Last Update 12/31/16

Assignment Amazon Queen by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1974 

Someone has a new weapon that prevents plants and animals from reproducing and he offers to sell it to the highest bidder. Sam Durell leads one team to a remote part of the Amazon where the auction is to take place, fending off Russian, Chinese, and even an African delegation. They spend a lot of time on a steamboat owned by an old acquaintance of his grandfather and Durell spends a lot of time declining to accept the advances of semi-clad women. The secret weapon is not only scientifically nonsense, but it doesn’t even work the way Aarons says it does. A tree does not die just because its seeds become infertile. 12/31/16

Where I Can See You by Larry D. Sweazy, 7th Street, 2017, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-211-9 

The detective protagonist of this mystery has two cases, but no one will be surprised when they converge as the story progresses. The first involves the disappearance of his own mother, never explained, which has haunted him for years. Then a murder is committed in a small, rural community and he tries to track down the killer, uncovering a secret from the past that will have an enormous impact on the rest of his life, assuming that he lives long enough to have much of the rest of his life. I had sort of figured out what was going on, but the story remained interesting even with its main secret semi-resolved. 12/30/16

New Graves at Great Norne by Henry Wade, Perennial, 1986 (originally published in 1947)  

Someone is killing the people of the small town of Great Norne, each of whose bodies bears evidence that would have embarrassed them if they’d been alive. The first is interpreted as an accident and there seems to be no connection with the others. Is it a maniac or is there a subtle plan behind the deaths? This was another one where I guessed the identity of the villain well in advance, but I was never absolutely certain of it so the story remained suspenseful until the final revelation. There is a bit of withheld evidence that is cheating slightly but overall quite well constructed and delivered. 12/28/16

Assignment Ceylon by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1973

The CIA orders Sam Durell eliminated after receiving spurious and rather unconvincing evidence that he has sold out. And despite his being under suspicion, he is sent on a sensitive mission to Ceylon – now Sri Lanka – to look for a missing man who is being held for ransom. He gets caught up in the discovery of an ancient artifact that could impact the very foundation of Buddhism, is captured by an international criminal ring specializing in espionage, as well as old friends and old enemies.  Aarons was very lazy plotting this one. It often makes no sense at all and some of the decisions by the characters – who have apparently forgotten what they were told – had me scratching my head. 12/27/16

The Silent Dead by Tetsuya Honda, Minotaur, 2006 

I found this police procedural murder mystery very disappointing. The initial set up is intriguing – why has a mutilated body been left wrapped in a blue tarp in a busy residential area near a pond? A female police detective experiences a series of insights that reveals there is a serial killer at work – perhaps with company. Her efforts to investigate are hampered by the uncooperative nature of some of her fellow police officers. The problem with this is that none of the separate elements really work. The characters are exaggerated, inconsistent, and sometimes their personal stories seem more distracting than anything else. The protagonist gets closer and closer to the solution by a series of guesses that have no logical bridges from evidence to conclusion. The killer’s identity is not really much of a surprise. The phrasing is sometimes awkward and the ending is very frustrating – her chief rival solves the case before she does and has to rescue her when she stupidly reveals her knowledge to the killer. This appears to be part of a series. 12/22/16

An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock by Terry Shames, 7th Street, 2017, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-209-6 

The new police chief in a small town finds himself in a sticky situation very quickly. Five young black residents are found murdered in the ashes of an apparent arson. It doesn’t help that the investigator from the state police is openly racist. Their interpersonal tensions are exacerbated when the trooper arrests a black man are flimsy evidence, a man whom Chief Craddock is convinced is innocent. The only solution is to find out who the real killer is, even though technically he doesn’t have jurisdiction in the case. That decision has consequences, however, because some people would just like to have the case closed with the accused man found guilty because that fits their prejudices, while others want it to conclude that way to protect themselves. Shames has been reliable in the past and this new one is no exception. 12/22/16

Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino, Minotaur, 2012 

Shortly after a woman is told by her husband that he is going to divorce her, she travels several hundred miles from home. The husband dies while she was away, after having coffee laced with arsenic. Circumstances indicate that the coffee, the filters, etc. were all okay after the wife left, but we know from the outset that she is the killer. But how did she do it? Some of the police suspect her, but others are looking at the mistress, who is the one who found the body. This is a multi-layered puzzle story mixed with a police procedural, and the characterizations are particularly well done. I continue to be impressed with this author’s work. 12/20/16

Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang, Soho, 2006   

Although this nourish novel was well written, it never really held my interest. The head of one of Tongs operating in New York is murdered, but he had a lot of enemies, both within the criminal community and without. There’s a limousine driver who is in love with the dead  man’s quasi-mistress, not to mention the lady herself, and a host of other potential suspects. The local color was interesting but the crime itself felt flat and ordinary. This is part of a series. 12/19/16

Assignment Maltese Maiden by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1972   

Sam Durell’s boss has gone missing and he may have taken some sensitive paperwork with him. Durell suspects that he was lured away by the daughter he has not seen since World War II, but he doesn’t realize that his recurring enemy – Madame Hung – is back and has taken McFee prisoner. Durell and a small team infiltrate Libya where they battle Chinese and Russian agents, in addition to Madame Hung’s thugs, and also survive a traitor among their number. There are a couple of small but irritating plot problems – Durell’s girlfriend comes to Libya for no reason other than to be kidnapped – but otherwise this was a good one. 

Assignment Silver Scorpion by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1973 

Sam Durell is off to a mythical African nation caught up in civil war to recover a large trove of stolen American cash. After several pretty good books in the series, this is very bad. None of his superiors tell him anything about the mission, the background in Nobamba, or much of anything else, and his local contact isn’t much more forthcoming. The device by which the cash is accumulated is laughable – the US government does not hand out hundreds of millions of dollars in actual physical cash – and much of the story is stuck together with chewing gum and duct tape. Durell doesn’t even get the bad guys at the end – one of the minor characters kills them both and recovers the missing loot while Durell is shot in the leg and out of action. 12/18/16

The Green Toad by Walter S. Masterman, Ramble House, 2008 (originally published in 1929)

Jack Graham is recruited by police to observe the members of a house party where a burglary is expected to occur. The robbery does in fact take place, but the loot is mysteriously restored by a young woman with whom Graham is infatuated. She insists that a Scotland Yard inspector who attended the party returned the items, but she is clearly lying. The green toad of the title is a stuffed fetish owned by their host, an enigmatic man who is an almost exact twin of another, unidentified individual who was found with his head cut off.  12/17/16

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude, Poisoned Pen, 2016, $12.95, ISBN 978-0-7123-5648-0  (originally published in 1937)

A small collection of houses and their occupants are disturbed when one resident is shot in the head with an arrow while visiting another. All indications are that it was fired from an unoccupied house, but the building is tightly secured and it does not seem possible. When the crime is repeated several days later, the mystery only deepens for the characters – although the second murder made it immediately obvious to me who the murderer was, if not how he had managed to accomplish the first. Some very mild cheating but overall I thought this was the best of the four books I’ve read by Bude. 12/16/16

Assignment Golden Girl by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1971 

Sam Durell is in a fictional African country that is troubled by terrorists and revolutionaries. His job is to get the current ruler, Prince Tim, out of the country before a Chinese led invasion force can capture him. Unfortunately, Prince Tim turns out to be a homicidally insane power seeker. The only rival to his claim to the throne is Sally Hukkim, his sister, whom he tries to kill repeatedly during the course of the story despite Durell’s decision to protect them both. They refurbish a very old locomotive and try to escape that way, but are beset by guerillas, military units, and other dangers. Despite a mildly ambiguous ending, this was the second very good book in the series in a row. 12/15/16

Assignment Bangkok by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1972 

Sam Durell is sent to Thailand to extract an American hired operative, but it turns out that his interest was drug smuggling rather than the communist insurgency. He teams up with the missing man’s sister and with a local army major who resents the corruption of his superior to interdict and destroy a major shipment despite a host of enemies on every side. Aarons apparently took more care with his plot this time, which is without the coincidences and incompetent operatives that fuel many of his stories. 12/15/16

The Mystery of the Skeleton Key by Bernard Capes, Collins, 2015 (originally published in 1919)   

This is a reprint of the very first title published by Collins whose crime club would run to over 2000 titles eventually. The body of a maid is found in the aftermath of a shooting expedition on an English manor and the son of the local aristocrat is acting very strangely. The police believe – more than once – that they have determined who is the killer, but they are wrong throughout. Another guest at the party, an enigmatic man with a fondness for chess, moves behind the scenes and brings the real murderer to light. Some major cheating about the solution but an engaging story. 12/14/16

The Curse of the Reckaviles by Walter S. Masterman, McKinlay, 1927 

The murder in a locked room of the last of the Reckavile family seems to indicate that the family curse has finally run its course. There are early hints of the supernatural – the apparent appearance of a ghost and several references to the curse – but these are dropped rather abruptly and the balance is a fairly straightforward mystery. The dead man was not really heir to the throne. His father had been previously married secretly and his son by that marriage has returned to reclaim his birthright. The dead man planned to frame him for a crime, but one of his father’s old enemies returns to kill him first. The resolution is very disappointing. The motive makes no real sense given that the killer was actually better off as a result of the earlier Reckavile’s actions, he has no grudge against the son at all, and he had had years in which to exact revenge so why wait so long? Not one of Masterman’s better efforts.12/13/16

Assignment Tokyo by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1971  

A canister containing a bioweapon washes ashore in Japan and starts a plague for which there is no treatment. Durell is in Japan on a temporary assignment and finds himself in the thick of it when a single woman survives the infection, but disappears before doctors can investigate to find a cure. Russian and Chinese agents are also on her trail and they are less fastidious about killing innocent bystanders. This was one of the best books in the series despite the rather overly familiar plot. The Russian spy has become a recurring character – having appeared in three straight books – and Durell even has a grudging liking for the man. 12/13/16

Murder in the Museum by John Rowland, Poisoned Pen, 2016, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-4642-0579-8 (originally published in 1938) 

A man dies suddenly and quietly while visiting the British Museum. Someone has poisoned his chocolates. The man who finds the body is a bookish type who gets drawn into the mystery further when he discovers correlations with other murders that had thus far escaped the notice of Scotland Yard.  There’s a lively sequence in the closing chapters about a kidnapping, but some of the resolution is not plausible because the villain’s plan depends upon compelling a woman to marry a man, something he could hardly accomplish by kidnapping her. Otherwise quite enjoyable. 12/12/16

Six and a Half Deadly Sins by Colin Cotterill, Soho, 2015 

This is the tenth in a series of mystery novels set in Laos featuring Dr. Siri Paiboun, who is in this installment a bored retired coroner just as the Chinese war with Vietnam is getting underway. He receives in the mail a skirt with a human finger sewn into the hem, and this leads him and some of his friends on a kind of treasure hunt across the country for additional clues that eventually point to a drug dealer. The rationale for why the informers used this devious method is strained to say the least, but the story is somewhat tongue in cheek so it’s not that important. There is also a subplot about an old enemy who wants revenge. I haven’t read any of the others in the series, but will do so if I happen upon them, though I probably won’t exert myself otherwise. 12/11/16

Nocturne of Remembrance by Shichiri Nakayama, Vertical, 2016, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-942993-52-0 

This one is more crime novel than mystery, although there is a surprise ending that makes it more of a detective story, while cheating rather badly. A lawyer with a reputation for defending bad people – and who himself murdered another child when he was very young – inexplicably takes on the case of a poor woman who has already been convicted of killing her wastrel husband, a charge she has never challenged. The lawyer is determined to get a reduction in her sentence, but along the way he realizes she is completely innocent. There is some withheld information and other little cheats at the end, and the real killer’s identity is obvious almost immediately, but there are some associated surprises and the story itself is suspenseful and puzzling. 12/9/16

Sherlock Holmes and the Seven Deadly Sins Murders by Barry Day, Second Opinion, 2002  20 

Holmes and Watson find themselves searching into Mycroft Holmes’ past when someone begins killing members of an informal club of which he was once a member. Although the killer’s identity is determined about half way through, he is a master of disguise so it takes a while before he can be brought to heel. The author has a good feel for Holmes, although Mycroft struck me as rather ineffectual for someone with so much authority. Day wrote several more pastiches which are all very difficult to find. 12/8/16

Murder on the Champs du Mars by Cara Black, Soho, 2015 

This is the fifteenth in a series and if I had realized that there was a back story running through them, I probably would not have read this. The protagonist is a private investigator working in Paris whose father was murdered years earlier. A young boy approaches her and says his mother is dying in the hospital and has something to tell her about her father, but when she arrives, the patient is missing and the hospital has no explanation. A short time later the boy is murdered. But that doesn’t stop her. The author feels compelled to put some French on almost every page, presumably for atmosphere, and the story moves along at a hectic pace that really doesn’t allow much time to reflect on what’s happening. It was all right and I finished it, but I won’t be looking for the first fourteen. 12/7/16

Assignment White Rajah by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1970 

Sam Durell is sent to Malaysia amidst ethnic rioting to investigate the disappearance of some Navy jets. He is soon suspicious of the local CIA man, who seems to have a personal agenda not entirely allied to that of the US, and a local European family, the last descendants of a man who once dominated the entire region. The local police have been suborned, the rioters are being directed by communists, and several people are determined to kill him. There are a couple of irritating errors in the plot, but they are minor points so this is on balance not too bad. 12/7/16

Assignment Star Stealers by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1971 

Someone is stealing data from spy satellites and selling it back to the respective governments involved. Sam Durell is sent to Morocco when the latest payment results in the death of the courier. There he crosses swords with Chinese and Russian spies, as well as a brilliant but nutty ex-Nazi scientist who has developed a new technology. This one runs off in too many directions at once but it is mostly pulled together at the end. The author had no idea how satellites work, though. 12/7/16

Assignment Peking by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1969  

Sam Durell has been surgically altered to impersonate a Chinese military officer, except that the impersonation may have been discovered before it even starts. It is obvious from the outset that his cover has been blown since before the mission started, and before long no one – including the reader – knows who to trust. There is one surprise twist that is quite well done but a lot of what follows is just unnecessarily bewildering. Eventually the conspirators are identified, but only after Durell threatens to kill both his girlfriend and his boss. Not one of the better books in the series, but lightyears ahead of the previous one. 12/2/16

Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards, Poisoned Pen Press, 2015 

A collection of stories by British mystery writers whose common theme is some sort of vacation. The best in the book is easily “The Vanishing of Mrs. Fraser” by Basil Thomson, but there are good stories by Phyllis Bentley, R. Austin Freeman, Arnold Bennett, Michael Gilbert, and several others. Although this was not quite as satisfying as the other Martin Edwards anthology, Capital Crimes, it is still quite good and there was only one story that I skimmed through because I found it uninteresting. 12/1/18

Assignment Moon Girl by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1967 

Sam Durell is sent to Iran to track down a Russian-Chinese woman who claims to have been part of a secret Russian moon mission. He rescues her from a group of guerillas but she doesn’t trust him and runs off. He in turn has his allies killed, is arrested by the Iranian police, and then questioned by Chinese spies who murder the Iranian officer in whose custody he has been. Captures and escapes follow before they are reunited. She never was on the moon at all – it’s part of a training program that left her accidentally brainwashed. There is no explanation for why a Russian training program would be hidden in Iran. Average of slightly less than for the series. 11/30/16

Assignment Nuclear Nude by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1968 

This Sam Durell thriller is so abysmally bad that I wonder if it might have been ghostwritten. Durell is hired by a billionaire to find a painting that was stolen from him which – he doesn’t reveal to Durell – was painted over equations by a scientist for a new neutrino technology. Except that he already knows who stole it, where it is, and has set things in motion to retrieve it. Except that the scientist who created the equations is still alive and well and works for him. And for some reason he has brought three other billionaires into the plot, despite not needing their help. Each of the four has a single daughter and the daughters are all violently opposed to their father’s plans – which they don’t know – except that it turns out they were supporting those plans all along, even though the pretense served no purpose. Luckily Durell is a member of a Tong which is headed, coincidentally, by one of the billionaires. Except that he isn’t really the head of the tong. It is actually the villain from the previous book, who isn’t dead after all. There is a great deal more nonsense including outright goofs – like having one character know that her friend is dead even though she hasn’t actually been told that yet. A complete mess from start to finish. 11/30/16

The Moai Island Puzzle by Alice Arisugawa, Locked Room International, 2016, $19.99, ISBN 978-1523935130

 Three members of a college detective fiction club take a vacation on a small island where a set of statues is supposed to be the key to the location of a cache of diamonds hidden by an eccentric former owner of the island whose family still owns most of it. There is a locked room murder – although I found the solution completely implausible – and a treasure map, whose solution is somewhat better. I guessed the killer almost immediately and I figured out a much better solution to one of the murders than the one in the book.  11/28/16

The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude, Poisoned Pen Press, 2016 (originally published in 1936)

I guessed the surprise ending almost from the outset in this one though it was probably pretty clever when it was published. A man disappears and a few days later bones are found in a lime kiln. Evidence initially points to his brother, but the detective in charge is not taken in and his opinion is confirmed when the brother is also murdered, although it is made to look like suicide. Whenever a mystery novel lacks a guaranteed identification of a corpse, there’s a very good chance that it isn’t the person the police believe it to be. I’ve liked three consecutive books by Bude, who wrote thirty all of which went out of print more than half a century ago. 11/27/16

The Doomed Five by Carolyn Wells, Burt, 1930 

A very rich man outrages his family by devoting a large part of his net worth to a horticultural hobby. He places that money in a trust managed by four people. They cannot replace one another if they die and when they all pass away, the residual money reverts to the family. And then the magnate dies and so do his four managers. Is someone within the family eliminating them or is an outsider involve? One of Wells’ better puzzles although the dialogue is as cornball as ever. 11/27/16

Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston, Poisoned Pen Press, 2015 (originally published in 1936) 

This is more of a crime novel than a mystery. A wealthy miser has a nephew who has become infatuated with a night club dancer. She plans to marry him until she realizes that he won’t be rich until the uncle dies, and the uncle is comparatively young. Her partner and an acquaintance have more ambitious plans, however. They hope to provoke him into killing the uncle, or they will kill the uncle themselves and arrange for evidence implicating him so that they can resort to blackmail. Virtually every character in the story is despicable for one reason or another, but the evolution of the plot is devious and convincing. There is a very nice twist at the end, even though the chief villain escapes retribution. 11/26/16

Assignment Black Viking by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1967 

This is a ludicrously bad Sam Durell novel about a man who has a weather changing machine which he has installed in a submarine and which somehow has set in motion a new ice age. The science is embarrassing, but so is the plot structure. Despite the urgency, Durell takes a yacht from Italy to Scandinavia rather than fly. His partner is the daughter of the missing scientist he has been sent to find, but no one bothers to tell him that.  The yacht is supposed to be necessary as his cover – although he doesn’t need cover – but he sticks to it even after several attempts on his life, proving that his cover didn’t work. I could barely make it to the end of this one. 11/25/16

Her Nightly Embrace by Adi Tantimedh, Leopoldo, 2016, $26, ISBN 978-1-5011-3057-1

First in a series about Ravi Singh, head of a team of private investigators whose cases are always handled with the utmost discretion. This is apparently a series of three books associated with a forthcoming television series. The series is set in London and the team includes a number of eccentric characters. The cast of characters is rather large for a novel of this sort but presumably it will provide for a diversity of story lines in the television show. The first volume involves multiple cases including an apparent ghostly haunting, a feud that turns violent, a runaway daughter, a potential international political crisis, and others. The prose isn’t bad but the unfocused plot makes it difficult to really immerse oneself in the story and there are so many characters that none of them really come to life. 11/24/16

The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse, Morrow, 2014 

Mosse’s previous novels have all impressed me by her ability to generate a mysterious atmosphere that is almost more important than the plot. This new thriller, while very good, does not succeed as well on that level, in part I think because it is so obvious what is happening that there is no real element of mystery. The protagonist is the daughter of a taxidermist who has declined into drunken bouts that seem to go on endlessly. She herself has amnesia and cannot remember much of her childhood, supposedly because of an accident. She does vaguely remember an older friend named Cassie. Her father is connected to four influential men who are clearly hiding a secret from their past, and it is not really a spoiler to say that they killed a young woman, presumably Cassie. And it isn’t much longer before we figure out that Cassie didn’t die but was sent to an asylum, from which she has currently escaped to wreak vengeance on her attackers. Quite good, but not up to Mosse’s usual standards. 11/23/16

The Lake District Murder by John Bude, Poisoned Pen Press, 2014 (originally published in 1935)

The owner of a garage is found dead, apparently having killed himself by breathing exhaust fumes. But there are some minor aspects of the case that don’t add up and the detective in charge suspects not only that it was a murder, but that it was designed to prevent a member of a criminal gang from running out on his fellow crooks. Most of the book is in fact about ferreting out the crime ring. We have a pretty good idea what they’re doing, but it’s much less clear how they are making the scheme work. More crime novel than mystery but not bad at all. 11/22/16

Capital Crimes edited by Martin Edwards, Poisoned Pen Press, 2015   

The common theme to this collection of classic stories is that they are all set in London.  I had read something by each of the contributors in the past and had heard of all of them. The stories vary from crime adventures to puzzle stories to cozies. Included are works by Edgar Wallace, H. C. Bailey, Thomas Burke, Margery Allingham, Ernest Bramah, R. Austin Freeman, and several others. There are a couple of minor classics and the rest are all good, solid pieces of fiction. 11/22/18

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

Although Wells has an interesting problem in this Fleming Stone mystery, the delivery is below even her usual low standards. A woman’s husband has been murdered and it is discovered that her first husband died the same way in Spain several years earlier. In that case she was acquitted because of insufficient evidence, but this time she might hang. Stone is convinced that she is innocent and sets out to find the real killer. The characters interact awkwardly, the prose is occasionally quite rough, and the explanation is not very convincing. 11/20/16

The Female Detective by Andrew Forrester, Poisoned Pen Press, 2014 (originally published in 1864)  

This is reputedly the first book featuring a female detective, whose real name we never learn. It’s a series of short stories and by contemporary standards several of them are unconventional, with the villain escaping or turning out to be a better person than the victim. The prose tends to be repetitious and the detective makes several stunning leaps of logic that are not at all supported by the evidence she’s presented. The first and rather longish story is about a child substitution and it forces the detective to deal with the disparity between justice under the law and justice in the real world. Some of the stories are nonsense. You cannot tell and Englishman from a German by examining their hip bones, and not every murder committed in England using a knife was necessarily performed by a foreigner. Interesting historically and mildly entertaining, but rather disappointing overall. 11/20/16

Assignment Palermo by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1966 

This atypical Sam Durell novel has him in Europe to track down three American criminals who have broken with the Italian syndicate because of its espionage against the US. One of the men is a childhood friend of Durell. There is a beautiful trapeze artist and a former Soviet assassin in the mix, as Durell discovers that the syndicate has had a silent coup at the top in order to promote its new agenda instead of the more ordinary crime that was formerly its business. The story was okay but it felt like something adapted into the series rather than a Sam Durell novel from the outset. 11/19/16

The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude, Poisoned Pen Press, 2014 (originally published in 1935)  

A small town in Cornwall is thrown into confusion when a prominent magistrate is shot in his study, killed by one of three widely dispersed bullets. Only two people left footprints in the area and neither of them seems a likely suspect. And another crime, one of opportunity, muddies the water even further. This was the author’s first mystery story and while it stumbles occasionally – the detectives make some unwarranted assumptions  and the ending is a major cheat, introducing the villain to the plot only twenty pages before the end – it was an entertaining story that bears some relation to a police procedural. 11/18/16

The Chosen by Kristina Ohlsson, Emily Bestler, 2016, $17, ISBN 978-1-4767-3406-4

A series of brutal murders with anti-semitic overtones causes turmoil in Stockholm. A professional investigator and a police official head the subsequent operation to find the killer while rumors of a legendary figure known as the Paper Boy complicate issues. There are some complicated twists and turns in this quasi-police procedural. The story is strong on suspense and logical detection despite the elements of fable. This is part of a series and I'll be keeping an eye out for the others that have been translated into English. One of the better examples of this type of thriller. 11/17/16

Assignment School for Spies by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1966 

The love of Sam Durell’s life has supposedly defected to East Germany but he doesn’t believe it and he disobeys orders in order to investigate. He follows the trail to Austria before confronting his girlfriend and her husband, avoiding a couple attempts at assassination along the way. Unbeknownst to Durell, she has been recruited by the CIA to infiltrate her new husband’s spy apparatus, which she accomplishes mostly with Durell’s help. The plot is contingent upon no one telling others things that they need to know and some of the scenes feel more like a comic book than a novel. 11/15/16

Assignment Cong Hai Kill by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1966

Sam Durell is in Thailand to negotiate the surrender of an American traitor who has been working against US interests in Vietnam. But the situation turns out to be even more confusing than he expected, with guerilla assassins, a local security man who may not be what he appears to be, mutilation killings, the girlfriend of the traitor who is ambivalent about helping with his capture/surrender. Much of the book consists of a long chase and escape sequence that is quite well done. Above average for the series. 11/15/16

Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay, Poisoned Pen Press, 2014 (originally published in 1934) 7 

An elderly woman is strangled on a rarely used staircase in the London underground. She is carrying a stolen broach in her pocket, which is labeled as having been stolen by a young man of her acquaintance, who freely admits to having been involved in a burglary and who seems the prime suspect. But why didn’t he take the incriminating evidence? One of the requirements of a good mystery is that the information be presented in a fashioned organized enough so that the reader can process it, even if some of it is misleading. This one stumbles a bit in the first half. It was hard to keep the characters separate from one another and the point of view jumped around so much that it felt lacking in continuity.  11/11/16

Assignment The Cairo Dancers by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1965   

Someone is kidnapping prominent scientists from all over the world. Sam Durell is sent to Germany to find out where they are going and recover a German-American expert on laser technology. He crosses paths with a pair of Nazi hunters, one of whom is killed in the early chapters. The trail quickly leads to a charismatic Muslim cult based in Egypt, and Durell goes through the usual string of escapes, muggings, and rescues. The end this time is very rushed even for Aarons, with the hero going from prisoner to completion in less than ten pages, dismantling the cult and rescuing the abductees. 11/9/16

A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon, Poisoned Pen Press, 2014 (originally published in 1940)   

Police and a crowd are drawn to a scream in a London blacked out against air attack. They find blood but no body, although a short time later one of their officers is stabbed to death. Inspector McCarthy is on the case, however, and when the body turns up elsewhere, a man disguised as a woman, he searches for a motive – which emerges later when he discovers that the victim had previously stolen military secrets from the British government. I found this very enjoyable despite a fondness for coincidences to move the story forward. The style is light and pleasant and there are no side trips into irrelevancies. Brandon apparently wrote quite a few thriller style mysteries, but most of them are not readily available. 11/7/16

The Gallows in My Garden by Joan Fleming, Hamish Hamilton, 1951  

Jamie MacKenzie accidentally kills someone in a drunken fight, so he runs away to London. There he meets a man recently acquitted of manslaughter in the death of his wife and the two become friends, after a fashion. But it’s not long before he finds himself involved with a plan to commit a rather more explicit murder. This is a fair suspense novel with some interesting characters, but it doesn’t rise above being mediocre. 11/6/16

Assignment Sulu Sea by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1964   

When an experimental US submarine is pirated, a lone survivor manages to send a message to Sam Durell of the CIA. He travels to a string of islands near Borneo where he discovers that at least one member of the embassy staff is working against American interests. There is a local warlord who is pretty clearly the man responsible for the hijacking and Durell goes through a predictable series of feints and foibles before smashing his organization, freeing the imprisoned sailors, and taking back the purloined submarine. Fast paced but not always convincing. 11/5/16

Don’t Go Out After Dark by Norman Berrow, Ramble House, 2005 (originally published in 1950)  

Another excellent detective story by an author who should be much better known. Someone is sending warning letters to a young woman and leaving dead animals for her to find. Then a voodoo doll shows up with a pin in its chest and her former fiancé is found dead in the middle of a hedge maze. Since he was the obvious suspect for the harassment, this leaves the police scratching their heads until they discover that he had an accomplice, whom no one can find. But he turns up as well, also dead, and the plot thickens even further. I suspected the guilty party for a while but had moved to another prime suspect by the time it ended. Suspenseful, clever, and even has a touch of humor. 11/4/16

Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay, Poisoned Pen Press, 2014 (originally published in 1935)   

Mavis Hay wrote only three mysteries, of which this is the second. It’s set at Oxford university where four young woman spot a canoe adrift on the Cherwell and manage to snag it to shore. The college bursar is in the canoe, dead by drowning, which means that someone moved her body after she was dead. The police are investigating, but the four girls decide to look into it themselves.  They actually do contribute to the case, although it is the inspector who figures out who the killer is. The solution is somewhat telegraphed although not terribly so, and the atmosphere and writing are very nicely done. I ordered the other two books so obviously I liked it. 11/2/16

Assignment The Girl in the Gondola by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1964 

Sam Durell has a new assignment – he has to derail a plan by the Chinese to trigger a nuclear exchange between the US and the USSR, by launching an attack on both from Albania. A defector has promised to guide him to the secret installation, but the defector disappears and Durell must decide whether or not to work in conjunction with the Soviet spy apparatus.  This is Aarons at his near best, with convoluted plots, confused loyalties, double crosses, assassinations and attempted assassinations, and an apocalyptic danger lurking in the near future. 10/31/16

The Wooden Indian by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1935 

The husband in an unhappy marriage is scheduled to die because of a three hundred year old Indian curse, so when he is found shot to death by an arrow in a locked room, the obvious explanation is the supernatural. Detective Fleming Stone doesn’t believe in ghosts, even though he has himself seen a spectral image in the area and he sets out to track down the real killer. As usual, Wells does a terrible job at depicting actual people and their actions are erratic and hard to follow at times. Nice atmosphere though, and a reasonably clever solution. 10/29/16

Assignment Manchurian Doll by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1963 

Sam Durell is off to infiltrate China and help a highly placed Russian agent to defect to the West. To do so he must convince the defector’s lover to follow suit, which is not as easy as he hoped it might be. Standing in his way is an amoral entrepreneur with a coterie of thugs who want to be paid by the West for helping the Russian defect, and by the Russians for turning Durell over to him. Other complications add to the mix but this was an oddly uninvolving adventure in which not a great deal happens. 10/28/16

You Can’t Believe Your Eyes by Joan Fleming, Collins, 1957 

Fleming adopted an unusual approach to this murder mystery. A man is poisoned at a dirty party, after which we see the same basic set of scenes from the viewpoints of everyone attending, the servant, and the neighbors. Then there is a general unraveling of motives and secrets, after which a second round of switching viewpoints takes us to the end. The mystery itself is a bit flat, however, and the explanation not entirely convincing. I applaud the attempt to do something different, but this time it just didn’t work out because the basic material wouldn’t support it. 10/25/16

The Doorstep Murders by Carolyn Wells, Doubleday, 1930 

Detective Kenneth Carlisle is called in for one of Wells’ more ingenious set ups. Three prominent men leave a poker game and walk to their various homes. Each is found dead the following morning, stabbed in the back just as they were about to open the doors of their houses. The knives are virtually identical and there is no way to tell in which order they were killed. The other three poker players and various family members are the chief suspects. Wells had no talent at all for unraveling mysteries. Many of the characters conceal things for no reason at all except to keep information from the reader. It’s still one of her best books though. 10/25/16

Assignment Sorrento Siren by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1963   

An American businessman has stolen some valuable artifacts from the prince of a nation with whom the US would like to engage in trade for resources. Sam Durell has three days to track the man down and recover the lost property, but his job is complicated by the fact that the man’s accomplices have betrayed him because they have a different end in mind than simply money. Throw in a Soviet spy who wants the deal to fail, the usual beautiful but treacherous woman, and the occasional incompetence of the hero to advance the story and you have another adventure typical of this series. 10/24/16

Alt.Sherlock.Holmes edited anonymously, Abaddon, 2016, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-78108-424-3   

This is a collection of three short stories and three novelettes, the pairs linked and by the same author. Each set of two depicts a different sort of Sherlock Holmes. In the first by Jamie Wyman he’s a carnival fortune teller, although he’s not really Holmes at all but just someone who uses similar techniques. The two by Gini Koch are much better. Sherlock Holmes is a woman – I would have changed her name to Sherry – and she solves two relatively interesting cases. The final pair are by Glen Mehn, and Holmes this time is a Hollywood consultant. These are reasonably good as well, somewhere in interest between the other two. 10/22/16

Screams from a Penny Dreadful by Joan Fleming, Hamish Hamilton, 1973   

A Victorian mystery novel in which three sisters find themselves owning a mill after their father dies under suspicious circumstances. A distant cousin they have never met arrives from Australia, claiming he had no knowledge of the death, but because of the male oriented inheritance laws, he might have legitimate title to the property. The oldest of the three sisters, however, detects inconsistencies in his story which indicate he is a liar, if not an imposter.  The story is told well but it was a bit too familiar a set up to be really interesting. 10/21/16

Assignment Karachi by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1962 

This time Sam Durell is off to Pakistan to act as bodyguard to a rich American businesswoman who is about to lead an expedition to find a rumored deposit of nickel in the mountains near China. Someone attempts to kill him as soon as he arrives and one member of the party is obviously working for the communists, and Durell is pretty sure of it. I was a little disappointed with this one because Durell seemed uncharacteristically slow witted and inefficient and the story wanders around for quite a while before it actually gets moving. 10/20/16

The Best of Spicy Mystery Stories Volume 2 edited by Alfred Jan, Altus, 2015 

Second volume from this titillating 1930s mystery magazine, by authors of whom you have probably never heard. Some of these are genuinely fantastic though most have a rationalized ending. Cats avenge the murder of a witch in one. Also included are a madman in a creepy castle, an insane woman who believes she was formerly a man, a breeding farm for misshapen mutants, a jungle curse, a phantom airline pilot, an evil Chinese scientist, and various murderers. Like the first volume it contains the very sketchy artwork that appeared in the original magazine. A little more varied than the first, but the stories weren’t as well written. 10/19/16

Assignment Lowlands by Edward S. Aaron, Gold Medal, 1961

Sam Durell is off to Holland to track down a secret Nazi bioweapons laboratory which developed a new plague before it was lost under a flood. Someone has found it and is blackmailing western governments. We find out who is responsible almost immediately, but before Durell can get very far, a third party enters the fray and there are abductions, attempted killings, murder, and the usual chases and escapes. One of the villains is a rather silly caricature but otherwise this was a fair thriller. 10/18/16

Villain by Shuichi Yoshida, Pantheon, 2007  

This is a moderately interesting mystery/suspense novel that opens with the murder of a young woman who was very careless about her life style and put herself in jeopardy with strange men on more than one occasion. We pretty much know what happened right from the start and the most appealing part of the book is the description of everyday life in Japan. Not very suspenseful, however, and at times my interest wandered. 10/17/16

Assignment Burma Girl by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1961  

Sam Durell is sent to Burma to find an American who disappeared in a remote part of the country while on an intelligence mission. Complicating matters is the presence of the missing man’s very rich wife, a traitor inside the American embassy, a soldier presumed dead in World War II who has taken on a new identity, a couple of beautiful women, a communist insurgency, and a Japanese soldier who never went home after the war. I had some problems following the motivations of some of the characters, but the story is otherwise fast paced and satisfying. 10/16/16

Hell’s Belle by Joan Fleming, Washburn, 1968   

This was one of Fleming’s less interesting thrillers. An Englishman runs into a young half-French woman and then gets caught up in her life when she tries to kill herself by jumping from a bridge. They end up as a couple. She describes herself as an heiress whose money is controlled by her stepmother while he confesses to being married and a fugitive after holding up a bank. It is clear from the outset that neither is telling the entire truth. Murder and attempted murder follow as the woman provokes the man into one situation after another. Although the characters are nicely done, the story is not that interesting and the conclusion is too predictable. 10/13/16

All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe, Kodansha, 1997   

A police detective on medical leave agrees to look for a cousin’s missing fiancé. It isn’t long before she discovers that the woman was using a false identity, and he even tracks her back to when the switch was made. But what happened to the original woman and where is the imposter now? A slow, methodical series of investigations leads to the truth. A little slow getting started but once I had a few chapters under my belt, I found it compelling reading through the end. There's a little luck involved in finding the solution but mostly it's just hard work and attention to detail. 10/12/16

The Best of Spicy Mystery Stories Volume 1 edited by Alfred Jan, Altus, 2012  

Most of the stories in this magazine followed a formula. There would be apparently supernatural events, but they would be rationalized at the end. And lots of sex. But some good writers wrote for this market, including the first story in this, by Henry Kuttner, about a madman who thinks he’s Gilles des Rais. There’s a magic charm that really isn’t, mysterious murders in a locked lighthouse, poisoned darts, cannibalism, stolen mummies, amputated heads, torture chambers, voodoo ceremonies, and unnatural desires. The best story is by Hugh Cave. Includes the original illustrations, which are consistently bad.  One story by Robert Leslie Bellem actually contains some fantastic content. More interesting for their curiosity value than their story contents. 10/11/16

Assignment Ankara by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1961 

Sam Durell is sent into a remote part of Turkey to retrieve a scientist and a tape which might reveal the nature of a new weapon the Russians have been testing. An earthquake has devastated that region and by the time he arrives, he has accumulated a number of hangers on, including two smugglers, a woman pretending to be someone else, a Turkish soldier with mixed loyalties, an alcoholic American colonel, another American spy who distrusts Durell, and others. They eventually are flown out but the plane is lured off course, they crash into the Mediterranean, and their only hope of survival is a Russian fishing trawler. And somewhere along the line, the tape has changed hands more than once. This would have been pretty good if not for a fatal flaw. The Russians don’t need the tape - they only need to destroy it, and that could have been done with very little difficulty at various times during the story. 10/10/16

Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino, Knopf, 2006   

Like the other two novels I’ve read by this author, the mystery is subordinated to a story about a small group of women and their interactions. In this case, two Tokyo prostitutes are murdered and no one even knows their real past identities. Their story slowly unfolds, fueled in part by the reminiscences of the sister of one of the victims. The plot is really an excuse for an indictment of certain elements of Japanese society which diminish the position and perceived value of women, so the murder and its solution feel largely like an afterthought. 10/8/16

Assignment Zoraya by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1960 

Sam Durell is off to Europe again, this time to find a debauched prince and bring him back to his home sultanate in order to head off a rebellion. There is a Russian spy in love with an Israeli, a tribe that ignores its pledges of loyalty, a dying Imam, a beautiful girl – of course, and other plot complications. About average for the series and less dependent upon coincidences than usual. The ending feels rushed and the prince’s reclamation is a bit too easy. 10/7/16

The Lady Killer by Masako Togawa, Dodd Mead, 1985

This is a nicely plotted crime novel with a real jerk as protagonist. His marriage is dysfunctional and he spends his week nights in Tokyo seducing young women. Although he treats them reasonably well, he uses false identities and other tricks to ensure his privacy and he keeps a journal with details about each encounter. Then his past conquests begin to die, each strangled, and sometimes with his possessions left at the crime scene. He is arrested and convicted, but one of the police officers is skeptical. Someone obviously wants to frame him for the murders, but why, and how do they know so much about him? I had most of this figured out in advance, but it was still a very satisfying few closing chapters. 10/6/16

Assignment Mara Tirana by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal, 1960 

There are some plot holes in this spy thriller. The first American astronaut has crashed in the Balkans and the Russians are trying to capture him while the Americans try to spirit him to freedom. Sam Durell travels without authorization to Europe when he learns that the woman he loves – and who in turns loves the astronaut, maybe – has gone with the agent actually assigned to the case, and a Soviet spy plans to use her to lure Durell behind the Iron Curtain where he can be quietly executed. Before it’s over with,  Durell has to rescue four different people from four different locations and get them all out of the country. The ending is rather rushed but it’s  a fairly good thriller. 10/3/16

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