Last Update 6/30/23

Portrait in Smoke by Bill S. Ballinger, 1950

For years I had confused Bill Ballinger with W.A. Ballinger, so I had avoided his books. Discovering my mistake, I bought his two most frequently mentioned novels, of which this is the first. A man becomes obsessed with a young woman after seeing her picture and decides to track her down even though ten years have passed. His investigation alternates with a narrative about her history. She changes identities multiple times, ruthlessly exploits men - who are actually trying to exploit her as well. When he finds her, he adopts an assumed identity in order to meet her. They become lovers, but she tricks him into being chief suspect in the murder of her very rich husband. He avoids arrest only because she has no link to his real identity. She gets away with it. This was good enough that I moved the second novel upward in the pile. 6/30/23

The Saint and the Last Hero by Leslie Charteris, 1930   

The Saint discovers that two nefarious men – who will reappear in later stories – are planning to manipulate the international situation to cause a European war, which will benefit them both financially. This is technically science fiction because they are making use of a stereotypical mad scientist who has developed a remote control disintegration cloud. There are battles, chases, captures, and escapes before the villains are thwarted, though they escape justice. The Saint actually executes the scientist for the greater good of humanity when the man refuses to suppress his discovery. 6/30/23

The Big Four by Agatha Christie, 1927

Even with Poirot as protagonist, Christie could not really bring off an adventure story. In this case, he is pitted against the most powerful criminal organization in the world and is more like Sherlock Holmes than Hercule Poirot. There is also a disconnect with the previous book, in which Poirot has retired. That retirement is completely forgotten in this one, even though the story clearly takes place later in his career. He eventually causes the death of the Big Four after a series of very minor investigations and some very implausible adventures. He did not act like Poirot much – he was more like James Bond crossed with Sherlock Holmes. Thoroughly bad from beginning to end. 6/23/27

Enter the Saint by Leslie Charteris, 1930 

Three novellas featuring Simon Templar. In the first, Templar takes on a fairly low level crime boss and uses a campaign of intimidation to push him into making a series of mistakes. In the second, he and his small group of allies investigate the kidnapping of a man who refused to sell his house to a mysterious buyer. The buyer was a crook who buried his loot on the property before a house was built on top of it. The third and weakest has very little of the Saint in it. One of his allies infiltrates a gang led by a woman, falls in love with her, and he and the Saint manage to trap all of her gang members while allowing her to escape. 6/27/23

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, 1926

This is one of the few Christie novels I had previously read, and I didn’t remember any of the story. Ackroyd is murdered, but what is the motive. Was it a blackmailer trying to recover some evidence? Was it his cash strapped stepson who wanted his money? What about the mysterious stranger seen in the vicinity? Or the acquisitive sister-in-law? Or maybe the perhaps too perfect secretary or the butler with a shady past? Poirot’s investigation is recorded by a local doctor, who turns out to be a classic case of the unreliable narrator. There were a couple of minor plot points that made me raise an eyebrow, but generally this was excellent. 6/23/23

The Saint Meets the Tiger by Leslie Charteris, 1928  

This has appeared under five different titles. It was the first Saint novel, adapted from a somewhat earlier version of his adventures published in magazines. He has come to a small coastal town in England to look for a small fortune in stolen gold. The thieves are led by the Tiger, whose real identity is unknown. Some of the crudities of the author’s earlier novels persists – but the Saint has a distinct enough personality to give this some life and it’s not surprising he wrote almost exclusively about this character for the rest of his career. Or that it spawned many movies and a television series. 6/23/23

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie, 1925  

Although this is another story of international intrigue, it is a bit closer to traditional mystery in format and is better than her previous efforts at adventure. A man is hired to deliver the memoirs of a controversial diplomat to a London publisher. He is accosted by various parties who want to suppress the memoirs, hears a gunshot while trespassing on an estate, becomes briefly the prime suspect in the murder of a foreign diplomat, falls in love with a woman who is a guest at the murder scene, and eventually uncovers the killer, the location of a stolen diamond, the recovery of the memoirs, the fate of some peculiar love letters, the disposal of the body of a blackmailer, and unravels multiple impersonations, including his own. 6/20/23

Daredevil by Leslie Charteris, Ward Lock, 1929

This was the last novel Charteris wrote before turning to the Saint, which was almost exclusively his interest for the remainder of his career. It even includes Inspector Teal as a character, and Teal would appear in some of the Saint stories. A new criminal organization nis targeting influential Londoners, for blackmail or extortion, and murdering those who refuse to pay. They have recruited a number of ex-convicts and three attempts are made on the hero’s life in the first sixty pages. Kit Arden has just joined Scotland Yard and has been placed in charge of the investigation. The plot goes off the rails halfway through when the government gives Arden absolute power to catch the criminals – including acting outside the law – even though he has just been hired by Scotland Yard and has no experience – even though he vows to summarily execute the leader of the gang – even though the leader is known to be his father! 6/20/23

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie, 1924   

Although the first two thirds of this complicated adventure/mystery are well done, the plot goes off the rail at that point. A woman is unconscious for a month and is nursed back to health in a hut on an island. Characters ignore obviously suspicious circumstances. An attempted murder seems to have no motive and was apparently forgotten by the author at the end of the book. There are lots of coincidences. The plot involves a young woman who blunders into a mystery involving stolen diamonds, murders, and other dangers, and includes one reasonably effective red herring, and a surprisingly complex unravelling at the end.  6/17/23

The Bandit by Leslie Charteris, 1929 

This is the third non-Saint novel by Charteris, and like the other two, it is very disappointing. It is mostly a duel of wits – punctuated by violence – between two men who work on the wrong side of the law. Scotland Yard hovers around the periphery of the plot for a while but only to add a little complexity to what is a not very interesting adventure story. There are hints in the plot that the Saint was beginning to take form in the author’s mind, but there is none of the charm that would make the later works so memorable.  I have two remaining non-Saint books to read before I get to Simon Templar. 6/17/23

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie, Bantam, 1967 (originally published in 1922) 

Christie should never have attempted to write a novel of espionage. This debut of Tommy and Tuppence is confusing, illogical, poorly conceived, and ineptly executed. It contains several highly improbable coincidences, a brilliant spy chief who employs untrained people in order to get a new perspective and then sends them letters containing incriminating information. They are pitted against a mystery man who is secretly directing a group of communist subversives who plan to use labor unions to overthrow the government. Everyone is looking for a secret treaty that was lost when the Lusitania was sunk, but brought to England by an American who promptly disappeared. I disliked the two protagonists on top of all of the other flaws in the book. 6/15/23

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie, Dell, 1967 (originally published in 1923)  

Hercule Poirot’s second big case. A man is murdered on a golf course near his home. He was being blackmailed by a woman who was probably guilty of a murder years earlier. His son is lying about is whereabouts and he had just been cut out of his father’s will. His mother claims to have been assaulted by mysterious men with South American accents. A French detective clashes with Poirot and arrests the wrong person. Then a second body turns up, apparently dead longer than the first, but with the same knife sticking out of his body. But he didn’t die of the stab wound. Some minor cheating and Poirot’s Watson, Hastings, is incredibly dumb, but not a bad puzzle at all.  6/12/23

The White Rider by Leslie Charteris, Duran, 1928 

The author’s second non-Saint novel was a crime thriller. A dead crook left a fortune in cash which his daughter refuses to spend. But a number of criminals would like to have that money and the police are rather inept about protecting her. There are several murders as rival gangs battle the police and one another. One of the criminals rides a horse around the town at night, but there does not seem to be any real purpose to this except to justify the title. This was pretty bad and deserves its obscurity. 6/12/23

X Esquire by Leslie Charteris, Ward Lock 1927 

The first novel by the man who would soon create the Saint and end up spending most of his career writing about him. This is a more conventional murder mystery involving a death at a wealthy home when a visiting businessman is shot in their library. A mysterious criminal carries out additional murders before he is identified. The bantering tone that is maintained throughout the book is completely at odds with the subject matter. Charteris later described the book in very negative terms, and he was quite right. 6/11/23

Six Were Present by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1956) 

The final Bobby Owen novel is quite a change in tone, with pervasive supernatural overtones, although everything is rationalized. A man dies at a séance, stabbed through the chest. No trace of a murder weapon can be found. A mysterious witch doctor’s bag which he had brought back from Africa has disappeared, and supposedly holds a map to a large deposit of uranium. His wife and daughter somehow connect the death to that of two sons who were killed in Africa after spying on a forbidden ritual. This all turns out to be a red herring. The method of concealing the murder weapon is painfully obvious and the police should have picked up on it immediately. Also included is the script for a Bobby Owen radio play.  6/9/23

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, Bantam, 1965 (originally published in 1921) 

The first Agatha Christie novel and the debut of Poirot. The story is a very complex poisoning case with multiple suspects, a plethora of physical clues, the arrest and trial of the wrong person, the trapping of the right one. Very enjoyable, but despite being touted as having given the reader all the facts needed to solve the case, this is a fib. You would have to know that sleeping tablets would delay the effect of strychnine poisoning by several hours. Poirot also knows that the rumors of an affair between two characters is false, but that is not revealed until the final get together. Poirot is, of course, a very interesting and distinct detective, and that contributes to the novel’s overall success.  6/9/23

Secret of the Strong Room by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2022 (originally published in 1930)  

One of the longer of Teed’s Sexton Blake adventures, and for a change, none of the recurring villains is involved. Blake is visiting South America when he crosses paths with a local master criminal. The usual events follow. Teed had written so many of these at this point that he was repeating himself frequently, and since I’ve read several dozen of his stories, I’m starting to recognize the plots well in advance and can almost always predict what in general is going to happen next. I wish more of the Blake stories by other authors was available because I confess to having tired of Teed. 6/6/23

Murder in Blue by Clifford Wittig, Galileo, 2021 (originally published in 1937) 

This is a mildly clumsy first novel by an author who wrote sixteen mystery novels. A bookseller finds the battered body of a police constable and is drawn into the investigation – quite unrealistically – which cheats at times – the motive is impossible to anticipate. There are some reasonably good red herrings and puzzles – why was the fake constable’s uniform thrown into a lake before the murder and why did the murderer take the wrong bicycle away after the crime. But the narrative lacks focus and the characters are too uniformly bland to really involve the reader. There is also a frequent use of coincidence to the point where it was almost laughable.  I will try one of his later books, but this one showed faint signs of potential. 6/6/23

The Gang Girl by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2022 (originally published in 1931) 

The villainous George Marsden Plummer escapes to California after his latest scheme was disrupted by Sexton Blake. He is looking for a new way to enrich himself when he is captured by the minions of Muriel Marl, a failed actress whose scandalous and criminal activities have made her unemployable. She has a new enterprise in mind and forces Plummer to help her. But an earlier murder committed by her orders has attracted the attention of Blake. When their attempt to kill him fails, he sets out to track them down. They escape, in order to reappear in future stories, but their plans are fatally wounded. 6/3/23

Dark Is the Clue by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1955)

Bobby Owen is on the trail of some stolen cash when he runs into a dead body in the woods. Two feuding neighbors complicate the issue, as well as the widow of a thief who has multiple identities and several characters including an ex-convict who have a habit of disappearing just when they are wanted. For the third time in a row, I thought the killer’s identity was obvious after only a few chapters and in this case there was not even any mystery about the motive. Punshon seemed to be losing interest in his hero, and had even added a new recurring character – a reporter – in these three books. That said, I will be sorry to see the series end with the next book.  5/3/23

Yellow Guile by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2022 (originally published in 1931) 

A female tourist in a Chinese hotel is attacked in her hotel room by a man who wants a lacquer figure that she purchased in a bazaar. He attracts the attention of Huxton Rymer, another of Sexton Blake’s recurring enemies. The figurine is a valuable antique that was recently stolen and inadvertently sold to the woman. Sexton Blake is also in the country, meeting with his friend in the Chinese police department. Blake wants to recover the figure and Rymer wants to acquire and sell it. Blake is the winner after a mildly interesting battle of wits, and fists. Barely a novella. 6/1/23

Triple Quest by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1955)

Two art connoisseurs have become enemies over the search for a lost Rembrandt, now displayed in a museum. But there are hints right from the outset that it was a fake, or that it has been replaced by a fake. A private investigator and a group of thugs both become interested when the theft of the Rembrandt results in the offer of a very large reward. Various parties run around looking for it and two people die as a consequence. One of the feuders is also dead, but was it because of the painting, because his wife and her lover wanted to get rid of him, or because his mistress’ husband wanted him gone.  Fairly good but the solution is pretty obvious way too early. 6/1/23

Tim Frazer Again by Francis Durbridge, Arcturus, 2013 (originally published in 1972) 

Frazer works for a British spy agency but the death of an agent under possibly accidental circumstances causes him to become involved with a diamond smuggling ring led by a master criminal named Ericson. He is assigned to follow an attractive woman but can find no evidence that she is involved and he rather likes her. Then there is a murder and he is one of the suspects. It becomes obvious that several people he has encountered are working for Ericson and later a Dutch police investigator is assaulted and nearly killed as well. I guessed Ericson’s real identity incorrectly. A bit lightweight, but fun. 5/30/23

The Treasure of the Isabella by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2022 (originally published in 1928)  

A Sexton Blake novella, although his assistant Tinker has most of the adventures this time around and he appears mostly at the windup. Tinker saves the life of a drowning girl and discovers that her father is part of a gang run by George Marsden Plummer, one of Blake’s recurring arch enemies. He is taken captive and almost killed, but the girl alerts Blake to the situation in the nick of time and he is able to penetrate into some underground caverns in time to rescue his friend and thwart Plummer’s latest plot.  5/29/23

The Mystery of Room 11 by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2022 (originally published in 1910) 

Sexton Blake’s arch-enemy, George Marsden Plummer, has escaped jail yet again. He decides that he wants revenge against a French detective rather than match wits with Blake again so he sneaks off to Paris. He decides to impersonate Armand, the detective, but while he thought he was carefully avoiding attracting the attention of Blake, things do not go the way he planned and they are locked in battle once again. Plummer was supposedly a cold blooded killer, but Teed rarely showed him actually killing anyone.  5/28/23

Brought to Light by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1954) 

This mystery novel revolves around the grave of a woman reputed to be the lover of a famous, now dead poet who sealed his last few years of work and some potentially scandalous letters in her coffin. An aggressive would-be biographer is determined to open the grave, legally or otherwise, and he is found shot to death. The vicar who was responsible for the graveyard disappeared two years earlier. The poet’s widow, the dead woman’s niece, the acting vicar and his son, a highly educated sexton, a London thug, a newspaper reporter, and others are all suspects in the case. There is some mildly clumsy foreshadowing that gave me the solution midway through. 5/28/23

Adventure of the Green Imps by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2023 (originally published in 1927)

Sexton Blake is in Monte Carlo investigating a murder designed to look like suicide. He is present when another outsider is killed in an arranged automobile accident. His assistant spots a known female criminal in a casino, and he himself discovers the presence of George Marsden Plummer, an arch-enemy. But there is another force in play. A degenerate, secretive remnant of ancient people live in the hills, dwarves known as the green people, and Plummer may have enlisted them in his cause, which is obviously a nefarious one. Guess who wins in the end. 5/23/23

Strange Ending by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1953)

When a young woman begins appearing at the site of an unsolved murder, Bobby Owen decides that it’s time to re-examine the case. The dead man was a known master chef, though not officially recognized. Almost everyone else connected to the case has some cuisinary skills. The major except is an oddball anarchist who seems to be at the center of mysterious goings on involving smuggled watches, a missing entrepreneur, a delinquent husband, a femme fatale, and a vanished deckhand. The complex plot is brought to a reasonably good conclusion, although it was never quite clear what the young woman’s interest was since she was romantically interested in someone other than the dead man, despite her early claim to the contrary. 5/23/23

The Hymn Tune Mystery by George Birmingham, Oreon, 2022 (originally published in 1930) 

Here we have a pretty good murder mystery. There are some stolen and missing jewels, and various parties are determined to recover them, legally or otherwise. When the local organist is murdered, attention is paid to a supposed musical composition which he authored, which turns out to be a convoluted cipher revealing the location of the jewels. A minor church official teams up with the local police to unravel a web of impersonations, dubious memories, contradictory statements, and missing facts to track down the killer – I guessed correctly – and find the loot. The author wrote a couple other mysteries and I’ll watch for them. 5/19/20

The Wages of Zen by James Melville, Crest, 1979 

This is the first in a series about Superintendent Otani, a Japanese police official. A man is murdered at a Zen Buddhist retreat run by a man who has connections to the criminal elements in the adjacent city. Otani investigates the suspects, who are largely non-Japanese. Melville goes out of his way to explain elements of Japanese culture, whereas Japanese writers tend to take them for granted, so the book has a slightly artificial undertone. The mystery itself is fair but not exceptional, and involves some international espionage that muddies the solution considerably. Good enough that I will try the next, but not good enough that I’m in any hurry. 5/19/20

The Lonely Silver Sky by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1984   

This was the 21st and final Travis McGee novel.  McGee is hired to look for a stolen yacht. He finds it, with three dead bodies aboard and evidence that drug cartels are involved. He wants no part of this and attempts to cover his tracks. Unfortunately, he is caught between two violent gangs. One wants revenge for the death of the daughter of one of its leaders. The other is attempting to cover up the fact that one of their number is responsible. So McGee and the man who hired him are chosen to be scapegoats. Lots of people die in this one, including a DEA agent and a number of criminals when the truth comes out and a gang war ensues.  A pretty good farewell to the series – which ends with McGee discovering he has a grown daughter. 5/17/23

Murder on B Deck by Vincent Starrett, Penzler, 2022 (originally published in 1929) 

This was the first of three mystery novels about a man named Ghost who is a kind of amateur detective. It is also one of that small but lively subset of mystery novels that take place entirely during an ocean cruise. A woman who claims to be an Italian countess is murdered in here cabin. She had brought with her a mysterious amateur silent film about a villainous character who strangles an actress, and the actress is the dead woman. That same night, a friend of the countess falls or is thrown over the rail and is lost at sea. Ghost investigates at the request of the captain and the killer is eventually found. The resolution, however, is very unsatisfactory. The killer has never appeared, even by implication, until he is identified as the murderer. His motive was never hinted at.  The red herrings are actually better than the solution. 5/17/23

Barrier Island by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1986

This was MacDonald’s final novel and it only marginally counts as a crime story. A shady developer fakes plans to develop an island but is actually planning to sell it to the government for an exorbitant price. The façade requires the use of a front organization, a small partnership whose owners do not realize that they are part of a fraud. One of them suspects the truth, however, and initiates an investigation of his own which leads to the truth. MacDonald's dislike of developers is evident as usual.

Death in Castle Dark by Veronica Bond, Berkley, 2021 

Someone recommended this to me as an attempt to return to the classic murder mystery mode and away from cozies. It’s set in a castle in the Midwest that is the stage for an unusual kind of mystery dinner party. And naturally a real murder supplants the fake one that was devised in the script. The protagonist is a member of the cast, an out of work actress who finds herself caught up in events. Not a bad story, but it’s still just a cozy with some slight twists and I will probably not read further in the series. The author is actually Julia Buckley, who has written a lot of cozies under her own name. 5/13/23

Death on May Morning by Max Dalman, Oreon, 2022 (originally published in 1938) 

Although this has an interesting opening – a man is shot to death while attending a function on the top of a tower at Oxford – the delivery has serious problems. Characters go off on tangents without any reasonable motivation. They make assumptions with no evidentiary basis. They benefit from coincidences rather than uncovering facts logically. There is also a tendency for words to be missing from sentences so that they end prematurely, or don’t make any sense. The protagonist is assaulted by a man the night after the murder. Everyone automatically assumes that this was the killer. A piece of torn cloth is found nearby, but there is no evidence that it had any connection to the mystery man. But everyone assumes it does. No effort is made to match the torn piece to any of the formal academic gowns which match it because they all tend to be worn and torn – even though this particular scrap could easily be matched to the proper one if it was examined.  It deserves the obscurity from which it has been resurrected in this new edition.

Miss Seeton Flies High by Hamilton Crane, Farrago, 2018

This appears to have been the final Miss Seeton novel by Sarah Mason. Miss Seeton has been treated to a holiday in Glastonbury, which just happens to be where the son of a prominent businessman has been kidnapped. The police prevail upon her to use her psychic sketching abilities to help them rescue him. But this time her drawings display a bizarre surrealism that surprises and perplexes both Seeton and her friends, although eventually they lead to a happy ending.  About average but the formula is too familiar by now. 5/11/23

Free Fall in Crimson by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1981

Travis McGee is asked to look into the murder of a man’s estranged father. It was supposedly a random attack, but the timing was such that his fortune went to someone other than the way it was probably intended. The trail leads to an enigmatic film maker who has connection to violent biker gangs and who just happens to be the lover of the person who did in fact receive the money, all of which has by now been squandered on a movie about hot air balloons that never quite got off the ground – pun intended. There are multiple murders in the closing chapters and McGee even has to ask for some bodyguards before it is over.  5/9/23

Cinnamon Skin by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1982 

When someone bombs a boat, killing some of Travis McGee’s friends, he tries to figure out who was responsible. His investigation suggests that one of the people who should have been aboard is not, and is therefore still alive and probably responsible for the bomb. He backtracks the man’s life and discovers that he is a serial killer with a long string of victims. Eventually he and friend Meyer discover that he is living in Mexico and confront him. A gunfight ensues and the killer is eventually trapped in a cave after a landslide. Our two heroes decide not to tell anyone that he is there. Prettyn good, and more of a conventional mystery than is usual for this series. 5/9/23

The Ocean Sleuth by Maurice Drake, Spitfire, 2022 (originally published in 1916)

A shipwreck supposedly caused a fugitive banker to be lost at sea, along with the money he embezzled. But when some of that money begins to show up in London, suspicions are obviously aroused about its fate and his guilt. The protagonist is a bored, fairly wealthy man who volunteers to work on the salvage vessel and then undertakes to solve the mystery of the misplaced money. The prose is rather rough in this one, partly because it didn’t age well and there are references that I didn’t catch. A fairly routine mystery did not help either. Drake wrote only seven mysteries, most with nautical themes or settings. 5/8/23

The Green Ripper by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1980  

I think this was my least favorite Travis McGee novel. For one thing, it opens with him on the verge of marrying a young woman, which naturally means that she dies. She does so of a mysterious disease that results from her having been poisoned by Soviet agents because she saw something that might have repercussions. Much of the novel consists of McGee penetrating a cult that is actually a cover for a surreptitious group of saboteurs. Their political conversations are stereotypically over simplistic and ultimately he manages to kill all twelve of them, although none of the group actually committed the murder that brought him there. I normally read a McGee novel in one day, but I kept setting this one aside and it took two. 

Miss Seeton Quilts the Village by Hamilton Crane, Farrago, 2017

The penultimate Miss Seeton novel is longer and a bit more serious than most of its predecessors. There is to be a festival of history in the village and Seeton is involved in the preparations. In her own unique fashion she stumbles upon some secrets from the past which certain people do not want to see the light of days. The puzzle involves Nazi spies and old murders, and with new ones on the horizon. This struck me as closer in tone to Sarah Mason's own work than her continuation of the Seeton series.  5/6/23

The Good Old Stuff by John D. MacDonald, Harper & Row, 1982

This is a very high quality selection of MacDonald’s short fiction, including a novella, “They Let Me Live,” about espionage in Ceylon. There are also a few unsuccessful attempts to commit the perfect murder, a man driven insane who narrates his story unreliably, murders made to look like accidents, blackmailers, and other criminals. Unlike his first two collections, these stories are all crime related. A couple of them have predictable endings, but the majority are very well told. MacDonald was an accomplished short story writer, particularly early in his career. 5/3/23

More Good Old Stuff by John D. MacDonald, Knopf, 1984 

A collection of vintage crime stories, several of them with minor updates to make them more contemporary. The protagonists include police officers, ex-police officers, ex-convicts, thugs, killers, kidnappers, and hapless victims. There is a dark tone to most of the stories, even though most have “happy” endings. About half of them are quite short and one is a novella. There are a couple of weak stories and this is not nearly as good as its companion volume, The Good Old Stuff, but it is still well worth reading.  MacDonald had a real gift for creating a seedy, often repellent setting, and making you care about the frequently deeply flawed characters who lived there. 5/3/23

The Middle of Things by J.S. Fletcher, Oreon, 2022 (originally published in 1922) 

This was actually the best novel by Fletcher that I’ve read so far. It has his usual faults  - characters jump to conclusions constantly and sometimes belabor the obvious. In this case a man is found murdered in an alley and a homeless man is arrested for the crime. He is innocent, of course. The murder has actually been motivated by a gang who want to insert an impostor into a wealthy family and extort money. A neighbor and a lawyer team up to investigate, although they actually don’t do much investigating. They run an ad in the newspapers and the bulk of the book is various people showing up to provide another piece of the puzzle. There are a couple of boggling coincidences but otherwise this one was entertaining. 5/2/23

The Empty Copper Sea by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1978   

Once again Travis McGee has to help an old friend. This one is suspected of having inadvertently killed his employer, who has gone missing at sea. McGee wants to restore his reputation. Almost immediately he hears rumors that the missing man is hiding in Mexico, and it is clear thar he looted his business before vanishing. But that solution would be too obvious. For a while it appears that he was killed by his mistress, but she has disappeared as well and I was well ahead of McGee in believing they were both dead. He did fool me with the identity of the killer, however. 5/1/23

Miss Seeton’s Finest Hour by Hamilton Crane, Berkley, 1999  

This was a significant break in the series, a retrospective novel in which a younger Miss Seeton exercises her psychic talent during World War II. Naturally the authorities conclude that her mysterious insights mean that she is a spy, but eventually a more imaginative officer realizes that she is an asset. He puts her to work tracking down saboteurs who are undercutting military production facilities. It is an interesting change of pace, but really didn’t feel like a Miss Seeton story. 5/1/23

Prisoner of the Harem by G.H. Teed, Stillwoods, 2023 (originally published in 1931) 

Yet another battle between Sexton Blake and his arch-enemy, George Marsden Plummer, this time set in the exotic location of Cairo. Plummer has forged an alliance with a similarly devious woman to form a small crime syndicate in Egypt, and he doesn’t believe there is anyone local who can stop him. But with his usual bad luck, he is unaware that Sexton Blake is in the country as well, and as soon as Blake gets wind of the operation, it is doomed to fail. This was one of Teed’s better novels, which considerably more action than in most of his stories of this rivalry.  4/28/23

The Dreadful Lemon Sky by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1974

Another old friend of Travis McGee shows up, and dies in a staged accident a few days later. Naturally he decides to investigate. Murder and disappearances follow. He is almost killed when a bomb explodes in his houseboat. He is almost killed when a murderer tries to run him down with a jeep. There are five murders by the end, committed by three different people for differing motives. There are smuggled drugs, missing cash, a disappearance at sea, accidental deaths real and faked, and McGee ends up in bed with two different women, almost three. Throw in an honest police detective and a dishonest judge. A couple of really good scenes, but it felt like the plot got away on its own a couple of times as well. 4/28/23

The Turquoise Lament by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1973

Another old friend of Travis McGee is in trouble. She is convinced that her husband is trying to kill her. There are also some missing documents that suggest the locations of some sunken treasure ships. Add a serial killer, a corrupt lawyer, a blackmailed banker, doctored photographs, and you have most of the plot, although this one is a lot less linear than is usually the case in this series. McGee almost gets killed again – he has a habit of not taking precautions when confronting murderous criminals. It also appears that he might be contemplating marriage, but that gets shot down in a rather perfunctory fashion in the last few pages. 4/27/23

The Scarlet Ruse by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1973

The mysterious theft of some valuable stamps leads Travis McGee into a fairly conventional murder mystery this time. The stamp dealer’s client is a criminal but their business was legal. There are two women working for the dealer and it seems certain that one or the other engineered the theft. There is very little action in this one until the climactic end when the various parties converge for a shootout that leaves three of them dead. A bit slow moving and the villain is pretty obvious, but pretty good overall. 4/25/23

The Crime of a Christmas Toy by Henry Herman, Oreon, 2022 (originally published in 1953) 

This is a not very interesting mystery story. A wealthy man receives a package on the night before his wedding. It is a booby trap that releases a poison gas and kills him. His old will is still in force because the marriage did not take place. His brother, who is heavily in debt, is next in line to the bulk of the fortune. Another man, who blames the dead man for driving his sister to suicide, is another strong suspect. And there are others who also had reason to want him dead. This feels like the outline for a mystery – the author usually wrote plays – and never takes itself seriously enough.  4/25/23

Death of an Editor by Vernon Loder, Oreon, 2022 (originally published in 1931) 

The first couple of chapters are a bit disorganized, but this settles down into a nice mystery after that. Various people are guests at a large country house where an influential editor is shot to death in his host’s study. Early evidence suggests that he was shot through the window by someone concealed in an anchored yacht, but the very systematic detective soon proves that this is a red herring. He was actually killed by someone standing next to him, someone who doctored the scene to give a misleading impression of the sequence of events. There are a number of suspects in a physical sense, but there does not seem to be anyone with a motive. A touch of espionage livens things up a bit as well. 4/24/23

A Tan and Sandy Silence by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1971

An old friend of Travis McGee has left her husband and disappeared, and the husband is convinced McGee is hiding her. This leads him into a complex plot to steal money from a trust fund that involves murder, impersonation, and extortion. McGee is unusually inept in this one. He is taken prisoner by the villain twice and escapes in both cases more through luck than skill. By this point in the series, I was glad that I was not among McGee’s friends, as they have a very high mortality rate.  4/23/23

Bonjour, Miss Seeton by Hamilton Crane, Berkley, 1997

Miss Seeton takes a vacation in France and makes a friend who comes to visit her after she returns to England. At about the same time there is a murder in the village that may be related to the discovery of an unexploded German bomb from World War II. Miss Seeton and her psychic artistic abilities eventually make sense of the situation, but only after some of the usual zany adventures. This was about average for the series for Crane (Sarah Mason).. 4/23/23

The Long Lavender Look by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1969

Travis McGee is arrested for murdering a man he does not know. He is released fairly soon and decides to do some investigating on his own. The case involves an old armored car robbery, a falling out among thieves, a police officer who runs a string of call girls, a virulently evil young woman, various dubious characters, and ends with McGee seriously injured and hospitalized. This was well above average and easily the most violent novel in the series at this point – there are seven murders and possibly an eighth.  4/20/23

Sweet Miss Seeton by Hamilton Crane, Berkley, 1996 

There are two subplots in this one, although they eventually converge. A sculptor rather implausibly covets the cottage which Miss Seeton occupies and is ruthless in his efforts to run her off so that he can work on his next project. The second involves the mysterious deaths of a number of elderly villagers, each of whom had recently made purchases from the same asphalt company. Clearly not a coincidence. This one is a bit uneven but generally a solid entry in the series. 4/20/23

Dress Her in Indigo by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1969

Travis McGee reluctantly agrees to go to Mexico to learn about the final days of a young American woman who died in a traffic mishap. She was seen in the company of some questionable people and had obviously become a drug addict. There is suspicion that the accident was contrived. His investigation uncovers drug abuse, murder, and an insane serial killer and almost costs him his life. The villain’s identity is supposed to be a surprise but it is evident far too soon in the story. Fortunately in this case it does not matter because subsequent events are not dependent upon the element of mystery. 4/18/23

Castle of Fear by J. Jefferson Farjeon, Collins, 1954  

An Old Dark House style mystery. A young woman from Australia inherits a castle in England, but there are complications. She is being stalked by a mysterious assassin, her cousin is supposedly away on a trip but is actually using a secret passage to move around the castle, a supposed historian is living there and is obviously lying. Add a young man with secrets of his own and a malevolent housekeeper who locks people in their rooms and you have an entertaining set up for a suspense novel. It proceeds reasonably well from there without ever quite managing to become noteworthy. 4/18/23

The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1968  

Travis McGee is asked by a dying friend to help her married daughter, who seems to be losing her mind. The husband is very sympathetic, but his image becomes increasingly tarnished as the story progresses. The family doctor supposedly committed suicide, but there are some inconsistencies there. A not very likable attorney is investigating the doctor’s death with the help of a nurse, who is murdered a short time later. There is also a shady police detective who keeps crossing paths with the other characters. The husband is obviously drugging his wife in order to inherit her trust fund, so there is not much mystery. About average for the series.  4/16/23

Sold to Miss Seeton by Hamilton Crane, Berkley, 1995 

Miss Seeton attends an auction and inadvertently purchases a sealed box. When she manages to open it, she finds objects connected to the royal family.  A short time later one of the employees at the auction house is murdered, and it is pretty obviously connected to the box. I balked a bit at this. The auction house would certainly have opened the box to ascertain its contents before putting it up for sale. After that, the story proceeds in the usual fashion. The mystery element is stronger than usual in this adventure, and the tone considerably more serious. 4/16/23

Night Watch by Stephen Kendrick, Berkley, 2001

Sherlock Holmes is asked to investigate when a priest is brutally murdered as an ecumenical council of world religious leaders is meeting,  He doesn't like political cases but the puzzle is interesting, As he explores the intricacies of the church - the author is a priest - he runs into G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown, and the two have a kind of unofficial collaboration. Although this was a decent mystery, it did not capture the feeling of either Holmes or Brown and I had to keep reminding myself who they were. 4/13/23

The Attending Truth by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1952)

I am, alas, reaching the last few books in a series I have generally enjoyed a great deal. Bobby Owen is now a Scotland Yard commander and is sent to a small village to investigate the murder of an unassuming traveling salesman in an area where he was supposedly a stranger. Naturally almost no one tells him the entire truth and there are virtually no physical clues to help. None of the potential suspects - a vicar, a businesswoman, a sculptor, a retired colonel, an aspiring politician, the local constable's son, an aggressive drunkard, an unidentified tramp, a mysterious young woman, and an amiable grocer - have alibis and several of them are obviously lying. Punshon provides a clue early on and then never mentions it again, even when it is obvious that it should be, which gives away the identity of the killer to the perspicacious reader. 4/13/23

Pale Gray for Guilt by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1968

Travis McGee is enraged when an old friend is murdered, rigged to look like suicide. It is clear that he was creating a problem for an investor who wanted his land for a development project, but the investor appears to have one so there was no reason to kill him. McGee buys the land from the widow to block the project, then runs two separate elaborate scams to damage the interests of the two businessmen who were responsible for the campaign of intimidation. The killing was actually only peripherally related and is almost accidental. A somewhat more complex and satisfying plot than usual.  4/11/23

Crook O Lune by E.C.R. Lorac, British Library, 2022 (originally published in 1953)

This one is a low key but very atmospheric detective story set in very rural England, a desolate area populated by only a handful of farmers who mostly raise sheep and dairy cows. There is no actual murder until the final scene - although an earlier death was probably not the accident it was deemed to be. There is manslaughter - a woman sleeping in a supposedly empty house is killed when someone starts a fire in the basement - and sheep stealing on a large scale. The real motive turns out to involve a centuries old bequest that has been misdirected over the years. The remoteness of the area - only thirteen people live within several square miles - is integral to the plot. One of this author';s best. 4/11/23

One Fearful Yellow Eye by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1966 

An old friend asks for help when her recently deceased husband’s estate seems to have disappeared. Someone was blackmailing him – and frankly the identity of the villain is just too obvious. There are complications including uncertain paternity, fugitive Nazis, a pair of mysterious heavies who do not seem to be interested in the money, various rapes and assaults, and a murder. There is one cringeworthy scene where McGee tries to convince a woman she will be able to cure her frigidity by going to bed with him – which eventually does happen. Below average for the series. 4/8/23

The Secret Weapon by Francis Beeding, Harper, 1940

A wartime spy thriller. The protagonist is on his way to England to enlist when he encounters a German agent with some sensitive papers. He steals the papers when the ship is torpedoed and ends up in Spain, where various Nazi agents are after him and the papers. Since he speaks German fluently, he is able to impersonate the original courier, and things get very convoluted after that.  A lively plot that somehow never really drew me into the story. 4/8/23

The Secret Search by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1951)

Bobby Owen returns for a complicated case in which three characters have the same name. An elderly man is being looked after by his doting niece, bur Owen suspects she is after his money. Another woman with the same name has recently arrived from Canada and promptly disappeared. Two criminal gangs are both interested, though they hate each other. One of them has made up one of their members to impersonate Owen, a ploy never adequately explained. There is never much mystery involved. The old man is murdered and a rather clumsy attempt to make it seem like natural causes falls apart within hours. A nice crime story and surprising in that it involves a drug that allows a woman to astrally project herself in order to witness crimes. 4/5/23

Miss Seeton Rules by Hamilton Crane, Berkley, 1994

A member of the royal family is coming to visit Miss Seeton’s village, but there is a group who are planning her abduction. When they pounce, Miss Seeton inadvertently provides them some assistance, which naturally displeases Scotland Yard when they set about looking for the missing woman.  But they need not fear because in her indirect and generally humorous fashion, she will prove instrumental in the rescue. Somewhat above average for the books in this series written under the Crane name by Sarah J. Mason. 4/5/23

So Many Doors by E.R. Punshon, Dean Street, 2017 (originally published in 1949)

One of the best in the Bobby Owen series. The elopement of a young woman with a man suspected of having gotten away with murder turns into an elaborately entertaining free for all. There are multiple love triangles, a criminal subplot to confuse things, a missing body which means the police do not know who was murdered, impersonations, false identities, conflicting testimony, coincidences, a legend about an abandoned tin mine, a car chase, faked suicide, and other complexities. At one point all of the suspects disappear independently, and all reappear in Cornwall using false names and other ploys. Lots of fun and some nice characterizations.  4/2/23

Darker Than Amber by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1966

This was made into a movie for television, but I never saw it. McGee rescues a prostitute who is about to be murdered, although she does not survive a second attempt. She had hinted about a gang that swindled and murdered unwary men, and McGee decides to put them out of business. He does so in a methodical fashion, although he slips up a couple of times and succeeds more through luck than good planning. The gang lures men onto cruises, throws them overboard, and fools the crew by substituting a stowaway each time. I’m not convinced this would work, and how did they convince the men to bring so much money in cash on a cruise? 4/2/23