Last Update 3/30/20

The Nameless Crime by Walter S. Masterman, Ramble House, 2019 (originally published in 1932) 

Masterman is not a lost master of the mystery novel but some of his books are reasonably suspenseful and have interesting puzzles. Others do not. This is one of the latter. It feels almost as though the author was not sure where he wanted the story to go, so he roamed around for several chapters while he thought about it. A man is found stabbed to death and it turns out that he lived in poverty and gave all of his money to a woman and her daughter. They thought he was wealthy and were shocked to learn the truth when it came out. Recurring character Sinclair of Scotland Yard looks into the case, which involves unearthing the histories of all concerned. Mediocre. 3/30/20

The Hooded Monster by Walter S. Masterman, Ramble House, 2019 (originally published in 1939) 

This is a crime novel more than a mystery (and it has a disintegration ray in it as well) about a gang that operates primarily by luring unsophisticated rich people into investing in bogus companies, although it murders a number of clients as well. The leader is a mysterious figure who always wears a gas mask and the gang meets in an abandoned bomb shelter. There is a beautiful young woman forced to help the crooks, a missing man, a gruesome murder, impersonations, disguises, treachery, betrayal, and a box of cash that goes missing. About average for the author, who was not a scintillating prose stylist. I have to admit I was taken by surprise when the chief crook’s identity is revealed. 3/30/20

The Singing Masons by Francis Vivian, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1950) 

The title refers to a Shakespearean reference to bees, and this murder mystery includes a great deal of information about beekeeping, which is the key to the solution. A rather reprehensible man disappears and is found at the bottom of a well several weeks later. He has been coshed, but he died of cyanide poisoning because he had a container in his pocket when he was thrown into the well. There are several people who wished him ill and some of the witnesses are lying, which makes it more difficult but not impossible for Inspector Knollis to solve the case. A nice, solid detective story. 3/29/20

The Come Back by Carolyn Wells, Doran, 1921 

Three men go on an expedition into northern Canada and only two come back, although we know that there was no foul play involved. Then the missing man’s family begins to have contact with his ghost through a medium, a Ouija board, and otherwise. One of the other two men is eventually poisoned and the chief suspect, his roommate, is obviously innocent. Pennington Wise is called in on the case, but he actually does nothing at all. Everything that is discovered is at the hands of his teenaged female assistant, Zizi, who is a kind of Jarjar Binks of detective fiction. Important information is withheld, and Wells knew little about occultism, and even less about the movie industry, which is also briefly pivotal to the plot. 3/28/20

Lament for a Lousy Lover by Carter Brown, Signet, 1960

This is a crossover between two of the author's series - Al Wheeler the cop and Mavis Seidlitz the private eye. She is working undercover at a television production studio when someone substitutes a live round for a blank and an actor is killed. Where have I read that gimmick before? Anyway, Wheeler bulls his way through a typical array of oversexed women and pugnacious men while Seidlitz takes a more measured approach. Not badly done but not the most original story I've ever read. 3/26/20

No Coffin for the Corpse by Clayton Rawson, Dell, 1942  

Another excellent mystery featuring a stage magician as amateur detective. A rich man believes that he is being haunted by the ghost of a man he accidentally killed, and eventually he is shot to death by the ghost. The reader knows all along that the man survived, despite being buried. The entertaining part is that he and the magician both find ways to fool a sophisticated burglar alarm system and make dramatic entrances and exits. Interspersed with mini-lectures about escape artists and attempts to mimic death. I never guessed the killer, but I did figure out how most of the mysterious events were engineered. This was, alas, his final novel. 3/23/20

A Conspiracy of Bones by Kathy Reichs, Scribner, 2020

The new Temperance Brennan mystery sees her situation somewhat changed. She is recovering from surgery and is cut off from her usual consulting job because the new Medical Examiner is an old enemy. The body of a man - half eaten by feral hogs - turns up and she decides to do some investigating on her own. This leads her to a hidden bunker, a web of conspiracy theorists, a series of child abductions, rumors of stolen technology, and other elements, which all get woven together. Although quite readable, there are entirely too many coincidences. Clues fall into her lap almost literally. At one point a raccoon drops finger bones at her feet. She also makes absurdly stupid decisions about going to potentially dangerous locations without even telling anyone where she is headed. The character even remarks that she has been acting unusually rashly. There's not much of a climax and there is one scene when two of the bad guys bolt for no reason whatsoever. 4/21/20

The Headless Lady by Clayton Rawson, IPL, 1987 (originally published in 1940)

The third Merlini mystery. A professional magician gets involved with a traveling circus which has just suffered a suspicious accidental death. Filled with details about circus life and its jargon, it is also a fast paced story of deception, disguises, burglary, assaults, sabotage, treachery, a mysterious private detective, escaped elephants, missing gangsters, dead people who aren’t really dead, and other delights. This would make a superb movie. Merlini is a fascinating character. I wholeheartedly recommend this entire series - alas only four volumes long - even for people who normally read detective novels. 3/20/20

The Man Whose Dreams Came True by Julian Symons, Popular Library, 1968 

I was a bit disappointed with this minor thriller by Symons. A small time crook whose incompetence is obvious from the outset tries to go big time when he becomes romantically involved with a woman who wants to murder her husband. It was too obvious too early that she was just using him as a scapegoat, and he is such a lousy person that I didn’t care whether or not he fell into the trap. He does, but manages to get out of it, only to have justice done in an unlikely fashion. Not up to the author’s usual standards. 3/20/20

Raspberry Jam by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1920 

A man is murdered in his bedroom and the only clear suspects are his wife and a visitor, given that the room was otherwise secured. Except that there is a peripheral character who performs various public demonstrations of his prowess and whom the reader is likely to suspect well before it is revealed that he is training to be a human fly. Fleming Stone actually does very little in the case, which is solved by his teenage assistant Fibsy, a thoroughly annoying character. Major cheats, primarily information the detectives know that is not presented to the reader until the climax. 3/19/20

Mystery Villa by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 1934     

There is a nice change of pace in the fourth Bobby Owen mystery. He has just been promoted to sergeant and no longer wears a uniform. A chance encounter with a frightened burglar named Con Conway causes him to become interested in a derelict house where an elderly and apparently mentally ill woman has been living like a hermit for decades. Then she disappears and a mummified body is found in the house, along with a petrified wedding feast. Various people were seen in the area and several of them vanish as well. This is a very low key, highly atmospheric, police procedural whose solution I did not anticipate. 3/17/20

Footprints on the Ceiling by Clayton Rawson, Collier, 1939  

Merlini, a stage magician, solves his second case. This one involves pirate treasure, an isolated island, cut telephone lines, false identities, agoraphobia, murder with the wrong victim, seances, embezzlement, hidden gangsters, a nude body in a hotel room, a letter from the dead, a mysterious fire, two different murderers, and more fun and games. The plot is perhaps a little bit too busy this time as it was difficult at times to understand even the final revelations, and there was certainly a large number of crooks gathered together for the festivities. It’s always frustrating to discover a really excellent writer and then find out he only wrote four books. 3/15/20

The Disappearance of Kimball Webb by Carolyn Wells, 1920 

This was the only one of Wells’ mysteries to appear under a pseudonym, as by Rowland Wright. A groom is kidnapped from a locked room the day before his wedding. The bride has to marry within three months or she will lose her inheritance. Two other suitors try to get her to marry them, and one of them is rather transparently the evil mastermind. The secret passage is a cheat – we had been told that it was impossible. The villain plans to murder the abductee, but keeps him alive for three months, and for no apparent reason. The detective is completely inept, even when the author is telling us how clever he is.  3/14/20

Bland Beginning by Julian Symons, Carroll & Graf, 1987 (originally published in 1949) 

A slightly offbeat and very entertaining murder mystery in which a man buys a rare first edition of a book of poetry for his girlfriend, who is the granddaughter of the poet. Not only does evidence arise that the book is a forgery, but someone is stealing every copy extent even though it is not particularly valuable. When they try to find out more, people to whom they speak end up being murdered in various ways. I guessed wrong this time because there were three really viable candidates as killer. The mildly romantic elements did not work out the way I expected either. 3/11/20

Deep Waters edited by Martin Edwards, Poisoned Pen, 2020  

Another themed collection of mystery reprints, this time the subject being rivers and the ocean. A couple of them really aren’t mysteries but they’re all at least close and they’re all quite good. There was even a William Hope Hodgson I hadn’t read before. In fact the Sherlock Holmes story was the only one I had previously encountered. The contributors include R. Austin Freeman, H.C. Bailey, Andrew Garve, Michael Gilbert, C.S. Forester, and a rare short from Josephine Bell.  Well worth your money. 3/9/20

In the Onyx Lobby by Carolyn Wells, Doran, 1920 

If it hadn’t been for a horribly botched ending, this might have been one of the author’s better books. A man is stabbed to death in the lobby of his apartment women, leaving a dying note that “women did this.” There is withheld information, a character whom we barely see turns out to be the killer for a motive we have never heard about. Characters lie for no reason at all. The main motive makes no sense because it was designed to allow the theft of an item that the killers did not know even existed, and given the situation, it should not have existed anyway.  3/9/20

Crooked River by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Grand Central, 2019

The latest Pendergast investigation opens when literally scores of severed feet in identical footwear begin washing ashore on an island in Florida. The trail leads to China and Guatemala before returning to the US for the climax. Constance Greene plays a major part in this one, and Pendergast even has a partner. There's a subsidiary mystery about a supposedly haunted house that also gets solved. Although I have found the last few books in this series less compelling than the earlier ones, I read this straight through so the authors obviously know how to craft a riveting story. There is a really nasty villain, but he only appears for a few pages. 3/6/20

Murder at Fenwold by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1930) 

The lord of the manor was supposedly killed accidentally while cutting down a tree, but an observer notes that there is strong evidence that he was actually murdered. Two detectives go undercover to try to discover the truth – without causing a scandal. There are several potential killers – the vicar with a shadowy past, two antique dealers with very different personalities, an estate manager who might have been embezzling funds, a niece who did not get along with her uncle, a mysterious nurse who talks to no one and is supposedly French, though she cannot speak the language. The plot is quite complex and sometimes gets away from the author, who leaves several unanswered questions and who uses a few plot devices that seem inexplicable when they appear. Not up to the quality of the author’s previous novels. 3/5/20

The Devil and the C.I.D. by E.C.R. Lorac, Ramble House, 2012 (originally published in 1938) 

Inspector Macdonald briefly leaves his car to help a pedestrian in the fog. While he is gone, someone stabs a man in a Mephistopheles costume to death and pushes him into the back seat, where he is not noticed until the following morning. The murder weapon and a piece of sheet music are stuck into the rear of the car owned by a famous singer, which happens to be the same model. The second half and the solution don’t really live up to the opening although they’re not bad. More of a police procedural than a traditional detective story, and with a new and important character introduced near the end, which is almost always cheating. 3/1/20

The Corpse with the Sunburned Face by Christopher St. John Sprigg, Bruin, 2018 (originally published in 1935) 

Impersonation is a familiar theme in mystery fiction, and there is plenty of it in this quite good novel, one of the few produced before the author was killed in the Spanish Civil War. A recluse suddenly changes his habits after hearing from an old friend he knew in Nigeria. The friend reports the accidental death of a mutual acquaintance, but then commits suicide mysteriously. The recluse then begins digging up his garden. A Scotland Yard inspector is not satisfied that it really was suicide and there are some odd anomalies that eventually lead to surprising revelations. Very enjoyable. 2/28/20

The Stripper by Carter Brown, Signet, 1961

Detective Al Wheeler watches a young woman fall to her death after he talks her into not jumping off a ledge. She was given a drug that would make her violently ill and that caused her to lose her footing, The closest relative is a woman who strips for a living and who seems rather unconcerned about the death. Some routine investigation follows before Wheeler determines that she was involved with the murder. This was considerably more serious than most of the other books in the series. 2/26/20

Crossword Mystery by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 1934   

The third case involving Bobby Owen is an odd one. A man has drowned even though he was an expert swimmer, and his brother is convinced that it was murder, that he is likely to be next, and demands police protection, even though he is unwilling to reveal what else he knows. Owen poses as a guest in order to try to discover what is going on.  I thought the killer’s identity became obvious a bit too early and one of the subplots is never completely explained, but otherwise this was a solid mystery thriller. 2/23/20

Dreaming of Babylon by Richard Breautigan, Delta, 1977 

Brautigan approached conventional storytelling in this spoof of the tough detective story. His protagonist is broke and not a very good detective, and as the result of being hit with a baseball years earlier, he has blackout periods in which he imagines himself in Babylon. In the real world, he is hired to steal the body of a murdered prostitute from the city morgue, but others also want to steal the body, and things very quickly get very complicated. Wry humor and a touch of surrealism make this uniquely Brautigan. 2/21/20

The Moon Rock by Arthur J. Rees, 1922 

Rees was an Australian mystery writer largely forgotten today. I liked the first book I found by him, but this one is a bit moribund despite the melodramatic plot. The victim is a man who has laboriously attempted to establish that his family is descended from the nobility. He is killed in a locked room in a house on top of an almost unscalable cliff. There are lots of suspects and confused motives. I found the prose a bit too thick this time, and entirely too much of the text is devoted to the technicalities of inheritance and various historical events. Will still watch for more. 2/19/20

Death from a Top Hat by Clayton Rawson, Penzler, 2018 (originally published in 1942)

This is a great mystery whose detective is a stage magician, and most of the characters are mediums, illusionists, escape artists, etc. It contain two separate locked room murders, a man disappearing from a moving taxi, a seance, impersonations, diagrams and lists, some very detailed drawings of the murder sites, and a sprinkling of very effective humor. There are multiple solutions offered for some of the puzzles. I managed to guess a few details, but for the most part I was in the dark. This was another of those books that I decided to start while going to bed and ended up finishing at two in the morning. I am amazed that it has been out or print for twenty years. I have three more Rawsons and they've moved near the top of the stack. 2/17/20

The Man Who Fell Through the Earth by Carolyn Wells, Doran, 1919   

This is possibly the worst novel Wells ever wrote. The protagonist sees the shadows of a fight through an office window, hears a gunshot, but finds no one inside. The body turns up in a secret elevator. Two separate people leave the office and run to the elevator, right past the protagonist, but he doesn’t see them. Two men who are different heights and weights turn out to be the same person, and there is no reason why he would have been disguised. There is an espionage group but the way they handle information is completely nonsensical. The characters are constantly forgetting what they know or believe. The last several chapters are an appalling mess. 2/16/20

Honky in the Woodpile by John Brunner, Sphere, 1971 

The third and final Max Curfew novel. Also the least interesting, marred by didactic speeches and contrived incidents in the first half, and with a second half that is so slow moving that I had to set it aside and read something else for a while. Curfew is sent to a fictional Caribbean country that is clearly modeled on Haiti to find out who is the traitor among a group of revolutionaries. He gets in trouble with the CIA as well as the government and a voodoo based cult, but mostly they just talk at each other. His escape from jail is some of Brunner’s least effective writing. 2/12/20

The Judge Sums Up by J. Jefferson Farjeon, Collins, 1942

I am not a fan of courtroom drama, but this one kept me up late. Most of the book consists of the summing up by a judge in a murder trial, interspersed with transcripts of the testimony, and it sounds very dull. It is actually quite lively. A frustrated lover may or may not have thrown a rival over a cliff. His story is unsatisfactory and he is clearly lying, as are at least two of the other witnesses. There's some mild cheating at the end - a character is introduced who is crucial to the solution - but there was a pretty obvious hint early on that I am embarrassed to say I missed completely. And it's one of the specific clues I look for - a reversed name that is significant. Farjeon is one of the most unjustly forgotten mystery writers from the Golden Age. 2/11/20

Secret Agent X Volume 3, Altus, 2009   

Four more novels about the career of an unnamed vigilante who battles mysterious criminals, all originally published in the magazine of the same name in 1934 and 1935. 

Servants of the Skull by Emile C. Tepperman, 1934 

The Skull is a typical master criminal with a weird costume. X goes undercover to try to infiltrate the gang, which kidnaps prominent men and leaves them with broken minds. His romantic interest, Betty Dale, gets kidnapped and has to be rescued, and X himself is caught more than once. The Skull turns out to be one of his supposed victims, which is a gimmick used more than once in this series. 

The Murder Monster by Emile C. Tepperman, 1934 

The gangster this time dresses his minions up to look like robots after removing their tongues so that they cannot talk. Secret Agent X does his usual bit of impersonating criminals, getting caught by both the bad guys and the police, and escaping from both. The leader of the gang turnbs out to be the supposed kidnapping victim, which was pretty obvious since he was the only non-recurring character other than the gang members.

 The Sinister Scourge by Paul Chadwick, 1935

 Secret Agent X makes use of his friends in the Chinese tongs in order to break up a gang that is contaminating innocent products with a new addictive drug. The Chinese are rather favorably depicted, unusual for the time. The drug isa synthetic, so it doesn't need to be smuggled into the country. The usual tricks and traps - disguises, clever tools disguised as every day objects, and the beautiful girlfriend in jeopardy. The formula was pretty well established by the time this one was published. 

Curse of the Waiting Death by Paul Chadwick, 1935

One of the dullest entries in the series, although we do discover that Secret Agent X has a James Bondish kind of car that can lay down smokescreens, etc. He is puzzled this time because the police refrain from interfering in any crime whose perpetrators display a distinctive light. It turns out that a new explosive has been concealed in various locations around the city and the mayor has been warned that if the police interfere, entire blocks will be leveled. Despitea mildly interesting side trip to an island, this was pretty tame. 2/10/20

The Glade Manor Murder by Elizabeth Lemarchand, Walker, 1988    

This was the author’s last book. The housekeeper of a wealthy family is found murdered. There is some circumstantial evidence pointing to a family member but he’s part of the romantic interest, so readers are unlikely to suspect him. That leaves only the neighbor whom we have good reason to believe was planning to blackmail the family with information that fell into his hands. There’s not much mystery to this one, but the story is reasonably well done barring a couple of fortuitous strokes of luck at the end. 2/8/20

The Hellcat by Carter Brown, Signet, 1962

This is probably the best Al Wheeler novel I’ve read to date. He’s looking into a cold case – a disembodied head found years earlier. A dying woman claims to have seen the man at the house where she worked as a cook. The house belongs to a powerful family and something is clearly going on behind the scenes. Then a gangster arrives in town, claiming that the dead man is his brother, and the situation moves rapidly to a boil as he demands revenge. More serious than usual, although there’s a bizarre scene when the morgue technician goes crazy. 2/7/20

A Three-Pipe Problem by Julian Symons, Harper & Row, 1975 

This is another novel about Sheridan Haynes, an actor who plays and identifies with Sherlock Holmes. A series of murders has puzzled the police, who believe a karate expert may be involved and who are looking into the rivalry between two sophisticated gangs of criminals. That’s all a red herring, of course, and when Haynes decides to apply Sherlockian techniques, he eventually finds the killer – although more by happenstance than deduction. The killer is pretty obvious once we are told that the first three victims were all in traffic accidents. One of the author’s better books despite the telegraphed ending. 2/6/20

The Casebook of Sexton Blake, edited anonymously, Wordsworth, 2009   

I had never read Sexton Blake before and was expecting something between Sherlock Holmes and James Bond. The first of the seven novellas in this collection gave me Allan Quatermain. Blake and his friend Tinker go to Africa to foil a band of Arab slave traders. I thought the depiction of the African characters rather enlightened for 1907, when Cecil Hayter wrote this -” The Slave Market.”. It is a surprisingly good adventure story and I was disappointed to find nothing else similar by Hayter available through Amazon. The second story, “A Football Mystery” by W.J. Lomax, from the same year, is entirely different. An upstart soccer team overwhelms every British team it plays against. Blake investigates and after various adventures discovers that they have mechanically augmented shoes that allow them to run faster and kick harder. The third – “The Man from Scotland Yard” by Ernest Sempill - is more Sherlockian, pitting Blake against a brilliant Scotland Yard detective who has turned to the dark side, and who apparently became one of the major menaces for years to come. “The Law of the Sea” by William Murray Graydon opens with a Titanic style disaster, after which Blake must clear the name of a man accused of cowardice. “The Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle” by G.H. Teed is essentially a Fu Manchu story with a shrewd Chinese mastermind and a secret society. Wu Ling also became a recurring character. “A Case of Arson” by Robert Murray Graydon pits Blake against another recurring villain, the Bat, a gentleman thief.  “The Black Eagle” by G.H. Teed involves a man seeking revenge for his unjust imprisonment. They range from entertaining to quite good. I'll look for more. 1/30/20

Light Through Glass by Elizabeth Lemarchand, Walker,  1984

This was the author’s penultimate book. A miserable man is murdered and his van driven off a cliff. There are two people with possible motives but they each have what appears to be an unbreakable alibi. There are so many hints about the solution that I had it figured out well before halfway – it was obviously the two working together. There are no other suspects, almost no other characters, and we are constantly told that no one actually saw the face of the man driving the van. Very disappointing. 1/29/20

Who Goes Home? by Elizabeth Lemarchand,  Walker, 1986

The solution to the major crime is rather telegraphed this time and Inspector Pollard only guesses it because of a fortuitous bit of happenstance. A remote farmhouse that is rarely used is burned by an arsonist. Inside is clear evidence that the building was being used to store illegal drugs. There is also a twenty year old skeleton bricked up in a chimney. Throw in an impersonation, an illegitimate child adopted under another name. and a couple of minor red herrings. Easy to figure out but a pleasant read. 1/29/20

Good Men Do Nothing by John Brunner, Pyramid, 1970 

The second  and far and away the best of the three Max Curfew novels. Curfew is a Jamaican who works for the British Secret Service from time to time, although in his second outing it is all personal. While on vacation, he accidentally attracts the attention of a CIA torturer working for the Greek dictatorship and is nearly killed - a companion does die, and he takes affront. He is, however, not particularly competent at planning his revenge though he eventually succeeds. He is fooled and benefits from luck on more than one occasion.  1/27/20

Blacklash by John Brunner, Pyramid. 1970 

Max Curfew, a black Jamaican who sometimes acts as a freelance secret agent, is introduced in this story. A fictional African country is in danger of becoming a white dictatorship following the probably assassination of its most prominent African politician. Curfew is sent undercover to find out the facts of the case. He becomes a fugitive, outwits his enemies, is captured and escapes a couple of times, and eventually helps train an army when civil war breaks out. Not as good as the sequel. Also published as A Plague on Both Your Causes. 1/27/20

Charter to Danger by Eliot Reed, Stratus, 1954 

The protagonist is frustrated when criminals hijack his yacht in order to abduct a very rich man, and the police are convinced that he was involved. Some low key investigating and blundering follows, along with a couple of murders, before the kidnapped man is rescued. This one felt like the authors – Eric Ambler and Charles Rodda – were going through the motions and were not really interested in their story. This edition regularly misspells Rodda’s name.  1/25/20

Passport to Panic by Eliot Reed, Stratus, 2010 (originally published in 1958) 

This was the final collaboration between Eric Ambler and Charles Rodda. A plantation owner in a fictional South American country is kept comatose and his brother is taken captive as part of a plan to use the plantation to support a coup by an exiled dictator. Nothing much happens until the story is almost over and it felt as though the authors were just going through the motions and had no real commitment to the story.  1/25/20

Vicky Van by Carolyn Wells, Burt, 1918 

A wealthy man is murdered shortly after arriving at a party in the home of a woman he has never met. She promptly disappears and the supposition is that she was the killer. This is one of the author’s most outrageously plotted novels. The house is back to back with the home of the murdered man and his widow is actually the missing hostess, leading a secret life by means of a secret passage through the walls. This one is a bit unusual in that there are really no suspects until quite late in the novel. 1/24/20

The Wheel Turns by Elizabeth Lemarchand, Walker, 1983 

A politician accidentally kills a child with his car and hides the body. He discovers that he has an illegitimate half sister, which is unsettling enough, but also that she saw him moving the child’s body. A short time later, she is asphyxiated in his garage under mysterious circumstances. The chief suspect is – or should be - obvious to the reader, but the author has some surprises hidden away. I thought the politician's decision to hide the body at a church excavation was a bit riskier than many other choices, but it does make for a very ironic scene. One of her better mysteries. 1/22/20

The Temptress by Carter Brown, Signet, 1960 

A runaway heiress, a pedophile, a brothel owner and his not too bright brother, a sexy lawyer, and a dead private eye combine to make things complicated for Al Wheeler. In this slightly more serious than usual addition to his career, Wheeler spends less time bedding the female cast and more time actually investigating the crime, so this one is above average for the series. 1/18/2-

The Maras Affair by Eliot Reed, Perma, 1953 

An unfortunately rather boring collaboration between Eric Ambler and Charles Rodda. A journalist in an Iron Curtain country is trying to smuggle the woman he loves out of the country when an abortive rebellion stirs the pot. There is also a mild murder mystery involved, but the story is strangely unengaging and the characters flat and uninteresting. 1/18/20

Inheritance Tracks by Catherine Aird, Severn House, 2019 

Five mostly strangers discover that they are jointly heirs to a substantial fortune, pending the location of another distant relative. Then one of them dies under mysterious circumstances and the police begin to note connections among the group suggesting that one of them is responsible. Sloan & Crosby are on the base, slow but steady, and a second murder eventually leads to a startling revelation. I had thought the author had retired from writing and was pleasantly surprised to discover two new titles published in the UK. The other one should be here soon.1/16/20

Wear the Butcher’s Medal by John Brunner, Pocket, 1965   

An American tourist hitches a ride and is almost killed when the car is attacked. After recovering he decides to find out what happened. This leads him into a mixture of arms smuggling, neo-Nazis, death camp survivors, and amoral businessmen. He meets a girl – and ends up with her – but only after foiling a plan to introduce modern weapons into the hands of rebels in East Germany, a development that might well have set off World War III. Reasonably entertaining thriller, although the protagonist’s characterization is inconsistent and not always believable. Filmed as How I Spent My Summer Vacation, although the plot is very different. He is not credited in the IMDB. 1/14/20

The Whispering Death by Roy Vickers, 1947 

The Whisperer is a kidnapper who has outwitted the police on numerous occasions. He returns his victims if the ransom is paid, but kills them otherwise. The protagonist is forced to steal some valuable jewels to save the life of the woman he loves, after which he is coerced into joining the Whisperer’s organization. He actually hopes to identify the criminal mastermind, and does so, but the reader will probably guess way in advance. This feels more like a pulp crime novel than a conventional mystery. 1/14/20

Let Him Lie by Ianthe Jerrold, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1940)

This is a fairly standard detective story with an amateur helping the police. Someone shoots the protagonist’s kitten, and a short while later fatally shoots one of her neighbors. Was it a hunting accident? Was it because he was threatening to dig up a controversial burial mound? Did he know something that put another in danger? Why is his widow acting so strangely? What about the woman who supposedly moved away and has never been seen or heard from again? Is she living with the famous artist who also frequented the neighborhood? All these questions get resolved of course in a quite readable if not particularly distinguished mystery.1/13/20

Troubled Waters by Elizabeth Lemarchand, Walker, 1982 

An American tourist dies in what appears to be a tragic accident, but anonymous letters lead the police to reopen the case several weeks later. There is a mysterious legend regarding a standing stone, a case of bigamy, exchanged passports and assumed identities, jealousy, and two separate criminals. The ending is very disappointing this time. Not only does the detective make an unsupported leap of intuition but the chief criminal goes crazy and confesses everything because she knows they suspect her. 1/12/20

Sweet Adelaide by Julian Symons, Ulversoft, 1980  

This is one of those mysteries in which the author provides a possible solution to an unsolved crime from the past, in this case a poisoning during the Victorian era. The first half of the novel, in which we see a young woman grow from childhood to maturity under very trying circumstances, is quite good, but I actually started to lose interest once we moved into the crime itself. His solution is plausible enough to be true, but we will likely never know.  Below part for Symons. 1/11/20

The Adventures of Creighton Holmes by Ned Hubbell, Popular Library, 1979  

This is a collection of seven short mysteries all of which are solved by the grandson of Sherlock Holmes. They are very much in the same style including being narrated by a Dr. Watson equivalent, but are set in the 1930s. Most involve murder. The copyright is by Lois Hubbell, but I don’t know if that was the real writer’s name or his widow. Only one other book appeared under this byline and it was nonfiction. They are as competently done as most other Holmes pastiches. 1/9/20

Tender to Danger by Eliot Reed, Doubleday, 1951 

The second Eric Ambler collaboration with Charles Rodda involves the abduction and murder of a man whom the protagonist has just met while traveling back to London. His curiosity gets the best of him and soon he and an heiress are trying to track down a small sailboat that disappeared during the war. They are competing with a pair of ruthless men because there is something very valuable aboard the boat. The ending is particularly exciting and involves a windmill and a gun fight. 1/9/20

The Room with the Tassels by Carolyn Wells, Grosset, 1918

This was the first Pennington Wise novel – apparently Wells was tired of Fleming Stone. It’s also atypical in that the first murder (two of them in fact) happens only a third of the way into the book instead of in the opening chapters. A group of friends visit a supposedly haunted house and two of them drop dead inexplicably and with no warning. Everyone including the police runs around in circles and prove completely incapable of solving the crime until Wise is hired and clears things up in a matter of hours and without having done any detecting at all. 1/7/20

Nothing to Do with the Case by Elizabeth Lemarchand, Walker, 1981 

A young woman inherits a valuable house from a relative who dies suddenly. This gains her the animosity of another relative, who later blackmails her into becoming involved with the theft and sale of stolen property. When a strangled woman is found in the ruins of a house destroyed by arson, there are strong connections to the theft, but it turns out that the two cases are almost completely unrelated. Better than average, although the detectives seem to possess extraordinarily powerful psychic abilities to tell who is telling the truth and who is lying. 1/7/20

Skytip by Eliot Reed, Doubleday, 1950  

Eliot Reed was Eric Ambler collaboration with Charles Rodda. The protagonist is ordered by his doctor to take a vacation and ends up at a remote farm in Cornwall. He gets involved with a man who is holding an incriminating letter that would prove that a prominent politician was a Nazi collaborator during the war. The man disappears after a pair of unsavory characters arrive in town. They suspect, incorrectly, that the protagonist knows where the incriminating document is hidden. Suspense ensues as they finally kidnap him. Two of the characters seem profoundly slow to realize the truth, but otherwise this was a good thriller. 1/5/20

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas, Penguin, 2013 (translated from the 2011 French version) 

This was my first sampling of a short series by a French archaeologist. Adamsberg is a police detective who often uses unorthodox methods. In this case, he arranges the “escape” of a prisoner he knows is innocent in order to gain time to investigate two wealthy brothers. The picture the author provides of France’s system of justice is somewhat offputting – the innocent man gets a two year sentence for escaping, even though he was innocent of the original charge and was ordered by Adamsberg to “escape.” This is actually a subsidiary plot. The main one is a series of murders in a more remote part of the country where many of the local people believe in the ghost riders, a kind of zombie version of the Wild Hunt. I guessed the killer quite early although more by luck than deduction. He just felt wrong. Adamsberg did not strike me as particularly competent – three murders take place AFTER he is put in charge. It was agreeable enough that I will pick up more in the series when I see them, but not enough that I would go out of my way to find them. 1/2/20