Apr 092015

No fictional detective is as widely known or widely read (or viewed) as Sherlock Holmes. Since his first appearance in 1887, Holmes has fascinated mystery lovers. He continues to do so today, as a character in movies, television series, books, even plays. I don’t think there’s an opera version, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I’m wrong.

As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I came to mysteries through Sherlock Holmes when I was just 10 years old. I was given a book containing all the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories about Holmes – all 4 novels and 56 short stories. I fell in love with those classic mysteries, and I’ve never looked back.

But who really was Sherlock Holmes? There’s an interesting new book by B. J. Rahn, a professor of English Literature at Hunter College, called The Real World of Sherlock which goes into that question in some detail. Professor Rahn looks at the literary influences that produced Holmes, particularly Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, and at some of the real-life people who obviously influenced Doyle, especially his medical mentor at Edinburgh University, Dr. Joseph Bell. But the main influence was Conan Doyle himself, and Professor Rahn shows us how much of Doyle may be found in Holmes.

The book also looks at some of the developments in the real world of criminal investigation during the years of the original Holmes stories. Ever think of Sherlock Holmes as one of the earliest forerunners of CSI? Well, maybe, in his intensive observation of crime scenes that figures so strongly in the stories.

It’s an interesting book, quite well researched, and – particularly for today’s newcomers to Sherlock Holmes who want to find out more about the world’s first scientific detective and his creator – it deserves a place on your mystery reference shelf.

UPDATED – I should have mentioned that the publisher – Amberley Publishing – provided me with a copy of the book for this review.

Apr 062015

Scan_20150406Ramble House has delivered on its recently promised reference book about John Dickson Carr. The John Dickson Carr Companion was compiled and written by James E. Keirans. To cite the blurb, which sums it up pretty well:

“This reference book covers everything that John Dickson Carr published, including his novels, short stories, radio and theatrical plays, poems, essays, and book reviews. It also includes major and minor characters found in these works, Latin translations, omnibus editions of Carr’s work, London pubs, restaurants, underground stations, English and American country houses (a favorite murder locale), and numerous other entries. In short, it is a source for all the essential information relating to one of the Grand Masters (awarded 1963) of detective fiction.”

Yes, it appears to be all that and more – with nearly 400 pages of entries plus a complete index, ranging from “Aaronson” (a character in And So to Murder), to Zia Bey, Mrs. Estelle (who may be found in Nine – and Death Makes Ten). 

Obviously, I haven’t had time to even begin looking through all the material here, but as a long-time fan of John Dickson Carr, certainly high on my list of favorite authors, I think it’s going to be very useful to me – particularly as I’m getting forgetful enough to find myself in need of reminders about certain otherwise memorable characters. 

If you enjoy classic mysteries, if you love having the wool pulled over your eyes by an author who was one of the world’s finest artists of misdirection, then you probably want to get a copy of this book. While it’s available from Amazon.com for $24, Ramble House is selling it direct for $18 for the paperback and appears even to have some e-book versions available (though I’m not sure I’d like trying to wade through it on my Kindle).

Apr 012015

So here we are at April 1, when, we were assured by Mike Ripley, we would see his final “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots eZine.

Not so fast there, pardner. That “final” column – column 100 – has just been published. And Ripley isn’t going anywhere. He explains:

“Well if Richard III can make a triumphal comeback after 500 years, so can I, although I admit the circumstances are slightly different. After all the weeping down a hundred telephones, the thousands of letters (many in green crayon) and a petition with almost a million signatures demanding that Jeremy Clarkson be given my job (surely some mistake – Ed), I have decided to continue to write this monthly missive for the outstanding organ that is Shots.”

May I see the hands of all those who are shocked and surprised? (Yes, thank you, Mrs. Ripley.) For the rest of us, however, who have become used to this entertaining monthly melange of news and gossip about the crime fiction scene, particularly in the UK, it is welcome news.

This month’s column includes news and brief reviews of some new thrillers and other mysteries, including a couple of books based on (and written for) the actor George Sanders, short lists for a number of relevant awards, some intriguing-sounding spy thrillers by Alexander Wilson published before 1940, some thoughts on a recipe in the new Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, a new serial killer book being blurbed by Lee Child, previews of some more books due for publication in May, and republication of a 1953 “lost” pulp novel by Cameron Kay – a pen name for Gore Vidal. 

Whew. Can’t wait to see what he’ll have for next month – and glad he’s sticking around to show it to us.

Mar 292015

“If there’s one thing we can be certain about in the business, it’s this: Mrs. Wainright and Mr. Sullivan walked out to the edge of that cliff, and they didn’t come back.”

…And as I can see now, what he said was quite true.

The evidence was very clear: the lovers must have committed suicide. There were only two sets of footprints leading across the sand to the edge of the cliff, from which they had jumped. There was even a suicide note.

Only it didn’t happen that way. When the bodies were recovered from the sea, it became very clear that it had been murder.

Only the murderer would have had to be lighter than air and left no footprints anywhere.

Impossible? No. Not for John Dickson Carr, writing as Carter Dickson, at the peak of his game with She Died a Lady, originally published in 1943. It’s the subject of today’s audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.

John Dickson Carr, of course, was the acknowledged master of the impossible crime mystery, the locked room, the unbroken expanse of snow or sand, the invisible murderer. If you take a look at this blog’s backlist page, you’ll find a pretty hefty list of reviews I’ve done of books by Carr. She Died a Lady features Sir Henry Merrivale, the character about whom Carr wrote when using the pen name “Carter Dickson.” As readers of Carter Dickson’s mysteries know, Merrivale was brilliant in his ability to explain impossible crimes – and wildly eccentric and often quite funny in almost every other way. In She Died a Lady, H.M., as he is known, is visiting an artist who lives nearby and who is painting H.M.’s portrait. There are some very funny scenes, particularly one involving Sir Henry, a motorized wheelchair, and what seems to be all the dogs in the village – but the overall tone of the book is anything but funny. Can those impossible murders be explained? It was almost enough to fool Sir Henry Merrivale. Almost.

I don’t want to say much more about it, because I want you to have the real pleasure of being misdirected and manipulated by the expert in impossible crimes. She Died a Lady is very very good. It’s currently available both in paper and as an ebook. Either way, get a copy and enjoy it.

The 2015 Bingo Challenge

Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader’s Block blog, She Died a Lady is my entry for the square (fourth row, first column) calling for one locked room or impossible crime.

Vintage Golden Card 2015

Mar 292015

My friend Jeffrey Marks reminds me that I have inadvertently omitted Frances Crane, the author of the Pat and Jean Abbott mysteries, from my post about husband-and-wife detective teams (above). Let me correct that by calling your attention to The Indigo Necklace, a 1945 entry in the series. This one is set in New Orleans and manages to evoke the feeling that is still present today in the old French Quarter of the city – in fact, our detectives have a number of fine meals in some classic New Orleans restaurants that survive and thrive to this day. Here’s what I wrote about it on this blog when I reviewed it a couple of years back. Recommended!

Mar 282015

Dagobert and Jane Brown make a charming couple – and a very readable pair of sleuths. Here are links to some reviews (and further information) about some other detective couples whom you might enjoy:

Jeff and Haila Troy, created by the husband and wife writing team of Audrey and William Roos, writing as Kelley Roos: The Frightened Stiff:

Moving is never fun. Especially if you’re a young couple moving into a basement apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village in the 1940s…only to discover your furniture isn’t there yet, there’s no lock on the door, no shades on the street-level windows, strange things going on in your apartment building…and the police wake you to tell you there’s a corpse out in your garden that seems to have been drowned in your bathtub.

Then there are Henry and Emily Bryce, created by Margaret Scherf. I enjoyed Glass on the Stairs:

Take what appeared to be an open-and-shut case of suicide. Stir in a few clues that don’t add up – a pink glove, some possibly poisoned toothpaste, a few sounds that should have been on a tape recording that somehow weren’t there, and a few shards of broken glass. And let Emily and Henry Bryce shake up the mix – because, as Emily observes, “When we have a murder, we don’t like to be piggish about it. We want all our friends to share it with us.” What you have is a rather remarkable screwball comedy-mystery called Glass on the Stairs, by Margaret Scherf.

Another husband-and-wife writing team, Frances and Richard Lockridge, came up with an extremely popular couple of detectives in the mid-twentieth century: Pam and Jerry North. They’re rather hard to find now, but there’s a Kindle edition available of The Dishonest Murderer:

The Dishonest Murderer surely reflects a peculiar way of looking at a violent crime such as murder, right? And yet here’s a case in which the entire setting of the murder – from its victim, to the method of murder, to the setting where the body was found – all seemed wrong. It was up to Pam North to sum it up, quite well: “we’re looking for someone dishonest. A dishonest murderer…a setup designed to mislead. Dust in our eyes. In other words, a kind of sleight of hand. So that we’d look in the wrong place. Fundamentally dishonest.”

And, of course, no list of husband-and-wife teams would be complete without Nick and Nora Charles, the creation of Dashiell Hammett, who appeared in the classic American mystery, The Thin Man:

When the young woman approached Nick Charles and insisted he should search for her missing father, Nick really didn’t want to get involved. But each time he proclaimed his lack of interest, more and more people – including the police, the missing man’s family, a few assorted mobsters and more – became convinced that Nick knew something about the disappearance of that missing man – who may, by the way, have murdered his mistress. Eventually, he found himself forced into investigating the whole business – although he was careful not to let it get in the way of his serious drinking.

By the way, I have done podcast reviews for all four of these books. You can hear those reviews in their entirety by clicking on the appropriate links:

The Frightened Stiff

Glass on the Stairs

The Dishonest Murderer

The Thin Man

You can find other books by these authors on the backlist page as well.

Mar 222015

There are a fair number of married couples who moonlight as sleuth teams in classic mystery novels. There were Nick and Nora Charles, Jeff and Haila Troy, Henry and Emily Bryce, Jake and Helene Justus, to name just a few. And then there were Dagobert and Jane Brown, who brought their own odd brand of detection to mysteries written by Delano Ames in the late 1940s and through the 1950s. Dagobert, a young man who appears to be chronically allergic to any kind of job, spends some of his time investigating murders; his wife Jane, who writes mysteries (which, apparently, bring in enough money for the couple to live on), helps Dagobert and serves as the narrator for these books, which really fall into the category of “screwball comedy-mysteries.”

The third book about this rather odd couple is called Corpse Diplomatique, originally published in 1950. It’s the subject of today’s audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you’re invited to listen to the full review by clicking here. Dagobert and Jane find themselves staying at a small hotel in Nice, on the French Riviera. They meet Don Diego Sebastiano, the Vice Consul in Nice for the small Central American republic of Santa Rica, who – not to put too fine a point on it – tries to pick up Jane, but fails. Soon thereafter, as the Vice Consul is walking down the street, someone apparently takes a shot at him – missing him narrowly, but killing another resident of that small hotel, Major Hugh Cartwright. Was Don Diego the intended victim? He certainly thinks so – although Major Cartwright turns out to have been doing quite a lot of blackmailing of just about everyone in the hotel and the surrounding neighborhood – including both Don Diego and Dagobert.

It’s all done with a very light touch; there are some very funny scenes and bright exchanges in the dialogue. I can carp over a lot of the details of this book – there are a number of plots and subplots which, in my view, don’t really dovetail into a coherent story. But Dagobert and Jane are a charming couple who manage to get away with a great deal of what in most people would be considered very unusual behavior as they team up to find a killer. If you don’t know the Browns, you would probably enjoy meeting them in Corpse Diplomatique, by Delano Ames.

The 2015 Bingo Challenge

Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader’s Block blog, Corpse Diplomatique is my entry for the square (top row, fifth column) calling for one book with a detective “team.”

Vintage Golden Card 2015

[Updated 3/29 to correct the title for my Bingo challenge submission. Sorry!]

Mar 112015

The bookbags are loaded for Left Coast Crime.


More than 600 people registered for the conference will be going home with complimentary books and magazines, courtesy of several different publishers. It’s just another reason to be at Left Coast Crime, where the murders are generally polite.

Mar 112015

The troops are gathering in Portland, OR, for this year’s Left Coast Crime conference, also known as Crimelandia. There are awards to be presented, books to be given away, more books to be autographed, and hundreds of authors and fans eager to renew old friendships and start new ones. Mystery people are a remarkably congenial crowd, and I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that so many attendees know lots of interesting and undetectable (at least in fiction) ways to get rid of you…

At any rate, I’ll try to check in from time to time to update you all on the events at Crimelandia. Off now to help stuff the book bags to be given away at registration. If any of my readers are attending, please come visit!

Mar 022015

Mike Ripley’s new – and, he says, final – “Getting Away with Murder” column has now been published in Shots Ezine. As usual, it contains a wide-ranging ramble through the current mystery scene, particularly as it appears in the U. K. Among the topics this month:

  • Another new Albert Campion book, Mr. Campion’s Fox, which Ripley has written with the blessing of the Allingham Society;
  • A reflection on an anonymous literary agent’s bad choice;
  • The seemingly endless parade of  nominees for mystery awards;
  • A recommendation for a new mystery that counts SIX different narrators;
  • Announcements about several other newly-published-in-the-UK books;
  • Books he’s reading for the Chianti Crime Festival in Siena, Italy, later this Spring;
  • Reviving some old TV serials;
  • Lots more book reviews;

And a possible farewell of sorts. This is column #100 for “Getting Away with Murder.” Ripley, who has insisted that column #100 would be his last, runs down a list of people who, he says, are some of the candidates to replace him – well, that’s what he says, though the biographies are, er, highly dubious at best.  I hope it’s somebody with Ripley’s quirky sense of humor, very much on display again here, which has made his columns required reading for me. It occurs to me, however, the next column being dated April 1, and therefore quite possibly an appropriate time to introduce any of these candidates, that it would be wise to withhold lavish displays of grief. At least for now…