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Posts Tagged ‘Book Suggestions’

Mystery Monday Review – The Hound of the Baskervilles

Monday, May 13th, 2019

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This novel stars the detective duo of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. The story uses country superstitions, a fiendish hound, and an old family curse. Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead with a rictus of terror on his face. And near the corpse, in one of the most famous lines in detective fiction, “… the footprints of a gigantic hound!”

Conan Doyle skillfully piles up weird little incidents that unnerve the heir to the vast estate, Henry Baskerville. Even the unflappable Holmes is concerned for the safety of Sir Henry. He sends Watson with the heir to his remote Dartmoor mansion. Watson therefore is particularly active in this story and tells his story in letters, diary extracts, and straight exposition.

On the up side, Conan Doyle skillfully describes dreary landscape in order to capture an overall grim tone. Turning a conventional Victorian creepy novel into a Sherlock Holmes tale the plot feel fresh. What Conan Doyle called “female interest” is fostered in the story, mainly due to indirectly describing the hard lot of women, married and not, at the hands of men. There are melodramatic passages but they are a lot of fun.

On the down side, there are is a plot hole so large that even Holmes himself acknowledges it in the reveal when, provoked by questions, he says, “It is a formidable difficulty, and I fear that you ask too much when you expect me to solve it.”





Thriller Review – Fear to Tread

Thursday, April 25th, 2019

Fear to Tread by Michael Gilbert

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

British writer Michael Gilbert passed away at 93 in February, 2006. He wrote a couple dozen mysteries and many radio and TV scripts. He was a full-time solicitor (in the UK, an attorney who advises clients on legal matters and prepares cases for barristers to present in the higher courts). But he wrote during his train commute to and from his London office. Writing about two-and-a-half pages a day, he was able to finish a novel in five or six months. Gilbert’s writing is tight and focused.

In the 1953 thriller Fear to Tread, he relates the story of a school headmaster who turns detective, plausibly putting a bookish guy into menacing circumstances. Readers are taken into the dangerous worlds of public schools and the black market, which was a going concern in the UK after WWII. The characterization is persuasive, and the action rocks, so much so that this is more an adventure novel than a mystery.






Mystery Series Spotlight – Kate Mulcay

Monday, April 15th, 2019

The Kate Mulcay Series by Celestine Sibley

By Cheryl G. (Poncer)

Celestine Sibley, one of the first female, and longest lasting journalists, she wrote for the Atlanta Constitution for over 50 years. When I lived in Atlanta, I remember when she passed away. Her life and career was celebrated for a whole week.

Recently I ran across her Kate Mulcay Mystery series here on PaperBackSwap and ordered the first book, Ah, Sweet Mystery. I enjoyed it so much I ordered the other 4 that were available.

The series spotlights Kate Mulcay, a journalist who works for an Atlanta newspaper (coincidentally enough). She is the widow of an Atlanta Homicide detective who finds herself in the middle of a murder in her neighborhood, north of the city, where there are still woods and wildlife.

Any author who can develop characters, tell a story and solve a murder within 300 pages is tops with me. There is no gratuitous sex or violence, but I would not call them cozy mysteries. There is enough reality in the pages to keep one’s interest. They are not cutesy, but they are very enjoyable.

With the help of Kate’s elderly neighbor Willie Wilcox, Kate celebrates doing things the old-fashioned country way. When Willie is accused of killing her son, Kate, with the help, or maybe hindrance of the police, figures out the real murderer.

Since Sibley started this series late in life, there are only 5 books. I am halfway through the fifth one, Spider in the Sink, and have slowed way down reading it, because I don’t want the series to end.

I suggest reading them in order, getting to know the characters as they are developed through the series. I highly recommend this series.






Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Baited Hook

Monday, April 8th, 2019

The Case of the Baited Hook by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


This exciting murder story stars the redoubtable Perry Mason, aided and abetted by his efficient PA Della Street and canny PI Paul Drake. Indeed, this is a familiar plot to hardcore readers of Perry Mason stories. A rich architect brings a masked woman to Mason’s office for a midnight meeting. He warns Mason to keep an eye on the newspapers because the architect may find himself and the woman in a vulnerable position. He also cautions against trying to find out who the masked woman is, not even allowing her to speak. Mason accepts half a $10,000 bill that has been cut as part of his retainer.

A parallel plot involves the financial future of an adult who was illegally adopted as a toddler. Her advocate is middle-aged Mrs. Tump, the kind forthright astute woman that Gardner must have admired since he used the archetype so often in his novels.

The action is mainly Mason interviewing evasive sneaks in offices, but Gardner makes talking, mere interviews, fascinating. Gardner makes strong efforts to describe a complex stock swindle and explain a technical legal concept (law of agency) to challenge readers to keep thinking. Focusing on ideas is key in this outing. Easily bored and confused readers should stay away from this one, probably in the top five Most Intricate Mason Novels.

And there are numerous surprises. For one, Mason alludes to the aphorism ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’ which appears in the Sermon on the Mount. Highly unusual in a Mason novel to see a Biblical reference. Even moreso, in his last appearance in a Mason novel, Homicide Sgt. Holcomb, consistently portrayed as a brute and booby, expresses admiration and shakes Mason’s hand:

All right Mason … I don’t like your methods. Someday I’m going to throw you in the can, but I do appreciate good detective work when I see it and I’m enough of a cop to pull for a guy who solves crimes, even if I don’t like the way he goes about it.

This novel also places Della Street right in the thick of the action so fans of Della will be pleased.





Mystery Monday Review – Crows Can’t Count

Monday, April 1st, 2019

Crows Can’t Count by Erle Stanley Gardner writing as A.A. Fair

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Partnerships in detective fiction usually are usually studies in contrasting characters. The head of B. Cool Confidential Investigations is Bertha Cool, a comic miser in the Mr. Krab manner. Her partner is Donald Lam, a shrimpy lawyer who got disbarred because he informed a gangster of a legal trick to get away with a murder. Cool is a hard driver while Lam is more subtle, never telling cops, clients, or Bertha all he knows or suspects. To prospective clients, Cool describes Lam as “a little runt, but he’s brainy.”

Crows Can’t Count (1946) involves trusts, emeralds, a pet crow and savvy city women. The running gag – that every female that crosses Lam’s path falls for him – is honored. The unique point is that Cool and Lam travel to Columbia (as in Bogota, not South Carolina) to investigate the precious stones aspect of the case. Lam adjusts inter-culturally but Cool, of course, is her irritable self, stomping on cultural corns left and right. It’s hilarious.

The dialogue-driven stories have believable and vivid characters. The stories demand thinking. “Among his many other virtues,” wrote Anthony Boucher, long-time reviewer for the NYT, “Erle Stanley Gardner is surely the finest constructor of hyper-intricate puzzles in evidence. Besides the Perry Mason mysteries, Gardner wrote a couple dozen Cool and Lam mysteries under the pen name of A.A. Fair. The titles are often generalizations about animals as in Owls Don’t Blink or Cats Prowl at Night.”





Historical Fiction Review – The Devil’s Queen

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

The Devil's Queen

The Devil’s Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Welcome to the complicated and tortured world of Catherine de Medici.  Jeanne Kalogridis has a knack of creating historical fiction that is based in reality but bursting with imagination. The Devil’s Queen immerses the reader in the life of Catherine de Medici from her years as a young girl being manipulated by her family to her later days where the roles have been reversed and she has become the manipulator.

Fascinated by astrology and the fate in the stars, Catherine places trust in Cosimo Ruggieri. As an astrologer, Cosimo convinces Catherine of her path and what can be done to strengthen herself and her family, sometimes through very dark practices. Catherine has a life that, truly, is fraught with trials. From being manipulated as a young woman, tortured in marriage with the affairs of her husband, and children who are spoiled and dark in their own ways. She is willing to do whatever it takes to protect those she loves, but she is in danger of losing herself and her sanity in the process.

The Devil’s Queen is a creative and intricate portrayal of Catherine’s life. The descriptions of visions are incredibly dark and expressive, graphic images of blood and suffering that haunt Catherine every day. The complexity of royal family trees and relationships is front and center in this book. For this reason, I wish a family tree would have been included for a visual reference because the plot got hard to follow at times. If you are a reader who enjoys dark historical fiction, I think you would enjoy The Devil’s Queen. My rating is 4/5 stars.





Mystery Monday Review – Maigret on the Riviera

Monday, March 25th, 2019

Maigret on the Riviera by Georges Simenon

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


This 1932 mystery is also known as Liberty Bar. M.’s superiors assign him to investigate a murder on the French Riviera, so the novel is set in Antibes, Cap d’Antibes, Juan-les-Pins and Cannes.

Stabbed to death in his car is Australian William Brown, once a spy during WWI, so M. is told to tread with discretion. M. finds that Brown has come down in the world, owing to poor choices as to hard drinking and unsavory companions. M. finds out that Brown’s lifestyle frightens and disgusts his family, which deprives him of resources and pays him only a monthly minimal allowance. M. also discovers that Brown shared his life among his “four women:” first Gina, his “official” mistress and the mother of the second one, with whom he lived in his villa in Antibes, then Jaja, the owner of a bar in Cannes, where the young Sylvie, the fourth and a prostitute, also lives.

Despite this sordid backdrop, M. feels a connection with the victim because they resemble each other in looks, an uncompromising attitude, and a love for a quiet drink. Also, among the lush tropical flora, garish colors, and tanned beach bunnies, for a brief moment while wearing his usual heavy coat, M. himself better understands why a man on the Riviera for the first time might turn to extreme slacking.

He takes himself in hand, however, and explores two different settings, high and low, to find the culprit. The sadness and the squalor are balanced in the last when M. and his wife have a wonderful conversation in the last couple of pages. In this 17th Maigret novel, written in 1932, Simenon starts to use the existential themes that we meet in his “hard novels.”