Last Update 11/14/18

Deadly Beloved by John Stephen Strange, Doubleday, 1952  

A new resident at a rooming house is instinctively repelled by her landladyís husband, although he seems to be devoted to her. Elsewhere in the city, a womanís body is discovered and is believed to have been murdered by her husband for her money. He, however, has vanished completely. Even unsophisticated mystery readers will realize that he is the husband, intent upon finishing off another wife. The author rather bludgeons the reader with clues and insinuations. He even kicks a dog. Readable but so transparent that there was no element of mystery at all. 11/14/18

Bleeding Hooks by Harriet Rutland, Dean Street, 2015 (originally published in 1940)

The setting for this murder mystery is a lodge for fishing enthusiasts on a small lake in Wales. One of the guests is a widow who is obviously there to catch a man rather than a fish, and she is the one who ends up murdered with a poisoned fishing lure embedded in her hand. A Scotland Yard detective was there on vacation, although he does not advertise his profession, and he conducts an informal investigation with the assistance of two enthusiastic if somewhat overbearing younger people. There is a small but amusing twist at the end Ė there may not have been a murder at all, just a failed attempt at one. Rutland only wrote three mysteries, but based on this one, I have ordered copies of the other two. 11/13/18

The Conspirators by William Haggard, Cassell, 1967

Another low key spy thriller, this time involving the accidental loss of a nuclear weapon, a device that has been used in several much better novels. Although there is no danger of a nuclear explosion, there would be large scale political repercussions, so Charles Russell is determined not only to recover the weapon but to suppress any news of its temporary loss. Which he proceeds to do in a totally uninteresting way. This was the last Haggard that I had not read, and Iím not sad about it. Although his early books had nice touches and occasionally gripping plots, he seemed to ramble a great deal toward the end of his career and sometimes it was not even clear what was going on. 11/12/18

Crashed by Timothy Hallinan, Soho, 2013  

Junior Bender is a talented burglar, but unfortunately his talents are well known. His latest job turns out to be a trick so that he can be blackmailed into helping find out who is sabotaging a porn movie currently in production. Bender seems an unlikely choice for the job, but given that premise there is a reasonably good mystery for him to unravel. This was okay but I was never really engrossed after the first few chapters. ``/8/18

Such Is Death by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 1986 (originally published in 1963) 

Someone has decided to commit a random murder just for the fun of it and has planned things very well indeed. A man sitting in a shelter along the coast is bludgeoned to death one night. There are no witnesses and no clues, even though the murder weapon was left at the scene. The police are baffled and the detective in charge consults with Carolus Deene, talented amateur. There are people with a motive to wish the man dead, but the motives seem very thin. There is a nice trick to this, because the killer accidentally chose a victim who was linked to him, and that leads to his eventual undoing. 11/4/18

The Bungalow Mystery by Annie Haynes, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1923) 

The opening scene of this murder mystery strained my credulity a bit. A doctor is summoned to a neighborís house where the man has been shot dead. He finds a young woman hiding there and impulsively sneaks her off to his own house, then creates an elaborate and entirely improbable story to explain her presence. The police never actually question her, which is beyond unlikely, and she eventually leaves the area without ever revealing her real name. A railroad accident appears to have killed her and has maimed a friend of the doctor, who is his personal physician a year later. Having lost both legs, the man refuses to see his fiancť and the doctor never sees her either. There are some further implausible bits about sisters impersonating each other, a couple of rather strained coincidences, and lots of posturing with the police hot on their trail. I was never able to accept that things would actually happen this way and the inaction by the police is at times irritatingly convenient to the author. 11/2/18

Lady in Lilac by Susannah Shane, Coachwhip, 2017 (originally published in 1941)  

A young woman on the verge of homelessness saves the life of another who tries to kill herself. The two then agree to change places, which places the former in hot water as she is present at the scene of the murder of a prominent movie executive. Confusion follows with people on the run from the police and with connections established to the earlier kidnapping and murder of a child. There is not much detection and the unraveling of the crime largely takes place off stage. We only learn the identity of the real killer when he shows up at the end intent upon killing the heroine. Readable but minor. 10/30/18

The Spirit Murder Mystery by Robin Forsythe, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1936)

A man disappears from his house, apparently having gone through a window instead of a door. He and his rival for the hand of a local woman are found dead together, one shot and one bludgeoned, but evidence suggests that they didnít kill each other. The gunshot, in fact, was inflicted after the victim was already dead. His niece firmly believes in spiritualism, much to the dismay of the amateur detective and the professional one who are both investigating. There is some ghostly organ music, an American gangster, and other complications. The story involves a major cheat under normal circumstances Ė secret passages Ė but their existence is established early and the only question is how to access them and where they lead to. Although I guessed almost the entire solution very early, the story was still entertaining. 10/29/18

Dig Your Grave by Steven Cooper, 7th Street, 2018, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-480-9

This mystery is marginally fantasy as it involves an apparently genuine psychic. A serial killer has been leaving the bodies of his victims in local cemeteries and the police have no clues as to his identity. But the psychic who is consulting with the police has distractions of his own, which may or may not be connected to the murder investigation. There is also a mysterious disappearance to confuse things further. I found the plot interesting enough but once again the use of present tense narration adds such an element of artificiality and draws so much attention to the writing rather than the story that I just could not enjoy it. I have just about decided not to bother reading any more books that use this terrible technique. 10/27/18

Crime in Leperís Hollow by George Bellairs, Endeavor, 2016 (originally published in 1952) 

After a judge dies of pneumonia under suspicious circumstances, his wife is found stabbed to death. Shortly after that, his brother-in-law is bludgeoned to death. Then the local inspector commits suicide and it is revealed that he was going blind. Inspector Littlejohn of Scotland Yard investigates one of the strangest families that he has ever encountered, including a musician who experiments with rats, a woman bitten by tarantula who must periodically dance wildly to throw off its lingering effects, a drunken architect, a bitter woman trapped in an unhappy marriage, a secret investment account that may have been embezzled, and a housekeeper who insists she can see the future. A bit muddled at times. 10/24/18

The Rumble Murders by Henry Ware Eliot Jr., Coachwhip, 2017 (originally published in 1932)

The author was the brother of the poet, T.S. Eliot and this originally appeared as by Mason Deal. There are a couple of problems with the construction of the book. Several characters are so interchangeable that I had trouble keeping them straight. The killer is not even mentioned until shortly before he is unmasked, which is usually a major cheat. Neverthless, I enjoyed this considerably. Itís a kind of police procedural without the police.  Two men, one of them a retired detective, are invited for an extended visit in a newly developed community. The day they arrive, someone rather oddly burglarizes their host and steals his handgun. There is a party that night, during which one man abruptly and inexplicably leaves. A strangerís body is found stuffed into the rumble seat of a car the following day, and the days after that another car is pulled from a lake, also with a body in the rumble seat, and this one is the man who bolted from the party. A lost inheritance, contested property ownership, inadvertently swapped guns, a monkey who commits homicide by accident, and a quarry full of old secrets add to the atmosphere. Quite enjoyable. 10/20/18

Death in Albert Park by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 1983 (originally published in 1964)

Three women, none of whom knew the others, are murdered over the course of a few weeks, each stabbed from behind. It looks like the work of a random killer. Carolus Deene decides to investigate as though each crime was distinct and unrelated to the others. Seasoned readers will know that two of the murders were just to divert attention from the third, for which there is a definite motive. I was somewhat disappointed with this one because I thought it was far too obvious who the killer was. One of the spouses inherits a lot of money, has obviously been dominated by his wife for decades, makes radical changes to his lifestyle almost immediately, and shows no grief at all. It was so obvious that I thought it was a deliberate red herring, but it wasnít. 10/15/18

Dead of Night by Michael Stanley, Orenda, 2018, £8.99, ISBN 978-1-912374-25-0

This is the first non Detective Kubo mystery from this pseudonymous writing team from South Africa. The protagonist is a Vietnamese American nature journalist and conservationist who travels to South Africa to find out what happened to a male friend who disappeared weeks earlier. He had been working on a story about the illegal harvesting and exporting of rhinoceros horns when he disappeared and we know from a brief prelude that he got into trouble doing so. The protagonist is a fairly interesting character and I learned some more about South African culture and the rhino horn trade in particular, but I still found this to be inferior to their other books. Possibly the mystery was too abstract this time. 10/8/18

Queen Anneís Lace by Susan Wittig Albert, Berkley, 2018 

The latest China Bayles is another ghost story. Bayles discovers that the building where her shop is situated was once a house whose mistress experienced great tragedy and her spirit has remained behind. There are physical manifestations that lead her to take the matter seriously and try to uncover the real story from the distant past. Albertís previous ghost story was quite good but this one never really caught my interest. And while it doesn't jar as a standalone, this series has been going on for many years, so why hasn't the ghost made itself known previously? It's as though the author wanted to write a ghost story and just tacked on her recurring characters to boost the sales. 10/5/18

The Doubtful Disciple by William Haggard, Corgi, 1969

Charles Russell has mostly retired from heading a British intelligence service and his replacement is more of an administrator than an agent. His first serious challenge comes when agents suggest that a chemical research facility has developed a plague that can differentiate between races and can therefore be dispersed without serious injury to both sides. As usual, Haggard stumbles his way through the plot, frequently confusing the reader by leaving out important information, and his characters apparently act without comprehensible motivation. The author's right wing leanings also become more evident in his later novels. 10/4/18

A Knife in the Fog by Bradley Harper, Seventh Street, 2018, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-486-1 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a famous forensic surgeon, and a female novelist team up to track down Jack the Ripper in this first novel. Victorian London is recreated convincingly and the author has done his Ripper research. The relationships among the three protagonists is well done and the story proceeds smoothly to the conclusion. There is a considerable surprise there, which took me completely unawares, and despite some minor awkwardness it is quite well done. The tension between the two police forces in London at the time is nicely woven into the story, and the forensics are particularly convincing, if a bit gross. The author is a former pathologist and puts his specialty to work here. I canít imagine how this could have a sequel but Iíll be interested to see what the other does with his next book.10/3/18

Our Jubilee Is Death by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 1986 (originally published in 1959) 

Carolus Deene investigates when a successful mystery writer is found buried up to her neck on the beach near her home. She was a thoroughly awful person who was ruining the lives of two nieces, a secretary, two servants, and a nephew, and who was also infuriating her publisher. The case is complicated by the fact that nearly everyone is transparently lying to Deene and the police, and a mystery man who wanders around without apparently talking to anyone. Another solid if undistinguished mystery, but not nearly his best work. 10/1/8

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