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Posts Tagged ‘Book Suggestions’

Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Daring Decoy

Monday, January 11th, 2021

 

The Case of the Daring Decoy by Erle Stanley Gardner

 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

It is 1957. Oil Man Jerry Conway is embroiled in a proxy fight with an ex-employee Gifford Farrell. We know Farrell must be a cad because he has a debonair manner and a pencil-thin moustache. Jerry stumbles into a trap involving a room in a threadbare hotel, a beautiful woman dressed in not much more than a mudpack. Hubba – as they used to say – hubba.

Rosalind – she of mudpack fame – coughs up a recently fired .38 to Conway before he hustles the heck out of there. Jerry high-tails it out of there. Driving away, he discovers one bullet has been fired from the .38 caliber revolver. Feeling legally vulnerable, he calls super-lawyer Perry Mason’s answering service.

Later in the same hotel room Perry and his PI Paul Drake discover the body of an un-mudpacked woman with a bullet in her chest, fired – of course – by the same gun. Mason phones Homicide and confuses the desk clerk with questions just for good measure. The obnoxious SGT Holcomb stomps his way in, suspiciously asking questions that assume Mason is guilty of something. Mason criticizes him for asking questions when he should be securing the murder scene. It’s a nice contrast to the usual unfailingly polite Mason on TV.

Is the frame-up of Jerry perfectamundo? With frank and inhuman glee, will DA Hamilton Burger hang a rap of accessory to murder on Perry?

As always, Gardner indulges his penchant for giving characters odd names. We get Norton Barclay Calvert, Dr. Reeves Garfield, Evangeline Farrell, and the melodious Myrtle Lamar. Another distinguishing point is that Della Street appears in only a couple of scenes – sad for us Della fans – but the one with a chivalrous Perry is a humdinger.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Dead Men Don’t Ski

Monday, December 28th, 2020

 

Dead Men Don’t Ski by Patricia Moyes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In the first Inspector Henry Tibbett mystery published in 1959, Henry and his wife Emmy take a vacation at a ski resort in the Italian Alps near the Austrian border. It’s in fact a working vacation because his superiors in Scotland Yard have asked Henry to be on the lookout for drug smugglers.

As in the second novel starring Tibbet, Down among the Dead Men, a seemingly accidental death has already occurred before the novel actually gets started. That is, one of the ski instructors ended up in a crevasse because of too much risk-taking.

But another hotel guest, detested by about everybody who had contact with him, is discovered shot dead on the ski lift. Henry joins a local copper and greenhorn Inspector Spezzi to investigate the murder.

Moyes likes to set her mysteries in different locations, such as Geneva (Death on the Agenda) and a London movie set (Falling Star). Like a cozy writer usually does , she employs stock characters: the bright young thing, the good guy with the dodgy past, the Lord Peter type, the mysterious woman, the emotional foreigner, the dumb colonel, the hideous Hun, etc. Henry and Emmy are reassuringly normal – no existential angst on them and Henry’s preternatural intuition (his “nose”) isn’t weird.

Moyes also has a Simenonian sense of the closed community, such as the locals versus the tourists and the local commercial fishers versus the weekend boaters (again Down among the Dead Men). Finally, though I’m not astute when it comes to puzzles, she unfolds the incidents smoothly with only a couple of too obvious techniques “to make ‘em wait,” as Wilkie Collins urged. This one, unexpectedly, did not have draggy spots although it goes almost 300 pages, long for a mystery in my book.

All in all, a strong effort for a first novel and well worth reading.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Bullets for the Bridegroom

Monday, December 7th, 2020


Bullets for the Bridegroom
by David Dodge

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Dodge’s series hero was certified public accountant Whit Whitney. Contrary to the stereotype of an eye shade wearing Kaspar Milquetoast, Whitney does not hesitate to jump into conflicts with his fists, preferring them over handguns because they have the personal touch. He possesses smarts and class enough to attract Kitty, an attractive, intelligent, and game socialite. On display, then, is an amusing minimum of Nick and Nora-type byplay.

Walt and Kitty drive to Reno to get married by an old family friend who is a J.P. At the friend’s remote house, they meet two dodgy types. One is stout and suspicious, the other has gunsel written all over him. Walt and Kitty feel that something is wrong and ease themselves out of the house.

Thus begins their many adventures. I don’t want to give away what the dodgy types are up to, but note the book was written in 1944, during World War II. Whit and Kitty team up with a former buddy, Casey Jones, and his team to foil nefarious plans. The plot is mildly far-fetched, but the main attraction is Dodge’s deft characterization. Though Casey is a manly hero and Swede Larson is a noble savage both right out of the pulps, breathing with life are thug Jess Caldwell and casino-owner Lorenzo Colusa. Ditto for Pete Weston, a newspaperman and pal of Whit’s, and Gladys Warren, a “pocket-size taffy blonde.” Colorful too are the Greek restaurant owner John Masilikos, stable owner Alex Hotaling, dice croupier Harry Jackson, and Sheriff Andy.

Besides being a CPA himself, Dodge had the keen eyes and ready pen of a travel writer so his descriptions of scenes and landscape are clear and vibrant. The final shootout rocks the ending of the novel. His most famous book is To Catch a Thief because it was made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock. But fans and critics alike enjoy his other PI and crime novels, such as Plunder of the Sun, Death and Taxes, and The Long Escape for their crisp writing style, wild pace, and unpredictable plot twists.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – More Work for the Undertaker

Monday, November 30th, 2020

More Work for the Undertaker by Margery Allingham

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

In this whodunit from 1948, taking a page out of Dickens, Allingham describes Apron Street. Though the blitz has left its scars, Apron Street still features street arabs, poky shops purveying archaic products, and horse-drawn hearses.

Too, the characters are Dickensy in their comicalness and over-the-topitude. Charlie Luke, a new young policeman, is a human dynamo. The Palionode family, though on hard times, pursue obscure scholarly interests as if it were still the wealthy indolent 1890s. The fawning yet sinister funeral director Jas Bowels has the motto “Courtesy, Sympathy, Comfort in Transit.”

The suspicious death of Ruth Palinode brings in series hero Albert Campion to investigate poison pen letters and an elaborate criminal enterprise. The story borders on a parody of a whodunit with nutty wills, an enormous coffin, young misunderstood lovers, shares in a defunct mine, and the government anxious to squelch public knowledge of dodgy machinations.

Highly recommended. For me, the professional finesse of her writing, her delicate wit, her lively imagination, and her complacent determination to stay with old-fashioned devices put Allingham in the first rank of cozy mystery writers.

 

 

 

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.