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Posts Tagged ‘Book Recommendations’

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Rolling Bones

Monday, July 13th, 2020

The Case of the Rolling Bones by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In the waning days of the Klondike Gold Rush, Alden Leeds and his partner Bill Hogarty mined a pocket of gold. In lawless country and murky circumstances, the partnership dissolved like the hungry dreams of busted prospectors.

In noir fashion, however, the past exerts a baleful sway over the present. In 1939, 33 years later, Leeds’ avaricious relatives worry that Leeds is bent on marrying former taxi dancer Emily Millicant and cutting them out of the will. In a desperate attempt to prevent this, they kidnap and commit Leeds with the connivance of a greedy doctor.

As Mason works to get Leeds sprung from the sanitarium, Leeds escapes with the help of an old crony. Emily’s black sheep brother, John, later ends up with a carving knife in his back with Leeds’ prints all over the apartment.

Readable as usual especially for the first appearance of Gertie the Office Switchboard Girl and the appeal of the ole pard relationship between Leeds and Hogarty.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Down in the Valley

Monday, July 6th, 2020

Down in the Valley by David M. Pierce

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Born in Montreal in 1932, David M. Pierce was a poet, actor, and songwriter for Alice Cooper (among others). Pierce was also, because the performing arts gives way too many chances to rest between gigs, bartender, truck driver, reporter and sales agent for furniture and magazine companies.

So he brought to the six mysteries starring PI Victor Daniel varied professional experience and his copious reading — we hardcore mystery readers who also read everything can always tell from vibrant word play when a writer has read everything from Shakespeare to Dickens to Pound.

This novel is the first mystery featuring PI Victor Daniel, published in 1989. For us of a certain age in 2020, the nostalgia factor is strong with his Apple II computer, Adidas kicks, and on the radio Maureen McGovern. Daniel is over six and half feet tall, wears loud Hawaiian shirts, and does about any kind of job that comes his way.

While there is a modicum of a plot involving fighting the dope problem at a high school, strung together are incidents of various cases he has boiling. These incidents are peopled with a wide variety of characters: a one-legged vet, a riot grrl, and a police detective in heliotrope suits and burgundy shoes, just to name a few. The dialogue is always engaging, the word choices apt, though there are some spots where not much seems to happen and lapses of taste and crudeness of attitude to show how hard-boiled Valley People are.

Apparently, even though the author wrote five additional novels in this series, they never really caught on and are only remembered by true connoisseurs of mysteries. In the 1990s, recall, really long and really dark mysteries became the thing and these novels, under 300 pages and madcap, are not long and dark. Maybe the writer had trouble with the publisher promoting the books in the right way. Pierce passed away in 2016 of complications due to a stroke.

But the work lives on and it’s up to us hardcore mystery readers to read Pierce so he’s not as unjustly forgotten as Mignon Good Eberhart.

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Independent Witness

Monday, June 29th, 2020

Independent Witness by Henry Cecil

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The English judge Henry Cecil (1902 – 1976) wrote comic legal fiction. Think of John Mortimer’s Rumpole stories, though more gentle and less acerbic, just as clever, funny, and enjoyable. Cecil will call to mind P.G. Wodehouse in that Cecil uses stock characters like the dumb colonel, the obsessed widow, the silly young person, etc.

This novel from 1963 describes a hit and run case in which a member of Parliament is accused of not only hitting a motorcyclist but fleeing the scene. Cecil has a variety of comic characters take the stand. The dialogue-driven cross-examinations should be read slowly and savored. While this is not a typical whodunit, I still recommend it to mystery fans since there is a traditional surprise at the end.

Cecil’s humor is very English, wise, and humane and not as silly or zany as Wodehouse’s jesting is. Mercifully, to my mind, but different strokes. Cecil’s comedy is smart, with lucid prose, dazzling dialogue, and difficult legal points explained gracefully and comprehensibly. Cecil was a barrister and high court judge himself so his views on evidence, judges, juries, lawyers, and clients are worth listening to. The eager reader doesn’t mind his digressions on topics such as the thought processes of ordinary people who are would-be jurors or lawyers and judges who talk too much.

His legal fiction from the Fifties and Sixties is still in print, because his wit, style, intelligence, and deft plotting still provide much interest and sheer reading pleasure.

 

Mystery Monday Review – A Back Room in Somers Town

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

A Back Room in Somers Town by John Malcolm

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This mystery – the first book in the Tim Simpson series – was published in 1984. Simpson starred in 15 books, with the last one being Rogues’ Gallery, in 2005, when the author apparently retired.

In this debut novel, Simpson is called in by an art dealer, Willie Morton, to look at paintings by Walter Richard Sickert and follower Mary Godwin. Amazed at such unusual finds, Tim and Tate art expert Sue are later attacked by an unknown assailant at the scene of Willie’s death by stabbing. The paintings have vanished. As the case goes cold for the cops, Simpson is sent to Sao Paulo, Brazil for some unfamiliar atmosphere, where 40 years ago (put on your making-allowances caps) women seemed to enjoy menfolk being grunting male chauvinist porkers.

The hero Tim Simpson himself is an ex-rugby player. Though not afraid of a tussle, he is diplomatic and tactful enough to work as a marketing and management consultant for a London merchant bank. He gets on well with his manager, the upper crust Jeremy White. They share an interest in arts and antiques. For the sake of building a rep for elegance and panache, Jeremy persuades Tim to turn his hobby into a work skill and become the full-time in-house art investment specialist. It tickles Jeremy to be catering to select clients because it will drive his fogey relatives, who run a bigger White’s bank, crazy. Jeremy is an appealing character: he’s a spoiled rich guy but fun-loving and generous, a welcome change to the stereotypical rich guys we often suffer in both fiction and the news.

The author, whose real name is John Andrews, is one of those Renaissance Englishman. An expatriate kid in South America, he learned Spanish and benefited by living in another culture. An expert on art, he wrote many books and articles and edited a magazine about antique collecting. He also worked as an engineer and business consultant. He brings this diverse knowledge and experience to his writing.

I recommend this one. Though short, the plotting is elaborate without being confusing and the settings of snowy London and tropical Sao Paulo provide a diverting contrast for us shut-ins. The writer then inserts seamlessly material about artists and their work, art collecting and collectors, banking, and business. The intelligent and smooth writing is about what we expect from a cultured English writer, comprehensible and unpretentious.

 

 

 

Historical Spy Novel Review – The Spies of Warsaw

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Pre-World War II Warsaw becomes an arena of intense international rivalry. In almost every embassy, friendly and hostile, an intelligence cell operates. Secret agents assigned to Warsaw create an extremely colorful society. Poles, French, Germans, Russians – everyone knows that in the war is coming and that you have to prepare for it or be destroyed. Everyone believes that by their intelligence activities they will save their country from being occupied or that they will ensure victory for the homeland.

Our hero Jean-François Mercier, the French military attaché, also knows that armed conflict is inevitable. At 46, he has already participated the Great War and the Polish-Bolshevik war of 1920. He has had a long and dedicated service, and he would like to leave for a well-deserved retirement, but a sense of responsibility for the fate of millions keeps him on post. He skillfully navigates in a narrow diplomatic world, but does not avoid a direct, even painful clash, with an opponent. His strength is certainly increased by the warm feeling of a beautiful French-Polish woman working for the League of Nations that he met at a boring official reception. Mercier discovers that first of all he is not so old, and secondly – that he is not only ready for retirement, he is ready to go to extremes.

The book details Mercier’s activities in episodes. He runs agents and even saves one from being kidnapped and forcibly repatriated to a certain death in Germany. He sneaks into Germany to observe tank exercises. On his travels, in hotels and restaurants, a foreboding comes over him, “What is going to happen to these people after war comes.” He meets ordinary people who are fighting the forces of evil – literally – because it is the right thing to do.

The settings all have evocative details of Silesia and the countryside of Poland (think rural New Jersey). Furst is also effective at getting across the mundane details of ordinary people doing their best in trying circumstances – something we in the pandemic can connect to, for sure. We readers need the romantic angle as a break from the suspenseful intrigue and tension of Nazi cruelty. We readers also know what the characters do not: Poland is doomed to Nazi occupation and will be the most damaged country staggering out of World War II.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom

Monday, May 4th, 2020

The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Mysteries in the Perry Mason series often start with a bang. In this 1949 outing, while working late in his office, Mason spies pair of shapely gams on the fire escape. When Mason queries her as to what she’s up to, the beauty says she works upstairs for a company in the extraction industry. Mason notes she’s carrying something that metallically glints, which she tosses away, saying it was a flashlight.

He wants to confirm her identity by checking out her car registration, but out on the street she smacks him, making onlookers think she’s a pretty baa-lamb fending off a wolf. In celeb-addled LA, this spectacle is noted and thus appears in the gossip column in the paper the next morning. His secretary Della Street rags Perry about the next morning.

But things get complicated mighty quick when Perry finds himself enmeshed in a case that involves two convoluted situations. One is bigamy involving a Mexican divorce that may or may not be legal. The other is a proxy fight looming at a stockholders meeting.

As usual, Gardner paints an unflattering portrait of the guardians of our criminal justice system. The cops arrest their person of interest by using trickery. At the trial two bumbling prosecutors are more intent on puffing themselves up by making Perry look bad than on building a strong case. They are helped out by Perry’s client, who lies to Perry about his movements on the night of the killing. The reliable lesson we regular folks can draw out of Mason mysteries is never lie to your lawyer.

A good, not great, Mason mystery redeemed by a rocker of an ending.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Lucky Loser

Monday, April 27th, 2020

The Case of the Lucky Loser by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This 1957 mystery starts with a troubled young woman hiring Perry to attend a court case and give her an informed opinion as to how a witness to a hit and run comes off on the stand. His lawyer’s intuition says the witness is lying.

Coincidentally enough, the next day the defendant’s aunt-in-law contacts Mason. The plus: the plot in this one becomes spectacularly tangled, as complex a puzzle as a Mason novel ever provides.

This novel provides an excellent example of Gardner’s uncanny ability to keep us turning the pages to see what happens next, even when we have given up trying to comprehend the twists.