Last Update 8/12/22

The Forbidden House by Michael Herbert and Eugene Wyl, Locked Room International, 2021 (French edition 1932) 

This is one of the best titles this publisher has discovered. A rich retiree buys a mansion. Previous owners have been frightened away by threatening letters and one has been murdered. The current man refuses to be frightened and arranges a reception for the villain. Several people see him approach the house. No one sees him leave. The owner is shot to death in his library. Everyone else in the house has an apparent alibi. There is only one door, the windows are shuttered, but there are no strangers in the house. Several of the servants have motives but no one can be arrested until the puzzle is solved. Very nice solution, which I never guessed at all, although I did figure out who the killer must be.  8/12/22

Advantage Miss Seeton by Hampton Charles, Berkley, 1990  

An ex-convict wants revenge against the judge who sentenced him and plans to do so through a series of threats to the judge’s daughter, a rising tennis star. Miss Seeton and her quasi-clairvoyant skills are soon deeply involved and a series of comic encounters ensue, as she stumbles into a burglary, precipitates a battle at an opera, and then intercedes on behalf of the villain, whose intentions are somehow deemed justifiable in a rather morally compromised climax. Assault, kidnapping, and poisoning do not seem to me the kinds of crimes that can be shrugged off as emotional excesses. 8/12/22

Diabolic Candelabra by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1942) 

There are a lot of unpleasant and uncooperative characters in this complex story, which involves long missing paintings from a local abbey, a secret formula for chocolate sweets that is potentially valuable, a hermit who provides effective herbal cures to the patients of unhappy local doctors, a young girl who is more at home in the woods than in a house, two separate young men who have secret business with the hermit, and the missing owner of a candy store. All the threads are drawn together for an uncharacteristically melodramatic final confrontation in a quarry but this scene is so artlessly contrived that it feels bogus. 8/9/22

Penelope’s Web by Paul Halter, Locked Room International, 2021 (French edition 2012) 

Some slight new twists on old mystery novel tropes. A scientist is declared dead on the Amazon. His presumed widow is about to remarry when he returns. Or does he? His traveling companion was his exact double and the two men were together for two years before one of them died. There are contradictions in some paperwork as well. Then the man is murdered in a locked room. Not up to Halter’s usual quality. I thought the killer was rather obvious, although her identity is disguised by a subterfuge that as not at all convincing. An unbroke spider web is one of the most important clues. 8/9/22

The Master Detective by Percy James Brebner, Clue, 1926 

This is presented as a novel, but each chapter is a separate short story, although characters sometimes make appearances in subsequent stories. Most are traditional puzzle stories in the Sherlock Holmes vein. None of them are outstanding. About half are quite good. The others are often spoiled by blatant cheating, or by deus ex machina solutions the detective either snatches out of the air or that result from a random event at the climax. In one the detective and his Watson equivalent are taken captive by the mad guy in their mansion, but one of the maids turns out to be feisty and inquisitive and rescues them with guns blazing. 8/9/22

Through the Walls by Noel Vindry, Locked Room International, 2021 (French version 1937)

Sparse prose makes this vintage French mystery novel move quickly. A desperate man tells the police that someone has been making clandestine night time visits to his house despite locks and shutters. Before the solution is reached, two people are murdered and two others are physically attacked. It all seems impossible, but the explanation is that there are three different assailants and three outright liars and very little is actually what it appears to be. Vindry was the French equivalent of John Dickson Carr and his explanations are just as complicated as are those of Carr. 8/7/22

December Park by Ronald Malfi, Open Road, 2014

This feels very much like a non-supernatural Stephen King novel. A group of young boys - outcasts of a sort - track down a serial killer known as the Piper who has been killing children. Their attempts are pretty much what you would expect, but they become tedious after a while. The book is far too long for its story - the subplot about the bullies is totally unnecessary and almost totally unconvincing. This is the first book by Malfi that I have not enjoyed. Events are so isolated from each other that it never generates any suspense. 8/5/22

Due to a Death by Mary Kelly, British Library, 2021 (originally published in 1962) 

I have seen more than one mention of this author’s superior prose, but I don’t see it. I had to read the first two chapters twice – and I still didn’t have any real idea what the story was about or what was going on – and the prose struck me as competent but unremarkable. The story is more suspense than mystery, particularly since I figured out who the bad guy was as soon as I figured out what the plot was about. This is the second book by Kelly that has failed to impress me. 8/4/22

The Dark Garden by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1941) 

Bobby Owen presides over a simmering pot of resentment. A lawyer has alienated one of his clients, made love to an employee, outraged morals, enraged a rival lover, and threatened to derail another man’s career. Naturally he disappears and naturally his body turns up later, shot and thrown into a canal. His lover is determined, unwisely, to investigate on her own. There is also a missing pistol, an inhibited business partner, and a henpecked bully to contend with. Guessed the killer but it was fun. 8/4/22

Murder in the Basement by Anthony Berkeley, British Library, 2022 (originally published in 1932) 

A newly moved in tenant uncovers a body buried in the basement. The woman cannot be identified for quite some time but tedious work eventually traces her to a private school where she worked as a secretary. The obvious suspect is the man who is believed to have been having an affair with her even though he is courting the daughter of the owner of the school. His weapon was used to kill her, he lacks an adequate alibi, and he refuses to cooperate with the police. An amateur detective decides to find firm evidence against him and eventually discovers that he is completely innocent. This is one of those mysteries where the villain is allowed to get away with it because the victim was a blackmailer, which I always find problematic. It is nicely unraveled, however, and I’ll be reading more of Berkeley. 8/1/22

With a Mind to Kill by Anthony Horowitz, Harper, 2022 

James Bond is back in this story set right after The Man with The Golden Gun. The Russians still think he is brainwashed, so a fake assassination of M by Bond is staged so that he can be “rescued” by the Russians and learn about the plans of a new agency designed to replace SMERSH. They make an attempt to refresh his brainwashing, but Bond is prepared this time. Eventually he achieves his goals, although not exactly as he had intended. This was a quite pleasant read overall, although I found the first third rather heavy going because of the sadism and background building. It was not nearly as good as Horowitz’s previous Bond adventure, but that was the second best Bond pastiche I ever read, so it had quite a challenge before it. 7/30/22

The Devil’s Due by Bonnie Macbird, Collier, 2019 

Sherlock Holmes labors under some difficulties.  A muckraking reporter has decided to suggest that Holmes is a mentally disturbed criminal mastermind. The new head of Scotland Yard has decreed that no amateurs will be allowed to involve themselves in detection. Mycroft Holmes is unable or unwilling to intervene. And someone has been committing murders in a strange pattern marked with tarot cards. Holmes takes a lot of abuse this time. He is cut and bruised in a fight with thugs, his arm is broken by the villainous police official, and he is badly burned rescuing someone from a burning building. Although enjoyable, this third adventure by Macbird has some problems. The two chief villains are both so obvious that there is little actual mystery involved. Holmes seems surprisingly inept, and Mycroft oddly lacking in power. 7/28/22

The Case of the Hanging Rope by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1937) 

A famous aviator is murdered on her wedding night, although she was actually involved in an elaborate sham to embarrass her new husband. There are lots of clues – missing rabbits, newly planted flowers, a dog no one has seen, etc – along with solid alibis for all concerned. The motive for the murder is not convincing, but otherwise the mystery is well constructed. There is not enough evidence for an actual arrest, but Travers sufficiently frightens the killer that he commits suicide, convinced that he is doomed to hang anyway. The protagonist adopted a child in the previous book, but she is not mentioned at all in this one. 7/27/22

The Wintringham Mystery by Anthony Berkeley, Collins, 2021 (originally published in 1927)

A bored house party experiments with an occult spell and one of their number promptly disappears. There is a secret room, but she's not there either. Eventually a ransom note arrives, but no one can figure out how the abduction was accomplished. (The eventual explanation is not remotely convincing and depends on facts concealed from the reader, plus a lot of coincidence.) One of the guests is on the brink of financial ruin. Another is secretly an ex-convict who changed his name. There is a semi-forced engagement, a vamp, another secret passage, a jewel theft, and eventually the murder of the butler. Or was it murder? Nicely done overall, but with some very rough spots sprinkled throughout the narrative. 7/25/22

Sleeping Beauty by Ross Macdonald, Knopf, 1973 

The penultimate Archer novel begins with an oil spill. Archer gets caught up with the estranged daughter of an oil family who may be suicidal, may have been abducted, or may be faking her own kidnapping. An old boyfriend has turned up again and he has a largely justified grudge against the family. This is mixed with the relations among various men who served together in the WW2 navy, one of whom was badly injured and has for many years been virtually comatose. New murders arise in an obvious effort to prevent the truth about an old murder from being revealed. This was another novel in which the identity of the murderer is very well concealed. 7/22/22

The Blue Hammer by Ross Macdonald, Knopf, 1976 

This was the last of the Lew Archer mysteries. Archer is hired to find a painting by a long missing artist that has been stolen from an old admirer. Almost immediately, Archer finds the dealer who sold it, but unfortunately the man is dying and says little before his death. He was obviously murdered. The man from whom he bought the painting has also recently died, supposedly accidentally drowned.  The investigation takes a number of twists and turns. It was a pretty good end to Archer's career. 7/22/22

The Archer Files by Ross Macdonald, Vintage, 2007 

This is a collection of all of the Lew Archer short stories. Three of them originally had different names for the private eye protagonist, but they are all so clearly the same person that the change of names for this edition was predictable. The cases involve a mysterious drowning, a stolen painting, a missing woman, and other themes sometimes used in the novels. I had the feeling that Macdonald was not really at ease writing at shorter lengths. He liked convoluted plots with side issue. 7/22/22

The Underground Man by Ross Macdonald, Bantam, 1971

Most of the author’s usual tropes are present here – dysfunctional families, concealed identities, missing people who may have been abducted. Archer initially agrees to help a new neighbor find her son, who went off with her estranged husband. Neither can be found although there are rumors that the boy was seen with the husband’s new girlfriend. This leads to revelations about an old crime, buried bodies, a mentally challenged man who has been coerced into helping conceal a murder, and other complications. The identity of the killer is pretty well concealed until very late in the story, always a plus. One of his better books. 7/19/22

The Double Thirteen Mystery by Anthony Wynne, Spitfire, 2022 (originally published in 1926)

I disliked this vintage murder mystery right from the start. The hero is in love with a Russian refugee who is clearly involved in something sinister, though obviously she is being coerced. People come and go clandestinely in the darkness. Murder is committed. The protagonist is unaccountably resistant to the idea of aiding the authorities. No one presses the people who have pertinent information in order to clear things up. The melodrama is so thick it drips from the pages. The resolution is unsurprising and banal. Wynne has written some interesting novels, but this is not one of them. 7/19/22

Murder After Christmas by Roland Latimer, British Library, 2021 (originally published in 1944) 

A delightful and whimsical mystery. A dotty relative comes to stay for Christmas and turmoil ensues. His dead body is found in the snow the day after Christmas, but the chief beneficiary of his will died on Christmas day, so motives and timing confuse matters, as well as a well intended but invalid codicil. And when was the poison administered, and how? Someone is deliberately trying to cause chaos, but it is not the killer. What about the hidden food, revelations of bigamy, missing notes, the sinister snowman, the suspicious servant, and the nearsighted secretary? Apparently the author died young, and only wrote one other mystery novel. I am continually impressed by the high quality of these reprints of books that have been out of print for more than half a century. 7/16/22

Reign of the Silver Terror by Norvell Page, 1934

Builders of the Black Empire by Norvell Page, 1934 

Two Spider novels. The first is pretty standard. The Silver Assassins are a secretive group that is employing murder and intimidation in an effort to effectively seize control of Congress. The Spider foils their plans, while avoiding being captured as a vigilante. Routine thrills on the ground and in the air. The second is rather more interesting. Latter day pirates with aircraft and ships are marauding, particularly in the Caribbean. The Spider blows up their latest target, which deprives them of the loot and kills a substantial number of their men. He is taken prisoner and questioned but naturally he escapes. Eventually he returns to civilization and ultimately discovers and neutralizes the powerful men who are actually behind the gang of pirates. Somewhat above average. 7/16/22

Master of Lies by Philip Purser-Hallard, Titan, 2022

This is an excellent Sherlock Holmes pastiche which is going to be hard to review because of the way it is constructed. I don't want to give too much away. Holmes is to investigate the apparent suicide - it's murder - of a disgraced government official who might have revealed secrets to a foreign power. This leads him to a series of superb forgeries including a copy of a supposedly lost Shakespearean play. Readers might be troubled because Holmes is portrayed in a rather atypical way and some events seem oddly paradoxical. Read on! All of this is eventually explained very cleverly. Recommended. 7/14/22

The Goodbye Look by Ross Macdonald, Bantam, 1969 

An investigation into a mysterious burglary involves Archer with another set of dysfunctional families. A young man’s behavior patterns have changed dramatically since he met an older woman, although they do not appear to be romantically involved. The murder of an amateur detective was accomplished with the same gun that killed a fugitive embezzler fifteen years earlier. There are various interconnections among the families involved, some of whom refuse to reveal secrets and others of whom do not consistently act rationally. Macdonald used the same plot devices repeatedly so I anticipated a lot of the surprises this time, including the child not fathered by his nominal father, people changing their names so that two characters are actually the same person, a decade old death that is related to the present difficulties, the mentally unstable young person, dysfunctional families, etc. 7/14/22

Sexton Blake’s Blunder by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2021 (originally published in 1922) 

A short but exciting entry in the series. A lot happens as Blake takes on a new client, makes a potentially disastrous mistake, and mysteriously disappears for a while, much to the consternation of his friends. There is a missing formula and other complications. Huxton Rymer makes his second appearance in the roll of villain, and he returned in a good many additional adventures. Teed had a tendency to repeat himself a lot so his stories are best read with gaps of time between them. Rymer is only one of several arch enemies he created for Blake, and like the others, he has some redeeming qualities.7/10/22

The Instant Enemy by Ross Macdonald, Bantam, 1968 

A very depressing Lew Archer mystery. Two teenagers steal a shotgun and kidnap a rich businessman. Archer manages to track them down but only captures the girl. There are convoluted family connections – so convoluted I had to draw a diagram to keep it all straight. There is an old unsolved murder connected to two new ones, and a rogue retired cop who is apparently determined to blackmail someone. This one has a real surprise in the final three pages as we learn that one of the main characters is actually long dead, replaced by his half-brother – whom we believed was long dead. Lots of miserable and sad people, and not a happy ending for anyone at all. 7/10/22

Prince of the Red Looters by Norvell Page, 1934 

The Spider gets an almost worthy foe in this installment in the series. The Fly is a master criminal, but a fledgling one. He also has a sense of honor so he does not eliminate his enemy when he has the chance. They contend for a while in some rather unexciting encounters. The Spider had been a superior series for a while but was already starting to drift toward the standard formulaic plots of the Shadow, Secret Agent X, and Operator 5. Despite some bright spots, this was not one of his better outings. 7/7/22

Black Money by Ross Macdonald, Bantam, 1966 

Archer is hired to investigate the background of a supposed political refugee who steals the fiancé of his client. The man is prone to violence and very careful about his privacy. He also has a large chunk of cash, which Archer is pretty sure was embezzled from some criminal operation. He also figures out that an earlier death believed to be suicide was actually murder, and it is linked to the two new murders that take place in the novel. I thought Macdonald cheated this time. The killer is a minor character who was having an affair with the female lead, something never even hinted at earlier, and his motivation seems inadequate. 7/6/22

The Case of the Missing Minutes by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1937) 

Ludovic Travers is asked to look into strange goings on at a house occupied by an odd old man and his granddaughter. There are screams and other unusual sounds, the servants are not allowed to talk to the child, and a famous pianist seems unduly interested. Then the old man is stabbed to death but everyone seems to have a solid alibi. There is some trickery with a clock, an old standby, and a subplot involving an assault on a doctor and a stolen rowboat. Naturally they are all interrelated. A bit disappointing because the elaborate construction of the alibi should have been completely unnecessary. The murder would not have been discovered for hours in the ordinary course of things, but Travers decided to visit at just the wrong time. There is, however, no reason why the killer would have anticipated such a stroke of bad luck. 7/4/22

Miss Seeton, by Appointment by Hampton Charles, Berkley, 1990 

The first new adventure following the death of the series creator, Heron Carvic. Charles also writes a detective series set in Japan which I have not yet sampled, as James Melville. A major photoshoot for a fashion event is going to take place in Miss Seeton’s village, and the congregation of valuable jewelry attacks the attention of a gentleman thief. He in turn keeps running into Miss Seeton, which seals his fate. The comedy is not quite as sharp as it was with Carvic writing, but it is close enough that readers are unlikely to be particularly disappointed in the choice of an author to carry it on. Unfortunately, only two more appeared under this byline. 7/3/22 

Revenge from the Grave by David Stuart Davies, Titan, 2021  

Someone is masquerading as James Moriarty, whom Sherlock Holmes is quite sure has perished. He concludes that it is a mysterious woman who ran a large gang in France for some years and who has recently moved across the Channel. It’s a ploy to distract him so that she can bring off a major coup, but he disguises himself and joins her gang, posing as a small time criminal, in order to discover what the real target is. Although I’ve liked the author’s previous pastiches, this was seemed repetitive, slow moving, and overly familiar. It is more of an adventure story than a mystery, and Watson is actually a very minor characters. Disappointing. 7/2/22

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