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Posts Tagged ‘Book Suggestions’

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 Sunken Sailor

Monday, October 12th, 2020


The Sunken Sailor by Patricia Moyes
(aka Down Among the Dead Men)

Review by Matt B. (

This 1961 mystery was the second novel starring series hero Henry Tibbett, a Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard and his wife Emmy. By chance they meet a couple whose hobby is sailing so they go on a short vacation with them on England’s East Coast. The hamlet is haunted by a recent death and a jewel robbery from the local baronet’s mansion. Two additional killings occur, thus causing Henry to forget his vacation and put on his deer-stalking hat.

When I read stories in which things nautical loom large, I rather bleep over the maritime mumbo-jumbo of tides and sails. Moyes needs the reader to understand a few technicalities of sailing to understand the unfolding of the plot. So at the beginning careful attention to new terminology and concepts on the part of the reader will pay rewards. But putting on the thinking cap is called for. Moyes later was more effective – i.e., less demanding of the reader – in setting her Tibbett stories in specialized settings such as the world of fashion, a movie set, an international convention, and an old air base as substitute for a country house,.

The various characters are smart, articulate, and amusing. Moyes was a cozy-writing traditionalist so she is careful with little details that add up to big reveals. Motive is usually love or money or avoidance of shame and embarrassment. She is rather retro in attitude. For example, Henry confidently asserts that no woman keeps a secret indefinitely, with no spirited opposition from any of his female listeners or caveats about how gossipy men can be.

This is worth reading for true fans of Moyes, but for novices the later ones, such as the late career Night Ferry to Death, are better.



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.