Last Update 12/29/21 

The Complete Waldo Vol I by Edwy Searles Brooks, Mark Hodder, 2021 

Four Sexton Blake novellas from 1918-1919 in which he battles Waldo, who feels no pain, has the strength of ten men, and is largely impervious to physical attack. The first was Waldo’s debut, where he is unmasked as a murderer working as strong man in a circus. The other three encounters include a plan to steal a valuable collection of rubies from a collector, the successful theft of a shipment of diamonds from an unscrupulous jewel merchant, and a reasonably clever bit of misdirection surrounding an otherwise mundane burglary. Waldo’s prodigious strength allows him to escape at the end of each episode. Already by the second story the author was providing redeeming qualities for Waldo, who is a gentleman who tries not to hurt people, who refuses to kill Blake even when he captures him – more than once. The murder in the first adventure is now “justified” because the victim was a blackmailer. 12/29/21

The Mountains Have a Secret by Arthur W. Upfield, Scribner, 1948

Two women disappear while hiking from one hotel to another. A policeman sent to investigate is found shot to death in his car. Bony arrives incognito to get to the bottom of things. He soon learns of another disappearance and is attacked by three thugs. Fortunately another man intervenes, but Bony is suspicious of his intentions as well. There is also a sheep farm that is guarded like a fortress and it is obvious that something devious is underway. The killer in one case is pretty obvious, and Bony catches him digging up the body of his victim to dispose of it elsewhere. It all involves fugitive Nazis who apparently have Adolf Hitler’s body, which they successfully smuggle into the US at the end of the book. Only some of the criminals get caught. 12/28/21

The Burma Probe by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1984

This Death Merchant novel is a record breaker. No guns are fired until page 68. It usually takes less than ten. The Chinese have built a secret base in Burma from which they plan to release nerve gas on Thailand and Cambodia, so that they can conquer both countries, then send a 200 million man army against Russia. The author somehow believes that such a large army could be supplied easily by living off the land. There is also no reason why the base would be in Burma rather than China proper.  12/23/21

The Methuselah Factor by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1984 

This installment in an increasingly repulsive series involves the discovery of a longevity serum by West German scientists. The KGB is after it and so is the Death Merchant, who doesn’t care how many innocent Germans he kills in order to accomplish his mission. More words are devoted to racist rants, attacks on American education, and other issues than usual, and this tendency will increase in later books. It is not clear why the US and Germany are not allies in this matter, but the author has become increasingly careless about explaining his plots. 12/23/21

On the Night of the Seventh Moon by Victoria Holt, Crest, 1972 

My least favorite of the Holt novels despite the fact that it has a potentially interesting plot. It moves so slowly that I had to fight to concentrate. A woman meets and marries a man under pretty unrealistic circumstances, then wakes up to be told that she imagined him and isn’t married at all. But she is pregnant. The baby supposedly is born dead, but neither she nor the reader believe that story either. Years pass before she finally makes her way through a web of family and political intrigues, rescues her son, and is rescued herself by her husband, who is real after all. A definite chore to read this one. 12/22/21

An Author Bites the Dust by Arthur W. Upfield, Collier, 1948   

Although this is more conventional than most in the series, there is a lot of cheating in this story of an author murdered by ingesting “coffin dust,” which is almost impossible to detect. There are some red herrings and some clumsy misdirection – two kidnappers are described as men but they are women – and several clues are not revealed until the climax. The author was venting a bit – the victim and suspects were part of an elite literary group that hated commercial fiction because it was profitable and their work generally was not. Passable but not among the author’s better novels.   12/20/21

The Man Who Lost His Wife by Julian Symons, Penguin, 1970 

The protagonist is puzzled when his wife informs him that she wants to go away by herself for a time to think about their marriage. When she does disappear, he is convinced that she was taken against her will and decides to track down whoever is responsible. The truth is not as obvious as it might seem. The story is often humorous, which I found fatal to the element of suspense. The prose is as good as always but I had a hard time caring about anything that happened. 12/19/21

The Devil’s Steps by Arthur W.Upfield, Scribner, 1946 

More of a spy thriller than a mystery. Bony is trying to recover some secret plans from a German masquerading as an American tourist. The German is murdered but there are so many contending parties that it is difficult to figure out what is going on. Although our detective hero figures part of it out, most of the revelations come from a massive cheat. The police arrest a foreign agent who provides a detailed explanation of most of what has happened. This starts strongly, weakens in the middle, and collapses utterly at the end. 12/15/21

This Poison Will Remain by Fred Vargas, Penguin, 2019 

Three elderly men die from the bites of recluse spiders, which is almost unheard of. The protagonist instinctively knows this is murder even though none of his subordinates agree with him. Then he finds connections among the three victims that indicate they were all members of a vicious gang as children, and that they used recluse spiders to torment their victims. Slowly the squad begins to convert to his view on the matter. This is quite good provided you are not bothered by two problems. First, the detective figures most of this out because of some vaguely described form of intuition. Second, there are a very large number of very unlikely coincidences. 12/14/21

The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs, Scribner, 2021

The new Temperance Brennan mystery is frankly terrible. The plot involves the discovery of two dead bodies disposed of at sea in much the same way as two similar bodies years before. One case is in Canada and one in South Carolina, allowing Brennan to be shown in both areas. The investigation is not badly depicted, although it depends a great deal on luck and coincidence and a character popping up who remembers details of minor incidents from years earlier. Two of them in fact. But the worst part is a gimmick illustrated as "What I found in the drawer changed my entire understanding of the mystery" followed by a change of subject so that the reader is left hanging. Once is problematic. I counted eleven instances in the novel, and by five I was so furious that I almost stopped reading. This is a very good way for a mystery writer to suddenly loses an audience. 12/12/21

The Shadow of the Lynx by Victoria Holt, Crest, 1971 

The female protagonist of this mildly suspenseful novel becomes the ward of an ex-convict in Australia after her father is murdered in a robbery. As with most of Holt’s protagonists, she is obnoxious and judgmental and has a stormy relationship with her guardian even while being attracted to him. They eventually marry but he dies in an accident and she returns to England with his son, who is her age. The son marries in furtherance of his dead father’s plans for vengeance as a consequence of which everyone is miserable at the end. Depressing. 12/11/21

Have Mercy on Us All by Fred Vargas, Vintage, 2004 (from the 2001 French edition)  

This is one of the author’s best novels, although I have some reservations about it – the chief villain gets away and is identified only by chance rather than actual detection. Someone has been threatening the return of the Black Death to Paris. The police have no clue and when bodies begin to appear, they mimic plague victims – though inaccurately – but all of them have been strangled. At first there seems to be no connection, but it turns out they all knew each other briefly several years earlier and this is a revenge plot. There is a conspiracy within a conspiracy which is nicely done, although the actual killer does not even appear in the novel until he is arrested. Very well developed characters in this one. 12/6/21

The Romanian Operation by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1983 

This Death Merchant novel involves his mission to get a defector out of Romania. This is complicated by the fact that the defector’s wife is a KGB agent. Lots of running around in tunnels under a monastery while the secret police try to break in. They are rescued by some kind of poorly described secret spacecraft but there is no reason why they could not have used a helicopter in the same fashion. Some casual racism but not as bad as usual. Lots of dead bodies. 12/4/21

The Silicon Valley Connection by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1983

Rosenberger re-uses a plot for this one, not that any of them are particularly original. A scientist has developed a new kind of computer that is SF although it never is involved in the story so it doesn’t count. Russians abduct him through a motorcycle gang which leads to a number of violent clashes as the Death Merchant tries to figure out where he is. The climax is his transfer to a submarine, which is disabled by the US Navy, followed by a hand to hand fight inside. The scientist dies – it is never explained why – and for some reason the author believes the secret will be lost with him even though this was a government project and lots of documentation must exist, not to mention co-workers. 12/4/21

The Secret Woman by Victoria Holt, Crest, 1970 

Although there is a vaguely suspicious death early on, this really isn’t a suspense novel at all but rather a romance set in the late 19th Century. The narrative alternates between two women, a nurse and an antiques dealer turned governess, who get drawn into the net of the Crediton family. There’s a chronically hysterical wife, a precocious child, a vague mystery about the loss of a ship, a domineering female head of the family, an apparent philanderer, and sexual attraction across class lines. 12/3/21

Death of a Swagman by Arthur W. Upfield, Signet, 1945  

Bony travels to a small town to investigate the mysterious murder of a ranchhand and has to deal with two more deaths and a kidnapping before the criminal is caught. He also has a deadly chase sequence with an armed and masked killer who tries to ride him down and shoot him. Other than the fact that the motive is bizarre and not believable – the killer is addicted to watching windmills turn and does not want anyone to know – this was above average for the series. 12/2/21

A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas, Penguin, 2016

Two apparent suicides are suspicious because of a strange symbol found at both scenes. An obscure connection between the two is revealed - they were both part of a group of tourists who got stranded in Iceland. Two of their number died. A third death leads the police in a different direction, as all three were members of a large organization that is fascinated with the life of Robespierre. There is a sharp disagreement among the officers, many of whom believe Iceland was a coincidence, but the chief protagonist thinks otherwise, and of course he is right. There is some ambiguous supernatural content in this one, which is quite good although I somehow found the ending unsatisfying. 11/30/21

Slaughter in El Salvador by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1983 

Almost this entire book takes place in Nicaragua, despite the title. The Death Merchant is sent to decapitate the leadership of both the Marxist rebels and the murder squads. He accomplishes the latter in what is almost a prologue. Then he goes to Nicaragua where the Sandanists, Cubans, and Russian agents are gathering to plan further activities to destabilized the government of El Salvador. He is helped, minimally, by a local resistance group and, more substantially, by a couple of fellow agents. Mostly just shooting and blowing things up. 11/28/21

Afghanistan Crashout by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1983 

The Death Merchant is sent to Afghanistan to rescue two agents from the prison in Kabul. This was during the Russian occupation, so we have the admirable Afghans fighting against the evil communists. I imagine the author would have a very different take on it today. There’s more of the author’s obsession with the occult, and some really way off predictions of the future of the Mideast, the Soviet Union, and the likelihood of World War III. It’s hard sometimes to decide who are the good guys and who are the bad ones.  11/28/21

No Footprints in the Bush by Arthur W. Upfield, Coward McCann, 1940

This one is a crime novel rather than a detective story. Bony is a witness when an airplane drops bombs on a car carrying a constable and his prisoner, killing them both. He is caught in a battle between two aboriginal tribes, one loyal to the local cattle rancher, the other to his illegitimate and insane son, who is identified early on as the master criminal. Bony even kills a man with a spear in this much more overt than usual story. There’s a daring rescue mission for the climax. Also published as Bushranger of the Skies. 11/27/21

The Shivering Sands by Victoria Holt, Crest, 1969 

A young widow takes a job as music tutor in a sprawling mansion in large part because she wants to investigate the disappearance of her sister, an archaeologist who had just completed a dig on the property. There is a family curse, an accident that might have been murder, a tragic suicide, an illegitimate daughter, a handsome but supercilious heir, a dotty old relative who sees more than she says, and mysterious comings and goings in the darkness. There are a couple of surprises, but the identity of the villain is not one of them. She is clearly the one responsible by the middle of the novel. The title refers to quicksand, which only shows up at the climax.11/25/21

The Iron Maiden by Carter Brown, Signet, 1975

There was potential in this Larry Baker mystery, but it is mostly squandered. Baker is hired to write a screenplay for a rich man who wants to indulge his younger wife. So he goes to stay in their castle. But real life turns out to be even more melodramatic than his screenplay with ghosts stalking the corridors, bodies appearing and then disappearing, and an obvious murder plot unfolding around him. The ghosts are all rationalized and the murders themselves are pretty mundane. Brown has trouble taking the story seriously, so the reader has the same problem. 11/23/21

Apocalypse U.S.A.! by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1983 

The Libyans have enough nerve gas to wipe out the entire East Coast of the US and they are sending it by sea to a secret group of pilots. The Death Merchant gets wind of this and shoots his way through multiple confrontations before he can identity the ship, after which he leads a strike team that intercepts and captures the vessel. The action is broken up by diatribes about immigration, corrupt politicians, and the criminal justice system. At the end there is nothing to prevent the Libyans from trying again. 11/23/21

The King of the Castle by Victoria Holt, Crest, 1967

A woman arrives at a French chateau to restore some paintings and promptly becomes involved in several mysteries. The Count’s wife either committed suicide or was murdered. The family jewels disappeared generations back but are still supposed to be in the chateau somewhere. The Count’s daughter is neglected by her father – a familiar device in Holt’s work – and he is withdrawn and mysterious – another familiar device, and he has a cousin who appears to be more friendly – yet another familiar device – but he really isn’t. The protagonist is judgmental and quick to form opinions even when ill informed, which is also a familiar device. 11/21/21

The Mystery of Swordfish Reef by Arthur W. Upfield, Collier, 1971 (originally published in 1939)   

A very dull Bony mystery that takes place on the water rather than land. It isn’t even really a mystery because we know who the killer is almost immediately – there being no other possible suspects. Three men go fishing and never return, but the head of one man – a former Scotland Yard inspector – turns up with bullet holes in the skull. Obviously he was killed to keep him from identifying someone. Bony gets abducted and the actual heroes are two fisherman who investigate on their own and eventually rescue him. Long scenes of fishing with minute detail, of interest only to those so inclined. 11/19/21

Hated by All by John Drummond, Sexton Blake Library, 1952 

A routine Sexton Blake mystery novella. A businessman is closing down a railroad line that will put almost everyone in a small community out of work, so when someone throws him in front of a train, there are literally scores of suspects. One disgruntled employee seems likely to take the fall, but Blake is on the scene and soon figures out who the real killer is. Drummond was John Newton Chance, better known in the SF community as John Lymington. 11/19/21

Too Many Cousins by Douglas G. Browne, Dover, 1985 (originally published in 1946)

A nicely handled variation of a familiar detective story plot. Six cousins are in line to split a large inheritance within a year or two. Then in a short period of time, three of them have fatal accidents and a fourth has a near miss. The lawyer protagonist suspects foul play and convinces the police. The three survivors are all suspects, of course, plus one spouse and two others who are contemplating marriage. And then a rumor arises that a seventh cousin, long believed to have died, is still alive and therefore still entitled to a share. He is living under an assumed name, however, and is believed to be a petty criminal. And then there are the strangers who visited a small village, separately, on the night of one of the murders. Very well handled. I think Browne only wrote two other mysteries and I’ve found one of them. 11/14/21

Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand by Fred Vargas, Penguin, 2007

I have a recurring problem with this author's mysteries. Her depiction of how the French police operate may or may not be accurate, but it seems so inept - and sometimes corrupt - on a really major scale that it feels false. In this book, for example, even though a police detective has a significant amount of evidence indicating that a man is a serial killer, he cannot convince his superiors to open an investigation or even interview the suspect. The team of detectives who appear in each book are often at each other's throats and constantly act unprofessionally. And to top it off, this one has a major coincidence because the protagonist's brother was accused, though acquitted, of one of the murders. Each victim has three holes in their chest, arranged in a perfectly straight line, but the police refuse to investigate them jointly because the shape of the wounds are different in each instance. Adding to the mystery is that the suspect is believed to have been dead for almost twenty years when a fresh victim turns up, and the detective in charge immediately concludes that it was the same killer and not coincidence or a copycat. I was completely unable to get into this story. 11/13/21

The Flight of the Phoenix by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1982  

This is by far the most repulsive book in the series. One corporation is sabotaging the development of a zeppelin by another company and recruiting mobsters to do their dirty work. The Death Merchant wants to track them down and even though this is a commercial matter and not a case of national security, he gleefully kills dozens of innocent police officers and firemen in order to make it look as though terrorists were responsible. He even says that they should have been mailmen if they wanted to live.  11/12/21

The Judas Scrolls by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1982

A team of archaeologists have found scrolls written by Judas himself indicating that Jesus was not crucified and lived to a ripe old age. Palestinians steal the scrolls and want to sell them to the CIA but the Vatican and the Soviets both want them as well. The scrolls reveal that the resurrection was a hoax and the Death Merchant discovers that the Vatican has known this all along. Nevertheless, he and his team take on and destroy units of both the Israeli and Jordanian army, plus the terrorists, in order to secure the scrolls and take them to the CIA. 11/12/21

Had I But Groaned by Carter Brown, Signet, 1968 

Screenwriter Larry Baker accepts another invitation to stay in a creepy castle. One would think he would have learned his lesson long before, but he hasn’t, and sure enough there is a murder in the offing almost before he is unpacked. There are several idiosyncratic characters who might have been the basis for a suspenseful story if Brown hadn’t used them to deliver a long series of not particularly funny jokes. Baker solves the crime and escapes with his life, but only after being seduced by a supposed witch. 11/11/21

Menfreya in the Morning by Victoria Holt, Crest, 1965   

Someone is trying to convince a bride that there is a ghost in the house, or that someone wants to murder her. There are some side plots – a sister runs off with an artist and later dies of neglect, leaving the protagonist to raise her infant son. The husband is a flirt although it does not appear that he is actually unfaithful. A lot of the complications and tensions results from people not talking to one another, allowing misunderstandings to fester and proliferate. The identity of the villain is reasonably well concealed, although there were not a lot of candidates. 11/8/21

God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen by Rhys Bowen, Berkley, 2021

The latest Lady Georgiana mystery is rather disappointing. It takes far too long to get to the mystery element, which feels almost like an afterthought. The insistence on working all of the ongoing characters into each book, and repeating their various foibles, has gone too far for me this time. The Christmas holidays lead to invitations, mismatches of personalities, and a request by the Queen to discover why two members of the court have died recently under suspicious circumstances. The protagonist rises to the occasion, but it's almost a cakewalk this time and I struggled to stay interested. 11/7/21

The Hellbomb Theft by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1982

Terrorists have stolen two suitcase sized nuclear weapons. They are hidden somewhere in West Germany and are to be shipped to Khadaffi in Libya, which will somehow precipitate World War III. That causes the Russians to cooperate, but the terrorists are neo-Nazis – one wonders how they could be allied with Arabs – and they are fanatics. Lots of battle sequences. The Death Merchant actually gets seriously wounded in this one. And it turns out that the bombs were fake all along and that the government did not want this to be revealed. 11/5/21

The Inca File by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1982 

The Death Merchant visits Peru. The Soviets have figured out that lost Incan medical secrets can be found at a remote abandoned temple. They send an expedition to recover it. A similar American group disappears mysteriously. The Death Merchant organizes a counter strike, a ground force augmented by a helicopter strike team, and then the carnage begins. The temple is destroyed, the secrets are lost forever, and most of the named characters are dead by the end of the book. 11/5/21

The Complete Zenith Vol I by Anthony Skene, Blakiana, 2021

The first in a series of collections of Skene's stories about the battle between Sexton Blake and Zenith, the brilliant albino criminal mastermind who was the inspiration for Michael Moorcock's Elric. There are four novellas here. The first introduces Zenith, who heads a crime ring and battles Blake in several attempts to murder him. He barely makes a cameo in the second, in which Blake must clear a wrongly accused man of a murder charge. The third is a puzzling mystery resolved after considerable investigation and the last is a protracted battle over the contents of a jeweler's safe. The stories are quite inventive and fast moving. The prose is sometimes awkward and there are occasional plot holes. 11/3/21

So What Killed the Vampire? by Carter Brown, Signet, 1966 

Larry Baker is a writer with an affinity for murder, and castles. He is invited to a castle where he runs into a succession of attractive young women, although for the most part they appear to him to be unbalanced. Then the deaths begin and it appears that there are real live vampires in the area – there aren’t – and Baker has to figure out what is going on before he ends up in a coffin himself. Low grade humor spoils an already low grade mystery story. 11/2/21

The Bone Is Pointed by Arthur W. Upfield, Collier, 1974 (originally published in 1938)

Bony is sent to investigate the disappearance of an unpopular ranch hand who never came back from his last fence inspection, although his horse did. There is the usual racism, plus the author’s silly belief that aborigines are telepathic and can will a person to death through the power of their minds. He spends a lot of time riding around examining faint clues – he arrived six months after the fact – and discovers a secretive romance as well as the people responsible for the murder. This is the second instance in which Bony does not report the results of his investigation because he believes that the death was inadvertent and justified and that no good purpose would be served by pursuing the matter. 10/31/21

The Uninvited Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon, Spitfire, 2021 (originally published in 1925)

A writer on a working vacation meets a man who is plagued by casual visitors to his house. He concludes that there is definitely something suspicious and agrees to house sit while his host goes to London to find a detective. The incidents continue but only when the host returns, complicated by a mysterious young woman, her possibly crooked brother, a fake salesman, an obvious thug, another young woman with suicidal thoughts, and eventually murder of the butler. Not as polished as the author's later work, but a puzzling and engaging mystery. 10/29/21

The Psionics War by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1982 

An American scientist has developed a kind of mental death ray that can penetrate any object and destroy the mind of its target at a considerable distance. Naturally the KGB abducts him when he sets out to fly to the East Coast to confer with the CIA. The Death Merchant survives assassination attempts and kills lot of people as he tracks down where the scientist has been taken. At the climax, the scientist uses the power of his brain to destroy a Soviet submarine.   10/28/21

Night of the Peacock by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1982  

The Death Merchant is in Yemen.  A charismatic leader is about to overwhelm North Yemen and turn the country into a Soviet satellite. Several attempts to assassinate the leader fail, although Camellion does manage to destroy the airport in Aden. There is a rare air battle in this one, but it’s short. Eventually our hero convinces the Saudis to provide helicopters for an assault against the enemy and another very long and violent firefight ensues. For a change, there are no serious setbacks and the bad guys are all killed. As per usual, however, Camellion is forced to unmask a double agent, this time a member of Mossad. 10/28/21

The Legend of the Seventh Virgin by Victoria Holt, Crest, 1964

Holt’s gothic heroines are generally somewhat flawed, but this one borders on being villainous. An orphaned young woman from a poor background eventually becomes a servant in the local manor house, where she is pursued and eventually married by the younger brother of the heir. She is in fact a fortune hunter, although she fools herself into coming up with virtuous motives. Eventually she falls in love with the older brother, whose wife dies tragically. When the protagonist’s husband commits murder and is himself killed, she expects to marry the brother, but he chooses someone else, in an end that is happy for everyone except the protagonist. 10/27/21

Winds of Evil by Arthur W. Upfield, Berkley, 1964 (originally published in 1937) 

Bony tracks down a serial killer with a split personality who commits violent acts in response to static electricity generated by dust storms. There is a glaringly apparently substitution of babies that makes it very obvious who the killer is long before we should know. The field hands in this one ride camels, which I don't think occurs in any of the other books in the series. The killer moves through the trees without touching the ground, like an ape, which I did not find convincing. A couple of minor questions are never answered and the culprit commits suicide when he realizes what he has done. 10/26/21

The Aberdyll Onion and Other Stories by Victor Canning, Farrago, 2020

A collection of mostly very short stories, primarily involving mysteries or crime. They are all light hearted and occasionally humorous.  A frequent subject is the criminal thwarted by circumstances. Several involve animals including a gorilla and a chimpanzee. These are very different in tone from the author's novels, which are often bitter. They are a kind of blend of Agatha Christie and John Collier. Canning might have been better remembered for his short fiction if he had written more of it. 10/25/21

Charlie Sent Me by Carter Brown, Signet, 1963

Larry Baker was one of the minor series characters created by Brown. Baker is a screenwriter specializing in comedy who becomes an amateur detective mostly against his will. He is also something of a playboy, which results in stilted, implausible sexual encounters. In this one, a very obnoxious actor alienates everyone around him and, not surprisingly, ends up being murdered. Baker is pressed by events into becoming an unofficial investigator and solves the crime. 10/23/21

No Blonde Is an Island by Carter Brown, Signet, 1965 

Screenwriter Larry Baker is visiting a private island in Europe which is effectively isolated from the mainland. The other guests include several couples previously unknown to him, each of which has marital problems, and a certified lunatic. It’s not long before the bodies start turning up, but this story is constructed mostly to deliver cheap laughs and coy sexual innuendoes and the mystery element is almost an afterthought.  Not one of the author’s better efforts. 10/23/21

Blood Bath by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1981

Despite a foreword claiming that the racist terms used in the book are for realism and do not reflect the author’s attitude, the book is still heavily laden with pretty overt racism. American blacks are whiners and African blacks are savages who cannot run a modern country. The plot involves the Death Merchant working with some South African thugs – this was published during the apartheid era – and while he doesn’t like them either, he still happily tortures and kills various rebels trying to free Southwest Africa. Of course, they’re all unwittingly working for the Russians, so it is all justified. 10/22/21

Operation Skyhook by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1981 

The Death Merchant is in Indonesia trying to seize the mechanical mind of a Soviet killer satellite that crashed there. The Russians are after it as well, of course, and the Indonesians aren’t particularly anxious to surrender it to either party. Much shooting, many explosions, and lots of deaths follow as the three sides all try to eliminate the other two. The author provides an amusing foreword in which he insists that a new world war is inevitable within twenty years. 10/22/21

The Minerva Club by Victor Canning, Farrago, 2020  w2650 

Five short stories from the 1960s, all revolving around a club whose members are all good natured criminals. Each story deals with some humorous situation – coincidences, ironic twists, silliness – and crime sometimes pays. None of the stories are particularly memorable and Canning seems distinctly uncomfortable at shorter length. There is rumored to be a sixth story in the series, but no one has been able to find a copy. 

Fountain Inn by Victor Canning, Farrago, 2019 (originally published in 1937) w2649 

Although Canning did not turn to adventure fiction as his genre until after the war, this early novel is a fairly light romance which involves a mystery and some actual adventure. A woman notices some irregularities in the handling of funds by a charitable organization and promptly disappears. A friend begins to look into the matter just as her employers are hired to conduct some research about the organization. Misuse of a legacy and kidnapping result in the arrest of the society’s president and the rescue of the whistleblower. Slight but not bad.

Sherlock Holmes and the Apocalypse Murders by Barry Day, Second Opinion, 2001 

Sherlock did in fact identity Jack the Ripper, but the government inexplicably exiled him rather than lock him up. And now he is back, disguised as a charismatic preacher, and he has more ambitious plans for the inhabitants of London. Although the prose is fine, this was quite inferior to the author’s other pastiches. Holmes and the police make several stupid mistakes and allow the Ripper – now calling himself Cain – to operate in near complete freedom even after they know that he is planning germ warfare against the city. Very disappointing. 10/19/21

Bride of Pendorric by Victoria Holt, Crest, 1963 

Another story of a woman marrying into an old family with a mansion and a family curse. Someone is trying to convince the protagonist that the house is haunted, and eventually the spookiness expands into direct attempts on her life. The identity of the villain is pretty obvious because there really isn’t any alternative, but there is a rather strange twist at the end – the villain is not the person everyone thinks she is. A bit slow  going at times and there are a couple of rather large coincidences, but moderately suspenseful. 10/18/21

Murder on the Monte by Ross Richards, MacFadden, 1966 

This was one of several books which tried to revive Sexton Blake, casting him as an ordinary private detective. Why bother? That said, this is not an awful story. Someone has threatened to kill an inventor who is participating in the Grand Prix, so Sexton Blake becomes his co-driver in order to protect him. There’s a touch of SF – the inventor has discovered a way to replace the internal combustion engine – but it is never much of the plot. Blake’s assistant, Tinker, is now known by his “real” name, Edward Carter, and Pedro the bloodhound is absent. Not awful. Not really Sexton Blake. 10/17/21

Island of the Damned by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1981 

The Russians have built a secret base in Hawaii where they are developing a machine that can tap into the collective consciousness of humanity and read all thoughts past and present. The Death Merchant is sent to destroy the base, which he does of course, trapping a submarine in an underwater passage, battling armed divers, and capturing the records so that Americans can build the device instead. It will not, naturally, ever be mentioned again in any of the later books. 10/16/21

The Rim of Fire Conspiracy by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1981  

The Russians are planting nuclear weapons on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in a plan to destroy Hawaii and the western US. Can the Death Merchant stop them? This includes an actual naval battle, which was something of an innovation, although it gives way quickly to another firefight. Camellion bad mouths gays, Jimmy Carter, the court system, and various racial groups while torturing and executing prisoners. Rosenberger must have been a really unpleasant person. 10/16/21

Sherlock Holmes and the Shakespeare Globe Murders by Barry Day, Oberon, 1997 

An entrepreneur has built a replica of Shakespeare’s theater but the reopening is menaced by threatening letters and indications that murder is in the offing. The murders begin, each copying a death from one of the plays, and Sherlock has to track down the killer before the Queen herself is added to the list of victims. An enjoyable pastiche despite a not particularly interesting criminal. The deductions involve a good deal of luck as well as arcane background knowledge. 10/14/21

Murder Down Under by Arthur W. Upfield, Angus and Robertson, 1937 

Aka Mr. Jelly’s Business. The mysterious disappearance of a farmer draws Bony’s attention and while investigating that possible murder, he also decides to look into the periodic and equally mysterious absences of another farmer, whose behavior distresses his two daughters.  I found this one a little too obvious. The means by which Bony locates the body is supposed to be clever but it’s really elementary – he notices an unusual congregation of flies. The motive is obvious. The identity of the killer is obvious. The secondary mystery is unconvincing. One of his weakest novels. 10/13/21

The Complete Dr. Satira Vol I by Robert Murray, Blakiana, 2021

This collects the first four novellas about the battle between Sexton Blake and Dr. Satira, a kind of quasi-Fu Manchu villains who has an apeman for a henchman and several killer gorillas. In "Lord of the Ape-Men" the villain is  introduced as he uses the apeman to steal jewels and kill anyone who gets in the way. "The Mystery of the Masked Magician" reveals how he arrived in England and how he is concealing his identity. "From Information Received" has Blake tracking him down. Satira seems to have died in a fire at the end, but he returns in "The Quest of the Limping Man," where he impersonates a rich man until Blake unravels the truth. This time he appears to have been lost at sea. Murray was a clumsy, careless writer. The stories are filled with contradictions, bad grammar, and other signs it was neither revised nor edited. The stories are, however, strangely appealing. The novel won an Edgar. 10/12/21

The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons, Poisoned Pen, 2021 (originally published in 1960)

This novel is based loosely on a real murder and trial. A group of young toughs stab a man to death in the aftermath of a minor confrontation. It is soon clear who was involved, but not so certain which among them actually committed the crime. The situation is complicated when one of the young men is promptly murdered as well, and the investigating officer is more interested in getting confessions than in discovering the truth. The lengthy investigation is followed by a courtroom sequence, as a consequence of which the author reveals the real killer - and by implication suggests that injustice was done in the real life case. The killer commits suicide so the miscarriage is balanced. 10/12/21

Kirkland Revels by Victoria Holt, Crest, 1961  

Catherine marries the heir to a substantial estate before she knows that he is from a rich family, but that doesn’t stop people from assuming that she is a fortune hunter. Then her husband dies a few days later, apparently having jumped to his death from a parapet. We all know it’s a murder. Catherine heads home but then discovers that she is pregnant, and if it is a boy, it is the new heir, not the cousin who assumed it would be him. She returns to the house, where it becomes apparent that someone is trying to make her believe that she is crazy. The bad guy is a bit too obvious but otherwise well done. 10/8/21

Birds of a Feather by Victor Canning, Ulversoft, 1985  

Sir Anthony Swale is such an ardent art collector that he is willing to trade his government’s secrets to the Russians in exchange for items otherwise beyond his reach. But the British have figured out what he is doing and want to quietly put him out of business, permanently, and the Russian have decided that his usefulness is at an end, and they want to put him out of business permanently. Prospects are not good for his old age. The ending includes some nice twists but the buildup is too long and laconic and the climax too brief. 10/8/21

Murder on High by Carter Brown, Signet, 1973 

A lawyer sets out to track down an heiress who is presumably unaware of her good fortune. The trail leads to a commune headed by a Tarzanish figure who keeps tight control through his charisma and other pressures. She does not seem to be there either, but there is some mystery involved, and this leads to more than one murder before our hero discovers the truth. There are some mild sexual antics and a fair though not memorable mystery. Above average for Brown. 10/7/21

The Guilt-Edged Cage by Carter Brown, Signet, 1962 

The protagonist is a professional thief who is hired to steal a gold coin. The problem is that the coin is kept in a house that is heavily guarded and whose owner is notoriously reluctant to lose any of his property. This is a heist story, but there are sublots involving the target’s private business, not all of which is on the right side of the law. Brown turns out to be a decent writer of low key detective and crime stories when he is not being silly. 10/7/21

The Scholars of Night by John M. Ford, Tor, 2021, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-250-26917-1

This sophisticated espionage story was first published in 1988, but it ages quite well despite the changes in international politics. It concentrates on the machinations inside the academic community and the plot is so complex that it would take paragraphs to explain it, and doing so would naturally ruin the story for readers. Suffice it to say that it involves a bogus copy of a play by Christopher Marlowe, multiple assassinations, rival groups working for the same side, a new development is computer technology, and a large handful of very complex and interesting characters, both good and bad, if those terms mean anything in this context. Although I enjoyed the writer's work in the past, I somehow never crossed paths with this one before. 10/6/21

Wings Above the Diamantina by Arthur W. Upfield, Pan, 1978 (originally published in 1936) 

Just about okay mystery in which an airplane is stolen and later found with a drugged woman in the cockpit, sitting in the middle of nowhere. Bony is on the scene but the lengthy discussion of the history of a neighboring family including a succession of changed wills telegraphs the motive. The chief villain has no less than four other characters involved in his conspiracy, which is unnecessarily complicated. The woman knows that an invalid will was used to transfer the property title. A sandstorm, a rain storm, and a flood all add some complicating but irrelevant diversions.  10/4/21

High Command Murder by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1980 

Someone murdered General Patton to cover up the theft of a fortune in stolen Nazi gold, which was buried somewhere in northern France. The Death Merchant wants to recover it for the US government, but there are two separate terrorists organizations plus a neo-Nazi group who want it for themselves, not to mention the French police. Camellion kills a lot of innocent people in this one and it’s not even a case of national security. That said, it is considerably less violent than most of its predecessors. 10/3/21

The Devil’s Trashcan by Joseph Rosenberger, Pinnacle, 1981 

A surprisingly dull entry in the Death Merchant series. Secret documents about hidden Nazis are supposedly at the bottom of a lake in Austria. Although the chances of recovering them are slight, Camellion leads a group on an expedition that is really designed to lure neo-Nazi hit squads out of concealment so they can be eliminated. It works – there are some pitched battles – but they also find the documents, which is a bonus. Long lectures, lots of background material, and some weird stuff about the colors of different people’s auras telegraphing whether or not they will survive the upcoming gunfight. 10/3/21