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Hostage London

October 25th, 2021

Hostage: London by Geoffrey Household

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Household’s obituary in the NYT (1988) said that he was “one of the British authors who helped to develop the suspense story into an art form.” While his best-known novel was Rogue Male in 1939, his other novels are worth reading too. Hostage: London is a novel about a world-wide terrorist organization with a nuclear bomb. Published in 1977, the thriller doesn’t mention cell phones or data bases. The nuke doesn’t even have an electronic timer. But unlike many novels written in the Cold War 1970s, it stands up surprisingly well. The terrorist mindset is portrayed convincingly as is their thorough tradecraft. Household’s power to make us see physical and political landscape reminds us of Conrad’s The Secret Agent.




Mystery Monday – Counterstroke

October 11th, 2021

Counterstroke by Andrew Garve

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

We mystery fans remember writers who create a series hero. Conan Doyle for Holmes. Christie for Poirot. Sayers for Lord Peter Lamesey. We consign to obscurity writers of stand-alone thrillers. Fight this tendency by not neglecting the stories of Andrew Garve. He built his reputation in the Sixties and Seventies the old-fashioned way, one stand-alone at a time.

In his last novel in 1978, terrorists kidnap the wife of a member of Parliament. The terrorists threaten that if authorities don’t release their fellow murderer from prison by their deadline, they will slowly torture her to death.

Robert Farran, a “resting” actor, takes to the police his plan to impersonate the terrorist and be exchanged for the unhappy victim. The process of preparing for the exchange takes surprising turns.

The climax and ending may feel abrupt to us post-moderns who expect thrillers to sprawl. Persuasive is the portrait of the cold and heartless terrorists. Paul Winterton (1908 – 2001) was the real name of Andrew Garve and Roger Bax. Winterton was a journalist so he knew how to write concise clear prose.




Mystery Monday – The Case of the Vagabond Virgin

September 26th, 2021

The Case of the Vagabond Virgin by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


This 1948 Perry Mason story features plot twists and red herrings enough to keep the reader turning the pages until the startling reveal. In fact, some fans argue that it is one of the best Mason tales.

Department store mogul John Racer Addison hires Perry Mason to bail out a comely maiden named Veronica Dale. Addison had given hitchhiking Veronica a ride. Her hard luck story and her gorgeousness persuade Addison to call on his connections to get her a room, alone, in a quality hotel. Taking a walk on the streets, however, Veronica is taken to the cop shop to be booked on a vagrancy charge by a policeman who was concerned for her safety.

Things look up for Veronica when Perry gets her out of jail and she lands a job at Addison’s department store in the hosiery department (remember those?). The worm turns though when blackmailer Eric Hansell gets a whiff of the incident and makes a beeline to Addison to take a chomp out of him. On top of Addison’s trouble, moreover, his partner that he can’t stand, Edgar Z. Ferrell, has bought a house out from under Addison in order to set up a love nest very near the culvert where Addison picked up Veronica.

When it rains, it pours.

Poor Ferrell is murdered without ever having a scene or a line. Addison is arrested for the crime. During the courtroom sequence, Mason makes sneering DA Hamilton Burger look a complete tool for reasons I can’t possibly spoil in a review.

Written in Gardner´s clipped no-nonsense style, the story moves at a brisk pace. The plot is mildly complicated but doesn’t approach the complexity of, say, The Case of the Cautious Coquette. I don’t think Gardner believed his readers expected a lot of characterizations so he didn’t spend time or space constructing detailed characters with deep motives. But for some reason the characters are exceptionally vivid in this outing, from series regular Sergeant Holcomb (ominous, mean, and out of control) to John Racer Addison (impulsive, irritable, and nervous).




September 10th, 2021

Mystery Monday Review – Put on by Cunning

August 30th, 2021

Put on by Cunning by Ruth Rendell

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The US title is Death Notes, maybe because publishers thought that American readers would not connect with the Hamlet allusion and Death Notes evokes Agatha Christie, queen of the red herrings and doubtful identities. This 1981 mystery is the 11th of 24 crime novels, released from 1964 to 2013, starring the crime-solving Chief Inspector Reg Wexford and his sidekick Mike Burden, set in the fictional Sussex town of Kingsmarkham.

Old, deaf, and fragile, Sir Manuel Camargue slips on a snowy bank, falls into a cold river and dies under the ice. So it’s ruled by the coroner a death by misadventure. Or was there something more going on? Because it turns out that the celebrity flautist was about to get married to a woman young enough to be his daughter, young enough to be a contemporary of Sheila, the TV star daughter of Reg Wexford. Inspector Wexford wonders why Carmague’s daughter Natalie Arno, who had been estranged from her father for almost twenty years, had suddenly returned to England from LA to visit her father.

Carmague’s fiancé appeals to Wexford for help, believing that Natalie is using a fake identity, because Carmague believed the woman who visited him was an impostor. It does not take long for Reg to hit a dead end. In fact, his superior tells him bluntly to drop the case. Because his well-paid TV star daughter doesn’t let him use his nest egg to pay for her wedding, Reg takes his wife Dora to California to investigate Natalie’s tracks there.

Some might claim that this is not nearly Rendell’s strongest story due to too many coincidences and too many strange turns. But so be it, says me. Nobody wrote mysteries like Ruth Rendell, who balanced foreboding and menace with humanity, common sense, and a dash of humor. The reader can tell she was a dog lover.








Mystery Monday Review – Much in Evidence

August 16th, 2021

Much in Evidence by Henry Cecil

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Taking £100,000 in cash out of the bank to play the ponies at a later date, bald and lame Mr. Richmond is persuaded to insure it by his banker. Luckily. That same night he is robbed of the entire treasure and conked on the head by two house-breakers disguised in the red noses and long white beards of Santa Claus – or Father Christmas, as the British say.

His insurance company, though grumpy over the whole matter, pays out the claim. But their investigator, Miss Clinch, remains highly skeptical – or sceptical, as the British have it – of Richmond’s version of events.

She makes deep dives into the records of past claims, not as easy a task in back in paper-ridden 1957 as it is nowadays with our complete and accurate in every way banks of data. Three different insurance companies say they dealt with a lame and bald man on three smelly claims. Miss Clinch finds that Mr. Richmond’s typewriter wrote letters to the scammed insurance companies. Mr. Richmond ends up in the dock, with the two coincidences of appearance and typewriter as damning circumstantial evidence against him.

As is usual with Cecil, the plot does not involve a murder, which makes a nice change from the usual crime novel. The dialogue is clever and clear. The characters have a lot of variety from the quietly competent defense lawyer Stanhope to the barrow boy Mr. Brown to the coolly professional home invaders educated at a tony private school – or public school, as the British say. The alcoholic solicitor Mr. Tewkesbury makes a re-appearance from The Painswick Line; I don’t usually like alky humor but he’s pretty funny in a ‘W.C. Fields as Mr. Micawber’ way. Full of twists that are impossible to predict, the plot hinges on coincidences, all piled high until the whole edifice comes tumbling down in a rousing climax that borders on fantasy.

Henry James said that Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs had a “hard lucidity.” Cecil’s lucidity is light, with plain prose, graceful dialogue, and difficult legal points explained comprehensibly. Fans of comic novels, courtroom fiction, and dry English humor will enjoy this short novel during plane trips or hospital stays. The acceptance of human beings as they are is cheerfully realistic.





Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Stuttering Bishop

August 9th, 2021

The Case of the Stuttering Bishop

by Erle Stanley Gardner


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


Our story opens with ace lawyer Perry Mason being forced by his secretary Della Street to deal with the mail. At the last minute, he is rescued by a visit from a man from Australia who claims to be a bishop. Mason suspects William Mallory from the first because Mallory stammers, a speech disorder that would thwart a career that involved public speaking.

The bishop has a bizarre story involving an inheritance. He says the wealthy but rotten magnate Renwold C. Brownley — now there’s a Gardnerian ornate name – broke up his own son’s marriage. He then forced his daughter-in-law, Julia Branner, to flee to Australia, where she had to put her baby girl up for adoption. Greedy granpa Renwold C. Brownley wanted the child, his only grandchild, and hired detectives to find her. The bishop tells Mason that dodgy PI’s have brought forward a young woman who claims to be the heir. Julia however says it’s not so. The bishop tells Mason all this on background, predicting that Julia herself will soon contact Mason.

Mason takes the case, but feels dubious that he knows everything there is to know. Mason tells his PI Paul Drake to have Mallory followed. However, after Mallory is attacked in his lodgings and recovers in hospital, he disappears on his way to embark on a ship back to Oz. Mason meets Julia to get her story straight. Then the victim is offed and it turns out to be – you got it in one — Renwold C. Brownley. Julia, though a client accused of murder-one, is totally uncooperative with Mason in that she won’t even tell him why she is innocent.

Any number of imposters go through their poses in this novel. Take it from a reader who’s read stack of Mason stories, this features one of the most complicated plots ever devised by Gardner, who gloried in complexity and felt confident his readers would keep up. Because the number of suspects is not large, it is fairly easy to guess the culprit, but I’ll bet the reader will still be enlightened by Perry’s reveal to Della and Paul.

Published in 1936, this is only the 9th Perry Mason novel (of 52 in all) so Mason and the DA Ham Burger have a cordial enough relationship to have a conference outside of the courtroom. Later Burger was to give no quarter, which was okay with Mason who never quailed from a fight.

Bottom line: Well worth reading for both hardcore fans and readers who may be wondering why back in the olden days Gardner was the best-selling mystery writer in the world.