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Series Spotlight – The Scotland Yard Murder Squad

May 1st, 2018

 

The Scotland Yard Murder Squad Series by Alex Grecian

 

by Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

 
I want to share with you a series of murder mysteries that I thoroughly enjoyed, written by Alex Grecian. The series is called the Scotland Yard Murder Squad, and the first book, The Yard, introduces us to Inspector Walter Day, a young, up-and-coming detective with Scotland Yard, Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith, an unlucky but clever colleague, and Dr. Kingsley, the coroner who has a fascination with clues.   

Walter Day has just come to London to join the newly created Murder Squad.  He is recently married to Clare, a woman who loves and supports him, but according to her parents, she’s married beneath her.  In spite of this, she is happy and adjusting to being the wife of a Scotland Yard detective. 

Alex Grecian brings Victorian London to life: rainy days in a gray city full of fog and grim alleys.  His characters are likeable (well, the good guys) and very believable.  He explores the lack of technology by showing us the difficulties of no rapid communication and no forensic science. Imagine trying to find a boy to deliver an urgent message for a penny rather than having a telephone at hand. 

Today, applying forensic science to criminal investigations is commonplace, but the Scotland Yard Murder Squad operates in Victorian London, where such practices are just being born. Dr. Kingsley is very fond of fingerprints, in spite of the Yard’s skepticism, and tries (mostly in vain) to convince the police to preserve a crime scene rather than tramp all over the place destroying evidence.  The notion of trying to understand the criminal mind, and searching for patterns of behavior and thought is also new and being tested at this time.   

The second book is The Black Country, which sees Walter and Nevil traveling to the Midlands, a place of superstitious villagers, a mysterious epidemic that is killing people, and the sinking of the village into the coal mines below.  So trying to find three missing family members suddenly takes on a bizarre edge, and Walter is challenged to the utmost.   

 

The third book, The Devil’s Workshop, tells us what had happened to Jack the Ripper (he was still alive, being held prisoner by a vigilante group determined to bring him to their own brand of justice) and introduced us to a murderer called the Harvest Man, after the Harvest spider who lives in attics. The Harvest Man liked to lurk in attics until the family was sound asleep, and then come out to kill.  But he had been captured, and was in prison—until he escaped with three other prisoners during a jail break.  To make matters worse, Jack the Ripper managed to escape his captors as well.  Walter Day and Nevil Hammersmith are racing against time to find these two madmen.  

 

 

Without giving too much away, let me just say that The Devil’s Workshop ended on a ‘bit’ of a cliffhanger, and the tension immediately continues in The Harvest Man, with the action picking up shortly after the third book ends.  The hunt is still on, and time is rapidly running out as the victim count rises.  Oh, and if you thought the cliffhanger was bad in book three, then brace yourself!  It’s even worse in book four.  So have book 5, Lost and Gone Forever, close by!  You won’t be sorry.  Grecian has announced that there will be a sixth book, but no definite date has been set.  I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment!   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Silence Observed

April 30th, 2018

Silence Observed by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

In this 1961 mystery, Appleby says he is 53, which means he was born in 1907 or 1908. Yard detective John Appleby first appeared in 1936 in Seven Suspects, an academic murder mystery set in an Oxford-type institution. He retired from the Yard after WWII and went to work in the upper reaches of the Metropolitan Police. He was active post-retirement in 1986 when Appleby and the Ospreys appeared. I know of no other author who kept a character going for 33 novels and numerous short stories for 50 years.

I suppose some critics argue that the Appleby novels of the 1970s and 1980s lack the literary touches that characterize Hamlet, Revenge! (1937) and Lament for a Maker (1938). Silence Observed is mainly for entertainment, with few writerly flourishes and only a little suspense. I think it’s worth reading for the creative use of learned language and examination of the acquisitive mentality of collectors and misers. Appleby observes, “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. Just a little mad, for a start. Inclined, say, to unreasonable jokes in the course of business. But later – well, very mad indeed.”

Just by chance, Appleby’s attention is arrested by two instances of forgeries in the art world. One collector has acquired a forgery of a notorious forger; another has been offered, of all things, a lost Rembrandt. An unlucky young man has been discovered with both bodies in highly suspicious circumstances. Appleby feels something is amiss and gets him off the hook, since in whodunnit land, as we hardcore mystery readers know, it is never the obvious suspect.

The pool of suspects is small enough to make the reveal fairly predictable. But the familiar characters, the erudite vocabulary, and London setting – though there is another remote insane manse as in Lament for a Maker and Hare Sitting Up, among others – make this an agreeable, soothing read.

 

 

 

True Crime Review – Small Town D.A.

April 24th, 2018

Small Town D.A. by Robert Traver

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is known as God’s country, a great place for hunting, fishing, snowshoeing, skiing, and canoeing. Besides dairy-farming, its industries were mainly of the extractive kind – lumbering and mining. In this 1954 memoir of Traver’s 14 years as a D.A. in Marquette County, he describes offenders of descents such as Finnish, Scandinavian, Italian, Irish, Cornish, with the occasional American Indian tossed in. The crime to be prosecuted was often drunk driving, as we would expect. But there were also cases of rape and murder. For extra thrills, thankfully rare, there were kidnapping and even an adultery case.

Each chapter of the book is an anecdote about a specific case and numerous stories about a certain crime. His anecdotes of the brutal crimes that happen in remote places will prime us to roll our eyes the next time we hear a somebody say, “Things like that just don’t happen here,” or see the headline, “Girl’s Violent End has Village in Shock.” The tone is generally upbeat, benevolent and humorous. Traver is inconsistent in that in the preface he believes the human nature is basically good and later he says we have to take human nature as we find it. But his stories illustrate his belief that human beings naturally resilient and enduring. In other words, we’re tough, tougher than we give ourselves credit for.

The real name of the author was John D. Voelker. He was born in 1903 in Ishepeming, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He went to law school at the University of Michigan. He returned to his home region to lawyer, becoming a D.A. in Marquette Country. He wrote this memoir in 1954 and says in the preface that he did not aspire to higher political office or judgeships. People change their minds and he didn’t say no when Gov. G. Mennen Williams appointed him to the Michigan Supreme Court. During this stint, he somehow found the time to write, under the pen name above, the courtroom novel Anatomy of a Murder, which became a monster best-seller and hit movie starring James Stewart, Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick, with the soundtrack composed by Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington.

 

 

 

 

Thriller Thursday Review – Cause for Alarm

April 19th, 2018

Cause for Alarm by Eric Ambler

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In this 1938 thriller, Ambler uses the familiar situation of an innocent bystander thrust into the twisted world of espionage.

Nick Marlowe is an engineer, not exactly a stable job in the 1930s, when manufacturers were laying off everybody, no matter the color of their collar. After being fired and with marriage on the horizon, Nick takes a job in Italy as a replacement for another engineer.

Nick arrives in the first fascist state and soon discovers the truth of his predecessor’s untimely demise. He is approached by two spies, one from Hitler’s side and the other from Stalin’s. The Nazi spymaster is repellent. The Soviet agent is the lively Russian-American Andreas Zaleshoff, who appeared in other Ambler novels of the Thirties.

This novel feels real, has well-drawn characters, and the action is like an action-adventure novel in the tradition of John Buchan. Fans of Alan Furst should read this.

 

 

 

Science Fiction Review – The Legend Trilogy

April 11th, 2018

     

 

The Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

After doing some research last year around the holidays, I purchased the Legend trilogy for my niece.  Yes, I’m the aunt who always gives books for gifts and I do a little research each time to determine the best books for her age group.  She is nearly 13. When I found this series I thought, ‘heck, this looks good for me, too!’ so here I am now.

Now, typically when I read a trilogy or other series I read a different book or two not from the series in between to break things up so I don’t get bored with the characters or story line.  This didn’t happen with Legend.  So, what started out as a potential recommendation and review for Legend (book 1), ended up including Prodigy (book 2) and Champion (book 3) because I couldn’t stop reading!

Marie Lu imagines the United States many years in the future when it’s no longer the United States, it is divided into the Republic and the Colonies.  We don’t know at first what caused this fracture because we only see things from the perspective of people in the Republic.  We are quickly introduced to June (prodigy of the Republic) and Day (public enemy of the Republic).  Their lives are vastly different; June has lived among the elite being groomed for a top position with the military and Day has been on the streets for years fighting the injustices of the Republic.  They are thrown together due a set of circumstances that pits them against one another, but they come to work together when they uncover secrets that have tragically impacted both of their lives.

When the Elector of the Republic dies, his young son takes over and chaos threatens a fragile country that has worn a mask of strength and prosperity to their people. The new Elector is threatened with assassination and his politicians are trying to manipulate the young leader.  And it turns out the Colonies aren’t struggling as the Republic has convinced its people- it is a thriving country run by corporations and has the Republic in a very difficult position.  In the war between the Republic and the Colonies that has waged for many years, who will be the victor?  When June and Day join forces, will they back the right nation?  Will their relationship survive the doubts of their allegiances? These questions and more are answered in a trilogy that is well thought out and delivered.

I found myself thoroughly engrossed in this series.  The characters were heroes yet had flaws that made them more realistic.  There was the undercurrent of a warning to all readers that if we aren’t careful in how we make decisions for ourselves and our government that we could end up in a broken United States. So, in addition to this being a science fiction, dystopian series, Lu’s series can also be a forewarning of the damage that humans can do a country if leaders are left unchecked.  I think readers who enjoyed other dystopian series (I’m thinking of The Hunger Games or Divergent series…both of which I would recommend highly) will see similar themes in the Legend trilogy but also some aspects of the dystopian world that are new creations.  I am giving the series 5 stars for, among other reasons, its readability, character development, plot, and originality.  And as a bonus I can now talk about the series with my niece!

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Restless Redhead

April 9th, 2018

 

The Case of the Restless Redhead

by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

For starry-eyed Evelyn Bagby, Hollywood was the Tinsel Town without Pity. Her curves and red hair (but no freckles) attracted the shark Staunton Vester Gladden. He fed her the usual line that with his mentoring and agenting wizardry, “Baby, I can make you a star.” But under the guise of acting and deportment lessons, he embezzled her money. She ended up waiting tables.

Worse, she lands in court, charged with larceny. Her novice attorney recognizes ace lawyer Perry Mason, who chances to attend the trial. Perry’s solid advice enables the greenhorn to upend the testimony that would’ve sent Evelyn to the clink and obtains her grateful release.

Thanking Perry in his office soon after, Evelyn tells him and faithful assistant Della Street that she thinks Staunton Vester Gladden might be Steve Merrill, the second husband of a big Hollywood star. Perry gets her a waitressing job and promises to look into her case. Helping people who aren’t getting breaks is totally consistent with Perry’s way of doing business.

Staunton Vester Gladden ends up with a bullet in his head that he didn’t put there himself. The cops put the collar on Evelyn as the most obvious perp since she had a beef with old Staunton. I don’t think I’m giving away anything by revealing that the novel ends with a dramatic courtroom climax.

This is a better than average Mason story. The reason is that he boldly ignores evidence that exculpates Evelyn. He has figured out a key piece of the puzzle (that I won’t reveal here) which strips story-telling witnesses of their alibi.

A good one for both hardcore fans and newbies, this 1954 novel was the basis for the script for the first episode of the Raymond Burr television series. Whitney Blake, the mother of actress producer survivor Meredith Baxter, played Evelyn.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe

April 2nd, 2018

 

The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe

by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1938 mystery opens with lawyer Perry Mason having lunch with his secretary Della Street in a swanky downtown department store. Della comments on the kindly appearance of an elderly woman apparently dining out with her niece. Perry observes that the little old lady is a shoplifter. A scene ensues whose upshot is that Perry gets the little old shoplifter off the hook because in fact she did not take the plunder out of the store.

The niece of the five-finger discount lady, Virginia Trent, later comes to Perry’s office for two reasons. She wants advice on how to get psychiatric help for her aunt Sarah Breel’s sudden-onset kleptomania. Gardner satirizes the psychoanalytic jargon and concepts (fixation, unconscious, etc.) that were taking the culture by storm in the thirties. Both Gardner and his creation Perry Mason were skeptics about complicated explanations of human nature.

Virginia Trent is also concerned with legal consequences. A handful of diamonds has disappeared from her uncle’s jewelry store, perhaps ripped off by her boosting Auntie. A bon-vivant named Austin Cullens promises to get the gems back. But he ends up shot. And her aunt is hit by a car while running away from the crime scene. When she wakes up, she claims she remembers nothing, but the cops charge her with murder-one anyway.

Later Virginia Trent and Perry find the body of her uncle. Ginny becomes utterly unglued, what with the stress of her aunt’s shoplifting, missing diamonds, one dead guy, and then her uncle being snuffed and put in a packing case. Gardner is hinting that studying psychology does not necessarily prepare one to meet the curveballs thrown by life.

Gardner does not play fair in this one, but the plot twists are ingenious. Slow down when reading the trial sequence because there is a Trent Gun and a Breel Gun. If you are not careful, you will get as confused as Sgt. Holcomb and Goodreads reviewers who get mighty frustrated with Gardner’s hocus-pocus with two guns, two bullets, two corpses and two crime scenes.