Last Update 6/30/21 

The Melting Man by Victor Canning, Curtis, 1969 

Rex Carver, private investigator, returns for his final case. A very rich man wants him to find an expensive car his stepdaughter lost in France. She claims to have amnesia and is no help at all. Carver figures out there is something in the car the owner wants and is eventually told that it is a packet of bearer bonds. It’s actually compromising film. Various other parties want it as well, including Interpol, the French police, and twin brothers working for an African nation. Some of Canning’s best characters enliven this novel, although there are a few too many captures and escapes to be entirely believable. 6/30/21

The Dusky Hour by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2015 (originally published in 1937)

The best Punshon I’ve read so far. The novel is filled with twists and turns, surprises and inter-relationships, and kept me guessing constantly. A man is murdered near three houses – a farm run by two sisters whose family was swindled out of its savings, a manor house owned by a frequent visitor to the US who may be a swindler, and a mansion owned by a conventional Englishman who has been accused of cheating at cards. The butler is actually a twice convicted burglar. A chauffeur is using a false identity. A housekeeper has stalked off after an argument and invents stories to cast suspicion on her ex-employer. Almost all of the characters, including the victim, visited the same London nightclub. There is a packet of embarrassing love letters and a stolen handgun. An old suicide might have been murder. A brother has disappeared and no one will talk about him. This was relatively long but I still read it through in one rather extended evening. 6/29/21

Singing in the Shrouds by Ngaio Marsh, Berkley, 1958 

A serial killer is believed to have boarded a ship bound for South Africa. Inspector Alleyn goes aboard incognito to try to decide which of the nine passengers – or possibly a crew member – is responsible before they kill again. The suspects include a priest, a television personality, a teacher, a stamp collector, a draper, an airheaded flirt, a woman whose engagement was suddenly terminated, and an expert on church music. There aren’t many surprises in this one, but the story is well constructed and delivered and kept me guessing until almost the final chapter. 6/27/21

Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac, Poisoned Pen, 2020 (originally published in 1952)   

The author is better known as E.C.R. Lorac. The structure of the novel is a bit out of the ordinary. The murder was already committed before the story begins. A badly burned body may or may not be a fugitive the police are after. They suspect it’s someone else and, through some legwork, believe that he joined an English ski party in Austria. Bad weather conditions and fear that an alert might send the criminal into Russian occupied territory make further investigation difficult. The story alternates between the English police and the ski party, one of whose eight mail members is certainly the fugitive. But which one? And some petty thievery makes several of them look suspicious. This was okay, but only two of the eight male suspects are on stage for any length of time, and in fact the killer is one of the offstage six. 6/27/21

There He Keeps Them Very Well by Clare McNally, Tor, 1994  

Although this is another children in jeopardy novel, there is no supernatural content, unlike the author’s other books. A woman who suffered a traumatic connection to murder as a child must cope when her husband is murdered and her children abducted. The two incidents are related and she is eventually the key to unlocking the not very interesting mystery involved. This one was okay but rather tedious. The author repeats variations of scenes rather than generating different ones. 6/26/21

The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun by Sebastien Japrisot, Dover, 2018 (originally published in 1966)

A secretary at an advertising agency is asked to run some errands for her boss and soon finds herself in a perplexing mystery. People claim to have seen her in places and times when this would be impossible, the borrowed car she is using is stolen, and she is suspected of being responsible for a murder. After various adventures and more coincidences, she finally figures out that she is being framed by her boss and his wife and confronts him, after sending evidence to the police. This is a clever puzzle and reasonably suspenseful. The prose style is somewhat unusual. 6/21/21

The Blue God by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2020 (originally published in 1916) 

This is one of Teed’s best Sexton Blake adventures. Huxton Rymer is in Borneo to steal a native god/giant sapphire, but he is thwarted and an orchid collector impulsively steals it instead. Rymer later assaults the other man, hides the gem in one of his flower pots, then reports to the tong leader that commissioned the theft, insisting that he failed. No one believes him. The orchid collector and the pot go to England, where Rymer arranges to take back the gem, despite the intervention of Blake and a veritable horde of tong members whoare rightly convinced that they have been double crossed. The story moves quickly and plausibly and features a number of recurring characters.  6/19/21

Sherlock Holmes and the Crusader’s Curse by Stuart Douglas, Titan, 2020 

This is an ok pastiche in which Holmes and Watson find themselves trapped by a snowstorm in a mansion with a variety of characters who are there to bid on the property and do not generally know one another. The former own, recently deceased, was supposedly involved with a cursed diamond, and Holmes is attempting to find out what happened to it. Then one of the bidders is murdered and fear of the curse complicates matters even though Holmes assures them that the murderer is perfectly mundane.  6/17/21

Queen’s Pawn by Victor Canning, Dell, 1973 

One of Canning’s best novels, even though the protagonist is a cold blooded killer. Two men who successfully conducted a series of financial crimes have decided to rest on their laurels, but another criminal knows their secrets and is blackmailing them into helping with his own plan, the theft of gold bullion from a luxury liner. They manage to kill their tormentor beforehand, but unfortunately he had shared his information with someone else and they are forced to carry on with the job. They are successful, but there is treachery afoot, and double-double-crosses. No one comes out a winner in this one, and most of them end up dead. One of his best. 6/16/21

The Pole Star Secret by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1977

This Death Merchant novel is outright SF. There’s a lost world under the Arctic, complete with an artificial sun and giant inhabitants. There is also a mysterious alien dome built by the same visitors from space whom we saw briefly in Hell in Hindu Land. The Russians got there first, but our heroes have no compunctions about mowing them down by the dozen with machine guns and explosives. Ultimately the alien base is sealed up with explosives and no one ever finds out what secrets they left there, nor do we ever see anything of the humanoids that are supposed to inhabit the lost world. A little slower than usual at the start, but it soon makes up for it with scores of deaths. 6/15/21

Death of a Fool by Ngaio Marsh, Avon, 1956 

Aka Off With His Head. During the performance of an obscure folk dance, one of the players is supposed to have been decapitated. Toward the end of the show, it is discovered that he really has been, but witnesses insist that no one was in a position to have struck the blow. Inspector Alleyn is on the job, however. The dead man opposed the marriage plans of his grand daughter, resisted the sale of his property to a developer, which would have benefitted his five sons, killed the youngest son’s dog gratuitously – and this son is not mentally fit, and had recently set about writing a will.  6/15/21

The Rainbird Pattern by Victor Canning, Award, 1972 

This novel was nominated for an Edgar Award and was the basis of the Alfred Hitchcock film Family Plot. Two story lines converge. One involves a pair of very careful kidnappers, who eventually manage to get the Archbishop of Canterbury in their clutches. The second is a spiritualist who is trying to track down the illegitimate nephew of a rich woman so that she can benefit financially. The nephew is in fact the kidnapper, and when she finds him, she gets a very unpleasant surprise. The conclusion is a very negative portrayal of the British system of justice as the villains area summarily executed. Nor does Canning provide a particularly good reason for not bringing them to trial. 6/11/21

The Sarah Elizabeth Mason Mysteries Volume 1, Coachwhip. 2018

Murder Rents a Room (1943)

A squabbling family living in a decaying Southern mansion is thrown into turmoil when one of them is shot to death while none of the others have an alibi. A laconic sheriff investigates - he returns in the second book but never really develops as a character. There are some awkward bits in the text, but it was a first novel. The biggest flaw is that I thought the killer's identity was too obvious too early. And he is trapped into revealing himself rather than having the puzzle solved logically.

The Crimson Feather (1945)

The author's second mystery was somewhat better than the first, but with a very similar plot. A troubled Southern family gets a long term visitor and she notices immediately that there is a great deal of tension. A suspicious death on a hunting trip is obviously murder and the sheriff suspects foul play almost from the outset. Somewhat more polished, but still not well enough written for me to chase down the author's other two mysteries. 6/10/21

Scales of Justice by Ngaio Marsh, Berkley, 1955  

A man is found murdered near a trout stream. He has recently been chosen to edit the memoirs of a recently deceased diplomat, but there is something in the manuscript that very much distresses his family and causes the rupture of long standing friendships. The manuscript itself appears to be missing. Although this is the obvious motive for the murder, it turns out to have had nothing to do with it, although the family’s reticence on the subject makes Inspector Alleyn’s job much more difficult. The solution hinges upon the loan of a pair of golf shoes, the fact that fish scales can act as a kind of fingerprint, and other seemingly unrelated details. This one is quite well handled and I did not guess the killer. 6/9/21

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith, Mulholland, 2020

J.K. Rowling's latest Cormoran Strike detective novel runs over 900 words and is probably the longest mystery story published in English. It may also be the most realistic, because it shows - sometimes in excruciating detail - most of the legwork, false leads, fruitless interviews, and other elements from real life. Forty years earlier, a female doctor disappeared while en route by foot to join a friend at a bar near her office. There is a Hannibal Lecter light serial killer who may or may not have done it. There was a violent gangster who had a motive. But she disappeared quickly and efficiently in the middle of London and the family has never really come to grips with her absence. Strike's relationship with his partner, Robin Ellacott, moves forward and a few old tie on both sides are finally severed. The characters are craftily drawn. There is not a great deal of suspense - it's not that kind of story -but while it took me several days to read the first half, I finished the second half in one very late night marathon. 6/8/21

The Yellow Sphinx by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2020 (originally published in 1913)  

A long Sexton Blake adventure involving a worldwide Chinese criminal organization reminiscent of Fu-Manchu.  Arch-villain Huxton Rymer is down on his luck and broke so he agrees to temporarily work for the organization by impersonating John Strang, a prominent businessman, thus acquiring control of his fortune. But Strang’s daughter suspects that he is a ringer and appeals to Sexton Blake to look into the matter, which inevitably leads to Rymer’s exposure – though not his arrest – and thwarts the plans of his bosses. Kind of blah. Not much of anything happens in this one.

Hell in Hindu Land by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1977 

The Death Merchant is in India following up rumors that a Buddhist monastery contains alien bodies, plus antigravity, time travel, a new energy source, telepathy, and other bits of alien technology. The Russians are on their way as well, so the Death Merchant and a handful of companions travel heavily armed. They literally kill several hundred bandits along the way, then massacre the monks for not being cooperative, and then kill all the Russians as well. One monk survives and destroys the chamber but Camellion gets away with a book of secrets, which obviously will be forgotten by the next book. And no one comes to excavate the collapsed chamber. And India doesn’t protest the killing of a dozen or so innocent monks. 6/5/21

Doubled in Diamonds by Victor Canning, Pan, 1966

The second Rex Carver adventure starts with him searching for the recipient of a modest legacy. The beneficiary, however, is the mysterious figure behind a major diamond heist and there are definite reasons why he should not be found. Then twin sisters from China show up, who turn out to be spies and drug dealers, not to mention the usual array of thugs, suave crooks, and bossy British intelligence officers. 6/5/21

The Brotherhood of the Yellow Beetle by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1913) 

A British diplomat and intelligence agent flees Asia when he is targeted by the sinister organization in the title, but once he arrived back in Europe he discovers that he is not safe there either and he is assassinated. He was a friend of Sexton Blake, who is determined to track down and punish those responsible, but he faces a formidable enemy in the sprawling brotherhood. This organization was a recurring opponent for Blake and while mostly Chinese, it occasionally included western villains as well.  6/2/21

Armageddon USA! by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1976 

The villains are rightwingers again in this installment of the Death Merchant series. A religious nut has commissioned the construction of three nuclear weapons and threatens to detonate them in three cities if the US does not install him as dictator. The Death Merchant assaults multiple facilities with lots of gunfights, even killing a handful of innocent people as collateral damage, before discovering where the bombs are hidden. He manages to secure them with just hours left on the deadline. Very repetitious and there are a couple of boring, lengthy lectures about government waste and the iniquities of organized religion. 6/2/21

Spinsters in Jeopardy by Ngaio Marsh, Berkley, 1953  

Aka The Bride of Death. Detective Roderick Alleyn, his wife, and his young son are on a working vacation in France. He is looking into a drug operation but his cover is blown and his son is kidnapped in an attempt to distract him from the job at hand. There is a good deal of running around to no effect. Action sequences were not something Marsh did well and the rapidly evolving plot does not leave a lot of room for her usual character development. This was probably an attempt to vary from her usual pattern, but the experiment was not entirely a success. It was the first of her novels which I actually found it difficult to finish despite the technically suspenseful nature of the story. 6/1/21

The Tyler Mystery by Francis Durbridge, Arcturus, 2016 (originally published in 1957) 

This is a Paul Temple mystery. Two young women are murdered. They both worked for the same hair salon. Several people seem to be engaged in a conspiracy of silence. A key figure has gone missing. Temple runs around for a while, his wife unwisely takes a dangerous risk, but all turns out well as they finally solve the case. A group of people were part of a scheme to use a new drug that gives race horses a sudden burst of energy. The drug cannot be detected and technically it is not illegal to administer it, but they want to make their fortunes betting on apparent lost causes before the secret leaks out. And someone was willing to commit murder to prevent it from leaking. Fair, but the least interesting of this author’s work that I have read to date. 5/30/21

The Whip Hand by Victor Canning, Signet, 1965 

The first Rex Carver adventure. He’s a private detective who gets caught up in international intrigue that puts him in danger from the operatives of various countries, including his own.  Things get very involved and somewhat confusing because there are so many spy agencies involved, and on top of that Carver has his own agenda. The villains have a man posing as Hitler’s son and plan to create a new German political party, but none of the various spies want that to happen, particularly the German ones. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the very violent ending, which cleared away all the characters without really resolving all of the various conflicts. 5/27/21

Nightmare in Algeria by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1976  

The racism is particularly vicious in this one. Leaders of a black separatist group from the US have an uneasy alliance with Muslim terrorists in Algeria. They are planning to assassinate the presidents of the US and Egypt and have amassed a substantial strike force. That just provides more targets for the Death Merchant, who manages to almost singlehandedly wipe out both groups during his mission to North Africa. Rosenberger was not shy about expressing extreme positions on religion, race, politics, and anything else that he disagreed with. 5/27/21

Empire of Doom by Norvell Page, Altus, 2019 (originally published in 1934) 

The Spider learns that a criminal organization has a new kind of poison gas that could literally wipe out entire communities. He intends to use the threat as a way to manipulate a powerful businessman to become dictator of the US because only he is able to protect cities from attacks. The Spider’s identity is revealed to a lot of people this time, not all of whom die, and most of the others should have been able to figure it out pretty easily. The story isn’t bad until the closing chapters, where it appears that the author did not understand political terms. The dictator works under the President, but can countermand his orders? Summary execution without trial is okay?  5/26/21

Night at the Vulcan by Ngaio Marsh, Berkley, 1951   

Aka Opening Night. A rather angst ridden theater company is further agitated by the arrival of a young woman who seems a much better fit for one of the parts than the actress who is actually cast. Histrionics follow and in the second half of the novel, a murder designed to look like suicide. It is rather unusual in that Roderick Alleyn solves the crime within a few hours. It is also a mild cheat given that the motive is completely hidden until the great reveal. I rather enjoyed the buildup though. This could have been a fairly interesting mundane novel with a different second half. 5/24/21

The Case of the Purple Cotton by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2020 (originally published in 1939) 

Another revenge story. Yvonne Cartier is out to ruin the men who swindled her family out of its fortune. Her latest target has hired Sexton Blake to discover who is sabotaging his business, a cotton mill. Blake learns the details and has to balance the law and justice and he eventually finds a way to satisfy both. Cartier appears in several other adventures, mostly with a pretty similar plot, and they are also a reprise of the Roxane Harfield stories and are very repetitive. 5/24/21

Secret Agent X Volume 9, Altus, 2018  w2028 

This contains the final five novels in the pulp hero series. It also contains Python Men of Lost City, which involved Captain Hazzard, a kind of Doc Savage ripoff. It was written collaboratively by Paul Chadwick and G.T. Fleming-Roberts, which probably explains why it was included here. 

Claws of the Corpse Cult by G.T. Fleming-Roberts, 1938 

Secret Agent X battles dacoits who want to recover some mummified hands. Nefarious foreign agents want to use a submarine to sink a merchant ship and force the US to get involved in the Sino-Japanese War. Our hero has to take over the submarine, after eluding the dacoits and other villains, and turn the spies over to the authorities, all without revealing his secret identity. A bit busier than most in this series. 

The Corpse That Murdered by G.T. Fleming-Roberts, 1938 

There are rumors that an executed killer has somehow been restored to life and is now overseeing a consolidation of all the crime rings in the city. So Secret Agent X spends most of his time disguised as a private detective whom the bad guys want to eliminate. The usual captures and escapes, but I kept wondering why he had bothered with the impersonation, which doesn’t seem to help his investigation and just puts the lives of innocent people in jeopardy.

Curse of the Crimson Horde by Paul Chadwick, 1938 

A fabulous pearl known for some reason as the Red Maggot sets off a series of crimes and attacks. It is a symbol that could topple governments in the South Pacific, and is valuable enough to tempt more mundane criminals. The agent joins an expedition probing the pearl beds near an uncharted island where the gem is supposed to have originated. There’s a lot island and some international politics, but it’s basically just the same as the previous stories. 

Corpse Contraband by G.T. Fleming-Roberts, 1938 

Another secret society associates itself with the criminal underworld. This time it’s a cult from Mongolia led, more or less, by a woman who turns out not to be Mongolian at all. There are more captures and escapes, unbelievable disguises, and all the rest, but rather low key, as though the series was running out of steam. Which was the case as the next title ended the magazine’s run. 

Yoke of the Crimson Coterie by G.T. Fleming-Roberts, 1939 

This was the final Secret Agent X adventure. The magazine folded with this issue. The villains consist of the evil Doctor and his assistant, Madam Death, whose touch is instantly fatal. This turns out to be caused by a previously unknown radioactive element to which she is immune, though no one else is. They engage in a rather mundane plot of kidnapping and murder before the agent, suitably disguised, figures out their true identities and foils them both. 5/22/21

The World of Tim Frazer by Francis Durbridge, Arcturus, 2012 (originally published in 1962) 

Tim Frazer is adjusting to the loss of his business thanks to his partner’s shenanigans when he receives a mysterious message about a rendezvous. The partner never shows up and Frazer finds himself drawn into a world of foreign spies and domestic secrets. This might have been a rather dull and predictable adventure, but it is actually quite lively and contains a number of small but startling surprises. The intricacy of the plot is also enticing. I’ve been very happy with the handful of Durbridge novels that I have been able to turn up. 5/20/21

The Scorpio Letters by Victor Canning, Avon,  1964  w2396 

When the courier for a blackmail ring is killed in an accident, it sets off a chain of events in which the protagonist decides to end the threat to a friend, and coincidentally to several others. The bad guys are quite well organized and almost immediately recognize the danger they face, but a series of accidents and surprises throws the results into doubt. Our hero’s luck is a bit too good for this to be an entirely satisfactory adventure, but it’s better than average. The villains are also a bit too omniscient for me to find them entirely convincing. 5/20/21

The Limbo Line by Victor Canning, Berkley,  1963  

Aka Margin of Peril. The Russians are kidnapping defectors in the UK and smuggling them back home. A retired spy is enticed out of retirement to help uncover the group that are involved in the actual smuggling of the victims, but things get complicated when he is taken prisoner and then falls in love with the woman who was being used as bait. This is one of the author’s best book, with a plausible story line and some memorable villains. The protagonist, for a change with Canning, is an honorable man who respects the law. There is a very entertaining escape sequence. 5/18/21

The Zemlya Expedition by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1976

More SF in this Death Merchant adventure set in an undersea city built by the Russians. Camellion is sent to infiltrate the project and find out how far ahead of the US the Russians are, but he ends up destroying the installation and killing scores of Russians. He is a prisoner for quite a while this time, which is unusual but gives him the opportunity to pontificate on the evils of religion, Communism, and other things that the author didn’t like. Also, for a change, he has to be rescued, and by a woman no less.  5/16/21

Black Flamingo by Victor Canning, Berkley, 1962  

After having his pilot licenses suspended in a frame-up, the protagonist finds a man dying in the jungle and takes over his identity in order to get a job as a pilot. But the dead man had been transporting stolen diamonds and there are a number of parties who know that he is an imposter and who also want to know what happened to the gems. He decides to steal them himself, but is dissuaded after a series of mild adventures by the woman he loves. About average for the author. 5/15/21

A Wreath for Rivera by Ngaio Marsh, Jove, 1949   

Aka Swing Brother Swing.  An inane nightclub act which involves a fake shooting turns bloody when someone seemingly puts a dart in the weapon which is driven by the explosion of the blank and kills a rather despicable character in a front of an audience that includes Inspector Alleyn – the second time he has been an actual witness to a murder. I didn’t much care for this one. The movements of the major characters are so complex and so chaotically described that it is nearly impossible to follow them – and it turns out that they are completely irrelevant to the solution. One major piece of information – that the victim could not have been shot in the chest because he was playing the accordion and that part of his body was hidden – is not revealed until the end. 5/14/21

Invasion of the Clones by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1976 

The Death Merchant goes full SF in this installment. Another ex-Nazi and a brilliant but insane scientist have developed a way to clone humans and mature them within weeks. They plan to breed an army with which to conquer South Africa. The Death Merchant is sent to stop them but before he does, he has to defeat five clones of himself, each with all of his abilities. He does so with rather disappointing ease, kills almost everyone else in the story, and helps a rebel group overthrow the government and install a more rational leader. Less bloody action than usual. 5/14/21

The Mystery of the Banana Plantation by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1915) 

A man buys a banana plantation on an island in Costa Rica, but when he arrives, he finds another “owner” in residence and is told that his bills of sale and other papers were either forgeries or worthless. He flees the country when someone tries to kill him and tells his story to Sexton Blake. Blake disguises himself as the frustrated entrepreneur and returns to ferret out the truth and prove that this was all just a swindle. One of the two villains he confronts is his old enemy, Huxton Rymer. Above average for Teed.

Miss Seeton Draws the Line by Heron Carvic, Farrago, 2017 (originally published in 1969.)

The second Miss Seeton novel further establishes the fact that her sketches reflect some psychic power. There is a serial child killer in the area, and she has trouble completing a sketch of one of the local people. There is also a gang that has been terrorizing public events and a team of thieves who have been robbing post offices and committing burglaries. There is obviously going to be a link there, but there is also a quite separate line about an embezzler who thinks Miss Seeton is on to him. Light humor mixes with some pretty grim stuff in this one. Another child is murdered and a police officer is seriously injured. The characters introduced in the first novel mostly reappear. This is shaping up to be a very enjoyable series. 5/11/21

A Delivery of Furies by Victor Canning, Berkley, 1961 

Canning’s protagonists are often not very nice people and this is a good example. Marchant is willing to commit piracy and even kill someone if necessary in order to raise enough money to retire with his girlfriend and buy a small hotel. The cargo is six military airplanes which are desired by rebels on a fictional Caribbean island nation. But he is double-crossed and his money stolen, and he detects schisms within the revolutionaries that could have serious repercussions. It was difficult to care about the success or failure of such a miserable person. 5/10/21

Delay on Turtle by Victor Canning, Heineman, 1962.   

One novella and two novelettes. After a plane crash, the survivors are taken temporarily to a small island while the rescue boat is repaired, and murder follows. A man is hired to marry a young woman, after which he is almost murdered to get him out of the way. He survives and returns to free the woman, with whom he has fallen in love, from an uncle who wanted to steal her inheritance. The third and shortest of the three involves diamond smuggling in Africa. These were all quite good. 5/10/21

Died in the Wool by Ngaio Marsh, Berkley, 1948  

Psychology is a major factor in this pretty good murder mystery. A domineering woman disappears and is found weeks later in a bale of wool. Half a dozen people had opportunity and perhaps motive. One of the suspects has a perfect alibi that is clearly false, but this red herring never really works. Two of the characters are working on a military development – the story takes place during the war – and someone is stealing their plans. The butler is actually a government agent set to watch over them. Inspector Alleyn only shows up a year later, but is still able to figure things out in a matter of days. There are a couple of details I found unconvincing and I guessed the killer immediately – Marsh portrays him as vaguely unsavory, perhaps unconsciously.  5/9/21

The Lumber Looters by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1926) 

A straightforward and quite pleasant Sexton Blake mystery/adventure. Blake is in Canada when he meets a young woman who is trying to keep her late father’s lumber business going, despite the fact that expenses are exceeding income. The reader already knows that the man managing her business for her is crooked because we read the prologue. Blake, along with an enemy from the villain’s past, show up in time to prevent her from losing the business. 5/8/21

The Iron Swastika Plot by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1976 

The Death Merchants has to kill a lot more Nazis in this one. He and a secretive group called the Spider are in a race to recover looted valuables from a submarine that sank off the coast of Argentina in the waning days of the war. Naturally the bad guys know that he’s on the trail and there are multiple ambushes involving machine guns and multiple assailants, none of whom have a chance against our hero. There is even a hint that he may have some kind of occult awareness of imminent death that allows him to know when he is about to be shot at. 5/7/21

The Burning Eye by Victor Canning, Crest, 1960 

A freighter with serious troubles puts into a remote harbor in Somalia for repairs, but instead sinks, taking most of the crew with it. A handful of passengers and the ship’s doctor survive and are given shelter by the local Italian administrator – the area was a UN protectorate – but a local sultan who hates foreigners has other ideas. An American engineer has just discovered an oil field and the sultan figures that this will give him the means to declare independence, but he needs to eliminate the witnesses if he wants to keep it a secret long enough for it to be effective. Rather slow moving until the closing chapters. 5/6/21

Vengeance of the Golden Hawk by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1976   

The Death Merchant infiltrates an Arab terrorist group that has a missile loaded with nerve gas which they plan to use to wipe out Tel Aviv, and probably start World War III when the Israelis retaliate with nuclear weapons. Except that it is never explained against whom they would retaliate and why that would spark a world war. In any case, the story is mostly about gunfights, against prison guards in Jordan, security forces in Syria, internecine battles among the various terrorist groups, and eventually between the Death Merchant, who has picked up a couple of friends, and the VGH group itself. The missile is destroyed and the terrorists are mostly dead by the end of the book. 5/5/21

Colour Scheme by Ngaio Marsh, Berkley, 1943

This one takes place at a rundown health spa in New Zealand where one of the residents is suspected of signaling sailing information to the Germans. The murder does not take place until three quarters of the way through, and Roderick Alleyn only appears in the second half, and even then we aren’t told that one of the other guests is Alleyn in disguise – although it’s pretty obvious. The supposed spy is boiled alive in a mud pool and there are a variety of reasons why different people would want to kill him. There’s not much detection because it doesn’t start until the final forty pages. I found a couple of the characters too exaggerated to be believable. 5/3/21

The Dragon Tree by Victor Canning, Award, 1958 

The protagonist is an army officer assigned to oversee the involuntary exile of two rebel leaders on a tiny island in the Mediterranean. Unbeknownst to him a team of mercenaries is on the island, and they plan to liberate the prisoners and take the local British governor as a hostage. With a small number of less than quality troops, Major Richmond is not in a good position to block their plans even if he was to become aware of them. Like many of Canning’s heroes, Richmond is not a particularly likeable person. He is arrogant to the local people but polite to the prisoners. There are also a couple of marital infidelities to complicate matters. Canning includes a nice twist in the second half, but for the most part the story is rather predictable.  5/2/21

The Dartmouth Murders by Clifford Orr, Coachwhip, 2016 (originally published in 1929)

The Wailing Rock Murders by Clifford Orr, Coachwhip, 2016 (originally published in 1932) 

These were the only two mystery novels by this early practitioner, and while they show some promise, they are technically not very well done. The first involves the murder of a college student, rather ineptly designed to look like a suicide. The father of one of the other students is a talented amateur investigator, but there is a second murder almost immediately, which complicates matters. Eventually the truth comes out, but the process is awkwardly described and the dialogue often clunky and unrealistic. The killer’s identity is not well concealed. The second title is a bit more interesting, a variation of the Old Dark House subset of mystery fiction. Murders take place in two mansions in Maine which are nearly identical and in close proximity. The killer is obviously lurking about and the lives of the protagonists are in constant danger. A somewhat better plot, but still awkward in spots.  5/1/21

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

Sexton Blake is approached by a Canadian who wants help accessing the top of a rocky, offshore island where he believes a pirate treasure has been concealed. This involves a trek through the woods during which one of the hired men mysteriously disappears. The treasure hunter himself – who has begun to display less than admirable traits – disappears a short time later. Blake and Tinker find him tied to the top of the rock where he is threatened by a horde of carnivorous crabs. It turns out that he swindled a woman who has taken elaborate revenge. 4/30/21

Black Spaniard Creek by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1931)  

Having avenged herself on the men who swindled her family, Roxanne Harfield has given up her life of crime. But past deeds have repercussions when some of those men escape prison and come looking for her. Fortunately she has Sexton Blake to help her fend them off, although some of them remain free, presumably to return in another story. Below average. 4/29/21

The Mato Grosso Horror by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1975  

The Death Merchant is after more Nazis, this time in Brazil, and once again his cover is blown by a double agent in the CIA. This happens about every second book. They have to fight their way through hundreds of drug controlled warriors, a helicopter, deadly spiders, and German security guards to reach the hidden base. There they discover that the Nazis have created hideous mutants with superhuman powers, but they have enough firepower to wipe out the tribe, the Germans, and the mutants in various explicitly described ways. The series would adopt a variety of SF tropes in the years that followed. 4/28/21

The Forbidden Road by Victor Canning, Perma, 1957

Aka The Manasco Road. In Spain, the protagonist and his partner purchase the cargo from a foundered ship as salvage. Unfortunately, a powerful businessman owns the only access road to the beach, and he erects a fence and gate and refuses to allow them to use it because he thinks they took advantage of his protégé. Actually, the young man is just a screw up blaming others for his failures. He also pressures the local police and everyone who owns a boat to prevent the partners from removing the cargo by sea. When that doesn’t work, they frame him for smuggling, but he breaks out of jail, breaks down the gate, removes the cargo with a caravan of trucks, and confronts his enemy, who shoots him in the shoulder. This would have been better if the protagonist hadn’t been a pretty dislikable person, although his opponents are generally worse. 4/27/21

Blackmail! by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2020 (originally published in 1930)

Roxanne Harfield has ruined all but one of her enemies and when Sexton Blake confronts her, she reveals that she has lost interest in finding the last man. They both discover that they are mutually attracted, but for some reason Blake insists that romance would ruin his career as a detective. In any case, the last man on her list has found them instead and – even without Photoshop – he has managed to fake a compromising photograph which he plans to publish in his newspaper. So Blake kidnaps the villain and abandons him in some primitive location so that his businesses will collapse. He also destroys the false photographs. Questionable legality in this one. 4/26/21

Death and the Dancing Footman by Ngaio Marsh, Berkley, 1941  

A dilettante invites a group of people to a weekend party, carefully choosing people who hate each other. There are estranged relatives, business rivals, thwarted lovers, and a woman deformed by botched surgery and the surgeon who was responsible. After two apparently botched attempts to murder one of the guests, a third attempt successfully kills his brother – by means of a mechanical device. This is promptly followed by suicide. One of the other guests is the obvious chief suspect, which means that he is not guilty. There is, however, another red herring that is quite successful. The mechanics of the actual murder are a bit too complex and are not entirely clear from the text, but the motive is a quite subtle one. 4/23/21

City of the Flaming Shadows by Norvell Page, Berkley, 1961  (originally published in 1934) 

The fourth adventure of the Spider, a crime fighting pulp hero. This time the villains have come up with a plan to rob banks by first bribing someone to cut the power to the area. For some reason, our hero concludes that this is a threat to the entire nation and makes their apprehension his top priority. He and the villains somehow almost always know what the other is up to and the Spider even causes the death of bystanders this time. The villain mysteriously calls himself the Tarantula, but apparently only because it sounds scary. Weakest of the first four novels. 4/23/21

Death on the Campus by Addison Simmons, Coachwhip, 2018 (originally published in 1935) 

Although this starts reasonably well – a professor is found shot dead in his office – the inferior writing drags it down well before halfway. Some of the characters just do not act the way human beings would do in a given situation. A second murder complicates matters. The solution involves an entirely new set of characters and motives – a gang war in the city and a member of a crime family using a false identity – and the revelation comes out of thin air. The incredible climax involves a college professor with a machinegun killing fifteen prominent mobsters all by himself. 4/21/21

The Green Rose by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1925)  

This Sexton Blake adventure is more of a traditional mystery than usual. Blake and Tinker are visiting a friend in Australia when one of the co-owners of a neighboring ranch is reported to have drowned in a dangerous pool of water. There is no love lost between the two ranches, but they cooperate in trying to recover the body. Blake is able to reconstruct what initially appears to be an accident, but he has a more sinister interpretation. Well above average for the series. 4/21/21

The House of the Vanishing Goblets by The Edingtons, Coachwhip, 2018 (originally published in 1930) 

Here’s a vintage old dark house mystery that should not have been reprinted. The prose style is so jumpy and dialogue heavy – bad dialogue – that there is not the slightest element of suspense. The premise is that a war movie is being shot in a remote location and an abandoned mansion nearby attracts the attention of the director, who disappears after going to check the place out. More investigations and disappearances follow, but I yawned my way through them. At one point, one of the fake soldiers shoots out a window. You do not arm a thousand men with live rounds when producing a battle scene no matter how realistic you want it to look. 4/20/21

Manhattan Wipeout by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1975  

The Death Merchant has been given a free hand to wipe out the Cosa Nostra in the US, so the criminals take out a contract on his life. He is soon posing as a member of a rival gang and making raids, which is designed to provoke the two of them into open warfare. At the same time, he storms various apartments, offices, and businesses supposedly to find evidence, although in fact most of the time he is just nudging up the body count. I suspect this was a rewritten version of what was supposed to be the second novel in the series, back when the CIA was not his employer. 

The KGB Frame by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1975

A rather dull entry in the series. Soviet agents have framed the Death Merchant so that the CIA assumes he is a traitor and plans to assassinate him. The Russians also have a hit team out looking for him. Camellion abducts and intimidates a number of Russians in order to find out what is going on and eventually prove his innocence, killing rather fewer people than usual, but also with less of a story line. Not particularly plausible. Not that any of the books in the series are remotely plausible.  4/19/21

Wings of the Black Death by Norvell Page, Berkley, 1961 (originally published in 1933)  

Norvell Page took over the Spider pulp series for a while – under the house name Grant Stockbridge - beginning with this one in which a villain is using an enhanced version of the bubonic plague to extort money. An awful lot of people know the Spider’s true identity in this one, including his servant, his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s butler, two of the villains, and the police commissioner. The villain plans to release a flock of infected pigeons on the city, but the Spider stops him, muddles the question of his true identity, redeems himself to a few people who had doubted him, and finishes off a vicious killer.  A couple of minor blunders in this one, like the villain knowing things he could not possibly have discovered. 4/18/21

When Greek Meets Greek by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019  (originally published in 1913)

Villainous Huxton Rymer teams up with Madame Yvonne to steal a cache of gold from a fictional Latin American country, and to kidnap its president as well. Yvonne has a grudge against the president, who is a crook himself, and they plan to make him appear to be the mastermind behind the theft. But the authorities call upon Sexton Blake, who almost gets killed during the course of this exciting but routine adventure. As usual he recovers the loot but the villains elude capture so that they can reappear in a subsequent adventure. 4/18/21

Burden of Proof by Victor Canning, Berkley, 1955   

Also known as The Hidden Face. This is not a very good story.  The protagonist is wrongly convicted of murdering a blackmailer. With the help of a friend, he escapes from prison, determined to clear his name. Several attempts are made on his life by a pair of thugs who always seem to know where he is going to be. Rather unconvincingly, it never occurs to our hero that the only person who could have told him was his “friend,” who was privy to all of his plans. There are also too many coincidences that genuinely are coincidences. Canning was sleepwalking through this one.  4/16/21

The Mainline Plot by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1974 

The Death Merchant is at it again. This time the North Koreans are partnering with the Mafia to introduce a new and more powerful form of heroin into the US. He goes to France and smashes a couple of Mafia strongholds singlehanded in order to find out where the drugs are headed. Then he’s in the US to track it down to a Mafia fortress where North Korean spies are plotting its distribution. At least this time he doesn’t make the assault on his own. The usual carnage mixed with insults about organized religion and a couple of small incidents that are virtually duplicates of scenes from earlier books in the series. 4/16/21

Beyond the Reach of the Law by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019  (originally published in 1913) 

First in a mini-series set inside the Sexton Blake universe. Madame Yvonne is furious when her family is bilked of their money by a group of swindlers. She decides to hunt each of the men down and exact revenge. Sexton Blake is sometimes an ally, sometimes a restraining force, and Yvonne eventually becomes a vague romantic interest. Teed liked this gimmick so much that he later used it again to introduce Roxanne Harfield, who was even less willing to restrict herself to legal methods. Neither series represents the author at his best, in part because the individual stories are incomplete. 4/15/21

Death of a Peer by Ngaio Marsh, Pocket, 1941     

Also published as Surfeit of Lampreys. Although I didn’t care for the solution to this one – it involves two criminals acting in consort and the timing is so confusing that it is impossible to follow – it is actually a very pleasant book. The Lampreys are a fascinating family, good natured, financially incompetent, internally loyal, and often witty. When the disagreeable uncle is stabbed through the eye with a skewer in an elevator, it appears that the most likely culprit is his clearly insane, occult obsessed wife. But Inspector Alleyn is not convinced and eventually ferrets out the truth. 4/13/21

Mystery and More Mystery by Robert Arthur, Random House, 1966 

Although these were marketed for younger readers, they are perfectly fine mystery stories, some of which appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. There are hints of the supernatural, always rationalized. There is some humor and some clever trick endings. None of them are classics but they are all expertly written and there is quite a lot of variation in plots. 4/13/21

Sexton Blake vs the Master Crooks edited by Mark Hodder, Rebellion, 2020

The Case of the Man in Motley by Anthony Skene (1919)

Sexton Blake battles Zenith, the malevolent albino who was a frequent opponent in the series. The first half is a puzzling mystery. Why have there been repeated attempts to steal an obviously worthless glass goblet? The rest is a battle to reclaim the diamond that was hidden in its base, which takes them both to a personal battle in the sewers of London. The notes so that Moorcock's Elric was based in part on Zenith, but I don't see it.

Prince Pretence by Lewis Jackson (1921)

Sexton Blake gets involved when Leon Kestrel, master of disguise and head of an international crime ring reminiscent of Moriarty, decides to impersonate a politician who is unaware that he has just won a very large sum of  money in a lottery. The race is on to claim the prize, but Kestrel's minions throw one obstacle after another in Blake's path. This was one of the better Blakes I've read.

The Wonder Man's Challenge by Edwy Searles Brooks (1921)

A battle of wits unfolds between Blake and Waldo the Wonder Man, who was featured in several other adventures. Waldo has physical abilities equal to four men, can fly an aircraft, climb buildings, move along strung cables, and so forth. He is a perfect gentleman, however, avoiding violence and giving his opponents a sporting chance to stop him. This is the closest to a comic book style supervillain I've encountered in the Sexton Blake universe.  4/10/21

The Mystery of the Moving Mountain by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2019 (originally published in 1923)   

Two of Sexton Blake’s most able opponents team up to steal a shipment of gold in Costa Rica by substituting identical boxes containing lead. Huxton Rymer and George Marsden Plummer combine their talents for a fairly clever heist story, but naturally something goes wrong and Blake immediately suspects the truth. He recovers the gold, although the two villains escape to plot again. Above average. The racism in this one is particularly offensive. 4/8/21

An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas, Penguin, 2011

A French police official is attending a conference in London when he chances to be involved in the discovery of several abandoned pairs of shoes, all of them with severed feet inside. Little does he know when he returns to France that he is going to be deeply involved with that crime, which is not confined to the British Isles. One of the darker mystery novels I’ve read in recent years, a police procedural with a more than ordinarily complex structure. I have consistently had problems developing a solid feel for the recurring protagonist. I had the feeling throughout that I had read this before, but that does not seem possible. 4/8/21

The Laser War by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1974 

It seems that the Nazis built a death ray that can project a five hundred foot wide cone of disintegration. But they only built one, sent it to Rommel, and he never got around to using it. So Israeli intelligence finds out about this and the Death Merchant is off to Libya with a bunch of Tuaregs to reclaim the device and give it to the government. Of course, that means killing literally hundreds of Egyptian and Libyan soldiers and police officers, kidnapping the Egyptian ambassador to Germany, discovering who is the mole giving information to the enemy, and mastering the science involved in order to make the weapon work again. He succeeds of course, but as in all of these series, the fact that the US government now has this superweapon is never again mentioned. 4/8/21

Twist of the Knife by Victor Canning, Avon, 1955 

Also published as His Bones Are Coral and filmed as Shark! A drug smuggler decides to give up his life of crime after falling in love with a woman he meets on the Egyptian coast. She and her father are engaged in studying coral reefs nearby and they hire him to operate their launch. He eventually discovers that her “father” is actually unrelated, and that he has discovered a sunken warship with a load of gold bullion aboard. He wants the protagonist to help him salvage the bullion – which is illegal – and he agrees. But the man is also determined to put an end to the romance as well. Quite short and I didn’t like the protagonist at all. 4/6/21

The Case of the Dead Shepherd by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1934) 

There are two murders at a badly run school within a matter of minutes. The unpopular headmaster is bludgeoned to death. A teacher is poisoned, but probably by accident since he had swiped the headmaster’s tea. Two other teachers and the caretaker were all worried that they were going to be fired. The headmaster had scheduled simultaneous appointments with a member of the board of governors, a foreigner who wanted to tour the facility, and a constable from the local police. The poisoned man apparently knew something mysterious about the headmaster that is connected to a catalogue of chemical supplies, but he didn’t tell anyone what it was. The second victim actually murdered the first one, and was then killed on impulse by someone we were told had no opportunity – although obviously that wasn’t true. The detective solves both crimes by leaps of intuition rather than logic, and neither case could have resulted in a guilty verdict. Disappointing ending. 

Piracy! by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2020 (originally published in 1931)  

For some reason, my least favorite Sexton Blake novels have been the ones like this one where he battles bootleggers on the Canadian border. This was the most entertaining of them so far, but still well below the usual quality level. The bad guys are not above committing some associated crimes during the course of their normal business, and they are not tolerant of a nosy British detective/adventurer who wants to bring them to justice. There is an interesting index to Teed’s work in the Union Jack magazine included in this edition. Teed wrote around four hundred novels and lots of short stories as well, not all about Blake. 4/5/21

Final Curtain by Ngaio Marsh, Berkley, 1947 

Inspector Alleyn’s wife, Agatha Troy, is commissioned to paint a portrait of a retired actor of great renown. This means living with his largely dysfunctional family for several days. The actor is obsessed with a young gold digger, much to the dismay of his family, and has decided to marry here, while disapproving of the marriage of two of his younger relatives. There is some jockeying for position about the terms of his will, which he is about to rewrite. Several practical jokes have been blamed on his young granddaughter, but Troy doesn’t believe she was responsible. I guessed most of the solution, but since several people could have been responsible, I didn’t guess the killer’s identity. 4/3/21

Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh, Pocket, 1940  

A man is nicked by a dart in a pub and dies moments later. The autopsy indicates he was poisoned. Traces of the poison were found on the tip of the dart. But it was a new one, had just been unboxed, and it was impossible for anyone to have applied poison before it was thrown. There are several possible motives – an angry woman, a jealous lover, two men who will receive large legacies, and a one time embezzler who does not want his new identity to be blown. Inspector Alleyn figures it out, of course, and it is fairly clever although there is some withheld information that would have given much of the solution away if it had been revealed earlier. 4/2/21

The Wheel of Death by R.T.M. Scott, Berkley, 1969 (originally published in 1933) 

The second Spider novel is considerably better than most pulp adventure stories. Wentworth, secretly the Spider, is trying to track down a ring of criminal who are coercing politicians into steering public money into their pet companies. Or killing them if they balk. He also becomes involved with a man sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. This all takes him to a large party at the house of a businessman where a trick elevator provides access to hidden levels and where murder can be carried out with impunity. The Spider’s methods and arrogance are a bit troubling, but Scott could tell a good story. About half of the book takes place at the party, which is also unusual for pulp superhero stories. 4/1/21