aspects that clearly suggest they were staged and are not supernatural. Part three involves a disappearing street. I had a pretty good idea how the first two were accomplished but the third was a complete mystery to me. Excellent mystery, and no murders! 7/13/16

Extreme Prey by John Sandford, Putnam, 2016, $29, ISBN 978-0-399-17605-0 

Lucas Davenport is back, although he is currently unemployed, having quit his police job because of the politics. But politics is about to make a comeback as he is drawn into a plan to assassinate the leading candidate for the US Presidency, a woman, by a mother and her adult son who are embittered and the kind of people who most avidly would support Donald Trump.  Davenportís poking into fringe group results in three other murders, revives a cold case about a fatal bombing years earlier, and makes himself the target of a sniper. This is about average for the series, although a good deal of the solution depends upon Davenportís luck rather than his procedural or intellectual skills. 7/12/16

Sherlock Holmes and the Kingís Governess by Barrie Roberts, Severn House, 2005

Holmes and Watson meet a woman who once visited Russia, where she saw a terrible crime committed. For various reasons, she agreed never to speak of it, but the author of that crime is in London Ė a Russian aristocrat Ė and he suspects she plans retribution after all. The plot is complicated by the competing interests of some Russian exiles, a woman whose fiancť may have been killed by the aristocratís men twenty years earlier, and a few other minor subplots. The first half of the novel is excellent and the second quite good. Holmes figures out what is going on and has a presentiment of what must ultimately happen Ė as does the reader Ė but he is powerless to prevent it. An above average pastiche. 7/10/16

The Canadian Bomber Contract by Philip Atlee, Gold Medal, 1971 

A very short and poorly plotted Joe Gall thriller. Heís in Canada trying to track down a missing shipment of high explosives when he uncovers a plot to blow up Niagara Falls. He succeeds more through luck than planning, and some of the details of the story depend on coincidence or just ignore the way the real world works. He also proves irresistible to every woman he meets despite his crudity. Atlee was capable of good writing, but youíd never guess that by reading this one. And the surprise revelation of the identity of the master villain is ludicrous. 7/9/16

The Hemingway Thief by Shaun Harris, 7th Street, 2016, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-175-4  u515 

A not very competent thief manages to make off with the original first draft of a Hemingway novel. The manuscript is doubly important because it contains clues to the fate of a trove of Hemingwayís fiction that was in fact lost in 1922, never to be seen again. The thief gets drunk and is attacked, but is defended by the two protagonists of the book, a somewhat seedy novelist and a local businessman. But was the trunk really lost or did Hemingway deliberately allow it to go astray? This is more an adventure story than a mystery, and it leans toward the farcical tone of Carl Hiaasen much of the time. It is definitely a change of pace from the usual flood of cozies and police procedurals, and it is at times genuinely funny. 7/8/`6

Murder at Mt. Fuji by Shizuko Natsuki, Ballantine, 1987 

This is an interesting but not always convincing murder mystery. An American exchange student is spending the holiday with an influential Japanese family at their home near Mt Fuji. She is tutoring the daughter of the household, who stuns everyone by attempting to kill herself after fatally stabbing the patriarch of the family. She insists that he was pressing unwanted sexual advances and that she stabbed him by accident rather than intent. The family and their guest concoct an elaborate scenario about a burglar to disguise her guilt, which is an interesting commentary on Japanese culture since most readers in the US would know that this is a clear case of self defense.  The scenario collapses almost immediately Ė the construction of the story was almost comically inept. Eight people could not possibly maintain a consistent story of such complexity. Everything comes unraveled and another attempt at subterfuge is stillborn, but the truth is that the young woman is actually protecting someone else, which seemed fairly obvious early on. This was okay but unexceptional. 7/7/16

It Howls at Night by Norman Berrow, Ramble House, 2005 (originally published in 1937)  

Four young men are taking a holiday in Spain when their car breaks down in a remote part of the country. They stop at an isolated cottage just in time to help a young woman who tells them she thinks something was chasing her through the woods. Her maid is out as well and a short time later they hear howling, even though there are no wolves in the area, and discover her mangled body not far from the cottage. Various hints are made about a werewolf Ė a glimpse of a paw, a frightened dog, etc. Two guards are placed on the house by the Spanish authorities and that same night both have their throats torn out. The rationalization starts to take form when we learn that the young woman has just inherited a small fortune and that she has a cousin Roger whom she has never seen and who is not mentioned in the will. The villainís identity is obvious early on and it is also clear that it is not really supernatural, but this was still a pretty good story, though not up to the quality of the previous Berrow books Iíve read. 7/6/16

The Border Line by Walter S. Masterman, Dancing Tuatara, 2010 (originally published in 1937) 

Walter Masterman was a British thriller writer whose work has fallen into near complete obscurity, in part because the bulk of copies of his last several books may have been destroyed during World War II bombing raids on warehouses. He occasionally incorporated SF and supernatural elements into his stories, sometimes rationalizing them and sometimes not. A BBC radio team is broadcasting the investigation of a supposed haunted house when its own is brutally and mysteriously murdered, strangled but with strange marks upon his body. One of the policemen watching the house at the time is similarly killed. The local village believe that inhuman beings live in the nearby forest, and the dead baronetís niece is convinced that she has met with the god of the forest at night, although she was always blindfolded. Detective Selden does not believe in the supernatural, but he knows that this is not an ordinary murder and he tries to keep an open mind. He does not know Ė but the reader does Ė that this is connected with a scientist who experimented upon his own unborn son years earlier, but who died accidentally. The wife disappeared. The ending cheats a bit and is technically SF but itís very suspenseful and the prose is quite nice. 7/3/16

The Fer De Lance Contract by Philip Atlee, Gold Medal, 1970 

This Joe Gall thriller starts off pretty well. There is a plot to seize control of several small Caribbean islands and he is sent there undercover to find out what is really going on. His cover is blown before he even starts, several attempts are made on his life, but he avoids death time after time, usually because of outside intervention rather than his own resourcefulness. As usual, one of the women he goes to bed with dies, although the second uncharacteristically survives.  There is a good deal of misogyny and the plot waffles a bit toward the end, with some unlikely political developments and some absurd logistical maneuvers. About average for the series. 7/1/16

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