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Posts Tagged ‘Book Recommendations’

Mystery Monday – Double or Quits

Monday, May 28th, 2018

Double or Quits by A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Writing as A.A. Fair, Erle Stanley Gardner released the fourth and fifth Bertha Cool – Donald Lam mysteries in 1941. In March, Spill the Jackpot had portly Bertha Cool lose weight due to pneumonia. In December, Double or Quits finds Bertha and her crack investigator Lam taking the day off to go fishing. Due to her health scare, Bertha becomes determined not work her life away without having any fun.

But another angler at the pier turns out to be Dr. Hilton Deverest, an M.D. with a big problem. Jewels from his safe have disappeared and so has Nollie Starr, his wife’s social secretary. He hires Cool and Lam to find the secretary, get the jewels back, and let her know that the doc will let bygones be bygones. Things get complicated for Cool and Lam when their client is found dead on the floor of his garage with his car engine running.

At this point with the case heating up, Gardner takes a little digression to tell the tale of how Lam pressures Bertha to make the agency a partnership. Miserly Bertha howls as if stabbed, but agrees. The first thing new partner Lam does is boost the wages of the agency secretary Elsie Brand. Not just a pretty name (I had two aunts named Elsie), she is a Gardnerian Ideal Woman: loyal, resourceful, game, insightful, quick-witted, kind, and easy on the eye.

As usual for both the mystery genre and Erle Stanley Gardner, the characterization is weak. But, more than in the Perry Mason novels, Gardner gets across the sense that the characters are plausible adults having real-life grown-up problems. Dr. and Mrs. Deverest have a marriage so troubled it borders on the sick. The doctor’s niece Nadine Croy is dealing with an ex that is milking her for money. Heartless con men exploit widows’ loneliness and discontent. In a fine scene, Elsie Brand’s cooking appeals to cop’s appetite which proves to be his undoing since after Bertha makes him pay for his greed and poor judgement. In another amusing scene, Lam plays another doctor like a fish, getting him to toss his professional ethics overboard.

More cheering is the relationship that Lam has with Elsie. It is not of the platonic nature of the one between Perry Mason and Della. Near the end of Double or Quits, a nurse solemnly warns Elsie not to be alone with Lam because, under the influence, he might be “abnormally stimulated.” Gardner writes, “Elsie Brand laughed in her face.”

True, the plotting gets convoluted. Granted, the deduction is rather improbable. But this is well worth reading just for the sheer enjoyment of the comical interplay between brainy Lam and stingy hard-charging Bertha, plus of the tender back and forth between Lam and Elsie. It’s funny how the Cool & Lam novels are a little hard-boiled and a little cozy at the same time.

 

 

 

Series Spotlight – The Scotland Yard Murder Squad

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

 

The Scotland Yard Murder Squad Series by Alex Grecian

 

by Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

 
I want to share with you a series of murder mysteries that I thoroughly enjoyed, written by Alex Grecian. The series is called the Scotland Yard Murder Squad, and the first book, The Yard, introduces us to Inspector Walter Day, a young, up-and-coming detective with Scotland Yard, Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith, an unlucky but clever colleague, and Dr. Kingsley, the coroner who has a fascination with clues.   

Walter Day has just come to London to join the newly created Murder Squad.  He is recently married to Clare, a woman who loves and supports him, but according to her parents, she’s married beneath her.  In spite of this, she is happy and adjusting to being the wife of a Scotland Yard detective. 

Alex Grecian brings Victorian London to life: rainy days in a gray city full of fog and grim alleys.  His characters are likeable (well, the good guys) and very believable.  He explores the lack of technology by showing us the difficulties of no rapid communication and no forensic science. Imagine trying to find a boy to deliver an urgent message for a penny rather than having a telephone at hand. 

Today, applying forensic science to criminal investigations is commonplace, but the Scotland Yard Murder Squad operates in Victorian London, where such practices are just being born. Dr. Kingsley is very fond of fingerprints, in spite of the Yard’s skepticism, and tries (mostly in vain) to convince the police to preserve a crime scene rather than tramp all over the place destroying evidence.  The notion of trying to understand the criminal mind, and searching for patterns of behavior and thought is also new and being tested at this time.   

The second book is The Black Country, which sees Walter and Nevil traveling to the Midlands, a place of superstitious villagers, a mysterious epidemic that is killing people, and the sinking of the village into the coal mines below.  So trying to find three missing family members suddenly takes on a bizarre edge, and Walter is challenged to the utmost.   

 

The third book, The Devil’s Workshop, tells us what had happened to Jack the Ripper (he was still alive, being held prisoner by a vigilante group determined to bring him to their own brand of justice) and introduced us to a murderer called the Harvest Man, after the Harvest spider who lives in attics. The Harvest Man liked to lurk in attics until the family was sound asleep, and then come out to kill.  But he had been captured, and was in prison—until he escaped with three other prisoners during a jail break.  To make matters worse, Jack the Ripper managed to escape his captors as well.  Walter Day and Nevil Hammersmith are racing against time to find these two madmen.  

 

 

Without giving too much away, let me just say that The Devil’s Workshop ended on a ‘bit’ of a cliffhanger, and the tension immediately continues in The Harvest Man, with the action picking up shortly after the third book ends.  The hunt is still on, and time is rapidly running out as the victim count rises.  Oh, and if you thought the cliffhanger was bad in book three, then brace yourself!  It’s even worse in book four.  So have book 5, Lost and Gone Forever, close by!  You won’t be sorry.  Grecian has announced that there will be a sixth book, but no definite date has been set.  I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment!   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Silence Observed

Monday, April 30th, 2018

Silence Observed by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

In this 1961 mystery, Appleby says he is 53, which means he was born in 1907 or 1908. Yard detective John Appleby first appeared in 1936 in Seven Suspects, an academic murder mystery set in an Oxford-type institution. He retired from the Yard after WWII and went to work in the upper reaches of the Metropolitan Police. He was active post-retirement in 1986 when Appleby and the Ospreys appeared. I know of no other author who kept a character going for 33 novels and numerous short stories for 50 years.

I suppose some critics argue that the Appleby novels of the 1970s and 1980s lack the literary touches that characterize Hamlet, Revenge! (1937) and Lament for a Maker (1938). Silence Observed is mainly for entertainment, with few writerly flourishes and only a little suspense. I think it’s worth reading for the creative use of learned language and examination of the acquisitive mentality of collectors and misers. Appleby observes, “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. Just a little mad, for a start. Inclined, say, to unreasonable jokes in the course of business. But later – well, very mad indeed.”

Just by chance, Appleby’s attention is arrested by two instances of forgeries in the art world. One collector has acquired a forgery of a notorious forger; another has been offered, of all things, a lost Rembrandt. An unlucky young man has been discovered with both bodies in highly suspicious circumstances. Appleby feels something is amiss and gets him off the hook, since in whodunnit land, as we hardcore mystery readers know, it is never the obvious suspect.

The pool of suspects is small enough to make the reveal fairly predictable. But the familiar characters, the erudite vocabulary, and London setting – though there is another remote insane manse as in Lament for a Maker and Hare Sitting Up, among others – make this an agreeable, soothing read.

 

 

 

True Crime Review – Small Town D.A.

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Small Town D.A. by Robert Traver

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is known as God’s country, a great place for hunting, fishing, snowshoeing, skiing, and canoeing. Besides dairy-farming, its industries were mainly of the extractive kind – lumbering and mining. In this 1954 memoir of Traver’s 14 years as a D.A. in Marquette County, he describes offenders of descents such as Finnish, Scandinavian, Italian, Irish, Cornish, with the occasional American Indian tossed in. The crime to be prosecuted was often drunk driving, as we would expect. But there were also cases of rape and murder. For extra thrills, thankfully rare, there were kidnapping and even an adultery case.

Each chapter of the book is an anecdote about a specific case and numerous stories about a certain crime. His anecdotes of the brutal crimes that happen in remote places will prime us to roll our eyes the next time we hear a somebody say, “Things like that just don’t happen here,” or see the headline, “Girl’s Violent End has Village in Shock.” The tone is generally upbeat, benevolent and humorous. Traver is inconsistent in that in the preface he believes the human nature is basically good and later he says we have to take human nature as we find it. But his stories illustrate his belief that human beings naturally resilient and enduring. In other words, we’re tough, tougher than we give ourselves credit for.

The real name of the author was John D. Voelker. He was born in 1903 in Ishepeming, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He went to law school at the University of Michigan. He returned to his home region to lawyer, becoming a D.A. in Marquette Country. He wrote this memoir in 1954 and says in the preface that he did not aspire to higher political office or judgeships. People change their minds and he didn’t say no when Gov. G. Mennen Williams appointed him to the Michigan Supreme Court. During this stint, he somehow found the time to write, under the pen name above, the courtroom novel Anatomy of a Murder, which became a monster best-seller and hit movie starring James Stewart, Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick, with the soundtrack composed by Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington.

 

 

 

 

Thriller Thursday Review – Cause for Alarm

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

Cause for Alarm by Eric Ambler

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In this 1938 thriller, Ambler uses the familiar situation of an innocent bystander thrust into the twisted world of espionage.

Nick Marlowe is an engineer, not exactly a stable job in the 1930s, when manufacturers were laying off everybody, no matter the color of their collar. After being fired and with marriage on the horizon, Nick takes a job in Italy as a replacement for another engineer.

Nick arrives in the first fascist state and soon discovers the truth of his predecessor’s untimely demise. He is approached by two spies, one from Hitler’s side and the other from Stalin’s. The Nazi spymaster is repellent. The Soviet agent is the lively Russian-American Andreas Zaleshoff, who appeared in other Ambler novels of the Thirties.

This novel feels real, has well-drawn characters, and the action is like an action-adventure novel in the tradition of John Buchan. Fans of Alan Furst should read this.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Restless Redhead

Monday, April 9th, 2018

 

The Case of the Restless Redhead

by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

For starry-eyed Evelyn Bagby, Hollywood was the Tinsel Town without Pity. Her curves and red hair (but no freckles) attracted the shark Staunton Vester Gladden. He fed her the usual line that with his mentoring and agenting wizardry, “Baby, I can make you a star.” But under the guise of acting and deportment lessons, he embezzled her money. She ended up waiting tables.

Worse, she lands in court, charged with larceny. Her novice attorney recognizes ace lawyer Perry Mason, who chances to attend the trial. Perry’s solid advice enables the greenhorn to upend the testimony that would’ve sent Evelyn to the clink and obtains her grateful release.

Thanking Perry in his office soon after, Evelyn tells him and faithful assistant Della Street that she thinks Staunton Vester Gladden might be Steve Merrill, the second husband of a big Hollywood star. Perry gets her a waitressing job and promises to look into her case. Helping people who aren’t getting breaks is totally consistent with Perry’s way of doing business.

Staunton Vester Gladden ends up with a bullet in his head that he didn’t put there himself. The cops put the collar on Evelyn as the most obvious perp since she had a beef with old Staunton. I don’t think I’m giving away anything by revealing that the novel ends with a dramatic courtroom climax.

This is a better than average Mason story. The reason is that he boldly ignores evidence that exculpates Evelyn. He has figured out a key piece of the puzzle (that I won’t reveal here) which strips story-telling witnesses of their alibi.

A good one for both hardcore fans and newbies, this 1954 novel was the basis for the script for the first episode of the Raymond Burr television series. Whitney Blake, the mother of actress producer survivor Meredith Baxter, played Evelyn.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

 

The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe

by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1938 mystery opens with lawyer Perry Mason having lunch with his secretary Della Street in a swanky downtown department store. Della comments on the kindly appearance of an elderly woman apparently dining out with her niece. Perry observes that the little old lady is a shoplifter. A scene ensues whose upshot is that Perry gets the little old shoplifter off the hook because in fact she did not take the plunder out of the store.

The niece of the five-finger discount lady, Virginia Trent, later comes to Perry’s office for two reasons. She wants advice on how to get psychiatric help for her aunt Sarah Breel’s sudden-onset kleptomania. Gardner satirizes the psychoanalytic jargon and concepts (fixation, unconscious, etc.) that were taking the culture by storm in the thirties. Both Gardner and his creation Perry Mason were skeptics about complicated explanations of human nature.

Virginia Trent is also concerned with legal consequences. A handful of diamonds has disappeared from her uncle’s jewelry store, perhaps ripped off by her boosting Auntie. A bon-vivant named Austin Cullens promises to get the gems back. But he ends up shot. And her aunt is hit by a car while running away from the crime scene. When she wakes up, she claims she remembers nothing, but the cops charge her with murder-one anyway.

Later Virginia Trent and Perry find the body of her uncle. Ginny becomes utterly unglued, what with the stress of her aunt’s shoplifting, missing diamonds, one dead guy, and then her uncle being snuffed and put in a packing case. Gardner is hinting that studying psychology does not necessarily prepare one to meet the curveballs thrown by life.

Gardner does not play fair in this one, but the plot twists are ingenious. Slow down when reading the trial sequence because there is a Trent Gun and a Breel Gun. If you are not careful, you will get as confused as Sgt. Holcomb and Goodreads reviewers who get mighty frustrated with Gardner’s hocus-pocus with two guns, two bullets, two corpses and two crime scenes.