Last Update 12/31/14

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Raleigh Legacy by L.B. Greenwood, St Martins, 1986   

This is one of the best of the Sherlock Holmes pastiches. An old friend of Dr. Watson believes that he is descended from Walter Raleigh and that an obscure letter from the Elizabethan age is a clue to a hidden treasure. While drinking wine with his stepfather, wife, and a childhood friend, he becomes violently ill but the wine bottle proves to be free of poison and he recovers quickly. Holmes is aware that his wife may also secretly be descended from Raleigh, that she was investigating the letter even before she met her husband, and that there is some secret involving the childhood friendís family. He also visits the ancestral home and is puzzled by an odd bit of sculpture Ė a frog Ė in a building that was at one time a monastery. 12/31/14

Lonesome Road by Patricia Wentworth, 1939   

Rachel Treherne has inherited a great deal of money plus control of a large trust fund, on the condition that she make a new will every January. She also has a small crowd of relatives and friends who spend a good deal of time at her mansion. Everything was going well until she received death threats and survived several attempts on her life. Miss Silver is hired to investigate and is invited to the house undercover and she quickly determines that Rachelís maid is responsible for most of the incidents Ė in each case she intervened to prevent anything serious from happening. But there is still the case of a poisoned chocolate, and someone tries to push Rachel over a cliff.  Miss Silver eventually identifies the culprit, who was my first choice as well. A bit talky at times but not bad. 12/30/14

The Blue Journal by L.T. Graham, Seventh Street, 2015, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-060-3

This first novel in a new series is apparently a new pseudonym used by someone who has already written suspense novels. It's a rather dark toned police procedural in which Anthony Walker, depressed by his estrangement from his wife, throws himself into the investigation of a murder case involving a woman who apparently had a superfluity of sexual encounters, all of which she documented, and which include men and their wives, many of whom were drawn from among the patients of a local psychologist who used group therapy. The set up bears a strong relationship to Robert Parker's Jesse Stone series and fans of those books should fine this particularly satisfying. The solution is devised nicely and the writing is pretty good.  I'll watch for the next. 12/27/14

Mr. Zero by Patricia Wentworth, 1938   

One of the most dimwitted female characters in all of literature foolishly agrees to steal government secrets, which she doesnít think are at all important, and when she starts receiving blackmail threats, she appeals to an old friend named Gay Hardwicke to save the day. Gay is exasperated but decides to help. Coincidentally, Gay is romantically involved with the man who may be accused of having stolen the secret papers. And someone is obviously going out of his way to make the frame stick. It all comes right in the end, of course, but there were enough suspects that I never figured out who Mr. Zero was until he is revealed.

Run! by Patricia Wentworth, 1938 

James Elliot is lost in the fog one evening so he stops to inquire at an apparently abandoned house. There he meets a lively young woman, is shot at by persons unknown, and ends up hiding in a hayloft until the woman slips away. She claims to have stopped at the house to reclaim a piece of jewelry left to her by an aunt, but Elliot doesnít believe anything she says until the following day when a newspaper story supports part of her story. Naturally he has not spoken to the police about any of this. Then, with a typical Wentworth coincidence, he goes to a party and is introduced to the woman he met in the fog, except that her name is now Sally. Someone mistakenly believes that one of Elliotís co-workers was driving the car that night and the co-worker is murdered shortly thereafter.  This one wanders quite a bit at the midway mark and I kept waiting for the plot to resume. The villains figure out that they may have killed the wrong person so Elliot is in danger again. Thereís a mysterious missing book, some plagiarized bestsellers, a missing necklace, and a dubious engagement, all coming together for the reasonably good climax. The villains are very obvious in this one. 12/24/14

The Case Is Closed by Patricia Wentworth, 1937  

Maud Silver makes her second appearance in this classic mystery plot.  Hilary Carew is convinced that her friendís husband is innocent of murder, even though the evidence against him was overwhelming and he was sentenced to life in prison. A chance encounter on a train with one of the witnesses leaves her determined to discover the truth, even if that means putting her life in danger. Meanwhile her romantic interest, currently mildly estranged, employs Miss Silver to look into the matter, hoping sheíll confirm that Hilary is just imagining things, but her revelations point to a more sinister explanation. The plot rests on a few too many coincidences but otherwise itís just fine. 12/20/14

Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders by Larry Millett, Penguin, 1998 

Holmes and Watson are off to Minnesota again to investigate a disappearance. A young man about to be married has disappeared just prior to the wedding and his fiancť is acting mysteriously.  Shortly after arriving, the first body turns up and the game is most definitely afoot. In addition to pursuing his investigation within the upper crust of local society, Holmes must also deal with a colorful bartender and private detective, who appears in the other Minnesota adventures by Millett. Much of the attraction of the book is the setting, not quite frontier America in 1896 but very different from New York or Boston. It didnít feel much like a Sherlock Holmes story but itís a fair mystery in its own right. 12/18/14

Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek by Terry Shames, 7th Street, 2014, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-996-3   

Since this is written in present tense, you know it has to be good if I read to the end. The setting is a small town in financial difficulties where the most prominent banker has recently been murdered. The protagonist intended to retire but he is sort of drafted into serving as sheriff and investigating the death, and predictably there are a lot of people who wanted the man dead for a variety of different reasons. Shames has the small town mentality down pat and this is a kind of Texas version of the British cozy. I wouldnít have liked it better if it had been more traditionally formatted, but quiet detective stories are less prone to feel silly in present tense. Third in a series and the two previous books were also quite good. 12/16/14

Dead or Alive by Patricia Wentworth, 1936   

Agent Garratt returns peripherally in this crime novel. Robin OíHara was a government agent who disappeared and is now presumed dead, even though his wife keeps receiving cryptic messages suggesting that heís alive. Bill Coverdale is in love with the presumed widow and decides to investigate. Rather coincidentally Coverdale runs into a woman he had seen in the missing manís company just about the time he vanished. The widow is in financial trouble and finally decides to go stay with her rather dotty uncle Ė who is a bit too dotty to be credible Ė but thereís something strange going on in that household as well. And someone has tried to shoot Coverdale, which understandably displeases him. By halfway through the book, most of the secrets are pretty obvious. Enjoyable but Wentworthís early plot pattern is obvious after only a few books. 12/14/14

The Canary Trainer by Nicholas Meyer, Norton, 1993  

Meyerís third Sherlock Holmes seems to take forever to get started. Itís set during the years while he was missing followed the death of Moriarty, although in Meyerís version the evil Moriarty was a delusion. Holmes goes to Paris where he finds work as a violinist at the Paris Opera, just as the Phantom of the Opera is about to make his appearance. Other than the intrusion of Holmes, the story pretty much follows the original one. Itís not particularly suspenseful and the peculiar talents of Sherlock Holmes are almost irrelevant. Far and away the weakest of Meyerís pastiches. 12/12/14

Walk with Care by Patricia Wentworth, 1933  

This mild espionage thriller is in the same series as Fool Errant. A government official commits suicide after telling his wife he is being blackmailed by parties unknown and for reasons unspecified. An agent named Garratt suspects the dead manís secretary, our protagonist, who is currently working for another man who is being clandestinely pressured. I didnít like this one a lot. For one thing, the secretary discovers his peril through a chance encounter with a sleep walking woman who reveals key elements in the plot without waking, and also finds a clue tucked into a book which seems very unlikely. There are also some very implausible impersonations. Readable but very minor. 12/9/14

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Alliance by Larry Millett, Viking, 2001

The bulk of this Minnesota based Sherlock Holmes story consists of the investigations by a private detective named Rafferty who has suspicions about the recent lynching of a union organizer. There were accusations that he was a child molester, subsequently proven false, but a friend of the dead man reveals that he had pictures of the mayor in bed with an unidentified woman. The death is suspected to be the responsibility of the Secret Alliance, a political association with a shady reputation. Other than occasional telegrams from Holmes and Watson, this is just a Rafferty mystery and the title is completely misleading. Itís not bad, but itís not particularly good either. 12/9/14

Beggarís Choice by Patricia Wentworth, 1931  

Car Fairfax has problems. He is nearly broke, about to be thrown out of his apartment, and he has no prospects of a job because his last position was as secretary to a swindler. He feels responsible for Fay Lymington, who is married to the swindlerís son, and she needs £500 pounds to get out of her job helping a drug smuggler. He is also upset by an encounter with Isobel, the woman he loves, whom he has avoided for three years since his disgrace even though she still loves him. When an odd little man offers him a flyer offering £500 pounds for an unspecified job, he decides to investigate further. Then things get really strange. He goes to the address on the flyer and hears two men talking about him specifically. He returns to his room to find the letter he just received from Isobel has been stolen. He is interviewed and discovers that his cousin wants him to take the fall for her because she forged a check, but he refuses. Anna, however, sets about framing him anyway. Elsewhere, someone else claims to have set up the appointment with Fairfax and offers to reschedule. And then yet another woman appears, claiming to be a friend of Peter Lymington, who is in New York because of the London scandal. And then the plot thickens even further, although itís obvious that our hero is being lured into a trap. Halfway through the fog lifts enough that the reader can tell whatís going to happen at the end, but itís entertaining watching events unfold in that direction. 12/7/14

The Jewel of Covent Garden by Wayne Worcester, Signet, 2000   

I had a mixed reaction to this Sherlock Holmes pastiche. The setting is very well done and Victorian London really comes to life. The initial puzzle Ė a destitute young boy receives a mysterious invitation to a grand ball Ė is intriguing. But nothing quite comes together. For one thing, the logic of the villain escapes me. Why attract the attention of Holmes prior to committing a jewel theft? That makes it necessary for him to risk everything in an effort to discredit Holmes and even frame him for a crime, which was a totally unnecessary risk. This is the most serious problem with the book, but a secondary one is that neither Holmes nor Watson felt like the characters with whom we are familiar. Watson has entirely too modern an outlook and Holmes is loquacious, impulsive, and less sharp than he should have been.  Far inferior to the authorís previous Holmes novel. 12/6/14

Sherlock Holmes and the Red Demon by Larry Millett, Viking, 1996   

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson travel to Minnesota at the behest of a railroad tycoon who has been receiving threatening letters and whose rail line has been plagued with arson attacks. Almost immediately they discover that someone is following them but they avoid a confrontation and pursue their investigation by tracing the purchaser of a rare perfume, traces of which can be smelled in the letters.  The trail leads to a murdered investigator, a bordello run by a daunting woman, the theft of timber, a corrupt sheriff, and other side issues and has its climax in a major forest fire that almost claims our heroes. Pretty good, but it lacks much of the feel of a typical Holmes adventure. 12/4/14

Feathers Left Around by Carolyn Wells, 1923 

A detective story writer is invited to a house party by a man who has a violent distaste for divorce and only belatedly discovered that the writer is in fact divorced. Among those present are the usual cast of friends including a flirt, a book collector, and the hostís fiancť.  She is clearly discomfited and the obvious suggestion is that she is concealing the fact that she was married to him years earlier. That makes her our prime suspect when he is fatally poisoned and dies in his locked bedroom that night. Wells clearly had no experience with police investigations because the detective in charge has no objections when the rest of the house party decides that they are all detectives themselves and begin searching rooms the police havenít yet examined. In fact, he welcomes their ďassistance.Ē Our suspicions about the fiancť are reinforced when it is discovered that the dead manís pocket watch, which contained the picture of a woman, is missing.  The victimís sister shows up, but she insists she never met the wife and doesnít even know her name. The police detective is seriously incompetent; he doesnít even conduct a search of the house for either the missing watch or the source of the poison. When one of the suspects suggests a search, the missing watch is found in bedroom of the fiancť, with her picture in it.  He then allows the host to confront her with the evidence Ė in private Ė trusting that he will be told the truth about the interview. Wells was a particularly incompetent mystery writer who nevertheless managed to get more than eighty such novels published. They are chiefly interesting because of their attitude toward social classes and the police. Fleming Stone, the recurring detective, does not even appear until page 255 after our host has put together a scheme for taking the blame for the murder that would do credit to a Three Stooges skit. Part of the resolution depends on rare book collectors not noticing that some pages in the books they have bought were actually photocopies! Curiosity value only. 12/3/14

Fool Errant by Patricia Wentworth, 1929  

Newly destitute, Hugo Ross accepts a position as secretary to Ambrose Minstrel, an irascible and reclusive adventure. Just before arriving there, he meets a young woman in the dark who is running away from her domineering family and she gives him a vague warning about accepting the job. He never learns her name or sees her face clearly. Things start to go wrong. Someone offers him a small fortune for a worthless pair of binoculars. Some of his things go missing. A new man rents a room at his old place and begins asking about him. The mystery woman sends a letter arranging a meeting, but someone else shows up pretending to be her. Ross speaks to a prominent lawyer who suggests that Minstrelís assistant, Hacker, is planning to steal some confidential plans and sell them to a foreign power, while framing Ross for the crime. Ross volunteers to become a defacto agent for the government even though they cannot protect him if he is accused. Why this should be is never explained.  The usual follows. This one was slightly spoiled for me because the protagonistís love interest is such a stupid woman that I almost wanted them to get caught. 11/29/14

The Violent Man by A.E. van Vogt, Avon, 1962  

Van Vogtís only non-SF novel is probably his best written work, but itís overly long and becomes tedious quite early. Seal Ruxton is an American expatriate who is captured by the Communist Chinese and sent to an experimental brainwashing facility where the prisoners are urged to retrain themselves without most of the usual mistreatment. There he interacts, not always well, with some of the inmates as well as their captors, and particularly with the wife of one of the senior officers.  At half the length, this would have been a quite good suspense novel and itís readable even at full length, although you may find yourself yawning midway through. 11/27/14

Murder by Decree by Robert Weverka, Signet, 1979 

Although this is a movie novelization, itís actually quite well done. Itís another attempt to pit Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper. Scotland Yard doesnít consult him, which seems odd, as does the directorís vehement insistence that Holmes keep out of the affair, suggesting pressure from higher up in the English aristocracy. At the same time, a group of men claiming to be merchants from Whitechapel are pushing him to investigate and providing tidbits of cryptic information including the name of a supposed psychic who claims to have dreamed of the Ripper in advance and to have seen him briefly in the flesh. I vaguely recall having seen this movie at some point so I remembered the ending, but itís not bad. 11/22/14

Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth, 1929 

This was the first Miss Silver novel, which character would dominate the authorís mystery fiction throughout her career. Charles Moray returns to England after a long trip prompted by his having been jilted the day before his wedding was to have taken place. He overhears a group of people plotting a criminal conspiracy involving an heiress conducted by a man in a grey mask, and one of the plotters is his former fiancť, Margaret Langton.  The heiress is an airhead but with the proof of her legitimacy destroyed, she will lose her inheritance to an even less admirable cousin, who suggests that they marry to cover both eventualities. The cousin is, however, clearly a participant in the plot. A rather convenient coincidence occurs early on. The heiress overhears the plot against her and runs away, but she is penniless as well as clueless. She runs into Langton and claims to be Esther Brandon, who may be her mother. If so, she is Margaretís mother as well. With the aid of Moray, Langton takes the girl to her own apartment.  This all suggests that her involvement with the conspiracy might be superficial, but she still wonít say why she broke off her engagement. Thereís another major coincidence later in the plot Ė a chance encounter with a woman who just happens to possess some crucial information.  Itís a fairly good suspense novel, but I didnít care much for the protagonist, who puts a young womanís life at risk, knowingly, rather than deal with some minor embarrassment.  11/19/14

Anne Belinda by Patricia Wentworth, 1927   

Because of the law of entailment, the Waveney estate is inherited by a distant family member who had virtually no contact with his rich relatives. While trying to determine whether or not to live on the family property, John Waveney discovers that his benefactor disinherited one of his two daughters for reasons that have been concealed from the general public. His efforts to discover her current whereabouts are stymied because no one will talk about it. Then the missing woman, Anne Belinda, shows up unexpectedly, to the consternation of her sister and others who want her to disappear again. Circumstances suggest mental illness but the brother in law eventually tells John that Anne was arrested for theft and has just been released from prison. But John finds inconsistencies in the story and suspects that he is still being misled. By the midway point I had figured out that Anne had taken the fall for her sister.  Itís rather restrained for a mystery Ė no murders or even attempts Ė but not bad at all. 11/17/14

Sherlock Holmes and the Treasure Train by Frank Thomas, Pinnacle, 1985 

The third and last of this authorís Holmes pastiches is the best but itís still not very good. It mixes international intrigue with conventional mystery story, but not well. Someone has managed to mysteriously extract a large amount of gold from an armored, guarded train and the financial community is in an uproar. The solution is rather bland and the investigation itself only moderately interesting. Itís not surprising that the series ended here, nor that the author did not go on to write anything further in the genre. 11/16/14

Death by Gaslight by Michael Kurland, Signet, 1982 

The second in Kurlandís Moriarty series involves a series of locked room murders of prominent Englishmen who seem to have nothing in common. Moriartyís protťgť, Barnett, has now built a successful news service and promotes his female assistant to reporter assigned to the investigation. Sherlock Holmes, of course, suspects Moriarty.  Both investigations proceed apace, while Lestrade rather stupidly arrests two of the butlers. There are hints of a secret society, thereís an escaped homicidal madman bent on revenge, and the murders continue to be performed with apparent impunity. Moriarty, meanwhile, is plotting to steal a collection of antiquities looted from India.  I liked this one slightly better than the first and look forward to finding the rest of the series. 11/14/14

The Funeral Owl by Jim Kelly, Severn House, 2013, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-78029-541-1   

Journalist Philip Dryden is doing a story about the theft of scrap metal from the roof of a local church when he finds a human body hanging from a cross in the neglected grounds. The victim is a Chinese laborer, possibly part of the group who stole the metal roof. Almost simultaneously the bodies of two tramps are found in a culvert, both drowned and with no other signs of violence, and it is assumed that they were caught by a recent violent storm and were unable to escape.  At the same time, Dryden receives photographs of a rare bird, the funeral owl, which is supposed to portend death, and an elderly war veteran reports hearing a high pitched sound which doesnít show up on a tape recorder. There have also been instances of tainted moonshine in the area, a recently reopened cold case about a home invasion, and a new vicar who is turning an old pensioner out of his subsidized housing. All of these factors are, of course, interrelated, although that isnít immediately obvious.  Great job of tying up all the loose ends in this one. Itís a crime Kelly no longer has a US publisher. 11/11/14

Sherlock Holmes and the Rune Stone Mystery by Larry Millett, Penguin, 1999  

Holmes and Watson travel to Minnesota to look into claims that a 14th Century runestone found there might be a fraud. Just prior to his arrival, someone kills the farmer who claimed to have dug it up and the stone is missing. Early clues include a bill of sale for the stone to a Swedish novelist who has been promoting its authenticity and cryptic words by the mentally ill daughter of the dead farmer. With the help of an Irish detective named Rafferty, Holmes discovers links to an old enemy, to a businessman who collects Scandinavian artifacts, and to other people in the area whose relations with the dead man are not entirely clear. Various parties are searching for the stone but it is possible that only the young disturbed girl knows where it really is. Since it weighs two hundred pounds, it must be well hidden. Although this is a fairly good mystery, it really doesnít feel like a Sherlock Holmes story, perhaps because it is set in the rural Midwest, but probably also because most of the mannerisms of the standard Holmes story arenít there and he really doesnít seem much more perceptive than Rafferty.  Holmes doesnít even solve the mystery, even though the identity of the killer is obvious to the reader almost from the outset. 11/10/14

Nightrise by Jim Kelly, Severn House, 2012  

The latest Philip Dryden mystery opens with a shock. Drydenís father was washed away in a flood during the 1970s and although his body was never recovered, it was assumed that he was dead. Then an automobile accident yields a man who appears to be his father, who made another life for himself after the flood.  Dryden, a journalist, is also investigating two cases. One involves a man found hanging from an irritation gantry and the other a couple who cannot convince the authorities to exhume their dead baby from a pauperís grave so that it can be reinterred elsewhere. The hanged man had been shot multiple times. The three situations seem completely unrelated, but naturally thereís a connection.  The government clamps down on coverage of the murder, citing national security, and Dryden goes to talk to his uncle about his father, and finds that he has also been murdered. I was well ahead of Dryden in figuring out what was going on and who was who so the revelations at the end were not as effective as they might have been, but itís still a good crime novel. 11/6/14

Murder Will In by Carolyn Wells,  1942

Although Wells was not a particularly good mystery writer, she did produce more than 80 novels and she is often of interest because of her contemporary prejudices. In this one, for example, the police dismiss a group of partygoers from suspicion summarily because theyíre pillars of society and therefore clearly not guilty. The servants are below suspicion as well and are viewed as ďpieces of furniture.Ē The flirtatious wife of a prominent man is smothered while a large party is taking place at their home. The husbandís father is on his deathbed upstairs. The victim was engaged in a secretive financial deal with one of the guests. The police investigator is quite inept, although heís not supposed to be, because Wells never really thought about what detectives would ask. When one guest admits that sheís not unhappy about the death, he never asks her why and he lets other outrageous statements pass without challenge. Virtually all of the authorís faults are on display here. She appears to have lost track of her own characters because they frequently contradict themselves. The police interviews, which make up the bulk of the book, are ludicrous. When the victimís sister-in-law says that the dead woman was being blackmailed, the detective tells her not to tell him about it.  She tells him that the victim married ONLY for money, but a few pages later says that she was devoted to him and loved him immensely. Then she claims that the wife never did or said anything the husband would not have approved of, but at the same time insists that her affairs with other men often went far beyond flirtation. When the detective finally arrests the wrong person, he has absolutely no evidence except for a vague feeling that the man is guilty Ė and of course he isnít. The dialogue reads as though Wells had never actually listened to a conversation Ė about anything. And people from Scotland are not Scotch! At one point the accused man describes a personal relationship; a few pages later another character makes the same observation to him and he is astounded he never realized it before.  The solution, we are told, depends upon the order in which four suspects entered the room. But at the same time we are told that it is possible that a fifth person entered after the others, which renders the first statement worthless. And the arrested man knows the identity of the person whom came in after him but he doesnít tell the police. The solution involves unraveling the lies told by three people in collusion, which would have been impossible for the reader therefore constituting a major cheat. 11/5/14

Sherlock Holmes and the Golden Bird by Frank Thomas, Pinnacle, 1979 

This is the first of three Holmes novels Thomas wrote. A dying man asks Holmes to finish his investigation of a stolen art object believed to be in the London area. They uncover the missing item and the thieves almost immediately, and escape thanks to the coincidental arrival of friendly forces. Thereís a Chinese gang, a cursed jewel, and lots of convoluted plot, but the story jerks and twists uncomfortably, the prose is rough at best, and thereís not enough focus to really hold the readerís attention.  11/3/14

Sherlock Holmes and the Sacred Sword by Frank Thomas, Pinnacle, 1980

This Holmes pastiche takes the dynamic duo on a trip across Europe to the Middle East in search of the missing Sword of the Prophet after a dying man sets them on a quest. It is more of a novel of espionage and adventure than mystery, not really my favorite venue for Holmes and Watson, and by the end of the book theyíve thwarted a would be religious leader who hopes to launch a jihad and drive the Europeans out of the Mideast, to his own personal aggrandizement naturally. The writing is slightly better than in the authorís first book but still has rough spots and the effort to recreate the feel of the Doyle originals is largely a failure. 11/3/14

Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs, Bantam, 2014, $27, ISBN 978-0-345-54401-8

Temperance Brennan returns to investigate a cold case involving the murder of two young girls which may turn hot after the abduction of a third who fits the profile. A DNA sample seems to have identified the killer as a Canadian woman who has been on the run for almost a decade and who may have deliberately chosen her current victim from Brennanís city. The investigation proceeds logically through a number of dead ends until more connections are found, then takes a decidedly bizarre turn with one discovery Ė which I wonít reveal here Ė before rushing toward its conclusion. Iíve been mildly disappointed with some of the recent novels in this series but this is a very good one. There are, however, a couple of cheats. Brennanís mother uncovers a crucial clue by simply googling various combinations of words on the internet and the other I canít explain too much about without spoiling things but it depends on a medical condition so rare that I had never heard of it before. 11/2/14

The Spirit Box by George O. Mann, Titan, 2014, $12.95, ISBN 978-1781160022  

During the early days of World War I, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are brought out of retirement to look into the apparent suicide of a midlevel government official. The trail leads to a man who believes he is capable of photographing human souls, and in due course to a secret group of German sympathizers. Theyíre spies, of course, using hypnosis and fake occult devices to extract sensitive information.  Thereís a rather low key ending to a well plotted and delivered story. I normally prefer the traditional mystery stories featuring Holmes rather than those involving international intrigue, but Mann has a pleasant, clear style that I always find readable. Thereís a guest appearance by Sir Maurice Newberry from Mannís other series and a short story about him is included as an after piece. 10/30/14

The Return of Moriarty by John Gardner, Berkley, 1974 

The Revenge of Moriarty by John Gardner, Berkley, 1975 

Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty reached some sort of truce at Reichenbach Falls. Moriarty is back in London in time to battle an insurgent criminal group based in Whitechapel while Jack the Ripper is also at large. Captain Moran disobeys orders and attempts to assassinate Holmes, for which act he is arrested. Various other crimes follow and some of them are quite clever. Gardner did a fine job of bringing the darker side of Victorian London to life and Moriarty is a credible criminal mastermind. Good enough that I turned immediately to the follow up novel. The second is structured very similarly except that Moriarty spends a lot of time in California this time around, following his virtual expulsion by the police and criminals alike. Several similar episodes follow and theyíre all well told, but I found his American adventures less interesting overall. 10/27/14

The West End Horror by Nicholas Meyer, Dutton, 1976 

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson cross paths with George Bernard Shaw, Ellen Terry, Gilbert & Sullivan, and Oscar Wilde as they investigate the stabbing death of a thoroughly despised critic.  They discover that the critic was also an active blackmailer but the only real clue as to his assailant is the fact that in his dying seconds the victim removed a copy of Romeo and Juliet from a shelf. The trail leads to a young actress who is found with her throat cut, apparently murdered only seconds before Holmes arrives.  The detective duo discover that they are both suddenly ill after examining the latter body, but they are assaulted and treated involuntarily with some medication by persons unknown. Despite the parade of notables, the plot moves with glacial slowness and the mystery really isnít all that interesting. The ending is a little better but this is still far inferior to Meyerís first Sherlock Holmes novel. 10/25/14

Black Karma by Thatcher Robinson, Seventh Street, 2014, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-003-8 

Sequel to White Ginger, which I liked. The protagonist is a Buddhist pacifist who specializes in finding people, a job she does so well that some believe she has a supernatural ability. This time sheís hired to track down a criminal whom police claim was involved in the death of a police officer, although there is some reason to believe that they arenít being completely forthright. Initially this takes her into the world of illegal drugs, but before long she is dodging spies as well. On top of everything else, her current love interest seems to be hiding a secret of his own, and perhaps a dangerous one. Not quite as good as the first Ė it occasionally felt rushed and lacking in depth - but still very good indeed.  10/24/14

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer, Dutton, 1974 

Although I hadnít read this for forty years, it felt very familiar. Watson fears that Holmesí addiction to cocaine has affected his sanity. He is obsessed with an apparently insignificant mathematics teacher, Moriarty, whom he claims is a mastermind of crime. Watson and Mycroft trick him into going to Vienna where he is put under the care of Sigmund Freud. Cured of his addiction to cocaine, Holmes abandons his obsession and solves the case of a deranged woman who claims to be the widow of a European nobleman and averts Ė or at least delays Ė which would eventually become World War I. An unusual and well written variation of Holmesí career. 10/23/14

Deathís Door by Jim Kelly, Severn House, 2012

Jim Kellyís excellent mystery novels have been very hard to get since Leisure books went out of business, but I was able to find a large print copy of this one on Amazon.  This one is a kind of locked island murder mystery. 75 tourists were ferried to a small, undeveloped island to spend some time on the beach. One of them is stabbed, struck in the face, and thrown into the water. No other boats visited the island and itís too far to swim. Twenty years passes and the police reopen the case because they find what is presumably the murdererís DNA mixed with the victimís blood, but a check of all 74 of the others reveals no match. But one of them, a woman, appears to have committed suicide via poison capsule when the case is reopened, and it seems probable that she was not alone at the time. A second man dies in an accidental gas explosion, but is it an accident? An autopsy reveals cyanide in his body and he worked as ticket seller for the ferry on the day of the earlier murder. There are a couple of goofs in the text Ė the game is SimCity, not SinCity and itís Petula Clark, not Clarke. Otherwise this is an excellent mystery story, a mix of police procedural and old fashioned detection. Itís in Kellyís Peter Shaw series, which I donít like as well as his Philip Dresden novels, but itís still way ahead of most of the competition. 10/22/14

The Monster of St Marylebone by Wayne Worcester, Signet, 1999 

A few months after the Jack the Ripper murders, a new serial killer begins picking off shopkeepers, a class better able to demand help from the police. Sherlock Holmes agrees to investigate, promptly disappears, and is found a few days later beaten almost to death in a stable. The structure of the novel bothered me a little. It alternates between Watson sitting in Holmesí hospital room or during his convalescence and flashbacks to their investigation of the early murders. Although this is a fairly good mystery suspense novel, it didnít feel like a Holmes story to me. 10/17/14

The Infernal Device by Michael Kurland, Signet, 1979

This was the first of Kurlandís series featuring Professor Moriarty as protagonist. Moriarty is hired by Russian officials to hunt down a rogue agent who may be planning a disastrous attack on British interests. This Moriarty considered Sherlock Holmes a minor distraction. He enlists the aid of an American reporter who has been framed for the murder of an English spy, and through his eyes we get glimpses of Moriartyís hidden empire. Meanwhile the Russian agent, aware of Moriartyís involvement, makes several attempts on the professorís life.  Thereís a plot to assassinate Queen Victoria with an experimental submarine, and Holmes and Moriarty have to join forces to stop it. This was quite good. 10/13/14

Deadly Ruse by E. Michael Helms, Seventh Street, 2014, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-009-0  

The second Mac McClellan mystery. The first was more adventure than mystery but it was a pleasant book with some interesting characters. This time thereís more suspense and a more puzzling setup. Macís girlfriend tells him that she saw an old acquaintance in a crowd briefly, which doesnít make sense since he supposedly died in a boating accident more than a decade earlier. Mac decides to look into the matter and his investigation takes him to Texas and Florida, and nearly gets him killed as well. That suggests that there is more to be uncovered and once started, he is not willing to be put off. I liked this one considerably better than the first because I found the underlying mystery much more interesting, and I also thought the characters have begun to assume some depth. 10/10/14

Five Minutes Alone by Paul Cleave, Atria, 2014, $16, ISBN 978-1-4767-7915-7 

Latest in a series, apparently, though Iíve never seen any of the earlier books. The story is constructed in an interesting way. The two protagonists are both good guys but they have different attitudes and approaches toward solving a series of murders which makes them Ė if not exactly adversaries Ė at least working at cross purposes. Someone is abducting and murdering convicted rapists, and that suggests the motive right away. But it seems to be an organized operation, perhaps someone helping family and friends of the victims to enjoy a little revenge. I didnít expect to like this one, but I was pleasantly surprised to be completely drawn in. Iíll be looking up the earlier books in the series as well. 10/8/14

Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen, Berkley, 2014, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-425-26036-4   

Georgiana Rannoch, 37th in line to the throne of England, is off to visit the US with her mother in the latest installment in this series. Among the other passengers are a movie producer, an actress, an Indian princess, a newspaper reporter, and a Harvard lecturer and his wife.  One evening she sees something being thrown into the ocean, large enough that she thinks it might have been a person, but no one appears to be missing. On the other hand, at least two passengers have had valuable jewelry stolen. Darcy, coincidentally, is secretly aboard to try to identify a notorious jewel thief. Eventually they end up on a movie set in Hollywood where the tensions are high and open conflict breaks out from time to time. As usual in this series, there are far too many coincidences so that the recurring characters can all turn up at crucial moments. Not so usual is the long buildup in this one. My interest wandered a bit since we donít have much more than a peripheral mystery until well into the second half.  10/4/14

The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin, Vintage, 1996 (originally published in 1978) 

Holmes and Watson match wits with Jack the Ripper. The police are reluctant to ask for help but Holmes is fascinated by the details of the case and is convinced they are wrong to be looking among the lower classes for the culprit.  Fairly early in the story, Holmes identifies the Ripper as Moriarty, although his explanation of why Moriarty would take such chances is not satisfactory. He also advises Watson that Moriarty is watching them. Thereís nothing really wrong with the story but it never picks up at all and Holmesí explanation of the motives for subsequent events struck me as farfetched and unconvincing.  One of the least interesting of the Holmes pastiches. 10/2/14