Last Update 9/18/20

In the Tiger’s Cage by Carolyn Wells, Burt, 1934  

A woman is found dead in the cage of a tiger in her husband’s private zoo, but it turns out she was already dead when her body was pushed into the cage. A potentially good premise falls apart thanks to multiple factual errors. Tigers are not the smartest animals outside humans, and Wells made up other nonsense about their behavior. A stimulant cannot be found by killing a tiger a week later and doing an autopsy. There is a really stupid discussion of handwriting as a reflection of personality. And the story has both an unreliable narrator, but a lying omniscient author, and withheld information to boot. 9/18/20

The Broken Penny by Julian Symons, Carroll & Graf, 1988 (originally published in 1953)   

I was reminded of Eric Ambler in this one. A retired government agent is reactivated to help smuggle a popular resistance leader back into a communist dominated country. He is reluctant to get involved and his contact is killed even before they have their first meeting. And nothing is what it appears to be because powerful forces are moving behind the scenes, and the protagonist and the man he is sent to help are both just pawns in a much larger game. Quite unusual for Symons, but nicely done. 9/17/20

The Black Key by M. Scott Michel, Armchair, 2019

A psychiatrist is confronted by a distraught young woman who has just discovered a dead body. Unfortunately she is suffering from amnesia and has no idea what led up to the discovery. The psychiatrist decides to turn amateur detective, although he is clearly more than mildly incompetent. The only clues are in the young woman’s dreams and, obviously, there are people who wish to silence her and discourage any further investigation.  Moderately well written, but the protagonist is a bit of a jerk and the story lacks freshness.  9/15/20

The Master Murderer by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1933  

Wells apparently could not figure out a way for the detective to solve this crime so at the end, he announces who the murderer is and has him arrested, insisting he has proof, but in fact he does not even have any evidence. Four members of a family are murdered in the same house one night, which means that a large estate devolves upon a distant relative. They were all killed in different ways. The set up is pretty good, but the story is pretty bad after that. Wells insists that character can be determined from handwriting analysis – but then has the killer display exactly opposite traits. She does not understand what psychology is. There are multiple instances of really nasty snobbery about the “ill-bred” and people who use slang.  9/14/20

Eyes in the Wall by Carolyn Wells, Burt, 1934  

An art critic drops dead at a party. The autopsy finds poison, but he didn’t ingest it. So how was it delivered and who did it? Fleming Stone is on the trail and once again he pulls the solution more or less out of thin air, and not until two more murders have been committed. The motive is that one of the artists hires someone to do his paintings for him and the critic found out. The method involves a needle embedded in a chair cushion and it is laughingly implausible. One of the other murders is by electrocution, but Wells did not know how electricity worked so she gets things wrong. The dead woman has burns on the hand where she touched the electrified object – but two doctors who examined her, plus the autopsy physician, all failed to notice the burns. There is more nonsense about handwriting analysis and lots of withheld information. The title makes no sense as it refers to conversations HEARD through a wall, not seen. 9/14/20

The Body in the Dumb River by George Bellairs, Poisoned Press, 2020 (originally published in 1961) 

The dead body of a man who led two lives is found in a flooded river. The contents of his stomach prove that he was killed and his body transported. Could it be the jealous wife, the intolerant father-in-law, the disappearing chauffeur, or any of several disapproving relatives? Like most of the author’s books, this is very low key and it also has one of the most thoroughly despicable characters I’ve encountered in a long time. Some mild cheating is involved. Inspector Littlejohn almost falls into the solution rather than figuring it out. One of the characters gets drunk and spills the beans. 9/13/20

Bogue’s Fortune by Julian Symons, Carroll & Graf, 1984 (originally published in 1956) 

Symons was a very unpredictable author. He experimented with tone, subject matter, and narrative styles constantly. This one is a kind of spoof. The protagonist is an author who decides to take a post at a remote school for troublesome teens in order to gather background for a detective novel. Right from the outset, something is wrong. He is suspected of having a very different hidden agenda, and has no idea where these suspicions arise. Then one of the faculty members is murdered. This sounds like a serious mystery, but it’s not. The characters are largely deliberate caricatures and the situation is designedly implausible. I was not entertained.

The Velvet Vixen by Carter Brown, Signet, 1964 

Al Wheeler is called to examine the body of a beautiful woman who has been drugged, strangled to death, and then stabbed in the back half an hour later. His forensics are bad because the body is still bleeding when he arrives, and it would not have bled much at all given that the knife was driven into an already cooling corpse. Was it the disapproving stepfather, the jealous nurse, or the shady businessman? About average for the series.

The Clue of the Eyelash by Carolyn Wells, Triangle, 1933  

A typical Wells mystery. Several people are guests at the home of Wiley Vane when someone shoots him to death in his bedroom. Rumors of extramarital affairs and the existence of a substantial estate provide motives. The detective finds an artificial eyelash at the scene, and later a second one when the dead man’s stenographer is found stabbed to death. The characters are all quite repellent in this one. The murderer’s identity is telegraphed in the very first chapter. The method is not much of a puzzle and the red herrings are not remotely effective. The formula had long since worn thin by the time this was published, but it also feels as though even the author had grown weary. 9/9/20

Facets of Death by Michael Stanley, Poisoned Pen, 2020

I should not have liked this one at all based on its subject matter, the heist of a shipment of raw diamonds in Botswana. It is a prequel to the earlier Kubu novels, showing us his first case as a detective. Someone has damaged a runway, so the shipment must be made by land instead of air, and someone on the inside has coordinated with a gang of thieves to seize the jewels and smuggle them out of the country. They also have a fake witch doctor to help them coerce cooperation. It's a police procedural  and a very good one. Kubu is an interesting character, the hijacking plot is ingenious, and the detection is logical and believable. 9/8/20

Murder on Pleasant Avenue by Victoria Thompson, Berkley, 2020 

Our extended family of private investigators is looking into an apparent kidnapping when the missing woman mysteriously reappears, claiming to have escaped. But something connects her with a prominent crook and one of our heroes wants to press the matter further. When the crook turns up dead, the well intentioned meddler is the prime suspect. Since he's also Italian, the system is rigged against him. But the rest of our familiar crew rallies to find the real killer. I was a little bit disappointed in this one. Some of the characters seemed flat and it was more of a crime novel than a murder mystery. Still quite readable, but not up to the author's usual standards. And I was way ahead of the detectives. 9/7/20

Someone Wants You Dead by Robert Moore Williams, Armchair, 2019

Reprint of a rare mystery story by SF writer Williams. It’s a novella and pretty minor. A private detective finds a dying woman just as a killer escapes from prison. Her sister shows up carrying a mysterious metal box.  Two thugs admit openly that they killed the woman, but there are two other thugs who seem to be working for someone else. Not to mention the murderous escapee. Not to mention that one of the guests at the resort where this all takes place is also not what he appears to be. And then the phone lines are cut, the generator is sabotaged, and a flood cuts them off from the rest of the world. 9/6/20

The Hammer of Thor by Carter Brown, Signet, 1965 

The search for a missing husband catapults Al Wheeler into a murder mystery in the old dark house tradition, sort of, although Brown could never take things seriously enough to generate any real suspense. There are the usual sexy ladies, a small cast of hastily sketched in characters, and a rather mundane plot, though it reads reasonably well. This is the longest Wheeler adventure I’ve read. The others are so uniform that I wonder if he lost track of things and just kept writing. 9/4/20

Hold Your Breath, China by Qiu Xiaolong, Severn, 2020

The latest Inspector Chen police procedural finds him shunted out of important cases because he is insufficiently supportive of the communist government. Although there is a serial killer at large in Shanghai, Chen gets diverted into investigating an environmental group instead, although naturally the two cases converge later on. The details about life in China have been a major plus in this series, and that's true this time as well, but in this installment, there is too much concentration on background and not enough development of the plot. I kept waiting for things to get going and they never really did. 9/3/20

The Abandoned Room by Wadsworth Camp, Kessinger (originally published in 1917) 

This edition is so badly formatted that it was almost impossible to read it. The story involves a murder which takes place in a room that has a bad reputation, and the subsequent sometimes very melodramatic events that follow. It’s a very early mystery story and a bit awkward at times, and it feels even worse because of the odd block paragraphing. There are other editions, although not easy to find. The atmosphere is largely gothic although there is nothing overtly supernatural in the plot. 9/2/20

The Broken O by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1933  

In this slightly uncharacteristic mystery, Fleming Stone solves a mystery because criminals leave a space at the bottom of their O’s in handwriting, while those with a break at the top are generous. A newly wed man drops dead inexplicably and some months later so does a second victim. The autopsies failed to reveal puncture marks where radium was injected into their hearts. We actually don’t even know that it’s a murder until the final quarter of the book. Stone does not deduce anything. The radium is discovered by a doctor after an exhumation and the handwriting analysis is done by another expert, absurd as the concept is. Wells must have heard some nonsense about handwriting because this is the second book in a row that has referred to it.  8/31/20

The Dance of Death by Carter Brown, Signet, 1964  

A ballerina reports that an associate of hers has hanged himself from a tree, so Al Wheeler is sent to investigate. It’s murder, of course, which leads to the story of a dead man who might still be alive, an ex-wife who has brought a thug to the party, a ballet troupe, a couple of sexy women, and a blackmail scheme. There is some effort to introduce red herrings, but Brown was using a formula and the solution is rather obvious. Typical Al Wheeler story with less humorous byplay than usual. 8/31/20

The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda, Bitter Lemon, 2020 (translated from the 2005 Japanese edition) 

Someone delivers poisoned drinks to a party and kills seventeen people. There is only one survivor, and she is blind. Years later, a suicide note implicates the dead man, but it is not clear whether or not he was really responsible. I really wasn’t impressed with this one. We see everything from a distance. The murders are in the past as the story opens and most of the narration is by people not directly involved. It takes a long time before the main plot gets underway and it never gets either suspenseful or puzzling. 8/29/20

Fell Murder by E.C.R. Lorac, Poisoned Pen, 2020  (originally published in 1944) 

A quarrelsome farm family is thrown into crisis when the patriarch is murdered. He was a difficult man with a few enemies but none who seemed likely to resort to murder. Not only is this a pretty good mystery, but the author brings the family and the farmland of Lancashire to life so well that I had a constant visual sense of the story and felt almost as though I knew the characters. My first choice for the killer proved correct, but my second choice was a close thing as well. Lorac deserves to be much better known and it is a shame so many of her books are unavailable. This is one of those rare books where I was sorry to reach the end because I was having such a good time. 8/28/20

The Roll-Top Desk Mystery by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1932  

This is the infamous mystery novel in which a young woman is mysteriously killed. The killer is her prospective father-in-law, who discovered that she was an octaroon. When the detective learns this, he covers things up because murder under those circumstances is completely justified. The author’s snobbery is obvious in virtually all of her novels, but this is the most overtly racist. The plot is otherwise about average for Wells, with several characters we are supposed to like but who are actually awful people.

Back from the Grave by Walter S. Masterman, Ramble House, 2019 (originally published in 1940) 

Masterman was a mediocre writer of mystery thrillers, but this one is actually pretty good. A doctor and five mental patients live together quietly in a large house, puzzling the neighbors. There is also a young woman living there who has lost most of her memory and who escapes briefly to ask help from a retired Scotland Yard detective. Then the doctor is found murdered – in a locked room, of course – and the subsequent investigation reveals one surprise after another. Nothing is as it seems and almost nobody is whom they claim to be. As a mystery, it’s rather flat. There is no way to guess the killer’s identity. But as a creepy, old dark house thriller, it’s quite effective. 8/26/20

The Black Beadle by E.C.R. Lorac, Ramble House, 2013 (originally published in 1939)  

There is a good deal of anti-semitism in this one displayed by some of the characters as well as sympathetic comments about the plight of the Jewish population in Germany. It is not clear exactly where the author stands. A man in line for an influential political position has been targeted by groups who consider him insufficiently sympathetic to the German atrocities. Another man has been watching him hoping to find something worth blackmail payments. When the latter is killed by the former’s apparently stolen car, the number of possible explanations is pretty large. Politics complicate the investigation. I made a lucky guess on this one but the puzzle is so well contrived that I was never sure of it until the end. 8/25/20

Fuller’s Earth by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1932 

A man disappears in the middle of a party at his home. A thorough search of the grounds turns up no trace of him. Fleming Stone is belatedly called in and he looks into some large barrels that no one else has bothered to examine over the course of months. The victim’s body was dissolved completely – which actually is not possible under the conditions described – and it turns out that he was killed in self defense. His wife, whom he attacked, chose to hide the body rather than tell the truth, for no reason whatsoever. 8/23/20

Cut Throat by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1932) 

Although the solution to this one is rather technical – it involves alternate lengths of the pendulum on a grandfather’s clock – it is ingenious and many layered. Two men discover that a wealthy businessman has been killed and that they are likely suspects, so they arrange an automobile accident to disguise the truth. Another man with a grudge against the deceased, wishes to destroy the dead man’s reputation, so he moves the wreck and carries the body off to London in a hamper, where it is ultimately delivered to another businessman. The actual killer has what appears to be a perfect alibi, but it is achieved by tinkering with the clock to alter and then restore the correct time right under the eyes of a third party. His wife is his accomplice. Very nicely done. 8/22/20

Secret Agent X Volume 5, Altus, 2011  

Monarch of Murder by Paul Chadwick, 1935 

This one varied the pattern of the pulp series slightly by placing it aboard a liner at sea. A master criminal is coming to America armed with a new weapon that reduces its victims to smoking skeletons. They reach New York eventually and the agent uses his mastery of disguise to infiltrate the gang, whose leader actually turns out to be someone I didn’t suspect, for the first time in this series. 

Legion of the Living Dead by G.T. Fleming-Roberts, 1935 

Executed criminals appear to be returning from the dead to pull off daring robberies, ignoring being shot by the police. Actually, they are embalmed, lifeless corpses tied into place in a car that is robotically controlled and the living thieves are in another car that is not suspected of being involved. The agent figures this all out, unmasks the leader of the gang, and brings some subsidiary criminals to justice. 

Horde of the Damned by Paul Chadwick, 1935 

 This one has some SF elements as the chief villain has found a way to turn ordinary people into deformed dwarves and force them into a campaign of murder and kidnapping. The agent follow the usual formula of capture and escape, multiple disguises, and survives a visit to a booby trapped tower.  He suspects a local scientist, who is presumed dead when his laboratory burns down, but the agent knows he survived.

Ringmaster of Doom by G.T. Fleming-Roberts, 1935 

 Another criminal mastermind perverts science. This one has discovered how to use a rare disease to cause his prisoners/victims to revert to the physical form of Neanderthal men and then enslaves them to his will. He poses as an ancient Egyptian god, rather badly, and the agent is able to deal with him after the usual round of setbacks.

Kingdom of the Blue Corpses by Paul Chadwick, 1935

Someone is killing people and leaving their corpses bright blue. This time the villain is known as Blue Spark, and he appears to have some kind of lightning weapon, although it doesn't play much part in the story. There is even less plot than usual, with the agent having multiple run-ins with the police and wearing the usual variety of disguises. 8/21/20

The Skeleton at the Feast by Carolyn Wells, Doubleday, 1931 

This is one of her better mysteries. A man is murdered in a locked room after receiving a parcel that contains a human skeleton. Unfortunately she gives away the identity of the killer too soon. There are a few puzzling errors. One character refers to her sister-in-law as her niece at one point and for some reason she thought powder burns could be eliminated by standing close to the victim rather than far away. This was Kenneth Carlisle’s third and last case. He was less of a snob than Fleming Stone, the author's primary detective, and less competent as well.  8/18/20

The Umbrella Murder by Carolyn Wells, Burt, 1931 

A rich young woman is stabbed while sitting under a beach umbrella with several of her friends. The diamond necklace she was taking to be repaired is also missing. Fleming Stone happens to be present and is on the case. This is undoubtedly one of the worst detective novels ever published. On at least three occasions, Stone correctly finds the entrance to a secret passage, locates a hidden treasure, and decides who the murderer is without the faintest clue about anything. Characters withhold information for no good reason. Several red herrings have completely implausible explanations. The killer has the foresight to bribe someone even before she commits the murder, even though the individual is only brought into the investigation by chance. There is a disappearance and false identity that are completely unexplained and unbelievable. Minor characters conceal physical evidence for no reason.  8/18/20

The Name of the Game Is Kidnapping by Keigo Higashino, Vertical, 2017 (Translated from the 2002 Japanese edition) 

A disgruntled businessman teams up with the daughter of a very rich man to fake a kidnapping and defraud the father. What follows is mostly a clever caper style novel as the two take elaborate precautions in order not to be found out. But then things get really strange when the male half of the team discovers that not only are the rules of the game somewhat different from what he believed, but he may be a playing piece rather than a player. I have thoroughly enjoyed every book I’ve read by this author. 8/17/20

Learning Curve by Catherine Aird, Alison & Busby, 2016

A dying man's last words are to say that a murder has been committed. The police have little hope of finding anything concrete, but learn that he was associated with three deaths - an apparent industrial accident, a car crash, and the death of a spelunker in a cave-in. It was a bit too obvious that the last was a murder, but I also wondered if one or both of the others would turn out to be crimes as well, given that there was some mystery in both cases. Aird's detectives are deceptively low key - the assistant is rather obviously incompetent - but they always solve the crime. This was about average for the author. 8/16/20

The Last Mrs. Summers by Rhys Bowen, Berkley, 2020 

The latest in the Spyness is the first following Lady Georgianna’s marriage. Her husband is away on a government mission, so she accompanies an old friend to investigate some coastal property she has inherited. They soon learn of the accidental death of a young and wealthy woman, which some say was no accident, and the widower’s remarriage to a cook’s daughter, who tells her visitors that her husband is trying to kill her. But he is the one who ends up dead, naked, stabbed to death, and in the bed of one of her visitors, who is naturally accused of the crime. It gets solved, of course, but Lady G. really doesn’t do much of the investigating and there are some astounding coincidences sprinkled throughout. I guessed the killer about three pages after the murderer first appeared. The weakest in the series by a long shot. 8/15/20

The Measure of Malice edited by Martin Edwards, Poisoned Press, 2020 

This is a collection of mystery stories with a common theme of scientific processes to solve the crime. Many were written in the early days of forensics and were probably even more interesting at the time.  The contributors include many well known genre writers including, Edmund Crispin, John Rhode, R. Austin Freeman, and Dorothy Sayers. A remarkably high-quality collection, and most of them stories I had not read before. This series of anthologies Edwards has assembled in recent years has been remarkably consistent and I look forward to more. 8/14/20

The Crook of Marsden Manor by G.H. Teed, Stillwater, 2019 (originally published in 1930) 

Sexton Blake battles one of his recurring villains, a Moriarty style mastermind named George Marsden Plummer. A bicycle factory that is producing high quality products it is selling below cost connects to a series of daring crimes all over Europe. Tinker, Blake's assistant, gets captured by the villains for a while. Apparently that happened quite frequently in the series. The solution is that the stolen goods - gems, gold, etc - are being moved around inside the hollow bicycles. This was pretty evident from the outset in this not very engaging but quite short novel.  8/13/20

Horror House by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1931   

A man who reports receiving threatening letters hires detective Fleming Stone to help. Almost immediately his wife is murdered – apparently mistaken for him – and three more murders of family members follow. Wells telegraphs the identity of the killer – who is actually the man who hired Stone. Stone is pretty bad at his job, since it takes four murders before he can figure out who is responsible. Wells throws in a few goofs as well – she confuses two characters on one occasion, and she describes an Oedipus Complex as a young woman’s fascination with her father. A little above average for Wells, but not by much. 8/12/20

The Clue of the Four Wigs by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2018 (originally published in 1925) 

Sexton Blake investigates an unlikely murder in this very racist mystery/adventure. A woman is shot to death in her humble home, but is found to own a set of very expensive wigs. Obviously she has been leading a double life. Blake’s investigation leads him to a gang of Chinese dope peddlers, a Frenchman whose connections are dubious, and a mysterious house supposedly used for legal gambling. Gunfights, mechanical traps, and general mayhem abound. Blake is a master of disguise, has an encyclopedia of knowledge about the underworld, and is high respected by the police.  8/11/20

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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