Aug 232014
 

RHYS BOWEN – The Twelve Clues of Christmas. Berkley, hardcover, November 2012; paperback, November 2013.

   Lady Georgianna Rannoch, who tells the story, is 34th (or 35th; sources differ) in line to the throne of England, but die to various misfortunes, none of which are of her own doing, she is dependent on the good will of others, especially at the beginning of Clues that of her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Rannoch, commonly known as Fig, as to her overall welfare and a roof over her head.

   Determined not to spend Christmas at the ancestral (and austere) Rannoch castle where she is not particularly welcome, Georgie answers an ad in a magazine to act as a social director for a lengthy Christmas house party in Devonshire. Her application is accepted almost at once, and it is goodbye to winter in gloomy Scotland even more quickly.

   Turns out, as it so often does in fiction if not real life, that her mother, a flighty lady and a sometimes actress who abandoned Georgie at very young age, is staying in a nearby cottage with none other than Noel Coward. (There is no ill feeling between Georgie and her mother. The former has learned to accept her for who she is.) And as it also turns out, Georgie’s good friend, the adventurous Mr. Darcy O’Mara is on hand as well.

   As in cozy mystery fiction of which this is a fine example, Georgie’s personal life, family relationships and the like take up a sizable percentage of the story. There is a murder involved, or in fact a whole series of them. Or perhaps I should take that back. There is a whole series of strange deaths that occur, all of which appear accidental, nor is there any apparent connection between them.

   We, the reader, know better. It is a murderous scheme on the part of someone, a plan worthy of a villain in an Agatha Christie or Ellery Queen detective story, but without a detective on hand to solve it. With the local police inspector barely up to the job, it is up to the purely amateur efforts of Lady Georgianna, and the sometimes assistance of Darcy, to come up with killer or killers.

   The Twelve Clues of Christmas is fun to read, and is chock full of various Christmas customs of England in the 1930s, but the detective plot certainly could have been filled out more. It’s clever to begin with, but the details become more and more sketchy as time goes on. In fact, the connection between the death is discovered with more than 70 pages to go, leaving only Georgie’s kidnapping (and a couple of gruesome deaths) to fill in most of the rest of the novel.

      The Royal Spyness series –

1. Her Royal Spyness (2007)

2. A Royal Pain (2008)
3. Royal Flush (2009)
4. Royal Blood (2010)

5. Naughty In Nice (2011)
5.5. Masked Ball at Broxley Manor (novella, 2012)
6. The Twelve Clues of Christmas (2012)
7. Heirs and Graces (2013)

8. Queen of Hearts (2014)

 Posted by at 10:12 pm
Aug 192014
 
THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


M. R. D. MEEK – A Mouthful of Sand. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1989. Worldwide, paperback, 1990. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1988.

   I quite like M.R.D. Meek’s stories about Lennox Kemp, and A Mouthful of Sand is no exception. Kemp, a lawyer, was barred from practice when he took money to pay his wife’s gambling debts. She disappeared along with his reputation, and he served a lonely six years’ penance as a private investigator.

   Now he’s back in the law, doing very well, having a relationship (albeit uneasy) with Penelope Marsden. His life is coming back together; perhaps he will marry Penelope and banish the loneliness he fears so much.

   Here a tycoon asks him for a written opinion on the state of British marriage law. Lennox complies, then [leaves] to go on vacation to Cornwall, coincidentally to the coastal town where the tycoon’s wife has gone to recover from severe depression. But her condition worsens, and the battered head of a man is found on the beach. Soon Kemp finds himself ensnared — heart and mind.

   Very effective storytelling, full of subtleties and dense with expressive language.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes: Since Lennox Kemp is a Private Eye, there’s no place better to look for information about than the Thrilling Detective website. There Kevin Burton Smith says, in part: “… while waiting to be reinstated (the events leading up to his disbarment are related in the first book in the series), he earns his daily bread as an op for the London-based McCready’s Detective Agency. But he is eventually reinstated, and this spare yet often elegant series, full of rich characterization, and sharp writing, continues, with Kemp as a particular hands-on type of attornney, part Perry Mason and part Lew Archer.”

   His creator was in real life Margaret Reid Duncan Meek (1918-2009), a retired lawyer.

       The Lennox Kemp series —

With Flowers That Fell (1983)

The Sitting Ducks (1984)
Hang the Consequences (1984)
The Split Second (1985)
In Remembrance of Rose (1986)

A Worm of Doubt (1987)
A Mouthful of Sand (1988)
A Loose Connection (1989)
This Blessed Plot (1990)
Touch and Go (1992)

Postscript to Murder (1996)
If You Go Down to the Woods (2001)
The Vanishing Point (2003)
Kemp’s Last Case (2004)

 Posted by at 11:58 pm
Aug 182014
 
THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


HENRI WEINER – Crime on the Cuff. William Morrow, hardcover, 1936.

   Cartoonists who are detectives are rare. Also infrequent are one-armed detectives. In this novel, John Brass combines the two as he investigates a dual kidnapping plus murder on his doorstep. Meant to be amusing and exciting, the novel fails on both scores.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   This is the one of two mystery novels by author Stephen Longstreet (1907-20020, published under this name. The other is The Case of the Severed Skull, a paperback reprint of Death Walks on Cat Feet (1938), published in hardcover as by Paul Haggard.

   Also in the late 30s Longstreet wrote three other works of crime fiction as by Haggard, all three with a series character named Mike Warlock, about whom I know nothing, in spite of the interesting sounding name.

   As a literary novelist and playwright, Stephen Longstreet turns out to be significant enough to have a Wikipedia page of his own, and as a screenwriter, even more credits on IMDb. Says the biography page for him there: “Studied in Paris and at Rutgers and Harvard Universities, graduating from the New York School of Fine and Applied Art (Parsons) in 1929. [...] Writer, cartoonist, and painter. He published over one hundred novels and five books on jazz, illustrated with his own drawings and watercolors.”

 Posted by at 11:09 pm
Aug 132014
 
THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


EDWARD MATHIS – The Burned Woman. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1989. Berkley, paperback, 1990.

   The late Edward Mathis [1927-1988] reportedly left a pile of manuscripts, and, if The Burned Woman is any indication, we have some fine treats in store. Here we travel further down the Dan Roman trail. He’s [a private eye] married to Susie, sixteen years his junior and very successful in TV reporting.

   Those years of age difference, the demands of her job, the crude advances of one of Susie’s celebrity interviewees — these all eat at Dan, and he drives her away. Whereupon, after a meeting with the celebrity, she disappears. Dan is plunged into alcoholic despair, alienating his best friend, “proving” his love for Susie by dallying with a prostitute, flailing randomly about as the weeks pass.

   Could the celebrity be holding Susie somewhere, could Susie’s disappearance be connected with a road accident near the celebrity’s home on the night she disappeared?

   Roman here emerges as a deeply flawed person, but the tale is masterfully plotted and utterly compelling.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

       The Dan Roman series –

From a High Place (1985)

Dark Streaks and Empty Places (1986)
Natural Prey (1987)
Another Path, Another Dragon (1988)
The Burned Woman (1989)
Out of the Shadows (1990)

September Song (1991)
The Fifth Level (1992)

 Posted by at 10:44 pm
Aug 072014
 
THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


JAMES E. MARTIN – The Mercy Trap. Putnam’s, hardcover, 1989. Avon, paperback, 1990.

   James E. Martin, policeman in Norwalk, Ohio, turned special investigator for the State of Ohio and now retired, authored a mystery in 1973 (The 95 File) and now returns with The Mercy Trap, the first of a series about private eye Gil Disbro.

   Disbro comes full-grown out of the standard P.I. womb: former cop, former husband, getting his sex without commitment, a man with his own particular standards which are at once adaptable and firmly held. He walks the mean streets of Cleveland, retrieving bail jumpers for a bondsman between real jobs.

   Here a mission of mercy comes his way: wealthy contractor Howard Eberly’s adopted daughter is dying for lack of a kidney transplant, and Eberly wants her real mother or other close relative found as a possible donor. Not a quest likely to involve violence, though a twenty-nine-year-old trail with the mother’s true identity carefully hidden may prove a tad faint.

   But the traces are quickly picked up by Disbro’s capable hands, though along the way (but where? and why?) he seems to have stepped on somebody’s toes. Martin’s narrative is compelling, his sense of plot and pace sure. I’ll await the next Disbro with much anticipation.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

       The Gil Disbro series –

The Mercy Trap. Putnam 1989.
The Flip Side of Life. Putnam 1990.
And Then You Die. Morrow 1992.
A Fine and Private Place. Morrow 1994.

 Posted by at 2:28 pm
Jul 292014
 
THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


WILLIAM MARSHALL – Out of Nowhere. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1988; reprint paperback, 1989.

   The thirteenth mad adventure from Hong Kong’s Yellowthread Street Station is Out of Nowhere, by William Marshall. Here as usual Inspector Harry Feiffer and his minions have several wacky puzzles. There is the matter of the rented van, loaded with second-quality plate glass and carrying four persons, which vehicle roars the wrong way down a 3 A.M. freeway for a spectacular collision with a truck. Everything Harry learns about this matter serves to increase his bafflement.

   Meanwhile, there’s the Dalmatian which repeatedly attacks an herbal medicine shop, wrecking the premises (mighty dog!) and carrying off selected medications as well as an array of wind chimes. And finally, Inspector O’Yee, manning a line designed for the pacification of telephonically inclined psychopaths, finds he has a ten-year-old child on the other end with a loaded and cocked Luger in his school bag.

   Marshall stirs this mix in his typical onomatopoeic fashion. Enjoyable but not the strongest in the series.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


      The Yellowstreet Station series –

1. Yellowthread Street (1975)

2. The Hatchet Man (1976)
3. Gelignite (1975)
5. Thin Air (1977)
5. Skulduggery (1979)
6. Sci-fi (1981)
7. Perfect End (1981)
8. War Machine (1982)
9. The Far Away Man (1984)

10. Roadshow (1985)
11. Head First (1986)
12. Frogmouth (1987)
13. Out of Nowhere (1988)
14. Inches (1994)
15. Nightmare Syndrome (1997)
16. To the End (1998)

Note:   There was also a Yellowthread Street television series in England. Produced by Yorkshire Television, it ran for one season (13 episodes) in 1990. It has not yet been released commercially, but DVDs can be obtained on the collector-to-collector market.

 Posted by at 9:10 pm
Jul 262014
 
THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


OSMINGTON MILLS – At One Fell Swoop. Geoffrey Bles, UK, hardcover, 1963. Roy, US, hardcover, 1965.

   Aware that the case won’t do his career any good, Superintendent William Baker of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch nonetheless undertakes the investigation of the missing head of the C.I.D. in Bramwith. The policeman, a lay preacher in the Johnsonite sect, had disappeared shortly before he was to address a centenary celebration of the sect, if the Johnsonites can be said to celebrate.

   Since the policeman’s wife had tried to divorce him for cruelty and now has a lover, she and the lover are the first suspects, if there has indeed been foul play. Information also turns up that the C.I.D. man had with him on his travels two warrants; perhaps the individuals sought made sure that the warrants would not be served.

   Possible, too, is the involvement of the police superintendent where the C.I.D. man was going to serve the warrants. But what role does the leek slasher play?

   A good investigation by Baker and his assistant, Inspector Hughes, and an engrossing portrait of a fundamentalist Christian sect. Forgive the far-fetched coincidences and enjoy this one.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTES:

      The Insp. (Supt.) William Baker series —

Unlucky Break. Bles, 1955.
The Case of the Flying Fifteen. , Bles, 1956.
No Match for the Law. Bles, 1957.
Misguided Missile. Bles 1958.
Stairway to Murder. Bles, 1959.
Trial by Ordeal. Bles, 1961.
Headlines Make Murder. Bles, 1962.
At One Fell Swoop. Bles, 1963.
Traitor Betrayed. Bles, 1964.
Enemies of the Bride. Bles, 1966.

   Osmington Mills was the pseudonym of Vivian Collin Brooks (1922-2002), whose other series, eight in all, recorded the cases of Chief Insp. Rupert “Rip” Irving and P.C. (Sgt.) Patrick C. Shirley.

 Posted by at 6:42 pm
Jul 262014
 
TWENTY DETECTIVE NOVELS BY LITERARY AUTHORS — A LIST

by Josef Hoffmann

   Of course Hammett, Chandler, Simenon and other crime writers are authors with a literary quality, but they are classified as mystery writers whose work is typical of the genre. The literary authors I refer to have written detective novels as an exception to their work which is considered as literature. Some of these detective novels are rather unusual and not typical of the genre, some are rather conventional.

   The following list is not complete.

Auster, Paul: City of Glass, Sun & Moon 1985 (in The New York Trilogy)

      - : Ghosts, Sun & Moon 1986 (in The New York Trilogy)

      - (as Paul Benjamin): Squeeze Play, Alpha-Omega 1982

Butor, Michel: Passing Time, Calder 1960, Simon 1960 (Translation of L’Emploi du Temps, 1956)

Chekhov, Anton: The Shooting Party, Paul 1926 (Translation of Drama na ochote, 1884)

Doderer, Heimito von: Every Man a Murderer, Knopf 1964 (Translation of Ein Mord, den jeder begeht, 1938)

Dürrenmatt, Friedrich: The Judge and His Hangman, Jenkins 1954 (Translation of Der Richter und sein Henker, 1952)

      - : The Pledge, Cape 1959 (Translation of Das Versprechen, 1958)

      - : The Quarry, Cape 1962 (Translation of Der Verdacht, 1959)

Fonseca, Rubem: Bufo & Spallanzini, Dutton 1990 (Translation of Bufo & Spallanzini, 1985)

      - : Vast Emotions and Imperfect Thoughts, Ecco Press 1998 (Translation of Vastas emocoes e pensamentos imperfeitos, 1988)

Gadda, Carlo Emilio: That Awful Mess on Via Merulana, Braziller 1965 (Translation of Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana, 1957)

Handke, Peter: Der Hausierer, Suhrkamp 1967 (as far as I know, not translated)

Hjortsberg, William: Falling Angel, Harcourt 1978

Kertész, Imre: Detective Story, Knopf 2008 (Translation of Detektivtörténet, 2001)

Pynchon, Thomas: Inherent Vice, Penguin Press 2009

Robbe-Grillet, Alain: The Erasers, Calder 1963 (Translation of Les Gommes, 1962)

Tabucchi, Antonio: The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro, New Directions 1999 (Translation of La testa perduta di Damasceno Monteiro, 1997)

Vargas Llosa, Mario: Who Killed Palomino Molero?, Farrar 1987 (Translation of Quien mato a Palomino Molero?, 1986)

      - : Death in the Andes, Farrar 1996 (Translation of Lituma en los Andes, 1993)

    Further Reading:

Detecting Texts. The Metaphysical Detective Story from Poe to Postmodernism, edited by Patricia Merivale, Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, PENN 1999

 Posted by at 3:40 am
Jul 242014
 
THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


CHARLOTTE MacLEOD – Vane Pursuit. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1989; paperback, 1990.

   Vane Pursuit is one of the better tales in Charlotte MacLeod’s series about Peter Shandy, professor of botany at Balaclava College in the nether regions of Massachusetts. Shandy’s wife Helen is here working on a book project involving the potentially famous weathervanes created by the nomenclaturally unforgettable Praxiteles Lumpkin.

   However, disaster seems to attend her photographic rounds: buildings burn and weathervanes are destroyed. Or mysteriously disappear. One of the casualties is the Lumpkin Soap Factory, the conflagration of which destroys the Lumpkinton employment base, returns one employee to his Maker, and signals the departure of a particularly stellar vane.

   These goings-on, plus the antics of a crew of rural survivalists and a fascinating cave dweller, fully engage the Shandys to the brinks of their lives. Vane Pursuit has a stronger plot than some in this series, with less reliance on the soon tiresome tactic of outrageous character names, and the dialog is sprightly.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


      The Professor Peter Shandy series –

Rest You Merry (1978)
The Luck Runs Out (1979)
Wrack and Rune (1981)
Something the Cat Dragged in (1983)
The Curse of the Giant Hogweed (1985)
The Corpse in Oozak’s Pond (1986)
Vane Pursuit (1989)
An Owl Too Many (1991)
Something in the Water (1994)
Exit the Milkman (1996)

 Posted by at 12:52 am
Jul 232014
 
IT’S ABOUT CRIME
by Marv Lachman

FRANK PARRISH – Death in the Rain. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1984. Perennial Library, paperback, 1986. First published in the UK as Face at the Window (Constable, hardcover, 1984).

   Fans of Dick Francis will enjoy that other master of the narrative, Frank Parrish, whose fifth book about Dan Mallett, Death in the Rain, is in paperback from Perennial Library. We identify with Francis’s heroes and feel every bit of pain inflicted by sadistic villains. With Parrish’s “professional” poacher, we observe nature as if we are also lying on the English ground, feeling the cold and dampness. He is marvelously knowledgeable about the Wessex countryside made famous by Thomas Hardy.

   Death in the Rain plays down the major weakness in prior Mallett books, his long-standing attempt to get money for the hip operation his mother won’t consider free, under British socialized medicine. Yet Mrs. Mallett plays a greater role in this book, and she is a delightful supporting character.

   She and Natasha Chapman, a very believable young actress, help compensate for a plot with some structural weaknesses. There are too many coincidences, too many blackmailers, and too many people simultaneously in (or watching) the murder flat.

   Those are the only flaws I can discuss without giving away too much plot, but suffice it to say that, warts and all, this is as much fun to read as Parrish’s prior novels about one of the more unusual series characters of the 1980s. The first four Mallett books are also available from Perennial and equally recommended.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bibliographic Notes: Frank Parrish was the pen name of Roger Longrigg. (1929-2000). Under his own name he has two marginal entries in Hubin. Other pseudonyms are: Laura Black (four novels), Ivor Drummond (nine adventures of Jennifer Norrington, Alessandro di Ganzarello & Coleridge Tucker III) and Domini Taylor (nine novels).

       The Dan Mallett series –

Fire in the Barley. Constable, 1977.

Sting of the Honeybee. Constable, 1978.
Snare in the Dark. Constable, 1982.
Bait on the Hook. Constable, 1983.
Face at the Window. Constable, 1984. US: Death in the Rain.
Fly in the Cobweb. Constable, 1986.
Caught in the Birdlime. Constable, 1987. US: Caught in the Net.

Voices from the Dark. Constable, 1993. No US edition.

 Posted by at 12:20 am