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Posts Tagged ‘Book Recommendations’

Mystery Monday Review – The Big Bow Mystery

Monday, November 23rd, 2020

The Big Bow Mystery by Israel Zangwill

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


This 1892 novella may be the first genuine locked-room mystery. A landlady and ex-police detective bust open a locked door to find “the deceased lying back in bed with a deep wound in his throat… There was no trace of any instrument by which the cut could have been effected: there was no trace of any person who could have effected the cut. No person could apparently have got in or out.”

Zangwill tweaks the media of the day for its relentless pandering to the morbid curiosity of the ordinary reader. There are ironically melodramatic scenes of the arrest of the suspect and courtroom antics of the judge, lawyers, and jury. The explanations for the impossible crime range from the plausible (secret passages and trapdoors) to the hilarious (a razor-wielding monkey coming down the chimney). Red herrings abound. The suspect has a realistically rotten motive.

Zangwill’s prose will ramble, but this is made up for by its high-spirits and humor. He’s a master of the quip and wisecrack, in the traditions of Groucho Marx and Mel Brooks (I know my examples date me – Larry David, okay?). For readers into mysteries of all sorts or those into reading the occasional pre-Golden Age mystery.

I found this novella in a Dover Books collection from 1978, Three Victorian Detective Novels, which also included Wilkie CollinsMy Lady’s Money and Andrew Forrester’s The Unknown Weapon.




Mystery Monday – Which Doctor

Monday, November 9th, 2020

Which Doctor by Edward Candy

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The story of this 1954 mystery revolves around the kidnapping of a nine-year-old boy who witnessed the grisly murder of a disliked pediatrician. It is set in the early 1950s in the English Midlands at the fictional Bantwich-Bannister Hospital for Children, “The Fairy Land for Sick Children.” Professor and Doctor Fabian Honeychurch, in keeping with his robust name, is a combination of Falstaff and Santa Claus who is visiting the hospital for a conference. He teams up with explosive London cockney Inspector Burnivel from Scotland Yard to unpack the mystery of which doctor dunnit.

Red herrings abound in this relatively short novel. We meet the tried and true devices such as the seemingly obvious culprit, adultery ending in a seemingly apparent suicide, the seemingly friendly and open American. To balance improbabilities in the plot, the professional rivalries and jealousies feel familiar to any reader who’s been paid to smooth administrative skids for brilliant but flawed professionals and scholars. Plus, the drug trial involving children will engage readers into the regulatory protections of human subjects in research (I know – all two of them and one of them is me).

I recommend this one. Like Edmund Crispin but not as silly, more like a lighter P.D. James (given the medical settings), if that can be imagined. Although it is short on action, Tom the nine-year-old isn’t in it much, and Honeychurch holds forth too much, the red herrings are diverse, and the language is pleasingly Dickensian. For instance, perfectionist Professor Pemberton reports the murder to the cops thusly:

One of my staff has been found dead in the grounds. He has been struck on the back of the head. …. I’d be grateful if you’d make your arrival as inconspicuous as possible. We’ve an important meeting here today. I shouldn’t like any fuss.

Edward Candy was the pseudonym of Barbara Alison Neville (1925-1993). She was born in London and educated in Hampstead and University College, and later earned a medical degree. She practiced medicine and had a family of five children while writing about a dozen books, three of which are medical mysteries, besides this one, Bones of Contention and Words for Murder, Perhaps.




Mystery Monday Review – Chords and Discords

Monday, November 2nd, 2020

Chords and Discords by Roz Southey

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


In this 2008 mystery, self-contained parallel dimensions co-exist with each other, connected by portals accessible by individuals with second sight to use them as windows to view other planes. Apparently – and this assumption of mine may be wrong – reality varies in different planes. For instance, in the reality of this story’s setting, supernatural beings such as talkative spirits are a normal part of daily life, carrying messages (though it’s like the telephone game) and being questioned by the authorities about crimes.

Still with me? I didn’t used to be down with paranormal historical mysteries but “current conditions” have challenged a lot of my preferences and prejudices.

Anyway, not only occult aspects make this story unique. The hero, Charles Patterson, is an impoverished musician and teacher in Newcastle during the early 1730s. In the first book in this series, Broken Harmony, Patterson established his reputation as a puzzle-solver. He is therefore offered 30 guineas by a rude organ builder to identify the culprit who has been sending threatening letters. In the organ builder’s factory, a young apprentice has been killed under mysterious circumstances. For the sake of the badly needed dough and to give justice to the victim, Patterson, a mere tradesman, endures the rudeness of the organ builder and his shrewish wife and the interfering ways of spirits.

With the distinctive setting, supernatural elements, unorthodox hero, there’s no denying this unique historical mystery will appeal to mystery readers who are looking for something different. Southey is a historian and musicologist so her details ring true. She captures the rough lot of music teachers, who are caught between the high expectations of parents and their unwillingness to pay for lessons rendered. She also includes curious asides about the role of playing music in church, drinking places, guild halls and private residences.




Mystery Monday – The Ampersand Papers

Monday, October 26th, 2020

The Ampersand Papers by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


In this 1978 mystery, series hero Sir John Appleby, retired from Scotland Yard, comes in only after the author has introduced us to Lord Ampersand and his peculiar and confrontational family. Sir John is taking a stroll along a Cornish beach near the Ampersand castle when a body plummets down from the North Tower and almost lands on his head. A speleologist suitably named Cave also happens to be on the spot.

The presumably unhappy corpse turns out to be that of Dr. Sutch, an academic who has been hired by the Ampersand family to go over the family papers. The family has found out there is good money to be fetched in papers and letters about and from luminaries Shelley, Byron and Coleridge. Dr. Sutch is also getting to the bottom of a family legend that posits the existence of a treasure from a Spanish argosy in the time of the first Elizabeth.

As in the other late novels in this series there are plenty of incidents. If you thought the portrayal of aristocrats in Trollope is mean to the land-owning classes, you haven’t read Innes. Lord Ampersand loves routine to a fault and knows absolutely nothing about his own ancestors. The conversation between Sir John and Lady Ampersand about her husband’s feuding family, while the Lady works on her jigsaw puzzle, is the high point of the novel; this is a good thing to say, believe me, because the dialogue is so witty.

The kind of reader that would like these mysteries is the kind that likes Josephine Tey and Nicholas Blake or who likes genre fiction between serious books.





Mystery Monday – It’s Different Abroad

Monday, October 19th, 2020


It’s Different Abroad by Henry Calvin

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This delightful suspense novel from 1963 stars Helen McLeish, a Scottish spinster, in Normandy in her snazzy red Mini. She is on a well-deserved vacation after burying her tetchy invalid father whom she tended for ten long years. After she is passed through French customs she gets the feeling that she is being followed. After she meets her sister and brother-in-law at their vacation house, she takes her niece and nephew to a beach where she has a nasty encounter with one of the stalkers. Happily, she also meets a local mechanic, the hero and love interest of the story, and they have an adventure together.

The McGuffin is rather so-so, but the draws are the brisk pace, ingenious plot twists, and the realistic interplay between characters. A vein of satire animates the observations of a certain kind of Briton overseas to whom all non-Britons are foreigners whether or not they are in their own country. Helen’s sister and brother-in-law are muggles of the worst sort. Her sister Rosemary is judgmental, self-righteous, and materialistic. The brother-in-law is a fast-talking lech, main chancer, and weakling. Both are kinda sorta parents, with the main damage being done to their 10-year-old son, an acting-out bully, coward and snot. The author’s ridicule is not heavy handed and jabs in the direction of philistines are fun.

Henry Calvin was the pen name of Clifford Hanley (1922 – 1999), a journalist, novelist, playwright and script writer from Glasgow.

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Careless Kitten

Monday, October 5th, 2020

The Case of the Careless Kitten

by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (

This 1942 novel is an authentic Golden Age mystery. It is a strong outing, as many of his novels written during WWII were, well-written with a solid plot and an inventive solution, both of which balance deprecating references to the adversary country of Japan.

In 1932 eminent banker Franklin Shore disappeared in the traditional mysterious circumstances, leaving behind ornery Matilda, a wife with cheatin’ on her mind and an adoring 14-year-old niece, Helen Kendal. A decade later he suddenly gets into contact with the now grown-up niece. He tells her to bring Perry Mason to a confab but at the meeting, a man, not Franklin Shore, is found dead, shot through the head. Though Helen has no connection to the murder victim, the police charge her with the murder so she naturally hires Perry to defend her.

The roof really caves in on this unlucky family. Helen’s cat and then Aunt Matilda are poisoned with strychnine. Both pull through. Lt. Tragg is put out however, when he finds the kitty under wraps in the apartment of Della Street, Mason’s devoted and intrepid secretary. He arrests Della because Mason’s foe, D.A. Hamilton Burger, has convinced himself that Della also knows the whereabouts of Franklin Shore. He charges her for concealing a material witness thus obstructing justice.

Perry, Della, and Paul thus get involved in a case that registers 7 Strands on The Tangled Web Meter. Mystery writer and critic Jon Breen calls this one “one of the best pure detective novels [Gardner] ever wrote.”

It’s also well worth reading because Gardner has Perry vigorously defend what Burger calls “theatrical interludes” and “courtroom flimflam.” Mason argues constitutional protections have been slowly undermined by cops, prosecutors, and judges, raising the prospect of the government using the law and its criminal justice system as tools of political oppression. Doubtless, Gardner, a lawyer for 15 years before he became a writer, was using Mason as a mouthpiece here, warning us that fear and war frenzy eat away at the rights of citizens. Mason makes the argument that lawyers are obligated to use whatever legal means are necessary to defend the individual fighting a system run by folks who seem to assume civil rights are a nuisance that protect the guilty.



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.