Last Update 9/28/22

Best Detective Stories of Cyril Hare, Faber, 1989 (originally published in 1959)

The title of this one is rather a misnomer since many of the stories contain no detective at all. Sometimes the criminal gets away with it. Several do not involve murder at all. A couple of them are spoofs of the genre. Most of the stories depend on the sudden reversal at the end which is often connected to Alfred Hitchcockís television series. I only disliked one of the stories, and most of them were very good. Hare only published a few novels, alas, because of his busy legal career, and I think there remains only one of them I have yet to read. 9/28/22

Death of a Bookseller by Bernard J. Farmer, British Library, 2022 (originally published in 1956)

Although this is a pretty good mystery about a police officer who believes the man convicted of murdering a bookseller is innocent, it has a really awful section in which the policeman decides that it is quite possible that the dead man raised the devil and died due to supernatural causes. This is clearly nonsense just on the face of it, but also because the dead man was robbed of a valuable book after he was killed, and the convicted man was arrested because of some obviously planted clues. The closing chapters donít maintain the quality level and the solution is by chance rather than deduction. 9/28/22

Death on Gokumon Island by Seishi Yokomizo, Pushkin Vertigo, 2022 (Japanese edition 1971) 

The island is small, insular, and is located in an inland sea with a population of only about 1000. It was once a place where exiles were sent for non-capital crimes. World War 2 has just ended and a private detective visits the island at the request of a friend who recently died and who feared for the lives of his three sisters, Sure enough, the sisters are murdered on three consecutive nights, their deaths designed to mimic situations found in haikus. The motive is one that would have no parallel in western culture that I can think of, and some of the mysterious elements are mildly overly contrived, but otherwise this was excellent. 9/26/22

Cold, Cold Bones by Kathy Reichs, Scribner, 2022

Although this is suspenseful Ė at least the first half Ė and moderately clever, I have a bone to pick with the plot construction. It only proceeds because Temperance Brennan makes several really, really stupid decisions about going off on her own in response to midnight telephone calls, or running after suspected murderers in the woods without carrying a weapon. The villainís plans are also contrived over a period of three years, yet each of the elements emerges within the span of a couple of weeks, and mostly by fortuitous coincidence. On top of all of that, the identity of the criminal mastermind is painfully obvious and telegraphed repeatedly, and even when Brennan knows who it is, she allows the killer to enter her home, at night, while alone and unarmed, and predictably almost gets killed herself. Nor does the villainís motivation make any sense.  You might not notice some of this while reading because the pace is quite rapid, but some of the problems emerge immediately and the rest become apparent as soon as youíve reached the end and start thinking about what you just read. 9/25/22

The Case of the Climbing Rat by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1940) 

The second of two novels set in pre-war France. A notorious killer supposedly died in a fire, but Inspector Gallois confides to his friend, Ludovic Travers, that he believes the man is still alive. An anonymous caller claims the same. The investigation involves a circus where the trapeze artists use a trained rat, the murder of a distant relative of Traversí wife, another murder, some adulterous complications, and an automobile accident that turns out to be intentional Ė although this sequence is ludicrously impossible as well as unnecessary to the plot except to introduce the killer, which just adds one unbelievable coincidence to a string of them. Without doubt Bushís weakest novel at this point in his career. 9/21/22

The Yorkshire Moorland Mystery by J.S. Fletcher, Oreon, 2022 (originally published in 1930)

A not particularly complex murder mystery in which a wealthy book collector is murdered on the moors shortly after purchasing a rare edition. The dead manís nephew and his secretary track down faint clues although they are slow to recognize a few things that are pretty obvious to the reader. There is a second rare book, and both are missing, and an impoverished man suddenly pays off all of his debts and announces his intention to leave the country permanently. Scotland Yard finally takes a hand, and they turn up fresh information with implausible ease, eventually leading to the arrest of the killer Ė although technically we donít ever really know who struck the fatal blow.  9/21/22

It Might Lead Anywhere by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2022 (originally published in 1946) 

A pretty good Bobby Owen mystery involving religious fanaticism, a horde of hold hidden under a floor, two young men who claim not to know one another but who look very much alike, a retired lawyer with a guilty conscience, a plundered estate, a brutal murder and a bungled attempt at a second. There are three different villains in this one, so guessing the killer is not easy. One of them Ė a sickly sweet young woman Ė is the best villain to appear in any of the Punshon novels Iíve read to date, and Iím approaching the end of the series. Owen claims to know who the killer is very early, and of course heís right but cannot prove it. When he eventually reveals his reasoning, I call foul. What he knew could not possibly have led to that conclusion or excluded all of the other possibilities.  9/19/22

Jumping Jenny by Anthony Berkeley, British Library, 2022 (originally published in 1933)  

Another clever detective story from the Golden Age. In this one, we actually see the murder and know who the killer is (except not exactly, since there is a major reversal on the last page). The authorís recurring amateur detective is actually trying to fool the police into believing that the hanging of an obnoxious woman was a suicide, because he thinks she is better dead and wants to protect the people he, wrongly, believes killed her. Except heís not very good at suppressing evidence and actually makes things worse rather than better. Expertly constructed and sufficiently out of the ordinary to be memorable. 

Post After Post-Mortem by E.C.R. Lorac, British Library, 2022 (originally published in 1936)

This is the first book by this author that I have not enjoyed. It opens by describing the various members of a talented family. I suspect Lorac fell in love with her own characters and wanted to write more about them, so nothing happens for a very long time. Then one of them appears to have committed suicide Ė but of course itís a murder. The investigation is ponderous and the side issues among the family get far too much attention. The revelations at the end are not entirely convincing either. The motive is iffy and there are several coincidences.

The Case of the Flying Donkey by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018  (originally published in 1939)

Aka The Case of the Flying Ass.  This was the first of two novels set in France, just before war broke out. Travers is suspicious about a strangerís interest in a painting he purchased from a Parisian artist. This leads to a visit and the discovery of the manís body, along with painting stolen during the Spanish Civil War. But thatís a red herring. The real conflict is about the living artistís work, and his connections to two young painters, one of whom has been reported dead. The title refers to a stylized signature used on the paintings, and this is the focus of the eventual solution. A bit different Ė the French detective is way ahead of Travers Ė and well done. 9/15/22

Secrets Canít Be Kept by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1944)

The disappearance of an annoying young man goads Bobby Owen into persistent inquiries involving a successful artist whose work is amateurish, a reclusive invalid, a missing retired admiral, the theft of some jewels, the disappearance of a young woman two years earlier, a woman who orders tea every day but never drinks it, an uncooperative waitress, a wounded soldier who is similarly close mouthed, and a smug secretary who mocks his efforts. I guessed the killer almost immediately and this time the solution comes by chance rather than detection Not one of the authorís better novels. 9/13/22

Thereís a Reason for Everything by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1945) 

This one is a rather convoluted and not entirely clear case involving the possibility that an unknown painting by Vermeer has somehow gotten mixed up with a bunch of fakes from an estate. Various parties are looking for it, and none of them act entirely ethically. Two of the characters are secretly ex-convicts. One of the female characters has also been posing as her twin brother, for reasons that are never adequately explained. The actual right of ownership of the painting is never revealed. Owen is at risk of his life at least three times Ė locked in the basement of an abandoned building, menaced with a hand gun, and nearly killed when a heavy statue is thrown over a parapet. Punshon seemed to be in a dry spot because this was the second consecutive disappointing novel in the series. 9/13/22

Murder As a Fine Art by Carol Carnac, White Circle, 1953  

An official of the Ministry of Fine Arts has died, crushed when an oversized bust somehow fell off its plinth and crushed him after closing hours. The police are skeptical because there seems to be no way that such an enormous weight could have toppled by accident. There is also some question about the authenticity and value of some of the artwork which the ministry controls. The culprit is captured, but the plot has a lot of small cheats involved Ė information withheld from the reader but available to the police for the most part. We also see very little of the killer along the way so it is impossible to develop much of an opinion about him. Carnac also wrote as E.C.R. Lorac. 9/11/22

The Village of Eight Graves by Seishi Yokomizo, Pushkin Vertigo, 2021 (Japanese edition 1971)  

A young man discovers that he is the son of a mass murderer, believed to have gone mad, who disappeared while he was still an infant. He is now heir to a considerable family fortune, but the inhabitants of his home town are convinced that he is the instrument of a curse. And sure enough, three people are poisoned over the course of the next few days, each victim dying in the presence of the protagonist. The story features a labyrinth of limestone caves, a lost treasure, an understated private investigator, more murders, secret passages, a love affair, and a small but interesting variation in the solution Ė the killer is not the person who planned the murders. 9/10/22

The Pain Emperor by Norvell Page, 1935  

This adventure of the Spider anticipated one of the plot elements in the first Michael Keaton Batman movie. The villains have put poisons into cosmetics and food products and everyone is afraid to use them. The Spider also has to battle a new arch-enemy, the Avenger, and it appears that his real identity as Richard Wentworth is about to become public knowledge. But through some convolutions, it is believed that the Spider has been killed and Wentworth is still around, so the rumors die down at the end. But Wentworth has no intention of ending his crusade against crime.  9/10/22

The Red Shadow by Robert J. Hogan, Steeger, 2020

House of Walking Corpses by Robert J. Hogan, Steeger, 2020  

The first two adventures of the Secret 6, a team of vigilantes who bring the usual variety of pulp supervillains to justice because the police are incompetent, corrupt, or hampered by politicians. In the first, a gigantic figure of a man appears and entire houses full of people die. Itís obviously a projection and the strangulations are done by poison gas. Autopsies would have solved the mystery immediately so the plot is nonsense. The second involves a kind of zombification process involving voodoo adherents. It is ambiguously supernatural. The plot is slightly more sensible but Hoganís forte was action sequences and there is a lot of boring conversations in this one. These are borderline SF, I suppose. 9/7/22

The Conqueror Inn by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1943)   

There are some awkwardly constructed red herrings in this installment in the series. A mutilated body is found in a hidden grave and we donít find out for sure who it is until near the end, although it is pretty obvious. The case involves crooks who hijack truck, black market speculators, a shell shocked British soldier, a box of cash found lying in the road, a secret marriage, a jealous rival, the Irish Republican Army, spies, burglars who donít take anything, an ex-convict, multiple guns, a faked letter from a missing man, and a vendetta. It doesnít quite come together and some of the answers feel as though they were snatched out of thin air. 9/6/22

The Case of the Leaning Man by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1938)

A visiting dignitary is attacked and killed in his hotel room. Two sisters quarrel inexplicably and will not tell anyone what it is about. One aging actor is present when another, less successful one, collapses in the street. He subsequently dies, having been poisoned. Ludovic Travers investigates both mysteries, unaware until quite late in the novel that the two are very much connected. The killer eventually commits suicide and he suppresses the truth in order not to cause a family scandal. Slightly above average for this very reliable series of detective stories. 9/4/22

The Case of the Green Felt Hat by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1939)

A convicted swindler is released from jail and settles in a small village. Unfortunately several of the local people lost a lot of money invested in his schemes so it is no surprise when he is found murdered, his body dumped in a shed and set on fire. His hat is missing. Ludovic Travers is there on his honeymoon and quietly gets involved in the investigation. Everyone seems to have an alibi. The real motive is telegraphed Ė itís not about lost money Ė and the murder depends on such an extreme coincidence of timing that it passes beyond cleverness into absolutely ludicrous. Far from the authorís best. 9/4/22

The City Destroyer by Norvell Page, 1935 

The Spider is back. This time he is trying to track down the villains who stole the secret of a new steel process. Now they have tools that cut through steel safes, and they are also sabotaging buildings, causing them to collapse and kill thousands of people. As New York descends into chaos, the Spider captures a gang member, who insists he does not know who is running the organization, and who is promptly killed by another thug. Martial law is declared but the police are powerless and it is up to the Spider to track down the evil mastermind and put an end tohis reign of terror. The series had become very formulaic by this point though Page endeavored to make the stories interesting. The series is much better written than the more famous Shadow novels. 9/1/22

The Blatchington Tangle by G.D.H. & Margaret Cole, Spitfire, 2022 (originally published in 1926)  

A houseguest stumbles upon a dead body in the library. His host is walking around in the nude. A bunch of valuable rubies are stolen by a burglar, or are they? A businessman has a hidden compartment in his suitcase. A secretary is using a false identity. A young man gets lost in the woods. The dead manís car drives off after the murder, but is returned. There are rumors of blackmail. The rubies are sought by the Foreign Service because of their significance in Africa. A large investment company is on the brink of bankruptcy. All of these factors and more are presented to former Scotland Yard inspector Wilson, who was forced to retire for political reasons and now works as a private investigator. Good mystery although some of the characters blur into others for a while because they are so similar. 9/1/22

He Should Have Died Hereafter by Cyril Hare, Magna, 1958 

A man hiking through a wooded area finds a stray pony and a dead man. He finds help but there is no body when he returns. A few days later, a body is found in the same spot, and matches his description. He dismisses the idea of precognition and tells his story to a friend, a retired police inspector. There is a very nice reversal in this sedate story Ė the murder victim was not murdered at all Ė and another death deemed natural turns out to be a murder. The motivation is all about the timing of deaths as they affect the possession of a substantial estate, and part of the story depends on an obscure part of British law, not the first time Hare has used one of these peculiarities. 8/30/22

Deathís Crimson Juggernaut by Norvell Page, 1934 

The Red Death Rain by Norvell Page, 1934 

Two adventures of the Spider. The first pits him against a gang who crucify their victims and blow up buildings in an attempt to kill the Spider. As usual the Spider is blamed for the crimes. His friend, the police commissioner, is suspended for warning Wentworth that he has been named as the real identity of the Spider. Itís all part of an attempt to corner a lucrative real estate market. The second title involves adulterated products distributed in the country, which cause thousands of people to die in fits of insanity. The scale is obviously a lot bigger in this one, and the story is much better as well, despite the Spiderís improbable success in destroying the villains. 8/27/22

The Step on the Stair by Anna Katherine Green, Dodd Mead, 1923 

Green is a bit difficult to read because her prose doesnít age well, although her plots are generally pretty good. This isnít one of them. It is slow to start and confusing throughout. A rich man has two nephews, both of whom have the same name as he does, and one of them is the narrator. It is assumed that his daughter will marry the younger cousin, but he makes the narrator pledge to woo her and win her, which is important because he is seriously ill. This sets off a battle of influence that eventually involves violent crime, but events proceed so slowly that it is hard to stay interested long enough to reach the more active chapters. 8/27/22

Nightís Cloak buy E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1944)

I found the solution to this mystery muddled and nonsensical, and several people act out of character. A domineering businessman is stabbed to death. He is known to have illegitimate children and may have been secretly married at one time. There are in fact three secret marriages in the story. The suspects include the possibly insane business partner, a nephew who covets the money, a rebuffed woman who sought to marry him, an ambitious secretary, a woman he was pursuing against her wishes, and others. A rash of non-fatal poisonings confuses the issue further. The immediate motive is not apparent for the killer, or for the second attempted killer, and the solution comes when someone acts rashly rather than through the efforts of the detective. 8/23/22

The Case of the Tudor Queen by Christopher Bush, Dean St, 2018 (originally published in 1938)

An actress is found poisoned in her home. Her handyman died of the same cause elsewhere in the house, but several hours later. The husband she is divorcing hangs himself in his room in another town. All three look like suicides, but Ludovic Travers is suspicious, even though he can find no evidence to the contrary, and all of the likely suspects seem to have unbreakable alibis. Throw in a burglary, stolen paintings that reappear, a blackmailing nephew, a new play manuscript, a mystery woman, another and much richer actress, a surprise pregnancy, and a perfidious maid. Stir well and you have a pretty good mystery, although at one point Travers entertains a theory that is quite absurd. 8/23/22

An Engish Murder by Cyril Hare, Faber, 2017 (originally published in 1951)

The really awful fascist heir to a title is poisoned at a Christmas gathering. The shock kills his father and apparently makes another guest, a government official, next in line to the title. But there are other people with motives including a spurned wife, a betrayed lover, an angry father, and a foreign scholar who functions as the real detective in the case. A blizzard and then a flood cut the house off from the outside world and only a bodyguard represents the law. The real motive is much more complicated than any of this and involves a peculiarity of English law that gives another person a valid but very well concealed motive for wanting her dead. Hareís novels are always worthwhile puzzles. 8/22/22

Miss Seeton at the Helm by Hampton Charles, Berkley, 1990  

Miss Seeton takes a cruise with murder among the passengers. There is a disreputable art expert, his obviously conniving business partner, his ex-wife, a man locked in a lawsuit with him, his current mistress, a woman he legally defrauded in the past, a man he is blackmailing over unpaid debts, and naturally Miss Seeton and some of her friends. When he is bludgeoned to death while cruising through the Greek islands, it is obvious that a great many people wished him dead. This was the third and least interesting of the installments published under this byline. The humor is strained and the ending comes out of nowhere with a ridiculous solution. 8/19/22

That Yew Treeís Shade by Cyril Hare, Faber, 1954 

A supposed widow dedicated to doing good works is found murdered in the woods, after which it is revealed that she is very wealthy. Was it the landlord who had failed to have her evicted? The husband, still alive and recently released from prison? The neighbor, who is romantically involved with said husband? The local farmer who may have been courting her?  Ironically, the killer actually hurts his own cause by bringing about her death and his grievance would have been eliminated if he had just been patient for a little longer. Nicely plotted as is invariably true in a Hare mystery. 8/19/22

The Ha-Ha Case by J.J. Connington, Spitfire, 2020 (originally published in 1934)  

Aka The Brandon Case. Jim Brandon is worried that his younger brother John is being taken advantage of by a married couple and that upon turning twenty-one, he will squander an inheritance that will benefit them both. John is killed in what appears to be an accident while they are all off shooting rabbits one morning. The police notice some anomalies about the stories they tell, the position of the bodies, and so forth. This was a fairly good mystery although the solution depends upon knowing that there are various ways to modify the blast from a shotgun in order to reconfigure the dispersal of the shot. The identity of the killer took me by surprise, but only because I did not know that.  8/16/22

The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley, Pocket, 1957 (originally published in 1929) 

The authorís most famous novel is a very clever mystery story in which an informal club of six people decide to individually try to solve a poisoning case which has baffled the police. Each member comes up with a different explanation and a different killer, and naturally the first five are all wrong, although evidence that they uncover leads the sixth solution to be the correct one. This isnít the type of story where you try to guess the killer ahead of time, because the author is quite open about the fact that he is withholding information unfairly. The entertainment is in the construction of variant solutions and the revelations of the flaws in each situation. 8/16/22

The Forbidden House by Michael Herbert and Eugene Wyl, Locked Room International, 2021 (French edition 1932) 

This is one of the best titles this publisher has discovered. A rich retiree buys a mansion. Previous owners have been frightened away by threatening letters and one has been murdered. The current man refuses to be frightened and arranges a reception for the villain. Several people see him approach the house. No one sees him leave. The owner is shot to death in his library. Everyone else in the house has an apparent alibi. There is only one door, the windows are shuttered, but there are no strangers in the house. Several of the servants have motives but no one can be arrested until the puzzle is solved. Very nice solution, which I never guessed at all, although I did figure out who the killer must be.  8/12/22

Advantage Miss Seeton by Hampton Charles, Berkley, 1990  

An ex-convict wants revenge against the judge who sentenced him and plans to do so through a series of threats to the judgeís daughter, a rising tennis star. Miss Seeton and her quasi-clairvoyant skills are soon deeply involved and a series of comic encounters ensue, as she stumbles into a burglary, precipitates a battle at an opera, and then intercedes on behalf of the villain, whose intentions are somehow deemed justifiable in a rather morally compromised climax. Assault, kidnapping, and poisoning do not seem to me the kinds of crimes that can be shrugged off as emotional excesses. 8/12/22

Diabolic Candelabra by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1942) 

There are a lot of unpleasant and uncooperative characters in this complex story, which involves long missing paintings from a local abbey, a secret formula for chocolate sweets that is potentially valuable, a hermit who provides effective herbal cures to the patients of unhappy local doctors, a young girl who is more at home in the woods than in a house, two separate young men who have secret business with the hermit, and the missing owner of a candy store. All the threads are drawn together for an uncharacteristically melodramatic final confrontation in a quarry but this scene is so artlessly contrived that it feels bogus. 8/9/22

Penelopeís Web by Paul Halter, Locked Room International, 2021 (French edition 2012) 

Some slight new twists on old mystery novel tropes. A scientist is declared dead on the Amazon. His presumed widow is about to remarry when he returns. Or does he? His traveling companion was his exact double and the two men were together for two years before one of them died. There are contradictions in some paperwork as well. Then the man is murdered in a locked room. Not up to Halterís usual quality. I thought the killer was rather obvious, although her identity is disguised by a subterfuge that as not at all convincing. An unbroke spider web is one of the most important clues. 8/9/22

The Master Detective by Percy James Brebner, Clue, 1926 

This is presented as a novel, but each chapter is a separate short story, although characters sometimes make appearances in subsequent stories. Most are traditional puzzle stories in the Sherlock Holmes vein. None of them are outstanding. About half are quite good. The others are often spoiled by blatant cheating, or by deus ex machina solutions the detective either snatches out of the air or that result from a random event at the climax. In one the detective and his Watson equivalent are taken captive by the mad guy in their mansion, but one of the maids turns out to be feisty and inquisitive and rescues them with guns blazing. 8/9/22

Through the Walls by Noel Vindry, Locked Room International, 2021 (French version 1937)

Sparse prose makes this vintage French mystery novel move quickly. A desperate man tells the police that someone has been making clandestine night time visits to his house despite locks and shutters. Before the solution is reached, two people are murdered and two others are physically attacked. It all seems impossible, but the explanation is that there are three different assailants and three outright liars and very little is actually what it appears to be. Vindry was the French equivalent of John Dickson Carr and his explanations are just as complicated as are those of Carr. 8/7/22

December Park by Ronald Malfi, Open Road, 2014

This feels very much like a non-supernatural Stephen King novel. A group of young boys - outcasts of a sort - track down a serial killer known as the Piper who has been killing children. Their attempts are pretty much what you would expect, but they become tedious after a while. The book is far too long for its story - the subplot about the bullies is totally unnecessary and almost totally unconvincing. This is the first book by Malfi that I have not enjoyed. Events are so isolated from each other that it never generates any suspense. 8/5/22

Due to a Death by Mary Kelly, British Library, 2021 (originally published in 1962) 

I have seen more than one mention of this authorís superior prose, but I donít see it. I had to read the first two chapters twice Ė and I still didnít have any real idea what the story was about or what was going on Ė and the prose struck me as competent but unremarkable. The story is more suspense than mystery, particularly since I figured out who the bad guy was as soon as I figured out what the plot was about. This is the second book by Kelly that has failed to impress me. 8/4/22

The Dark Garden by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1941) 

Bobby Owen presides over a simmering pot of resentment. A lawyer has alienated one of his clients, made love to an employee, outraged morals, enraged a rival lover, and threatened to derail another manís career. Naturally he disappears and naturally his body turns up later, shot and thrown into a canal. His lover is determined, unwisely, to investigate on her own. There is also a missing pistol, an inhibited business partner, and a henpecked bully to contend with. Guessed the killer but it was fun. 8/4/22

Murder in the Basement by Anthony Berkeley, British Library, 2022 (originally published in 1932) 

A newly moved in tenant uncovers a body buried in the basement. The woman cannot be identified for quite some time but tedious work eventually traces her to a private school where she worked as a secretary. The obvious suspect is the man who is believed to have been having an affair with her even though he is courting the daughter of the owner of the school. His weapon was used to kill her, he lacks an adequate alibi, and he refuses to cooperate with the police. An amateur detective decides to find firm evidence against him and eventually discovers that he is completely innocent. This is one of those mysteries where the villain is allowed to get away with it because the victim was a blackmailer, which I always find problematic. It is nicely unraveled, however, and Iíll be reading more of Berkeley. 8/1/22

With a Mind to Kill by Anthony Horowitz, Harper, 2022 

James Bond is back in this story set right after The Man with The Golden Gun. The Russians still think he is brainwashed, so a fake assassination of M by Bond is staged so that he can be ďrescuedĒ by the Russians and learn about the plans of a new agency designed to replace SMERSH. They make an attempt to refresh his brainwashing, but Bond is prepared this time. Eventually he achieves his goals, although not exactly as he had intended. This was a quite pleasant read overall, although I found the first third rather heavy going because of the sadism and background building. It was not nearly as good as Horowitzís previous Bond adventure, but that was the second best Bond pastiche I ever read, so it had quite a challenge before it. 7/30/22

The Devilís Due by Bonnie Macbird, Collier, 2019 

Sherlock Holmes labors under some difficulties.  A muckraking reporter has decided to suggest that Holmes is a mentally disturbed criminal mastermind. The new head of Scotland Yard has decreed that no amateurs will be allowed to involve themselves in detection. Mycroft Holmes is unable or unwilling to intervene. And someone has been committing murders in a strange pattern marked with tarot cards. Holmes takes a lot of abuse this time. He is cut and bruised in a fight with thugs, his arm is broken by the villainous police official, and he is badly burned rescuing someone from a burning building. Although enjoyable, this third adventure by Macbird has some problems. The two chief villains are both so obvious that there is little actual mystery involved. Holmes seems surprisingly inept, and Mycroft oddly lacking in power. 7/28/22

The Case of the Hanging Rope by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1937) 

A famous aviator is murdered on her wedding night, although she was actually involved in an elaborate sham to embarrass her new husband. There are lots of clues Ė missing rabbits, newly planted flowers, a dog no one has seen, etc Ė along with solid alibis for all concerned. The motive for the murder is not convincing, but otherwise the mystery is well constructed. There is not enough evidence for an actual arrest, but Travers sufficiently frightens the killer that he commits suicide, convinced that he is doomed to hang anyway. The protagonist adopted a child in the previous book, but she is not mentioned at all in this one. 7/27/22

The Wintringham Mystery by Anthony Berkeley, Collins, 2021 (originally published in 1927)

A bored house party experiments with an occult spell and one of their number promptly disappears. There is a secret room, but she's not there either. Eventually a ransom note arrives, but no one can figure out how the abduction was accomplished. (The eventual explanation is not remotely convincing and depends on facts concealed from the reader, plus a lot of coincidence.) One of the guests is on the brink of financial ruin. Another is secretly an ex-convict who changed his name. There is a semi-forced engagement, a vamp, another secret passage, a jewel theft, and eventually the murder of the butler. Or was it murder? Nicely done overall, but with some very rough spots sprinkled throughout the narrative. 7/25/22

Sleeping Beauty by Ross Macdonald, Knopf, 1973 

The penultimate Archer novel begins with an oil spill. Archer gets caught up with the estranged daughter of an oil family who may be suicidal, may have been abducted, or may be faking her own kidnapping. An old boyfriend has turned up again and he has a largely justified grudge against the family. This is mixed with the relations among various men who served together in the WW2 navy, one of whom was badly injured and has for many years been virtually comatose. New murders arise in an obvious effort to prevent the truth about an old murder from being revealed. This was another novel in which the identity of the murderer is very well concealed. 7/22/22

The Blue Hammer by Ross Macdonald, Knopf, 1976 

This was the last of the Lew Archer mysteries. Archer is hired to find a painting by a long missing artist that has been stolen from an old admirer. Almost immediately, Archer finds the dealer who sold it, but unfortunately the man is dying and says little before his death. He was obviously murdered. The man from whom he bought the painting has also recently died, supposedly accidentally drowned.  The investigation takes a number of twists and turns. It was a pretty good end to Archer's career. 7/22/22

The Archer Files by Ross Macdonald, Vintage, 2007 

This is a collection of all of the Lew Archer short stories. Three of them originally had different names for the private eye protagonist, but they are all so clearly the same person that the change of names for this edition was predictable. The cases involve a mysterious drowning, a stolen painting, a missing woman, and other themes sometimes used in the novels. I had the feeling that Macdonald was not really at ease writing at shorter lengths. He liked convoluted plots with side issue. 7/22/22

The Underground Man by Ross Macdonald, Bantam, 1971

Most of the authorís usual tropes are present here Ė dysfunctional families, concealed identities, missing people who may have been abducted. Archer initially agrees to help a new neighbor find her son, who went off with her estranged husband. Neither can be found although there are rumors that the boy was seen with the husbandís new girlfriend. This leads to revelations about an old crime, buried bodies, a mentally challenged man who has been coerced into helping conceal a murder, and other complications. The identity of the killer is pretty well concealed until very late in the story, always a plus. One of his better books. 7/19/22

The Double Thirteen Mystery by Anthony Wynne, Spitfire, 2022 (originally published in 1926)

I disliked this vintage murder mystery right from the start. The hero is in love with a Russian refugee who is clearly involved in something sinister, though obviously she is being coerced. People come and go clandestinely in the darkness. Murder is committed. The protagonist is unaccountably resistant to the idea of aiding the authorities. No one presses the people who have pertinent information in order to clear things up. The melodrama is so thick it drips from the pages. The resolution is unsurprising and banal. Wynne has written some interesting novels, but this is not one of them. 7/19/22

Murder After Christmas by Roland Latimer, British Library, 2021 (originally published in 1944) 

A delightful and whimsical mystery. A dotty relative comes to stay for Christmas and turmoil ensues. His dead body is found in the snow the day after Christmas, but the chief beneficiary of his will died on Christmas day, so motives and timing confuse matters, as well as a well intended but invalid codicil. And when was the poison administered, and how? Someone is deliberately trying to cause chaos, but it is not the killer. What about the hidden food, revelations of bigamy, missing notes, the sinister snowman, the suspicious servant, and the nearsighted secretary? Apparently the author died young, and only wrote one other mystery novel. I am continually impressed by the high quality of these reprints of books that have been out of print for more than half a century. 7/16/22

Reign of the Silver Terror by Norvell Page, 1934

Builders of the Black Empire by Norvell Page, 1934 

Two Spider novels. The first is pretty standard. The Silver Assassins are a secretive group that is employing murder and intimidation in an effort to effectively seize control of Congress. The Spider foils their plans, while avoiding being captured as a vigilante. Routine thrills on the ground and in the air. The second is rather more interesting. Latter day pirates with aircraft and ships are marauding, particularly in the Caribbean. The Spider blows up their latest target, which deprives them of the loot and kills a substantial number of their men. He is taken prisoner and questioned but naturally he escapes. Eventually he returns to civilization and ultimately discovers and neutralizes the powerful men who are actually behind the gang of pirates. Somewhat above average. 7/16/22

Master of Lies by Philip Purser-Hallard, Titan, 2022

This is an excellent Sherlock Holmes pastiche which is going to be hard to review because of the way it is constructed. I don't want to give too much away. Holmes is to investigate the apparent suicide - it's murder - of a disgraced government official who might have revealed secrets to a foreign power. This leads him to a series of superb forgeries including a copy of a supposedly lost Shakespearean play. Readers might be troubled because Holmes is portrayed in a rather atypical way and some events seem oddly paradoxical. Read on! All of this is eventually explained very cleverly. Recommended. 7/14/22

The Goodbye Look by Ross Macdonald, Bantam, 1969 

An investigation into a mysterious burglary involves Archer with another set of dysfunctional families. A young manís behavior patterns have changed dramatically since he met an older woman, although they do not appear to be romantically involved. The murder of an amateur detective was accomplished with the same gun that killed a fugitive embezzler fifteen years earlier. There are various interconnections among the families involved, some of whom refuse to reveal secrets and others of whom do not consistently act rationally. Macdonald used the same plot devices repeatedly so I anticipated a lot of the surprises this time, including the child not fathered by his nominal father, people changing their names so that two characters are actually the same person, a decade old death that is related to the present difficulties, the mentally unstable young person, dysfunctional families, etc. 7/14/22

Sexton Blakeís Blunder by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2021 (originally published in 1922) 

A short but exciting entry in the series. A lot happens as Blake takes on a new client, makes a potentially disastrous mistake, and mysteriously disappears for a while, much to the consternation of his friends. There is a missing formula and other complications. Huxton Rymer makes his second appearance in the roll of villain, and he returned in a good many additional adventures. Teed had a tendency to repeat himself a lot so his stories are best read with gaps of time between them. Rymer is only one of several arch enemies he created for Blake, and like the others, he has some redeeming qualities.7/10/22

The Instant Enemy by Ross Macdonald, Bantam, 1968 

A very depressing Lew Archer mystery. Two teenagers steal a shotgun and kidnap a rich businessman. Archer manages to track them down but only captures the girl. There are convoluted family connections Ė so convoluted I had to draw a diagram to keep it all straight. There is an old unsolved murder connected to two new ones, and a rogue retired cop who is apparently determined to blackmail someone. This one has a real surprise in the final three pages as we learn that one of the main characters is actually long dead, replaced by his half-brother Ė whom we believed was long dead. Lots of miserable and sad people, and not a happy ending for anyone at all. 7/10/22

Prince of the Red Looters by Norvell Page, 1934 

The Spider gets an almost worthy foe in this installment in the series. The Fly is a master criminal, but a fledgling one. He also has a sense of honor so he does not eliminate his enemy when he has the chance. They contend for a while in some rather unexciting encounters. The Spider had been a superior series for a while but was already starting to drift toward the standard formulaic plots of the Shadow, Secret Agent X, and Operator 5. Despite some bright spots, this was not one of his better outings. 7/7/22

Black Money by Ross Macdonald, Bantam, 1966 

Archer is hired to investigate the background of a supposed political refugee who steals the fiancť of his client. The man is prone to violence and very careful about his privacy. He also has a large chunk of cash, which Archer is pretty sure was embezzled from some criminal operation. He also figures out that an earlier death believed to be suicide was actually murder, and it is linked to the two new murders that take place in the novel. I thought Macdonald cheated this time. The killer is a minor character who was having an affair with the female lead, something never even hinted at earlier, and his motivation seems inadequate. 7/6/22

The Case of the Missing Minutes by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1937) 

Ludovic Travers is asked to look into strange goings on at a house occupied by an odd old man and his granddaughter. There are screams and other unusual sounds, the servants are not allowed to talk to the child, and a famous pianist seems unduly interested. Then the old man is stabbed to death but everyone seems to have a solid alibi. There is some trickery with a clock, an old standby, and a subplot involving an assault on a doctor and a stolen rowboat. Naturally they are all interrelated. A bit disappointing because the elaborate construction of the alibi should have been completely unnecessary. The murder would not have been discovered for hours in the ordinary course of things, but Travers decided to visit at just the wrong time. There is, however, no reason why the killer would have anticipated such a stroke of bad luck. 7/4/22

Miss Seeton, by Appointment by Hampton Charles, Berkley, 1990 

The first new adventure following the death of the series creator, Heron Carvic. Charles also writes a detective series set in Japan which I have not yet sampled, as James Melville. A major photoshoot for a fashion event is going to take place in Miss Seetonís village, and the congregation of valuable jewelry attacks the attention of a gentleman thief. He in turn keeps running into Miss Seeton, which seals his fate. The comedy is not quite as sharp as it was with Carvic writing, but it is close enough that readers are unlikely to be particularly disappointed in the choice of an author to carry it on. Unfortunately, only two more appeared under this byline. 7/3/22 

Revenge from the Grave by David Stuart Davies, Titan, 2021  

Someone is masquerading as James Moriarty, whom Sherlock Holmes is quite sure has perished. He concludes that it is a mysterious woman who ran a large gang in France for some years and who has recently moved across the Channel. Itís a ploy to distract him so that she can bring off a major coup, but he disguises himself and joins her gang, posing as a small time criminal, in order to discover what the real target is. Although Iíve liked the authorís previous pastiches, this was seemed repetitive, slow moving, and overly familiar. It is more of an adventure story than a mystery, and Watson is actually a very minor characters. Disappointing. 7/2/22

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