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Archive for December, 2017

Spy Thriller Review – The Cold War Swap

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

The Cold War Swap by Ross Thomas

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

During his lifetime, other writers, critics and fans ranked Ross Thomas (1926 – 1995) as one of the top thriller writers.

In this Edgar Award-winning novel series hero Mac McCorkle owns and runs a popular watering hole in Bonn, West Germany. His pal Mike Padillo uses the bar for espionage and con jobs, two activities treated as indistinguishable in Thomas’ world view. An Unnamed Mysterious Agency sends out Padillo, a resourceful clandestine agent, to do risky and sensitive jobs.

In this case, Padillo is to drag back two American defectors from East to West Germany. Snafus occur one after the other, and McCorkle has to help Padillo ferry the unstable pair back. Strengths of the novel: snappy dialogue, cynical but likable characters, and the credible milieu of the two Germanys.

Thomas is especially savvy when he’s talking about uniforms and clothes; often his novels have funny tangents about the messages telegraphed by male fashion choices.



Thriller Thursday Review – A Coffin for Dimitrios

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The 1939 thriller kicks off when a Turkish police officer invites Charles Latimer, a former British academic now a mystery writer, to a corpse viewing. Police pulled from the Bosphorus one Dimitrios, a con man and spy. The policeman gives Latimer a sketchy account of Dimitrios’ life of crime: thief, killer, spy, narcotics smuggler, assassin and human trafficker.

Latimer, partly as an experiment, partly out of pique at being treated like an amateur by the policeman, decides to fill in the blanks in Dimitrios’ criminal history. The story narrates Latimer’s meeting Dimitrios’ former victims, marks, and henchmen. Things start to get messy and dangerous. Rum guys wonder why a professorial type should be interested in somebody whose death relieved a lot of dodgy people.

There’s no whining about the big bad world but there’s no moral or ethical ambiguity either, a point that draws me to these old suspense novels. Although all the thrillers Ambler wrote in the 1930s are worth reading, A Coffin for Dimitrios is the classic that has never gone out of print.



Mystery Monday Review – Rim of the Pit

Monday, December 11th, 2017

Rim of the Pit by Hake Talbot

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1944 mystery is a classic locked-room mystery. Set in a cabin in wintry New England woods, the characters have gathered for a séance to be conducted by a medium who is the widow of a logging baron. The baron’s spirit will announce who among the living has the logging rights to his lands, that is to say, the lands he owned when he was still among the quick. The séance gets out of hand when the baron’s spirit floats around and puts everybody, even the skeptics, into a tizzy.

The conniption doesn’t help clear thinking when the medium is murdered inside a locked room. The bloody tomahawk points to the current husband of the medium as does evidence that he flew out a window, over freshly fallen snow, to land over 100 feet away from the house. His fingerprints are on some grisly hunting trophies mounted high on a wall over the fireplace. Naturally, the characters assume that the current husband is possessed by a supernatural beast we have met in Algernon Blackwood stories, the widigo.

Critics and fans of the locked room mystery consider this book a masterpiece. Blog critic Mike Grost points out that John Dickson Carr must have influenced Talbot in that the reader is often misled about the order and significance of events and that action is mainly characters moving about, with their location being crucial to the solution of the impossible crime. Talbot – whose real name was Henning Nelms, a magician – sets an eerie tone, so weird that even we skeptical readers can go along with the supernatural explanation. At least for a time.

The incidents become rather convoluted, about on the same level as “two guns confusion” in Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels. The reveal, however, is sensible and logical. Readers who like the intricate puzzles of Carr, Christie and Queen will probably like this one.






2017 Books for Schools

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Thanks + Giving = Books for Children


Dear Members,

The 2017 Books for Schools Donation Campaign is nearly finished.  The last 4 schools are up and collecting donations of PBS Credits and PBS Money. This year we are hoping to give 10,750 books to 9 deserving schools across the county and we have almost reached our goal. Most of us can’t imagine what a childhood without books would have been like. Please help us to get books in the hands of children and to share the love of reading with them. These are children who may never otherwise have a book to call their own. 

We have nine participating schools this year from all over the country, including a school in Florida that was affected by Hurricane Irma, a school in Texas that has taken on students displaced by the flooding from Hurricane Harvey, and a school in Queens that has a high percentage of its students living with nonparents, in foster or shelter situations. You can read more about each school on the Books for Schools page where you can also donate Book Credits or PBS Money.

It’s the best kind of holiday glow…giving the gift of reading.

May your holidays be full of love and laughter and books!

Richard and
The PaperBackSwap Team