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Archive for August, 2020

Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Haunted Husband

Monday, August 24th, 2020

The Case of the Haunted Husband
by Erle Stanley Gardner

 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In this 1942 mystery, aspiring actress Stephanie Claire is fired from her hat-checking job after fending off her sleazy boss’ advances. Brave Stephanie hitchhikes to L.A. to get closer to Hollywood and the breaks it might offer. In Bakersfield she is picked up by a handsome confident man in a big fast sedan. He’s been at the bottle and offers her a pull so to keep on his good side she takes a swig. In attempting to make a move on her, the driver loses control of the car, which causes a multi-vehicle accident in which another man is killed. Stephanie is rescued from the wreck, at the steering wheel and with the liquor on her breath. The driver of the car has vanished. She faces a charge of negligent homicide.

Talk about one of life’s dirty tricks.

Investigation reveals that the owner of the wrecked car is one Jules Homan, successful Hollywood writer and producer. He says the car was stolen. So Stephanie lands in trouble deep. One of Stephanie’s friends persuades ace lawyer Perry Mason to take the case, which he is drawn to because he likes cases in which the little guy seems to be pitted against the rich and powerful. Gardner’s view of Hollywood as ultimate company town rings true. Even the cops are afraid of their careers being stopped by its malign influence.

This is the background for one of the most convoluted Mason stories that Gardner ever wrote. Plot and incident abound. The writing is a little looser than usual with hints that are not followed up and conversations that don’t move the story along. On the other hand, these extended conversations reveal Perry Mason’s philosophy of life and death (he’s a bit of a mystic) and Lt. Tragg’s fair but fundamentally authoritarian personality. Della and Paul have a lot to do. Paul is his usual aggrieved self, Della is always game and smart. Ham Burger does not appear and the courtroom scenes are abbreviated.

This was written in the early 1940s, when Gardner was really on fire, churning out Mason and Cool and Lam stories at a rapid pace. Despite the quantity, I think quality did not suffer. I highly recommend this mystery to hardcore fans and green novices wondering why Gardner was the top-selling mystery writer of the 1940s.

 

 

Spy Novel Review – The Honourable Schoolboy

Monday, August 10th, 2020

The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carré

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In 1977, this spy novel won the Gold Dagger award for the best crime novel of the year and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

After the unmasking of a ‘mole’, a Soviet agent in the London intelligence agency, George Smiley has taken over the leadership of the Circus. He is tasked to lead the department back to its old clout as it closes residencies and gets its spies out of harm’s way – or out to pasture because their covert lives aren’t covert anymore.

To do this, Smiley has to find ‘Karla’, the Soviet spymaster in charge of the relentless campaign against the Circus and all reasonable guardrails of western civilization. A money trail leads to what we called in the 1970s Indochina. Smiley sends an Old Asia Hand, Jerry Westerby, camouflaged as a journalist, to Hong Kong, where he investigates secret bank accounts – apparently set up by ‘Karla’ for Moscow to pay an agent of tremendous value in Red China.

Westerby travels from Hong Kong to every hot spot Indochina has to offer in the mid-1970s. In a painful set piece, in Saigon days before the withdrawal of the American forces, a bitter American military officer wants to shake Westerby’s hand, since they are now both members of “second-rate nations.” Westerby also delves into the heart of darkness with trips to Vientiane in Laos and Phnom Pen and Battambang in Cambodia.

Without a little knowledge of Southeast Asia and without reading the prequel Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, a reader might feel lost in this big novel. But given these prerequisites are fulfilled, the many details do come together for an alert reader. The local color is amazing and persuasive; the reader can tell LeCarre visited the region to research this novel.

I think le Carré challenges his readers to trust him. That is, there are stretches in his long books where literally nothing happens. Even the characters start to get antsy in periods of inertia punctuated by periods of frenzy. On the other hand, he makes unpromising scenarios – interviews, in particular – brilliant character studies and primers on interrogation methods. So the story may be thin, but the suspense is compelling. In LeCarré novels, the last 100 pages or so are always un-put-downable.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – The Broken Vase

Monday, August 3rd, 2020

 

The Broken Vase by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

It is early 1941 in New York City. Gentleman farmer and private eye Tecumseh Fox is rich enough to afford giving a grant of $2,000.00 (about $35,000 in our 2021 dinero) to a young gifted fiddler to purchase a Stradivarius. Though not a music lover, Fox attends the Carnegie Hall concert for the premier performance of the fiddler on his prize violin. Unmusical Fox notices that the audience is shocked and leaving in droves. Fox is told that the violin’s tone didn’t sound at all right. The young violinist, in front of witnesses, takes his own life during the intermission.

Case closed, but a killing occurs that makes Fox think the suicide and the murder are linked. The rich mother of the murder victim hires Fox to investigate the circumstances and find out who committed the murder. Fox has a series of interviews and adventures that make for amusing reading, especially when one’s brain is too tired for more challenging reading matter.

Rex Stout is better known and more respected for his novels starring Nero Wolfe, rotund orchid fancier and PI to the rich and famous. Critics and fans agree that his other detective creations – Tec Fox, Alphabet Hicks, and Theodolinda ‘Dol’ Banner – are not up to the Wolfe-Archie stories, especially the novellas.

But I don’t care. As a fan of between the wars whodunnits, I have a soft spot for vintage characters, society settings, and squads of suspects. To his credit, Stout always plays fair with the reader, giving enough information to the reader to figure it out by the reveal. Also, like Conan Doyle was able to in the Holmes stories, Stout captures an insular world and feeling of timelessness – affluent Manhattan, mid-20th century – a quality that I hope discerning readers will enjoy for years to come.