Last Update 3/31/21

A Handful of Silver by Victor Canning, Berkley, 1954

Aka Castle Minerva, and filmed as Masquerade in 1964. The protagonist is recruited by the man who saved his life during the war to help protect a young Arab heir to the throne. Things go wrong quickly and strangely. The boy is abducted and then our hero is grabbed separately, after being framed for the kidnapping. He eventually discovers that his old friend has turned bad and recruited him for this exact reason. Both prisoners are held in a remote chateau until our hero begins to act independently and upsets the entire operation. The ending is rather rushed on this one, and it is not at all clear why the good guy turned bad should involve his long time friend rather than some other person. 3/31/21

Overture to Death by Ngaio Marsh, Berkley, 1939 

An amateur play to raise money for charity goes awry when a booby trapped piano fires a fatal shot into the woman playing it. She was one of two competing busybodies in the town, and the other was supposed to have provided the music and, presumably, was the real target. But there are also motives to kill the woman who died, who was quite rich. There are really only seven suspects, two of whom – the young lovers – are transparently above suspicion. This was the best Marsh I’ve read to date. The characters are much more realistic and detailed and there are some nicely contrived interrelated puzzles to be solved.  3/30/21

Dead on the Level by Helen Nielsen, Dell, 1951

The protagonist of this routine but engaging mystery is broke and drunk when he is approached by a young woman in a bar. He wakes in another woman's apartment the following morning with no memory of what happened, but discovers that the woman he met is an heiress who has gone missing and that her father has been murdered. His immediate conclusion is that he has been set up to be the fall guy in the murder, so he has to find the real killer to save his own neck. But things are not entirely as they appear. Competently done, well plotted, and with a couple of small but genuine surprises. 3/29/21

Billionaire Mission by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1974 

A billionaire turned Satanist is planning to assassinate the President of the US and the Premier of the Soviet Union in order to provoke a war. His own followers will shelter until everyone else is dead and then emerge to create a Satanist civilization. Except that they don’t count on the Death Merchant and others to throw a wrench into their plans. The author spends a good deal of time illustrating that Satanism is no worse than Christianity, and sprinkles his text with ethnic slurs like “garlic gobblers.” The bad guys all get killed in very graphic ways and the world is safe for agnostism. 3/28/21

The Case of the Stricken Outpost by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1926)

An embezzler is helped to escape England by master criminal Huxton Rymer, but Sexton Blake pursues him to Canada for some mild adventures in the wilderness. The bad guy eventually succumbs to disease and thus escapes arrest , but Blake is able to recover some of the missing money. A fairly standard, novella length adventure with some entertaining local color but not a great deal of plot. It is almost a rewrite of one of the other Blake/Rymer adventures I had already read. 3/26/21

The Castro File by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1974 

Castro is planning to negotiate with the US so the Soviets decide to replace him with a duplicate, thereby making Cuba more completely their satellite. The Death Merchant knows about their plan, so he sneaks into Cuba and kills a whole lot of people in very messy ways in order to find out where the duplicate is. His job is complicated by the fact that the underground wants Castro dead, not protected, and there is also a spy within the CIA who is feeding information to the Russians. Pretty much a rehash of events from the earlier books. When you’re already repeating yourself on the sixth book of a series – that ran to more than eighty titles – you might be in trouble. Fortunately for the author, men’s adventure fans are not very picky. 3/24/21

Picture Miss Seeton by Heron Carvic, Farrago, 2017 (originally published in 1968)

The first in a series of books about a kind of anti-Jane Marple. Miss Seeton just wants to live quietly and has no intention of getting involved in a couple of murder cases. But her vacation in the country becomes very complicated after she witnesses the murder of a prostitute in London. Although the main events are deadly serious, the story is enlivened by quite a lot of good natured humor. The chief detective is named Delphick, Oracle to his friends. The villlage gossips have a field day with the strange goings on. This is another of those books where I wanted to read the first chapter before going to sleep, and ended up finishing it before I finally turned off the lights. And today I will order the sequel. Carvic died in an accident and the series was later continued by another writer. 3/23/21

The Painted Window by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2020 (originally published in 1923)

Sexton Blake crosses swords with Huxton Rymer again, although the first half is more about Blake’s friend Tinker rescuing a young Chinese woman from a slave owner. Rymer wants to acquire a pair of diamonds that Blake has delivered to an agent of an English jeweler. Although Rymer opposes the use of violence, his partner in the theft has a courier stabbed to death in the successful theft. Blake and Tinker have to recover the gems and punish the man who ordered the killing, and take care of their newly acquired ward at the same time. Rymer is somewhat redeemed and Blake’s other goals are all accomplished. Slightly above average. 3/23/21

The Man from the “Turkish Slave by Victor Canning, Berkley, 1954 

A man trying to re-establish his career takes a post on a merchant ship with a double purpose. The ship is suspected of smuggling stolen property to Brazil and he is supposed to investigate. Unfortunately, he gets drugged and is thrown overboard. Fortunately, he is near an island and manages to survive. He figures out that the island is in the chain of stops for the contraband and this spurs him to renew his investigation. He does some really, really stupid things that I didn’t believe, and there are eight major coincidences to help the plot along. This was definitely not one of Canning’s better efforts. 3/21/21

Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh, Pocket, 1938  

Someone has been blackmailing prominent society members, one of whom agrees to help the police. Unfortunately, he is too successful and is found murdered in a taxi. Inspector Alleyn is on the trail, which involves multiple victims, a letter missing for almost twenty years, a couple of coincidences, several idiosyncratic personalities, an illegal gambling den, a family feud, a missing cloak, and other complications. The blackmailer has a partner, which might ordinarily be cheating, but his guilt is determined very early and he is not arrested only because the police need more proof as well as the identity of his confederate. The lengthy discussion of movements in a cloak room gets a bit tedious but otherwise this is smartly done. I did guess the killer, but not based on the evidence. 3/20/21

Sinister Mill by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2020 (originally published in 1930) 

In a previous adventure, Sexton Blake and his mild romantic interest, Roxane, were partially thwarted by a criminal who stole her yacht. They hear a rumor of its present location and track it down, uncovering evidence of jewel theft and other irregularities along the way. The villains have their headquarters in an otherwise deserted mill. For a time, his friends think Blake has drowned, but the reader will know otherwise even without discovering that the body has been battered beyond recognition. The villains become over confident and Blake emerges from hiding to bring the case to a close. 3/19/21

The Albanian Connection by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1973 

A neo-Nazi group has built a secret fortress in Albania and is planning to use nuclear blackmail to force the world to reunite the two Germanies into a single country. The conspirators then plan to re-establish the Third Reich. The Death Merchant has other ideas.  He organizes a large scale commando raid which eventually lays siege to the fortress, defeating both the Albanian army and the Nazi guards in order to eliminate the leaders of the group and eliminate the nuclear threat. The violence level has steadily escalated through the first several books. 3/18/21

Artists in Crime by Ngaio Marsh, Jove, 1984 (originally published in 1938)   

Inspector Alleyn has just returned from a long vacation, during which he met an artist with whom he has fallen in love. He is startled when there is a murder at the artist colony a few days later. A trap was laid for the model, who reclines fatally onto a knife. One of the other artists is missing and he seems the most likely suspect, which means that he is innocent. None of the others are particularly likeable except Alleyn’s romantic interest, but their interactions are complex. There is some mild cheating. There are two separate killers, which makes it impossible to figure things out logically. And the big red herring is totally unconvincing. That said, it’s not bad at all. This introduced artist Agatha Troy, who would become Alleyn's wife a couple of books later. 3/17/21

Lonely Farm by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2020 (originally published in 1931)

Sexton Blake takes on a gang of bootleggers again in this rather dull entry in the series. Blake and Roxanne are on the trail of another enemy, this time a man who is running a bootleg operation from a hidden farm in Canada. Can our heroes locate the farm and, if they do, can they shut down the operation and bring the nefarious villain to justice? What do you think? This one's just a novella. 3/16/21

The House of the Seven Flies by Victor Canning, Berkley, 1952 

The operator of a charter boat in the English Channel, who is not above some occasional smuggling, is taking a passenger to Holland when the man suddenly dies under suspicious circumstances. His medicine has been changed without his knowledge. The protagonist searches the man’s paperwork and finds information suggesting the location of a small boat that was sunk during the war on a Dutch river while carrying a load of stolen diamonds. He decides to do some quasi-legal treasure hunting of his own, but a local thug is aware of his plans and wants the diamonds for himself. The various interested parties eventually converge, there is some doublecrossing and treachery, not a great deal of violence until the very end. Pretty good, overall, although I never liked the protagonist. 3/15/21

The House of Shadows by J. Jefferson Farjeon, Collins, 1946

A young woman travels to Rhodesia in response to a cryptic letter from a fathe she has never met. A mining engineer feels obligated to protect her as she travels through flooded land to the house where the father apparently committed suicide only a few days earlier. They find a drunken neighbor watching over the creepy house, which also houses a cat and a parrot. The dead man's widow is away but supposedly will return soon. There is a secret to be uncovered, a treasure to be found, and a murderous woman to be thwarted. There is also a touch of ambiguous witchcraft. Not one of his best although the first half is pretty good. 3/15/21

A Forest of Eyes by Victor Canning, Berkley, 1964 (originally published in 1950)   

This is the best Canning I’ve read so far. An engineer in communist Yugoslavia gets pulled into an effort to extract a spy. He is reluctant to get involved, but the apparent death of the agent responsible for carrying out the mission and his feeling of responsibility toward a young woman who is caught up in the trouble make it imperative. The authorities are at odds because of disagreements between a strict communist ideologue and a more pragmatic police chief, and that division plus some good luck helps the plans move forward. The climax is a bit truncated but the story is complex and involving. 3/13/21

Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh, Berkley, 1976 (originally published in 1936) 

An acting troupe is celebrating the birthday of their star performer when a trick turns fatal, killing the woman’s husband. It only takes minutes for Inspector Alleyn, who happens to be vacationing in New Zealand, to determine that it was murder. There are diagrams and timelines and lengthy interviews to try to figure out who could have accessed the stage area at the right time. As usual, more than one of the characters is lying to the police for one reason or another – to protect someone, to cover up a petty theft, to avoid embarrassment – so it’s not surprising that at one point everyone has a perfect alibi. I was not convinced that the New Zealand police would so readily hand over their investigation to a Scotland Yard detective on vacation, no matter how famous he might be. 3/11/21

Secret Agent X Volume 8, Altus, 2017 

Slaves of the Scorpion by G.T. Fleming-Roberts (1937) 

A rival master of disguise makes it difficult for Secret Agent X to prevent the Scorpion from consolidating all of the mobs in the city into one organization. With control of the unions, the Scorpion causes a citywide blackout that allows the criminals to operate at will. Who is this mysterious mastermind and can he be stopped before his reign of terror becomes permanent? Of course he can, after the usual hijinks. 

Satan’s Syndicate by G.T. Fleming-Roberts (1937) 

Secret Agent X travels to a mining town where an underground fire has raged for decades and where the six mine owners, cordially hated because of the lack of safety equipment, are being targeted by an unknown killer who claims to want revenge for some unspecified past misdeed.  The agent discovers that the owners were previously part of a gang of swindlers, and that leads to a series of minor shocking revelations. There was actually some depth to the plot this time.

The Assassins’ League by G.T. Fleming-Roberts (1937) 

This time Secret Agent X has to infiltrate a society of murderers who arrange their operations to look like suicides. They also have a mysterious weapon that turns out to be a magnesium gun. It appears for a long time that this was a rarity in that the head of the criminal organization is known to the reader almost from the outset, but at the end we discover that he was actually being manipulated by his secretary, the real brains of the organization. 

Plague of the Golden Death by Wayne Rogers (1938) 

This was the only installment in the series that Rogers wrote. It’s not as well written as the others, although the plot is somewhat more sophisticated. Someone is trying to kill people associated with a new movie – and sometimes succeeding. The agent impersonates the star in order to find out what is going on, and for a change the “villain” is not unjustified on his quest for vengeance. He succeeds, though he also perishes in the process. 

Curse of the Mandarin’s Fan by G.T. Fleming-Roberts (1937) 

A rather short adventure mostly set in Chinatown where a federal agent investigating the drug trade is targeted for assassination. More effort to actually create characters than usual, but otherwise a fairly standard adventure. The series was declining in popularity by now and the editors may have been looking for some change that would revive the franchise. 3/10/21

Bird of Prey by Victor Canning, Morrow, 1948

A private detective goes to postwar Venice to track down an Italian partisan who has disappeared. It turns out that he was a lifelong criminal, and the circumstances of his supposed death in an air raid are highly suspect. When he finds an informer who might be able to help, the man is murdered before he passes on any information. Eventually he not only discovers that there is a plot to assassinate a prominent Italian politician, but he is to be framed for the crime – which is actually to be carried out by the man he seeks. There are a couple of loose plot threads that never get resolved, and the closing scenes are not entirely convincing. 3/8/21

Satan Strike by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1973 

The brutal dictator of Haiti has developed a super virus and plans to use it to cause a nuclear war as soon as he comes up with an “antidote.”  His plan does not make any sense. Nor does it make sense that the Russians and Americans, both of whom know about the plan, would not intervene directly. Instead they send a mixed team of agents undercover and the carnage begins, with luridly described exploding skulls and other injuries. The climax is a major military assault that kills the dictator and reveals the traitors within the Death Merchant’s group. 3/8/21

Ellery Queen’s Japanese Detective Stories edited by Ellery Queen, Tuttle, 1978  

Twelve mystery stories translated from the Japanese. They range from murder to cruel pranks, and sometimes the guilty party gets away with it. I had only encountered two of the authors previously. The translations are excellent as far as I can tell, and the stories all competent, although some of them are much more interesting than others. Blackmail, theft, crimes of impulse and crimes of premeditation. A few of the authors have had mystery novels translated into English. 3/5/21

Satan’s Incubator by Randolph Craig, Weinberg, 1976 (originally published in 1939) 

The Scorpion is a master criminal who was supposed to be in the Octopus superhero pulp, which folded after a single issue. The Scorpion causes otherwise innocent people to become violent murderers. There is a sort of hero named Dr. Skull. This was very badly written even for the pulp era and is a curiosity rather than something you might read for fun. 3/5/21

The Man from Devil's Island by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2020 (originally published in 1930)

Another installment in an arc of stories in which Sexton Blake helps Roxanne Harfield in her campaign to track down each of the eight men who defrauded her of her family fortune. This time their quarry has set himself up as an inter-island trader, and naturally his business continues to incorporate criminal elements, which provides the hook whereby he is brought to justice. Predictable and rather boring. 3/2/21

The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio Marsh, Berkley, 1976  (originally published in (1936) 

A prominent but philandering politician has an acute attack of appendicitis and dies shortly after surgery. One of the attending nurses hated his politic. Another of the nurses had just been through an unpleasant break-up with the dead man. The surgeon is in love with the latter nurse and knew about the affair. The dead man’s sister slipped him an unprescribed medication just before the surgery. The anesthetist has peculiar biological and political ideas. The assisting surgeon is not a nice person. Inspector Alleyn has to sort this all out. I didn’t like the solution at all. The American edition changed the title slightly to pluralize murder – there is only one murder. 3/1/21

Bootleg Island by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1931)  

A rather lackluster entry in the Sexton Blake series. An Englishman is murdered by a New York gangster, who promptly goes into hiding. Blake is on his trail, which leads him to an island where bootleggers are arranging large scale importation of alcohol to the states. Blake gets his man and breaks up the operation, but it all seems rather lifeless this time. 3/1/21

The Spider Strikes by R.T.M. Scott, Berkley, 1969 (originally published in 1933)

The first adventure of the Spider is actually a fair mystery novel but Scott was too relaxed a writer and was replaced for the third in the series. That’s a shame because it might have been better had he been kept on. On the other hand, I suppose the magazine might have folded sooner. Richard Wentworth is a crime fighter under his own name, but he is also secretly the Spider, who marks the criminals he kills with the symbol of a spider in order to generate terror in the underworld. In his first caper, he is matched against Mr. X, a master of disguise and almost his match.2/27/21

Burden of Guilt by Carter Brown, Signet, 1970 

A call girl is brutally murdered and her body arranged to incriminate a disbarred lawyer who formerly represented crooked labor union racketeers. The suspect’s wife clearly despises him, and his last big case was a failure, which naturally makes the gangster involved unhappy with his legal representative. Most of the female characters try to seduce Detective Wheeler at some point, but not all of them succeed. This particular title is notable because Sergeant Polnik, Wheeler’s long time comic relief sidekick, gets killed during the investigation. This provides a personal incentive and the second half of the novel drops the comic tone completely. 2/27/21

The Golden Salamander by Victor Canning, Bantam, 1948

An English academic is hired to evaluate a collection of Etruscan art in Algeria. He accidentally learns that the town is the center for a gun running operation, which he plans to ignore until a friend of his is killed by the gang for no obvious reason. He also falls in love with the woman who runs the local café. The consequences are obvious. He reports to the local police, unaware that they are in the pay of the gang. He is caught, escapes, is hunted across the countryside, and captured again. Eventually he is able to kill the two major figures in the gang and save the woman he loves. Pretty good, but as with other Canning novels, the pacing is uneven. 2/25/21

The Rogues’ Republic by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1927) 

Sexton Blake is in South America when he crosses paths with Huxton Rymer and his partner, Mary Trent. Rymer – whom Teed portrayed as an often admirable villain – is attempting to manipulate politics to install an unaware puppet of his as the new president. Blake is there because he has been hired to root out the rampant corruption existing within the current government. Both of their plans are complicating by the presence of Mary Galante, the voodoo queen, who wants to shape events for her own purposes. About average for the series. 2/25/21

The Chinese Conspiracy by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1973 

The Chinese have kidnapped a NASA scientist and are preparing to sneak him out of the US via Canada. They have secretly sent their only nuclear submarine into Hudson Bay and it plans to shoot down an experimental space shuttle that draws its power from the Earth’s magnetic field. Yes, there is some SF in this one. The Death Merchant is having none of this, however. He singlehandedly invades the Chinese embassy in Toronto, killing more than a dozen guards, then requisitions an American nuclear sub to chase down the Chinese vessel, rescue the scientist, prevent the submarine from launching a nuclear attack on North America, and gruesomely kill a couple of arch-enemies. No surprises here. 2/23/21

Death in Ecstasy by Ngaio Marsh, Berkley, 1974 (originally published in 1936)

A woman drinks from a poisoned cup during a ceremony at a fringe church – which is soon revealed to be a scam. There are various tensions – an illegal drug distribution scheme, sexual competition for the priest’s favors, a packet of bearer bonds meant to build a new temple, a frustrated suitor, a vindictive maid, and others. Inspector Alleyn is as usual exasperated by the lack of cooperation he receives. There are a couple of physical clues but they are forced to rig a microphone and listen to a hidden conversation in order to find enough evidence to justify an arrest. I found this one a bit disappointing. 2/21/21

Hunted Down by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2020 (originally published in 1930)

A Sexton Blake novella featuring one of his recurring opponents/allies - a wronged woman working outside the law named Roxanne Harfield. She has been tracking down the eight men whom she believes cheated her out of her family fortune. But the latest quarry proves problematic and she is forced to kill a man who attacks her. So she appeals to Blake for help. Way below the usual quality level for this author and for this series. Fortunately it is only a novella. 2/18/21

Panthers’ Moon by Victor Canning, Bantam, 1948  

The protagonist is accompanying two captive panthers from Rome to Paris when he is talked into concealing some microfilm in the collar of the male. A train accident sets the panthers loose in Switzerland. A hunting party is organized but at least one of those involved is willing to kill to acquire the microfilm. Our hero manages to capture the female, but the important collar is still in the wild. A race against the criminal agent - whose identity is fairly obvious - ensues but naturally the hero wins out. I enjoyed the movie many years ago. 2/18/21

Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh, Berkley, 1974  (originally published in 1935) 

An actor is supposed to be shot only in pretense during a stage play, but a real bullet has been placed in the gun and he dies immediately. Inspector Alleyn happens to be in the audience and takes over the case. The dead man was blackmailing one man, and was thoroughly disliked by almost everyone else for various reasons. His death also leaves one of the others first in line for a substantial inheritance. There’s a hint of illegal drugs, sexual tension, and other secrets that cause several of the suspects to lie to the police. Alleyn uses a simple and convincing ploy to trick the killer into revealing that he knows the second victim is dead, which has not been publicly announced. Pretty good.2/17/21

The Psychotron Plot by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1972

The Russians are experimenting with a machine that can telepathically hypnotize entire communities. They have already turned everyone in one Israeli town into a homicidal maniac. Now the Death Merchant is sent to destroy the machine and kidnap its inventor, and massacre everyone who stands in his way. Plot holes galore. The Egyptians are not suspicious about a Russian weather station that is encircled with tanks and missile emplacements? Really? Ultimately he leads an Israeli raid and accomplishes his objectives, killing lots of bad guys and somehow not creating an international incident. 2/17/21

The Tiger of Canton by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1927)

Sexton Blake’s arch enemy, George Marsden Plummer, is determined to track down four thieves, each of whom has one of four jewels stolen from a Chinese priesthood. Blake is called into the case when one of those men turns up murdered, along with his servant, under odd circumstances.  Blake hopes to restore the gems to the proper owners but Plummer is probably the most consistently competent of his rivals in the series. I thought the choice of title for this one was a bit strange since none of the action takes place in China. 2/16/21

The Up-Tight Blonde by Carter Brown, Signet, 1969 

Al Wheeler stumbles into a murder case by accident this time. The victim is a friend of an artist’s wife, and he is killed in their home while the husband is away. Wheeler gets shot at almost immediately, and also discovers nude paintings of four different women arranged around the body. Infidelity, hidden motives, and other secrets all have to be unraveled.  Someone tries to trick Wheeler into coming to the wrong conclusion, but he sees through the ruse and eventually determines who the real killer is. About average. 2/15/21

The Spider's Web by Philip Purser-Hallard, Titan, 2020

When a man using a false name falls - or was pushed - from a balcony at a posh party in London, Sherlock Holmes is asked to look into things. The family hosting the event is filled with eccentric characters and odd back stories, including one who was left in a handbag at a check room and whose real identity - if it is real - was only determined years later. Blackmail, murder, scandal, and some genuinely amusing light humor. This is the second Holmes pastiche I've read by this author, and it's definitely one of the better attempts to continue the great detective's story. 2/13/21

The Scorpion's Tail by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Grand Central, 2020

FBI agent Corrie Swanson and archaeologist Nora Kelly return to investigate a body found in a New Mexico ghost town. The dead man had a very valuable artifact in his possession, and although it turns out that he was not murdered, the investigation leads to the discovery of two separate criminal operation. The story is suspenseful and interesting, but way below the usual quality level for this team of writers. There are too many coincidences. There are unanswered questions, like who shot at the investigators in the desert. The entire subplot about the commanding general and his interaction with his subordinates defies belief. Not even a general would have this much authority, nor would he be able to prevent talk about what he was really doing. I was also irritated that three separate minor villains -a medical examiner who steals credit, a thug in a bar, and the president of the university where Kelly works - all go unscathed, leaving a sour taste at the end. 2/12/21

The Chasm by Victor Canning, Berkley, 1963 (originally published in 1947)  

A British soldier remains in Italy after the war while he wrestles with the loss of his friends and fiancé. While visiting a rural part of the country, he runs into an old acquaintance, who worked for the Nazis, was declared a traitor, and was presumed to have died in Berlin. The man is much changed and he does not immediately recognize him, but while temporarily trapped in a small village when a bridge collapses, the two men are together long enough for the protagonist to realize the truth. The traitor openly admits that he will kill the other rather than let him reveal his secret. A subplot about a jealous lover adds complications, but the story is actually rather slow moving and thoughtful, though not fatally so. It was the author’s first venture into suspense fiction after a dozen or so straight novels, and he never went back. 2/11/21

Operation Overkill by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1972 

The Death Merchant magically changed from a Mafia hitman in the first book to an agent working for the NSA in the second, and he became a kind of roughshod James Bond from that point onward. His enemy this time is a rightwing billionaire with thousands of super patriot followers who plan to assassinate the President and Vice-President and take over the government. We are never told how this could work, given the line of succession. In any case, the protagonist has to avoid ambushes, death traps, and a small army of thugs in order to thwart the villain and save the country. 2/11/21

A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh, Berkley, 1962 (originally published in 1934) 

The first outing of detective Roderick Alleyn is a house party murder. A parlor game about murder results in the real thing. The victim had been having an affair with a married woman. Everyone appears to have an alibi, but one of them is clearly designed to be an illusion, which gives away the identity of the killer. There is also some minor cheating – we learn about fingerprints and footprints, several motives, and the nature of a secret meeting only during the final scene. There is also a subplot about Russian subversives that is mildly silly and totally irrelevant to the rest of the plot. 2/10/21

The Broken Span by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1917) 

Sexton Blake visits Canada in this novella. Jim Potter is bitter because his father was driven to suicide by an unscrupulous businessman who is now a politician involved with a major railway bridge project. The bridge is sabotaged in such a way that the politician will suffer a major financial loss. Blake investigates and figures out that Potter, who runs his own construction company, masqueraded as a laborer in order to accomplish the sabotage. He ultimately decides that Potter was justified and refrains from exposing him. 2/8/21

A Nest of Spies by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, Antipodes, 2014 (originally published in 1911)   

The fourth Fantomas novel. This one takes on a more international and political flavor as much of the story involves spies, assassination plots, and similar crimes. The government believes that an enemy organization is behind the rash of attacks, but Inspector Juve believes that his old adversary, Fantomas, is behind the whole operation. He eventually foils the plot but once again Fantomas – a kind of French Fu-Manchu – escapes justice and is free to come up with a new plot. The story is very episodic, as though the two authors wrote independently and then merged their work for the final product.  2/7/21

The Deep Cold Green by Carter Brown, Signet, 1968 

Al Wheeler has a complicated case this time. The woman whose body washes up on shore is the same one who hired him as a bodyguard while he was on vacation and then disappeared. On top of that, she appears to have been masquerading as her own sister. And now two gunmen are trying to kill him. The trail leads to a group of gamblers. Eventually he goes undercover, sleeps with a sexy woman, and finds out why he is being pursued. Oh, and he gets the killer as well. Surprisingly slow moving for this series. 2/7/21

The Riddle of the Russian Gold by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1926)

This is one of the best Sexton Blake adventures that I have read. Two tons of gold bullion need to be smuggled out of the Crimea without the Soviets interfering. Blake disguises himself and charters a ship, but so also does one of his arch enemies, Huxton Rymer. Both of them are encumbered by the fact that one of the intermediaries they are using is in the pay of the Soviet secret police. The two parallel stories converge and Blake actually comes up with a pretty clever trick for loading the gold without being detected. 2/5/21

The Plush-Lined Coffin by Carter Brown, Signet, 1967

This is another of the Al Wheeler mysteries which appears to have some graphic sex scenes added over the author’s objection. Otherwise, it’s above average for the series. A man deserted his wife a year earlier, but now his bullet riddled body is found near the house. Is there a connection to the nearby New Age love clinic? What about the ex-convict drug dealer living nearby? Or the aggressive bully who owns a private cemetery? There are a host of unpleasant people and nearly all of them are involved in some way. 2/5/21

The Case of the 100% Alibis by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1934)

A man is found stabbed to death in his house. Three calls were made from his telephone within ten minutes of his death. Every possible suspect has an unbreakable alibi, supposedly. The police and detective Ludovic Travers are perplexed, but it is obvious that someone has manipulated clocks to falsify the time. But there does not seem to be any way that this could have been accomplished because of church bells, etc. The end is a mild cheat. There is a confederate, so it was not necessary to change all of the clocks. Okay, not great. 2/3/21

The Case of the Duplicate Key by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1925) 

A Nelson Lee novella, sort of a cousin to the Sexton Blake series. An aristocrat is in debt and may be forced to surrender the family jewels. He borrows money instead, but the avaricious villain who wanted the jewels has another way to get what he wants, and it involves larceny. This was actually rather dull. Teed was much better when he was writing Blake adventures. They probably provided him with a framework so that he didn't have to try to construct his own, as in this case. 2/2/21

Model for Murder by Carter Brown, Tower, 1980

Al Wheeler investigates the murder of a gay male model. He investigates the world of gay pornography, finds a rich but bored young man who is experimenting sexually, and also manages to find some easily bedded young females to balance things out. The dead man had told a friend that he was in trouble and it may be connected to a new, illegal, club that caters to gays. Eventually he discovers an organized prostitution ring and identifies the killer. The female characters are even more comic book quality than usual and the sex scenes are pretty dull. 1/31/21

The Case of the Courtlandt Jewels by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1922) 

Sexton Blake’s old enemy, Huxton Rymer, is back in England, but inexplicably all charges against him have been dropped and in fact he has decided to lead a perfectly legal life for a while. Blake suggests that he reform himself completely, and then concerns himself with the theft of a priceless collection of jewels from a tourist. Rymer may not be committing crimes, but he is charging a consulting fee for telling others how to pull off daring heists, and ultimately he is responsible for the robbery even if he was not directly involved. Blake recovers the stolen property of course, but Teed really liked his villains and Rymer naturally gets away with his role.1/29/21

The Night Raids by Jim Kelly, Alison & Busby, 2020

Eden Brooke is a police officer in England in 1940 when he discovers that someone has not only looted a bombed house but has murdered one of the residents. A few days later, the dead woman's granddaughter disappears and eventually her body turns up, also a murder victim. This is wrapped around a potential case of black market gangs selling substandard fuel. It's a police procedural and a good one set in a relatively unfamiliar setting. Kelly continues obe one of my favorite active mystery writers even though he seems to no longer have a US publisher. 1/28/21

The Secret of the Coconut Groves by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019  (originally published in 1925) 

Huxton Rymer, one of Sexton Blake’s recurring opponents, puts down a mutiny aboard his schooner but is forced to go ashore in a remote part of India. There he discovers a plot to sabotage the local coconut crop and decides to take advantage of the situation. But as it happens, Blake and Tinker are there as well, looking into the problem plaguing the area, and the two parties spot each other almost immediately, resulting in the usual duel of wits. More adventure than mystery this time. 1/24/21

The Creative Murders by Carter Brown, Signet, 1971 

Someone reports a homicide at an apartment house. The resident tells Al Wheeler that she didn’t make the call and knows nothing about it, then faints when he finds a dead woman in her bathroom, the former tenant. She was killed elsewhere and several hours earlier and the apartment was locked from the inside during the time she must have been moved there. There are pornographic pictures of the victim and the man with whom she was performing has apparently committed suicide. Both women have worked for a rather disreputable businessman, so that’s the initial focus of the investigation. But the current apartment dweller is also a prime suspect, particularly after she admits she is using a false identity to investigate the cause of the suicide – the victim was her brother. The solution this time surprised me a little, and I wasn’t convinced that it was realistic 1/24/21

The Bath Mysteries by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2015 (originally published in 1936) 

The cousin of the series detective is discovered to have died in an apparent accident while taking a bath. Bobby Owen investigates and discovers that several people have died under similar circumstances, all of whom had recently taken out insurance policies benefiting individuals who can no longer be found. Although there is a good deal of luck and coincidence in the investigation, there are some genuinely puzzling subsidiary plot elements that keep the reader guessing – although I once again figured out the killer based on the way the story was constructed and the characters presented. 1/21/21

Empire of Evil by Sterling Noel, Armchair, 2020 (originally published in 1961)  

Someone recommended this to me, but it’s not the kind of story I generally enjoy. The protagonist is a lawyer who gets drawn into the MAFIA, and we follow his meteoric rise. He also has a secret that not even his closest associates know. Not badly written but I just didn’t care about any of the characters, and there is no suspense or mystery involved. Not even much action. 1/20/21

Final Proof by Rodrigues Ottolengui, British Library, 2020 (originally published in 1898) 

This is a large collection of 12 stories, one of them a short novel, featuring two detectives – one professional and one amateur – who sometimes cooperate and sometimes compete in solving crimes. “The Phoenix of Crime: is one of the first stories to mention forensic dentistry – the author was a prominent dentist. It is surprisingly modern in tone, very readable, and has some delightful red herrings and reversals. It alone is worth buying the collection. The others are mostly quite good, with a couple of clunkers. One of them is SF - it involves an ape intelligent enough to pass for human. There are stolen gems, swindlers, embezzlers, murderers, and such. This is really quite a good book and I will be looking for the three novels in the series. 1/18/21

The Beast of the Stapletons by James Lovegrove, Titan, 2020

Sherlock Holmes returns to Baskerville Hall when the current tenant's wife is killed, apparently by a giant moth. With his usual aplomb, he correctly determines the truth about the moth, but it takes him longer to find out who is behind the ruse.  I was actually way ahead of him this time. The red herring solution was obviously  not correct and there was really only one other viable candidate. I was mildly disappointed as this does not seem up to the standards of his other pastiches. 1/17/21

The Case of the Three Strange Faces by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1933)

Aka The Crank in the Corner. Ludovic Travers is traveling by train across France in a car carrying five other people, two of whom will be murdered by different methods before the night is over. He is himself a suspect for a while, and eventually travels back and forth between England and France helping to solve the crimes. I suspected the killer fairly early, despite the fact that Travers kept praising his personality. There is some questionable psychological profiling and a couple of the characters appear to be oddly inconsistent in their behavior. Enjoyable enough but not one of his better books. 1/15/21

Who Killed Caldwell? by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1942  

This was the author’s 83rd and final mystery novel. A young man who ran away from home for fourteen years returns and his father is murdered a few days later. His nurse disappears the same night. I expected this to be another impersonation story, and sure enough, that’s what it is. The end is one long serious of cheats – people appearing for the first time bearing information we didn’t know, the detective withholding information. And Wells thought you could remove tattoos with some kind of ointment and clearly did not know that it was ink. 1/15/21

The Death Merchant by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1971 

This series began as a story about the Mafia and the eighty or so subsequent volumes included alien bases and other SF, as well as the usual round of spies. The title refers to a hitman, Richard Camellion, who has more equipment than James Bond. He’s the protagonist but not by any stretch a hero. His job is to assassinate a man the FBI is protecting before he can testify, and this is complicated by an attempt by a faction of the mob to kill him and his boss as part of a power struggle. He triumphs over them all, of course. The prose is not awful. The moral tone pretty much is. I found it hard to empathize with a professional killer even when he is occasionally kind hearted and even has a romantic encounter. 1/12/21

Hands of the Ripper by Guy Adams, Hammer, 2012 

This is a novelization of the 1971 Hammer film in which the daughter of Jack the Ripper is mentally troubled and begins committing ghastly murders. A psychologist who is unaware of her killing spree tries to help her with some of her obvious psychological trauma, and eventually discovers that things are much worse than he thought. Although technically a horror film, there is no fantastic content and for me psychological horror in just mystery/suspense. The novel is also a bit dull at times. 1/12/21

Darkling Death by Francis Vivian, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1956) 

Shortly after a violent fight with his brother-in-law, a man is found mortally wounded from a shotgun blast. This is a very oddly structured novel. The recurring detective is barely present and asks almost no questions. The killer never appears at all and dies off stage. There are no physical clues, or much of any detail about the crime. The prime suspect’s wife is supposed to be an admirable person, but she is portrayed very negatively and her reversal at the end makes no sense. The detective possesses knowledge he never explains. I also found it completely implausible that a young child would sleepwalk through a journey that took an adult six hours or more on foot.  And the title has no relevance to the plot. Very disappointing. 1/10/21

The Terror of Gold-Digger Creek by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1928)

Sexton Blake and his companion Tinker are off to Papua to track down a murderer who is running a drug smuggling operation. The villain this time has a hook for a hand and kills his victims by tearing out their throats. Blake gets kidnapped early on and is off stage for the bulk of the story, reappearing only after Tinker, a friend named Fen-Lo, and some pygmies come to the rescue. Both Blake and the bad guy are surprisingly inept in this below average installment in the series. 1/8/21

The Spanking Girls by Carter Brown, Signet, 1979 

This appears to be one of the Brown titles where the publisher grafted in some gratuitous and explicit sex scenes. That’s a shame because they’re juvenile and do not match the tone of what is otherwise one of the best Al Wheeler books. A young woman is found murdered in an empty house, which leads Wheeler into the world of pornography, a rich man who has a fetish for virgins, a dysfunctional family, and impersonations. There are also two climaxes, the second of which took me completely by surprise. 1/8/21

Kiss the Babe Goodbye by Bob McKnight, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1960) 

There is a hint of an interesting story in this mystery in which a pilot is convinced to look into the death of another member of his profession. There’s a gorgeous woman involved, of course, along with various shady characters. About a quarter of the way through, the story bogs down and becomes relentlessly routine. Ace published this in its double mystery line originally and it did not really deserve resurrection. 1/7/21

The Woman in the Wardrobe by Peter Shaffer, British Library, 2020 (originally published in 1951) 

Before becoming a successful playwright, Shaffer wrote three mystery novels, of which this is the first. It’s very light hearted despite a bloody murder, and rather clever as well. The body of a blackmailer is in a locked room that was visited by two of his victims. One could have locked the door from the inside and escaped through the window. The other could have locked the window from the inside and escaped through the door. Neither could do both. On top of that, a third victim is found tied up in a wardrobe inside the room, and the wardrobe was also locked. The solution is clever and took me completely by surprise. 1/6/21

Murder at the Casino by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1941

An autocratic husband is murdered and the obvious suspect is the man who has been romancing the dead man’s wife. But there are complications, including a jealous woman who makes voodoo dolls, a nephew who would not mind inheriting his share of a fortune, a secretary who is perhaps a bit too loyal to be believable, and other potential killers. About average, although the murderer’s identity was pretty obvious. If you read a lot of Wells, you can usually guess the killer easily.1/4/21

Murder Will In by Carolyn Wells, Lippincott, 1942  

Also known as Murder on the Avenue. A young wife is suffocated in her cloak room in the middle of a party. Four men visited the cloak room and presumably one of them is the killer. The police select one – apparently at random – and place him under arrest. The plot is complicated by the death of a wealthy relative of the incarcerated man. His will specifies that he must marry a specific woman within ninety days to inherit. How can he do that from jail? The search for the missing woman is actually pretty well done. The murder investigation is as incompetent as always and relies on luck, intuition, and withheld information. 1/4/21

The Sex Clinic by Carter Brown, Signet, 1971  

W.H.O.R.E.! by Carter Brown, Signet, 1971 

Two lightweight mystery novels, the first featuring Danny Boyd, the other Al Wheeler. Boyd is a private detective rather than a police officer but otherwise he is indistinguishable from Wheeler. He is hired when an employee at a sex clinic disappears along with some confidential files, after which the clinic receives a demand for ransom money. Boyd tracks down the blackmailer, but the solution is not as straightforward as it appears. Some portions of the story are relentlessly silly. Al Wheeler finds another dead woman in the second, but the body disappears before anyone else sees it and everyone begins to think he is having a nervous breakdown. The trail leads him to a caricature of a women’s rights group, which advocates kinky sex and conceals the motive for more than one murder. This was one of the last, and least, of the Al Wheeler mysteries. 1/3/21

The Sleeping Island by Francis Vivian, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1951) 

When the female half of an obviously unhappy couple is murdered, everyone in the community believes the husband was responsible. Inspector Knollis, and the reader, think otherwise despite some damning coincidences. The fact that two of the neighbors are actively trying to frame the man – whom they believe murdered his wife’s first fiancé as well – makes things even more difficult. This was okay but the killer’s motivation – he wanted to commit a perfect crime – makes it impossible to find the solution logically. 1/1/21