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Archive for February, 2023

True Crime Review – A Murder in Searcy

Tuesday, February 28th, 2023

A Murder in Searcy by Mike S. Allen and Deana Hamby Nall

Review by jjares

Fern Cowen Rodgers was murdered in her home in Searcy, Arkansas, on September 26, 1974. The townspeople were stunned because Fern and her husband, Dr. Porter Rodgers, Sr., were the aristocracy of Searcy. So they were particularly shocked to find out Mrs. Rodgers had two gunshots fired into her head. The writers gathered the facts from articles about the case, court documents, interviews, and other official papers. I was surprised that the trial went to court so quickly after the investigation (this story went from crime to court case in less than six months).
The authors followed the crime through the rabbit warrens of facts, lies, and innuendos. Because everyone knew everyone else’s business (this is a relatively small town), the defense attorney went after one of the investigators because he found out that Sgt. Jim Lester had been reprimanded (by his superior) at about the same time as the case.
The three defendants were tried individually. The first trial was for Dr. Porter Rodgers, Sr. The defense provided a psychological reason that Dr. Rodgers had diminished capacity (he was 70+ years old at the time). The prosecution averred that the good doctor saw 900+ patients a month, prescribed meds, and treated patients in his office and the hospital. How could he be diminished?
Peggy Hale, Dr. Rodger Sr.’s love interest, had been given a deal where, if she was honest in her testimony, she could get “consideration” when her trial came up. Peggy was twenty-one to Dr. Rodger’s seventy years. Dr. Rodger’s attorney, trying to save his life, implied that Peggy and Berry (the second and third defendants) were cohorts trying to fleece an older man. The attorney tried to blame the whole thing on Peggy and Berry; he thought that no one would believe a 21-year-old woman would love an aged man.
The fantastic thing is that after the three trials, that was not the end of the story. Dr. Rodgers tried to get his conviction overturned for years. The authors tell the final chapters of each of the defendants. This is a very readable story that flows well throughout.

Mystery Monday – My Brother’s Killer

Monday, February 27th, 2023

My Brother’s Killer by D.M. Devine

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


Though written in 1961, this English mystery uses to excellent effect the tried-and-true devices of whodunits during their Golden Age of the 1920s and 1930s. Think of Freeman Wills Crofts and his alibis, time-tables, and accounting for everybody’s movements. No wonder Agatha Christie highly praised this story.

The mystery is told in first-person by Simon, the brother of the victim Oliver Barnett. Both brothers are solicitors in their family practice. Simon can’t believe that, given his war record, Oliver could have taken his own life, as the crime scene seems to indicate. Both Simon and the Superintendent in charge of the investigation come to the conclusion it was murder. Instead playing the stock character of the thick flat-foot, Superintendent Garland, the lead detective, is as sharp as Simon.

Simon assembles a team to investigate murder. The narrative features the traditional plot twists and red herrings. As Simon and his mates peel the onion of Oliver’s life, however, it’s enough to make Simon cry to find out how many people would relish seeing Oliver roasting in his Eternal Just Deserts.

D. M. Devine (1920-1980), the Scottish author of 13 crime novels, was very popular in his time as a master of the classic detective story. This classic was re-released by Arcturus Publishing in 2012 as part of its program of re-issues of forgotten masterpieces.






Thriller Review – The Far Sands

Thursday, February 23rd, 2023

The Far Sands by Andrew Garve

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


This novel from 1960 is a thriller.

A British Foreign Office diplomat meets an attractive woman on vacation. Love blooms. They marry hastily. Dip meets the sister- and brother-in-law. Charming people. Newly Mrs. Diplomat and her sister are identical twins.

But in a shocking turn of events the brother-in-law is seemingly done to death by the sister-in-law. Evidence says she did it but Mrs. Dip can’t believe it and works to clear dead sis’s name. Mr. Dip is between a rock and a hard place: the clear evidence versus his bride’s determination and ingenuity. But they get a line on the possible murderer!

Garve wrote tight mysteries with not a word out of place, not a word wasted. Excellent novels to read while traveling.




True Crime Review – Murder Times Six

Tuesday, February 21st, 2023


Murder Times Six: The True Story of the Wells Gray Murders by Alan R Warren

Review by jjares

This story tells about the murder of three generations of a family in Wells Gray Park in Canada in the 1980s. It is well-researched and written engagingly. However, no words can whitewash the horrific murders of a pair of grandparents, parents, and two girls while camping. David Shearing shot the four adults because he wanted the two girls. The girls had gone to sleep in their tent while the adults were sitting around the campfire chatting.
When apprehended, David admitted to the killings (but the police knew he kept something back). For the six murders, David was sentenced to six concurrent terms of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 25 years. After he admitted he was guilty in court (and nothing more could be done to him), David admitted to the horrific details of the girl’s last days. He did not kill the girls immediately but took them away and kept them alive for several days. During that time, he raped and then murdered the girls. They were eleven and thirteen years old.
To hide his crimes, David put the six bodies in one car and incinerated them. When the vehicle was found, the bodies had been cremated. There was only enough matter left to fill one baby’s coffin. Once David learned how vehemently British Columbians hated him, he changed his last name to his mother’s Ennis.
Then, this true crime book takes an unusual turn. David was only twenty-four at the time of the murders. This book highlights the Canadian prison system and some of its quirks. David was able to marry while in prison. He also has the right to conjugal visits of 72 hours (in a prison home). In 2008, David was first eligible for parole. When the community that the Johnsons and Bentleys came from discovered the possibility of parole, they gathered together and got about 10,000 signatures to protest it.
Unfortunately, the victim’s families must undergo a parole hearing every two years. So they come in force and give poignant victim statements to the Parole Board. One thing the author highlights (and readers rarely consider) is that the younger family members were victims too. Their parents were too afraid to allow them outside alone; they’d spent their lives afraid.
There is a previous book, THE SEVENTH SHADOW. It was written by the (now retired) Mounted Police Sgt. Michael Eastham. In that book, Eastham outlined the difficulties (using tracking dogs, helicopters, and an extensive workforce) the police had in capturing David Shearing. MURDER TIMES SIX summarizes Eastham’s information and then moves on.
The emphasis of this book (as well as Eastham’s) is that David Shearing Ennis should never be released. Eastham stated he was sure that if David were released, he would kill again.





Mystery Monday – Right on the Money

Monday, February 20th, 2023

Right on the Money by Emma Lathen

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Given the background of this 1993 mystery is a corporate merger, I couldn’t blame a reader thinking that reading this oldie would offer as much excitement as changing a duvet cover. In fact the author makes the merger the stuff of drama, with fatal flaws like pride and fear of the future bringing about tragedy.

In the 22nd mystery starring John Putnam Thatcher, the banker and amateur detective has to get the bottom of the murder of a loudmouth so ambitious for attention and promotions that an insurance adjustor expresses surprise that the vic made it as far as 32 years of age.

Aqua Supplies, Inc. (ASI) is too big, too bureaucratic, and too complacent to fire anybody and so not able to develop new kitchen appliances that female consumers may actually want to buy. So it fixes to merge – that is, gobble up whole without so much as a belch – with Ecker, a small family-owned and operated designer and maker of nifty percolators and such. Since the disability retirement of the Ecker heir, the main assets there are its ageing founder and its highly talented female CFO.

ASI assistant division manager Victor Hunnicut rolls his eyes at the kool-aid stand ways of Ecker. His skill set, he realizes, would not make him a candidate for running Ecker so he puts his ambition above the interests of his employer and makes plans to quash the merger plans. He fears that other middle managers will leapfrog over him, thus cutting him off from chances to shine for his superiors. While giving Ecker a get-acquainted tour, the hotshot intimates to Ken Nicholls that factions in both companies are duking it out over the merger plans. Ken Nicholls is a junior banking exec who’s often sent by hero John Putnam Thatcher to gather information.

After the tour, things start to get criminous. The quaint old mill that stored Ecker’s financial computers and files for research and development is torched by an arsonist. Go-getter Vic Hunnicut is murdered at the annual trade show.

Emma Lathen was the pen name of Mary Latsis (economic analyst) and Martha Hennissart (attorney). Both knew the worlds of business at all levels from clerks to CEOs, so they felt at home in a constantly changing business environment and the variety of personalities to be found in the private sector. Sure, the business environment has changed in the last 35 years, but human nature has not. For instance, as old-school feminists, they have acerbic fun satirizing businessmen who are buoyed up by secretaries but who attribute their success to their own intelligence and diligence.





Fantasy Review – A Second Chance

Friday, February 17th, 2023

A Second Chance by Jodi Taylor

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


A SECOND CHANCE is third in the Chronicles of St Mary’s, all about time-traveling historians. You should start at the beginning – read my previous reviews of JUST ONE DAMNED THING AFTER ANOTHER and A SYMPHONY OF ECHOES.  The tone is shifting away from amusement; there’s more than one dark episode here although we still have some funny scenes as well as nice snarky dialogue.

As in the last book, the story proper begins with a trip into the past that’s supposed to be an easy in-and-out, but turns into a hair-raising life or death experience, but this is just an appetizer.

It’s off to Troy, the bit of history that Max has long dreamed of watching.  We know we’re going there thanks to the unnecessary prologue Taylor inserted (I don’t like them- others will disagree I’m sure). Troy will take up the better part of this story, what with the intial reconnoiter and then the team spending quite a while observing daily life. The pacing  is a little slower than I’ve seen in the other two books; Taylor spends  a while settling the team into Troy and describing the setting.  That’s fine, it gives us a chance to catch our breath and anticipate the chaos we know is coming. I quite liked the explanation of the Trojan Horse and how it was that Troy became so vulnerable.

However, now we come to a couple really big surprising events.   As a reader, I know there are many books left in the series, and with a good chunk of this book left to go, I had theories on where Taylor would go with it/them. I wasn’t right this time

After Troy it’s off to Agincourt. I remembered it from Henry V’s speech in Shakespeare’s play, but that’s all, and was curious enough to look up the real story. Just as in Troy, it’s got some grim scenes in it and ends in a startling way.  I really was not expecting that either.

In the first book we’re shown that History will not tolerate changes. If you do something to alter the past, History (and if you’ve read the previous books, you know who that is) will drop a rock on you or something equivalent in order to keep the timeline pure.  But that turned out to have some wiggle room, and now Taylor rips off the cover and throws it away. We are firmly into alternate timelines and anything can happen.  I am still on the fence about the two Muses, though, they are a bit too much deus ex machina for my liking.

As I mentioned, this book has less amusement factor than the first couple, but wow she really threw in some twists. I’m definitely intrigued to see what happens next. Taylor hasn’t really succeeded in getting me emotionally attached to the characters, even the main ones, but no matter, I’d still like to know how (or if) she’s going to resolve Max’s current problem.  I hate spoiling plots for myself, so I won’t look ahead.  Number 4, A TRAIL THROUGH TIME, is now on my reading list.




Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Queenly Contestant

Monday, February 13th, 2023


The Case of the Queenly Contestant by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


Tall queenly suave Ellen has a sad story. Twenty years before in her California burg, Ellen won a beauty pageant at 18 and a chance for a screen test in the City of Angels. But she disappeared to have the baby of rich kid about town Harmon Haslett. She totally broke off relations with her own family due to shame of having a love child in the late Forties.

Ellen asks Mason about the law of privacy invasion because a newspaper in her hometown is thinking of running a “Whatever happened to…” kind of column on her doings and whereabouts after she seemed to have vanished in Tinseltown. For the sake of her son, Ellen does not want probes into a past better left in the past. Perry feels she is not forthcoming with all her concerns and she leaves his office with both lawyer and client dissatisfied.

Working on his own dime because he is attracted by a fight, Mason kicks over some rocks and finds himself surrounded by especially duplicitous people, such as Ellen’s indiscreet female friend, a bent cop turned PI, a sleazy lawyer, and a tough fixer man, not to mention, unfortunately, Ellen his own client. Added to the fog of mystery is the sudden disappearance and presumed death of rich Harmon Haslett, heel of a father but still a tycoon back in the burg. Gardner doesn’t tell us why Harmon’s yacht was sunk so readers are thus free and happy to assume it was attacked by a pod of killer whales off the Portuguese coast.

Hey, it happens.

Mason digs in and finds still more intrigue. He discovers that Ellen had her and Harmon’s son but left the child to be raised by that staple of fairy tales, a kindly childless older couple. They didn’t live a lonely hut in the woods. If they had, they would not have been recently killed in – you guessed it in one – a car crash and thus not available to back up Ellen’s story. Plus, in the wake of Harmon’s providing lunch for some orcas, a nurse, the “diabolically clever” Agnes Burlington, who attended at the time of the out-of-wedlock birth, wants to seize the chance to make money out of this potentially embarrassing information.

And we all know what happens to blackmailers in Perry Mason novels. Busted, charged, and jailed with no bail, prime suspect Ellen tells Mason not to argue the circumstantial evidence. Luckily for her, Mason disregards her instructions, and does challenge the reasonable inferences the evidence implies. With what result I need not reveal at this time and in this place.

Though I readily admit the Mason novels of the Sixties are a mixed bag, I recommend this one for its tight story, variety of players, and timely for 1969 theme of changing attitudes about single women having babies. Sure, Gardner has assumptions about the roles and attitudes of men and women that we would expect of somebody born in 1889. But at least he had sympathy for the long row women have to hoe in this world.