Last Update 7/22/18

The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith by Patricia Wentworth, Dean Street, 2016 (originally published in 1923) 

Jane Smith is broke and homeless when she encounters the fiancť of her cousin, who enlists her in a plan to rescue the woman he loves. She is being held captive by an organization of anarchists because they fear she might have overheard part of their plan to destroy civilization. The cousins are virtually twins so the switch is made. Jane is now a prisoner and is taken to a distant estate where scientific experiments are being conducted. The mansion is honeycombed with secret passages. Mysterious figures come and go. She manages to keep up the impersonation because she knows her life is at stake, but eventually she begins investigating rather than simply surviving. Despite some convenient coincidences and a few naÔve details, this is a surprisingly fresh and exciting story with a very appealing protagonist. The mystery is the identity of the rea head of the anarchist organization, which turns out not to be the person most readers are likely to suspect. This was the authorís very first mystery novel.7/22/18

Death at Hallowís End by Leo Bruce, Academy Chicago, 2008 (originally published in (1965) 

This is the weakest of the Carolus Deane mysteries that I have read so far. He is investigating the disappearance of a lawyer who was delivering the draft of a new will to a man who died the same day. The suspects are obvious from the outset and while some of the details are interesting, it is pretty clear that all three worked together. Even worse, Deene refuses to explain his suspicions to the police despite their request that he do so, which results in another death, and almost results in yet another. I was shaking my head at the end of this one. 7/21/18

Blood Orange by Susan Wittig Albert, Berkley, 2016

Iíve been disappointed by most of the recent books in this series, including this one. China Bayles has loaned her cabin to a friend who mysteriously disappears and is later run off the road in a fatal accident. She claimed to have known about am murder and her computer files suggest that she had discovered a long running nursing home fraud. The villains are obvious way too early, but even worse is the badly constructed plot. There is no reasonable explanation of why the dead woman faked her own kidnapping since as far as she knew, no one was aware of her unofficial investigation. And then Bayles decides not to wait for her meeting with the police to reveal the truth. Instead she goes to the suspectís house and sneaks into his garage where she escapes death only because of an improbable coincidence. And the supposedly strong love between Bayles and her husband is filled with deceit, jealousy, and distrust. This one, incidentally, is fantasy. One character is a genuine poltergeist and another has psychic visions of the future, neither of which is particularly relevant to the story. 7/20/18

Murder Most Strange by Dell Shannon (1981) 

This instalment in the Mendoza saga is pretty dull. The cases include a charming serial rapist, a mugger who uses an attack dog as his weapon, a drug overdose that doesnít look like an accident, and a handful of robberies and murders. None of the cases take center stage and they are unraveled in a slow but deliberate manner that is distinctly not entertaining. Some mild homophobia and anti-government ranting does not help. Only the mugger with the dog is of any interest. The police solve most of them through luck, as usual, and the story is interspersed with really dull episodes in the private lives of the various recurring characters. The formula was so fixed by now that Iím surprised the author didnít throw herself out a window to relieve the boredom. 7/16/18

The Money Lovers by Timothy Watts, Soho, 1994 

This is not the type of crime novel I ordinarily enjoy. A recently discharged marine has an automobile accident with an old girlfriend who is now married to a confidence man. The husbandís latest group of marks includes a psychopath who has already committed one murder, although as yet that information has not come to light. The wife is being blackmailed by another sleazeball, who is actually in league with the victimís best friend, who is in fact sleeping with the confidence man husband. And then there is the million dollars in cash. This made a nice change of pace from traditional mystery novels, but it is not a book designed to make you feel good. 7/14/18

The Cat Screams by Todd Downing, Wildside, 1929 

An American detective is on vacation in Mexico when a man is smothered to death at the small resort where he is staying. The following day another man is found dead, apparently a suicide, but the detective is not convinced. Each of the two deaths was preceded by the screaming of the resort ownerís cat, which is in heat. No one is allowed to leave because one of the employees is exhibiting symptoms of small pox and the entire facility has been placed under quarantine.  7/14/18

The Man Who Feared by Will F. Jenkins, Hangmanís House, 1930   

Will F. Jenkins was the real name of the author best known as Murray Leinster. He wrote only a handful of mysteries and it was probably his least successful genre. A private investigator is hired to find out who is harassing a man he personally detests. Friends of the client have been murdered and his safe has been burgled. But he has so many enemies that the task seems Herculean. There is a nice twist at the end but the pacing is very slow, particularly the middle third of the book, and there are a few unanswered questions at the end. 7/13/18

The Madmanís Room by Paul Halter, Locked Room International, 2017 (originally published in 1990)  

This was one of Halterís better novels. A room is locked up ever since it was the scene of a mysterious death. Reopened by the next generation, it leads to another death in the present. Are supernatural forces at work or is someone taking advantage of the situation to muddy the waters? The story is more tightly plotted than in some of the authorís other novels and is less likely to stray into side issues. The creepy atmosphere is well done and the characters are better drawn than in some of his other books. The ending is pretty good as well. This was originally published in French in 1990. 75/12/18

Billy Boyle by James R. Benn, Soho, 2006 

Billy Boyle is the protagonist of this series set during the US participation in World War II in Europe. He is the fictional nephew of Dwight Eisenhower and a Boston police detective. In his initial case he is asked to look into what appears to be a suicide but which looks like it might be murder. There is also a German spy in the area, and the two cases might be related. Unfortunately he is only a lieutenant so he has to break a few rules and riles up some of the Norwegian army in exile in the process, which ends with him making a perilous one man raid into Norway. There are a couple of rough spots, but I mostly enjoyed this and have ordered the second in the series. 7/10/18

The Harvest Murder by John Rhode,  1937 

Alternate title is Death in the Hop Fields. It is not one of Rhodeís better books, primarily because it is glacially slow to develop. Two crimes in a small community appear to have no connection, but of course they are. A house is burglarized and some jewelry stolen, but fingerprints identify the thief as a known criminal. He has disappeared, however, and most readers will know immediately that he is dead. The second crime is a case of arson that seems likely to be an act of revenge. Dr. Priestly, Rhodeís recurring detective, plays a relatively minor part in uncovering the solution. 7/8/18

Felony File by Dell Shannon (1980)

Another mix of unrelated plots. A department store is robbed by a well informed gang. A child is raped and murdered in her bed. One woman is shot to death in her home and another bludgeoned in a public park. A curvaceous and well dressed blonde conducts a series of holdups. There is an amusing contradiction common to people of the authorís political disposition. While complaining that tax money is being used to finance government agencies that interfere with families, the author has a long scene excoriating a child welfare worker for not regularly visiting the homes of everyone receiving assistance, even though it is quite obvious that the agency has virtually no staff for such things. 7/7/18

Prelude to Crime by J. Jefferson Farjeon, Collins, 1948

As much as I enjoy this author, this was a waste of time. It lacks any of the suspense or inventiveness of his other work other than its initial premise. The protagonist is convinced that his dreams predict the future and he has been dreaming about committing a murder. His new psychiatrist prescribes a rest at his informal retreat where there are several other patients, and you can probably fill in the blanks from that point onward. Tedious at times, with too much unadorned dialogue. 7/5/18

Felony at Random by Dell Shannon (1979)

More random crimes intermixed, including murder, kidnapping, and robbery. None of the individual subplots are particularly interesting this time. The author somehow never heard of alternate jurors. She states that if a juror falls ill, the whole trial has to start over. There is also one instance where the police choose a man almost at random, decide he fits the profile, and are about to get a search warrant when another lead proves more viable. No fewer than seven criminals confess without being prodded and without a lawyer present and the police search another house without a warrant. This was probably the weakest Shannon novel to date. 7/4/18

Heir Presumptive by Henry Wade, Perennial, 1984 (originally published in 1953) 

This is one of those mysteries told from the point of view of the murder. Eustace is fifth in line for a title and fortune and never gave it serious thought until two of the heirs are killed in an apparent accident and he discovers that one of the others is terminally ill. His own dissolute life style has left him in debt but he sees a way out. All he has to do is arrange for an accident to claim the last healthy heir, leaving him a clear field. Except itís not as clear as he thinks. This is a quite satisfying suspense novel that has a twist at the end that I half anticipated but still enjoyed. 7/1/18

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