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Archive for June, 2023

Mystery Monday Review – Mr. Campion and Others

Monday, June 5th, 2023

Mr. Campion and Others by Margery Allingham

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

These 13 short stories star Allingham’s series PI, Albert Campion. They were first published in the UK in the late thirties and made their way in the US, through Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, during WWII.

Allingham was a professional who cared about her craft. Without being fancy about vocabulary and grammar, she created well-turned sentences and phrases with neat twists and turns. This is the start of The Name on the Wrapper:

Mr. Albert Campion was one of those useful if at times exasperating people who remain interested in the world in general at three o’clock on a chilly winter’s morning. When he saw the overturned car, dark and unattended by the grass verge, therefore, he pulled up his own saloon and climbed out on to the road, whose frosty surface was glistening like a thousand diamonds.

In the early novels Campion has Wimsey-esque goofiness, but he evolves – mercifully, to my mind – to become not quirky, but human and plausible. The humor often comes out of Campion’s being mildly scandalized – but never shocked – at what people will get up to. This kind of subtlety, I think, is beyond Lord Peter or Hercule.

Happily, his sidekick Oates pops up in many of the stories. This, from the beginning of The Old Man in the Window:

Newly appointed Superintendent Stanislaus Oates was by no means intoxicated, but he was cheerful, as became a man celebrating an important advance in a distinguished career, and Mr. Campion, who sat opposite him at the small table in the corner of the chop-house, surveyed the change in his usually taciturn friend with interest.

More than a few of these stories are a tad on the thin side, so readers who want more substantial fare should stick with the novels. On the other hand, this is perfect reading for waiting rooms, lobbies, departure lounges and other moderately stressful situations.




Sci-Fi Review – The Ice Lion

Sunday, June 4th, 2023

The Ice Lion by Kathleen O’Neal Gear

Review by Melissa B. (dragoneyes)

A tale that is set in the far future where the earth is now in ice age. It is cold and growing colder. Humans have survived but they are not like the humans of today. They look different and are more adaptable to the freezing terrain. There are also animals that survived. Some are the prey of man and others, the man is the prey. It is a brutal world and you must keep watch for hungry beasts, severe weather and other savage clans.

In this book we meet the Sealion People. From the very beginning there is a tragic event that sets Lynx, a kind-hearted boy, off on a journey to find himself. Along the way he meets and elderly man that looks very different from any clan member that he has ever seen. He realizes later that the old man is the last of the Jemen. Stories tell of these transcendental beings that existed long ago and created the people that now exist so that mankind would not go extinct. Together, they set off only to get separated trying to help others.

Quiller, who is in love with Lynx and also a good friend, sets off with a group to try to find him. They come upon a massacre of a rival clan and find 3 children who survived. Quiller automatically takes them under her protection. Now burdened with the decision of taking care of the children or finding her friend, she goes on her own journey.

While I really enjoyed the story and found the characters charismatic, I did struggle with the backstory for this one. I didn’t feel that the Jemen, the climate change incident and the odd things they found were well developed. I got more of what happened in the past by reading the synopsis of the book than the book itself. Hoping that book 2 will go into more depth on that topic.




Sci-Fi Review – Last Year

Saturday, June 3rd, 2023

LAST YEAR by Robert Charles Wilson

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


Sometime in the near future, time travel will be discovered. The Mirror, as they call it, has some limitations. It has a range – you can’t go back to the very near or the very far past.  And once you go into the past, you’ve really traveled into an alternate universe. The future of that place is now irretrievably changed from yours. There are no paradoxes – going back to kill the person who was your grandfather has no effect on you, because you’re no longer in the universe you came from. You can, however,  go back to your own future via the Mirror.

And so, to what amazing use has the Mirror been put? Tourism.  August Kemp opened a Mirror in 1870s, built a futuristic City in Ohio, and is selling tour packages to visitors from his time and carefully curated experiences of the City to 19th century customers. Many of the workers in the City are locals, who earn good money but are also not allowed to know everything about future technology.  The City has a limited shelf life though – the more exposure there is to the future, the more diversion there is from recorded history, and it becomes less interesting to the tourists. Five years in operation, and then it closes forever.

Jesse Cullum was once a drifter who got hired by the City. Jesse does low-level security jobs until the day he saves President Ulysses S. Grant from a would-be assassin. A 19th century assassin who is using a Glock-19 pistol, no less. Kemp is impressed by Jesse and teams him up with 21st century employee Elizabeth DePaul to investigate how the local got the forbidden weapon.   As Jesse and Elizabeth uncover a much bigger problem than one stray gun, they also become lovers. A doomed romance to be sure, because neither one of them can nor wants to stay forever in the other’s world.

But this is not a book focused on Jesse and Elizabeth’s relationship. Nor is it focused on the mechanics of time travel, although there’s an interesting bit about where the Mirror comes from.  The smuggling investigation is in the forefront although it is also more of a framework for the big questions.  Can you ethically provide access to technological marvels and then yank them away? Should you attempt to right the wrongs of the past, hoping it will lead to a better outcome?  And the alternate – if you know your present actions lead to future disaster, shouldn’t you change?  Wilson doesn’t beat you over the head with all this either, it’s nicely integrated into the rest of the plot.

Wilson’s characters don’t express reams of emotion, but they have plenty of trauma to be explored.  Jesse is very tolerant and accepting for the time, but there’s a reasonable explanation for it.  Elizabeth has her own issues, with a compelling reason to go back (and not just for indoor plumbing).  Eventually they will end up in lawless San Francisco, with the Mirror about to close, and everything else coming to a pulse-pounding head.

It’s a standalone novel, so the entire story is contained nicely. It has plenty of action to keep the pace moving along, decent characterizations, excellent imagery, and interesting philosophical questions.  It’s also one of the few time-travel novels that didn’t make me want to quibble about how it works. I recommend it.





Fantasy Friday Review – Ink & Sigil

Friday, June 2nd, 2023

INK & SIGIL by Kevin Hearne

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


This new urban fantasy series from Kevin Hearne takes place in the same universe as his Iron Druid series, but a new reader does not need to have read that to enjoy this one.  That said, it does assume the reader’s familiarity with the Irish gods of the Tuatha De Danann, and there’s definitely references to the events of the Iron Druid series.  The reader won’t be lost without that knowledge, but certainly it adds depth.

Al MacBharrais is a “sigil agent”. He is one of only five humans charged with creating and enforcing contracts that keep the gods of various planes (the metaphysical kind, not aircraft) from popping up on Earth and causing havoc.  He’s been given magical symbols (sigils) that when prepared with special inks, have the power of spells like invisibility, healing, strength and so forth.  Al also has a problem – someone cursed him so that anyone who hears him talk for any length of time will end up hating him. Therefore after a few words he resorts to communicating through text or a voice app on his phone.

As the book opens, Al’s latest apprentice Geordie turns up dead in his flat, having choked on a raisin scone. This is the seventh apprentice Al has lost due to seemingly random accidents. Only it seems Geordie had a little sideline in trafficking magical beings, which is just as abhorrent as trafficking humans. Along with that he had knowledge of sigils and magical ingredients he should not have had. Al ends up with a hobgoblin sidekick named Buck Foi, and the two of them start investigating Geordie’s crimes.  Along the way, we’re introduced to a couple other interesting supporting characters as well. Nadia is an employee of Al’s with magical skills of her own, and there’s Saxon Codpiece the hacker.

Hearne’s Iron Druid series was very successful and he’s succeeded in continuing the same feel with new characters.  The main character has magical abilities and there’s a sidekick who provides comic relief. Hearne has his characters speak in such heavy Scots vernacular there’s a guide at the front to the language, just like the Irish guide in the Iron Druid. There’s a pesky human detective who keeps popping up.

If you’re new to this, or you just couldn’t get enough of the Iron Druid, I think you’ll really like this book. It definitely has the same feel to it.  Al is a sympathetic character (although kind of dense – really, he already knows he’s cursed but he accepts all those “random” deaths?). Nadia is good too, although her one trick is rather limiting.  There’s a lot of action interspersed with funny bits, and Hearne’s usual fan-boy nerdy humor. But for me, this story is just too similar to the previous series. I want something different and not to take that same journey again.  I’ll stop with this first volume.






Thriller Review – The Limbo Line

Thursday, June 1st, 2023

The Limbo Line by Victor Canning

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1963 thriller combines an adventure yarn with a Cold War spy story. Readers that enjoyed Greenmantle by John Buchan or Conan Doyle’s Brigadier Gerard stories would probably like this tale.

Richard Manston, retired spy, lives in the English countryside as a gentleman farmer. His ex-spy master Ronnie Sutcliffe tempts him back into the Great Game with the chance to foil a fiendish Soviet plot.

The Soviet trade agency is acting as the façade for aa operation that kidnaps and brainwashes Russian defectors. The victims are then trafficked back to the People’s Paradise. They are forced to tour, lecturing about how they were duped into defecting and how unjust life is in the decadent West.

Sutcliffe’s joes have marked down Irina Tovskaya, a ballet dancer, as the next likely victim. Manston’s mission is use Irina as a lure to attract the attention of the Soviet thugs. Then, once they’ve snatched Irina, Manston is to follow them in order to identify the line of safe houses – the Limbo Line – back to the Eastern bloc.

Manston does his damnedest to keep things professional but he falls for Irina anyway. The chase leads to the countryside of France, the setting for an exciting climax with all the right elements: heartless henchmen, evildoing communists, a damsel in distress, and lots of original action sequences in curious settings.

Besides the intelligent writing we like to see in James Bond stories for adults, Canning could put across great characters. The bad guys are utterly believable as capable professionals who would be likeable even admirable were it not for their soulless and inhuman cause. The oppressors stand in contrast to Manston, whose cause is Irina. As somebody once said in a James Bond novel, “People are easier to fight for than principles. So surround yourself with human beings.”

Victor Canning was an extremely prolific writer who was considered in the same ranks as Desmond Bagley, Hammond Innes, Geoffrey Household, and Manning Coles. His masterpiece The Rainbird Pattern was awarded the CWA Silver Dagger in 1973 and nominated for an Edgar award in 1974.