Last Update 8/18/18

Blood Count by Dell Shannon (1986)

Still more formulaic police cases. A dead woman is found in a crashed car, but she was already dead when the accident occurred. Someone in an antique car is involved in multiple hit and run accidents. A young transient couple may have killed their baby. A man is found shot to death outside a bar and a mugger is more interested in shoes than in money. 8/18/18

Fatality in Fleet Street by Christopher St John Sprigg, Oleander, 2013 (originally published in 1933)

I was rather disappointed in this one because I really enjoyed the other mystery I’d read by this author. The scene is a newspaper building whose vitriolic owner is about to launch a campaign to start a war between England and Russia. He is murdered in the nick of time, but since the building was sealed at the time, the murderer is obviously among those present when the police arrive. Unfortunately this leaves twelve prime suspects, some of whom have secrets of their own to hide. The prose is labored, there are too many characters, and the puzzle is only mildly interesting. 8/17/18

The Wrong Letter by Walter Masterman, Grosset, 1926

Scotland Yard receives a call from someone who claims to have shot the Home Secretary. The newspapers were provided with details of the crime before it had even been committed, in a document that appears to have been sent by the police. The dead man is found in a locked room, shot through the head. Who can the killer be and why resort to such an elaborate series of pranks? Although this is not a lost classic and Masterman is largely forgotten, he was popular in his time and this novel even has an introduction by G.K.Chesterton. The solution took me by surprise and though it is slightly forced, it’s not a bad cheat. 8/16/18

Chaos of Crime by Dell Shannon (1985)

The shortest of Shannon’s novels is more of the same, although it does involve a Jack the Ripper style killer. Unfortunately most of the novel is about the other cases so it never builds any real suspense. The other cases are all routine – fake alibis, a husband kills his unfaithful wife, a routine traffic stop ends with a dead policeman – although no motive is ever provided, a cold case is solved when a piece of stolen jewelry resurfaces, a fight in a laundromat ends with a fatality, and there are muggings and holdups galore. 8/15/18

Soul Cage by Tetsuya Honda, Titan, 2017 

A severed hand is found in Tokyo, which leads to evidence that a small construction contractor named Takaoka has been murdered. The rest of his body does not, however, turn up. A massive police investigation takes an unexpected turn when an old friend of the missing man sees a picture and insists that it is not Takaoka himself but a stranger. So just what is going on? An interesting puzzle with some nicely done conflict between two of the detectives assigned to the investigation, but not the author's best. 8/13/18

Exploit of Death by Dell Shannon (1983)

The author moved a little way outside her comfort zone this time, but not very far. Mendoza and his wife meet a French woman while returning from their vacation, and she later turns up dead, supposedly with a different identity. Mendoza knows that the witnesses substantiating the new name are lying, though he cannot initially prove it. This is mixed with several more characteristic and less interesting cases.  8/11/18

Destiny of Death by Dell Shannon (1984) 

Déjà vu all over again. Mendoza and associates solve a number of familiar crimes – muggers, holdup men, rapists, escaped convicts, mentally disturbed killers, drug addicts, etc. along with a couple slightly novel ones – a child held as a slave and a holdup man makes his victims strip. The solutions are humdrum – spontaneous confessions, coincidences, really stupid acts by criminals, and so on. I cannot understand why this writer was so popular for so long. 8/11/18

The Last Chance Olive Ranch by Susan Wittig Albert, Berkley, 2017

There are two separate cases this time. A prisoner escapes from death row and vows vengeance on Bayles’ husband, McQuaid, which gives him an excuse to shoo her out of town. Unfortunately his ex-wife shows up and is kidnapped by mistake, which leads to a kind of ransom-of-red-chief situation but which is otherwise routine and predictable. Bayle is visiting a woman who raises olives and whose ownership of the property is being contested. I found this half of the story even less satisfactory. The woman in question is so imperceptive about her cousin’s actions that I found her hard to believe, and it was painfully obvious that he had already committed one murder and was not averse to killing a second time. A very weak continuation of this series. 8/10/18

The Scarlet Widow by Graham Masterton, Head of Zeus, 2016    

I am generally not fond of historical mysteries, but this is more of a suspense novel than a mystery since it is obvious who the immediate villain is. In 1750 a village in New Hampshire is visited by a man who claims that only he can protect them from demons, and there have been incidents suggesting he is right. But the wife of the local minister is the daughter of an apothecary and she knows that the various effects can be achieved chemically. As a series of deaths follows, her stake in the matter becomes ever greater and eventually she will expose the truth about what is really happening. Very entertaining despite its predictability. 8/7/18

Bittersweet by Susan Wittig Albert, Berkley, 2017 

One of my objections to recent books in this series is that the author spends far too much time on irrelevant background issues because she has such a large cast of recurring characters and feels it necessary to mention all of them in every book. This time Bayles is off to spend Thanksgiving with her mother, but her stepfather is hospitalized following a heart attack. This leads her into investigating the murder of a woman she has just met. The victim was in the process of divorcing her husband, who was doing something illegal involving smuggling animals to enclosed hunting ranches.  A new character, a female forest ranger, is involved in the investigation of the murder of a local veterinarian, and the two cases are linked.  Once the baggage is all revealed in the opening chapters, the story is much better. 7/31/18

The Motive on Record by Dell Shannon (1982)   

Still another lackluster collection of crimes, most of them repeats from earlier books. There is a serial child rapist, several murders, the disappearance of a drug dealer, and some suicides. The author – who was a member of the John Birch Society – includes a brief rant against communism and a much longer one about bureaucrats that indicates she had no idea how the social security system works. Most of the cases, as usual, are solved by chance or coincidence and not by detection or, in several cases, any actual police work. 7/30/18

The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1923) 

Jane Smith is broke and homeless when she encounters the fiancé of her cousin, who enlists her in a plan to rescue the woman he loves. She is being held captive by an organization of anarchists because they fear she might have overheard part of their plan to destroy civilization. The cousins are virtually twins so the switch is made. Jane is now a prisoner and is taken to a distant estate where scientific experiments are being conducted. The mansion is honeycombed with secret passages. Mysterious figures come and go. She manages to keep up the impersonation because she knows her life is at stake, but eventually she begins investigating rather than simply surviving. Despite some convenient coincidences and a few naïve details, this is a surprisingly fresh and exciting story with a very appealing protagonist. The mystery is the identity of the rea head of the anarchist organization, which turns out not to be the person most readers are likely to suspect. This was the author’s very first mystery novel.7/22/18

Death at Hallow’s End by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 2008 (originally published in (1965) 

This is the weakest of the Carolus Deane mysteries that I have read so far. He is investigating the disappearance of a lawyer who was delivering the draft of a new will to a man who died the same day. The suspects are obvious from the outset and while some of the details are interesting, it is pretty clear that all three worked together. Even worse, Deene refuses to explain his suspicions to the police despite their request that he do so, which results in another death, and almost results in yet another. I was shaking my head at the end of this one. 7/21/18

Blood Orange by Susan Wittig Albert, Berkley, 2016

I’ve been disappointed by most of the recent books in this series, including this one. China Bayles has loaned her cabin to a friend who mysteriously disappears and is later run off the road in a fatal accident. She claimed to have known about am murder and her computer files suggest that she had discovered a long running nursing home fraud. The villains are obvious way too early, but even worse is the badly constructed plot. There is no reasonable explanation of why the dead woman faked her own kidnapping since as far as she knew, no one was aware of her unofficial investigation. And then Bayles decides not to wait for her meeting with the police to reveal the truth. Instead she goes to the suspect’s house and sneaks into his garage where she escapes death only because of an improbable coincidence. And the supposedly strong love between Bayles and her husband is filled with deceit, jealousy, and distrust. This one, incidentally, is fantasy. One character is a genuine poltergeist and another has psychic visions of the future, neither of which is particularly relevant to the story. 7/20/18

Murder Most Strange by Dell Shannon (1981) 

This instalment in the Mendoza saga is pretty dull. The cases include a charming serial rapist, a mugger who uses an attack dog as his weapon, a drug overdose that doesn’t look like an accident, and a handful of robberies and murders. None of the cases take center stage and they are unraveled in a slow but deliberate manner that is distinctly not entertaining. Some mild homophobia and anti-government ranting does not help. Only the mugger with the dog is of any interest. The police solve most of them through luck, as usual, and the story is interspersed with really dull episodes in the private lives of the various recurring characters. The formula was so fixed by now that I’m surprised the author didn’t throw herself out a window to relieve the boredom. 7/16/18

The Money Lovers by Timothy Watts, Soho, 1994 

This is not the type of crime novel I ordinarily enjoy. A recently discharged marine has an automobile accident with an old girlfriend who is now married to a confidence man. The husband’s latest group of marks includes a psychopath who has already committed one murder, although as yet that information has not come to light. The wife is being blackmailed by another sleazeball, who is actually in league with the victim’s best friend, who is in fact sleeping with the confidence man husband. And then there is the million dollars in cash. This made a nice change of pace from traditional mystery novels, but it is not a book designed to make you feel good. 7/14/18

The Cat Screams by Todd Downing, Wildside, 1929 

An American detective is on vacation in Mexico when a man is smothered to death at the small resort where he is staying. The following day another man is found dead, apparently a suicide, but the detective is not convinced. Each of the two deaths was preceded by the screaming of the resort owner’s cat, which is in heat. No one is allowed to leave because one of the employees is exhibiting symptoms of small pox and the entire facility has been placed under quarantine.  7/14/18

The Man Who Feared by Will F. Jenkins, Hangman’s House, 1930   

Will F. Jenkins was the real name of the author best known as Murray Leinster. He wrote only a handful of mysteries and it was probably his least successful genre. A private investigator is hired to find out who is harassing a man he personally detests. Friends of the client have been murdered and his safe has been burgled. But he has so many enemies that the task seems Herculean. There is a nice twist at the end but the pacing is very slow, particularly the middle third of the book, and there are a few unanswered questions at the end. 7/13/18

The Madman’s Room by Paul Halter, Locked Room International, 2017 (originally published in 1990)  

This was one of Halter’s better novels. A room is locked up ever since it was the scene of a mysterious death. Reopened by the next generation, it leads to another death in the present. Are supernatural forces at work or is someone taking advantage of the situation to muddy the waters? The story is more tightly plotted than in some of the author’s other novels and is less likely to stray into side issues. The creepy atmosphere is well done and the characters are better drawn than in some of his other books. The ending is pretty good as well. This was originally published in French in 1990. 75/12/18

Billy Boyle by James R. Benn, Soho, 2006 

Billy Boyle is the protagonist of this series set during the US participation in World War II in Europe. He is the fictional nephew of Dwight Eisenhower and a Boston police detective. In his initial case he is asked to look into what appears to be a suicide but which looks like it might be murder. There is also a German spy in the area, and the two cases might be related. Unfortunately he is only a lieutenant so he has to break a few rules and riles up some of the Norwegian army in exile in the process, which ends with him making a perilous one man raid into Norway. There are a couple of rough spots, but I mostly enjoyed this and have ordered the second in the series. 7/10/18

The Harvest Murder by John Rhode,  1937 

Alternate title is Death in the Hop Fields. It is not one of Rhode’s better books, primarily because it is glacially slow to develop. Two crimes in a small community appear to have no connection, but of course they are. A house is burglarized and some jewelry stolen, but fingerprints identify the thief as a known criminal. He has disappeared, however, and most readers will know immediately that he is dead. The second crime is a case of arson that seems likely to be an act of revenge. Dr. Priestly, Rhode’s recurring detective, plays a relatively minor part in uncovering the solution. 7/8/18

Felony File by Dell Shannon (1980)

Another mix of unrelated plots. A department store is robbed by a well informed gang. A child is raped and murdered in her bed. One woman is shot to death in her home and another bludgeoned in a public park. A curvaceous and well dressed blonde conducts a series of holdups. There is an amusing contradiction common to people of the author’s political disposition. While complaining that tax money is being used to finance government agencies that interfere with families, the author has a long scene excoriating a child welfare worker for not regularly visiting the homes of everyone receiving assistance, even though it is quite obvious that the agency has virtually no staff for such things. 7/7/18

Prelude to Crime by J. Jefferson Farjeon, Collins, 1948

As much as I enjoy this author, this was a waste of time. It lacks any of the suspense or inventiveness of his other work other than its initial premise. The protagonist is convinced that his dreams predict the future and he has been dreaming about committing a murder. His new psychiatrist prescribes a rest at his informal retreat where there are several other patients, and you can probably fill in the blanks from that point onward. Tedious at times, with too much unadorned dialogue. 7/5/18

Felony at Random by Dell Shannon (1979)

More random crimes intermixed, including murder, kidnapping, and robbery. None of the individual subplots are particularly interesting this time. The author somehow never heard of alternate jurors. She states that if a juror falls ill, the whole trial has to start over. There is also one instance where the police choose a man almost at random, decide he fits the profile, and are about to get a search warrant when another lead proves more viable. No fewer than seven criminals confess without being prodded and without a lawyer present and the police search another house without a warrant. This was probably the weakest Shannon novel to date. 7/4/18

Heir Presumptive by Henry Wade, Perennial, 1984 (originally published in 1953) 

This is one of those mysteries told from the point of view of the murder. Eustace is fifth in line for a title and fortune and never gave it serious thought until two of the heirs are killed in an apparent accident and he discovers that one of the others is terminally ill. His own dissolute life style has left him in debt but he sees a way out. All he has to do is arrange for an accident to claim the last healthy heir, leaving him a clear field. Except it’s not as clear as he thinks. This is a quite satisfying suspense novel that has a twist at the end that I half anticipated but still enjoyed. 7/1/18