Last Update 7/18/19

Murder in Miniature by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 1992  

Twenty-eight  very short mystery tales, about a dozen of them featuring the authorís first detective hero, Sergeant Beef. There are, alas, no Carolus Deene short stories. These almost always involve a gimmick, usually the murder overlooking one detail in an otherwise clever murder plot. They are very concisely and clearly written and Bruce only repeats a device on one occasion Ė the car mysteriously disappearing while a moving van is on the premises. Definitely worth pursuing. 7/18/19

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart, Crest, 1988 

There are overtones of genuine witchcraft in this story of a young woman who inherits her cousinís cottage, and discovers that she may be next in line to be the local white witch. An ambitious neighbor who is also into magic, and not always the benevolent kind, is far too friendly and clearly wants a book that was owned by the dead woman. Although not much happens overtly, this is quietly suspenseful throughout and builds steadily toward a rousing climax. 7/15/19

Case With Ropes and Rings by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 2019  (originally published in 1949) 

This is one of the better Sergeant Beef novels. A young man whom everyone seemed to like is found hanging in a gymnasium after winning a boxing match. The police decide it is suicide but Beef is convinced otherwise. He poses as the porter in a fancy school in order to find out the truth, which involves a secret romance, a drunken and malicious house master, and others before a second, surprisingly similar though apparently unrelated murder leads to the solution. The ending in this one is particularly clever and Beef is considerably less obtuse than is sometimes the case. 7/14/19

Background to Danger by Eric Ambler, Dell, 1937   

Also known as Uncommon Danger. A free lance journalist gets caught up in intrigue when he unwisely agrees to carry a packet of documents for a stranger, only to have the stranger show up dead and find himself the chief suspect. The villains are actually working for industrialists rather than a government, and itís a band of Soviet spies who help the protagonist with his problem, while he in turn helps them recover documents that could cause a major diplomatic rift. Logical and suspenseful throughout, and with a number of interesting minor characters. This was filmed in 1943. 7/13/19

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart, Crest, 1976 

Thereís some fantasy in this one since the protagonist has a psychic link to one of her relatives, but she doesnít know who he is. The death of her father in a hit and run accident precipitates a crisis about the future of the family estate. Some want to sell, others are in less of a hurry, and the trust requires a unanimous decision. But there are some mysterious comings and goings, some thefts, and a few other elements to suggest something more sinister is going on. I never really cared for this one. The telepathy is really not essential to the story, which is itself rather slowly paced and without a satisfying climax Ė the villains basically get away without punishment. 7/11/19

Three Al Wheeler novels by Carter Brown, Stark House, 2018 

No Harp for My Angel (1956) 

Wheeler is on vacation in Florida when he accidentally has a confrontation with a local thug who is running a white slavery operation for elite criminals. The local police coerce him into pretending to be an out of town criminal and pit the two against each other, but things get more complicated when the Syndicate sends someone down to find out whatís going on. More sexy women, sarcastic banter, and quite a bit of violence this time. Things work out a little too conveniently for Wheeler at times, but thatís part of the fun of it all. 

Booty for a Babe (1956) 

This one surprised me because the murder takes place at a science fiction convention Ė Brown wrote some SF that only appeared in Australia. A professor with a real daft theory of time is murdered after demonstrating a machine that supposedly turns silver into gold. A small time crook is willing to pay a substantial sum for the machine, which is obviously fake to everyone else, and that appears to be the motive. The story is so silly that it is hard to take any of it seriously, and the title is completely inappropriate. 

Eve, Itís Extortion (1957) 

A man is fatally run down by a stolen car. Did his wife arrange the murder for his insurance? Why is a very good skip tracer very bad when the cases involve large quantities of missing cash? This is a slightly below average Al Wheeler mystery which has one of the authorís occasional factual errors. If your husband is murdered, you CAN collect on his life insurance, contrary to the author. This has also appeared as Walk Softly Witch and The Victim, both of which are better than this horrible title.

Knock, Murderer, Knock! by Harriet Rutland, Dean Street, 2015 (originally published in 1938)  

Murder at what we would now call a health spa. A young woman whom almost nobody really liked is found with a knitting needle embedded in her brain. The man who was supposedly flirting with her turns out to be a confidence man and he is arrested promptly. The second murder in the same manner perplexes the police inspector handling the case, and a third drives him toward apoplexy. The mystery element in this one is okay but not nearly as interesting as the very idiosyncratic cast of characters. The lurid events are tempered with some dry but very effective black humor. This was actually the first of the three mysteries Rutland wrote. It is the least interesting as a mystery and the most interesting as a novel. 7/6/19

Secret Agent X Volume 2 by Paul Chadwick and Emile Tepperman, Altus, 2008 

The  second four adventures of Secret Agent X, a pulp hero who used impersonation and non-violent methods to battle villains during the 1930s. Implausible and repetitive, but fun.

City of the Living Dead by Paul Chadwick, 1934 

Breaking slightly from the previous format, this adventure of Secret Agent X takes him to an outlying city where an outbreak of encephalitis has led to a total quarantine. The supposed source is a group of gorillas that escaped from a research facility. Riots break out, but the agent believes that this was no accident and eventually discovers that rich people can buy a cure. The lab director and the police commissioner are the head villains. 

Hand of Horror by Emile C. Tepperman, 1934 

Someone has made an attempt on the life of the governor-elect. Secret Agent X tracks down a gang consisting of politicians, hoodlums, and corrupt businessmen who want to replace him with the Lieutenant Governor. But the situation is more complicated than that, because someone is impersonating the supposedly doomed man, and the killers find themselves being eliminated one by one. 

Octopus of Crime by Paul Chadwick, 1934 

Secret Agent X takes on a gang of thieves who have created a bogus company to help them transfer money around. The symbol of an octopus is their calling card. The head villain is rather obviously the criminologist advising the police commissioners. Aerial battles this time, including a blimp. The usual impersonations, captures, and escapes.

The Hooded Hordes by Paul Chadwick, 1934

A mysterious criminal organization posing as super patriots uses extortion and assassination to cause turmoil across the country. Secret Agent X suspects their true nature and singlehandedly exposes the truth and apprehends the man in charge of the operation. One might draw some parallels between the plot in this one and contemporary US politics.  7/4/19

The Dark Frontier by Eric Ambler, Mysterious Press, 1990  (originally published in 1936) 

This was Amblerís first novel, long out of print and obviously not as successful as his subsequent work. It was intended to be a spoof of the spy stories of John Buchan and E. Philips Oppenheim. A professor has an accident and believes himself to be a fictional secret agent. In that persona, he travels to a small Balkan country which has secretly developed a nuclear bomb. He rather ingeniously helps promote a revolution and the destruction of the plans for the weapon. Ambler vastly underestimated the destructive power of the bomb, but this is a rather amusing and sometimes exciting adventure. 7/3/19

 

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