Last Update 12/31/17

The Duke of York’s Steps by Henry Wade,  Perennial, 1982 (originally published in 1929)   

A man in fragile health is jostled while descending some steps in London. A few minutes later he falls dead when an artery breaks. All of the witnesses agree that the encounter on the steps was trivial and could not account for the deep bruise from the blow that damaged the artery. Inspector Poole is not even placed on the case until after the man was buried because it was initially ruled to be an accidental death. But there are suspicious aspects and a large inheritance involved. There are a couple of nice red herrings in this one, but a single line at the time of the death gives away a significant part of the solution. This nicely written classic murder mystery is actually a police procedural, though not the type practiced today. I have yet to be disappointed by a Wade book. 12/31/17

The Wine of Violence by Lesley Egan, Popular Library, 1969 

The central story in this one is an escaped convict who wants revenge on the policeman who killed his brother, but there are several other cases mixed in, including the discovery of a bunch of high school kids with pot. Egan invents statistics and facts right and left in this one, and she also lectures about religion, taxes, pornography, and even condemns psychedelic artwork. The police repeatedly question minors without lawyers or adults present. There is so much extraneous detail that it's hard to keep track of the story lines in her worst novel yet.  12/29/17

In the Death of a Man by Lesley Egan, Harper, 1970

This could have been an okay mystery if the author hadn't cheated so openly. Her detectives forget to perform rudimentary procedures when a businessman is found shot to death in his car. They fail to interview the witnesses providing alibis to two of the suspects, they search a house without finding the large safe, and they claim that they cannot tell whether a .22 or a .45 was used even though the shots were from close range. This last is to keep us guessing about whose weapon was used, which is a laugh since it was none of them. The solution is discovered by accident and is almost random. 12/29/17

The Minotaur by Ruth Rendell, Penguin, 2005

This was a Barbara Vine novel. The plot is very reminiscent of the gothic romances that were popular a few decades back. The protagonist is a nurse hired to stay in a large private home and look after an adult schizophrenic. She notes that he is heavily sedated, perhaps more than necessary. A complicated will gives various family members reasons to want him to be declared incompetent, and eventually romantic rivalries lead to a murder that is initially blamed on him. This was one of my favorite of the books she published under this name. 12/28/17

A Midsummer’s Equation by Keigo Higashino, Minotaur, 2016  

This excellent murder mystery starts with a conference pitting ocean developers against environmentalists on the coast of Japan. A consultant – nicknamed Detective Galileo in an earlier book – is one of two people staying at a small inn that is on its last financial legs. The other is found murdered by carbon monoxide poisoning the following day, although initially it is believed that he suffered a fatal fall. But the dead man turns out to be a retired detective who apparently had second thoughts about a murder case years earlier in which he arrested a man who was later convicted, although he has since been released from prison. The old case is obviously the key to the solution of the new one, but even when the ex-convict is located – in a nursing home – the truth remains elusive. I had a pretty good idea what happened early in the story, but I got almost all of the details wrong.  12/27/18

Look Your Last by John Stephen Strange, Collins, 1943 

I usually like to see writers trying new things from book to book, but not so much with mystery authors. The first couple of novels I read by this author were conventional mysteries and I enjoyed them both. This one, however, is a war time spy novel and not a very good one. It starts with the disappearance of a clerk who turns out to have been using a false identity. Several people are looking for him, and some of them are quite obviously German agents. There is a subplot about efforts to provide technology to the Germans in the days before the US entered the war. It wanders considerably and never really generates much suspense. 12/26/17

A Serious Investigation by Lesley Egan, Popular Library, 1968  

Jesse Falkenstein returns when one of his clients, a genuine medium, is murdered in her apartment. Is it the wastrel nephew, the ambitious but disturbed writer, the jealous boyfriend, the psychic groupie who believes everything, or perhaps someone else. The police are preoccupied by their search for a man who raped and murdered a young girl, so Falkenstein has to pursue the investigation with limited help to avenge the person who considered a friend as well as a client. Okay, but the ending cheats a little. 12/26/17

Miraculous Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards, Poisoned Pen, 2017, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-4642-0744-0  

This is a collection of impossible crime stories, locked rooms and so forth, drawn from the golden days of detective fiction. There’s a non Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle, a Carnacki tale by William Hope Hodgson, and others by Margery Allingham, Sapper McNeile, Sax Rohmer, R. Austin Freeman, Dorothy Sayers, G.K.Chesterton, and others. I had only encountered four of them before. As always with this editor’s collections, there are no bad stories. I did manage to guess a few of the solutions in advance, probably because I’ve read so many that I know what to look for. This is well over three hundred pages of good fiction and well worth the price. 12/24/17

13 Steps Down by Ruth Rendell, Crown, 2004 

A man who is quietly stalking a professional model is also obsessed with a serial killer who died fifty years earlier. His landlady has cut herself off from the outside world for the same period of time because she was frustrated in love, but has recently decided to track down the man she admired. When the man commits a murder, his two obsessions overlap. Things proceed logically from there and the protagonist eventually attempts to murder his landlady, who knows too much, but unbeknownst to him, she is already dead. This leads in due course to his arrest, a rather lowkey but inevitable ending.12/24/17

Mist on the Saltings by Henry Wade, Perennial, 1985 (originally published in 1933)

This is generally considered Wade’s best novel. A frustrated artist and his wife are eking out a simple life in a remote village. The wife succumbs to the enticements of a charming but unprincipled writer who lives in the area and who turns up dead, suffocated in the mud near his house. The first impression is that he got lost in the fog and fell in, but there are suggestions of other explanations. He had just drawn out a large amount of cash and a local fisherman has recently had his finances improved. Another man disappears for three weeks without explanation. And of course the angry artist has an excellent motive and ample opportunity. There is not a great deal of evidence except circumstantial, and there is a nicely done reversal that seems to clear the guilty party. Very well done characterization and local color. 12/22/17

The Nameless Ones by Lesley Egan, Doubleday, 1967

An undistinguished addition to the Vic Varallo series that feels more like a reworked Maddox story such as she wrote as Elizabeth Linington. No central case to focus on, solutions through coincidences, one mild twist to a murder case, and nothing at all memorable. Her characters even repeat lines of dialogue from previous books and stumble into rather than figure out the solutions. 12/22/17

Dominic by Mark Pryor, Seventh Street, 2017, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-365-9

I have a secret fondness for stories told from the point of view of insane or psychopathic personalities. This one has two of them. The first is the title character, who once got away with murder, although his girlfriend - also a psychopath - and her brother know the truth. When a detective decides to look into the old case, Dominic is not really concerned that he will be found out, but the girlfriend decides that it might be safer if the detective should die, and she persists in her plans even when Dominic tells her it would be better just to ignore her. But the situation changes when the desirability of another death for personal and financial reasons becomes appealing and Dominic thinks he just might be able to solve both of his problems with a single act. So he sets a convoluted plan into emotion that even his girlfriend does not know about, although it will eventually have a dramatic and unexpected effect on her life. A nice change of pace for this author. 12/21/17

Detective's Due by Lesley Egan, Doubleday, 1965  v733 

This is a pretty routine grouping of cases including the abduction and rape of a very young girl and the brutal murder of an elderly couple in their home. Vic Varallo and his fellow officers go through the usual steps of a police procedural, but the solution actually results from luck and a series of convenient coincidences. Okay but below her usual standards. 12/20/17

Some Avenger Rise! by Lesley Egan, Popular Library, 1966 V730 

Without doubt, this is the weakest book I've yet read by Linington/Egan. His detective friend is framed so that it looks like he took a bribe to suppress evidence. At least four people have been bribed themselves to testify that he was involved with a loose woman and spent large sums of money. Falkenstein and the detective go around physically threatening the witnesses – which would have gotten them disbarred and fired respectively – and eventually uncover an insane man with a long standing grudge against the detective. 12/20/17

The Rottweiler by Ruth Rendell, Vintage 2003 

An uncharacteristic serial killer novel from this author. A woman running an antique shop rents rooms on the other floors to a number of unusual characters. What she doesn't know is that one of her tenants is the mysterious serial killer known as the Rottweiler because of false reports that he bites his victims. The killer kept souvenirs of his victims, but now they are showing up in her shop. Basically a good story, but the police are unusually dimwitted, as is the killer, and a search of the building fails to turn up some of the other souvenirs, which are in fact in one of the rooms. There's a fairly good ending and, surprisingly, some funny scenes. 12/19/17

Reasonable Doubt by John Stephen Strange, Doubleday, 1951

The opening chapters of this one consist of the trial and acquittal of Ruth Purdy for the poisoning death of her husband, much to the disgust of the dead man’s sister but to the delight of her lawyer, who has secretly been romancing her for some time. But in the months that follow, he begins to wonder if she might have done it after all, and the reader is likely to be inclined to have the same reservations. So too does a police detective who refuses to drop the case. I guessed what was really going on fairly early and I didn’t really like any of the characters so this was far from being one of my favorites by this author. 12/17/17

Adam and Eve and Pinch Me by Ruth Rendell, Hutchinson, 2001

A womanizer who has been leaching off several women fakes his death and one of his victims suffers a psychotic break. She thinks she sees his ghost in a theater one day and stabs him fatally, but escapes unrecognized. Two other women suffer different but also serious consequences including the disruption of what one thought would be a secretly bigamous marriage to a Member of Parliament and the heartbreak of another who was deeply in love with him. The murder investigation causes additional problems for them and their friends, and a second murder adds more tension. There's no real mystery here, but the suspense if well developed and the characters as usual are well drawn and interesting. 12/17/17

My Name Is Death by Lesley Egan, Doubleday, 1964

An inoffensive banker is attempting to divorce his scatterbrained and disloyal wife when she is murdered. All the evidence points to him but lawyer Falkenstein thinks he's innocent. A body found buried under a house seems unrelated at first, but the dead woman's past is more complicated than expected and it leads to the discovery of multiple crimes. About average for the author. 12/16/17

Cry of the Innocents by Cavan Scott, Titan, 2017, $14.95, ISBN 978-1783297160 

Sherlock Holmes suspects that a priest who supposedly died of cholera after collapsing when he tried to meet Holmes was actually poisoned. The priest was part of a group investigating a supposed miracle. When the body is stolen, his suspicions become further aroused and he and Dr. Watson are soon on the case in earnest. The case obviously involves the miracle – a dead body which steadfastly refuses to decompose. But the truth is much stranger than that. This was a fair mystery but for some reason the story’s narrator – Watson – does not feel like the familiar character. This was a passable mystery/adventure but it was one of the weaker Holmes pastiches, not so much for the plot as for the tone. 12/15/17

The Mystery of the Singing Mummies by Donald Keyhoe, Altus, 2017 (originally published in 1936) 

Dr. Yen Sin is back for another series of battles with the hero, the man who never sleeps, this time in San Francisco. Somehow he can bring about the transformation of living people into mummies in a matter of seconds, with which threat he pursues frankly rather petty goals rather than the grandiose plans one would expect from the leader of an international criminal conspiracy. Our hero thwarts him but still does not manage to completely release the female lead from his enemy’s evil clutches, and Yen Sin once again escapes just as he is about to be captured so that he can return in the next adventure. Crudely written, of course, but amusing. 12/14/17

Mourning Tide by Christine Kling, Tell Tale, 2014, $14.99, ISBN 978-0991050826 

About ten years ago I read four remarkably good mysteries about Seychelle Sullivan, a Florida tugboat operator who found herself in the middle of several murder mysteries. The series ended with her and her partner adopting a baby, the son of a friend who had been murdered. Now after a long gap, the story continues. The boy is now five years old and the couple are still together. Seychelle is hired to raise a sunken boat that is obstructing a channel and – unsurprisingly – she finds human remains aboard. More surprising is that the bones are from someone she knew, which gives her an incentive to help the police solve the crime – not entirely with their permission. The reader will suspect almost immediately that there is a connection with a local religious cult, but that still leaves a lot of possible murderers. The local color is excellent, the character is likeable and plausible, the mystery is neatly done although the resolution was a bit disappointing – I prefer to have the protagonist figure things out rather than fall into a trap. Still well worth your time and better than most of the other recent mysteries I’ve read. If you haven't read the first four books, go out and find them. 12/13/17

The Mystery of the Golden Skull by Donald Keyhoe, Altus, 2017 (originally published in 1936) 

The second series of adventures involving Dr. Yen Sin, leader of the Invisible Empire, a Chinese crime conspiracy. Most of the action this time involves efforts to steal or steal back a peculiar skull, the secret of which we eventually learn is that confidential information has been inscribed on the bone. We are never told why anyone would do such a thing, but the old pulp Yellow Menace stories were never particularly strong on logic. The hero is once again the man who cannot sleep, but who uses most of that extra waking time trying to develop new hobbies rather than do anything constructive.12/10/17

Run to Evil by Lesley Egan, Doubleday, 1963

A young boy is found murdered although it was arranged to look like an accident. His best friend is acting strangely and it is no surprise to discover that he knows who the killer is. The mystery is pretty obvious from the outset, and the solution comes completely out of thin air in one of the most contrived and incredible plot devices I've seen in mystery fiction. This was definitely not one of the author's finer hours. 12/9/17

Grasshopper by Ruth Rendell, Penguin, 2000

I believe this is the longest of the Rendell/Barbara Vine novels. It involves a group of people who clandestinely amuse themselves by dangerously climbing the rooftops in London. There is some missing money and a mugging and a few other minor crimes, but this really isn't a mystery novel, nor is it particularly suspenseful, although the characters are interesting enough. There is a tragic opening and a tragic climax that mirrors it in some ways. The title refers to pylons carrying electric cables. I suspect Rendell wanted to be considered more than a mystery writer, but her mainstreamish novels are often too slow.12/7/17

The Mystery of the Dragon’s Shadow by Donald Keyhoe, Altus, 2017 (originally published in 1936) 

The first in a pulp series that imitated Fu Manchu, very similar to the Wu Fang novels by Robert Hogan. Dr. Yen Sin is the leader of the Invisible Empire, an international criminal conspiracy. In the opener, he is trying to acquire government secrets through blackmail and extortion, but naturally he is defeated – though not apprehended – by red blooded American patriots. Crudely plotted and written, it generates a mild sense of excitement at times but never really gains any speed. 12/6/17

Against the Evidence by Lesley Egan, Popular Library, 1962 

Lawyer Jesse Falkenstein has another framed client, this time a mentally challenged man accused of strangling a woman in an office building. It becomes obvious quite early that she overheard something when she came in to the office outside of normal hours one night, and the nature of that incident is actually rather irrelevant to the story. The police are pretty sloppy in their work this time, even though the author assures us they were doing an excellent job, and Falkenstein rather easily discovers who is really responsible. 12/5/17

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama, Riverrun, 2017 

This very long crime novel has several interrelated plots. The protagonist is a police detective who has been transferred to public relations and does not like his new position. His life is complicated by the fact that his young daughter has run away from home and has not been heard from in weeks. He is currently embroiled in an argument with the press about releasing the name of a woman involved in a fatal accident. He was involved in a tragic kidnapping case years ago, and the statute of limitations is about to expire. A highly placed official plans to intercede though for political rather than humanitarian purposes. The kidnapper was never identified. Almost by accident, he uncovers the truth about a misstep by the police in that case which has been covered up for years and now includes some senior officers. Another police officer who should be concerned only with personnel issues is also investigating. The novel provides considerable insights into Japanese hierarchical structures but for me it was a bit too long and spent too much time dwelling on the departmental politics and not enough on the crime/mystery. 12/3/17

A Case for Appeal by Lesley Egan, Doubleday, 1961

This was the first book about Jesse Falkenstein, a lawyer, whose client has just been convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to death for performing abortions that cost two lives. He believes she is innocent despite seven witnesses, and unravels a case of mistaken identity, perjury, and other complexities to free her and bring the real culprit to justice. The detection is reasonably well done – much of it by figuring out what the dying women were saying while they were delirious. I am dubious about the original trial, which seems to involve some highly unlikely details, but once past that, it was a satisfying mystery. 12/1/17

The Borrowed Alibi by Lesley Egan, Doubleday, 1961  

Vic Varallo, who first appeared in A Case for Appeal, is married and renting a room to Ross Duncan, who is near bankruptcy because of alimony payments. When his ex-wife is murdered, he is obviously the prime suspect, and it's not hard to build a case against him because he has obviously been framed. This one is pretty good despite a couple of irritating details, like consistently getting the name of a famous book wrong, and by insisting that the case is a mirror of a famous true crime, although the similarities are superficial at best. 12/1/17

Nightmare by Lesley Egan, Doubleday, 1961

This was originally published in 1961 under the name Anne Blaisdell, was nominated for an Edgar, and was filmed as Die! Die! My Darling!. A young woman travels to Wales to visit the mother of her former fiancé, now deceased. Mrs. Trefoile is a religious fanatic who decides to imprison the protagonist and teach her the sinfulness of her life style, aided by servants who are in one fashion or another compelled to obey her. Egan and Blaisdell are both pennames of Elizabeth Linington, who switched to police procedurals for the balance of her career, which is a shame because this is arguably her best book. 11/28/17

Harm Done by Ruth Rendell, Crown, 1999   

Inspector Wexford has a handful of cases this time. Two young women have been separately kidnapped, forced to do housekeeping chores, then released. A baby has been stolen from her bed. Rioters unhappy about the release of a pedophile from prison cause the death of a police officer. An abusive husband is murdered by parties unknown. Some of the threads converge and others do not. This is one of the best of the Wexford novels despite its sometimes unfocused plot and some very depressing thematic elements. 11/28/17

Number Nineteen by J. Jefferson Farjeon, Collins, 2016 (originally published in 1952) 

Another Ben the Tramp mystery, but I confess that as much as I like this author, I’m very tired of Ben. All of the stories involving him are pretty much alike and the humor repeats itself over and over again. This time he is sitting in a park when the man next to him is stabbed to death. Ben himself is knocked out and when he comes to, he is a prisoner of the killer, who has framed the tramp neatly for the crime and plans to make further use of him. But Ben figures out a way to turn the tables and regain his freedom. 11/27/17

Strange Felony by Elizabeth Linington, Doubleday, 1986

Linington was sleepwalking when she wrote this one. She repeats most of her usual tropes, with culprits confessing at the drop of a hat, screw ups by thieves leading to their capture, and so forth. The fake child molestation charge was new for the series, but the psychopath convinced that her husband was cheating is not, and most of the other cases are uninteresting. She does recant some of her homophobia from earlier books by having an admirable gay couple, but of course they aren't flagrant about it. 11/23/17

Alter Ego by Elizabeth Linington, Doubleday, 1985   

This was the only Linington title that did not involve Maddox, and it was the last book published under that name. Detective Valentine is approached by a mystery novelist who believes that his long-time series character may have come to life. He is murdered a few days later, and the investigation leads to the MWA as the most likely source of the killer. Despite a blurb that credits the author's meticulous research and familiarity with police procedures, there are several easily determined factual errors and on one occasion Valentine allows one of the suspects to take a crucial piece of evidence home unsupervised to study, a clear violation of police procedure. It was still her most interesting novel under her real name, and the only one to involve a single crime. 11/23/17

Let the Dead Past- by John Stephen Strange, Doubleday, 1953  

I don’t ordinarily care for court room dramas but this was a pretty good one despite a rather implausible device that gives away the solution. A woman is on trial for the murder of her lover and ex-husband seventeen years earlier. The judge trying the case not only knew her at the time but was in love with her, yet he does not disqualify himself. The testimony of various witnesses is quite well done and even develops some suspense, although I suspected right from the outset that the judge was actually the killer. It comes out at the end, he rules it a mistrial, and then he kills himself. 11/21/17

A Sight for Sore Eyes by Ruth Rendell, Crown, 1998

This is only a mystery by courtesy. There is an unsolved murder at the opening, but it is resolved as an afterthought in the closing chapters and has little directly to do with the story. The daughter of a murdered woman has had a traumatic childhood as a result of that event, and now she is drawn to a young man who – although she doesn’t know it – considers murder as nothing particularly significant. A large cast of supporting characters, most of them repellent to some degree, circle around their relationship. Although well written, I didn’t really enjoy it. 11/20/17

Consequence of Crime by Elizabeth Linington, Doubleday, 1980

Following her established formula, the author has Maddox dealing with more burglars, a serial rapist who is (sic) driven into violent sexual rages by smoking pot, kidnapped teenagers, a dead prostitute, a dead college student, and a dead television actress.  Two of her heroic police officers complain about wasting time investigating the death of a "cheap prostitute" who was no loss. Linington appears to have gotten increasingly bitter and irrational as she aged. There are also several scenes this time that feel forced and one confession borders on the absurd. 11/17/17

Skeletons in the Closet by Elizabeth Linington, Doubleday, 1982

This was definitely not one of the author's better works. All of the criminals – a pair of robbers, a woman who murdered the father of her child, a serial killer, a child molester, and a man who killed his gay partner by accident – confess with no lawyer present and without even being pressed by the police. There are two lengthy homophobic scenes and what appears to be some mild racism. Most of the crimes are carbon copies of incidents she had already used in previous novels. The back story about the married detectives inches forward with her pregnancy. 11/17/17

Felony Report by Elizabeth Linington, Doubleday, 1984

More of the same mosaic storytelling that has characterized this series, with a few homophobic rants and other pet peeves. The main story lines involve someone who is poisoning ground beef in grocery stores, a dismembered corpse, and the murder of a young woman in her car. The author is sloppier than usual. The police refrain from doing rudimentary things like checking the leftover food after a poisoning, the medical examiner falsely states that Type A blood is rare, and there is a direct contradiction of something stated in the earlier novel about Maddox's pregnant wife.  The worst book I have read by this author. 11/17/17

Road Rage by Ruth Rendell, Crown, 1997  

Although there is a murder in this Wexford story, it is peripheral to the main plot. A group of protesters have kidnapped several people – including Wexford’s wife – to protest the construction of a highway bypass. There are a number of environmental groups – some of them decidedly disconnected from reality – so there are plenty of suspects. Then the wife is released, and her account raises as many questions as it answers. This was quite good, although I guessed a good part of the answer almost immediately. 11/15/17

A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto, Bitter Lemon, 2016 

This 1975 Japanese suspense novel is an understated but very effective suspense novel. The protagonist is on a business trip when he learns that his wife has died of a heart attack while out shouting. The story seems plausible at first, but he begins to notice little details that fail to make sense. After hiring a private detective, he concludes that his wife was having an affair and died in the home of her lover. He arranges a clandestine meeting with the man, hoping to receive an apology, but he ends up murdering the adulterer instead. But now he is the one who is making little mistakes that will lead to his being found out. Really liked this one and read it straight through.  11/14/17

The Keys to the Street by Ruth Rendell, Dell, 1996   

This is easily one of the best of the non-Wexford novels, even though the mystery element is more of a backdrop than the main plot. A woman fleeing an abusive relationship is temporarily living in an area frequented by homeless people, some of whom are being brutally murdered. Although this obviously affects her, it is her relationship with two men that is the focus of the story, and she never becomes a private detective and is never actually a potential victim. The ending is mildly ambiguous as well. The plot is quite intricate, however, and the book contains some of Rendell’s best drawn characters. 11/12/17

Crime by Chance by Elizabeth Linington, Harper & Row, 1973

Another handful of crimes get solved by Sergeant Maddox and company. Maddox, who is now married, is particularly bothered by the disappearance of a young widow and her infant daughter. The author conveniently provides a lapse in his attention to detail to allow the solution to be so elusive. Other crimes involve drugs, the murder of an ageing actor, a mugging, stolen bulldozers, and two gangs, one passing bad checks, the other running a protection racket. Linington tries to shoehorn too many different stories into the space available this time.  11/10/17

Perchance of Death by Elizabeth Linington, Doubleday, 1977  

More police cases intertwined featuring Ivor Maddox and his wife, both detectives now. The two main cases are the murder of a high school girl who disappeared mysteriously from her home and the apparent abduction and imprisonment of an elderly woman which leads to the uncovering of a major convalescent home fraud scheme. With some burglaries, murders, and vandalism to pad the stories out. The nursing home case is handled well but most of the other threads rely on luck rather than the efforts of the investigators. 11/10/17

No Villain Need Be by Elizabeth Linington, Doubleday, 1979   

Maddox solves another collection of criminal cases, this time including a team of daytime burglars who are so inept that it is not plausible they escaped detection for so long. There is also a child killer who lures his victims into his car because he looks like a popular baseball player. I found this even less believable. Her lectures about undisciplined youth, the immorality of the entertainment business, and other matters grows increasingly irksome, irrational, and inaccurate, not to mention that she does not understand police procedure very much. 11/10/17

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe, Seventh Street, 2017, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-363-5

As a rule, I'm somewhat wary of historical mysteries but 1908 is just inside my comfort zone so this one got bumped up near the top of the pile. A police woman in Los Angeles becomes involved in the case of a missionary woman whose body was found in a trunk in her Chinese lover's apartment. The implications are obvious and the authorities do not want the story to get out lest it cause unrest and violence against the Chinese community. As if that was not enough in itself, there is imminent violence between two Chinese gangs following the abduction of two young women. So the detectives are forced to keep a low profile and act quickly to solve the crime before violence breaks out from any of several quarters. The author brings her setting to life, provides some interesting characters, and the mystery itself is reasonably clever. This is the second in a series and the first one was also quite good. 11/9/17

Catch the Gold Ring by John Stephen Strange, Doubleday, 1955  

During World War II in occupied France, two brothers were active in the Resistance. Someone betrayed them and one of the two died during interrogation by the Germans. The other survived the war but has drifted ever since, unable to rest because they never discovered the name of the traitor. His old friend from that time has become a police officer, and a new turn of events suggests that it might finally be possible to learn the truth. This is very well written but it’s a kind of story that I have trouble enjoying and I never really got caught up by the characters or situations. 11/8/17

Unquiet Grave by John Stephen Strange, Doubleday, 1949   

There is a subclass of mysteries that really aren’t mysteries at all. Ruth Rendell wrote a lot of them. They are essentially character studies in which the reader is pretty sure a crime has been committed but there is no detective, not even an investigation, just a gradual revelation of the true story about a crime in the past. This time it’s told by a woman whose husband we know is dead, having died on a remote island under circumstances not even hinted at until the closing chapters. Their marriage was doomed from the start because he was a charming egomaniac warped by a domineering mother, while his wife was a hopeless romantic who ignored good advice and the information provided by her own experiences. Very well told, as is always the case with this author, but lacking suspense and at the end, I really didn’t care who killed the husband or why. 11/6/17

Practice to Deceive by Elizabeth Linington, Harper & Row, 1971

Another police procedural with a variety of cases including a serial rapist, a dismembered body, a locked room murder, a confidence trickster, a cop killer, a burglar, and a murderous old lady who shoots her own son. There's a fair amount of coincidence helping the police this time and not much actual detection. The author inserts lots of digs at people she dislikes – the courts, the press, young people, political activists, welfare recipients, socialists, etc. There are a few too many coincidences this time as the author apparently could not think of better ways for the police to succeed. There is also a fair amount of right wing nonsense about communists, the courts, and other institutions. 11/3/17

The Brimstone Wedding by Ruth Rendell, Harmony, 1995 

This is another Barbara Vine novel, and despite some nice touches, a rather disappointing one. A woman working at a nursing home makes friends with an elderly patient. The patient tells her that she owns a secret house and offers her the use of it for meetings with her lover. That seems fine except that there are things in the house that suggest the older woman was involved with something mysterious – and possibly deadly – in the past. It all works out logically but there is not much tension, the mystery is disappointing at the end, and the story moves at a glacial pace. 11/2/17

The Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-Leigh, British Library, 2017 (originally published in 1931)

The author is the granddaughter of Jane Austen’s nephew. The story is partly set at Cambridge University where the protagonist, daughter of a prominent educator, hears rumors that suggest two relatives might be smuggling dangerous drugs into the country. She discounts it until she finds a secret passage, detects lies about the activities of the people involved, and sees a boat mysteriously passing in the night. The first chapter is a bit rough but after that the story becomes quite engaging and very well told, and the mystery is completely engrossing even though there is no murder or even any violence in the book at all. She wrote three other mysteries I’d love to read, but so far they are only available as high priced collectors’ items. 10/30/17

Written in Blood by Layton Green, Seventh Street, 2017, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-362-8

The protagonist is a chaplain turned detective who suffered a nervous breakdown while working on a serial killer case. He recovers and joins the local police force in a small Southern town where the local bookstore owner is brutally killed. Obviously he’s the one assigned to the case, which has literary overtones because the murder is arranged to mirror one in a novel by Dostoyevsky. He investigates a local writers’ association based on that fact, and another literary inspired murder takes place a short time later, which tends to validate his instincts. But as he comes closer to identifying the killer, he becomes a target himself, as does everyone associated with him. Smart, tense, and mystifying, this is one of the best new mysteries I’ve read this year. 10/27/17

Simisola by Ruth Rendell, Dell, 1995

This is an excellent Inspector Wexford mystery that opens with the disappearance of a young woman shortly after she leaves an unemployment office. A body that matches her description is subsequently found, but it is another woman entirely. One of the staff members at the unemployment office is found strangled in her bed, and another woman with no apparent connection is assaulted in her apartment building. Wexford has to straighten this all out and does so despite laboring under a major misapprehension right from the outset. One of my favorite Rendells. 10/26/17

The Draycott Murder Mystery by Molly Thynne, Dean Street, 2016  (originally published in 1928)  

Another classic style detective story that ages well. A man returns from a long walk to find a dead woman he has never met in his cottage. Circumstantial evidence and a couple of coincidences makes him the chief suspect and he is soon under arrest. A group of friends, including an amateur detective, are determined to discover the truth. Despite their unofficial status, this reads a good deal like a police procedural as they engage in an ambitious course of investigation that will eventually lead to a very surprising revelation. Blackmail, illicit affairs, family secrets, insanity, and other elements all combine in a very plausible scheme. Thynne wrote five more mysteries, which I will definitely add to my list. 10/25/17

The Devil’s Disciple by Shiro Hamao, Hesperus, 2013 (originally published in 1929) 

There are two novelettes here from pre-war Japan. In the first, a convicted murderer writes a letter to a prosecutor explaining that the woman he supposedly murdered actually died by accident. He had meant to murder his wife but the plan went awry.  The second story is much better. A man and his wife are murdered in their bedroom. One of their house guests is found in the room holding the murder weapon. He freely admits to having killed them both and his confession neatly explains a variety of odd details about the crime. But his lawyer believes him to be innocent and much later, after his client has been executed, discovers the truth. 10/24/17

Policeman's Lot by Elizabeth Linington, Popular Library, 1968 

Two separate, unrelated, and entirely mysterious disappearances are at the center of this one. A doctor disappears from a hospital during the night shift. A gas station attendant locks up to go home, but his car is still there and he is nowhere to be found – although his body turns up a few chapters later. As usual, there are several other cases wound through this, including a drive by shooting, a bunch of teenagers using LSD, and an amateur group of violent burglars.  The mystery element is stronger this time than usual. 10/23/17

No Night Is Too Long by Ruth Rendell, Onyx, 1994 

I didn’t care for this at all, another Barbara Vine novel. The protagonist is involved in a gay love affair but meets a woman who immediately becomes an object of obsession. He and his lover quarrel, then have a physical confrontation while on a small island in Alaska. The lover is injured, probably fatally, and the protagonist leaves him there and goes back to England. Two years later he begins receiving cryptic letters that appear to be related to the crime. There is a report that the man’s body was found, but either he survived or someone knows something that should have been a very well kept secret. I found the resolution quite unbelievable and unsatisfying. 10/21/17

Something Wrong by Elizabeth Linington, Popular Library, 1967

Several major cases occupy Ivor Maddox and his fellow officers. The first involves the abduction of an infant from a baby carriage. The second is the apparent random shooting of an elderly pedestrian. Third is a thief who has started killing people including a police officer. Fourth is a young girl who dies after taking an overdose of an abortafacient. Most of the cases this time are solved by luck rather than work or reasoning, and Linington's dislike of lenient judges, the press, and psychologists results in several mini-lectures about their various perfidies. 10/20/17

The Case of the Scarlet Feather by Robert J. Hogan, Altus, 2017 (originally published in 1935) 

Wu Fang, a Fu Manchu clone, was clearly not killed in the first book in the series despite appearances. This time he appears to be helping the good guys, but it's actually because there is a rival gang attempting to acquire a new super weapon. Badly plotted, with silly plot elements and sometimes things so absurd they are laughable. This was not one of the better pulp series though it has a certain element of awkward charm. 10/20/17

The Case of the Yellow Mask by Robert J. Hogan, Altus, 2017 (originally published in 1935) 

The third caper of Wu Fang follows the same pattern as the first two. This time he is after an ancient mask which supposed gives hypnotic powers to anyone who wears it. Opposed are the usual flat characters, and once again the story proceeds mostly because of missteps on the parts of both sides. There's a good deal of pointless action in what almost feels like a fantasy quest novel at times. 10/18/17

Nighthawks! by John Brandon, Brentano, 1930 

Although Brandon has written some entertaining crime novels, this really isn't one of them except intermittently. He tries to mix American and British criminals in a story that jumps around in time and involves a lot of long winded conversations that don’t do much to advance the plot. Brandon was quite prolific, but I think this might be the only one of his novels to be published in this country until quite recently. 10/18/17

Anna’s Book by Ruth Rendell, Onyx, 1993 

A diary from 1905 has a missing page that coincides with the time of an unsolved murder. Eighty years later, a descendant of the writer of that diary decides to solve the mystery, which will also reveal the truth about her aunt’s parentage. There is a conventional murder mystery mixed into this quite long story of an unusual family and the woman who dominated it. Once again I found the pace slow and some parts were tedious. Rendell was, I think, a frustrated mainstream novelist who grudgingly added crime elements to many of her novels so that her fans would not think she was going astray. 10/17/17

Date with Death by Elizabeth Linington, Popular Library, 1966

Another police procedural. This time the main case is the double murder of a young couple who seemed to have no real enemies. The police track down everyone with a potential grudge, but everyone has an alibi or is in some other fashion exonerated. The end was not entirely satisfactory, involving a sudden discovery and leap of logic. There is a subplot about a practical joker that is quite amusing however. 10/16/17

Death on Demand by Jim Kelly, Severn House, 2015 

This is a decent Shaw and Valentine murder mystery, but not up to the author's usual standards. An elderly woman in a nursing home is murdered on her hundredth birthday, which leads the two detectives to investigate other deaths of aged people. A disturbing pattern emerges. This story is intertwined with the potential danger of a clash between two groups of protestors in the area, and ultimately the two cases will be linked. The puzzle isn’t all that interesting and I had a pretty good idea what was going on by midway through the book. 10/13/17

The Crocodile Bird by Ruth Rendell, Crown, 1993 

Although I thought this was a bit too long, it’s an interesting quasi-suspense novel about a young girl who has been hidden away by her murderous mother until she is seventeen. The mother is finally arrested after her fourth murder and the daughter runs off with a drifter named Sean. Sean genuinely likes the girl and eventually asks her to marry him. One might well expect that the twist at the end would be for the girl to kill Sean, but it’s a much quieter finale. Nicely done characters and the plot is entertaining even though it holds few surprises. 10/12/17

Murder in the Tomb by Lucian Austin Osgood, Coachwhip, 2016 (originally published in 1937) 

This somewhat awkward locked room mystery was the only novel published by the author, apparently by a vanity press, although two more were announced. It involves an avaricious collector of antiquities who has essentially stolen three priceless artifacts, two of which were owned by murderous cultists who want their property back. There's also a man to whom he owes a great deal of money and other candidates when he is killed in the exhibit room he calls the tomb. The prose is so bad that there is no atmosphere at all, and the puzzle is only mildly interesting. 10/11/17

The Case of the Six Coffins by Robert J. Hogan, Altus, 2016 (originally published in 1935) 

Wu Fang was a pale imitation of Dr. Fu Manchu. In this opening volume, he plots to steal a new kind of poison gas that could easily destroy entire cities. He is opposed by a disgraced secret service man and a newspaper reporter, who travel with him on a cruise ship from Europe to North America.  There is also a beautiful young woman partly under Wu Fang's control, who has to be rescued. The plot only advances because both the good guys and the villain make a series of very stupid mistakes.  10/8/17

King Solomon’s Carpet by Ruth Rendell, Onyx, 1991 

The Barbara Vine novels by Ruth Rendell tended to be longer and slower than those under her real name, but this time the pace is just too sedate given the subject matter. A group of people are brought together in a one-time school house turned into a kind of free boarding hotel where seduction, jealousy, and other emotions reach their climax when one of the boarders turns out to be planning to bomb the London Underground. I struggled to finish this one. 10/8/17

Death on Delivery by John Brandon, Ramble House, 2016 (originally published in 1937)

Inspector McCarthy is called in when a collector of antique jewelry is murdered during a robbery. There are two rival gangs involved, so a second murder follows close on the heels of the first as they struggle over the loot. This basic plot is expanded – actually bloated – to the point where I struggled to stay interested. This was the first of the four Brandon novels I have read to actually bore me. It is repetitive, wordy, and there really isn't any mystery involved and there's not a whole lot of suspense either. 104/17

No Evil Angel by Elizabeth Linington, Harper & Row, 1964 

Sergeant Maddox returns for his second case, actually a plethora of cases some of which turn out to be interrelated. The individual cases involve a runaway teenager, a serial shooter, a missing elderly woman, and the murder of a young man by barbiturates. The clues are all uncovered by routine police work and not by coincidence and they are not classic mystery puzzles in structure. Linington was one of the first women to use this format repeatedly and well. 10/4/17

MORE REVIEWS