Last Update 3/31/22

The Wind Blows Death by Cyril Hare, Perennial, 1982    (originally published in 1949)

Aka When the Wind Blows. A very nice little mystery set inside a semi-amateur orchestra. A talented young woman is to play a solo at their next performance. The company includes her ex-husband, her very jealous present husband, a man from Poland with whom she has recently had a violent argument, and others. One of the performers does not show up, but a mysterious unidentified man with a clarinet does, presumably a professional hired for the single performance. But the guest performer is strangled in a dressing room and the police, with some assistance from the companyís treasurer, must figure out multiple associated mysteries including a purloined clarinet, a stolen car, a secret romance, an idiosyncratic conductor, and other puzzles. Very well done. 3/31/22

The Dark Tunnel by Ross Macdonald, Bantam, 1972 (originally published in 1944) 

Also known as I Die Slowly, and originally it appeared under the authorís real name, Kenneth Millar.  Two college professors suspect that a third is actually a Nazi spy. They are almost right Ė itís rather complicated and involves one manís son, who might be a German agent. The protagonist is reunited with the woman he loved in Germany six years earlier, but she seems to have changed dramatically in the interim. There is an attempted murder that does not seem to make sense in the context of the story. A bit awkward in places, but it was his first novel. 3/30/22

Satanís Death Blast by Norvell Page (as Grant Stockbridge), Dimedia, 1984 (originally published in 1934)

A Spider novel, and a vile one. The vigilante story Ė the Spider kills people who deserve it Ė is reprehensible to begin with, but this one is accompanied by class snobbishness and outright scorn for the working class. The villains have a new explosive and are destroying and looting one city after another. In each case, the unemployed rabble are quick to join the criminals. The Spider eventually finishes off the bad guys and the reign of terror ends. But how did it even begin? Why would a new explosive create a situation where the thieves could act with impunity? Why couldnít they do the same thing with conventional explosives? By far the weakest and most irritating in the series to date. 3/30/22

The Back to Front Murder by Tim Major, Titan, 2021

This is a better than average Sherlock Holmes pastiche, although I was mildly disappointed in the ending. A man is poisoned and dies in a park. An author doing research for a murder mystery had bern following him and appears to have described in her notes the exact method used to kill him. She consults Holmes and Watson, who find several other apparent coincidences. Holmes insists - incorrectly - that there is no such thing as coincidence, and in fact it turns out that some of the more puzzling aspects really were happenstance - hence my disappointment. Still worth reading though. 3/27/22

Becoming Inspector Chen by Xiu Xiaolong, Severn House, 2021 

I was rather disappointed by the latest in the series, which spends more time describing incidents from Chenís past rather than concentrating on the mild new mystery. Heís not in good odor with the Party so his future as a police officer is somewhat up in the air. Some of the incidents are reprises of shorter versions that have appeared in earlier books. Very little actually happens in the book, and the author may have been tiring of the character. I have more hope for the next in the series, which is waiting to be read. His most recent novel is a Judge Dee mystery, and the one before this had no real mystery content either. 3/26/22

The Corpse That Walked by Octavus Roy Cohen, Gold Medal, 1950

A slightly above average crime thriller. The protagonist is hired to impersonate a wealthy man, supposedly as cover for a business deal but actually because the man is about to be arrested for financial crimes. The plan is to kill the double and start a new life. But our heroís girlfriend is not convinced by the cover story and her investigation blows up the plan and leads to the rescue of her fiancť and the death and arrest of the various conspirators.3/26/22

Murder on Wall Street by Victoria Thompson, Berkley, 2021 

I was mildly disappointed in this installment in the authorís gaslight era mystery series. A somewhat reformed criminal is concerned that he is the prime suspect in the murder of a former rival, so he hires our heroes to solve the mystery before he is arrested. They do so in mildly plodding but logical fashion. The focus is often fuzzy because of the various subordinate characters who have to be included in every book, a flaw that has undercut Susan Wittig Albert, Rhys Bowen, and other contemporary mystery writers. I will still read the next, but this series is now on the endangered list. 3/25/2

Murder Every Monday by Pamela Branch, Rue Morgue, 2006 (originally published in 1954)

Murder's Little Sister by Pamela Branch, Rue Morgue, 2006 (originally published in 1958)

Branch wrote only four of her distinctive, humorous mystery novels. They are broadly farcical but occasionally quite witty as well. The first of these involves the club of wrongfully acquitted murderers whom she employed in his first book. One of them gives in to temptation and commits a second murder after his bridge partner performs poorly and is subjected to blackmail. He joins the club and takes training in various forms of mayhem, but the quiet, secretive lifestyle they enjoy is troubled when a murder is committed under their various noses, causing them to become detectives instead of criminals. The second is unrelated and slightly more realistic. A woman decides to fake a suicide attempt, but it almost becomes real due to mischance. There is speculation that it was an attempted murder. The woman writes an advice column, and while convalescing a stand in alienates a number of her readers, who want vengeance. Throw in three more idiosyncratic characters with their own problems and subterfuges and you have quite a nice, if somewhat hectic, story line. Worth tracking down. 3/20/21

Two-Way Murder by E.C.R. Lorac, British Library, 2022

Lorac was a golden age mystery writer who left this manuscript completed but unpublished when she died. At long last, someone has made it available in book form. The first half goes very well. While driving a young woman home from a dance, a man finds a dead body in the road. He heads to the nearest house to call, but no one is home, so he slips inside to make the call and is promptly attacked by an unknown party. The story loses focus after that and wanders around, occasionally repeating itself. I suspect that had the author not died, it would have gone through another edit. 3/19/22

The Mad Horde by Norvell Page (as Grant Stockbridge), Altus, 2019 (originally published in 1934) 

A Spider novel. A master criminal has infected thousands of animals with rabies and is using them to wreak havoc in industrial communities, while the Spider runs around killing off hirelings and shooting the animals. The practical problems facing the villains are never addressed Ė the maddened animals never attack each other, even when loaded wholesale into trucks. Wentworth/The Spider also knows the telephone number of all sorts of government officials and can get them to follow his instructions without explanation or authority. Literally thousands of people die in this one and the country is in a panic as two dozen drug manufacturers are all bombed to oblivion the first day. Page seemed to have decided to eschew anything like reality and just indulge himself. It does get a bit monotonous after a while, and the surprise revelation is not much of one. 3/16/22

The Lake Frome Monster by Arthur W. Upfield, Pan 1966 

Completed posthumously by J.L. Price and Dorothy Strange. The prose does not feel like Upfield, although the plot does. A traveler is found shot to death at his campsite and Bony is sent to investigate. The local aborigines are uncooperative, and talk about a monster that turns out to be an oversized camel. The solution is okay but unmemorable. The dead man took a photograph of a man using a false identity, so he had to be silenced and the film destroyed. Bony gets it all straightened out. 3/15/22

The Will of the Tribe by Arthur W. Upfield, Berkley, 1962 

A survey plane spots a body lying in a meteor crater and Bony is sent to investigate. The mystery seems to involve the local aboriginal tribe, although the circumstances are not directly involved and in fact it all turns out to be peripheral to the actual death, which turns out not to be a murder at all. There is a good deal of anti-Asian racism in this one and not much of any puzzle at all. 3/14/22

Madmanís Bend by Arthur W. Upfield, Pan, 1963 

Aka The Body at Madmanís Bend. This was the last novel that Upfield completed before his death. An abusive husband disappears shortly after attacking his wife and stepdaughter. The latter is the most obvious suspect, although plenty of others had good motives. The flooding of the local river threatens to end the investigation, but his body turns up and the crime is solved. The solution is not particularly satisfying. A minor character killed him in self defense. 3/14/22

The Case of the Monday Murders by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1936)

A man whose career ended in scandal is murdered in his room. An anonymous letter writer claims responsibility for multiple murders, all committed on Mondays. A successful actress is the next victim, and her past is shrouded in mystery. The third to die is a mystery novelist who also had a secret past that intersected with the dead woman and with a young reporter who is covering the crimes. Ludovic Travers supplements the police, who are being led into a conspiracy theory that has been contrived to conceal a more sordid truth. Pretty good. Bush was for a time fascinated with characters who changed names and lives for one reason or another. 3/11/22

Bony and the Kelly Gang by Arthur W. Upfield, Heineman, 1960 

Aka Valley of Smugglers. My least favorite book in the series. A tax assessor has been murdered near a remote valley populated by Irish immigrants who idolize Ned Kelly. Bony infiltrates in disguise and discovers that they have an illegal still in addition to an active smuggling operation, but he is only interest is the murder. Not much happens for the bulk of the book before the obvious murderer is identified and arrested. 3/10/22 

Bony and the White Savage by Arthur W. Upfield, Heineman, 1961 

An atypical Bony mystery because there isnít much mystery involved. A wanted murderer is seen in the vicinity of his hometown, which is in rough country, so Bony is sent undercover to find out if he is still there and, if so, to arrest him. There are a lot of unofficial searches and hints that he is in the area, but only one brief sighting. Eventually his dead body turns up, but the mystery only arises in the closing chapters and is quickly solved. 3/10/22

Sherlock Holmes and the Copycat Murders by Barry Day, Second Opinion, 2000  

Someone is recreating incidents from Sherlockís early cases and three murder victims have each had multiple visits from Holmes (actually his doppelganger) shortly before they died. Even Watson is fooled by an encounter with the impersonator, despite his clear unfamiliarity with the contents of their room. Watson does not even react when he reads an account of a talented actor and mimic. The potentially interesting idea founders because Mycroft and Watson should certainly have suspected something early on rather than thinking Sherlock had had some kind of mental breakdown Ė that only manifests itself on rare occasions. 3/8/22

The Kind Man by Helen Nielsen, Dell, 1952 w2535 

Very disappointing suspense story about a man who appears to have committed a murder after a public fight with the victim. His constant hand wringing is particularly aggravating since it is obvious to the reader that he is innocent. This is easily the weakest novel Iíve read by Nielsen, who was considered a reliable but unexceptional writers during the 1950s, but who devoted much of her time to Hollywood. 3/8/11

The Eight Strokes of the Clock by Maurice Leblanc, 1922 

Another collection of Arsene Lupin short stories, although by now he rarely uses that name. He has also become less of a gentleman thief and more of a righter of wrongs, helping a number of ladies in distress. Some of his operations are quite clever and of course we know that he will always succeed. The short stories were almost always better than the novels.  3/6/22

The Return of Arsene Lupin by Maurice Leblanc, 1933 

Aka Victor of the Vice Squad. This title is confusing because it was also used for some editions of The Golden Triangle. Lupin is apparently absent from this complicated but rewarding mystery about missing bonds, a couple of murders, infidelity, and general mayhem including the rivalry between two police detectives. Actually, Lupin turns out to be one of the main characters in disguise, although we donít know this until nearly the end. I thought this was the best of the novels in the series that I have read, but the short story collections are still superior. 3/6/22

Bony and the Black Virgin by Arthur W. Upfield, Pan, 1959  

One of the lesser installments in this series. An escaped thief is found dead at a remote ranch and the man left in charge of the property is missing. His body is found a few weeks later in the nearby desert. Bony solves the case largely through luck and the actions of others, as he figures out that a local man has clandestinely married an aboriginal woman. The two dead men tried to assault her and were killed, and though technically they are murderers, Bony allows them to escape. Pretty dull going. 3/5/22

Bony and the Mouse by Arthur W. Upfield, Pan, 1959 

Aka Journey to the Hangman.  There have been three murders in a remote town. The primary suspect is a troubled young man who is on parole there. Bony arrives incognito and a few days later there is a fourth murder. Tracks lead directly to the young manís residence and he is promptly arrested, though he escapes. Bony and some others are skeptical of his guilt despite the overwhelming evidence against him.  Naturally his instinct are right and eventually he reveals the real villain. 3/5/22

The Bushman Who Came Back by Arthur W. Upfield, 1957   

A woman is found shot to death on a remote ranch and her young daughter is missing. Evidence at the scene suggests that a local oddball is responsible, but Bonyís investigation comes up with at least five more suspects, and it is pretty obvious that one of these is the real killer. There is more interaction with the aborigines than usual and not much actual detection at all. The killer is one of four people who are just names with interchangeable personalities so this really was not a particularly interesting story. 3/2/22

Ocean Prey by John Sandford, Putnam, 2021

The Lucas Davenport novels have become increasingly problematic over the years as he has become a cold blooded vigilante assassin, openly executing people he dislikes - but only because they deserve it. This time the target is a gang of drug smugglers who killed three Coast Guard inspectors. Sandford's other series hero, Virgil Flowers, goes undercover in this crossover novel, posing as a crooked diver willing to retrieve drugs dropped on an off shore reef. In a pleasant turn of events, Davenport does not kill anyone this time and there is comparatively little violence, most of its off screen. On the other hand, the story felt lifeless, as though it was just going through the motions. 2/28/22

Man of Two Tribes by Arthur W. Upfield, Collier, 1956  

A woman recently acquitted for the murder of her husband disappears from a train in the middle of a desert. Bony poses as a trapperís nephew in order to take two camels into the outback to track down a report of an unregistered helicopter. He is caught by aborigines and confined in an underground cavern with six murderers, who either were found innocent or served their sentences. They escape after an arduous ordeal, and another murder, and then arrest the people responsible for their incarceration, who were acting out of a warped sense of justice. 2/27/22

The Golden Triangle by Maurice Leblanc, 1918 

An Arsene Lupin novel. This was essentially a long and complicated story of espionage. Arsene Lupin is still using his fake identity from the previous novel, and in fact he is almost a minor character in the story. The clever reversals and gimmicks that made the short stories so entertaining is largely dropped in favor of more conventional narration. I found my attention wandering constantly and barely made it to the end.  There is almost none of the intricate plotting found in the short stories. 2/27/22

The Teeth of the Tiger by Maurice Leblanc, 1914   w2335 

Arsene Lupin is back. Although believed to have died, he actually joined the foreign legion for a few years and has now returned to France with a new identity. When he becomes the residual beneficiary in a large estate after two of the heirs are murdered, he becomes the prime suspect. He is initially completely puzzled, although it appears that a fairly large group is involved in hijacking the inheritance. Lots of changes of direction in this one, as Lupin thinks he knows who the killer is, then changes his mind and targets two other people, then changes his mind and concludes they are also innocent (although actually they are not because they did in fact connive at one murder). Goes on a bit too long but has several very good bits. 2/25/22

The Battling Prophet by Arthur W. Upfield, Penguin, 1956  w2814 

A slow moving Bony mystery that ends up with an atypical gun battle.  A man who discovers a way to predict droughts dies under suspicious circumstances. He was unpopular with a lot of people because his accurate predictions prevented farmers from buying supplies they didnít need, upsetting the merchants. There are lots of suspects including the local constable. Bony has a female partner for a while but she doesnít get a lot to do in this one. 2/24/22

The Greenland Mystery by Joseph Rosenberger, Dell, 1987 

The Death Merchant returns to science fiction with this, the last volume in the series. A weather station in Greenland has discovered a deserted alien city under the ice that is millions of years old. The Russians learn about its existence and land a military force to seize the ruins. The smaller American defense group manages to kill all the Russians and even sink the submarine that brought them. The alien elements are minor. 2/23/22

Apocalypse by Joseph Rosenberger, Dell, 1987 

This was originally supposed to be part of the regular Death Merchant series, but it was twice as long as usual so it appeared as a special adventure. The Russians have used Teslaís technology to develop a system of worldwide weather control, which for some reason is based on a small Greek island. After an unusually long period of investigation, the island is identified and a crucial scientist is abducted from Latvia. This all builds up to the final assault by a joint force from England, France, and the US which destroys the facility and ends the threat to the world. 2/23/22

The Complete Dr. Satira Vol III by Robert Murray, Mark Hodder, 2021

This contains the final three novellas in the series, plus another one that presents an entirely different version of his first battle with Sexton Blake. The others involve his capture of Blake Ė he always plans elaborate deaths rather than just shooting him so Blake always has time to figure out how to escape Ė and their two final battles. The last ends with the apparent drowning of Satira, although the door was left open for his return. Satira was one of the rare recurring villains in the series who had absolutely no redeeming qualities. 2/19/22

The Miracle Mission by Joseph Rosenberger, Dell, 1987

A Muslim terrorist group has stolen the Shroud of Turin Ė which was proven to be a fake a year after this book appeared. The Death Merchant has to team up with Mossad to sneak into Syria, defeat the Syrian army as well as the terrorists, and retrieve the scrolls. The author and his protagonist were very opposed to all religions, so this has to be justified as a way of showing up the terrorists rather than of protecting Christianity. About average. 2/18/22

The Dead Letter by Seeley Regester, Poisoned Pen, 2021 (originally published in 1867)

This is described as the first full length American crime novel and the author is a woman, preceding the more famous Anna Katherine Green. A man is murdered while walking home through a storm, but his money is still in his pocket so it was not a robbery. A friend tries to investigate, enlists the aid of a professional detective, but is discouraged and alarmed when he himself becomes a major suspect. Just as he is about to abandon his efforts, he takes a job at the dead letter office and by chance finds a letter that provides a fresh insight. The plot is not bad at all, but the prose is less than brisk, at times mildly awkward, and the mystery is solved more through luck than through intelligence. 2/17/22

Sinister Stones by Arthur W. Upfield, Berkley, 1954  

A constable is found shot to death in his jeep and his aborigine tracker is missing. But it is pretty obvious that he was not shot while in the jeep, and that the jeep has been transported to its present location to divert suspicion. It is also clear that the tracker is also dead, and his body turns up later. There is a smuggling operation underway and it is pretty obvious who is responsible, but Bonyís investigation is complicated by a tribe of aborigines who plan to exact their own retribution. Above average but a bit obvious. 2/16/22

The Serpent of Destruction by Norvell Page (as Grant Stockbridge), Altus, 2019 (originally published in 1934)

A Spider novel. With prohibition lifted, organized crime turns to drugs. This is a bizarre novel in which the author displays a total lack of understanding of drug addiction. Good people taking a single dose are immediately turned into heartless killers. It is also strange that the Spider has to go undercover to figure out that the mob is selling drugs when everyone else apparently already knows it. The opening action sequence does not seem to make linear sense. The police are there, or not there, searching, or not searching, and the crooks are shooting, but apparently havenít fired their guns. Far inferior to the previous books, the plot becomes a complete mess in the second half. 2/15/22

Death of a Lake by Arthur W. Upfield, Berkley, 1954  

A man is presumed to have drowned in a remote lake but his body was never recovered. The lake is rapidly drying out and may reveal his fate and Bony, undercover, takes a job in the area in order to be around when that happens. It is obvious that several of the people in the area are interested in finding a large amount of cash the dead man was carrying, and that will eventually lead to another murder and an unintentional death as well. This captures the Australian setting better than in most of the other books in the series, and the set up is great. 2/13/22

The Complete Dr. Satira Vol II by Robert Murray, Mark Hodder, 2021 

Four novellas about Sexton Blakeís ongoing battles with Dr. Satira, one of the few recurring villains in the series who had no redeeming qualities. In the first, Satira is supposedly lost at sea in a storm, but he has survived and is being sheltered by a villainous traveling zookeeper. Blake has to fight an enraged wolf before being trapped by Satira in a nice death trap, from which he is saved by chance. The second involves Satiraís return to London. He kidnaps the head of Scotland Yard in an effort to acquire a fabulous artifact he covets, but Blake outsmarts him and the evil mastermind is arrested at last. The third chronicles his elaborate escape from custody and the last involves his efforts to find a safe house while London is being searched, and the consequences of crossing paths with another thief. 2/13/22

The Hindu Trinity Caper by Joseph Rosenberger, Dell, 1987 

The Death Merchant is off to India tracking down a man who stole devices that can remotely detonate American nuclear warheads. It is not clear where the manís loyalties lie and he might be willing to sell to the highest bidder, although eventually he does head for the KGB. Our hero manages to avoid being arrested by the local authorities and assassinated by the opposition and eventually kills the agent and destroys the devices, but it turns out that they were meant to fall into Russian hands. They are actually fakes that would have caused Russian scientists to waste a lot of time. 2/12/22

Ten Star Clues by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2015 (originally published in 1941) 

Josephine Teyís Brat Farrar was not the earliest mystery involving the authenticity of an heir returning from the dead, and possibly being a fake. Thatís the premise in this Bobby Owen mystery. Owen is asked to investigate the shooting of an elderly aristocrat who recently acknowledged a surprise visitor as his grandson, long believed to have died. Most of the rest of the family is skeptical and it does not appear that the man has a compelling case. He claims to have forgotten most of his past, but it was only ten years earlier. It was far too obvious very early that the man is an imposter and also obvious who is the puppet master behind the scenes. When the author shows up numerous instances that a character is noble and self sacrificing, itís a dead giveaway. The author also seemed to run out of plot and there is a very lengthy recapitulation of everything toward the end. 2/11/22

The Confessions of Arsene Lupin by Mauice Leblanc, 1913 

Another collection of short adventures. In one, Lupin is captured by the vengeful widow of a man who committed suicide after being robbed. In another, Lupin solves the mystery of an annual gathering of impoverished descendants of a man reputed to have hidden a great treasure. Lupin gets captured by two vengeful women. He alternates between being a master criminal and helping the downtrodden.  This is a lively and varied collection and so far the short stories have been far superior to the single novel Iíve read.  2/11/22

Murder Must Wait by Arthur W. Upfield, Berkley, 1953

Someone has stolen five babies in a small Australian town, and the last was accompanied by a brutal murder of the mother. Bony takes on a female partner to solve the case, which involves a fairly large conspiracy, but despite her presence, the book is misogynistic and racist, one of Upfieldís most outrageous outings. He solves the case thanks to conspiracy and guesswork and the chief villain does not even appear until just before the conclusion. Definitely not one of his better efforts. 2/6/22

Escape from Gulag Taria by Joseph Rosenberger, Dell, 1986 

The Death Merchant goes to Siberia to free a scientist from a gulag. Subterfuge fails miserably so he has to team up with some new approach, which inevitably involves lots of heavy weaponry, a staggering body count, and lots of racial slurs. He eventually destroys the entire gulag and manages to get the prisoner heís after to a beach where, after another battle with border patrols, they are able to board a submarine and escape to safety. Routine. 2/6/22

The Hollow Needle by Maurice Leblanc, 1909   

The third volume of Arsene Lupin adventures, this time a novel. There is a new opponent for Lupin, who is largely offstage for almost the entire book. For a while, it is believed that he is dead. The book is a more focused story despite its episodic nature and involves kidnapping and burglary and other crimes. The detective is not a very interesting character and there is much less inventiveness in this volume. There is also a great deal of peripheral content that really adds little if anything to the story.  2/5/22

The Complete Zenith Volume II by Anthony Skene, Mark Hodder 

Four more Sexton Blake novellas from the 1920s featuring the albino villain, Zenith. In the first an accidental homicide leads Blake to thwart an attempt to assassinate him. He frees an innocent man but Zenith escapes with the loot. In the second, Zenith tries to hunt down a disobedient member of his organization and Blake gets caught in the crossfire. Blake solves a puzzling murder mystery in the third, but Zenith is only a peripheral character this time. The real killer disguised himself as a statue. Finally, Blake battles an evil scientist who uses poisonous venom to commit his crimes. Zenith is minimally involved in this case as well. 2/3/22

The Case of the Bonfire Body by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1936) 

A headless, handless corpse is found tucked into the preparations for a bonfire. Ludovic Travers and the police suspect that the case is related to a burglary and frame up several years earlier, but the obvious suspect has a great alibi Ė provided by Travers himself. A doctor is stabbed to death in his office and the fingerprints on the knife match those of a hand later recovered. The hand matches the body, but the body was found a day before the murder. This is a nicely set up mystery, although the solution is rather a stretch. Two different pairs of men, independently, decide to make themselves look so much alike that they can provide alibis for each other by pretending to be a single person. 2/3/22

Venom House by Arthur W. Upfield, Berkley, 1952 

This is certainly a contender for the authorís best book. A shady butcher is found drowned in a small lake. A few days later an elderly woman is strangled and her body thrown into the same lake. Bony believes they may be connected. There are several very well drawn characters in this one, including two feuding systems, a man permanently arrested as a seven year old, a determined housekeeper, an elderly but active cook, as well as a very colorful family history. A suitably complicated conclusion finishes a very complicated set of motives, opportunities, and puzzles Ė although we never do find out who was responsible for the stolen sheep. 2/1/22

Four Strange Women by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2015 (originally published in 1940) 

This is an intricately constructed story about a black widow, actually a black fiancť, who murders her secret lovers as soon as they provide her with jewels of exceptional value. Each death is made to look like an accident but Bobby Owen spots the pattern and relentlessly seeks to discover who is responsible. There are actually six female suspects rather than four, and the story cheats a lot. We donít learn that three of them have alibis until just before the real killer is identified, although I thought it was pretty obvious. There are half a dozen unanswered questions at the end, some of them intended to be red herrings. But even red herrings need to be explained. And a vigilante kills the murderer before she can be arrested. This was one of the least interesting in this series. 1/31/22

The Spring of the Tiger by Victoria Holt, Doubleday, 1979 

The Holt novels had begun to drift from adventure and mystery to historical romance at this point. The adventurous portions are almost entirely in the closing chapters and feel very much as though they were tacked on simply to provide a rousing conclusion. A new bride moves to a plantation in Ceylon where she encounters kidnapping, a ghost story, native magic, jealousy, and tension with her husband, who dislikes her independent spirit. As with most of Holtís novels, I found myself disliking almost all of the characters, including the protagonist. 1/30/22

Arsene Lupin vs Herlock Sholmes by Maurice Leblanc,  1908  

Also published as Arsene Lupin vs Holmlock Shears. Another series of adventures, starting with a battle over a winning lottery ticket that is actually a quite clever story. Then Lupin and a female companion send a detective on a complex wild goose chase. There is an underlying story arc this time, unlike the first collection. Several encounters are won by Lupin, but eventually he is successfully arrested Ė though he escapes moments after Sholmes leaves the scene. Sholmes is portrayed as a worthy opponent, but a rather crass one and sometimes a figure of fun. A later adventure is the longest story in the collection and is not as good as the tightly interrelated ones that precede it. 1/27/22

The Cobra Chase by Joseph Rosenberger, Dell, 1986 

The Death Merchant goes to France in search of the KGB agent known as Cobra. The chase takes them to Germany, Turkey, and finally Sweden, where Cobra is supposed to receive a deadly new virus which is to be released in the West. Camellion tracks him down, however, and kills him in hand to hand combat. This was the only villain to appear in two novels and frankly heís not much of a villain. The protagonist even admits at one point that only his own stupidity had prevented him from catching the man earlier. And how does his death help the situation? The Russians still have the virus and lots more secret agents to distribute it. 1/27/22

Lord of the Far Island by Victoria Holt, Crest, 1975 

A young woman is devastated when the man she plans to marry is found shot to death, an apparent suicide. A short time later she learns that a distant relative was appointed as her guardian and she travels to an island off the coast of Cornwall. There she learns of a family ghost, a half sister who was lost at sea, a mysterious room about which she dreams, and survives two attempts to murder her because she is set to inherit a very large fortune. The middle is rather slow but this was one of Holtís best suspense novels. 1/25/22

Mission Deadly Snow by Joseph Rosenberger, Dell, 1986 

Originally announced as Operation Snow Job, which seems like a better title. Most of the action takes place in Peru in the first half of the book, where the Colombian army intrudes in support of a cartel whom the Death Merchant has been ordered to destroy. He manages to sink four ships and kill a lot of drug smugglers, then returns to Colombia to launch an assault on the cartelís headquarters, where a major shipment is being prepared to go to Cuba. Possibly because of the new publisher, the racism is kept to a minimum, the occult stuff is mostly gone, and the plot is more streamlined, though just as violent, unlawful, and occasional nonsensical. It also introduces an arch enemy, Cobra, although he only lasted for two books. 1/23/22

The New Shoe by Arthur W. Upfield, Berkley, 1951

A naked dead man is found in an automated lighthouse. Bony goes undercover to find out the truth, which involves smuggling, blackmail, and murder. He is nearly killed himself during the investigation, but perseveres. There are half a dozen people involved in covering up the truth and ultimately he discovers that the killer died shortly after his victim. It is never really explained why the body was not just thrown into the sea, or why the death of the killer was concealed, and the attack on Bony himself is explained but never really addressed as attempted murder. Not up to the authorís usual standards. 1/22/22

Citadel of Hell by Norvell Page (as Grant Stockbridge), Altus, 2019 (originally published in 1934) 

The Spider takes on a conspiracy by a small group of food producers. They are using a new kind of incendiary to destroy rival food suppliers, resulting in a nationwide famine, riots, and nearly the collapse of the US government. The action is frenetic and the Spider gets shot through the shoulder Ė twice Ė and nearly dies. The secret identity of the villain is obvious early on but it doesnít really matter. Thereís a femme fatale, an over reaching district attorney, a sympathetic police detective, and lots of bodies Ė over two thousand casualties during the course of the book, though mostly off stage. The plot has some very large holes but itís kind of fun, like a rollercoaster. 1/20/22

The Atlantean Horror by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1985 

An American scientist communicates with a dead Atlantean Ė who was not human Ė and learns the location of a superweapon buried in Antarctica. Somehow the Russians learn about this as well and they are prepared to risk a world war by sending large numbers of troops to attack the American base and capture the equipment. Naturally they fail. There is a subplot about the Atlantean actually being a villain and tricking the Americans, but Rosenberger apparently forgot about this because it is never mentioned again or resolved. The device is taken to the US. This was the last book in the series from this publisher, which went out of business. The remaining seven novels appeared from Dell. 1/20/22

Odds on Miss Seeton by Heron Carvic, Farrago, 2017 (originally published in 1975) 

The author died after this was published although the series has since been continued by two different writers. This time Miss Seeton is sent undercover to a gambling casino which is believed to have been seized by organized crime. Multiple attempts are made on her life, always with unpleasant consequences for her attackers despite her naivete about the entire situation. Some gentle humor, occasionally a bit over the top, and a nice little surprise at the end. I will try the follow ups by Hamilton Crane, but with some trepidation as it will be hard to capture the essence of the character. 1/19/22

The House of a Thousand Lanterns by Victoria Holt, Crest, 1974

The protagonist of this adventure/mystery has a rough time in Victorian England and Hong Kong. Her father is killed in a climbing accident, her mother dies of tuberculosis, and her new husband is startled to discover that his first wife is not dead as he believed, which invalidates the second marriage. She marries his paralyzed uncle in order to legitimize the baby she is carrying, and in due course they move to Hong Kong. The paralysis is the result of a mysterious hunting accident that might not have been an accident at all.  1/18/22

The Bachelors of Broken Hill by Arthur W. Upfield, Collier, 1951

Someone has been poisoning elderly, overweight bachelors with slovenly eating habits. Obviously a case of insanity, although another murder occurs outside the pattern, a not very effective red herring. There are a couple of goofs. Early on, Bony knows the motive but not the killer, but later on he does not know the motive. I suspect Upfield changed the direction of the plot but forgot to backtrack and make it consistent. The killer is a master of disguise, but we donít know that until the closing chapter. One of his least successful books. 1/17/22

Miss Seeton Sings by Heron Carvic, Farrago, 2017 (originally published in 1973) 

The fourth Miss Seeton novel takes her off into an investigation of international counterfeiting, art theft, and fraud. As usual, she is oblivious to her surroundings and through pure luck survives multiple attempts to murder her and causes several villains to reveal themselves, oftenwith lethal consequences. Not very realistic but immensely amusing and inventive. The author was killed in an accident shortly after the next in the series appeared, but it has been continued by two other writers since then. I'm not really a big fan of cozies but these rise above the form. 1/16/22

The Soul Search Project by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1985 

The authorís penchant for the occult recurs in this one, in which a scientist has found a way to communicate with the dead, who exist on a different astral plane. The plot is another recycle Ė the Soviets have kidnapped the scientist because his research will somehow help them develop teleportation. And once again, he is the only man who knows how his equipment works, so he has to be recovered alive or the knowledge will be lost forever. The protagonist kills more than a dozen police officers in this one in order to kidnap a foreign diplomat, and he summarily executes a woman.  1/13/22

The Pakistan Mission by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1985 

The Russians have established a secret base on the Afghan/Pakistan border from which they plan to launch destabilizing attacks against the Pakistani government, followed by a full scale invasion. The Death Merchant works with Pakistani dissidents who cooperate because they would be the first victims of an attack, and eventually he destroys the base. How this would avert the invasion, particularly given that the facility is rather small, is never explained, but the author was not big on explanations. 1/13/22

The Complete Waldo Vol II by Edwy Searles Brooks, Mark Hodder, 2021 

Four more novella length encounters between Sexton Blake and Waldo the Wonder-Man, these originally published in 1919-1920. The adventures/mysteries are not very varied. Waldo poses as a medium to steal some jewels, he inadvertently causes the death of a murderer while trying to commit a robbery, he uses an elaborate device to steal a collection of rubies from inside a locked steel room, and he saves Sexton Blakeís life while trying to steal more jewels in another outing. These were very hastily written and the prose is sometimes rather less than scintillating. Blake prevails in each instance, but Waldo escapes every time as well. 1/10/22

The Bulgarian Termination by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1984 

The Death Merchant is in Bulgaria to destroy a spy training facility. As always his cover is blown by leaks at the CIA and he has to shoot his way out of multiple situations. He eventually contacts the Bulgarian underground and arranges for truckloads of fertilizer to be gathered and weaponized for an attack on the complex, which is also a local KGB headquarters. For a change, the mission is only partially successful as two of the trucks are warded off and the building are damaged but not destroyed. 1/9/22

Witch Miss Seeton by Heron Carvic, Berkley, 1988  (originally published in 1971) 

The police ask Miss Seeton to help them investigate two religious movements Ė a very public one preaching the end of the world, and a mysterious hidden one involved with witchcraft. Both are actually the same organization working alternate veins of criminal fraud. With her usual luck, she falls Ė quite literally at one point Ė into their arrangements and disrupts them. Two attempts to kill her fail and the last results in a disastrous exposure of the villains and their apprehension by police. Not entirely serious but quite amusing. 1/7/22

The Widows of Broome by Arthur W. Upfield, 1951 

Two widows in a remote town have been strangled. In each case they were found naked and their nightgowns and underwear had been savagely torn. Bony has to track down an obviously insane serial killer before the next moonless night or see another victim fall. Each victim also had a nightgown stolen, so Bony has all the clotheslines of other widows watched. He cannot arrest someone just for stealing a nightgown, and in fact he is not even able to identify the thief, but this tells him who the next victim will be and he sets a trap. Once again I thought the killerís identity was telegraphed, but itís not a bad story. 1/6/22

New Order edited by Mark Hodder, Rebellion, 2021 

This consists of three full length novels featuring Sexton Blake, all from 1960. He had been given a makeover and now runs a detective agency with recurring characters among the staff. Tinker has become Edward Carter, though the nickname is still used. He is often consulted by Scotland Yard but also works for insurance companies, etc. Two of the three novels collected her are science fiction, though in both cases the science is ridiculous.

The World-Shakers by Rex Dolphin 

This is an absolutely dreadful story. A man is murdered when a flying saucer lands and an alien figure appears. The British government believes that aliens have established a base in the Arctic and are brainwashing humans into helping them. After adventures in England, Blake is off to Iceland where he survives multiple attempts at assassination. He actually sees what appears to be an alien but it is actually a horribly deformed human, a genius, who has gathered other geniuses together to build superweapons, a brainwashing machine, flying saucers, and other technological wonders. He hopes to establish a benevolent but powerful world government. Some of his associates are just hungry for power. They fight among themselves and Blake finally defeats the bad guys. This was unbelievably silly from start to finish. 

The Big Steal by Jack Trevor Story 

The second novel is not bad at all. A group of conmen trick a locksmith into opening a vault, then blackmail him into a repeat performance. He ends up going to prison while the rest get away, but only temporarily. Blake has an elaborate plan for using the man to trap the rest of the gang and recover the stolen money. It all works, although another man is murdered accidentally in the course of the investigation. Pretty nicely told. 

Bred to Kill by Martin Thomas 

The third novel veers back to SF. Someone has been brutally killing people in a rural community but never leaves any tracks. Blake suspects several people, including a reclusive scientist who allows no one to visit his laboratory. Blake breaks in and finds that he has somehow been able to cause animals to regress to species now extinct Ė not by breeding, mind you, but by some arcane process that changes the individual. When we learn that he had adopted a son who disappeared years earlier, we know that the boy has become an apeman who attacks from the trees and mauls his victims. Not badly written but scientifically absurd. 1/5/22

The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas, Vintage, 2006   

The author is a noted French archaeologist who also writes detective fiction, most notably a series about a police murder squad. An opera singer wakes up one morning to discover that someone has planted a tree in her garden during the night. The mystery is not resolved a few days later when she is found dead in a burned out car. Is there a connection? Of course there is, which is ferreted out after a lengthy and somewhat idiosyncratic investigation. This was an early novel and her later work is much better. 1/4/22

The Curse of the Kings by Victoria Holt, Crest, 1973 

A Victorian adventure romance involving an Egyptian curse. Although two men involved in excavating a tomb in Egypt have both died suddenly, the son of one of them is determined to continue the search for artifacts and secret chambers. He brings his new wife, the protagonist, with him and she begins to suspect that she is the target of a murderer. She is right, but it is not her husband and the woman believed to be his lover. It is actually a hired killer in the employ of a local official who does not like the British and wants the tomb to remain undisturbed. Starts pretty well but founders long before the action actually starts. 1/3/22

Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Burglar by Maurice Leblanc, 1907

The first book about the affable rogue consists of nine novelettes. Lupin is foiled and arrested while leaving an ocean liner, but a young woman helps conceal the evidence that would convict him. He then orchestrates an elaborate theft while still in prison, then arranges a clever and complex escape, and has to reverse his role when he is robbed on a train by another clever thief. The fifth adventure describes his first caper, the theft of a valuable necklace when he was only six years old.  He manages to recover stolen submarine plans, is himself fooled by a clever couple whom he planned to rob, and then tracks down a murderer, outwitting Herlock Sholmes in the process. Inventive and fun. 1/2/22

MORE REVIEWS