Last Update 12/31/15

Cheap Shot by Ace Atkins, Putnam, 2014 

When a football player’s young son is kidnapped, Spenser and friends are hired to help him out. As usual, they run into resistance from the FBI, who have seized jurisdiction, but fortunately their client doesn’t like the agent in charge. They track down a variety of leads including the player’s new wife’s ex-boyfriend and three men falsely claiming to be the kidnappers before discovering who really has the boy.  Feels like a Parker, but it’s a fairly tame plot. 12/31/15

The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake by Terry Shames, 7th Street, 2016, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-120-4

Since this series is written in present tense, which I dislike intensely, the fact that I have continued to follow it is testimony to its quality. Nonie Blake has been released from the mental institution where she has lived for two decades, but the people in her home town are not inclined to welcome her back, and before long she is found murdered. Nonie was committed after she attempted to kill her sister, and that makes the local police chief suspect that someone in the family is the killer. On a whim, he contacts the institution, only to discover that she was released ten years earlier despite what she claimed, and no one knows where she has been during the interim. But he's going to discover something even more startling before he's done because the dead woman is not whom she is presumed to be. A nice puzzle in this one. 12/30/15

Knight’s Cross by Christine Kling, Thomas & Mercer, 2015, $15.95, ISBN 978-1503944633  

Third in the Shipwreck series, in which a man and a woman find historic wrecks while bad guys threaten their lives. This one opens with Cole Thatcher apparently becoming paranoid about someone following them, although the discovery of a bomb on their boat changes things. Not only are they battling an ancient order of knights who want to find a long lost treasure but there is also an old enemy from the first book, presumed dead but now revealed to be alive and vengeful. There is plenty of tension and action as things progress with multiple parties with conflicting sets of priorities. Thatcher’s paranoia turns out to be real, of course, and it is only through luck and ingenuity that our two heroes survive. This is an above average blend of action and mystery and probably the best in this series to date. 12/28/15

The Footprints of Satan by Norman Berrow, Ramble House, 2005 (originally published in 1950) 

This is a marvelous mystery and I’m surprised it’s not well known. A small English town wakes up one morning after a heavy snowfall to find the prints of a small biped with cloven hooves trailing through the town. When buildings, hedges, or walls are in its way, the footprints move to the top as though it had flown upward. The footprints start in the middle of nowhere and end at a tree where a supposed witch was hanged generations earlier. A dead man is hanging from it now. The chief protagonist is a recently widowed man visiting his alcoholic uncle. The uncle has, when drunk, repeatedly reported seeing a blue woman, which is also associated with the legend of the witch.  There is a very clever solution to the mystery – which follows a second murder – and I was completely mystified until just before the detective explains how it was all done. I’ll be reading more by Berrow in the near future. 12/27/15

A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry D. Sweazy, 7th Street, 2016, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-084-9

This entertaining mystery is set in Depression era Texas. The protagonist is a former law officer who was forced to retire after getting into a shootout with Bonnie and Clyde, as a result of which he lost an arm. While trying to reorganize his life, he is asked by a friend to try to track down the friend's missing daughter, who is known to be friends with two brothers who have been involved in several recent crimes. But there's an even more frightening possibility, because there is a serial killer in town, one who leaves the bodies of his victims in open fields for the crows to eat. This is the second novel I've read by Sweazy and I liked them both even though they are quite different. He has a talent for bringing unfamiliar settings to life and his characters are distinct and believable. Worth checking out. 12/26/15

White Knuckle by Eric Red, Samhain, 2015, $14, ISBN 978-1-61922-978-5

The title is the handle of a trucker who has a secret compartment in his rig where he keeps women he has kidnapped until he is ready to kill them. An FBI agent begins to investigate when similarities arise between two bodies widely dispersed in space and time – and the forensics invoked here are beyond dubious. She goes undercover as a truck driver in order to try to attract the attention of the killer, but given that his route covers most of the entire country, the chance that they will intersect is minuscule. But of course it happens. And of course she eventually kills him. Minor, and not thought through. 12/24/15

Triple Detective, Altus, 2009

The Black Bat’s War by G. Wayman Jones

The Eyes of Satan by Robert Wallace

Dark Streets of Doom by Tom Johnson 

This is a rather disappointing set of three pastiches of pulp hero stories, the first two of which use familiar pseudonyms without revealing who actually wrote them. The first features the Black Bat, a blind crime fighter who has to find out who is sending ineffective drugs to the war effort in Europe. The second features the Phantom Detective, never one of my favorites, as he battles an attempt to unite a bunch of criminal organizations into one giant empire. Finally there is a Masked Avenger story, another Shadow clone, who gets involved with stopping the systematic abduction of orphaned children. All three are bland despite their melodramatic plots. 12/22/15

My Touch Brings Death by Russell Gray, Dancing Tuatara, 2014 

A collection of pulp era mystery stories by Bruno Fischer, under another name. These were weird menace stories, usually suggesting the supernatural only to have a rational if rather unlikely explanation at the end. In “She Devil of the Sea,” for example, treasure hunters exploring a sunken ship are temporarily scared off by people posing as animated corpses. Similarly, there is a faked vengeful ghost in “A Corpse Wields the Lash.” “White Flesh Must Rot” has no fake supernatural, just a man exacting horrible revenge on three women. The title story is about a woman fooled into believing that she can kill with a touch. A woman avenges the murder of another in “I Said Yes to Satan” and more fake revenants in “The Singing Corpses.” “The House That Horror Built” features a cult that is into human sacrifice and “Darlings of the Black Master” involves a man masquerading as a demon. There’s an insane killer in “The Devil Is Our Landlord” and a rationalized curse in “Valley of the Red Death.” None of the stories are actively bad, but they are so formulaic that they become boring when red in succession. 12/21/15

The House Without the Door by Elizabeth Daly, 1942 

Gamadge is hired by a woman recently acquitted of murder who believes someone is trying to kill her. He investigates but, unknown to the reader, he is convinced from the outset that the woman is actually guilty of the murder and is trying to create a scapegoat so that she is absolutely cleared of any guilt and can return to society. There’s another murder and a very implausible explanation of what is going on that cheats the reader unmercifully because of unreliable assertions made by the protagonist and withheld information. Not one of her better efforts. 12/20/15

Greenmask by Jefferson Farjeon, Dell, 1944 

The initial set up of this one resembles that of Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers. The protagonist is hiking across part of Wales when he encounters an inn that seems peculiarly unwilling to accept his business. When circumstances force them to accommodate them, he discovers that everyone there except himself appears to be acting in some mysterious conspiracy. One of the guests is never seen and is supposedly very ill. Although he had planned to move on in the morning, he becomes stubborn when he realizes that he is being manipulated. There is also a ghost and a lost treasure. The resolution is predictable but it doesn’t matter; the story is fascinating. This was a good enough mystery that I looked for more by the author, who was reasonably prolific and was a favorite of Dorothy Sayers. Unfortunately, only two books appear to be in print and used copies of his others are not readily available. 12/19/15

Murders in Volume 2 by Elizabeth Daly, 1941 

There is a very ingenious opening to this one. An elderly man living in a house where a woman mysteriously disappeared in a garden a century earlier is convinced that she has returned. One member of the family hires Gamadge to expose this obvious fraud, but he is soon convinced that other members of the family are behind it, with the supposedly benevolent purpose of diverting the older man’s attention from a pair of occultist frauds. One deception leads to another and finally to a pair of murders. The solution is rather routine and low key, which doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the early chapters. 12/18/15

Triple Detective, Altus, 2007  1356

The Lady of Death by Stewart Sterling

The Happiest Hour Murders by Robert Wallace

The Stolen Formula by Elia Back and Tom Johnson 

Another collection of three pulp hero pastiches, this time the Black Bat, the Phantom Detective, and Secret Agent X. The first was written when the pulp was dying and the Black Bat makes little more than a cameo. The second – actually written by Norman Daniels – was rejected and published with some name changes. This edition restores the original character names. The third is a pastiche of the futuristic spy series originally written in Greek. Sterling provides a rather conventional and not particularly interesting murder mystery. Daniels provides a pretty good Phantom Detective story, pitting him against a clever killer. The final story is a rather tame spy story about an agent trying to steal the secret of the atomic bomb.

Wonderland by Ace Atkins, Putnam, 2013 

A Spenser novel, this time without Hawk. Spenser is training his apprentice, Z, when an old friend asks him to look into thugs trying to pressure elderly residents into selling their condominiums. It’s not long before he’s involved with two competing efforts to build casinos in the Boston area, and the predictable resistance by organized criminals who don’t want the competition. Atkins has the Parker style and story selection down pretty well, although I don’t think this was as good as his first attempt, Lullaby. And it was a shade too obvious that the bodyguard was too good to be true. 12/16/15

The Lord of Misrule by Paul Halter, Locked Room International, 2006 

First English printing of the 1994 French murder mystery, set in 1890s London.  The narrator is asked to pose as the fiancé of an older woman so that he can observe a house party involving the woman’s brother and his much younger fiancé.  There’s an interesting goof, probably a translation error, in which shop windows are “each more tempting than the next”, which should have been “each more tempting than the last.”  There is also a family curse involving a man in a white mask who returns each Christmas to kill a member of the family, and who is believed responsible for an impossible crime – no footprints in the snow – only a year earlier.  Then another man is stabbed to death in the middle of a snow covered field, almost in front of the narrator, and once again there are no footprints. There are some nice surprises at the end, including a false solution that is likely to put the reader offguard for the final chapters. 12/15/15

Deadly Nightshade by Elizabeth Daly, 1940

Daly corrected a number of problems from her first mystery in this, the second Henry Gamadge mystery. Three children have been mysteriously poisoned and one has disappeared. Does this have anything to do with a missing legacy, or is it just a random nutcase? Gamadge is called in by the detective in charge and soon figures out what happened, but he can’t tell anyone because he lacks evidence. And is the accidental death of a policeman really an accident after all? There are some structural problems with this one, but it’s actually quite entertaining and there is a clever device in the solution. 12/14/15

A Chain of Evidence by Carolyn Wells, 1907   

This very early murder mystery is a locked room variation. The victim is an unpleasant man who was stabbed to death in his bed. The apartment was locked, the windows secure, and a chain on the door until morning, when the body is discovered. Only his niece and the maid – both of whom are obviously innocent plotwise – were inside the apartment at the time of his death, or so it appears. The authorities naturally suspects the niece, who stands to inherit half of a considerable estate, the balance going to her cousin, who no longer lives at that location although he did until recently and has a key. There is a shady lawyer and a mysterious enemy from the past whose initials are known but not his name. The resolution is rather flawed – I could think of a couple of other obvious scenarios to explain the crime that none of the characters including detective Fleming Stone even consider. Stone first appears on page 273 of a 323 page novel.  The usual Wells clumsiness but one of her better puzzles. 12/12/15

Dead Man’s Float by Amber Dean, Novel, 1944 

The setting is a small vacation community near a lake. A new couple has come this year and the wife sets out to steal the husbands of others, so it’s not much of a surprise when her body is found in the lake. The protagonist is one of three sisters who share a house nearby. There is no real detective and this is as much romantic suspense as murder mystery, but it’s not a particularly good example of either. The prose is okay but uninspired and the story plods along with a host of characters who never really come to life, and a solution that is obvious way too early. 12/11/15

Blackpool Highflyer by Andrew Martin, Faber, 2005 

An excursion train comes to an emergency stop when someone places a millstone on the tracks ahead of it. Our hero, Jim Stringer, is trying to help a badly bruised passenger but he is unaware that she has a concussion and she dies. He then reads that another excursion train recently had the same kind of near miss. Stringer’s wife has recently found a tenant for their spare room, an odd man who arouses Jim’s suspicions almost immediately. There is also a local socialist who believes the excursions on bad because they soothe the working class and delay the revolution. Jim is bothered by the fact that the engineer seemed almost to know that the stone would be there, but he can’t see how this is possible. And why was a strange motorcar driving parallel to the tracks for so long? A fairly involved though rather slow moving mystery with lots of historical and local color. 12/10/15

The Horizontal Man by Helen Eustis, Bantam, 1946   

This was the only mystery novel by Eustis, who died earlier this year. It won an Edgar as best first mystery but has now largely been forgotten. The opening scene describes the murder by blunt instrument of a college professor by an unnamed woman who was obsessed with him, but it turns out there were multiple women who fell into that category.  There is no detective but lots of characters speculate about motives and opportunities. One troubled young student confesses but is obviously lying. An unhappy faculty member actually heard the killer leave but didn’t see anything. Another professor is recovering from therapy following a suicide attempt. There are several other interesting characters including another student with untraditional attitudes, a small time reporter, and a divorced woman who has a reputation for sleeping around. The solution is a bit telegraphed but all in all it’s a very good mystery. 12/10/15

Lullaby by Ace Atkins, Putnam, 2012  

This was the first Spenser novel by Atkins and I have to say he did a reasonably good job of capturing the style of Robert Parker. A teenage orphans wants Spenser to look into the murder of her mother four years earlier, and as soon as he starts asking questions, someone tries to run down his client with a car. Atkins went a bit overboard trying to pull in every minor character with whom Spenser has ever dealt, but it’s not overwhelming. There are nasty gangsters and a couple of very violent encounters, and Hawk has a fairly large part. I was pleasantly surprised at how well Parker’s style and subject matter are replicated. 12/7/15

Unexpected Night by Elizabeth Daly, 1940

The first case of Henry Gamadge, a specialist in authenticating old documents. A young man with a weak heart apparently has died only hours after coming into his fortune. But since he never signed his will, it appears that the only person with a motive is his sister, who is pretty obviously not the killer. Although there is a fairly clever puzzle in this one, the first novel suffers from some clumsiness, most notably a lack of conversational tags that frequently makes it difficult to figure out who is talking. Promising, but not great. 12/6/15

A Death in the Family by Michael Stanley, Minotaur, 2015, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-250-07089-0 

Detective Kubu can’t work on a new case in Botswana because the victim is his father, fatally knifed in what may or may not be a mugging. He is assigned to another case – a murder designed to look like suicide – which involves a plan by a Chinese mining concern to expand their operation, but he finds a link to his father’s murder when a public meeting turns into a deadly riot. We see a lot more of Kubu’s co-workers this time because of his enforced absence from the case. This is a police procedural so there are no clues to follow in order to guess who’s really responsible, but I had pretty much guessed who the killer was early on. Nice local color, good characterization, and a satisfying plotline. 12/5/15

Crimson Shore by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Grand Central, 2015, $27, ISBN 978-1-4555-2592-8 

Agent Pendergast is approached about the theft of a valuable wine cellar, but his investigations widens to encompass murder, witchcraft, a ship that sank in the 19th Century, rumors of a colony of witches, and strange secrets in a small town. He quickly concludes that the theft was a ruse to disguise the opening of a hidden basement room which contained the skeleton of a man walled up many years ago, although the skeleton has now been taken away along with whatever else might have been concealed there. There’s a nice surprise twist in this – everything seems to have been solved but it’s much too early so we know something else has to happen. Although it’s quite good, the cliffhanger ending is very annoying. 12/3/15

Twice in a Blue Moon by Patricia Moyes, Holt, 1993  

A young woman unexpectedly inherits a small country inn from an eccentric uncle.  She tries to make it a successful business, but then someone poisons one of her guests, and later does the same again. There are also rumors that her uncle murdered his wife and may have been blackmailed by the man who currently runs a rival inn. The killer is far too obvious in this one although his motive is a complete mystery until the end, at which point information is introduced that has been withheld from the reader. Although a light and pleasant read, this one is structurally annoying and the author’s hand is far too evident. 12/2/15

Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs, Bantam, 2015, $28, ISBN 978-0-345-54404-9

The latest Temperance Brennan mystery opens with an amateur bringing suggestive evidence to Brennan that she may have identified a murder victim. She finds connections to a cultish church whose pastor once killed a child during an exorcism. The pastor is pretty obviously a monster right from the outset which detracts a bit from the mystery but it’s otherwise okay until Brennan alone, without telling anyone, goes to investigate the church property on her own, convinced that she’s safe even though she knows that her informer has been brutally murdered only a couple of days before because of her inquiries.  At that point the whole story falls apart. Reichs has frequently had problems in her closing chapters and this is a major example. 12/1/15

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith, Mulholland, 2015, $28, ISBN 978-0-316-34993-2 

Third in J.K. Rowling’s detective series. Someone sends a severed leg to Cormoran Strike’s office, and since he can think of at least four people who might have done it, it’s clear that he knows some pretty unsavory people.  He and Robin – his secretary in process of becoming his partner – are caught up in the unsavory publicity, which loses them most of their clientele, and spend a lot of their unfortunate free time trying to track down three of the men – the police eliminate the fourth about halfway through the book. We see some scenes through the eyes of the psychopathic killer, though never enough to tell us his identity.  Robin’s wedding is on again, off again, on again, complicating matters further, although I have never found her relationship with Matthew convincing and the gyrations seem rather forced and unnatural. Other than that, this was a very intense and pleasant thriller whose solution even managed to catch me by surprise. 11/29/15

Night Ferry to Death by Patricia Moyes, Holt Rinehart, 1985   

Although it includes some elements of a police procedural, this is largely an adventure story. Henry Tibbett and his wife are returning to England on a ferry when one of their fellow passengers is murdered. The police knew the dead man was carrying a stolen consignment of diamonds, but the diamonds are missing as well. When they later show up in Henry’s wife’s baggage, he decides to find out what’s going on. Since virtually everyone in the book is lying, there is no possible way to figure out what is going on in advance, and the solution seems to be plucked out of the air rather than reached through detection and logic. Fair but not memorable. 11/28/15

Black Girl, White Girl by Paricia Moyes, Holt, 1989   

A dreadfully bad thriller late in this author’s career. Henry Tibbett is sent to the independent island nation of Tampica to look into the drug trade on the flimsiest of excuses. There he and his wife are extraordinarily inept at working undercover, but fortunately the bad guys are even less competent. She gets kidnapped and he gets threatened a lot. His prime suspect turns out to be a DEA agent and his newfound ally, another agent, turns out to be a bigwig for the drug runners, a development so obvious that it is only surprising that Moyes took so long to state it openly. Worst of all, the story is static and uninteresting. 11/28/15

Silent Night by Robert B. Parker and Helen Brann, Putnam, 2013 

Spenser is approached by a man running an unlicensed home for young boys. Someone is putting pressure on them to move out of the area, but he doesn’t know who it is or why. His brother is Juan Alvarez, a prominent businessman who subsidizes the home, but who also may be connected to a drug cartel. This was the novel Parker was working on when he died and it was finished by his agent. It has the feel of a first draft – mostly dialogue and only sketchy descriptions, but the story is very much that of Parker. There’s very little violence in this one except by implication and it is quite short. 11/26/15

A Six-Letter Word for Death by Patricia Moyes, Holt Rinehart, 1983 

This is a pretty good mystery patterned after classic detective stories. Henry Tibbett is to address a small group of detective story writers at the estate owned by their publisher. A few days ahead of time he receives an anonymous crossroad puzzle that contains clues to the identities of the writers, all of whom used pseudonyms. He solves the puzzle to determine their names, but there are also clues to three mysterious deaths which involved significant inheritances, each of which could have been murder, and each of which is linked to one or more of the participants. Then one of the guests is killed – clearly murder although it is made to look like an accident – and Tibbett must unofficially solve the puzzle that is hidden behind the puzzle. 11/24/15

Who Is Simon Warwick? by Patricia Moyes, Holt Rinehart, 1979 

The advent of DNA testing has probably finished off the standard mystery novel device employed in this excellent novel. An English businessman has died and left a substantial fortune to the son of his wayward brother, whom no one has ever seen since he emigrated to the US. His lawyer runs add and two claimants show up, each with paperwork that suggests he is the legitimate heir. Before things can be settled, one of them is murdered in the lawyer’s office, and the other is one of the prime suspects. But Tibbett suspects that neither of them is the real thing, but that the real Simon Warwick is hovering in the background. Very well done. 11/22/15

Angel Death by Patricia Moyes, Holt Rinehart, 1980   

Another island based mystery, this one opening with the apparent loss of a small yacht in the Caribbean, followed by the disappearance of an elderly woman who claims to have seen one of the supposedly dead vacationers. Henry goes undercover and is drugged and Emmy, his wife, carries on the story for a long time. This was Moyes’ least interesting novels, with an unconvincing drug operation and a very unsatisfactory conclusion. Most of her Caribbean novels are markedly inferior to those set in Europe for some reason. 11/22/15

Triple Detective, Altus, 2008 

Doctor Death Returns by Steve Mitchell

Murder Museum by K.G. McAbee

Crime’s Last Stand by Tom Johnson 

This is a collection of three novelettes, each a pastiche of an old time pulp hero, Dr. Death, the Phantom Detective, and the Masked Avenger respectively. Dr. Death, whose name is really Rance Mandarin, has disappeared after his failed attempt to destroy civilization. Mandarin has the ability to move from one body to another, so long as the receiving body is dead. He has taken over the warden of a prison in which form he eliminates one of his old enemies, a past member of the Secret Twelve. Death also has zombies at his command, a Princess of Set who has become a vampire, and weapons including a shrink ray.  Death kills off most of his old enemies, but the daughter of two of them proves too much for him to handle.  The Phantom Detective was a kind of cross between the Shadow and Batman and he solves a grotesque murder mystery inside a museum of antiquities. The Masked Avenger is another playboy/crimefighter and in the third adventure in the book he tracks down a gang of evil gangsters. All three stories would have fared quite well in the heyday of the pulp heroes. 11/20/15

The Coconut Killings by Patricia Moyes, Holt Rinehart, 1977 

Patricia Moyes became very fond of island life – she retired to the Virgin Islands – and several of her novels are set in the Caribbean. This one involves a rather stereotyped group of impractical revolutionaries who are involved with the murder of a US senator on a golf course. Henry Tibbett is brought in as an impartial investigator, but that doesn’t prevent two more murders. The senator was being paid off by the cotton industry, which has reasons to prefer that the island not develop its own horticulture. This was okay but far from Moyes at her best. 11/16/15

Black Widower by Patricia Moyes, Holt Rinehart, 1975 

The wife of the ambassador of the new island nation of Tampica is murdered during the first reception at their embassy in Washington. The Tampican government unofficially requests help from Scotland Yard, so Henry Tibbett crosses the ocean to look into matters. His first solid lead ends up with another murder, apparently a hit and run accident. He stumbles on from there in a rather unsatisfactory manner. Moyes set several novels in the Caribbean but almost without exception they are inferior to her other work. This was the best of them, but it's not very good.11/15/15

The House of Silk by Anthony Horovitz, Little Brown, 2011 

A Sherlock Holmes novel. His newest client is an art dealer who recently traveled to America where he ran afoul of an Irish gang. He sees the surviving leader of that organization in England and concludes that he has crossed the ocean seeking revenge for the death of his brother, whose demise the client contributed to. But he seems to be acting out of character. Despite a warning from Mycroft that he should drop the investigation, Holmes walks into what is clearly a trap and is framed for the murder of a young woman. It all gets sorted out, of course, and just as a tip, I habitually determine acronyms for organizations when I read and that provides an early clue about what is really going on. 11/13/15

Sherlock Holmes and the Running Noose by Donald Thomas, Pan, 2002   

Donald Thomas has written several collections of new Sherlock Holmes adventures, of which this is probably my favorite. The cases themselves involve the nefarious Crippen, the notorious Oscar Wilde, and other historical figures as well as entirely fictional ones. There are six separate stories here, all of them very reminiscent of Doyle himself and some with very clever twists. I’ve always thought that Holmes’ ability to elucidate details about casual acquaintances from their appearance relies more on luck and authorial rigging than in actual detection but Thomas occasionally requires his protagonist to actually solve a mystery intellectually. 11/12/15

Season of Snows and Sins by Patricia Moyes, Holt Rinehart, 1971  

A promising start but a horrible ending on this one. The opening includes an impossible crime. The body is in a house surrounded by snow with only one set of tracks leading there and back. So obviously the person who made them is the killer. Henry Tibbett unravels a blackmail plot, hidden identities, old secrets, and political shenanigans to discover the real killer, which is all very nice, but Moyes never explains how she got to the house and then left without leaving a second set of tracks! Too much irrelevant padding as well, including a page and a half describing how to melt cheese. 11/10/15

The Curious Affair of the Third Dog by Patricia Moyes, Holt Rinehart 1973

One of the author’s better novels, even though we have a pretty good idea what happened. A small time crook who specializes in dog races is killed, apparently when a local man drives while drunk and runs him down. But the drunk man was not an habitual drinker but was possibly drugged by two London men, who also turn out to be small time crooks. Then there is a missing dog, or perhaps two of them, and Henry Tibbett figures out that someone is committing fraud on the dogtrack, and killing people who get in the way. 11/10/15

Eternity Ring by Patricia Wentworth, 1947 

Murder in small English village. A somewhat scatterbrained woman claims to have seen a murder committed in the woods, but when the police investigate, they are unable to find a body. Still suspicious, one of them asks Maud Silver, a private investigator, to look into matters and she soon finds evidence that the victim may have been a recent visitor, now nowhere to be found. There is also the subsidiary mystery of why an apparently happy couple has separated and other peripheral matters. This was typical of Wentworth’s novels which include occasional moments of romance along with low key but well contrived suspense. 11/9/15

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe, 7th Street, 2015, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-080-1

I believe this is a first novel and it's rather fun. The protagonist is a young woman from a wealthy family with a very proper fiancé and no problems, but deep down inside she's convinced that she is a detective. Unbeknownst to friends and family, she assumes a false identity and gets a job with the local police department, where she learns of a series of murders which the police seem disinclined to investigate. She decides to take a hand herself, but she has to be clever about it because she doesn't want to be jilted, disowned, or fired, all of which could potentially happen if anyone discovered what she was up to. But some of the consequence of the investigation are not at all what she expected. A couple of rough spots but they're brief and inconsequential. Looking forward to another. 11/7/15

The Execution of Sherlock Holmes by Donald Thomas, Pegasus, 2007

Five more short stories involving Sherlock Holmes. The stories mix historical situations - decoding German messages during World War I - with more conventional themes reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He proves a condemned man is innocent in one case and exposes an elaborate fraud in another. Best in the collection is "Queen of the Night" in which he has to match wits with his old nemesis, Dr. Moriarty. Thomas was perhaps the best writer at shorter length Holmesian adventures and in many ways in the closest to Doyle's original creation. The individual stories are rarely outstanding but the collections are invariably pleasant pastiches of one of the most popular series of all time. 11/6/16

Sherlock Holmes and the King’s Evil by Donald Thomas, Pegasus, 2009  

Five short adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In the first, he uncovers a blackmail plot involving a palm reader and an obsessed nobleman. The second involves two brothers, lighthouse keepers, who appear to have both died as the result of a fight on the moors whose cause is unknown, although the reader is told early on that they may have found a valuable treasure trove lost in the moors centuries earlier. The third includes the discovery of a lost manuscript by Lord Byron.  Others follow Holmes as he thwarts an assassination plot by an anarchist and solves a mystery surrounding the Zimmerman telegram. Very competently done and with a few nice twists. An interesting side note is that the dustjacket refers to a further adventure that apparently never made it into the final book. 11/5/15

Many Deadly Returns by Patricia Moyes, Holt Rinehart, 1970

This country house murder mystery moved a little slow for my taste. Henry Tibbett and his wife are requested to attend the birthday party of a wealthy but elderly woman, along with her three daughters and their husbands. She believes someone is going to make an attempt on her life, and despite Tibbett’s presence, she dies suddenly, apparently poisoned. Except there is no poison found in her body during the autopsy. And then someone tries to kill the dead woman’s long term companion and Tibbett figures out who is responsible. Well below her average. 11/3/15

Death and the Dutch Uncle by Patricia Moyes, Ballantine, 1968 

This Henry Tibbett murder mystery is more adventure than detection. Someone may have assassinated two members of an international border commission, making each look like natural causes, and may also be planning a third. Henry and his wife Emmy are off to Holland to try to protect an irascible diplomat who refuses to listen to them until it is almost too late. Moyes wasn’t really at her best writing action sequences but she does a passable job here and there’s a nice, exciting finish. 10/31/15

Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse, Titan, 2015, $25.99, ISBN 978-1783291533 

Sherlock Holmes’ older brother is a young man who has just taken a government job in this collaborative novel. He hears rumors of something strange taking place in Trinidad, where there are concerns that a separatist movement might want to take the island out of the British Empire. Mycroft and a friend who was born in Trinidad travel there to investigate and eventually solve the murders of several children, staged to appear supernatural. There is considerable attention to historical detail and the prose is fine – it’s a first novel for both authors – but there are some pacing problems particularly in the opening chapters and it took a positive effort to keep reading until the plot actually began to unfold. 10/30/15

Murder Fantastical by Patricia Moyes, Holt Rinehart, 1967 

Although there is an interesting murder mystery in this one, its main attraction is that it is a clever and genuinely funny story about a family of eccentrics who happen to get mixed up with a mysterious death. Henry Tibbett is there to investigate and he figures out fairly early what really happened when a neighbor is shot to death in their driveway, although he doesn’t tell the reader for quite a long time. But then there is another death and this one is far more sinister. The half naked bishop with a clarinet and a parasol going to a stranger’s door to borrow margarine is priceless. 10/28/15

Johnny Under Ground by Patricia Moyes, Ballantine, 1965 

An excellent cold case murder mystery. Inspector Henry Tibbett’s wife has always wondered why a troubled pilot committee suicide while she knew him during the war. A reunion of the people who were stationed with her leads to a book project, which some support and others oppose with surprising ferocity. It’s fairly obvious that it was not suicide, at least to the reader, and another murder just cements that conclusion. The identity of the killer is revealed to the perceptive reader slightly before Tibbett announces the truth, but not early enough to spoil what is one of her best novels. 10/24/15

Falling Star by Patricia Moyes, Ballantine, 1964 

This is a very disappointing novel about murder inside a film project, following the sort of accidental death of the star.  There’s blackmail and some more murder before Henry Tibbett finally solves the case. There are lots or problems with this. Some of the explanations for people’s behavior makes no sense or is contradicted by other statements the author makes. There’s a legal problem that is a key plot point, but Moyes clearly didn’t understand the law she thought applied – an undelivered resignation letter that was in fact only a draft would not have invalidated an employment contract. There is also a lot of information available to Tibbett that is not revealed to the reader until the end, but despite all that the killer’s identity is quite obvious by halfway. Quite a letdown from her previous books. 10/22/15

Murder A La Mode by Patricia Moyes, Ballantine, 1963 

Someone has poisoned this assistant editor of Style magazine. Was it her mysterious lover? One man confesses to being the father of her baby but the autopsy shows that she was still a virgin. And who is smuggling secret dress designs out of Paris? What does the rifled luggage in the office have to do with it? Henry Tibbett sorts everything out in this conventional but very well done detective story, a variation of the police procedural with Tibbett’s spunky niece getting mixed up in the case. A nice mix of characters and a fairly good mystery in one of the author's best novels. 10/18/15

Death on the Agenda by Patricia Moyes, Ballantine, 1962 

Henry Tibbett is off to Geneva to attend a law enforcement conference on the narcotics trade. Someone is leaking confidential information, and when Henry is framed for murder, the obvious conclusion is that he is the spy. That’s obviously not the case, but there are so many people lying or disappearing that it’s hard for him to prove himself innocent, particularly when he is without the support of Scotland Yard. The third very good detective novel from Moyes. 10/15/15

Down Among the Dead Men by Patricia Moyes, Ballantine, 1961   

Henry and Emmy Tibbett have their second consecutive vacation interrupted by a murder investigation. This time the story of a recent accidental drowning makes Henry suspicious. He suspects it may also have something to do with a recent jewel theft. Several people are acting suspiciously and there are romantic, financial, political, and commercial entanglements as well. This is a very solid detective story even though it is reasonably obvious who the murderer is and what the motive was. Emmy gets abducted this time, but is rescued in the nick of time. Then Henry almost gets killed when he makes the mistake of confronting the killer alone. 10/14/15

Dead Men Don’t Ski by Patricia Moyes, Ballantine, 1959  

Inspector Henry Tibbett and his wife Emmy are on a working vacation at an Italian ski resort suspected as being a rendezvous point for drug smugglers. His prime suspect is shot while traveling down in a chairlift, and nearly all the potential suspects were coming up at the same time, each of them unobserved.  In the best detective story tradition, nearly every one of the characters has a good reason to want the man dead. Tibbett figures out who it is but has no proof, and when he is on the verge of getting it, another man dies, killed in the same fashion. A little mild cheating toward the end but essentially a very good mystery, particularly for a first effort. 10/11/15

The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji, Locked Room, 2015, ISBN 978-1508503736   

I decided to sample some Japanese murder mysteries. This one, essentially a rewrite of Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie with a different solution, which it mentions, is very interesting. The members of a mystery club -  we only know them by their nicknames – Ellery, Van Dine, Agatha, etc. – decide to spend a week on an uninhabited island where four people were murdered and their house burned down a year earlier. They are staying at a decagonal house with ten rooms, one for each of the seven plus three miscellaneous ones. Back on the mainland, an ex-member receives a letter – supposedly from Najamura Seiji who died in the burned house – blaming the club members for the death of his daughter, who drank too much at a party and suffered a stroke. He ascertains that letters have been sent to other members of the club, but that they probably arrived after they had left for the island. He also visits the dead girl’s uncle and learns that he also received a cryptic note. Meanwhile, the visitors to the island start dying. This is an excellent mystery with an unconventional ending. 10/7/15

Past Tense by Catherine Aird, Alison & Busby, 2010  1208 

Last Writes by Catherine Aird, Alison & Busby, 2014  1332

The first of these is a novel. An elderly woman dies in a nursing home and someone searches her room shortly thereafter. A young nurse is found drown in a nearby river. The first woman’s grandson wants to discover the identity of his grandfather while an old family feud erupts anew.  The second title is a collection of twenty-two short stories, not all mysteries, and despite the blurb suggesting that this is a collection of Sloan and Crosby stories, it is not. Sloan appears in only three of them. There are several featuring her World War II diplomat Henry Tyler and three more in her series about a 13th Century Scottish sheriff. Several of them are cute, all of them are entertaining, but none of them are particularly memorable. Given her age and the title, I suspect this will be Aird’s last book. 10/6/15

Dead Heading by Catherine Aird, Minotaur, 2013  

Sabotage at two floral nurseries and a missing woman who was a good customer but thoroughly disliked by almost everyone seem like separate cases until Inspector Sloan begins to find connections among the nurseries, their customers, and the missing woman. She also appears to be living beyond her means and the obvious inference is that she was blackmailing someone and was killed in response. But why destroys three greenhouses full of orchids?  The solution is quite clever this time and seems obvious once you know the truth. 10/5/15

The Monster of Grammont by George Goodchild, Mystery League, 1930 

Although this is often listed as science fiction, it’s a straight mystery novel, although for a while I suspected it was a sequel to Frankenstein. Two British men are touring France when they accept an invitation to stay at an old Chateau reputed to be haunted. Two murders are committed while they are there as well as various sightings of a tall figure in a cowl known as the Monster. There is also a gang of not particularly bad people also interested in the chateau and a kind of three sided battle ensues. There is a reference to Dr. Frankenstein, obviously a red herring, and the Monster turns out to be a deranged German soldier still fighting the Great War. This was surprisingly readable given that Goodchild is almost completely forgotten, despite having written two hundred books. 10/2/15

The Survivors by Robert Palmer, 7th Street, 2015, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-082-5

This is more of a thriller than a mystery novel despite elements of both. The protagonist is a psychologist with a devastating trauma in his own past. His mother murdered her husband and Cal's two brothers, an act which has affected his life dramatically. One victim who survived was Cal's childhood friend, and he shows up on the anniversary of the murders with a theory that Cal's mother was not the killer after all. Together they decide to reopen the investigation on their own, which leads them into a complex web of political and personal interactions. Not surprisingly, things are not as they appear to be, or have been, or both. Their obvious skepticism inevitably makes the real killer nervous, and both of their lives are soon at risk. Quite suspenseful, a decent but not unusual puzzle, and perhaps a slightly too obvious resolution. 9/30/15

The Guise of Another by Allen Eskens, 7th Street, 2015, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-076-4

The protagonist of this crime novel is a police detective who has fallen on bad times. He is suspected of having been on the take and his wife's recent demeanor suggests that she has been unfaithful to him. Frustrated, depressed, and lonely, he  decides that a recent identity theft case offers him the possibility of reclaiming some of his self respect. Unfortunately, it's a much more complicated case than he realizes and his investigation puts his own life at risk when a professional assassin discovers that they are both trying to track down the same person, but for different reasons. The balance between characterization and plot is better here than in the author's previous book, but it's more of an action story than a traditional mystery, though with enough of a puzzle to appeal to both sets of readers. 9/29/15

Losing Ground by Catherine Aird, St Martins, 2008  

There is no murder in this mystery novel, although there’s an attempt right at the end. A land development project is in jeopardy because of problems with the land commission, objections for conservationists, a hostile takeover bid, and other complications. Someone has stolen a painting from a nearby museum and someone else has started a fire, but the motivation for both acts is heavily cloaked. I found this one a bit repetitive, although the basic story is quite good. 9/24/15

The Riddle of the Traveling Skull by Harry Stephen Keeler, Ramble House, 2000 (originally published in 1933) 

The convoluted prose style of this early mystery/adventure writer is impossible to describe. Clauses wind around one another, unrelated information is grafted into sentences, and sometimes it feels like stream of consciousness rather than traditional prose.  The stories are pure pulp and frequently make little sense. Despite all that, he published dozens of novels during his lifetime. This one starts with the protagonist, Calthorpe, picking up the wrong bag on a bus and finding a polished skull and bullet inside, after which he is assaulted and the bag stolen. Calthorpe kept the packing material, however, which seems to include the fragments of a letter and a poem by one Abigail Sprigge, whom he attempts to track down. He decides to investigate further and his investigation is more convoluted than the mystery. The odd prose actually acquires a kind of rhythm after a while, but it never really becomes very good, and the mystery is more than slightly contrived. 9/22/15

Chapter and Hearse by Catherine Aird, St Martins, 2004 

A collection of short stories, most of which are mysteries. About half of them feature Inspector Sloan, and in one his assistant, Crosby, finally solves his own case. There are three stories about a 13th Century Scottish sheriff who solves crimes, and most of the others involve characters from the various novels. A couple of them aren’t mysteries but most are and a couple of those are quite clever. No remarkably good ones but no bad ones either. 9/21/15

Hole in One by Catherine Aird, St Martins, 2005 

As you might imagine, this one takes place on a golf course. A woman playing her way out of a sand trap uncovers a head, presumably with body attached. We don’t learn the body’s identity until well into the second half, although it is almost certainly a caddy reported to have gone abroad to study economics. That immediately suggests that he heard something which he should not have heard, and since there is a lucrative renovation project about to launch at the golf club, shenanigans in the bidding seem a likely explanation. There’s not much differentiation among the major suspects this time, so the solution feels a bit flat. 9/21/15

The Crimson Fog by Paul Halter, Locked Room International, 2013, $15.99, ISBN 978-1491244234 (translated from the 1988 French edition by John Pugmire)

This is a locked room or impossible crime mystery set initially in England a short time before the Jack the Ripper killings. A journalist arrives in a small English town expressing an interest in investigating the murder of a local man almost ten years earlier under mysterious circumstances. We know that he is a former resident of the town, now disguised, and it isn’t long before we are led to suspect that he is the son of the dead man, whom no one has seen for many years.  The victim was killed in a curtained off portion of a locked room as he prepared for a magic show which would have included the appearance of a “ghost”, suggesting that he was privy to the method by which the killer would arrive and depart. Although the impossible crimes are solved reasonably well, I found it very hard to credit the protagonist’s actions. His investigation results in the death of three innocent people, and even after he realizes who the real killer is – and that she is insane – he tells no one. There’s a bit of a surprise at the end, but I had already guessed the solution.  There are a couple of textual problems that may result from the translation. At one point a character mentions that he is sure that the killer has dropped his guard since nine years have passed following the original murder, but in the very next paragraph the same character says that he senses that the killer has become suddenly alert to his danger. At another point we are told that one of the witnesses will be present at the gathering, but later in the same paragraph we are told that she has left the area and her present whereabouts are unknown. I suspect this was the result of a dropped negative.  Sherlock Holmes has a cameo. 9/20/15

Amendment of Life by Catherine Aird, St Martins, 2002 

Here’s another very good mystery with an intricate plot that opens with a body found in the middle of an extensive hedge maze. The husband would be the obvious first suspect, but he seems to have an ironclad alibi. There have also been several incidents of vandalism at a nearby church, which obviously has to be connected somehow. A fairly large cast of characters have several connections to one another, which confuses things even further. The device by which the killer disguises his efforts is a bit of a stretch though. 9/17/15

Little Knell by Catherine Aird, St Martins, 2000 

This is the most complex of Aird’s mystery novels to date, with a fairly large cast of characters who initially appear to be unconnected with each other or the crimes. A quite new body is found in an ancient mummy case when it is transferred from an estate to a museum. The dead woman was an accountant at a firm that has connections with a charity in the Mideast, an animal shelter in England, a man dying of AIDS, a comatose victim of an automobile accident, and a fisherman of dubious repute. The police are also concerned with drug trafficking, so obviously that is going to be drawn into the mix. The complications are very well mapped out and the solution is a rewarding one. 9/15/15

Stiff News by Catherine Aird, Chivers, 1998 

A woman dies at a nursing home but leaves a letter claiming that she was going to be murdered. The police can find nothing to substantiate her charge, but there are several unresolved questions including the identity of her second husband, whose name no one knows. Another resident seems terrified when his coat is mended without his knowledge, there’s a valuable Egyptian charm that seems to be significant, and then another resident goes missing after she has been seen pacing nervously about. Inspector Sloan rises to the occasion once again, solving a mystery that has its roots back at a crucial moment during World War II. The end is a little weak but overall it’s entertaining. 0/13/15

Idyll Threats by Stephanie Gayle, Seventh Street, 2015, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-078-8

This is, I believe, a first mystery and it's somewhat of a hybrid between a cozy and a police procedural. The protagonist is the new sheriff in a small town which considers jay walking a major crime. So when a dead body is found on the local golf course, no one is very happy to discover that it is murder. The sheriff has some inside information about the victim, but he is reluctant to reveal it because it will lead to the revelation that he is gay. That infuses his subsequent, awkward investigation, and he is also troubled by memories of past events, unpleasant encounters with the people he is sworn to protect, and uneasiness among his subordinates. The mystery itself is competently done but not really surprising; the different viewpoint is interesting. 9/11/15

After Effects by Catherine Aird, St Martins, 1996   

There is suspicion of foul play in the death of a woman who was participating in a trial of an experimental drug. Animal rights activists have attempted to break into a pharmaceutical company and appear to be harassing people connected to the death. The head doctor at the hospital is found dead in his car, ostensibly a suicide, although a postmortem indicates that it was probably murder. Another doctor dies of a heart attack. Inspector Sloan has to make his way through clues both tangible and chemical in order to determine the truth. There’s a scene that gives away the killer’s identity a bit early but otherwise this is a very nice mystery. 9/10/15

Injury Time by Catherine Aird, St Martins, 1994     

This is a collection of short stories, most of which are mysteries and most of which feature C.D. Sloan, the author’s recurring detective. Minor characters from some of her other novels also appear from time to time. Since there is no room to develop a number of suspects in so few words, we usually know who the guilty party is. The trick is to figure out how the crime was done, the poison administered, or to find the flaw in the perfect alibi. There are no real standout stories here but generally they are entertaining pieces. 8/7/15

Dead Asleep by Jamie Freveletti, Harper, 2012, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-6-202519-7 

The author of this marginally SF thriller, fourth in a series, doesn’t waste time getting started. Within twenty pages the chief protagonist, a scientist, find a voodoo charm on her doorstep and is chased by a machete yielding “zombie”, while a secondary protagonist narrowly escapes a bomb set in his rented house, and then finds a woman hanging nearby. Six pages later he is attacked by three armed men. This was a bit offputting. I know a thriller is supposed to start off running, but four violent encounters in less than thirty pages is pushing the envelope.  Emma Cauldridge, the chief protagonist, has been sent to a Caribbean island to study various plants for possible commercial use. Someone clearly wants to stop her for no apparent reason. I was a bit skeptical when Cauldridge, recently surviving a machete attack, goes out into the woods alone without taking her weapon. There’s a mysterious new kind of bullet and a strange sleeping sickness that is sweeping the island, not to mention a possible underwater monster that eats good sized boats. Overall pretty good, although a few questions go unanswered. Despite some SF flavors, I’m calling this one a mystery/thriller. 9/6/15

Hollow Man by Mark Pryor, Seventh Street, 2015, $15.95, ISBN 9781-63388-086-3

The protagonist of this suspense novel is a very unsavory character. The protagonist is a man of many talents but he is also a psychopath, although he hides it well. His real ambition is to become a successful musician. His life seems to be proceeding according to plan until one day there are multiple setbacks and he seems poised on the brink of complete disaster. He also meets a woman who entices him into plotting to steal a van carrying a large amount of cash. Although he warns his confederates to avoid violence, inevitably things go wrong and a security guard is murdered. So what is he to do now - help cover things up or betray his companions? I didn't expect to like this one but it was much better than I anticipated. 9/5/25

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