Last Update 3/31/19

Checkmate to Murder by E.C.R. Lorac, Bart, 1944 

A miser is shot to death in his room. His nephew is arrested by a temporary constable who acts rather strangely himself. The two run into an artist’s studio occupied by four men and a woman, all of whom provide alibis for one another. Inspector MacDonald is convinced that the nephew is innocent, however, and the other potential suspects – former tenants who knew about the dead man’s secret hoard of cash – are nowhere to be found. This is quite a nice little detective story, long out of print, whose plot proceeds very systematically toward its conclusion. The author cheats a bit by withholding some information from the reader that is available to MacDonald, but I doubt I would have noted its significance even if it had been made available.  3/31/19

Red Stefan by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1935) 

This is undoubtedly my least favorite Wentworth. The widow of a Russian scientist who may have made an important discovery is hounded by an agent of the government and is contemplating suicide when an English spy saves her and promptly tells her all of his secrets in an extremely implausible sequence, after which he develops a plan to smuggle her out of the country. Long conversations, sometimes political, break up the action beyond salvation and neither of the two protagonists is particularly engaging. Very atypical of her work. 3/29/19

Dead Man’s Quarry by Ianthe Jerrold, Dean Street    

This author’s second and final detective novel is excellent and it is a shame that she spent most of her career writing mundane novels which will probably never be reprinted. A small party bicycling across part of England includes Sir Charles, who has recently arrived after a fifteen year stay in Canada upon inheriting his title. But he strays off course slightly to look at a quarry and never rejoins his friends. Instead, his body is found at the bottom of the quarry with a bullet in his head. A plethora of strange clues attract the attention of an amateur detective who happens to be in the area, and we’re off to the races. The solution took me completely by surprise. The characters are very well done, the investigation proceeds logically, and the prose is smooth and pleasant. 3/26/19

Fire in the Thatch by E.C.R. Lorac, Poisoned Pen Press, 2018 (originally published in 1946)   

Although I figured out most of the solution to this one – I couldn’t find a motive – it was still quite good, the second I’ve read by this author but not likely to be the last. A hard working, partially disabled ex-sailor is found dead when his rented cottage burns to the ground. Although the verdict is accidental death, his old commander refuses to believe that he would be careless with electricity or fire and Scotland Yard’s courtesy review turns into a full scale investigation. Thorough and painstaking detective work leads to the truth but only after another man dies in another rigged accident. 3/22/19

The Deadly Kiss-Off by Paul Di Filippo, Blackstone, 2019, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-5384-5029-1

Sequel to The Big Get-Even, which is also worth your time. Our two conmen heroes have run through most of the money they made in the first book, so they get together again and indulge in a new plan involving counterfeit merchandise and clandestine deliveries. Unfortunately, things go sour almost immediately leaving them burdened with a big load of unsaleable electronics and their ongoing shortage of cash. But then they run into an inventor who has come up with an unusual new discovery that might well be very profitable - although it’s not even clear that it really works as described. The twosome are delighted because there is now a way to turn the junk they were left with into cash, although it involves dealing with some pretty dicey people, not to mention the fact that they need a large capital investment from a very powerful mobster just to give the scheme a chance. Throw in a little unwise adultery, some bad luck, and other ingredients and you have a second eminently satisfying romp through crime and deceit with colorful characters, necks stuck farther out than is safe, and the threat of disaster lurking just above the horizon for most of the book. As good as the first, which is not generally true of sequels. 3/20/19

Corpses in Enderby by George Bellairs, Ipso, 2016 (originally published in 1954) 

Inspector Littlejohn’s most tragic case. He solves the crime but underestimates the murderer, which results in two additional deaths. An unpopular man is shot to death in his shop moments after physically assaulting his daughter’s suitor. He was part of an enormous, idiosyncratic family and in fact there are so many relatives that the first half of the novel is quite bewildering. It settles down after that but the killer’s identity is rather obvious, as is his motive as well as the flaw in his alibi. It’s one of the author’s longest books to accommodate all of the oddball characters and Littlejohn seems more plodding than usual. 3/18/19

Neck and Neck by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 1982 (originally published in 1951) 

The Sergeant Beef series is not nearly as good as the same author’s Carolus Deene mysteries, but they’re not bad. This time the retired constable has two separate cases to investigate, which happened on the same day. A peaceful old woman is poisoned and a miserable miser is hanged.The people with the most obvious motives all have perfect alibis. This was quite obviously a “traded murders” puzzle as soon as the details of the second murder were revealed, so it was just a case of finding a way to prove it.  3/17/19

The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull, Poisoned Pen, 2018 (originally published in 1934) 

The protagonist and his aunt live together in disharmony in rural Wales. He is egotistical, snobbish, and rather silly while she, more sensible, also has her moments of pettiness and cruelty. She controls all of the money so he decides that he needs to arrange a fatal accident. Alas, he is so incompetent that his two major attempts not only fail but they are painfully obvious and the aunt finally takes steps of her own. This is a delightful book full of witticism and wry humor. The nephew is a truly awful person and his characterization is brilliantly done. Not a detective story exactly but definitely worthwhile. 3/16/19

Touch and Go by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1934) 

This one is a pretty good woman in jeopardy story. The protagonist is hired to serve as governess to a recently orphaned seventeen year old girl who stands to inherit a large estate. Someone is clearly trying to prove that she is unbalanced, probably suicidal, in order to murder her and get the money. Since there is only one person in that position, and because of some other rather obvious clues, there is no mystery about who is responsible, but there is also a stranger in the neighborhood who is almost certainly using a false identity, and the revelation about this does come as a surprise, though it is a bit forced. Very enjoyable though. 3/15/19

The Bedlam Detective by Stephen Gallagher, Broadway, 2012 

This is a very fine historical mystery set in 1912 England. Two young girls are brutally murdered in a remote village where the local aristocrat has returned from a disastrous trip to South America. His ill conceived expedition was virtually wiped out, including his wife and son. He has published an account of his experiences which suggests that dinosaurs or other strange creatures were responsible and it is generally believed that he is delusional. The protagonist is an investigator for a government office that determines the sanity of very rich people and the disposition of their property. He suspects that the deluded man might also be the killer and is also wary of a doctor who claims the man is no danger to himself or others. There are some nice twists at the end that I did not see coming and the book as a whole is engaging, suspenseful, and unusual. 3/13/19

Called Back by Hugh Conway, Collins, 2015 (originally published in 1883) 

This early thriller starts off as a mystery and becomes a tale of international intrigue and adventure. The protagonist has gone blind and one night he wanders into the wrong house in time to hear a murder being committed. The killers decide that he cannot identify him so they drug him and leave him to be found elsewhere. But some time later his vision returns and when he meets a woman who is connected to the crime, it stimulates him into taking enormous chances in order to investigate on his own. I found the prose somewhat ponderous and the change of tone as the story progresses did nothing for me. 3/13/19

Invisible Weapons by John Rhode, Collins, 2018 (originally published in 1938) 

A man is found dead in a locked bathroom his forehead crushed. There appears to be no way that anyone could have struck him through the only window and there is no evidence of a missile in the room. The only person to benefit from his death is his host, who has no alibi, but the police cannot suggest how it was managed. Then a second, apparently unrelated, death throws new light on the case for Dr. Priestly. Rhode had used this same trick in another novel so I recognized it immediately. I also guessed the killer quite early based on a pattern of clues. When the second death occurred I immediately knew the motive. Okay but not one of his best. 3/8/19

Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville, Poisoned Pen, 2018 (originally published in 1934) 

There’s not much of any mystery in this amusing crime story. The protagonist is one of several people invited to spend a weekend at the home of a famous collector of gemstones. Except for him, each of the guests possesses some fabulous piece of jewelry which they are encouraged to bring. It’s not hard to figure out that theft is in the works – their host is a known jewel thief although the police have never been able to prove it. He succeeds by creating fake copies and fooling his victims until they consult experts.  The plot unwinds predictably although not entirely sensibly. There is a hidden gem room in the basement, the chauffeur is an undercover police officer, the butler is a cold blooded killer, the daughter is not related to the thief at all, there is an elaborate and deadly alarm system, and one of the victims unwisely wakes up at the wrong moment. The only mystery is the presence of the protagonist, which is not explained until the final pages. Pretty good overall, and the author’s first and most successful book. 3/7/19

Fear by Night by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1934) 

Although there are too many coincidences, this is not otherwise a bad suspense novel. The protagonist is unaware that she has been named heiress of an uncle she has never met. The uncle is still alive, though failing, and his secretary and his other niece want to arrange things so that she does not inherit, in which case the fortune reverts to the cousin, who is secretly married to the secretary. The secretary and a smuggler hire Vernon as companion for the latter’s mother and take her to a remote island where the one tries to kill her and the other attempts to woo her. The real boyfriend follows and clandestinely keeps track of what’s going on, although he’s soon discovered. Fairly good suspense story marred by the incomprehensible stupidity of the female protagonist, who refuses to leave the house even when she is certain that they are trying to kill her Amazingly, they are saved by the timely appearance of a real sea serpent. 3/3/19

Death Turns Traitor by Walter S. Masterman, Ramble House, 2018 (originally published in 1936) 

This is more of a spy thriller than a mystery. A retired police inspector is investigating a mysterious document that alludes to a secret German society that plans to rule the world. To that end, they have captured an Englishman who is a good double for the current foreign secretary. Unfortunately, he escapes and is in British hands when the Foreign Secretary is murdered. So instead of having him impersonated to do the wishes of the villains, he does the same at the behest of the good guys. The plot is lively and fairly clever and while Masterman’s prose is rather pedestrian, he tells a good story. 3/1/1

Red Shadow by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 296 (originally published in 1932) 

The premise for this is a little strained. Laura Cameron is about to inherit controlling interest in a major British firm. Her fiancé is, however, imprisoned by the Russians and threatened with death unless she agrees to marry their agent and place him on the Board of Trustees. She agrees, but knows that if she backs out, his life will be in danger. Fortunately, there is dissension among the Russian spies and eventually this provides leverage by which our hero figures out what is going on and foils their plot. Ironically, at the end we discover that the secret plans everyone is concerned about were destroyed many years earlier so it was all a waste of time. 2/27/19

The 8 Mansion Murders by Takemaru Abiko, Locked Room International, 2018 (Japanese edition 1989)   

The title is a bit misleading. There are only two murders – 8 Mansion is the name of the building where they take place. An executive is murdered by a crossbow in circumstances that seem to prove that the son of the family servants is responsible. Yes, it’s an impossible crime story – although the solution involves the use of mirrors in a way that I thought was impractical. The second murder is somewhat more interesting and the story as a whole is reasonably clever. The prose, however, is awkward and there are frequent naïve scenes that just do not seem remotely realistic. 2/25/19

The Owner Lies Dead by Tyline Perry, Coachwhip, 2018 (originally published in 1930) 

One of the owners of a mine goes below alone during a disaster and is later found shot to death. But no one else came out of the mine and all of the workers were dead before he descended, so how could it possibly have been accomplished?  Despite the puzzling opening, the author’s decision to then regress through time for a lengthy assessment of events leading up to the murder was probably a bad one. The buildup goes on too long and there is not much detective work before the final revelation. Promising but not particularly successful, although apparently the novel was quite well received when it first appeared.  2/23/19

Nothing Venture by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1932) 

A man must find a way to find a bride within 24 hours to qualify for an inheritance. His lawyer’s clerk offers him a business arrangement but conceals from him the fact that she is actually in love with him. The woman who jilted him and her real lover are determined to kill him because the estate would revert to her, not the new widow. The wife knows what is going on but cannot convince her husband that he is in danger. Although he’s supposed to be a great guy, he’s rude, unintentionally cruel, stubborn, and sometimes downright stupid. A friend of the family believes the wife and helps her prove the truth. 2/22/19

The Mystery of Mud Flats by Maurice Drake, Collins, 2018 (originally published in 1913)  

This is more of an adventure story than a murder mystery. A man in desperate financial straits is hired to carry cargoes back and forth to the Dutch coast in his small ship. He does so, but he and one of his crew members begin to wonder how their employers can be making money on such small and unwanted cargoes going one way, and plain mud for ballast the only cargo on the way back. There is also a secretive German company setting up shop nearby and when the crewman tries to do some spying, he is shot in the leg. So what exactly is going on? Hint – the ballast is more valuable than it seems to be. 2/22/19

No Past Is Dead by J.J. Connington, Coachwhip, 2015 (originally published in 1942) 

A man makes unwelcome advances to a woman in the middle of the night. She shoots him three times, all minor wounds, and he flees but is found dead a short while later with his throat torn out by the woman’s pet cheetah. Except that the observant police officer notices that his throat had already been cut by a sharp instrument. A tangled tale of a large inheritance, personal rivalries, old enmities, thievery, and fits of amnesia follows. The prose is sometimes rather awkward and the story takes too long to get going, but once the first murder is done, I was caught up in the puzzle and I have to admit that the solution – quite plausible – took me completely by surprise.  2/21/18

The First Wave by James R. Benn, Soho,  2007 

Second in a series of war time mystery stories whose detective is an aide to Dwight Eisenhower. This one is set during the invasion of North Africa and the struggle with the Vichy French. Although there are some murders to be solved, I found that too much of the novel was devoted to military adventures and the protagonist’s attempt to rescue the woman he loves from enemy imprisonment. The mystery elements are almost an afterthought. I'll still be looking for the rest of this series, but not frantically. 2/19/19

Danger Calling by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1931) 

A recently jilted man accepts a job impersonating the secretary of a man suspected of trying to cause a new European war.  The impersonation is hampered by his encounters with several people who recognize who he really is. That said, he does not really find out much about the bad guys and it takes quite a long time for him to do so. There are long interludes in which the chief crook is trying to get his estranged wife back, but these have little to do with the story and are just filler. Not one of the author’s finer moments. 2/18/19

The Case of the Hidden Scourge by Robert J. Hogan, Altus, 2018 (originally published in 1936) 

Wu-Fang, the bargain basement Fu Manchu, is back for his seventh caper. This time he is in Baghdad hoping to acquire some lost secrets that will help him on his quest to dominate the world. His usual adversaries are there as well, determined as ever to thwart his every nefarious move. Exotic murders, captures and escapes, overly dramatic speeches, and all the usual features are here. Clumsy writing not nearly up to the level of Sax Rohmer crippled this series from the outset. 2/18/19

Death in the Middle Watch by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 2004 (originally published in 1974)   

Murder on a cruise ship! Carolus Deene is asked to look into some threatening letters received by a cruise company so he is given a cabin on a ship which was troubled by a mysterious death on a previous voyage. Many of the same people are on board and Deene suspects from the outset that the earlier death was a murder. But then there is a case of someone jumping overboard. Or was there? And another murder, of course. The story is a bit contrived to get all the recurring characters aboard as well, but it’s a fine mystery. 2/15/19

Kingdom Lost by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1930)

A young heiress is marooned on a deserted island with an elderly man while she is a baby and is not rescued until twenty years later. Her relatives, who have control of her fortune, are not overjoyed at the prospect of losing it and manage to manipulate the unsophisticated young woman into leaving it in their hands. There’s no real mystery involved and not much suspense. She almost falls prey to her rapacious relatives but realizes what they are after in the nick of time and marries a man who truly loves her. Slow moving and rather dull. 2/14/19

The Devil and the Four by Sam Siciliano, Titan, 2018   

Sherlock Holmes rides again. This is more of an adventure than a detective story. An Englishwoman suddenly leaves for France, leaving behind a mysterious letter and other oddities. Holmes, accompanied by Dr. Henry Vernier rather than Watson, decides to track her down, but the case has more twists than he anticipated. The author has done several of these pastiches, all well done. I didn’t think this was up to his usual standards but it’s still an engaging story and other than the Watson substitute, loyal to the original. 2/13/19

Death on Allhallowe’en by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 1970        

Carolus Deene visits a remote community where superstition is rife, a local woman claims to be a medium, and a young boy died of exposure after talking about having witnessed some kind of traumatic event which appears to be a satanic mass. Is there a connection with Aleister Crowley? What about the runaway wife no one has seen for years? Why are two very dissimilar men such constant companions? Who shot at the author? Who is the inquisitive newspaperman? Why was the best shot in town offered free use of an expensive cowboy outfit for a masquerade party? Never fear, Deene will figure it all out, and for a change he’s in physical danger as well in this nicely done mystery. 2/10/19

The Millionaire Mystery by Fergus Hume, Collins, 2018 (originally published in 1901) 

Hume is famous for The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, which was immensely popular when it appeared but which has not aged very well. This is one of his many less successful books, and it is even more archaic and awkwardly written. The premise isn’t bad. A tramp sees some men stealing the recently interred body of a rich man from his crypt, but another and unidentified body has been left in its place. The millionaire was involved in some shady dealings in Jamaica which are only revealed when the family decides to investigate this peculiar development. The mystery element is not badly done but the prose is so rough that it was not a pleasure to follow the story. 2/10/19

Pilgrim’s Rest by Patricia Wentworth, 1946 

This one has also appeared as Dark Threat. Miss Silver investigates a series of “accidents” which appear directed toward preventing the sale of a family estate. A cousin disappeared there three years earlier under mysterious circumstances and it is logical to assume that he was killed and the murderer doesn’t want the house sold and the body discovered. This is a rather bad novel which is solved by having a character we thought dead appear in the closing chapters to admit that she witnessed the murder. The killer even escapes capture. Miss Silver only figures out what happened because people tell her things that the police do not know. 2/4/19

Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R. Lorac, Poisoned Pen, 2018 (originally published in 1937)  

This was my first sampling of Lorac, who wrote several dozen mystery novels, but it won’t be my last since it kept me up to the small hours of the morning. An unsuccessful author is off to Paris, but he never gets there. His suitcase is found in a decaying building. Is his unfaithful wife responsible? Was he being blackmailed? Did he fake his own death? Who is the bearded man? What connection does this have to an elderly man’s will? Who assaulted a curious investigator in a locked building and how did they escape? Where is the body, if there is a body? Who is impersonating whom and why? I guessed the killer, but only a few pages before it was revealed. Very nicely done. 2/4/19

Outrageous Fortune by Patricia Wentworth, Warner, 1990 (originally published in 1933) 

The old amnesia trick is central to this one. A jewel thief dies when his ship sinks with only one survivor. The survivor has amnesia but in his delirium he mentioned emeralds, so the wife of the thief pretends he is her husband, hoping to find out where the jewels are. The survivor’s cousin Caroline is suspicious of the circumstances and attempts to track them down so that she can identify him. The plot is rather forced with lots of coincidences to keep the truth from coming out. Eventually the villains are foiled, the jewels regained, and the innocent man proved to be uninvolved. The plot is rather problematic this time. 2/1/19

The Devil’s Dust by James Lovegrove, Titan, 2018 

Sherlock Holmes meets Alan Quatermain in this adventure in which Mrs. Hudson prevails upon Holmes and Watson to clear the name of a friend accused of murdering one of her boarders. The dead man claimed to have been in India for years but items in his room suggest it was actually Africa, and when Quatermain shows up, this is confirmed. A fairly routine process of detection follows before the truth is revealed. Entertaining, though not I think as interesting as Lovegrove’s previous pastiches.  Quatermain did not seem to me to be like the same character as in the Haggard novels, though I haven't read them in several years. 1/30/19

The Warrielaw Jewel by Winifred Peck, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1933)  

Peck wrote only two mystery novels, of which this is the earlier. The Warrielaw clan consists of mostly women who do not like one another. The oldest member owns the family jewel, although she has expressed her intention of selling it. When she disappears on a trip to London, and the jewel is nowhere to be found, everyone suspects foul play. Not a bad mystery puzzle, but the pace was ponderous at times. A couple of good red herrings and better than average characterization. 1/28/19

Newcomer by Keigo Higashino, Minotaur, 2018 

This very entertaining murder mystery has an unusual structure. A woman is strangled in her apartment. One of the investigating officers is a soft-spoken man who visits each of seven small businesses in the area. In each he finds a separate little story and in each case he himself has a major impact on their lives. Along the way he leans enough to solve the murder as well. Detective Kaga is an appealing character and the individual stories are frequently charming. Higashino is described as the most widely read author in Japan and after reading five of his books, I can see why. 1/27/19

The Coldstone by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1930)

This is an above average thriller about a man who inherits an estate from a distant relative and finds himself caught up in rumors of stolen treasure, secret codes, and a set of standing stones that Merlin used to keep the devil at bay. There is also a beautiful but mysterious young girl and a warren of secret passages connecting several buildings. I guessed much of the rather complex solution but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story, which includes several rather offbeat characters. No fantasy element despite the Arthurian stuff. 1/24/19

Verses for the Dead by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Grand Central, 2018 

Agent Pendergast has a new partner for his latest case. Someone is murdering young women, cutting out their hearts, and leaving the severed organs on the graves of other women who have committed suicide. But there is something strange about the case. All of the suicides are from Miami but they all died while out of state and during a short two year period. And the killer leaves cryptic notes behind, which all contain literary references. Everything seems to be random otherwise, but Pendergast believes there is a pattern, and that is what eventually leads to the discovery of the killer’s identity. But there is another danger, and this one is specifically targeting the investigators. Excellent suspense story that was sufficiently tense that I read it in one sitting. 1/22/19

The Book Artist by Mark Pryor, 7th Street, 2019, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-488-5

The latest Hugo Marston thriller is a fairly conventional murder mystery set in France. Marston is attending an art exhibit and associated festivities when one of the guests is murdered by parties unknown. The local police are sure that they have figured out who is responsible, but Marston is predictably convinced that they are barking up the wrong tree. Naturally he has to solve the crime in order to set the innocent man free. But the story is more complicated than that because of a second plot. A friend of Marston has run into trouble with a dangerous enemy and now the enemy is determined to eliminate Marston for reasons of his own. So he has to hunt down one killer while being hunted in turn by another. A nice solid entry in this series. 1/21/19

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary by Terry Shames, 7th Street,2019, $15.96, ISBN 978-1-63388-490-8

This is the only series told in present tense that I find readable, although I still think it would be better if told more conventionally. Samuel Craddock is the recurring police chief and Singletary is another recurring character. When she disappears after getting involved with an online dating service, he is more than slightly alarmed, particularly when another woman who used the same service is found murdered. Craddock has to penetrate a world with which he is completely unfamiliar this time, and his investigation and what he finds are obviously the point of the story. About average for the series, which has been pretty good. And not everything is what it appears to be. 1/20//19

Will O’ the Wisp by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1928)

A man who believes his wife was lost at sea years earlier begins to receive hints that she might have survived. Mysterious notices appear in the newspaper and he receives anonymous phone calls suggesting that she is in England. He tries to investigate and discovers that his sister hid some letters and that a woman who might be his wife has been seen in the city. Although there is no real crime committed in the story, this is a fairly absorbing suspense novel that ages surprisingly well. 1/18/19

Death of a Bovver Boy by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 2014 (originally published in 1964) 

Carolus Deene’s gardener find a naked, dead boy in a ditch near their house. After contacting the police, Deene decides to look into matters himself and discovers that the boy was so mistreated and neglected by his family that there is some reason for his lifestyle, and he was good to some of his acquaintances including a young girl. Suspicion centers on a rival gang, or perhaps the nightclub operator who implied the dead boy to sell drugs for him. But Deene decides to look farther afield. I was a bit disappointed by this one because Deene seems to snatch the solution out of thin air, which is the only reason it took me by surprise. 1/17/19

The Witness on the Roof by Annie Haynes, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1925) 

Although not as overdone then as it is now, this is still a rather pedestrian suspense novel involving a long lost woman who returns to claim her inheritance – or is she an imposter? Add to that a young girl who witnessed an apparent murder and more than a decade later realizes that her new husband may be the man she assumed was the killer. The mystery element is missing for much of the book, which is more a story of family tensions and resentments, and while it is fairly well written, I was glad to reach the end. 1/14/19

Hue and Cry by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1927)

A young woman becomes a fugitive when she is framed by her employer, who believes incorrectly that she has stolen a document which could unmask his criminal activities. She is chased over the countryside with many near misses and a few too many coincidental encounters. There is no secret how it will all work out in the end, of course, but it’s the journey rather than the destination that is the point. There are several quite interesting characters and the pacing is very nicely controlled. 1/14/19

Narrow Gauge to Murder by Carolyn Thomas, Coachwhip, 2018 (originally published in 1952)

This obscure mystery novel contains one of the biggest and most effective red herrings of all time. The premise is that a writer and his research assistant have traveled to a tiny, remote community which went bankrupt after a train disaster led to charges of corruption and a suicide that many think was a murder. The assistant is harassed by an unknown party almost immediately and there are clearly secrets within secrets, including the true explanation for the supposed accidental death of an author who lived in the area years earlier. The motive never comes out until the solution and it is not something the reader is likely to guess out of thin air, so it’s a bit of a cheat, but as a suspense novel it is quite good. 1/12/19

Crime De Luxe by Elizabeth Gill, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1933)

I generally enjoy murder mysteries set on ocean liners. There is a distinct flavor to them that sets them apart. This one – a Benvenuto Brown mystery – has some of those elements. A woman falls overboard, or did she? And who was she? And what about the strange nature of her luggage? Brown is immediately convinced that it was murder and soon proves his case. But the pace is slow, Brown is not very interesting, and there are jumps of logic that are not entirely convincing. And what relationship does this have to the animosity between  a rich businessman and another man who believes the first stole his discovery?  Gill only wrote two other mysteries. 1/11/19

Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate, Poisoned Pen, 2018 (originally published in 1943) 

A rather irascible businessman travels home by train with his employer’s payroll in cash, but when he gets to the house, he is unable to speak and dies soon afterward of unusual lung problems. The money, of course, is nowhere to be found. The police detective assigned to the case focuses on the nine people who were in the railcar with him, although four of them did not get off at the dead man’s stop. Most of the book consists of biographical sketches of the various characters and the solution to the mystery is tacked on at the end. The sketches are not interesting enough in themselves and the mystery feels like an afterthought. 1/10/19

Corpse at the Carnival by George Bellairs, Penguin, 1964 (originally published in 1958)   

Superintendent Littlejohn arrives on the Isle of Mann for a vacation just as a mystery man with multiple identities who has been living there for years is stabbed to death in a carnival crowd. The dead man had left his fortune with his wife and retired to secret obscurity. Now his wife and his adult daughter, along with her avaricious husband, have arrived, apparently more interested in settling his estate than finding out who killed him. 1/7/19

 The Arsenal Stadium Mystery by Leonard Gribble, Poisoned Pen Press, 2018 (originally published in 1939) 

Murder at a soccer match. One of the players collapses on the field and dies a short time later, injected with poison. Was it the fellow player whose fiancé had been unfaithful?  Was it revenge for another woman driven to suicide years earlier? Was it related to rivalries on the team? And what was in the mysterious package delivered to the locker room? This is a good example of the fair play detective story popular at the time it was published by a prolific but now largely forgotten British writer. Filmed even as the book was being serialized. 1/5/19

The Case of the Famished Parson by George Bellairs, Ipso, 2016 (originally published in 1949)

Inspector Littlejohn is on vacation when a bishop is thrown off a cliff near his hotel. Although motives emerge, none of them seems particularly convincing and Littlejohn believes he is making no progress when he is ambushed and seriously wounded. The solution is reasonably well disguised, although I had figured out most of it well ahead of time.  1/4/19

The Amazing Chance by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1926)  

Three men disappear on a combat mission during the war. Ten years later, one of them revives from a long spell of amnesia and goes home. But he claims not to know his actual identity. One of them was married and heir to a substantial fortune, Another married a bigamous actress. The wife eventually figures out who he is and learns why he refused to speak, but only after some not very interesting shenanigans. This was a bit too artificial for my tastes and the elaborate steps the author takes to delay the revelation are actively irritating. 1/4/19

The Golden Dagger by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street,2017   (originally published in 1951) 

A valuable antique dagger is stolen from a private collection, used to commit murder, and then left in a telephone booth after an anonymous call to the police. No one knows anything about a body but two men are missing, a famous author and a small time con man and blackmailer. Bobby Owen of Scotland Yard is on the case and while he knows who the killer is quite early – though we don’t know this until very late – he has no proof and does not even know who the victim might be. A low key blend of classic detection and police procedural that slowly builds up tension as events unfold.1/1/19