Last Update 3/30/15

The Ivory Dagger by Patricia Wentworth, 1950 

The premise for this Miss Silver murder mystery is that Bill Waring is hospitalized in a coma in the US, so his fiancé allows her aunt into convincing her he is uninterested and coercing into getting engaged to another man. When he recovers and sends messages, the aunt suppresses them. The damsel in distress is such a self involved, wimpy idiot that frankly he’d be better off without her. The new fiancé, who has a stable full of enemies, is stabbed to death one evening when all of the concerned parties are in the house or near enough to it to make no difference. Miss Silver clears things up and the wimp ends up with still another man. She was too awful to be sympathetic so even though the mystery is decently done, I only intermittently enjoyed the novel. 3/23/15

A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge by Terry Shames, Seventh Street, 2015, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-046-7

It may not seem so but the fact that I continue to read this series about Samuel Craddock, despite the fact that it is written in present tense, is high praise in itself. This particular installment has him worried about a female friend after being warned that she is in danger. The friend is intensely private so he feels reluctant to intrude because of what might prove to be her mother's failing mind. But that all changes when there is an actual murder attempt. But she still won't cooperate so he has to pursue his inquiries without her help, and pursue them quickly before the would-be killer strikes again. Not quite as good as the previous books in the series. 3/22/15

Through the Wall by Patricia Wentworth, 1950 

This murder mystery moves solidly into the woman-in-peril genre. A woman inherits the bulk of a substantial estate in preference to her other relatives, who are generally lazy wastrels with questionable personal habits. Since the estate reverts to them if she dies childless, she’s the obvious target for murder, particularly when she unexpectedly gets romantically involved with a man she meets in a train crash. Miss Silver’s involvement is indirect; she’s there for an unrelated blackmail case but she has time to sift through a series of clues when a woman is found murdered, but possibly by accident as she was wearing an article of clothing belonging to someone else. Another one with a slow start but pretty good once it gets going. 3/20/15

A Samba for Sherlock by Jo Soares, Pantheon, 1997  

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson travel to Brazil, officially to investigate the theft of a valuable violin that has become the symbol for an international incident, but upon arriving they discover that a brutal serial killer has been targeting local women and leaving a violin string at the scene of each crime. Despite the horrific nature of the killings, there is a lot of humor sprinkled through the story, which is more about Brazil than it is about Sherlock. Fans of the series are probably going to be disappointed if they expect this to be a typical mystery/adventure, but it is interesting to see an entirely different take on the characters. 3/18/15

The Brading Collection by Patricia Wentworth, 1950  

The owner of a collection of valuable jewels is found murdered in his home shortly after consulting Miss Silver because he thinks someone may be plotting against him. He employs a secretary who is bound to him unwillingly by his past criminal activities. His heir is Charles Forrest, whose ex-wife Stacy is the chief protagonist, a self employed artist who by force of circumstance is in the area at the time of the murder.  A variety of characters are introduced including the murdered man’s apparent fiancé. There’s a convenient mix up with some letters that helps facilitate the solution. The mystery is okay but this one is very talky and slow moving. 3/15/15

The Case of William Smith by Patricia Wentworth, 1948   

Wentworth used amnesia as a plot device on more than one occasion, but this was probably her best known. William Smith is the name by which a man rescued from a concentration camp is known, but he remembers nothing of his past. He makes a new life for himself designing toy figures at a shop in London, where he meets and falls in love with Kate Eversley. His employer’s accident may have been a murder attempt, and Smith himself is attacked twice. Meanwhile we discover that Kate’s trust fund has been looted without her knowledge and one of those responsible is trying to convince her to marry him to cover things up. Instead she marries Smith, although this is after the two assaults, which eliminates that as a motive. Elsewhere, a police inspector vaguely remembers Smith from before the war and thinks he might have been married, which obviously could lead to complications, so he suggests Smith consult Miss Silver. Halfway through, we discover that much of what we believed about Kate is false, that she knows more than she is letting on, and that her meeting with Smith was not coincidental. This was her best novel since The Chinese Shawl. 3/12/15

The Affair at Flower Acres by Carolyn Wells, 1923 

Douglas Raynor has become a jealous tyrant with regard to his wife of two years, so when he is found dead, both she and a visitor who secretly loved her in the past are technically our primary suspects, although since it seems likely they will end up together, the experienced reader will cross them both off the list. Present at the time are the dead man’s sister, the wife’s brother, a reclusive neighbor, an impudent teenager, a friend of the family, though mostly of the wife, and a dietician hired by the deceased.  The secret lover, stupidly, picks up the murder weapon and is discovered standing over the body.  The teen is so annoying that I wish she’d been the one killed. The police arrive and conduct such a farcical investigation that it’s not likely they would ever solve a crime, indicative of Wells’ lack of understanding of either police procedure or logic. She also doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “perjury” or what constitutes “contempt of court.” Then a son by a former marriage shows up with an old will in his favor, and the new will is missing. An autopsy reveals that if the victim had not been shot, he probably would have died of arsenic poisoning.  There’s also a contradiction in the police theory. They believe that the widow killed her husband in order to inherit his estate, but they also believe that the will never existed and that he meant to leave it to his son.  Eventually we learn that the dietician had had an unhappy affair with Raynor years earlier and clearly hated him. Another inconsistency arises here. Raynor suspected that she was poisoning him but instead of firing her, he decided to give her a large sum of money to leave! Pennington Wise, one of Wells’ three detectives, arrives very late in the story. The solution requires that we accept that the absolute testimony by an obviously honest witness was completely mistaken for no apparent reason, so on balance this one cheats pretty badly. 3/10/15

The Deadly Joker by Nicholas Blake, 1963 

A couple of years ago I read what I thought was all the novels of Nicholas Blake, pseudonym of poet Cecil Day Lewis, creator of Nigel Strangeways. Much to my surprise, I recently discovered that I had overlooked this one, in which Strangeways does not appear. A retired academic and his wife move to a rural English town just in time to be caught up in a maze of practical jokes, poison pen letters, arson, and other unpleasantness. After a long series of these incidents, one of them proves fatal. There are only three real suspects but Blake plays the game admirably well and the climactic scenes are very well done. This is one of the author's best books. 3/6/15

Spring Remains by Mons Kallentoft, Emily Bestler, 2015, $16, ISBN 978-1-4516-4271-1 

This is the fourth in a series by a Swedish writer which is a kind of blend of police procedural and thriller. The protagonist is a police officer who is dealing with severe emotional problems in her own life when a bomb goes off killing two people and throwing the city into turmoil. The plot is well structured, and we see some scenes from the point of view of the villains as well as the protagonist, so it’s not really a mystery about what is going on for very long. I found this reasonably entertaining despite the fact that it was written in the present tense, which occasionally threw me out of the story.  I did like the main character quite a bit despite her occasional self absorption. 3/5/15

Miss Silver Comes to Stay by Patricia Wentworth, 1948  

James Lessiter returns to his home town after twenty years. There he finds the woman he jilted many years ago, the widower husband of a woman he seduced, and another woman he spurned but to whom he has left his estate.  Accompanying the widower is his current beau. Miss Silver is there as well, visiting an old friend, so it’s natural that she takes an interest when Lessiter is found bludgeoned to death.  Since the widower is in love with a nice young village woman, Wentworth fans will know from the outset that he is innocent. There are some stolen objects of great value and then an apparent suicide, which the police believe was caused by guilt over the first murder, but it is of course the second one. Miss Silver sets them straight and names the culprit. This was a fair mystery but a bit slow at times. 3/1/15

Anybody But Anne by Carolyn Wells, 1913  

Raymond Sturgis is invited to a house party by a high school sweetheart, now married to the rich and dictatorial David Van Wyck. Ann Van Wyck seems happy but Sturgis detects a strain almost immediately. The house hold includes Van Wyck’s adult son and daughter from his previous marriage, the housekeeper who hoped to be the new Mrs. Van Wyck, her son who serves as valet, and several others.  Uncharacteristically for Wells, she introduces Fleming Stone, her detective, as another guest. He usually doesn’t appear until the final few chapters. Van Wyck, in an unlikely gesture of philanthropy given his nature, has decided to give the bulk of his money to endow a new library, much to the consternation of his family.  Inevitably he is murdered, his body found in a room with a single locked and bolted door, the wound small enough that it might have been either a poniard or a small caliber bullet. A valuable string of pearls is also missing. Evidence turns up implicating the widow, who obviously didn’t do it. Stone, present at the opening, is absent until very near the end when he shows up to present the solution. This was actually one of Wells’ best novels until the end, which cheats so outrageously that I was shaking my head. First of all, Stone has some physical evidence which has never previously been mentioned and he reveals it as part of the solution. Even worse, the locked room is explained by a secret passage which we have been assured is physically impossible given the configuration of the walls. 2/26/15

Wicked Uncle by Patricia Wentworth, 1947 

Dorinda Brown takes a job as secretary with a very unpleasant family. Shortly after arriving at her new position, she finds a photograph of her own Wicked Uncle, who deserted his wife and disappeared years earlier. The uncle, we assume, is also Gregory Porlock – same initials and proper age – a businessman who is engaged in the blackmail business and who has invited several of his victims to a house party, including Brown’s new employers. You can easily see where this one is going. Brown is framed for shoplifting but fortunately Miss Silver is in the store and testifies that she is innocent. Much of the first half is devoted to explaining to us who is being blackmailed and why – a questionable inheritance, a possibly bigamous marriage, etc. And obviously Brown was framed in an effort to keep her away so that she couldn’t identify Porlock as her disgraced uncle.  Porlock is killed in classic movie fashion. Someone turns out the lights while they are all gathered together and stabs him in the back. The butler turns out to be an undercover detective so the police soon know that Porlock was blackmailing most of his guests. One of the guests hints that he saw something that might indicate who the killer is and of course that means he is victim number two. Scotland Yard is baffled but Miss Silver clears it all up in one of her better cases. 2/24/15

Latter End by Patricia Wentworth, 1947   

Lois Latter has married to her advantage to a pliable man whose family can’t stand her. She plans to evict a tenant, fire the cook, and makes servants of two nieces, while flirting with another cousin. Shortly after a medium tells her to beware poison, she falls ill after a meal and suspects she may in fact have been given poison. Another incident follows, possibly a prank, but she dies after her husband overhears her flirting with another man. He is the obvious suspect, particularly when it is revealed that he knew just where to get his hands on the poison that was used. Miss Silver is hired by the widower to discover whether or not it was suicide, but of course it is murder and she finds out a good deal more than that. I guessed the solution to this fairly early but wasn’t certain until quite late. About average. 2/21/15

At Death’s Window by Jim Kelly, Severn House, 2014, $28.95, ISBN 978-1-78029-068-3 

A Shaw & Valentine mystery.  Four sets of criminal acts are taking place simultaneously. Someone with an airgun is shooting stained glass windows at local churches. Someone else is burglarizing vacation homes and leaving political messages scrawled on walls. An adulterated drug is killing people, particularly those unwilling to admit that they are addicted. Finally, there is a brewing war between traditional harvesters of a local marine delicacy and outsiders lured by the chance of making a good deal of money. Then a body is found tied to a weight on a sandbar and our two detectives have their hands very full. This is a police procedural so much of the book consists of interviews, tracking down dubious leads, and comparing notes, but there is also another assault and a second murder and things seem to be escalating on all sides.  As with most police procedurals, the resolution requires some lucky breaks as well as thorough investigation. This is one of the best of its type. 2/19/15

Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty, 7th Street, 2015, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-000-9

A Sean Duffy mystery. Duffy is a Catholic police officer in Belfast during the violent 1980s, which puts him at something of a disadvantage right from the outset. His latest case appears to be a straightforward one. A young man murdered his parents and then killed himself. Or did he? Is there a connection with the earlier death of a young woman from a heroin overdose? What connection is there to illegal arms sales to the insurgents? Why is an inept American agent poking around? And when he is offered a government job that would be a step up for his career, is it because he has done so well in the past, or is it to divert him from discovering the truth?  I liked this better than the original trilogy where Duffy debuted. It is a tighter story, nicely tangled, and with a very good mystery set up. 2/16/15

The Key by Patricia Wentworth, 1946 

During the waning days of World War II, a Jewish refugee working on a new explosive is found dead in a church, possibly a suicide, more likely murder. The protagonist, who has relatives in the area, is sent to conduct a clandestine investigation. He is immediately suspicious of his aunt’s new companion, who appears to be secretly of German extraction. Since the dead man was locked in the church, the question is which of the four keys was used to lock it after the murder, since it is obvious to the reader that the verdict of suicide is wrong.  Eventually the police change their mind but arrest the wrong person. Miss Silver is called in and she picks up several bits of information the police missed, including a local who has been bragging that he knows something that will earn him money from an unidentified person. This is obviously an allusion to blackmail so it’s no surprise when he turns up dead the next day. Despite the espionage aspects, this is closer to a traditional cozy mystery and a good one.  2/13/15

Monday's Lie by Jamie Mason, Gallery, 2015, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-7445-9

I'll be looking for the first novel by this interesting and suspenseful writer. Her second thriller is about a woman he begins to suspect that her rather bland husband has been living a secret life. The protagonist's mother worked for the CIA so the daughter knows some of the ways to detect lies and to ferret out hidden information. There's also a good deal of money that she didn't know belonged to her, and as she uncovers new information about her husband, she learns more about herself in the process. There are revelations, obviously, which I can't talk about without spoiling things. This was one of the more suspenseful books I've read recently although at times I was one step ahead of the characters. 2/10/15

All at Sea by Carolyn Wells, 1927 

This Fleming Stone detective story opens with a form of bathing I had not previously heard of. A long rope is stretched out into the ocean and bathers hang onto it while they are pummeled by incoming waves. During the course of one such exercise, a lawyer lets go of the rope and is retrieved from the water dead. Although initially thought to have been felled by a stroke, the man is declared to be a murder victim, stabbed through the abdomen. His sister shows up and immediately takes charge, implausibly convincing the police to let her sleep in her late brother’s room and even taking her orders as to when the inquest will be held. An interesting sidelight is that some of the characters feel it is very rude for a stranger to address them even in the most casual of circumstances. The murder weapon is discovered in the water, a rare imported dagger of a distinctive style which was sold at an auction only a few days earlier. Inexplicably, the coroner is reluctant to have the victim’s friends testify because being friends, they would have had no motive! The beneficiaries of the estate are the sister, a nephew who was in New York with the sister at the time of the murder, and Roger Neville, a friend and business associate who was in fact in the water himself at the time of the murder.  In another of her frequent blunders, Wells assumes that it is against the law to refuse to cooperate with an investigation conducted by a private citizen. And a little later, despite having told us that all of the passkeys have been confiscated, a maid secretly uses hers to enter the dead man’s room. One puzzling clue is that the dead man had brought several expensive dolls on vacation with him. The nephew shows up and reveals his suspicions that his uncle was engaged in blackmailing people, although for some reason he doesn’t believe this is illegal. The first, unofficial, detective wonders if the dead man and his heir conducted any business together, even after he has learned that they were respectively president and vice-president of the same company! Wells’ tin ear for dialogue is also in evidence. “They are vague, and yet they are definite too.” What does that even mean?  Like most of her mysteries, it opens with a striking scene but proves to be poorly constructed, is solved almost by magic, and displays an absolute ignorance of police procedure even for the 1920s. And one staggering mistake: one of the suspects is in trouble because he bought the right kind of knife just before the murder, even though it isn’t his knife that was used. So all he had to do to prove his ignorance was produce HIS knife, since the murder weapon is in police custody. But this never occurs to anyone!  Fleming Stone doesn’t show up until page 263, admits he hasn’t a clue on page 300, and never solves the crime until the criminal confesses spontaneously. They all decide that he was justified, so no one tells the police. One of Wells’ worst novels. 2/9/15

The Clock Strikes 12 by Patricia Wentworth, 1945 

Someone in the Paradine family has stolen some blueprints and the head of the family is convinced that he knows who is responsible. Rather than accuse the guilty party, he gathers everyone together, announces the theft, and says he will reveal all at midnight. But by midnight he is dead. Or is he? Shenanigans with a clock make this one a challenging puzzle even for Miss Silver, who eventually sorts things out. This is another one where I had trouble keeping the characters straight. Wentworth sometimes is so concerned with getting her story going that she doesn’t properly introduce the characters, which is more important as she edges toward conventional detective story plots. 2/7/15

She Came Back by Patricia Wentworth, 1945 

The premise of this suspense novel is so implausible that I never really got involved in the story. Two cousins are in France when the war breaks out. Philip is married, uneasily, to one of them and attempts to evacuate them, but in the confusion one woman disappears and the other is fatally wounded. Philip identifies the dead woman as his wife and she is buried, but at the end of the war, the missing woman reappears and insists that she is the wife. The cousins were so similar that no one is sure – which is so implausible that it threw me out of the story. Although Philip insists she is the cousin, there seems to be no way to prove the truth – this was in the days before DNA obviously. Since the dead woman, if she is dead, left her husband a large fortune, he has good reason not to want her back, and he’s also engaged to another woman by this time. An elderly woman who thinks she can solve the problem is found murdered and Miss Silver is on the case. Before she can solve it, the mystery woman is herself killed, shot to death. It was, of course, an impersonation tangled up with espionage. Disappointing. 2/5/15

Allure of Deceit by Susan Froetschel, 7th Street, 2015, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-017-5

The first book I read by this author struck me as more of a contemporary novel than a thriller or mystery. This one moves a little more in that direction. A substantial legacy is earmarked for charitable efforts in undeveloped countries and a portion of that is aimed at Afghanistan, if local people can be found who are trustworthy and who would be willing to help implement a program. The two prime candidates are somewhat problematic. One is rumored to provide illegal abortion services and the other served time in prison for her involvement in a child sex scheme, although it is possible that she was actually innocent. There is also considerable resistance by the population at large who do not feel that they need charity. Then several people go missing and a plot emerges designed to call into question not only the motives but the actions of the American visitors. It's a fairly good mystery novel but I found myself more interested in the portrait of Afghanistan that emerges within the plot. 2/3/16

Miss Silver Intervenes by Patricia Wentworth, 1944  

Meade Underwood is returning to England with the man she loves when their ship is torpedoed and he is presumed lost. Months later, and by chance, she runs into him in London and discovers that he has suffered partial amnesia and doesn’t remember her, although their mutual attraction asserts itself immediately. Meade is living temporarily with an aunt who, unbeknownst to her, is being blackmailed, possibly by another tenant in the building, Carola Roland, who also says she knows the fiancé, Giles Armitage. In fact, she claims to be his estranged wife.  The apartment building is filled with other conflicts including more blackmail, plus infidelity, abuse, and other things. Roland is found dead and it turns out she was Armitage’s sister in law, not his wife. His brother died in the war. The police think Armitage did it, but Miss Silver shows up to straighten them out. This one was okay but a bit slow moving and several of the characters failed to differentiate themselves. Also known as Miss Silver Deals with Death. 2/2/15

The Surrogate Assassin by Christopher Lepper, Write Way, 1998   

Sherlock Holmes sets out to discover the truth about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in this not very well written novel. Holmes is trying to find out who is stalking an actor in London and determines not very convincingly that it is the same man who shot Lincoln, even though John Wilkes Booth is long dead. Bad grammar, leaps of logic, and an unconvincing American setting all plague this pastiche, but perhaps the greatest flaw is that it moves so lethargically that the temptation to skip ahead a chapter or so is almost irresistible.  1/31/15

The Chinese Shawl by Patricia Wentworth, 1943  

Tanis Lyle is a vamp who has stolen lovers from her friends, fooled them into thinking they were engaged before dumping them, and toying with the emotions of those not involved. She even has an ex-husband who has vowed to get revenge. So it’s not surprising when she ends up dead. The protagonist is a young woman who is patching up a family feud by visiting relatives she had never previously met, including Lyle, and who has attracted the welcome attention of one of the other woman’s castoffs. All of the characters including the ex-husband are gathered for a house party, and Maud Silver is among the guests. There is also a couple the husband of whom has also fallen for Lyle. I guessed the killer, by process of elimination, but the climax is genuinely chilling. This is the best Wentworth I’ve read to date. 1/30/15

Pursuit of a Parcel by Patricia Wentworth, 1942 

This war time suspense thriller is so much like the previous book I read by Wentworth, Weekend with Death, that I felt a sense of déjà vu several times. A mysterious package changes hands before coming into the possession of a young woman. Everyone who has held it has seen indications that they are being watched.  German spies, British counterspies, a woman in danger and with no clear idea of what is happening to her, a mild romance, and an exciting ending. Not bad, but I like the Miss Silver books much better than Wentworth’s rather muffled spy thrillers. 1/27/15

Sherlock Holmes and the Hapsburg Tiara by Alan Vanneman, Carroll & Graf, 2004 

This is a rather lukewarm Holmes pastiche in which he is called into a case involving Winston Churchill and Cecil Rhodes, neither of whom is portrayed favorably, which centers on the impersonation of an Austrian nobleman. He is almost immediately told to drop the case but continues on his own account because at least two people have been murdered to cover up the facts. Years later the case comes to the fore again when it is learned that the largest diamond ever discovered was stolen from Rhodes by the imposter. Accompanied by a young girl who smuggles herself to France, the dynamic duo are off on the Orient Express to Turkey to track down the aristocrat and the stolen jewel. Eventually they track down the bad guy but it takes much too long to get there, the little girl is more annoying than amusing, there are occasional awkward prose moments, and Holmes really doesn’t feel like Holmes. 1/25/14

Weekend with Death by Patricia Wentworth, 1941 

Since this was written in the early days of World War II, it’s not surprising that it’s about espionage. After a chance encounter on a train, the female protagonist comes into possession of a parcel which is sought after by foreign and domestic spies, so she doesn’t know who to trust. She survives varies perils, gets romantically involved despite her apprehensions, and eventually the villain is unmasked. This is a pretty standard woman-in-peril suspense novel with very little detection and it resembles several of her other novels in structure and treatment. I was a bit exasperated at how dense the protagonist was at times. 1/22/15

In the Balance by Patricia Wentworth, 1941  

A young woman begins to suspect that the accidental death of her husband’s first wife might have been murder. Both wives had substantial fortunes and the husband is obsessed with maintaining the family mansion, a money sink of epic proportions. An accident with her car reinforces her suspicion and she appeals to Maud Silver, investigator, for help in discovering the truth. There’s not much of a mystery in this one; it’s pretty clear who wants to kill her and why. One of the less successful in the series. 1/20/15

The Disappearance of Sherlock Holmes by Larry Millett, Penguin, 2002   

The fifth and apparently final adventure of Sherlock Holmes in Minnesota. This time an old enemy has resurfaced and is attempting to frame Holmes, so Sherlock is off to investigate, once again assisted by Shadwell Rafferty, an American detective. There’s a good deal of historical minutiae mixed into the story – there are several pages of notes at the end – and a somewhat more adventurous plot than the previous titles. As with the other Millett titles, it’s a fairly good mystery/adventure but doesn’t feel much like a Sherlock Holmes tale despite his presence.  1/19/15

The Necropolis Railway by Andrew Martin, Faber, 2002 

This first novel in the Jim Stringer mystery series attracted my attention in a used book store. The protagonist is a young man who wants to be a railroad engineer and who takes a job as a cleaner as a step forward in his career. This brings him to 1903 London and introduces him to a group of men who share some secret whose nature he cannot determine. He does know that his predecessor disappeared mysteriously, however. In due course he hears about the Necropolis Railway, a small station and run to the world’s largest cemetery.  Another man is killed in an apparent accident and our hero begins to suspect foul play.  Still another murder, some time past, seems to be connected and then Stringer’s patron, who was quietly investigating on his own, is also killed under suspicious circumstances. Although this is only a fair mystery, the unusual setting was quite interesting, enough so that I have ordered the second in the series. 1/14/15

Blue Labyrinth by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Grand Central, 2014, $27, ISBN 978-1-4555-2589-8 

Amazon refused to send me this book thanks to their dispute with Hachette so I ordered it elsewhere. It’s the latest Pendergast mystery/adventure and it opens with a shocker. His evil son is murdered and the body dumped on Pendergast’s doorstep. There is no clue who killed him or why or what message was being sent. Separately – although it doesn’t remain separate for long – Vincent D’Agosta is investigating the murder of a minor attendant at the museum of natural history. The story will take us to Brazil and Switzerland before it ends and through a series of adventures and revelations which I won’t spoil by revealing here. This was one of the better entries in the series, although Pendergast is incapacitated for a good portion of the book and his ward, Constance, takes center stage for the climax. There are some fantastic elements as well – fans of the series will recall that Constance looks to be in her twenties but is close to a century old – but it’s really a contemporary thriller with a few frills. 1/13/15

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Sabina Hall by L.B. Greenwood, St Martins, 1988 

Greenwood’s second and final Sherlock Holmes novel is another good one. Holmes and Watson travel to a remote mansion to investigate the circumstances surrounding the sudden illness of the head of the family, who dies hours before they arrive. They know but cannot prove that it was poison so they find excuses to stay around for a few days and pursue their investigations. I picked out the killer fairly quickly but it’s still an excellent story, with a couple of very repulsive victims and a fine cast of supporting characters. The author captures the feel of a Doyle story better than most. 1/11/15

Rolling Stone by Patricia Wentworth, 1940   

Wentworth’s stories of Colonel Garrett of the foreign office and his various agents aren’t nearly as good as her Miss Silver mysteries. This one I found particularly dull. The agent is tailing a suspected member of a gang of art thieves who work across international borders when his quarry is taken ill and dies suddenly. The agent goes through his things and learns of a meeting he was scheduled to attend, and since the dead man was a stranger to those he is meeting, the agent decides to take his place. His work is complicated by the inevitable romantic entanglement involving himself and a woman caught up in the criminal conspiracy against her will, but he triumphs, gets the bad guys, wins the woman, and ties up all the loose ends. Predictable throughout. 1/9/15

The Emperor of America by Sax Rohmer, 1927

A mysterious mastermind known as Head Centre runs an elaborate criminal spy organization in New York City. He is opposed by Drake Roscoe, a naval officer, and others as he seeks to fund his organization, steal secrets, and commit sabotage.  There is a typical Rohmer series of anecdotal adventures before we learn that the bad guys are plotting to put one of their own in the White House. There’s a beautiful woman working for the conspiracy, but only to expose it, and a secret underground base where a masked leader gives orders. Mildly interesting but not very adventurous. 1/8/15

Raspberry Jam by Carolyn Wells, 1919 

One of Wells’ earliest mystery novels is interesting chiefly because of the view it provides of the society she kept at the time. Movie theaters and boxing matches are considered too vulgar to be patronized, but psychics are a bone of contention between believers and nonbelievers. Nor wood a person in good social standing walk the sidewalks in a city unaccompanied, and even taxi cabs are suspect. It is acceptable, indeed almost encouraged, for wives to flirt with other men openly. Wives have charge accounts but are generally denied cash. Families would rather a murderer escape than that they be exposed to a police investigation. The story involves a very dominant husband whose wife has defied him. He is currently running in a hotly contested race for the leadership of a major athletic club, and his chief rival was also one of his wife’s former suitors.  Wells tells us they are an ideal couple, but she demonstrates repeatedly that they are not. The husband is murdered, poisoned, in a modified locked room situation, i.e. two people were locked into a suite of rooms with the victim and presumably no one else could have entered. The poison, which was administered by means of an eyedropper, is found and the wife is in danger of being arrested. When we learn that one of the minor characters plans a career as a human fly, the solution is obvious. It’s just a question of which of the two suitors hired him. The wife’s behavior throughout the whole investigation is designed to make her look guilty, but  since she isn’t, it is complete nonsense. 1/4/15

The Blind Side by Patricia Wentworth, 1939 

This is somewhat closer to the conventional murder mystery than most of Wentworth’s earlier novels. Ross Craddock is a cad. The doorman who works for him at his apartment house has threatened his life, he has just announced that he is evicting his elderly female cousin, the woman he has been courting discovers that she has been lured to his flat for inappropriate purposes and has struck him in the head, her ex-boyfriend has also issued a public death threat, and the male protagonist – another cousin – makes no bones about their mutual dislike. Still another relative has come to stay temporarily in one of the apartments without the knowledge of anyone except the usual tenant. Ross is predictably murdered and it seems apparent that the girlfriend, Mavis, went back to his flat and found the body, although she pretends otherwise. The temporary visitor, Lee Fenton, wakes up the following morning with blood on her foot and a trail of bloody footsteps leading to Ross’ door. Renshaw, the cousin whom we know is above suspicion, believes that Fenton sleepwalked, explaining the blood, but just in case he deliberately handles the murder weapon – the victim’s revolver – to smear any fingerprints. He also smudges the bloody footprints inside the apartment while the police are being summoned. The sleepwalking episode is completely absurd but otherwise it’s a fine mystery. 1/3/15