Last Update 8/9/20

The Case of the Unfortunate Village by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1932)   

Detective Ludovic Travers responds when a friend tells him that his peaceful little village has been troubled by what might have been murder amid a string of personality changes and untoward events. Almost immediately there is a second murder, although it appears to be an accident, and more of the same is headed their way. There is a vicar who has memory lapses, a sculptor who has suddenly become a recluse, an artist who switched subject matter from landscapes to vague eroticism, and other unusual characters. I thought the solution was a bit obvious this time and the explanation of events is not entirely convincing. 8/9/20

The Ghosts’ High Noon by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1930   

The male half of an unhappy marriage dies after being poisoned. His widow’s first husband died in the same fashion and he supposedly cursed her and her daughter. Evidence is found suggesting that she poisoned him and she is arrested. Various characters act oddly at times but there is no obvious villain. There are a couple of minor goofs but for the most part the plot is reasonably well done. Fleming Stone pretends to be scared away by a threatening letter but it is only a ploy. 8/9/20

The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas, Penguin, 2009 (from the 1996 French edition) 

Someone has been drawing chalk circles on the sidewalks and streets of Paris. It seems like a harmless prank until the first dead body appears. Is the chalk circle man a killer, or is someone else using the situation to mislead the police? This was the author’s first mystery, introducing an oddly introspective police inspector whose unorthodox methods sometimes approach clairvoyance. The solution to this one completely fooled me. Vargas has only written a handful in this series, but I’m tracking them down. 8/6/20

The Doorstep Murders by Carolyn Wells, Crime Club, 1930  w1539 

One of three Kenneth Carlisle mysteries. This was the first Wells novel I ever read, back when I was eleven years old, and I still think it is probably her best. Three men walk home from a card game. Each is found stabbed to death on his doorstep the following morning, and the knives are identical. It does not appear that any of the characters has a motive to kill any of the victims, let alone all three. A thieving valet and an unscrupulous doctor add some red herrings. The solution, alas, includes two incredible cheats. One of the characters committed a murder years earlier that we never heard about, and he has a doppelganger as a friend, who provides the alibi, also hidden from the reader until the end. 8/6/20

The Deductions of Colonel Gore by Lynn Brock, Collins, 2018 (originally published in 1924)   

There is a caveat to this first novel in the Colonel Gore series. There is a good deal of open racism and antisemitism, not unusual for the 1920s. A blackmailer is found dead in his car. The doctor who examines it calls it heart failure, but he is aware that the dead man was blackmailing his wife so might be lying. He was blackmailing others as well, not to mention selling drugs. Then a “friend” of his arrives to take over the clandestine business. Wick Gore, recently returned from several years out of the country, tries to unravel the truth, making a lot of missteps along the way. This was a first novel and Gore returned as a private investigator in several later books. 8/4/20

Triple Murder by Carolyn Wells, Burt, 1929  

A Fleming Stone mystery. A woman sitting in the back seat of her car is found to be dead when they reach their destination. She was struck in the forehead with some hard object. The husband has suffered two previous tragedies – former wives who died in what appear to be accidents. Stone “knows” instinctively that the man is innocent. The reader is almost certain to know that his devoted brother is the real killer. The murder method – a thrown golf ball – is a bit of a reach but not completely beyond plausibility. But once again there are internal contradictions lurking in several places and a couple of the red herrings are never explained at all. 8/1/20

The Doomed Five by Carolyn Wells,  Burt, 1930 

Despite the usual sprinkling of contradictions and a premise that that misunderstands how legal contracts work, this was one of the author’s better efforts. There are several red herrings that are inserted with some skill and it is difficult to determine the killer until almost the point of revelation. There are a couple of elements that never get explained, and she apparently forgets about a ten million dollar business deal that was supposed to be revealed. It is revealing, however, that she considers it more worthwhile for three people who are already independently wealthy to receive many more millions of dollars than for that money to be expended on public works. 8/1/20

Beware of Johnny Washington by Francis Durbridge, Collins, 2017 (originally published in 1951) 

This sort of crime novel generally does not appeal to me but I read this straight through and found it very enjoyable and not at all dated. The title character is a kind of low-key version of the Saint. He sometimes works with Scotland Yard to capture criminals but they don’t entirely trust him. Now someone is committing a daring series of ingenious robberies and appears to be attempting to frame Washington. There’s a bit of coincidence facilitating the story, but it is clever and I didn’t correctly guess the identity of the mysterious gang leader. This is a variant of one of his Paul Temple novels and I liked it enough that I’m going to try one of those. 7/31/20

The Shop Window Murders by Vernon Loder, Collins, 2018 (originally published in 1930)

Two dead bodies are found in the window of a popular department store. One is the owner of the business, the other a woman with whom he seems to have been having a clandestine affair. The suspects include a fiancé unaware of an affair, a night watchman, the son of the dead man’s financial backer who suspects, correctly, that fraud was in the works, and some other less likely characters. This is an oddity in that there are two different killers, and both deaths were actually unintentional.  Quite well written and with an interesting puzzle. 7/28/20

The Manifestations of Sherlock Holmes by James Lovegrove, Titan, 2020  

Twelve short adventures of Holmes and Watson, about half of them traditional, the other half including some element of the fantastic. The only one I didn’t like involved Holmes drinking some of the serum developed by Dr. Jekyll. Generally speaking, I liked the traditional ones better than the fantastic adventures, although the crossover with the Cthulhu Mythos was fun. Lovegrove has written several Holmes novels, again split about evenly between traditional and fantastic, and I have enjoyed every one of them. Most of the stories included are reprints. 7/27/20

The Lady Is Transparent by Carter Brown, Signet, 1962 

This is a well above Al Wheeler mystery. It even includes a locked room. A man attempts to prove that a family curse is fake and locks himself in the cursed room. A few hours later there is a scream and when the door is broken open, he is found to have had his throat torn out. Suspects include his fiancé, her weird sister, the obsessed father, and an indolent hanger on. The mechanism for the murder is fairly easy to figure out, but the tone is more serious than usual and the identity of the killer is not obvious until relatively late in the story. 7/26/20

The Tapestry Room Murder by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1929  

Another awkwardly written though not awful mystery. Two women and a man are alone in a room when the lights go out for three minutes. The man has been stabbed to death. It is assumed that one of the two women was responsible, but their stories are contradictory and there are other clues suggesting the presence of a clockwork mechanism. There are multiple instances of unrequited love. There are a few internal contradictions, as usual, but they are generally not major plot points. Stone insists that no will exists even though two neighbors witnessed the dead man signing it and others have seen it, although they do not know its contents. A few pages later he believes in it, with no explanation for his changed of mind. There is a major cheat, however. The omniscient author tells us that one of the characters is a “kindly” man, but that turns out to be a lie. 7/26/20

Sleeping Dogs by Carolyn Wells, Collier, 1929  

A woman dies in her sleep of a poison that was administered earlier that day. The husband has a girlfriend and a motive but since his love is so pure and spiritual the detective decides that he must be innocent. There are about two chapters of treacle about how lofty their non-physical affair is, which was unprecedented in Wells’ novels, and so sugary that the pages are sticky. There are multiple errors in the solution. Part of it involves the killer reading a book which requires him to cut the pages. But he borrowed it from someone who had just read it, so the pages would already have been cut. The detective’s own direct observations turn out to be false. The poison used is not one that would be medically prescribed for corns, as is stated. Characters who were present when the poison was administered are not questioned by the police, nor do they come forward, even though they – and the dead woman’s secretary – all know who poisoned her. 7/23/20

The Dumdum Murder by Carter Brown, Signet, 1962 

Al Wheeler investigates when a stranger is found shot to death in the garage of a house occupied by a number of unusual performers – a contortionist, a sharp shooter, a stage magician, etc. A recently released convict who originally owned the house is very persistent in his demands to buy it back. The humor in this one is just too silly and makes up too much of the story. The mystery never really has a chance to get going. The dead man turns out to be an old friend of the convict. There’s a bundle of illicit loot stashed in the house, of course. 7/19/20

A Voice Like Velvet by Donald Henderson, Collins, 2018 (originally published in 1944 as The Announcer

This was my second and probably last attempt to enjoy this author. There is something about his prose style that just turns me off. This one is about a news announcer for the BBC who has an unusual hobby. He’s a very successful cat burglar. The author devotes a good deal of timeto developing his characters, which was the best part of the book for me. I didn’t find the plot particularly entertaining and I found myself putting the book down about every ten pages to websurf for a few minutes. Fortunately, it’s a short book. 7/19/20

Death of a Beauty Queen by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2015  (originally published in 1935) 

An unscrupulous beauty contest contestant is found stabbed in the throat.  The suspects include a rival she tricked into sabotaging her own chances, a man who claims to be engaged to her, another pair of suitors, the puritanical father of one of the latter, and the manager of the theater, whom she might have been blackmailing. There are perhaps a bit too many coincidences in this one – people just happening to mention relevant facts that seemed unimportant, others who are in the right place to witness something that provides a piece of the puzzle, a couple of lucky guesses by the police. There is a lengthy section after the solution is revealed in which the killer hides out from the police that should have been shortened or even eliminated as it really does not add anything to the story. 7/18/20

The Tannahill Tangle by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1928 

Two couples find themselves in love with each other’s spouses. Then one from each pair is found shot to death in the library of one house, and the corresponding lovers are the only other people in the locked library. Or are they? There is a secret passage in this one, but it actually has nothing to do with the crime. There are a couple of plot points that are never explained and which the author apparently forgot about. The police are colossally inept and the detective pulls the answers out of thin air. At one point he hears about a break in and immediately guesses the identity of the intruder, although she had nothing to do with any of the other characters and had never been mentioned before. 7/14/20

Death Comes to Cambers by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2015 (originally published in 1935)  

This is a very fine traditional detective story featuring Bobby Owen, who appeared in 35 books and progressed from constable to superintendent. He is visiting Lady Cambers to advise her about security for her jewels when she ventures out mysteriously one night and is strangled in a nearby field. The suspects include an egotistical young archaeologist whom she has been financing, an irate vicar who believes she is fomenting blasphemy, her estranged husband, a butler with a criminal past, a farmer angry about her campaign against trapping rabbits, a businessman down on his luck whose sister is seeing the estranged husband, a suspected burglar, and a couple of others. There is a secret marriage, an unreliable private detective, a short sighted police official, a mysterious maid, and other complications. Relatively long but very tightly written and thoroughly enjoyable. 7/12/20

The Crime in the Crypt by Carolyn Wells, Burt, 1928    

Although the murderer is obvious almost from the moment he appears, this was one of Wells’ best opening sequences. A tourist in England finds a dead body stuffed in a coffin the crypt of a cathedral. The killer is obvious almost from the start and there is a completely implausible impersonation, along with the usual flubs and internal contradictions. There is a little bit of cheating – withheld information – but she almost plays fair this time, although it was so obvious who the killer was and what he was doing that it seemed superfluous to provide clues. 

Deep Lake Mystery by Carolyn Wells, Doubleday, Doran, 1929  

A man is murdered with a nail in his head, so obviously the killer must have read an obscure collection of short stories that includes one such death. The detective is more interested in finding out who may have read the book than in following up actual clues. Wells also apparently thought that identical twins have identical fingerprints, which is not true. Yes, this is the twin who supposedly died in childhood but really survived and now wants revenge on those whom she thinks wrong her story. The usual internal contradictions and a few points where the reader pauses and says, huh, that doesn’t make any sense.

The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes edited by Sebastien Wolf, Citadel, 1991 

A collection of offbeat stories about Sherlock Holmes, all reprints, and extremely varied. There is a science fiction version by Poul Anderson, a spoof by Stephen Leacock, and odd and generally enjoyable takes by Philip Jose Farmer, P.G. Wodehouse, H,F. Heard, John Dickson sarr, and others. None of these really fit into the canon, of course, but they are generally fun. If nothing else they make a nice change of  pace. There has been a virtual tsunami of new Holmes fiction during the past few years. 7/7/20

The Bradmoor Murder by Meville Davisson Post, Sears, 1929 

This is a collection of seven mystery stories with a recurring Scotland Yard detective. The title story is a quite well constructed locked room mystery – a man shot in a room whose only opening is a slit window overlooking the ocean and entirely inaccessible. The others involve an old blackmail scheme come to light, a cryptic inscription, lost treasure, and similar plots. There is a good deal of adventure mixed in with the mystery, usually in exotic settings. There are occasional hints of the supernatural as well, but they are always ultimately rationalized. 

Where’s Emily? by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1927

This is an above average mystery from Wells, although her detective plucks the solution out of midair. At least there are fewer internal contradictions than usual. A woman disappears an hour before her wedding rehearsal, as does another woman who expected to participate in the wedding. The latter’s dead body turns up at the bottom of a ravine, but she has the former’s fur wrap with her. The police suspect a quarrel between the two and assume the missing woman has run away, but no one else believes that theory. Not entirely plausible, but Wells was never much interested in verisimilitude.

The Vanity Case by Carolyn Wells, Putnam, 1926 

Mildly atypical Wells mystery with a detective who never appeared in any of his other books. It is also unusual in that there are only two possible suspects. The police are amazingly inept – they don’t search the murder scene, don’t check for fingerprints, don’t notice that a window pane has been freshly replaced. Everyone in the house either lies or keeps secrets, for no discernible reasons, including two maids, the cook, the butler, and both house guests. The detective pulls the solution – a wildly implausible one – out of thin air. All of the male characters fall in love at first sight. Two different people discover the dead body and neither thinks they have the authority to raise the alarm. The corpse has been made up gaudily after death, but we never find out why. There is a good deal of snobbishness, criticism of young people, and distrust of the police. 7/1/20

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