Last Update 11/21/17

Let the Dead Past- by John Stephen Strange, Doubleday, 1953  

I donít ordinarily care for court room dramas but this was a pretty good one despite a rather implausible device that gives away the solution. A woman is on trial for the murder of her lover and ex-husband seventeen years earlier. The judge trying the case not only knew her at the time but was in love with her, yet he does not disqualify himself. The testimony of various witnesses is quite well done and even develops some suspense, although I suspected right from the outset that the judge was actually the killer. It comes out at the end, he rules it a mistrial, and then he kills himself. 11/21/17

A Sight for Sore Eyes by Ruth Rendell, Crown, 1998

This is only a mystery by courtesy. There is an unsolved murder at the opening, but it is resolved as an afterthought in the closing chapters and has little directly to do with the story. The daughter of a murdered woman has had a traumatic childhood as a result of that event, and now she is drawn to a young man who Ė although she doesnít know it Ė considers murder as nothing particularly significant. A large cast of supporting characters, most of them repellent to some degree, circle around their relationship. Although well written, I didnít really enjoy it. 11/20/17

Consequence of Crime by Elizabeth Linington, Doubleday, 1980

Following her established formula, the author has Maddox dealing with more burglars, a serial rapist who is (sic) driven into violent sexual rages by smoking pot, kidnapped teenagers, a dead prostitute, a dead college student, and a dead television actress.  Two of her heroic police officers complain about wasting time investigating the death of a "cheap prostitute" who was no loss. Linington appears to have gotten increasingly bitter and irrational as she aged. There are also several scenes this time that feel forced and one confession borders on the absurd. 11/17/17

Skeletons in the Closet by Elizabeth Linington, Doubleday, 1982

This was definitely not one of the author's better works. All of the criminals Ė a pair of robbers, a woman who murdered the father of her child, a serial killer, a child molester, and a man who killed his gay partner by accident Ė confess with no lawyer present and without even being pressed by the police. There are two lengthy homophobic scenes and what appears to be some mild racism. Most of the crimes are carbon copies of incidents she had already used in previous novels. The back story about the married detectives inches forward with her pregnancy. 11/17/17

Felony Report by Elizabeth Linington, Doubleday, 1984

More of the same mosaic storytelling that has characterized this series, with a few homophobic rants and other pet peeves. The main story lines involve someone who is poisoning ground beef in grocery stores, a dismembered corpse, and the murder of a young woman in her car. The author is sloppier than usual. The police refrain from doing rudimentary things like checking the leftover food after a poisoning, the medical examiner falsely states that Type A blood is rare, and there is a direct contradiction of something stated in the earlier novel about Maddox's pregnant wife.  The worst book I have read by this author. 11/17/17

Road Rage by Ruth Rendell, Crown, 1997  

Although there is a murder in this Wexford story, it is peripheral to the main plot. A group of protesters have kidnapped several people Ė including Wexfordís wife Ė to protest the construction of a highway bypass. There are a number of environmental groups Ė some of them decidedly disconnected from reality Ė so there are plenty of suspects. Then the wife is released, and her account raises as many questions as it answers. This was quite good, although I guessed a good part of the answer almost immediately. 11/15/17

A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto, Bitter Lemon, 2016 

This 1975 Japanese suspense novel is an understated but very effective suspense novel. The protagonist is on a business trip when he learns that his wife has died of a heart attack while out shouting. The story seems plausible at first, but he begins to notice little details that fail to make sense. After hiring a private detective, he concludes that his wife was having an affair and died in the home of her lover. He arranges a clandestine meeting with the man, hoping to receive an apology, but he ends up murdering the adulterer instead. But now he is the one who is making little mistakes that will lead to his being found out. Really liked this one and read it straight through.  11/14/17

The Keys to the Street by Ruth Rendell, Dell, 1996   

This is easily one of the best of the non-Wexford novels, even though the mystery element is more of a backdrop than the main plot. A woman fleeing an abusive relationship is temporarily living in an area frequented by homeless people, some of whom are being brutally murdered. Although this obviously affects her, it is her relationship with two men that is the focus of the story, and she never becomes a private detective and is never actually a potential victim. The ending is mildly ambiguous as well. The plot is quite intricate, however, and the book contains some of Rendellís best drawn characters. 11/12/17

Crime by Chance by Elizabeth Linington, Harper & Row, 1973

Another handful of crimes get solved by Sergeant Maddox and company. Maddox, who is now married, is particularly bothered by the disappearance of a young widow and her infant daughter. The author conveniently provides a lapse in his attention to detail to allow the solution to be so elusive. Other crimes involve drugs, the murder of an ageing actor, a mugging, stolen bulldozers, and two gangs, one passing bad checks, the other running a protection racket. Linington tries to shoehorn too many different stories into the space available this time.  11/10/17

Perchance of Death by Elizabeth Linington, Doubleday, 1977  

More police cases intertwined featuring Ivor Maddox and his wife, both detectives now. The two main cases are the murder of a high school girl who disappeared mysteriously from her home and the apparent abduction and imprisonment of an elderly woman which leads to the uncovering of a major convalescent home fraud scheme. With some burglaries, murders, and vandalism to pad the stories out. The nursing home case is handled well but most of the other threads rely on luck rather than the efforts of the investigators. 11/10/17

No Villain Need Be by Elizabeth Linington, Doubleday, 1979   

Maddox solves another collection of criminal cases, this time including a team of daytime burglars who are so inept that it is not plausible they escaped detection for so long. There is also a child killer who lures his victims into his car because he looks like a popular baseball player. I found this even less believable. Her lectures about undisciplined youth, the immorality of the entertainment business, and other matters grows increasingly irksome, irrational, and inaccurate, not to mention that she does not understand police procedure very much. 11/10/17

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe, Seventh Street, 2017, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-363-5

As a rule, I'm somewhat wary of historical mysteries but 1908 is just inside my comfort zone so this one got bumped up near the top of the pile. A police woman in Los Angeles becomes involved in the case of a missionary woman whose body was found in a trunk in her Chinese lover's apartment. The implications are obvious and the authorities do not want the story to get out lest it cause unrest and violence against the Chinese community. As if that was not enough in itself, there is imminent violence between two Chinese gangs following the abduction of two young women. So the detectives are forced to keep a low profile and act quickly to solve the crime before violence breaks out from any of several quarters. The author brings her setting to life, provides some interesting characters, and the mystery itself is reasonably clever. This is the second in a series and the first one was also quite good. 11/9/17

Catch the Gold Ring by John Stephen Strange, Doubleday, 1955  

During World War II in occupied France, two brothers were active in the Resistance. Someone betrayed them and one of the two died during interrogation by the Germans. The other survived the war but has drifted ever since, unable to rest because they never discovered the name of the traitor. His old friend from that time has become a police officer, and a new turn of events suggests that it might finally be possible to learn the truth. This is very well written but itís a kind of story that I have trouble enjoying and I never really got caught up by the characters or situations. 11/8/17

Unquiet Grave by John Stephen Strange, Doubleday, 1949   

There is a subclass of mysteries that really arenít mysteries at all. Ruth Rendell wrote a lot of them. They are essentially character studies in which the reader is pretty sure a crime has been committed but there is no detective, not even an investigation, just a gradual revelation of the true story about a crime in the past. This time itís told by a woman whose husband we know is dead, having died on a remote island under circumstances not even hinted at until the closing chapters. Their marriage was doomed from the start because he was a charming egomaniac warped by a domineering mother, while his wife was a hopeless romantic who ignored good advice and the information provided by her own experiences. Very well told, as is always the case with this author, but lacking suspense and at the end, I really didnít care who killed the husband or why. 11/6/17

Practice to Deceive by Elizabeth Linington, Harper & Row, 1971

Another police procedural with a variety of cases including a serial rapist, a dismembered body, a locked room murder, a confidence trickster, a cop killer, a burglar, and a murderous old lady who shoots her own son. There's a fair amount of coincidence helping the police this time and not much actual detection. The author inserts lots of digs at people she dislikes Ė the courts, the press, young people, political activists, welfare recipients, socialists, etc. There are a few too many coincidences this time as the author apparently could not think of better ways for the police to succeed. There is also a fair amount of right wing nonsense about communists, the courts, and other institutions. 11/3/17

The Brimstone Wedding by Ruth Rendell, Harmony, 1995 

This is another Barbara Vine novel, and despite some nice touches, a rather disappointing one. A woman working at a nursing home makes friends with an elderly patient. The patient tells her that she owns a secret house and offers her the use of it for meetings with her lover. That seems fine except that there are things in the house that suggest the older woman was involved with something mysterious Ė and possibly deadly Ė in the past. It all works out logically but there is not much tension, the mystery is disappointing at the end, and the story moves at a glacial pace. 11/2/17

The Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-Leigh, British Library, 2017 (originally published in 1931)

The author is the granddaughter of Jane Austenís nephew. The story is partly set at Cambridge University where the protagonist, daughter of a prominent educator, hears rumors that suggest two relatives might be smuggling dangerous drugs into the country. She discounts it until she finds a secret passage, detects lies about the activities of the people involved, and sees a boat mysteriously passing in the night. The first chapter is a bit rough but after that the story becomes quite engaging and very well told, and the mystery is completely engrossing even though there is no murder or even any violence in the book at all. She wrote three other mysteries Iíd love to read, but so far they are only available as high priced collectorsí items. 10/30/17

Written in Blood by Layton Green, Seventh Street, 2017, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-63388-362-8

The protagonist is a chaplain turned detective who suffered a nervous breakdown while working on a serial killer case. He recovers and joins the local police force in a small Southern town where the local bookstore owner is brutally killed. Obviously heís the one assigned to the case, which has literary overtones because the murder is arranged to mirror one in a novel by Dostoyevsky. He investigates a local writersí association based on that fact, and another literary inspired murder takes place a short time later, which tends to validate his instincts. But as he comes closer to identifying the killer, he becomes a target himself, as does everyone associated with him. Smart, tense, and mystifying, this is one of the best new mysteries Iíve read this year. 10/27/17

Simisola by Ruth Rendell, Dell, 1995

This is an excellent Inspector Wexford mystery that opens with the disappearance of a young woman shortly after she leaves an unemployment office. A body that matches her description is subsequently found, but it is another woman entirely. One of the staff members at the unemployment office is found strangled in her bed, and another woman with no apparent connection is assaulted in her apartment building. Wexford has to straighten this all out and does so despite laboring under a major misapprehension right from the outset. One of my favorite Rendells. 10/26/17

The Draycott Murder Mystery by Molly Thynne, Dean Street, 2016  (originally published in 1928)  

Another classic style detective story that ages well. A man returns from a long walk to find a dead woman he has never met in his cottage. Circumstantial evidence and a couple of coincidences makes him the chief suspect and he is soon under arrest. A group of friends, including an amateur detective, are determined to discover the truth. Despite their unofficial status, this reads a good deal like a police procedural as they engage in an ambitious course of investigation that will eventually lead to a very surprising revelation. Blackmail, illicit affairs, family secrets, insanity, and other elements all combine in a very plausible scheme. Thynne wrote five more mysteries, which I will definitely add to my list. 10/25/17

The Devilís Disciple by Shiro Hamao, Hesperus, 2013 (originally published in 1929) 

There are two novelettes here from pre-war Japan. In the first, a convicted murderer writes a letter to a prosecutor explaining that the woman he supposedly murdered actually died by accident. He had meant to murder his wife but the plan went awry.  The second story is much better. A man and his wife are murdered in their bedroom. One of their house guests is found in the room holding the murder weapon. He freely admits to having killed them both and his confession neatly explains a variety of odd details about the crime. But his lawyer believes him to be innocent and much later, after his client has been executed, discovers the truth. 10/24/17

Policeman's Lot by Elizabeth Linington, Popular Library, 1968 

Two separate, unrelated, and entirely mysterious disappearances are at the center of this one. A doctor disappears from a hospital during the night shift. A gas station attendant locks up to go home, but his car is still there and he is nowhere to be found Ė although his body turns up a few chapters later. As usual, there are several other cases wound through this, including a drive by shooting, a bunch of teenagers using LSD, and an amateur group of violent burglars.  The mystery element is stronger this time than usual. 10/23/17

No Night Is Too Long by Ruth Rendell, Onyx, 1994 

I didnít care for this at all, another Barbara Vine novel. The protagonist is involved in a gay love affair but meets a woman who immediately becomes an object of obsession. He and his lover quarrel, then have a physical confrontation while on a small island in Alaska. The lover is injured, probably fatally, and the protagonist leaves him there and goes back to England. Two years later he begins receiving cryptic letters that appear to be related to the crime. There is a report that the manís body was found, but either he survived or someone knows something that should have been a very well kept secret. I found the resolution quite unbelievable and unsatisfying. 10/21/17

Something Wrong by Elizabeth Linington, Popular Library, 1967

Several major cases occupy Ivor Maddox and his fellow officers. The first involves the abduction of an infant from a baby carriage. The second is the apparent random shooting of an elderly pedestrian. Third is a thief who has started killing people including a police officer. Fourth is a young girl who dies after taking an overdose of an abortafacient. Most of the cases this time are solved by luck rather than work or reasoning, and Linington's dislike of lenient judges, the press, and psychologists results in several mini-lectures about their various perfidies. 10/20/17

The Case of the Scarlet Feather by Robert J. Hogan, Altus, 2017 (originally published in 1935) 

Wu Fang, a Fu Manchu clone, was clearly not killed in the first book in the series despite appearances. This time he appears to be helping the good guys, but it's actually because there is a rival gang attempting to acquire a new super weapon. Badly plotted, with silly plot elements and sometimes things so absurd they are laughable. This was not one of the better pulp series though it has a certain element of awkward charm. 10/20/17

The Case of the Yellow Mask by Robert J. Hogan, Altus, 2017 (originally published in 1935) 

The third caper of Wu Fang follows the same pattern as the first two. This time he is after an ancient mask which supposed gives hypnotic powers to anyone who wears it. Opposed are the usual flat characters, and once again the story proceeds mostly because of missteps on the parts of both sides. There's a good deal of pointless action in what almost feels like a fantasy quest novel at times. 10/18/17

Nighthawks! by John Brandon, Brentano, 1930 

Although Brandon has written some entertaining crime novels, this really isn't one of them except intermittently. He tries to mix American and British criminals in a story that jumps around in time and involves a lot of long winded conversations that donít do much to advance the plot. Brandon was quite prolific, but I think this might be the only one of his novels to be published in this country until quite recently. 10/18/17

Annaís Book by Ruth Rendell, Onyx, 1993 

A diary from 1905 has a missing page that coincides with the time of an unsolved murder. Eighty years later, a descendant of the writer of that diary decides to solve the mystery, which will also reveal the truth about her auntís parentage. There is a conventional murder mystery mixed into this quite long story of an unusual family and the woman who dominated it. Once again I found the pace slow and some parts were tedious. Rendell was, I think, a frustrated mainstream novelist who grudgingly added crime elements to many of her novels so that her fans would not think she was going astray. 10/17/17

Date with Death by Elizabeth Linington, Popular Library, 1966

Another police procedural. This time the main case is the double murder of a young couple who seemed to have no real enemies. The police track down everyone with a potential grudge, but everyone has an alibi or is in some other fashion exonerated. The end was not entirely satisfactory, involving a sudden discovery and leap of logic. There is a subplot about a practical joker that is quite amusing however. 10/16/17

Death on Demand by Jim Kelly, Severn House, 2015 

This is a decent Shaw and Valentine murder mystery, but not up to the author's usual standards. An elderly woman in a nursing home is murdered on her hundredth birthday, which leads the two detectives to investigate other deaths of aged people. A disturbing pattern emerges. This story is intertwined with the potential danger of a clash between two groups of protestors in the area, and ultimately the two cases will be linked. The puzzle isnít all that interesting and I had a pretty good idea what was going on by midway through the book. 10/13/17

The Crocodile Bird by Ruth Rendell, Crown, 1993 

Although I thought this was a bit too long, itís an interesting quasi-suspense novel about a young girl who has been hidden away by her murderous mother until she is seventeen. The mother is finally arrested after her fourth murder and the daughter runs off with a drifter named Sean. Sean genuinely likes the girl and eventually asks her to marry him. One might well expect that the twist at the end would be for the girl to kill Sean, but itís a much quieter finale. Nicely done characters and the plot is entertaining even though it holds few surprises. 10/12/17

Murder in the Tomb by Lucian Austin Osgood, Coachwhip, 2016 (originally published in 1937) 

This somewhat awkward locked room mystery was the only novel published by the author, apparently by a vanity press, although two more were announced. It involves an avaricious collector of antiquities who has essentially stolen three priceless artifacts, two of which were owned by murderous cultists who want their property back. There's also a man to whom he owes a great deal of money and other candidates when he is killed in the exhibit room he calls the tomb. The prose is so bad that there is no atmosphere at all, and the puzzle is only mildly interesting. 10/11/17

The Case of the Six Coffins by Robert J. Hogan, Altus, 2016 (originally published in 1935) 

Wu Fang was a pale imitation of Dr. Fu Manchu. In this opening volume, he plots to steal a new kind of poison gas that could easily destroy entire cities. He is opposed by a disgraced secret service man and a newspaper reporter, who travel with him on a cruise ship from Europe to North America.  There is also a beautiful young woman partly under Wu Fang's control, who has to be rescued. The plot only advances because both the good guys and the villain make a series of very stupid mistakes.  10/8/17

King Solomonís Carpet by Ruth Rendell, Onyx, 1991 

The Barbara Vine novels by Ruth Rendell tended to be longer and slower than those under her real name, but this time the pace is just too sedate given the subject matter. A group of people are brought together in a one-time school house turned into a kind of free boarding hotel where seduction, jealousy, and other emotions reach their climax when one of the boarders turns out to be planning to bomb the London Underground. I struggled to finish this one. 10/8/17

Death on Delivery by John Brandon, Ramble House, 2016 (originally published in 1937)

Inspector McCarthy is called in when a collector of antique jewelry is murdered during a robbery. There are two rival gangs involved, so a second murder follows close on the heels of the first as they struggle over the loot. This basic plot is expanded Ė actually bloated Ė to the point where I struggled to stay interested. This was the first of the four Brandon novels I have read to actually bore me. It is repetitive, wordy, and there really isn't any mystery involved and there's not a whole lot of suspense either. 104/17

No Evil Angel by Elizabeth Linington, Harper & Row, 1964 

Sergeant Maddox returns for his second case, actually a plethora of cases some of which turn out to be interrelated. The individual cases involve a runaway teenager, a serial shooter, a missing elderly woman, and the murder of a young man by barbiturates. The clues are all uncovered by routine police work and not by coincidence and they are not classic mystery puzzles in structure. Linington was one of the first women to use this format repeatedly and well. 10/4/17