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Archive for July, 2022

Mystery Monday Review – The Weight of the Evidence

Monday, July 25th, 2022

The Weight of the Evidence by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Michael Innes was the pen name of Oxford professor J.I.M. Stewart. This 1943 novel is set in a redbrick university (six were founded in the industrial cities of England in the Victorian era) so it gives the Oxford author a chance to be waggish about provincial British universities of relatively recent founding as distinguished from ancient and venerable Oxford and Cambridge. The period detail is interesting to those of us into between the wars settings. His plots are improbable but I for one cannot resist a demise such as that met by Professor Pluckrose, who has been crushed to death by a meteorite which has fallen on him as he was chilling in a courtyard. This was not the Creator’s finger hitting the Smite Button. Someone shoved the meteorite out of a tower window. Series hero Yard Inspector John Appleby has to find out who and why.



Mystery Monday Review – Going for the Gold

Monday, July 18th, 2022

Going for the Gold by Emma Lathen

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1981 mystery is set at the same Lake Placid Olympics where the US men’s hockey team beat the USSR in the Miracle on Ice. Lathen – that is, the writing team of economist Mary Jane Latsis and attorney Martha Henissart – probably attended those Winter Games since they vividly capture the panopoly and excitement.

Being canny businesswomen, they also knew they were seeing the world change: the process in which mass media and intense public interest were turning sports into the economic and cultural behemoth that it is today. On a more relatable basis, the authors prove their State of New York street cred by realistically describing a massive blizzard. The storm also serves the plot because it paralyzes daily life for a couple of days, thus throwing off the time-table of the fiendish sniper who took down a French downhill skier in mid-flight.

Also consistent with genuine human behavior, Lathen has a Danish female skier, falsely accused of taking drugs, pressured by two men who think they know what is better for her than she knows herself. Protesting the false accusation of doping, Swiss athletes kidnap the narrow-minded president of the IOC and imprison him in a funicular hanging half-way up the mountainside. Another subplot involves a scandal in procurement thievery for the purpose of extracting kickbacks.

The series hero, John Putnam Thatcher, is a senior vice-president at the Sloan Guaranty Trust, the third largest bank in the world. Thatcher in fact runs the Sloan because the muddle-headed president, Bradford Withers, is a social butterfly who spends little time at the bank, much to the relief of his senior executives. Thatcher’s main task is dealing with a flood of counterfeit Eurochecks which might cost the Trust a half-million dollars. He is assisted by the touchy and testy stickler for detail Everett Gabler, who is always a superbly drawn character.




Thriller Review – Stillhouse Lake

Thursday, July 7th, 2022

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

STILLHOUSE LAKE by Rachel Caine is the first in a thriller series featuring Gwen Proctor. She used to be Gina Royal, until she and the rest of the world discovered her husband was a serial killer.  He was arrested, convicted, and sent to death row, but Gwen and her two kids got a life sentence of running from his fans and foes alike.  Quite a number of people are convinced that she must have known and helped him in his sadistic killings. The depths to which internet stalkers will go is incredibly creepy and sadly sounds too, too authentic.

Gwen’s found a suspiciously affordable house near Stillhouse Lake, a place that used to be something of a resort community but has fallen on hard times.  Gwen’s paranoia is off the charts but this place really seems to be somewhere they can settle for a while. The two teens are predictably damaged by what’s happened, but they are aware of how careful they need to be. But now they have a couple friends, Gwen has a neighbor who seems trustworthy – it can’t mean much if they slip up once in a while, right?

Then a body turns up in the lake, a girl who’s been killed in a fashion not unlike what Gwen’s ex used to do. The police investigate and slowly their suspicions start to coalesce around Gwen.  Gwen knows she didn’t do it, so who did?  Gwen is getting letters from her ex – awful letters – and the latest one has a reference that tells Gwen he knows exactly where they are. She’s been so careful, how could this possibly happen?

This is a fast-paced, very creepy thriller but fair warning – while the main plot is resolved, a new development means it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.  Lots of tense atmosphere, good dialogue, lots of suspects. Also some gory detail about women being killed if you’re sensitive to that.  While it didn’t spoil the suspense for me,  if you are a frequent mystery/thriller reader you’ll probably figure out the identities of the bad guys right away.

Caine does a great job making us empathize with Gwen.  I felt really bad for her and her kids. How could they ever have anything approaching a normal life? How could you come to grips with what happened, and how could the kids grow up and move on? Then I discovered there are multiple sequels and it looks like trouble just keeps finding them. I enjoyed this book a lot, but I empathized too much with the characters – I can’t bear to put myself into their places for another 4 novels so I’m stopping here. And that’s fine.  If you like a nice tense, suspense-filled story with a fierce female protagonist, this fits the bill.




World War II Thriller Review – Wreckers Must Breathe

Tuesday, July 5th, 2022

Wreckers Must Breathe by Hammond Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

I detest spoilers so I find it hard to discuss this World War II adventure story without giving any of the surprises away.

I will satisfy myself by observing that the thriller opens with drama critic Walter Craig on a beach vacation, perhaps, he feels, his last for a long while because of German mobilization on the continent. Cruising in a chartered fishing boat captained by Big Logan, Craig is yanked overboard by a huge black shape. Later on a walk Craig has an encounter with a stiff strict guy who speaks English a little too precisely. Soon enough, Craig and Big Logan find out they must do their bit to foil Nazi plans to attack a rendezvous of Royal Navy ships in the North Sea.

I like old thrillers because Innes creates plausible characters who are human beings, not Men of Steel like Jack Reacher. To his credit, Innes varies the narrative voices with the dispatches of Maureen Weston, a tough Irishwoman and journalist colleague of Craig. Big Logan is a great sidekick, strong, brave, and smart. Because this was written early on in the war in 1940, Innes persuasively conveys the atmosphere of the UK on the brink of war. People know that war with Hitlerism is inevitable, but they still feel a chill once war is declared.

Innes is skillful in ratcheting up tension. Some of the tropes used convince us readers that Innes must have read Conan Doyle and H.G. Wells in his younger days. In his own time Innes worked the action thriller patch along with Geoffrey Household, Victor Canning, and Alistair MacLean. In our era similar writers are James Rollins and Clive Cussler. A reader looking a cracking WWII era thriller won’t go wrong with this one.