PaperBackSwap Blog


Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Not Quite Dead Enough

Monday, November 13th, 2017

Not Quite Dead Enough by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

During WWII Stout devoted most of his time to war work, writing for the government. But he did write some Nero Wolfe shorties. This contains a pair of novellas that first came out in The American Magazine (1906 – 1956), “Not Quite Dead Enough” in December, 1942 and “Booby Trap” in August, 1944.

Stout makes them topical, given the nation is at war against fascism, so Wolfe’s sidekick, Archie Goodwin, serves in the Army. Like Conan Doyle coyly hinted things in the Holmes stories, Stout is adept at throwing out tantalizing hints as to what Archie is doing to serve. A counter-intelligence officer, perhaps?

The WWII backdrop is unique in the canon. Archie is driven to set himself up for arrest in order to snap Wolfe out of a patriotic frenzy. The wartime fever has driven the agoraphobic and gastronomic Wolfe to actually go outside and do some brisk walking. Well, as brisk as the rotund Wolfe (and the poor cook Fritz) can manage. This will delight long-terms fans of the series, believe me.

The book has plenty of funny characters. The reveal and the ending, too, depart from the norm in that the climax occurs not with all suspects gathered in the office, but with only Archie in attendance, with Wolfe proposing and disposing. Hey, whaddaya want, there’s a war on!

I highly recommend this one to both Wolfe fans and novices

Mystery Monday Review – Appleby’s Answer

Monday, November 6th, 2017

Appleby’s Answer by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Like Nicholas Blake, Cyril Hare, Mary Fitt and Josephine Tey, Michael Innes wrote mysteries with bookish people in mind. His vocabulary makes readers run to their dictionary: weedy, embrocation, and inamorato. Being a scholar of Shakespeare, his allusions are learned. His veddy English Dickensianism depends on farce, satire, faux pas, and zany characters in bizarre situations. All in all, a pleasure for hard-core readers, the kind of people who read Swift, Defoe, and Smollett for sheer pleasure.

This one opens with Innes’ poking gentle fun at mystery writers who write cozies like Murder in the Cathedral and Vengeance at the Vicarage. Authoress – steel yourself – Priscilla Pringle is gratified to spy a fellow train passenger reading one of her books. Her curiosity is quickened when the fellow passenger seeks her advice on how to commit murder, blackmail, and arson. She gets the feeling that the passenger indeed has nefarious plans. As the plot unfolds, lucky coincidence takes a hand and enter our series hero John Appleby.

Now a 60-year-old retiree of the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, Appleby and sculptress wife Judith investigate what may be a complex criminal plot or silly damn malice. Published in 1973, this is very much a late entry in the canon, which began in 1936 with Seven Suspects (aka Death at the President’s Lodging). Appleby’s Answer is a novelette, which is okay with me. With age, I grow impatient with mysteries that seem more otiose the longer they are. New readers of Michael Innes would do better to test the early ones; fans of Innes – readers who want a break from Sterne and Fielding – will like regardless.

 

 

Thriller Thursday – The Allingham Case-Book

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

The Allingham Case-Book by Margery Allingham

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Readers and critics place this mystery writer among the best old time cozy writers such as Sayers, Christie, and Tey. She was a professional writer down to her toes, able to construct solid plots peopled with peculiar characters in the Dickenesque tradition. Allingham’s series hero was the mildly eccentric Albert Campion.

This is a collection of 18 short stories that were collected in 1969 after her early passing in 1966. Some of the stories feature Campion though mainly as a listener to crime stories told by his policeman buddy Charlie Luke. In a collection this large, there will be stories any reader likes a lot better than the others. But overall, the stories are charming, ingenious, and readable. Some do not turn on a murder, but a con game or clever theft. Her spirit of fun appeals to me.

The edition I read was the 1972 Macfadden-Bartell one. It has a good introduction written by her widower. But, as is usual with cheapskate publishers, it gives no indication when the stories were written or which magazines published them. Some of them feel pre-WWII, but some are oddly timeless. I know that most readers don’t care, but I like to know what year or era a story is taking place.

 

 

Mystery Series Spotlight – Andy Carpenter

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

The Andy Carpenter Mystery Series by David Rosenfelt

By Marianna S. (Angeloudi)

David Rosenfelt has written a very witty and unique series about reluctant criminal defense attorney Andy Carpenter, who, with the help of his golden retriever, Tara, gets clients acquitted against great odds. I just finished the 8th volume in the series, Dog Tags, which did not disappoint. Andy Carpenter inherited a substantial trust fund after his father passed away, which gives him the freedom to take on as few or as many clients as he wishes, many of whom are pro bono (and never charged a fee.) As a sideline, he and former client Willie run a dog rescue foundation for golden retrievers.
Dogs play a prominent part in the series, and especially in Dog Tags. Milo, a former Army canine from Iraq, returns with his disabled owner Billy Zimmerman, who is accused of murdering a former commanding officer one night.  The police are interested in the dog, who had been trained as a thief after his return to the states. Why would the FBI and various mobsters all be interested in this dog?  In a complex plot with many twists and turns, all clues lead back to a suicide bombing in Iraq which resulted in 18 deaths and Billy’s loss of a leg.
What makes these mysteries unique is the witty one liners and wisecracks that keep the reader laughing while trying to figure out who the bad guys are.  There are some funny and unique supporting characters such as body guard Marcus, who can eat one out of house and home in a single stake-out, and Laurie, Andy’s former cop faithful girlfriend.
To get the background story, the books can be read in order, although each one can also be read as a stand-alone.  Highly recommended, witty series.

Mystery Monday – One Man Show

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

One Man Show by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1952 mystery is also titled Murder is an Art and the UK title is A Private View.  Series hero Sir John Appleby, head of CID at Scotland Yard, is pressured by his wife Judith, who is a sculptor, to attend a gallery showing the work of a recently deceased young artist.  Innes makes Sir John suffer from art-babble along the lines of “A determined effort to disintegrate reality in the interest of the syncretic principle.” Plus, his paragraph describing the faces of snobbish attendees while they try to look engrossed and knowledgeable provides laughs at the expense of in-crowdism.

However, from under Sir John’s nose, the artist’s masterpiece is stolen. As the chase gets started, readers will remember the Duke of Horton from Innes’ classic Hamlet, Revenge of 1937. Another attraction is that Judith Appleby gets on the trail of the crooks. Funny are the perfect Cherman-like accent of art dealer Brown, born Braunkopf – “a pig broblem to unnerstan” – and the fight scene in a junk shop run by the Krook-like Mr. Steptoe. Braunkopf pops up in Money from Holme, too, another delightful entertainment. 
Like many of Innes’ stories, the time span is very short – in this case little more than 12 hours. Highly recommended. 

Mystery Monday Review – All Grass Isn’t Green

Monday, October 16th, 2017

All Grass Isn’t Green  by A A. Fair aka Erle Stanley Gardner

 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Milton Carling Calhoun hires PI team Bertha Cool and Donald Lam to find the missing writer Colburn Hale. Calhoun acts cagey about his background and the reasons why he wants to talk with Hale. As a result, Lam suspects funny business is afoot. 

He easily uncovers the fact that Colhoun is a scion of a wealthy family. Lam starts tracking Hale and finds out another struggling writer, Nanncie Beaver, has gone missing too.  The trail leads to Mexico’s porous border with Calexico, CA, across which tourists casually stroll (it’s 1970 in the novel) and crooks, aided by the high tech of CB radios, smuggle marijuana.  A smuggler is knocked off with Calhoun’s pistol. Lam’s series nemesis, Lt. Sellers of the LAPD, starts measuring Calhoun’s neck for the noose. 

When he wrote as A.A. Fair, Erle Stanley Gardner let himself relax a little. For instance, he is more apt to go off on tangents. He spends time describing the desert country, which he loved and wanted conserved. As in other Cool and Lam books, he supports the cause of women forced into disagreeable jobs, such as exotic dancers, clerical staff, retail supervisors and clerks, and other hard-pressed workers. Gardner, a successful writer, is surprisingly sympathetic to struggling writers who work hard for peanuts from money-grubbing publishers. 

Published in 1971, this was the last Cool and Lam novel. The book is still readable because Lam is narrating in first-person and in the courtroom scene a young DA gets his comeuppance. Bertha Cool, the comic miser, puts in a mere walk-on in the first and last chapters. The dialogue recapitulates information we readers already know. 

Novices or non-fans may want to give this one a pass.  But at the end fans will admire the fireworks Gardner could still light and feel gratitude at the hours of sheer reading pleasure that he provided.