Last Update 9/30/23 

Death on the Down Beat by Sebastian Farr, British Library, 2023 (originally published in 1941)

This was the only novel by a then prominent musician. It is epistolary in format, which is rare in the mystery genre, consisting mostly of letters from the investigating detective to his wife. The murder victim is the conductor of an orchestra who is shot during the middle of a performance. His stance and the angle of the bullet suggests that one member of the orchestra was responsible. The murder weapon is recovered but there are no fingerprints and no trail of ownership. The dead man was extremely unpopular and virtually everyone who might have shot him is a potential suspect. The puzzle isn't bad but the epistolary format - which I normally like - did not really work in this case. 9/30/23

Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie, 1938   

This is an okay but not great Poirot mystery set in the Mideast. The tyrannical female head of a family is murdered in such a fashion that it looks like a natural death. Her long suffering family all believe that one of their number was responsible, so they all lie to cover up the truth. In fact, none of them is guilty. It was an outsider who was afraid the old woman would reveal her shameful past, a motive that is not revealed until the closing pages.  Some of the other characters are lying or wildly inaccurate, so it is impossible for the reader to figure out the solution in advance. I also find it very difficult to believe two people could fall in love after a five minute conversation on a train. 9/25/23

The Ace of Knaves by Leslie Charteris, 1937 

Aka The Saint in Action. Three more novelettes. “The Spanish War” involves forged bearer bonds, shifty rebels working for the Spanish rebels, a traitor, a murder, and Templar’s clever way to escape when he is captured. “The Unlicensed Victuallers” pits Templar against a gang of smugglers. He disrupts their operation fatally after learning that they have committed murder to protect their operation. “The Beauty Specialist” involves Beatrice Avery, a film star who is being blackmailed by a mysterious criminal known as the Z-Man. Templar decides it is time that the crook be stopped, permanently. Familiar plots, but slightly above the author’s usual quality. 9/23/23

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie, 1937 

Poirot and Inspector Battle, the latter one of Christie’s lesser known recurring detectives, are both invited to a party which supposedly includes some successful murderers who never got caught. Their host is stabbed to death while they are playing bridge in the same room, but no one noticed at the time. The two of them, and two other amateurs, try to solve the crime but obviously it is Poirot who gets it right. But there turn out to be two separate killers, a false confession, and another attempt at murder that results in the death of one of the two villains. The ending is a bit too complex to be plausible but it is otherwise not bad. 9/23/23

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie, 1937     

One of Christie’s better mysteries takes place mostly in Egypt. A rich woman steals her best friend’s fiancé and goes on a honeymoon in Egypt. The jilted friend follows and harasses them as much as she can. The rich woman has other enemies as well, people her family ruined and the accountant who has been embezzling her fortune. There is also a random international terrorist in the group. Poirot foresees tragedy very early and sure enough, she is murdered in her bed, But her husband and her rival both have what appear to be absolutely unbreakable alibis. Then two other murders follow, each to cover up a part of the murder plan that went awry. Good solution, and some of the best characterizations Christie ever did. 9/20/23

The Saint Overboard by Leslie Charteris, 1937 

This is a very good novel in the Saint series. It reminded me of James Bond at his best. Templar is vacationing in France when he gets pulled into an investigation by an insurance company investigator. Someone has been looting sunken ships before they can be salvaged. I was a bit puzzled by this because I thought ships that went down in international waters were fair game. Anyway, he has a battle of wits and physical conflict with a villain who is pretty much a darker side of the Saint, and the outcome is theoretically in doubt. Some underwater sequences thayt are now dated, of course, but a more serious tone than usual and some clever hijinks on both sides. 9/19/23

Poirot Loses a Client by Agatha Christie, 1937 

Aka Dumb Witness. A much delayed letter reaches Poirot after his prospective client has already died. A new will left all of her money – a fortune – to a companion rather than the three living relatives. All of them had the opportunity to arrange an accident and later a poisoning. But who knew about the provisions of the new will? Why did a niece’s husband pay a secret visit shortly before the death. What about the doctor who is engaged to another niece? What about the claim by spiritualists that the woman displayed a halo shortly before her death? Hint – the poison was phosphorus. Poirot figures most of this out before anyone else realizes that a crime has been committed. About average. 9/15/23

Holly by Stephen King, Scribner, 2023

The new Holly Gibney novel is not supernatural and only minimally horrific. Gibney is hired to look into the disappearance of a young woman who may have just decided to run off and start a new life, It isn't long before she finds similar cases in the same area stretching over a period of several years.This is not a spoiler since it is revealed in the opening chapter, but they have all been abducted by a married couple, elderly college professors, who have deluded themselves that cannibalism will restore their health. The case unravels in logical fashion, although there are several coincidences. I could guess how the final chapters would play out long before I reached them. Good, but not great. 9/12/23

The Case of the Platinum Blonde by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018  (originally published in 1944) 

Ludovic Travers has been invalided out of the Army and is recuperating in a small village. A man about whom he is curious is promptly murdered and Travers finds the body. There is a one time embezzler in town, and a man who appears to be some kind of religious fanatic, but the physical clues point to the wife of the chief constable.  That seems to be confirmed when she is shot to death, apparently a suicide. But Travers suspects otherwise and eventually discovers that there are two different murderers. He suppresses his knowledge about one of them because he believes the murder was justified. Bush seemed to think blackmailers were worse than murderers. 9/11/23

The Saint in New York by Leslie Charteris, 1935 

The Saint has been hired by a millionaire to kill six New York gangsters in revenge for the death of his son. The six ultimately report to a mysterious leader known as the Big Fellow. Templar eliminates the targets rather ruthlessly, though all of them “deserve it.” He is assisted at times by a woman who works for the mob but who is trying to unmask their leader, and a moderately honest police detective who bends the rules because he secretly envies the vigilante. It does not come as a surprise when we learn that the Big Fellow is actually the man who hired the Saint. This was his method of eliminating several men whom he considered potential rivals in the mob. 9/11/23

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie, 1936 

This one takes place in Iraq at an archaeological dig. The expedition leader’s wife is having nervous attacks so a nurse – the narrator – is hired to help her. The incidents she is imagining are real, however, and eventually she is murdered. The murder itself is rather ingenious and although I suspected the killer early on, it seemed impossible that he could have been responsible. Kudos for the gimmick. The characters are better differentiated than usual and the narrator even has a distinctive voice. Poirot happens to be in the area and he solves the crime in his own idiosyncratic style. I’d list this among her better novels. 9/8/23

The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie, 1936 

This is one of Christie’s best novels. Poirot is pitted against what appears to be a homicidal maniac who sends letters in advance of each murder, whose victims names will progress through the alphabet. There is little indication of any motive for the first two murders, but the third involves a wealthy man, which raises the suspicion that the killer is completely sane, but pretending otherwise. The police are fooled and arrest a disturbed epileptic after the fourth death, and it appears that there is damning evidence against him. But Poirot is skeptical and eventually discovers that three of the murders were just camouflage. Very well done. 9/5/23

The Saint Goes On by Leslie Charteris, 1934 

Three more novellas. One involves the strange actions of a wayward husband that involves the Saint with a plot to murder a rich aristocrat. One has him investigating a series of odd events that take place at a remote inn, and which seem to have terrified the innkeeper, The third is the search for a mysterious man who receives stolen goods. This is the weakest in the collection because it is obvious from the outset that he is the new, obnoxious police officer who has been assigned to work with Inspector Teal. A good but not great collection of formulaic stories. 9/5/23

Death in the Air by Agatha Christie, 1935 

Aka Death in the Clouds. Poirot is on an airplane when one of the passengers is found dead, killed by a poisoned dart. A blowgun turns up later, but Poirot – and most readers – will have guessed that it is a ruse and was not used to fire the dart. The dead woman was a moneylender who sometimes resorted to blackmail, and it is obvious that at least one of the other passengers was in her power.  A familiar series of investigations follows before Poirot uncovers the truth. Rewarding, but the method of the murder is so outrageously risky that I cannot imagine anyone actually attempting to carry it off when there are so many much easier ways. 9/3/23

The Saint Intervenes by Leslie Charteris, 1934 

A collection of fourteen short adventures of the Saint, aka Boodle. Several of them are the Saint’s tricking of confidence men, stock manipulators, and shady real estate developers. One ends with the Saint failing – which is quite unusual,. Another is a fairly standard murder mystery. The weakest is one about a tricky theft that makes use of a trick table, and involves the Saint impersonating someone, which is only revealed at the end. Teal is only intermittently and peripherally involved, as are Templar’s girlfriend and a couple of his recurring allies. Mostly good stories. 9/3/23

The Saint in London by Leslie Charteris, 1934 

Three novellas, which introduce a new companion for the Saint, Hoppy Uniatz, a not very bright gangster transplanted from America. In the first, Templar blackmails five traitorous British officials who were war profiteers, and outwits them as well as the police. In the second, Templar helps a young woman whose brother is being pulled into a forgery scheme. He ends up finding a prisoner in a basement, a murderous panther, a deranged millionaire, and a villainous butler before the story ends. The final installment begins when someone commits a murder and tries to frame Templar, who fortunately was dining with his nemesis, Inspector Teal, at the time. The two men investigate together. This was a pretty good collection, although I was not fond of Uniatz, who apparently was quite popular with contemporary readers, and there are a few too many convenient coincidences. 9/1/23

Murder in Three Acts by Agatha Christie, 1935 

Aka Three Act Tragedy. An utterly dull pastor is poisoned at a dinner party. Some weeks later, another attendee dies under similar circumstances and his newly hired butler mysteriously disappears. Poirot was present at the first death and returns to correct his mistake by solving the crime, although another murder is committed before he is able to determine the truth. I am always suspicious when someone is able to fool his friends with a disguise under intimate circumstances, so the solution was not completely satisfactory. There is also some vagueness about the timing of events that led me to believe that the real killer could not have been present for the second death. Below average. 8/27/23

The Brighter Buccaneer by Leslie Charteris, 1933 

This is a collection of rather short Saint adventures and most of them follow the same pattern. Templar becomes aware of a conman, nor an unscrupulous one who carefully stays on the right side of the law, and then fools them at their own game. The best of them is “The Perfect Crime” which has multiple reversals and a clever plot. The least interesting is “The New Swindle,” in which he steals a necklace from two men planning an insurance fraud. Several of the earlier recurring characters have cameo appearances and a new one is introduced, who has a minor role in several of the cases. 8/25/23

The Boomerang Clue by Agatha Christe, 1934

Aka Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?  A young man finds a dying man who apparently fell over a cliff, but there is something odd about the way he is subsequently identified, and a photograph that was in his pocket is replaced with another. An amateur investigation follows which leads to a wealthy but troubled family, another murder, evidence that an earlier death was not the suicide that it was judged to be, and other mysteries. There is a suspicious medical clinic, which turns out to be largely a red herring. The real mastermind is quite a surprise, and not entirely convincingly. Her partner in crime, who actually committed the murders, ultimately escapes to South America. First half is excellent but it gets a bit disjointed after that.  8/24/23

A Gentle Murderer by Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Poisoned Pen, 2023 (originally published in 1951) 

This is not none of my preferred types of crime novel. A young man confesses to killing a prostitute to a priest, who is prohibited from violating the confessional and does not know the man’s name. The reader does, however. He is a clearly mentally disturbed man who reacted in a moment of pointless rage. The story moves back and forth from the police investigation, to the killer’s deteriorating mental state, and to the priest’s attempts to track down the killer and convince him to turn himself in to the authorities. The two investigations eventually merge and diverge - because they have different purposes - and the killer's mental health steadily deteriorates. Very well written but not my cup of tea. 8/22/23

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, 1934  

Aka Murder on the Calais Coach. Christie’s most famous novel has Hercule Poirot on a snowbound train where one of the passengers has been savagely murdered. Spoiler here, although there are probably few who don’t know that the solution is that all of the other passengers participated in the murder of a man who killed a child and escaped the consequences. Poirot has to reluctantly abandon the law in favor of illegal justice. Although this is a great puzzle, the novel's confinement to a single locale hampers the plot, which is slow moving and repetitive. 8/19/20

Once More the Saint by Leslie Charteris, 1933 

Three novelettes. The first is science fiction. The Saint shuts down a criminal and a scientist who have found a way to transmute base metals into gold. They would have caused worldwide financial chaos. In another, Templar intervenes in a feud between to criminals, saves a young woman from being debauched, covers up a justified murder and frames the rival for the crime. The third involves an American gangster who sets about organizing a gang of criminals for a campaign of murder and theft. The soft hearted Saint allow him to escape and leave the country because he is newly married and very nice to his wife.

The Saint’s Getaway by Leslie Charteris, 1932

This one is a lively novel in which by chance the Saint and two friends stumble into the theft of a collection of crown jewels while they are visiting Austria for perfectly legitimate reasons. His old enemy Prince Rudolf returns, determined to use the gems to manipulate world politics. He has his usual gang of thugs to help him. There is a rival gang in the opening chapters, but they don’t last very long. The Saint steals the jewesl from the smaller gang, loses them to Rudolf, gets them back after a while, loses them again, this time to one of Rudolf’s minions, and has to chase the bad guys into Germany for the final victory.   8/17/23

Thirteen at Dinner by Agatha Christie, 1944

Aka Lord Edgware Dies. Poirot is asked to help a woman divorce her husband. Out of curiosity, he pursues the issue, but the husband is stabbed to death a short time later. He had agreed to a divorce, which seems to clear the widow, who also has an excellent alibi. The solution involves another character who did impersonations, although there is a clever switch that is likely to fool the reader’s expectations. A cash strapped nephew and heir makes a good suspect and he is even arrested midway through. There are some nice red herrings and complications, but I guessed the killer fairly early, although the motive is well concealed until the end – a minor cheat. 8/15/23

Murder at Hazelmoor by Agatha Christie, 1931

Aka The Sittaford Mystery.  This one has none of Christie’s recurring detectives. A woman and her daughter rent a house on the moor for the winter, which is peculiar in itself. Then the owner of the house is murdered and his death is announced instantly at a séance several miles away in a village isolated by a snow storm. The obvious suspect is the cash strapped nephew who had come to borrow money that very day, but his fiancé is convinced that he is innocent and enlists the help of a newspaper reporter to find the truth. She would have made a formidable amateur detective in more mysteries but Christie never brought her back. 8/12/23

Murder on the Marsh by John Ferguson, Oreon, 2022 (originally published in 1930)

Although not a classic, this is mostly a pretty good golden age mystery. The murder victim had been showing signs of anxiety for some time, and spent considerable effort examining his shoes every day. A clever police constable believes that he has figured out what happened, but he too dies mysteriously, in the same spot outdoors, leaving clues behind. Poison of some sort seems likely, but death is practically instantaneous. An amateur detective who writes for the newspapers and his Doctor Watson equivalent friend arrive and solve the mystery in due course. A few slow spots but the puzzle was intriguing. 8/11/23

The Holy Terror by Leslie Charteris, 1932

This is another collection of three Saint novelettes. In the first, the Saint takes on a clever blackmailer who has a gang to support him. In the second, another gang plots to steal a shipment of new currency bound for Italy, and the Saint becomes involved purely by chance when he runs into one of their victims. The last involves some stolen diamonds, a killer, and Templar’s determination to steal the first from the second. It is one of the more humorous of the Saint stories, sometimes to the detriment of the plot. 8/9/23

The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings by L.T. Meade & Robert Eustace, 1899 

Secret societies that plan to take over the world are not among my favorite plots. This early novel is about one such group that originated in the Mideast but is now resident in London and planning to secretly seize power. They are thwarted by amateurs, innocent bystanders, happenstance, and a little bit of direct action. The prose is slightly wooden but not insuperably, but the plot advances so slowly and wanders off into so many sidetracks that I was never really interested in the outcome and certainly did not care about the fate of any of its characters. Supposedly a classic, but I was unimpressed. 8/3/23

The Case of the Running Mouse by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1944)

Ludovic Travers is on leave from the Army and decides to accept a missing person case, a wealthy woman who set out on a business trip but never arrived. A friend and business partner wants to know what happened to her, but before the investigation the investigation gets too far, he is poisoned and dies. Rather implausibly under the circumstances it is judged to be suicide, but obviously is murder. Travers is hired anonymously to pursue the matter and eventually discovers that she was pregnant and was going to have a dangerous and illegal abortion, which she did not survive. Her decapitated head is found in a park with evidence pointing to the dead man, but this is an obvious attempt to divert suspicion. The end is slightly incoherent - Travers makes logical leaps that are not justified by the facts. One of the lesser novels in the series. 7/30/23

Angels of Doom by Leslie Charteris, 1931  

Aka The Saint Meets His Match and She Was a Lady. The Saint is investigating a gang led by a woman which interferes with police arrests. She is the daughter of a man unjustly forced to resign from Scotland Yard, which led to his death. Three men are responsible and she has vowed to thwart the police until she tracks them down. The Saint is working for the Yard initially, but decides to go on the run with the woman and help her, ultimately resulting in two deaths and one arrest. This was the longest Saint adventure yet and includes a lengthy battle sequence in a cave that is being flooded by the rising tide. His relationship with the female protagonist is a bit oblique, as we know he is supposedly loyal to his recurring girlfriend.  87/29/23

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie, 1932

I never suspected the killer in this Poirot novel, which means it was quite good. A young woman survives a series of accidents that Poirot interprets as murder attempts. He is in fact quite fooled for most of this novel – which is rare. He is usually puzzled but not led astray. The woman has no fortune to leave to anyone – although she might be about to inherit one. Her friends have sharply different descriptions of events, and two of them are trying to marry her. There is a missing will, and complications in the form of a couple of swindlers and a drug enraged madman, neither of whom have any relation to the murder plot but whose activities make the solution more complicated. 7/29/23

Randolph Mason, the Devil’s Advocate by Melville Davisson Post, 1897

This is a collection of stories about an unusual protagonist. Mason is a brilliant lawyer whose specialty is advising criminals with how to get away with their crimes. In the best known from this volume, “Corpus Delecti,” a man murders a blackmailer and dissolves her body in acid. Since there is no body and no direct evidence that she is dead, he is able to escape a murder conviction despite overwhelming evidence. The other stories follow the same pattern. Sometimes there are legal tricks, sometimes simple manipulation of evidence, sometimes other methods entirely. The stories are not particularly good and Post’s prose style is somewhat awkward and meanders a good deal.  7/27/23

Alias the Saint/Featuring the Saint/Wanted for Murder by Leslie Charteris, 1931

These three collections juggle a handful of novelettes around in confusing fashion. The first two were collected under the third title, which was also released – sometimes with fewer stories – as Featuring the Saint, and another collection titled Alias the Saint has different contents. So this covers three of the six stories involved. The Saint foils a plan to use poison gas to seize an ocean liner, solves a locked room murder – rather easily because he was the murderer, and foils the plans of a celebrated hero who is actually a swindler and a killer. Pretty good stories. 7/27/23

The Case of the Magic Mirror by Christopher Bush, Dean Street, 2018 (originally published in 1943)

Ludovic Travers is on medical leave and reminisces about a case from a few years earlier that involves his former lover, about whom he never told his new wife. She blackmails him into trying to find evidence that her godfather was involved in a fraud scheme and she is a pretty nasty person. Before long there are two apparent dead men and two missing - one of whom is also eventually found dead. It is all a scheme by her and her husband to inherit a fortune and run off to another part of the worlf in order to spend it. Travers hires a private investigator to help uncover the truth. About average. 7/23/23

Spanish Gold! by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2022  (originally published in 1931) 

Sexton Blake battles two old enemies, George Marsden Plummer and the Gang Girl from America, in this fairly exciting story. He has gone to Morocco to claim a small fortune in gold that was previously stolen from Spanish merchants. The job seems rather routine at first nand he almost turns it down, but things grow rapidly more interesting and exciting as he discovers that other parties have decided to steal the loot pre-emptivelt. Ultimately he wins, naturally. This was one of the better of Teed’s novellas. 7/22/23

The Case of the Captive Emperor by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2022 (originally published in 1928) 

For a brief period, Sexton Blake was the patron of June Severance, a plucky young woman who, in this novella, opens an antique shop. One piece of merchandise is a Chinese bowl, which proves to be the catalyst for a series of adventures involving sinister plots, abductions, attempted murder, and the usual. Blake has to step in to protect his protégé and solve the mystery. A bit more of a detective story than is usually the case with Teed, but still primarily interested in the adventure.  7/21/23

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie, 1930

This was the first novel to feature Jane Marple, who is offstage for most of the book and who may not have been intended to be a recurring character. An unpopular man with many enemies is shot to death in the vicar’s study after he is lured away by a bogus message. The prime suspects are the dead man’s wife and her lover. Each confesses, ostensibly to protect the other, but there is a good deal more going on than meets the eye. Marple lives next door to the vicarage and has trained herself to be an observant follower of human nature, and she solves the crime more through her analysis of the motives involved than in physical clues. An altered clock, a couple of red herrings, and a suspicious curate who turns out to be a thief add to the mixture. About average. 7/21/24

The Tunnel Mystery by J.C. Lenehan, Oreon, 2023 (originally published in 1929)

Shortly after purchasing a valuable necklace, a man is shot to death as a train is passing through a tunnel. There is no weapon in the railroad car, the necklace is gone, and it appears that a third party impersonated the seller and later the buyer. There is obviously a criminal gang involved, but how did the murder take place? And why?  The puzzle is quite intriguing and the solution reasonably convincing, but some of the prose is painfully awkward and there are several occasions where the police miss something that is quite obvious, and then remarks about how brilliant another character is for pointing it out. The author wrote several mysteries over a span of nearly twenty years but this seems to be the only one back in print. 7/18/23

Featuring the Saint by Leslie Charteris, 1931

Three novelettes starring Simon Templar, the Saint.  In the first, he tricks a drug dealer into revealing his illicit trade and engineers his downfall. In the second, a swindler seizes control of a mine in a mythical Latin American country. Templar answers a friend’s call to help recover the rights for the genuine owner, which he does by pretending to start a war and successfully carrying out a revolution with only two other men. The final was best of the three pits him against a wonderfully lucky man who helps his luck along with the occasional murder or doublecross. He and Inspector Teal are actually allies this time. 7/18/23

Righteous Prey by John Sandford, Putnam, 2022

Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers team up when five bored billionaires and a seriously disturbed organizer decides to systematically murder people they feel deserve to die. They are drawn in when the third killing takes place in their jurisdiction and are soon tracking down the killer, who is extraordinarily inept and leaves clues that result in the necessity to kill two potential witnesses. The organizer realizes that he is almost certain to be caught, so she kills her ally to forestall any plea deal.  But he left a letter with his lawyer that implicates her, and things go completely off the rails after that. Two of the six conspirators remain at large at the end and may show up in the next book in the series. Pretty good, but Davenport continues to be an asshole vigilante who breaks laws in the name of the law. 7/16/23

The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie, 1929 

Another misguided attempt to write international intrigue, although not as bad as some of her other work along those lines. A murder designed to look like suicide, followed by a fatal shooting leads a young woman to pursue her own investigation of an international criminal society that is planning to steal a scientific breakthrough. The story is laughable at times – the bad guys all wear masks showing clock faces, clocks play a part in the first death, and so on. Murderous criminals are not inclined to play silly games that draw attention to themselves.  One of the characters is moderately interesting, but the revelation of the identity of the chief villain is precipitous and unconvincing. 7/14/23

She Who Was No More by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, Pushkin Vertigo, 2015

The original French version was published in 1952 and was the basis for the film, Diabolique. A diffident salesman and his domineering mistress murder his wife by drowning her in a bathtub. Their motives are unclear, even to each other. They are not really in love. He has never been to her apartment and he frequently resents the way she acts. They place the body in a pond where they expect it to be found the following morning, but the body is gone and no alarm has been raised. Has it been stolen or is she somehow still alive?  The male conspirator begins to believe that he is being haunted by his wife’s ghost, but the twist ending reveals something far more sinister. Very good novel. I saw the original French movie version with subtitles many many years ago but have not seen the remake. 7/14/23

Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka, Overlook, 2021

This 2010 Japanese novel is the basis for the movie and is enormous fun to read. At over 400 pages, it should seem ponderous but it actually zips by because so much is happening. A lot of the details are different in the film version and the ending is completely changed. For those unfamiliar with either, it involves a group of professional assassins all converging on one commuter train on a long cross country journey. There is a suitcase full of money, a stolen snake, a teenager who is vividly evil, a team of two very deadly but also very amusing assassins, and a hapless thief who ends up killing several people, mostly by accident. I have already bought a second title by Isaka and plan to read it soon. 7/11/23

The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black, Holt, 2014

I really wanted to like this revival of Philip Marlowe, but after fifty pages I was already disillusioned. The prose lacked the grittiness and dark wit of Chandler, and it never really felt as though the story was set in the time and place that it claimed. The puzzle is predictable - the search for a missing person blooms into a much more complicated web of mysteries. But there were no real surprises and none of the characters, including Marlowe, was particularly vivid. At times it felt like parody rather than pastiche. Filmed as Marlowe, though I haven't seen it. 7/10/23

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie, 1928

This was one of Christie’s better novels. Several characters all travel across France on the same train – some not aware of the presence of the others. An unhappy wife is strangled and there are several people with reason to want her dead. There is also a fabulous collection of rubies which has gone missing. Suspects include an exotic dancer, a disgruntled husband, a gigolo swindler, a too good to be true private secretary, a missing maid, and a professional criminal. I guessed the killer fairly early – it was obvious given the romantic tensions among the characters – but could not figure out how things were managed until Poirot reveals that there was an accomplice – which always strikes me as a kind of cheat. 7/9/23

A Deadly Covenant by Michael Stanley, White Sun, 2022

The latest Detective Kubu mystery is a prequel of sorts, describing one of his early cases while he was still courting his wife. A construction project in Botswana unearths a mass grave of bushmen who were obviously murdered. This does not initially seem to be connected to a pair of disappearances more than a decade later. The local police official is thick headed and officious and makes life difficult for the outsiders called in because of the political sensitivity of the case. Then there are two more murders and rumors of corruption in the construction project - which is designed to divert water from a nearby river. The local chief is behind the corruption but he is also involved, directly and indirectly, in the other events, which leads to a violent confrontation and two more murders before the story comes to an end. As always I enjoy this series, which has made me want to visit Botswana. 7/6/23

The Tooth and the Nail by Bill S. Ballinger, 1955

A revenge story and a courtroom drama and a suspense story. The chief protagonist is a stage magician whose wife is murdered. For various reasons, the authorities are unable to convict the killer even though their identity is clear. The magician is unwilling to let this injustice continue, so he takes justice into his own hands. Although he successfully kills the murder, his own fate is also sealed. The novel alternates between first and third person narration, which is sometimes problematic, but Ballinger has no trouble making it work. 7/4/23

Doomed Ships by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2022 (originally published in 1931)

Another Sexton Blake adventure. The recurring villain this time is Huxton Rymer, my favorite of Teed's antagonists. Blake is initially in London where reports of several ships mysteriously lost at sea begin to attract his attention. He is eventually drawn to the South Pacific to investigate. Rymer is actually pitted against the bad guys this time, but only because he wants to hijack their show, or at least their profits. Blake triumphs eventually, Rymer escapes as usual, and the scheme is brought to an end. One of the better of Teed's Blake stories. 7/3/23

Knight Templar by Leslie Charteris, 1930 

The Saint and his friends thwarted a plan to cause a new world war in the previous book, but the primary villains escaped retribution. He is after them again in this volume in the series, which involves acts of sabotage and the abduction of a the daughter of a powerful world leader, all part of yet another plot to plunge the world into war. Part of the Saint’s plan in this one makes no sense at all – he is overly reliant on improvisation and trusting that he will get a lucky break – but all comes right in the end. The adventures are relatively low key, and most of the villains escape yet again. 7/2/23