Last Update 6/29/14

The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day, Seventh Street, 2014, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-885-0

A rather topical debut mystery novel set in part on a college campus. A college professor survived being shot by a student whom she didn't even know, but she has no idea why she was targeted and her assailant is dead. That doesn't stop the buzz of rumors which surrounds her when she returns to work. Her new assistant is fascinated with violent crime in general and this one in particular and he starts an investigation into the circumstances, which sometimes crosses her own attempts to figure out what happened. This is an unusual mystery which avoids most of the usual devices and there's actually a pretty good backstory. My only complaint is a paucity of description and the use of too many very short sentences and paragraphs, which made it feel like an outline from time to time. 6/29/14

The Star of India by Carol Bugge, Titan, 2011 (originally published in 1997)

Sherlock Holmes observes some strange activity on the part of a young woman at a concert in London. Before he can investigate further, he receives a telegram indicating that Mrs. Hudson – currently visiting her sister – is in danger and he and Watson arrive just in time to save her life.  It isn’t long before Holmes figures out that Moriarty survived Reichenbach Falls and is back in London. Holmes is not too bright in this one. When he receives a fabulous gem which he knows is being sought by the criminals, he leaves it with Watson, who is unarmed and alone, and naturally they simply draw a weapon and take it from him. There is a chess game metaphor used extensively for a while, but the correspondences are pretty thin. The lady in peril turns out to be duplicitous and Holmes naturally triumphs. Not a bad story but I there were times when I lost interest and I set it aside once and read something else before returning to it. 6/28/14

The Titanic Tragedy by William Seil, Titan, 2012 (originally published in 1996) 

Sherlock Holmes is convinced to travel incognito on the Titanic to the US to conduct an investigation in the US while Watson goes along openly. They are both much older than in most of the stories, and in fact neither resides at Baker Street any longer. Among the other passengers are Irene Adler’s daughter, working for the British government to transport submarine plans to the US, and the brother of Professor Moriarty. The plans are cleverly stolen and Holmes identifies one of thieves as a stoker working in the boiler room. Then one of their suspects is murdered and the circle of people possibly involved grows larger. They also stumble upon a plot to sink the Titanic by means of explosives, supposedly to advance the cause of socialism by showing that capitalism is corrupt. They thwart the bomb plot, which was a separate group from those who stole the plans, but then one of the latter is found murdered, apparently to silence him. Watson is put into a lifeboat against his will at the climax but Holmes and Moriarty apparently both go down with the ship, although Holmes inevitably turns up later.  A little rough in spots but overall a good pastiche. 6/20/14

Sherlock Holmes and the Hentzau Affair by David Stuart Davies, Wordsworth, 2007 

This short Sherlock Holmes adventure is literally a sequel to Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda.  The king of Ruritania has become mentally disabled and unless his British double can replace him at least temporarily, Rupert of Hentzau will raise a rebellion and install himself. When the double disappears, Holmes and Watson follow the trail from a kidnapping in London to a hostage in Ruritania, help save the day and the small country, and all without revealing their involvement to the public. More of an adventure story than a detective tale, but very good. 6/19/14

Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks, Vintage, 2009

Faulks only wrote one James Bond novel, which is just as well. He doesn’t appear to have had any previous experience writing thrillers and it shows. This is basically a rewrite of Goldfinger. He is on the trail of an obsessed man running an international smuggling plot – drugs rather than gold. The villain has an Asian henchman, named Charisma instead of Topjob, and he even wears a distinctive hat. Bond’s assistance is requested by a young woman who wants to rescue, rather than revenge, her sister. There’s a tennis game in which both sides cheat to replace the golf game in which both sides cheat. One short scene is stolen directly from an Indiana Jones movie. Bond is captured and given a ground tour of the operation, just as in Goldfinger. The plot, which involves CIA cooperation in causing a nuclear war between the UK and the USSR to force the former to participate in the Vietnam War is ludicrous at best. There’s a twist at the end, but there is no reason why M would have concealed from Bond that he had another agent working the case. Faulks declined to write another Bond novel. I’m happy to hear it. 6/16/14

The Voice of Kali by Sax Rohmer, Black Dog, 2013 

This is a collection of Paul Harley mysteries. Harley was a kind of government agent/private investigator who figures in at least two novels as well. Some of these I had read in other Rohmer collections. All of these stories originally appeared between 1920 and 1924. The title story, a short novel, opens with Harley accompanying an American visitor at a remote estate where an unknown was found dead of unexplained reasons. Harley believes his host is in danger as well. It seems that the American stumbled onto a secret society in Tibet which has vowed to kill him. Lots of spooky events, sinister visitors, the mark of Kali, and so forth but it reads more like a rough draft of a Fu Manchu novel than anything else. The other stories are shorter and generally even less interesting although I liked “The Black Mandarin” and “The Dyke Grange Mystery.” 6/16/14

The Web Weaver by Sam Siciliano, Titan, 2012   

The mystery unravels slowly in the first third of this Sherlock Holmes novel. Holmes has been approached by a man who was supposedly cursed by a gypsy at a public event, although he does not believe in magic, nor does his wife, from whom he is mildly estranged. Holmes discovers quickly that the woman was not in fact a gypsy at all, but there seem to be no further leads. The narration alternates between Henry Vernier, Holmes’ cousin, and Vernier’s wife, who is a doctor and a close friend of the cursed woman. Then the woman receives a death threat – along with some spiders – in her birthday cake. Holmes also senses that the equivalent of Moriarty – who never existed in the context of this book – may be coordinating crimes behind the scenes, including a crafty jewel theft.  The author telegraphs the solution by telling us early on that only female spiders weave webs, and it’s a rather long book after one figures that out. 6/13/14

The Secret of Holm Peel by Sax Rohmer, Ace, 1970   

Only one of these stories has much fantastic content so I’d call this a mystery collection. It opens with the title story, a murky bit about a family curse. “The Owl Hoots Twice” is a murder mystery. “A House Possessed” is the fantastic one; a haunted house whose visitors are frequently incinerated mysteriously. “The Eyes of Fu Manchu” is a brief encounter with the evil mastermind. “The Mystery of the Marsh Hole” is another detective story and my favorite in this collection, with weird circumstances surrounding a man’s death. “Bazarada” is a minor story of intrigue. There are pirates in “For Love of Mistress Mary” and an odd salute to a fallen soldier in “Brother Wing Commanders.” This is a pretty weak selection but Rohmer was not nearly as good at short fiction as he was with his novels. 6/11/14

Basil Instinct by Shelley Costa, Pocket, 2014, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-0936-9

The second mystery novel featuring a professional chef as detective. The first one was a sort of hybrid between cozy and actual detective story. This one's pretty much the same. Eve Angelotta works as chef at a fancy restaurant. She is aware of the existence of a secret society of cooks (!) and she knows that her boss and grandmother has been offered a membership. Eve has her reservations about the organization, which are amplified when her assistant turns up dead with marks indicating a connection to the secret society. She redoubles her efforts. There's some light humor that I could have done without, a whiff of romance, a reasonable amount of detection, and even at least one good surprise. I thought the first was slightly better but this one is pretty good as well. 6/9/14

Further Encounters of Sherlock Holmes edited by George Mann, Titan, 2014, $14.95, ISBN 978-1781160046  1 

This collection of original adventures opens with Holmes tracking down the papers of the later Professor Moriarty, papers which supposedly contain an earthshaking theory about human existence. The next has Holmes convincing Moriarty to murder a blackmailer. Next he unmasks a faked haunting, exposes a cult at a private school, explains another fake haunting, solves a murder at sea, and so on. Although all of these stories are well written, several of them have a contemporary feeling despite the Victorian setting. They also often flirt with SF or supernatural themes. Fair collection but none of the stories are outstanding.  6/7/14

Field of Prey by John Sandford, Putnam, 2014, $28.95, ISBN 978-0-399-16239-1  

This is the 24th Lucas Davenport mystery and since I liked all but one of the first 23, the odds were in my favor. Most in this series have been police procedurals and we almost always – as is the case here – know who the bad guys are right from the outset. In this case they’re two men, one confined to a wheelchair, who kidnap, rape, and murder their victims. This comes to light when their burial site, an abandoned cistern, is accidentally discovered revealing more than 20 skeletons. Davenport is not in charge of the case but the man who does inadvertently stumbles into the killers’ home and is fatally shot himself. This provides an added incentive but unfortunately the dead man failed to tell anyone where he was going and the body is dumped some distance away from the murder scene. There’s a subplot about a mentally ill man who blames Davenport for his brother’s death that is absolute garbage, so implausible and whining that it tainted the entire book for me. 6/6/14

Solo by William Boyd, Harper, 2013  

The newest James Bond novel has a very distinct feel to it, but it’s not that of Ian Fleming. A 45 year old Bond is still enjoying the expensive side of life and still single, but is beginning to feel his age.  He is sent to Africa on a vaguely worded mission to bring to an end the secession of part of one former colonial nation. He spends the first half of the novel just getting there and appraising the situation and the pacing is sluggish at best. The man he is supposed to kill or subvert turns out to be terminally ill and dies within a few days, but that seems to have no effect on the morale of the rebels and Bond assumes his assignment isn’t over, although he’s not sure just what he’s supposed to do. This indecisiveness does not feel like a James Bond story either. The rather sloppy way that he makes contact with the local station head – who turns out to be an impostor – also rang false. The war comes to an end when he eliminates a major figure, but he is seriously wounded and wakes up only after being airlifted back to England. The pace picks up considerably in the final third as Bond decides to track down the people who shot him, and solve the mystery of a charitable organization that seems to have connections to arms dealers. Everything gets sorted out at the end although Bond’s chief nemesis appears to have survived. If Boyd does an encore, we might see him again. 6/5/14

The Veiled Detective by David Stuart Davies, Titan, 2009 (originally published in 2004)   

This Sherlock Holmes novel opens early in his career, before Watson or Baker Street, while he is still impoverished and unrewarded for his efforts to help Scotland Yard. It appears to be an alternate Holmes as well because his Watson is a disgraced doctor whose real name is Walker and Lestrade has a different first name.  Watson/Wallace, as well as Mrs. Hudson, are actually employees of Moriarty whose job is to keep tabs on Holmes. During the course of their first case together, Holmes murders a man – who deserved it – in the name of justice. Then we learn that Mycroft Holmes is also working for Moriarty, although by this point I had begun to suspect that things were not as they appeared and that Sherlock knew more than he seemed to. Sherlock wins the loyalty of Watson and Hudson, foils Moriarty’s plot to steal a fabulous gem, destroys his organization, and then throws him to his death at Reichenbach Falls. One of the most original Holmes pastiches I’ve read, and certainly the most unusual. 6/4/14

Black Current by Karen Keskinen, Minotaur, 2014, $25.99, ISBN 978-1250012715

This is the second Jaymie Zarlin mystery, I believe. The female protagonist is a private investigator who is called upon this time to look into the bizarre death of a teenager found in an aquarium tank. Officially it has been ruled an accidental death, but the parents predictably believe otherwise. It doesn't take long to find a number of suspects and motives, everything from bored rich kids to conniving business rivals who dislike the family as a whole. There's more than one crime involved, however, and the tensions among the various characters escalate until murder, suicide, or both are likely outcomes. The story very heavily emphasizes the characters and the emotional links among them, and that's key to the solution, which I won't reveal. It wasn't really my type of story but it was done well enough that I got pulled in anyway. 6/2/14

No Stone Unturned by James W. Ziskin, 7th Street, 2014, $15.95, ISBN 978p-1-61614-883-6

An Ellie Stone mystery. The second adventure of a feisty female reporter during the 1960s is an improvement over the reasonably good first in the series. Stone is undergoing a crisis of confidence in her life choices when she hears that a young woman's body has been found in the woods. She decides to make another stab at her chosen career and when the police make no headway in discovering who was responsible for the murder, she takes things into her own hands. Naturally that makes the guilty party interested in bringing her inquiries to an end, permanently if necessary. There's a bit more detection in this one and the character is slightly more interesting, but the solution once again comes more from reaction to her presence precipitating things than to any actual evaluation of the clues. Good enough to keep me reading but still not really my kind of mystery. 5/31/14

Hellbirds by Austin Mitchelson and Nicholas Utechin, Belmont, 1976 

An aging Sherlock Holmes is chafing at his lack of employment by the government at the outbreak of World War I when a young girl arrives insisting that her uncle has been taken away by some legendary Hellbirds. He scoffs at the supernatural explanation but is forced to pay more attention when the man turns up dead, apparently pecked to death. The investigation is delayed, however, because Holmes must deal with an escaped German spy instead. That takes up most of this occasionally rambling adventure in which the duo cross into German territory in order to complete their mission.  Entertaining, but their earlier Sherlock novel is much better. 5/27/14

Reckless Disregard by Robert Rotstein, 7th Street, 2014, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-881-2

Generally speaking, I don't care for court room dramas. They are usually either unrealistic or, if realistic, tend to be boring. Actual trials often are. I liked the first in this series pretty well, though, in part I suppose because the lawyer protagonist has a psychological aversion to being in a court room. This time he's hired to defend a mysterious game designer who used some real names in his latest offering, and is being sued by one of those so named. I found this a bit clunky since it was pretty clear that this would happen given the insinuations of the game. The defense is based on the defendant's contention that he is retelling a true story, which I doubt would work even if it was true. In any case, our hero has to do some investigating of his own and finds himself trapped in something analogous to a real life video game with hidden identities and strange twists. Some of the twists are in fact quite nicely done and my mild reservations about the set up were pretty well forgotten once the story got going. Potentially a very interesting series. 5/21/14

The Sins of Severac Bablon by Sax Rohmer, 1914 

Sax Rohmer’s second published novel was a riff on the Robin Hood story set in early 20th Century England. Instead of the Sheriff of Nottingham we have Scotland Yard trying to track down an elusive character who extralegally distributes money from the rich to the poor. He uses a variety of devices from outright theft to implied extortion and the authorities have very little by way of clues to his identity. This is a pretty good story although the prose is not as polished as in Rohmer’s later novels, and the ethical questions are not really answered successfully. It’s also quite short and can be read easily in a single sitting. 5/18/14

The Man from Hell by Barrie Roberts, Titan, 2010 (originally published in 1997) 

Sherlock Holmes is called in when Lord Backwater is found bludgeoned to death in the woods of his estate. A preliminary investigation reveals that he was meeting someone there and that three men set upon them, killing one and assaulting the other, who subsequently escaped. A note found in the dead man’s study suggests a cryptic meeting and his unusual tattoos similarly suggest a secret association, which Holmes believes is linked to Australia or New Zealand. A sizeable chunk of the novel is a manuscript left by the dead man retelling his adventures as a prisoner in Australia while a young man, his escape, and rise to wealth. The villain behind the scenes is not very well concealed but otherwise this is a very neatly done Sherlockian mystery. 5/14/14

Death Come Quickly by Susan Wittig Albert, Berkley, 2014, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-425-25563-6  

This is the latest China Bayles mystery, a series that started strong but has been much weaker recently. The story gets off to a fast start. Karen Prior, who is involved in some sort of museum controversy, goes to a mysterious rendezvous at a mall parking lot with an unknown man. There she is assaulted and falls into a probably terminal coma. There are no witnesses or surveillance tapes and it is assumed that she was mugged, although her purse was untouched. The controversy is about a collection accumulated by a woman who was beaten to death thirteen years earlier, that crime never solved either. There are about thirty pages of mostly padding after that before the story resumes. Prior dies and one of her assistants is assaulted the following day. It is clear now that someone wants to squelch anything that might throw light on the earlier murder. There are a lot of people who had reason to want the earlier victim dead including her neighbors and ex-husband. There’s a nice mix of motives and some actual detecting. This was a definite uptick in the series, a return to its earlier excellence. 5/12/14

Yellow Shadows by Sax Rohmer, 1925 

Benard Hope encounters a desperate woman on a train and agrees to give her his ticket. He expects to simply pay for a new one at the end of the trip and pretend he has lost his original one but a police detective questions him and suggests he may have been responsible for a murder in London. Hope discovers that his baggage has been stolen and, inexplicably, his attaché case is now filled with bank notes the police believe were stolen from the murdered man. All of the people who could corroborate his story are temporarily out of reach, and to complicate matters further the woman Hope hoped to marry was an acquaintance of the murdered man, a relationship which Hope had opposed because of the latter’s dubious reputation.  Complications ensue as the police slowly uncover a war between two secret Chinese societies. The ending is a little weak but otherwise this was a solid mystery. 5/10/14

The Bat Flies Low by Sax Rohmer, 1925 

A scientist has discovered that the ancient Egyptians possessed a form of lighting that is unknown to the modern world and which could revolutionize our technology. The secret is on a papyrus which is stolen from him by a mysterious – though it’s obvious who it is from the outset – agent known as the Bat. The Bat has other technological secrets – or occult powers perhaps since it’s never explained – and the subsequent pursuit goes from England to Egypt and involves murder and mayhem. Rohmer expresses considerable support for the villain in this one, whom he describes as a patriot trying to recover national treasures along with fulfilling some vague religious mission. It’s pretty minor but readable. 5/7/14

The Whitechapel Horrors by Edward B. Hanna, Titan, 2010 (originally published in 1992)   

Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper. Holmes is asked by his brother to look into the Ripper murders, which are having a demoralizing and destabilizing effect on the city of London. Holmes complies and nearly captures him the night of his double murder, but is unfortunately mistaken for the killer by a mob and is nearly killed himself. The historical background is very accurate, although I think the author is a bit more critical of Charles Warren, head of Scotland Yard, than is entirely fair. The author does have Holmes misquote Emerson, which I thought was out of character given his mania for precision. About half way through the book, the evidence points toward Prince Edward or one of his close associates, gleaned from a missing cufflink and a specially blended tobacco found in a cigarette butt. Suspicion also falls on Lord Randolph Churchill, who is suffering from late stage syphilis, which often causes insanity. The end might disappoint some readers because even Holmes never figures out who Jack the Ripper really was, although he deals with other potential problems along the way. 5/2/15

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen, Warner, 2010   

Hiaasen rebounds slightly from his disappointing previous novel with this one about a pop star whose career is imploding thanks to drugs and other distractions. She also has a stand in for those instances when she is too far gone to perform, and the stand in is kidnapped by criminals who mistakenly think she’s the real celebrity. The singer’s staff wants to rescue the girl quietly because they don’t want their relationship to become public knowledge. There are few surprises and the antics of the pop star seem pretty tame compared to some that have taken place in the real world lately. It’s still fun though, and despite a few stretches, the plot is coherent and clever. Close to but not quite his best novel. 4/30/14

Slayground adapted by Darwyn Cooke from the book by Richard Stark, IDW, 2013, $17.99, ISBN 978-1613778128   

This is a graphic version of one of Richard Stark’s Parker novels. Parker is involved in an armored car heist, after which the getaway car crashes and he hides in a closed amusement park. Some crooked cops and some gangsters decide to provide a false lead to divert others while they hunt him down, kill him, and take the money for themselves. Early on Parker kills the son of the local crime boss, so a virtual army shows up to get him. He rigs various attractions to his advantage and eventually escapes. The graphics are fairly minimalistic but well done and it’s a pretty good story. There’s a shorter tale included that I didn’t like as much. 4/24/14

Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen, Warner, 2006   

I found this to be the least satisfying of Hiaasen’s novels, perhaps in part because his formula is really wearing after a while. A rather over the top woman reaches her breaking point when a telemarketer interrupts her supper. She conceives an elaborate plot to avenge herself by luring the malefactor into the Everglades where a familiar cast of exaggerated characters end up taking one side or the other. Beneath all the jokes is the familiar refrain of resistance to developers and corrupt politicians, and this time it verges on being preachy as well. There are a few good scenes but I was not impressed overall. 4/23/14

Dante's Poison by Lynne Raimondo, 7th Street, 2014, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-879-9

Second in the Mark Angelotti series, about a blind psychiatrist who solves crimes. This time around he is called as an expert witness when a man dies of an overdose of antipsychotic drugs which the prosecution believes was a deliberate act by the dead man's lover. The focus of the investigation is actually carried by another character, a friend of the accused, although the two team up solve the case. The dead man was an investigative journalist, which made me suspicious that the motive was connected to his own work. Before everything is resolved, Angelotti and his new associate both find that their lives are at risk. I liked the first one reasonably well and the second is significantly better, with a convoluted mystery and a better exploration of the various characters. Looking forward to the next. 4/21/14

The Hound of the D’Urbervilles by Kim Newman, Titan, 2011 

This is essentially a collection of Sherlock Holmes related stories cast as the memoirs of Sebastian Moran, the chief lieutenant of Professor Moriarty, Holmes’ arch enemy. We are shown how they first met and Moran’s first case, in which they are double crossed by their clients, a move anticipated by Moriarty. The evil mastermind humiliates an old enemy in a particularly funny episode, and the book is filled with references to H.G. Wells, Sax Rohmer, Jack London, Guy Boothby, Thomas Hardy, William Hope Hodgson, the Herons, Marvel comics, Bram Stoker, H. Rider Haggard, Anthony Hope, Wilkie Collins, Jules Verne, and other writers. Moriarty and Moran act as a kind of Holmes-Watson partnership, although Holmes is never mentioned in the book until the very last page. Together they thwart con men, cultists, gangsters, and other villains, always to enrich themselves or accomplish some other goal rather than because they are good guys. The adventures are clever, well constructed, and often amusing. We even meet James Moriarty’s two brothers, both of whom are also named James. There’s even an inverted version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, hence the title. Highly recommended. 4/16/14

Hangover House by Sax Rohmer, Graphic, 1949  

This is a rare, conventional murder mystery by this author. Bill Kennedy is hired to find out what is going on with an English lord’s daughter, who has gone to a party where she expects to encounter a blackmailer. Kennedy arrives just before the blackmailer is found stabbed to death. Most of the partygoers had already left, but the rest were stranded first by the fog and then by Scotland Yard. Kennedy is also concealing evidence to protect the daughter, who is thankful but not particularly forthcoming. There is a varied cast of suspects including an enigmatic Egyptian, a professional entertainer, a retired military man, and an airheaded drunk. This is one of Rohmer’s very best novels with a complicated mystery, a nicely nuanced plot, and a couple of startling revelations – particularly when the supposed corpse revives and staggers out into view.  The ending is a bit disappointing – too much information withheld from the reader – but overall it’s quite good. 4/13/14

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen, Warner, 2004  

A slight change of pace for Hiaasen, although not by much. A very incompetent marine biologist and small time crook proves himself to be very incompetent at murder as well. His wife, the intended victim, survives the attempt and decides to get revenge outside the normal conventions of legality. She enlists the aid of a multiply divorced ex-policeman to figure out what her husband is doing and why he tried to kill her, concealing the fact that she is still alive. Much confusion results, often funny, occasionally silly. Slightly above average for the author, although the characters seem even less realistic than usual. The second half is much better than the first. 4/12/14

The Giant Rat of Sumatra by Richard L. Boyer, Titan, 2011 (originally published in 1976)   

A sailor is murdered on his way to the flat of Sherlock Holmes and his lodgings are destroyed by arsonists. Another member of the crew tells a story of a giant rat smuggled aboard their ship and secretly kept in one of the holds. Simultaneously, Holmes is investigating the kidnapping of the young daughter of a prominent family. The two stories seem separate but alert readers will suspect a connection. Holmes is also somewhat surprised to discover that the men connected to the giant rat seem to be following him rather than hiding.  Suspicions about linkage strengthen when we learn that strange spoor has been found in the woods surrounding the country house where the ransom is to be paid and where the giant rat is finally seen. When I read this first more than thirty years ago, I thought it was one of the best Holmes pastiches I’d ever read. Re-reading it now, I still think the same. The author, however, apparently never wrote another book about Holmes or anything else. 4/10/14

Sixkill by Robert B. Parker, Putnam, 2011 

This was the last book Parker completed before his death and it’s a Spenser novel. He is briefly employed by an egotistic actor whose one night stand turns up strangled in his bed, but gets fired promptly. Still interested in the case, he uncovers connections to organized crime – of course – and decides to help the actor’s similarly fired bodyguard, who becomes his temporary partner when two waves of hitmen are sent after him. Fast paced and exciting as are all of the Spenser novels, but pretty much what you’d expect from beginning to end. There is a minor goof, however. At the climax, the partner and Spenser talk about that having been the first time the former ever killed anyone, but he had done so in another fight several chapters earlier. 4/6/14

Painted Ladies by Robert B. Parker, Putnam., 2010   

Spenser’s latest client wants him to help ransom a stolen painting but the client gets killed during the exchange, much to Spenser’s chagrin. He decides to solve the crime himself and promptly has to survive two attempts on his own life by what appears to be an organization of skilled mercenaries. There’s very little mystery about who is behind the killings and the back story of art stolen during World War II is tantalizing but too fleeting to be engaging. The short clippy dialogue and sarcastic banter are in evidence again and the story fairly flies by. Despite the long page count I suspect the recent Spenser novels hover around 60,000 words. As with the last several, it’s not bad but it’s not great either. 4/4/14

Split Image by Robert B. Parker, Putnam, 2010 

Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall have two unrelated cases in this one. Stone’s involves the murder of a small time thug working for one of two local gangsters who are married to twin sisters. Randall’s concerns a girl who has joined a religious commune whose parents have her kidnapped, although it turns out that neither they nor the commune are particularly benevolent. Then one of the gangsters gets murdered and Stone learns that the twin wives have a long and colorful sexual history which may recently have taken a deadlier turn. This was a pretty good one but it’s another where only some of the bad guys actually get brought to justice while others get away with it. 4/1/14