Friday, December 24, 2021

Take Courage, Night's Falling / And You're Not Alone

A bit of holiday music for you as we near the end of 2021. The first is an original tune from Andrew Bird, one of my favorite offbeat musicians who often plucks away on his violin like it was a ukulele (as he does on this track from his Christmas album "Hark!") and whistles beautifully.  He also hails from Chicago, though I don't think he lives here anymore.

The other comes from an ancient (well, only circa 1955, but it feels ancient) Christmas record that my parents once owned and that I listened to repeatedly while growing up in Connecticut. I went looking for it online in a fit of nostalgia and -- of course!-- it turned up on YouTube. Doesn't everything musical eventually pop up there?


Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Blessed Solstice
...and all that jazz!

Whoever or whatever you believe in, however you celebrate this end of the year, have a memorable and magical time. Make the most of it you wonderful people out there in the dark. Let us hope and pray that in 2022 we will finally be free from the shadowy spectre of the viral villain that has haunted us for two full years.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Advent Ghosts 2021: "Who Comes This Night, This Wintry Night?"

There may be no snow on the ground in Chicago, but the Christmas lights are up, the wreaths are hanging on front doors and the sidewalks are bustling with frantic shoppers. It's the holiday season and that means it's Advent Ghosts time. Loren Eaton who blogs at I Saw Lightning Fall invites bloggers and creative writers to contribute vignettes for his Advent Ghosts celebration. It's a Flash Fiction Challenge of sorts but with a word limit set at exactly 100. No more, no less.  The only other rule is that we write in homage to the Victorian tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas time.  Be it old-fashioned, chain rattling specters or more terrifying visions of bloody horror each writer makes up his or her own mind how to interpret that rule. 

Here's my contribution inspired by vengeful, angry gods of the forest at wintertime. 

Who Comes This Night, This Wintry Night?

No one was going to spoil his Christmas hunt. He was keen on bagging a ten pointer, heard there was a stag worthy of a mounted trophy. Hoof marks in the snow! Easy tracking now.

Through the fog he saw antlers. No stag’s head beneath those horns. A sardonic grin on an eerily handsome human face. Powerful arms swung out and struck down the rifle.

“Peace on Earth, Hunter.”

A flock of starlings took flight. Their shrill calls drowned out a human scream in the forest.

Cernunnos made his way back through the wood satisfied with another Winter Solstice sacrifice.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Best Vintage Mystery Reprint of 2021, part two

Here's my second nomination for Best Vintage Mystery Reprint of 2021.I've chosen a male wirter for this second book, a classic writer whose books deserve wide readership, and a book that has been ought of print for nearly a century.

But first some mandatory plugging. Reprint of the Year (I still refer to it by the original, longer, and more specific title) is the brainchild of Kate Jackson. Everything you need to know about this years' contest can be found at her blog Cross Examining Crime. There will be two nominations from each of the twelve participating in-the-know crime fiction mavens. The first nominations were posted on everyone's blogs last week. Voting opens tomorrow, December 19 and the winner will be announced on December 30.  Head over to Kate's blog to cast your all important votes. 

Without further ado, Pretty SInsiter offers for your consideration vintage mystery reprint #2:

The Wintringham Mystery by Anthony Berkeley

  • Berkeley, of course, is one of the giants from the Golden Age.  Any reprint of one of his books is cause for celebration, especially in the US where during his lifetime very few of his books were ever reprinted. As far as I know only his crime fiction under his pen name "Francis Iles" was reprinted in paperback during the 1940s and maybe 1950s. Though many of Berkeley's books were reprinted in the US in hardcover (prior to the invention of the mass market paperback in 1939) I can't think of a single Anthony Berkeley mystery that was reprinted as a paperback in the US.
  • The Wintringham Mystery is a rarity in Golden Age Detective Fiction.  It appeared originally as a newspaper serial in the UK then received a modest printing in hardcover under a new title -- Cicely Disappears.  After that just like its title character it disappeared into the Limbo of Out-of-Printdom for a very long time.  It's wonderful to have it back finally among the living.  I'd never seen a copy at all until this reprint came out.
  • Check out the nifty floor plan at the top of this post!  I love floor plans and maps of the scene of the crime.  Give me more of them in modern crime fiction books, please.  Publishers and writers are you listening?
  • The Wintringham Mystery first appeared in 1926 as a serial.  A year later under one of Berkeley's oddball pseudonyms (A. Monmouth Platts) it was published in book form by John Long Ltd. As one might expect for such an early detective novel it's teeming with conventions and tropes that even in this early time were probably considered tiresome or predictable. Yet typical of Berkeley he subverts most of these conventions and employs fanciful and innovative ideas in his plotting that makes the book a corker of a mystery.  Notably, for much of the book there is no murder! And when a violent death occurs -- once again typical of this inventive writer -- one never knows if the victim suffered an accident, murder or committed a weird type of suicide until the final chapter when all is explained.
  • The plot features an amateur sleuthing duo of a young man and woman who eventually fall in love.  It reminded me of the early Christie books of the 1920s in which adventure seeking Bright Young Things did battle with secret societies as well as the detective novels of Herbert Adams who always let his detective duos find not only the killer but love in the finale.
  • Readers familiar with the detective novels of Vernon Loder and John Rhode might be excited to  know that Berkeley makes use of a motif that those contemporaries of his would later use in numerous detective novels: death by devilish mechanical means. Like Loder he also employs a detective novel convention (one I have still have not revealed on this blog) that makes that death doubling surprising.
  • Finally, though the book is mostly about a mysterious nearly impossible disappearance there is also a mystery about the violent death. The explanation for that death makes use of one of the Golden Age's hoariest of clichés and made me smile in the way that Berkeley manages to subvert that one as well.

Not enough reasons for you? Well, here's one more. I learned that Sarah Weinman also picked this book (along with two others) as one of her favorite Golden Age reprints for 2021.  I love it. Great minds, eh?

What are you waiting for?  Go buy your copy of this extremely inventive, thoroughly entertaining and 100% old-fashioned detective novel.  It contains everything we love that makes mystery novel reading so fun.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Best Vintage Mystery Reprint of 2021, part one

As the ubiquitous commercialization of Christmas invades our lives let us once again turn to the end of the year tradition begun by our dear friend Kate Jackson who blogs at Cross Examining Crime and look at candidates for Best Vintage Mystery Reprint of the Year.  2021 offered up a cornucopia of reprint editions of crime fiction and covered all aspects of the genre from traditional detective novels to clever thrillers to tension filled novels of suspense.  There were over 100 books on the list Kate sent us and I found over 50 more on my own, not the least of which was the surprise addition from Penguin of some long out-of-print books by Mabel Seeley, one time bestselling writer in the stable of Doubleday's Crime Club back in the heyday of that seminal publisher.  It was too late for me to nominate The Listening House (1938), her pioneering mystery novel heavily influenced by Rinehart, Eberhart and the rest of the HIBK school,  because I had already chosen my nominees.  But I think I found two excellent books despite not knowing of the Seeley's reprints.

Unlike most of the others who participate in the is end of the year ritual among the vintage mysteyr bloggers I adhere to a personal standard in choosing these "Best of the Year" reprint candidates. For those who missed this extravaganza in past years (or are too lazy to look it up from this blog's archives) I'll give you my own two most important rules for what I feel merit a wise choice of a vintage reprint:

  1. A truly forgotten author, long out of print
  2. Writing and plotting that contributes substantially to the genre

Enough of the preamble.  Here's Nominee #1 from your opinionated maven at Pretty Sinister Books...


Sing Me A Murder by Helen Nielsen

  • Nielsen is an underappreciated and neglected writer over shadowed by her contemporaries Margaret Millar, Charlotte Armstrong and Ursula Curtiss who tend to get all the accolades when the talk turns to mid 20th century women mystery writers.
  •  Her crime fiction uses the conventions of traditional detective fiction but often subvert them with innovative plotting, unusual characters, and contemporary insights for fans of history and sociology. Sing Me A Murder incorporates popular music into the storyline (a key character is a singer and recording artist). We also get some intriguing background on 1950s architecture, automobiles and car maintenance!  All of it help in solving the various mysteries in the novel.
  • Nielsen's characters are vibrantly depicted.  Often it is the supporting players in the story who are the most attractive and get some of the best scenes.  I remember a nosy neighbor who stole the show, so to speak, in her scenes. Also a gas station attendant has a couple of great monologues. This rings true to me. That the people we take for granted, the background players in our lives, are often those who consciously or not have the greatest influence on us.
  • She's a damn fine writer with an excellent command of English and sometimes startling uses of imagery and metaphor.
  • Stark House Press has reprinted Sing Me a Murder in a twofer bound with Nielsen's equally innovative and gripping crime novel False Witness.  So you get two Nielsen books for the price of one if you buy the reprint of Sing Me a Murder. (Am I cheating?  Don't care!) 

You can read the full review of Sing Me A Murder back in the archives of 2016 posts by clicking here.  The Stark House Press reprint has been on sale since November of this year.  Highly recommended!  And make sure you read False Witness too!  The review for that second book can be found here

Tune in next week for my male writer nominee, a true classic and a giant of a writer in Golden Age of Detective Fiction.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

NEW STUFF: Who Is Maud Dixon? - Alexandra Andrews

Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews
Little, Brown & Co.
ISBN: 978-0316500319
336 pp. $28
Publication date: March 2, 2021

I imagine many people have often said “I wish I had his/her life” at a low point when feelings of envy and jealousy often get the better of us. Count yourself lucky if you’ve been perfectly satisfied with your life in comparison to anyone else, especially someone much more successful in a career or wealthier or more attractive or anything that most people perceive as being the hallmark of what leads to happiness. The rest of us have been there. Dreaming of a life better than the one we have, hoping for the one we know we deserve. 

Florence Darrow, the protagonist of Who Is Maud Dixon? (2021), is such a person. With dreams of being a successful writer but not quite brave enough to take the plunge she has consigned herself to working as a lower echelon assistant editor at a high profile publishing house and is surrounded by people who she perceives as better than her – more informed, more sophisticated, more intelligent and hence more successful. Everything she experiences passes through a filter of her inexperience, her Floridian background cursing her and leaving her in the wake of faster moving, hipper co-workers speeding through the fast lane of a Manhattan lifestyle she had only dreamed of back in Port Orange in her teen years. She just can’t keep up. Each day reveals she knows little, lives a shallow too safe life, while her co-workers manage to see all, know all and take everything they want with ease.

Florence is going to try her hand at taking what she wants no matter what. She has no idea what awaits her.

Through a series of embarrassing choices that recall some of the worst revenge stories of the early months of the #MeToo rage Florence loses her job only to land at the feet of her idol – the mysterious Maud Dixon, bestselling novelist whose pseudonym has never been penetrated. Now Florence is employed by the real Maud Dixon -- Helen Wilcox -- and she is in awe of the woman behind the pen name. As unfettered and opinionated as anyone Florence has worked with Helen is sort of an unimaginable caricature of the independent woman. She lives her life large and damns anyone who settles for less: “Middle categories are for middling people” she tells Florence after denouncing the male species with this glib diatribe: “Men are blunt objects. There’s no nuance there.” Within weeks on the job ostensibly a mere transcription gig, turning manuscript into digital pages, Florence finds herself completely trusted by Helen. She is astonished as she is given access to not only the handwritten pages of Helen’s upcoming novel but her bank and email accounts. Even more unexpected Florence is asked to pretend to be Helen on occasion when her employer can’t be bothered to answer business emails, like the never-ending barrage of demands from her literary agent who wants to see the first chapters of the new book. It’s only the beginning of a shift in identity and a thirst to become a successful writer at any cost.

Who is Maud Dixon? has rightfully been compared to Patricia Highsmith though it discards Highsmith’s penchant for primarily male dominated storylines for an nearly all-female cast. Still, the comparison couldn’t be more apt. It’s one of the few contemporary suspense novels I’ve read that is all deserving of a Highsmith analogy. In Helen Wilcox Alexandra Andrews has created a character as ruthless and intimidating as Ripley, as charming as Bruno, as deadly as any of her antagonists driven to murder and steal in order to get what they want. Florence’s hero worshiping personality and her love/hate relationship with her mother Vera recalls the dreamy fantasist Carol who practically wishes her female lover into existence. And the shapeshifting, personality trading practices of Tom Ripley ironically wear rather well on Florence when a near fatal car wreck and mistaken identity allows her to fully immerse herself as Helen in what was previously only role playing.

What follows this quirk of fate is a highly suspenseful novel fraught with tension and devilishly constructed incidents in which Florence must outwit everyone who believes she is Helen and that the Florence is dead. Will she get away with it all? Or is this identity switch something not at all accidental but a sinister plot manufactured to doom Florence/Helen to a life that turns out to be not at all what she thought it would be. In taking on Helen’s identity Florence realizes too late that she must also embrace everything from Helen’s past life – the life of “Maud Dixon” – which slowly reveals itself to be not at all a work of fiction, but terribly and nightmarishly real.

Alexandra Andrews
(photo: Andrew De Francesco)

This is but one of a handful of new books I read this year that surpassed all the hype. And if I have one caveat it is that Andrews allows her characters to get the better of her. There is one scene that smacks of turgid B movie melodrama overloaded with the clichés of a psychotic killer on the rampage. The scene I'm thinking of has no place in a book that was so subtle and devious in its layering of manipulation, exploitation and identity theft. But I’ll excuse it all because I hear this is going to be a movie soon. That scene is going to make for some terrific scenery chewing and some nasty hand to hand combat (with a couple of household cleaning items deployed as weapons) for the two actresses who are lucky enough to be cast in the leading roles.

Who Is Maud Dixon? is highly recommended for those who think intelligent, original, and suspenseful crime thrillers are not being written anymore. It’s simultaneously literate, topical and filled with plot machinations of the kind that diehard crime fiction devotees crave. Patricia Highsmith would be have been proud to see her name invoked to sell this notable and deftly handled debut novel. And I think she might have conceded that after so many pretenders to the throne of Highsmithian suspense Alexandra Andrews is her legitimate heir.

P.S. I read this book last month and I wrote this review just after Thanksgiving despite it only being posted today. Coincidentally, I just learned that I'm not the only one who thinks this is worthwhile reading. Sarah Weinman, the regular crime fiction reviewer for The New York Times these days, selected Andrews' debut crime novel as one of the "Best Mystery Novels of 2021." Can I pick 'em or what?

Friday, November 5, 2021

FFB: False Witness - Helen Nielsen

Publishing executive Markham Grant has been sent to Norway to secure the rights to the memoir of renowned resistance fighter Tor Holberg.  While riding a funicular up to a well known tourist spot in Bergen he witnesses a woman being strangled in the train that is descending on the opposite side of the tracks. But when he and a fellow tourist, Ruth Atkins, investigate no body is found. The woman seems to have vanished.  This bit of amateur sleuthing makes them late catching their cruise ship and it leaves without them.  Luckily, a local named Sundequist they met on board the cruise ship comes to their rescue and gives them temporary lodging at the nearby home of his friend Dr. Bjornsen. That evening Grant and Ruth meet Sundequist's artist niece and Grant is astonished.  She is the woman he saw strangled on the funicular!

In the new reprint of False Witness (1959) from Stark House Press Curt Evans rightly brings up Agatha Christie's classic Miss Marple detective novel The 4:50 from Paddington (aka What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!) with its similar eyewitness account of a strangling in a train on parallel tracks and the subsequent disappearing body. But Nielsen is not so much interested in the mystery of who the woman is and why she looks like Sigrid...or is it the other way around? This story is no real murder mystery.  Rather, it is a clever amalgam of psychological mystery and suspense thriller. False Witness owes less to detective novels of the Golden Age (something Nielsen indeed knows a thing or two about), but more to Alfred Hitchcock and his favorite trope of the pursuit thriller spiced up with espionage. The novel is rife with Hitchcockian details like a Macguffin (Tor Holberg's memoir), doppelgängers, dual identities, and even some questionable supernatural elements with a dash of hypnotism thrown in for good measure.  I would also mention that this novel is a cousin to The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon, coincidentally also published in 1959, while also hearkening back to Sax Rohmer's early Fu Manchu novels of the 1910s.  For what lies at the heart of False Witness is an intriguing idea about mind control that seems decades ahead of itself.

False Witness is also highly unusual for Nielsen, known for her gritty realism, because it dares to address the occult and extrasensory perception.  Clairvoyance and déjà vu permeate this quasi-supernatural thriller.  Grant has more visions while staying at the Bjornsen’s home.  Viewing a painting of a ruined church for the first time oddly brings back a rush of memories.  Wearing the borrowed clothes of Sigrid's dead husband makes Grant feel like someone other than himself.  The more time he spends with Sigrid the more his visions and sense of déjà vu rapidly increase. Nielsen does an effective job of making it seem like Grant is losing control of his mental faculties and that something eerie is happening to him and the people he interacts with.  But you can rest assured that there is something altogether more sinister at work here.  While the motives may appear diabolical, the villains at the heart of the devilry are entirely mortal.

In exploring alternate realities and other worldly dimensions Nielsen seems to have become more self-conscious of her writing. The dialogue is teeming with a kind of Wildean epigrammatic speech with snippets like "Someday is nothing but a delayed now" and "The heart remains loyal; the mind forgets."  An abundance of this kind of talk can ruin the serious mood with unintended hokey humor, but Nielsen shows restraint and manages to make it seem natural.  I particularly admired her prowess in creating an unusually speedy intimacy between the leads. Sigrid makes a fire, takes Markham Grant's wet shoes and clothes from him. While he warms himself she gives him her husband's robe and slippers. They look at her paintings and talk about their lives. Soon Sigrid finds herself divulging her hidden life to Grant almost instantly. It's as if she creates a new Carl, her dead husband, in the person of Grant and uses him as her confessor. The intimacy flows naturally and allows for some nice poetic touches.

The novel does not turn into a sentimental romance thankfully.  Cary Bryan, the “freeloading American” as Ruth calls him, intrudes.  Bryan has been making a living as a cheap guide for English speaking tourists ignorant of Norwegian language and customs.  And he keeps appearing in the most unlikely settings leading Grant to believe he is being followed. Bryan is often wearing a dirty raincoat that reminds Grant of the raincoat the strangler was wearing.  And wasn't the man on the train a redhead too?  Or is Grant misremembering that?  Bryan takes on a sinister aspect and Grant suspects that what he saw was a vision of an event yet to take place, that he was somehow in touch with the future. He is determined to prove Bryan to be the strangler and prevent him from killing Sigrid.  If only he could get everyone else to believe him.

Eventually Grant meets up with his publishing colleague, Nate Talmadge, who secured the rights to Holberg's memoir and wants Grant to get the contract signed. Talmdage seems to be Grant's only ally and friend. When a real murder takes place the two men will discover the reason for Grant's visions and the truth of what took place in the train.


"Very few people ever find love -- genuine love. Perhaps that's because they expect too much from something or someone outside themselves.  They feel lonely and unfinished and go looking for someone else who is lonely and unfinished, and you know what happens if they succeed, don't you?  Two miserable people go stumbling though life, lonely and unfinished together."

"Marriage is very much like the funicular. In order to fulfill its purpose, both trains must be perfectly balanced on the same cable. One can't pull more weight than the other; one can't run ahead of the other; one can't dominate the other." 

"[The portrait] was supposed to be [of Carl]; but I can't seem to get the face right. I can't  -- this is ridiculous, but I can't remember."

Discretion moves more rapidly than a police car with a screaming siren. 

"A man in your profession must have the gift of imagery. [...] A gift of imagery. With this -- with thought alone -- we can reshape the world."

"It's guided thought that conquers; not the guided missile."

"Murders are done every day. A man goes mad and slaughters his children; a nation goes mad and invades a neighboring nation. What's the difference? It's all weird; it's all madness. Someone has just found a new approach to murder..."

NEW EDITION:  Stark House Press has reprinted False Witness in tandem with Sing Me a Murder also by Helen Nielsen.  This twofer volume goes on sale in mid-November 2021.  Sing Me a Murder, a superior crime novel equally worthy of its new edition, was reviewed on this blog several years ago. Those interested in knowing what that other Helen Nielsen book is about can read the post here

Saturday, October 30, 2021

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL 1: The Women Swore Revenge - Inez Haynes Irwin

THE STORY:  Four women make a pact to bring to justice the murderer of their dear friend Lizbeth More who stabbed on Halloween after a terrifying night of a poltergeist encounter and a visit by a bizarrely masked individual peering in through the windows of More's home.  Years before Lizbeth's fiance Arthur was also stabbed to death, on the night before they were to be married. As there was little evidence Arthur's murder was never solved and his killer is is still at large. Are the two deaths related and were they committed by the same person?  Chief of Police Patrick O'Brien investigates and receives more than ample help from a trio of amateur sleuths.

THE CHARACTERS:  The Women Swore Revenge (1946) is divided into multiple sections in which the story is told from one character's view point, either in first person (Mary and her policeman husband) or third person (amateur sleuths Malo Wrenshurst and Patience Wilbor).  Although the title and blurb on the US edition's dustjacket imply that the four women who make their pact will turn sleuth it really is only two of them who become amateur detectives even going to extremes by assuming alternate identities. Mrs. Wrenshurst, a community theater actress, goes so far as donning a wholly unnecessary disguise complete with dowdy wardrobe, turban and wig. They have, as Wilkie Collins coined in The Moonstone caught a "severe case of detective fever." And they do remarkably well in their roles. A third sleuth is Michael Penchard, Lizbeth's gardener, whose flight from town triggers a police search and fuels gossip that he is the killer. Actually Penchard has left town to follow someone he believes is the true murderer. By sheer chance he and Malo Wrenshurst will meet up in a seedy hotel in Boston where the two will trade stories and share evidence they have collected.

The amateur detective scenes are rich with detail. In fact the entire book is overflowing with lush details on how homes are furnished, what the gardens and grounds of those homes look like, lists of the flowers and trees that seem like catalogs, and painstakingly described layouts of how rooms in the houses are arranged. So it's no surprise when Irwin turns her pen to action sequences that they too are elaborately described. Her writing is as exact and focussed as a cinematographer's camera. Malo's keen eye finds a locket embedded in the vines that have covered the doorway to an abandoned icehouse. Mike's eyewitness account tells of a strange "flying creature" swinging from branches in More woods like some kind of Tarzan wannabe. Patience travels to upstate New York and does a thorough search for the true identity of Whiting Vane, a polio crippled antique collector and mystery man who lives near the Mores. All these and more are highlights in this engrossing detective novel.

ATMOSPHERE: The More house has a history of being haunted dating back to the late ninetheeth century.  Legendary and written accounts tell of poltergeist activity with dishes and glasses being smashed, paintings falling from walls and furniture being overturned with no person anywhere in sight. Lately the poltergeist has started up its mischievous destruction again mystifying Lizbeth and frightening her two female servants. The oddest part of this haunting is the appearance of figures dressed in old clothing. They take the shape of four old women on their knees praying. On two separate occasions these figures turn up mysteriously in rooms previously unoccupied. Irwin handles these scenes with a deft hand and manages to pull off a genuinely creepy atmosphere. Most of her misdirection works, but some more astute readers may see through Irwin's deceit.  Still, she succeeds in making it seem as if some supernatural force is at work. The descriptions of the grotesque face at the window turn truly horrific when it is discovered what exactly that mask at the window really was.

As the various detectives delve into the past we learn that some characters have carnival and circus work in their past. Gossip turns to the possibility of a circus performer being the murderer. And the fact that all the victims in the book are stabbed in the back had me immediately thinking of my favorite Golden Age motif - knife throwing.  This coupled with the presence of a crippled character had me spinning an elaborate scheme of how the murders were accomplished and who the killer was. I was close, but there was no way I was going to come up with the truth because I fell for some of Irwin's misdirection that even a novice reader of detective novels might have discounted. Irwin pulls off a genuinely surprising resolution that borrows from the insane ideas of Harry Stephen Keeler coupled with nightmarish plot twists reminiscent of horror writers of the pulp magazines. She won major points with me for her grotesque touches.

If there is anything to fault this highly imaginative, spooky and macabre Halloween mystery it is the unnecessarily lengthy wrapping up of the various mysteries.  For reasons known only to Irwin she has O'Brien gather the survivors and the innocent characters to deliver a typical Golden Age detective novel lecture that explains everything. But over 75% of the lecture has already been told to us by other characters earlier in the story. And those present know everything that O'Brien is telling them!  All that O'Brien needs to tell these characters (and the reader, of course) is the motive for the murders and the explanation of the poltergeist and the thing at the window.  I confess that I skipped over many paragraphs in this irksomely rambling penultimate chapter.  Also the last section is improperly named for one character when it should be named for Patrick because his is the primary point of view not the person for who Part 9 is named. Ah well. Despite these quibbles the book still has a corker of a mystery plot.

THE AUTHOR:  Inez Haynes (1873-1970) was an active member of the women's suffragette movement and an avowed feminist her whole life.  She is best known for her early 20th century non-fiction writing on women's rights, women's biography as well as some feminist novels notably Gertrude Haviland's Divorce (1925). Her first works were published under Inez Haynes Gillmore her name when she was married to Rufus Gillmore, journalist and mystery writer who diehard fans may know for his Van Dine pastiche The Ebony Bed Murders (1932).

Haynes divorced Gillmore shortly before the onset of World War 1 but continued to write under her married name.  In 1916 she married Will Irwin, another journalist and sometime novelist, who astonishingly also wrote murder mysteries. His two detective novels star Rosalie La Grange, a medium/con artist turned sleuth. Irwin used these novels as a vehicle to voice his distrust and skepticism of the spiritualist movement. The Irwins lived in Europe during WW1 and both were war correspondents for English language newspapers.

In addition to her feminist works Haynes wrote Angel Island (1908), an allegorical feminist fantasy (some call it science fiction but there's little science to it); a series of children's books about Little Maida, a girl who is raised by her wealthy father after her mother dies; and the five detective novels featuring Chief of Police Patrick O'Brien. Interestingly, her detective novels are set in the fictional town of Satuit, based on her life in Scituate, Massachusetts where she and Irwin spent most of their summers and where Haynes settled after her husband died in 1948.

THE SERIES:  The Women Swore Revenge (1946) is the fifth and final detective novel Irwin wrote featuring Patrick O' Brien and his wife Mary. Once again, I chose to read the author's last book first at some cost.  Two previous cases are mentioned in passing, one was getting so detailed a I skipped over the entire section for fear that Irwin would reveal too much. I'm discovering more and more that some writers never thought over this particularity bad habit of possibly spoiling previous books as they continued to add to their characters' adventures.  So a warning that anyone interested in tracking down Irwin's mystery novels that it would be a good idea to read the others first before you get to this final book. However, be warned:  Murder Masquerade (1935), the first in the series, is a very young and naive book completely different from The Women Swore Revenge which in comparison is highly sophisticated. The difference in tone and writing is remarkable. I can only surmise that Bennett Cerf who was editor at Random House shaped up Irwin as a writer when she was under contract to his publishing house. But more on Irwin's early mystery novels and her books as a children's author which seem to have influenced Murder Masquerade when I review that book next month.

Patrick O'Brien Detective Novels
by Inez Haynes Irwin

Murder Masquerade (1935)
   published in the UK as Murder in Fancy Dress (1935)

The Poison Cross Mystery (1936)

A Body Rolled Downstairs (1938)

Many Murders (1941)

The Women Swore Revenge (1946)

Monday, October 4, 2021

Winners of Pray for the Dawn giveaway...

The winners of the two copies of the new Ramble House reprint of Pray for the Dawn were chosen entirely at random using our arcane method of colored tokens and coded entrant names.  And they are:

1. Jeff F.

2. Brad, from the "Ah, Sweet Mystery Blog"

I've already emailed each winner and I eagerly await your replies.  The sooner I get your address the quicker I can put your book in the mail.

Congratulations to the lucky winners. And thanks to all for playing. 

(Shown at right is a portion of the original DJ illustration from the 1946 British edition of Pray for the Dawn by Eric Harding)

Monday, September 27, 2021

GIVEAWAY: Pray for the Dawn Released!

Two book giveaways in one month?  What is the world coming to?  (BTW, there was almost a third,...but I'm saving that one for October) For that matter what is this blog turning into?  Seems as much as I've eschewed all forms of social networking, I've succumbed to what the internet does best and become yet another self-promotion marketing machine, my friends. Sorry to disappoint.

I'm happy to hear from at least one of the previous book giveaway winners that the last prize, a copy of A Case for Solomon by Bruce Graeme, proved to be:

"...brilliant. Apart from being a true bibliomystery, it also pulls off one of the best plot surprises/twists I have come across. Thank you for introducing me to such an inventive and innovative series."

 And I can assure you that Pray for the Dawn is just as innovative and surprise filled. Just released from Ramble House last week the new edition of this EXTREMELY scarce book is available nowhere for free online and has never before been reprinted until this year  Here's your chance to win a brand spanking new, hot off the laser jets, copy.

Those who may have read my rave review back in April already are prepared for pulpy horror, genuine thrills, and paranoid ravings from terrified characters who are trying to survive the weekend in creepy house on an isolated island. Paranoid and terrified because they are at the mercy of a murderous and apparently revived corpse. And it's a detective novel to boot!  What do you need to do to win a copy? Just this...

Leave a comment and name your favorite mystery about a group of strangers stranded somewhere at the mercy of a crazed killer. I have two copies and will award one each to two different people. This new edition with an attractively gruesome cover illustration by Gavin O'Keefe also comes with an informative and amusing Afterword by Yours Truly done in a suitably offbeat Ramble House style of banter and wisecrackery.

1.  Open to all readers who live in the USA, Canada or UK.
2.  Winners must provide me with a legitimate email address and name (or nickname) when they leave the  comment.  Comments marked Anonymous or Unknown are not eligible.
3. Winners will be contacted by email and then must provide me with a legitimate shipping address in one of the three countries listed.


Sunday, September 26, 2021

LEFT INSIDE: A Variety of Bookplates

Pandemic boredom led me to amassing about three boxes of books (most of them still not read) and I noticed in reorganizing them and cataloging them that many had some intriguing bookplates.  And here they are for your viewing pleasure...

This woman was married to an optometrist in Ohio. There are various Scudder family trees found on various genealogy sites. But when I stumbled across a medical association book I found online I found out the entire family history of this particular Scudder family. She was born in Iowa in 1870, lived in Chicago and settled in Ohio. Her first husband died in 1900 and apparently she married the guy's younger brother, also a doctor, in 1909 when she was 39.

Over ten years ago I bought several books from this man's library when they were initally offered on eBay.  Apparently many of them are still floating out there among the many used booksellers because I bought this one only a few months ago.


One of the many popular bookplates from the famed Antioch Bookplate Company in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  I've seen multiple copies of this bookplate in dozens of books (from obviously various owners) I've either owned or perused over the past twenty years. 

Over the years I've owned several books form Oscar's library also. Quite a reader of mystery and adventure fiction.  This is also a popular bookplate design as I've seen it many time in various books.

I wish I knew who this artist was.  I see the initials LCD at the edge of the book.

This is a mystery to me.  George M.R. Holmes' name appears in a small banner beneath this ornate heraldry symbol, but I'm completely at a loss to understand what was granted by the Queen.

 Another coat of arms, but rather simple compared to the Holmes one.


Friday, September 24, 2021

FFB: No Questions Asked - Edna Sherry

Police procedural gives way to domestic melodrama then morphs into a full blown cat-and-mouse thriller in No Questions Asked (1949), Edna Sherry’s sophomore novel in name only. No “wise fool” at all Sherry shows the hand of a master in her second crime novel by expertly plotting two simultaneous storylines that converge in a thrilling climax putting two rival cops practically at each other’s throats.

Steve Lake is a veteran cop, now captain of a homicide squad in Manhattan. As the story opens he is in charge of a murder investigation that smacks of Russian spies and stolen documents a triple combination that is sure to threaten “The American Way.” As if that wasn’t enough on his plate Steve is beginning to question his young wife’s fidelity when he catches her in multiple lies about how she has been spending her afternoons. Early on we get pitch perfect sampling of urban cop detection when in showing how Steve’s inherent mistrustfulness is infiltrating his home life Sherry has the cop trap his wife with easily proven misstatements about what happened at the horse track she claimed to have visited. Sherry must have loved horse racing for this is the first of three crime novels to feature that pastime so popular throughout the late 1940s and into the 1960s. So upset is Steve with Vicki’s obvious and flimsy lies that he begins to follow his wife to find out what she’s doing when she claims to have taken a train to Belmont betting on horses that don’t even exist. When he sees Vicki in the company of a Slevna, a well-known concert pianist and the man who has been tutoring her musician brother, Steve is enraged. Not so much angry that his 22 year-old wife is cheating on him, but furious that she’s doing it with a man old enough to be her father.

Mistrust leads to paranoia which in turn gives way to wild imaginings based on this one eyewitness account of Vicki seen with Slevna. Soon Steve Lake finds himself contemplating a violent revenge. But as with most revenge plots in well written crime novels -- and this one surely is -- the spontaneous plan, ostensibly foolproof in Steve’s crazed mind, backfires spectacularly. As the law of crime fiction irony would have it Steve is also faced with the outrageous coincidence that Slevna is involved in the murder and subsequent corporate espionage his team is investigating.  More than that basis for an intricately constructed and intriguing plot ought not to be revealed.

Sherry’s novel is a brilliant mixture of multiple subgenres, a well-oiled machine of suspense and complex conflicted characters. Steve is enraged with jealousy on one page then overcome with guilt on the next. His snarky and mean spirited lieutenant, a bully of a rival back at the station house, is an opportunistic cop eager for the captain’s desk at the start of the book then morphs into one of Steve’s allies by the end. Vicki is torn between telling her husband the truth and continuing with her weakening deceit. The novel is also an intriguing study of the tacit policemen’s code of honor and what cops will do for one another when one of their own is implicated in behavior that could ruin his career and life. In that regard this book is more timely than ever and might be cause for debate among those highly critical of such unwritten and questionable ethics.

No Questions Asked would have made an excellent film or TV episode. Brimming with cinematic details, excellent characters, and the requisite twisty plot peppered with unexpected moments this is a second novel that shows a real pro at work. Some enterprising Hollywood type ought to get a hold of this still resonant and suspenseful novel and could make it as memorable as Sherry's debut novel Sudden Fear that in its cinematic adaptation garnered four Academy Award nominations. With only two books under her belt Sherry's reputation as a solid crime novelist was firmly cemented in the annals of crime fiction history. She proved to be a contender with later novels Tears for Jessie Hewitt (reprinted by Stark House Press just this year), Backfire and Girl Missing, the last of these three being one of the most widely praised of her later novels.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Winners of Terhune Book Giveaway...

hosen using an extremely unscientific but completely random method here are the winners of last week's book giveaway. May I have the envelope please? And the free copies of A Case for Solomon go to...

1. Allan H
2. Eric
Please email your name and preferred mailing address by clicking here
Thanks for playing! Congrats to all the winners.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Moonstone Press Giveaway - A Case for Solomon

What makes September a happy month? Another book giveaway, of course.

As announced last month A Case for Solomon, the third of Bruce Graeme’s Theodore Terhune series of detective novels and reprinted by Moonstone Press, has been released. I received my box of books a few days ago and I’m offering two copies in a giveaway.  That's right -- two copies!  One copy each to two lucky people.

Terhune reviews a courtroom transcript of a 20 year old murder trial over the course of the novel and uses the transcript as if it were a literary work, gleaning clues as to the personalities of those testifying based solely on their speech and language as recorded in the court documents. To enter this giveaway, just leave a comment below and mention your favorite courtroom detective novel. If it’s been out of print for decades you might want to mention that and I’ll see what we can do to get it back in print. I’ve been rather successful on the front lately.

This contest is open to readers in USA, Canada and UK. I’m afraid all other parts of the world are affected by significant mail restrictions or delays that are too worrisome for me to risk mailing anything from the US. I’ve read all the warnings from the USPS website and as of August 26 airmail delivery, especially to Australia and New Zealand, is too unpredictable. If you live in either country I apologize that you miss out again.

Anonymous comments will not be eligible. Please make sure that you leave your name or some sort of ID when you leave your comment. If you win you will be responsible for emailing me your name and mailing address. Runners-up will be selected if I do not hear from winners within three days.


Friday, August 27, 2021

FIRST BOOKS: Somebody's Walking over My Grave - Robert Arthur

I may be cheating calling this a First Book, but it most definitely is this writer's only crime novel written for an adult audience. So it's a qualified First of sorts. And yes, it's the very same Robert Arthur who gave us The Three Investigators and many anthologies attributed to Alfred Hitchcock filled with stories intended for younger readers. I had to visit the tribute website for Arthur to verify this book was written by the same man I knew from that boy sleuth series of books I devoured when I was a pre-teen. There I also learned that it's actually a revised and expanded version of an earlier novella written for Mercury Magazine (more on that later.) 

Somebody's Walking over my Grave (1961), a much better title than the original, is influenced by and descended from the long line of fictional American private eyes.  Max London, our detective protagonist, supplements his income as a private investigator with work as a photographer and journalist.  At the start of the book Max is helping his brother with a story on the death of his brother's girlfriend. Pete London is convinced that she was murdered by a notorious gangster Tony Reiner who will end up having a large role in the case L Max will soon be handed.  The story of Max, Pete and the death of Millicent, Pete's fiancee, serves an extraneous subplot that will ultimately reveal a secret that Max is hiding.

When the novel opens we find Max taking photographs of model Selma Carle lying on the beach completely nude as the ocean waves "curl up to lick daintily at her naked body." Her risque poses are meant to duplicate the sad death of Millicent who drowned when she supposedly fell off Tony Reiner's yacht.  Max and Pete think she was thrown over.  Selma seems like an extraneous character, too, but she'll turn up later in the story in a surprising link to the multiple crimes that are committed throughout.  She's the character who utters the line which gives the book its title when she feels an unnatural chill on the sunny beach where Max is photographing her.  She mentions the superstition of somebody walking over your grave when you get a chill as something her mother used to tell her.  It's a not only an apt title it's an eerie foreshadowing of Selma's fate.

The main plot involves Max trying to buy back some IOUs for Jonothan Grigsby, a wealthy businessman and innovative inventor in the world of television sets. Grigsby has invented "a lens that will change any black-and-white television broadcast into color at the receiver."  Patricia Parson, Grigsby's business partner,  attempts to explain it all to Max but he tells her to skip it. I was glad he did that because the television invention is another subplot element that, in the end, also has nothing to do with the real story either.  And the few sentences Patricia starts to rattle off sound like science fiction than anything resembling real physics.

Dally with a Deadly Doll by John Mill
is the other book you get in the Ace Double
with Arthur's revised novel

It's those IOUs left behind by Grigsby's first wife Larraine that the story is all about. Larraine was considerably younger than Rigsby (what else is new?) and addicted to life in the fast lane. She spent most of her brief life drinking, driving fast, gambling and spending time with men other than her husband. One night after a hedonistic night of roulette, poker and booze she drove off the road, crashed her car and died in a blazing car wreck. Now Grigsby needs to clean up the mess she left behind and pay off her debts

Max wheels and deals with gambling hustler Marshall Dunn to buy back the IOUs at a bargain basement price.  Dunn wants an outrageous $50,000 (more than the total debt) but Grigsby is certain Dunn will accept only a portion of that.  He knows that Dunn is desperate for money because he too owes someone.  And it turns out to be none other than Tony Reiner.

Shortly after Max gets Dunn to accept the discounted pay-off  Dunn turns up dead.  Max is found at the scene of the crime unconscious and his gun prove to be the murder weapon used to kill Marshall Dunn. It appears to be one of those messy frame-ups private eyes are always falling victim to.  Max then has to work his tail off trying to prove he was set up and find out who killed Dunn and made off with the money he was carrying to buy back the IOUs.

For the most part Somebody's Walking over My Grave is typical of private eye novels of this era.  Plenty of violence, fistfights galore, Max survives several conks on the head, women are put in peril, he beds a couple of them and we get one dirty joke about an erection from one of his sex partners. This made me laugh out loud but at the same time seemed more like something you'd find in a 1970s book and not one from 1961...or even 1956. (Yes, it's in the original version. I had to check.)

As a detective novel it works well and there are even some clever and innovative clues like one involving cigarettes that are stamped with someone's name. Max first thinks the letters left behind on the butt of the used cigarette are s-o-n perhaps indicating Patricia Parson was at the scene of Dunn's murder.  But when he finds a box full of new cigarettes with the same personalized stamp and can examine the full name he finds that he was mistaken in what he thought the letters were. It was a rather nifty clue based on typography that is just like the kind of arcane, barely noticeable thing the Golden Age writers loved to employ in their detective novels.

In the final chapter Arthur decides to use the old gather the suspects and lecture to them scene once again hearkening back to the Golden Age.  The denouement, typically long winded in explaining all the details of the several murders, comes with exactly the sort of shocking pronouncement you'd find in Carr, Christie, Queen or Brand.  I had guessed two aspects of the solution but had not realized that both those aspects were intertwined.  Max talks about a dead giveaway clue that should have tipped him off much earlier and might have prevented one of the deaths.  And when he describes that one clue I practically slapped myself on the forehead for missing it.  It's so obvious that it would never have made the twist in the final chapter a surprise at all.

FIRST VERSION: Robert Arthur's first adult crime novel originally appeared under the title Epitaph for a Virgin in Mercury Mystery Magazine (Sept. 1956) as the lead story.  You can see Selma on the front cover illustration over there on the left. Though she is lying on the beach at the start of the book she's been decently clothed in a swimsuit or negligee in the photo and not scandalously naked.  Took me a while to locate a cheap copy of this magazine.  Several ignorant and greedy sellers are asking ludicrous amounts for reading copies of this digest sized magazine that contains nothing of any real value other than this oddity by Robert Arthur.  I didn't read this version from start to finish, but rather flipped through the pages and I found nothing about Pete or Millicent. Apparently the original ending was slightly altered in Somebody's Walking Over My Grave but I didn't do a strict comparison of the two books. Later tonight I'll look it over and revise this section if I find anything drastically different.

THE AUTHOR:  While perusing the pages of the Robert Arthur page on a website that celebrates The Three Investigators I discovered that Arthur was also a veteran writer of  for the pulp magazines which I don't think I knew at all.  Maybe I saw the name on the cover of a pulp years ago but probably thought it was some other Robert Arthur. Now I know it was the very same man. Robert Arthur (1909-1969) wrote over 100 stories using his own name and dozens more using a variety of pseudonyms that include Andrew Benedict, A. A. Fleming, Robert Forbes, Jay Norman and Pauline C. Smith. His work regularly appeared in nearly every pulp magazine that specialized in crime stories.  From 1933 though 1948 Arthur was published in Clues, Dime Mystery, Baffling Detective, Thrilling Detective, Double Detective, Popular Detective, and Detective Fiction Weekly. I even found his name on the cover of an issue of the seminal Black Mask. Throughout the  1950s and 1960s his stories appeared in three top selling mystery magazines that sported the names of Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock and Mike Shayne in their titles. His work as a radio script writer won him an Edgar award and he would go on to helm the editorial staff at Mysterious Traveler Magazine based on the radio program he worked on from 1942 to 1953. His radio work led to some script writing for TV shows including Thriller and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  Television and his Hitchcock association culminated in his work as editor for some of the first Alfred Hitchcock short story anthologies (for which he wrote introductions in the style of the Master of Suspense) and the creation of the series featuring the boy sleuths known as The Three Investigators.

More on Robert Arthur can be found on his daughter's tribute website here and various author pages on The Three Investigators fan site.

Friday, August 20, 2021

FFB: Fatal Friday - Francis Gerard

THE STORY: What at first appears to be a straightforward shooting followed by a confession by the confused gun toting Lord Colchester turns into a puzzling murder. When the autopsy proves that the bullet in the victim does not match the gun that Lord Colchester fired at him the police are baffled. Sir John Meredith is coaxed into helping the local police uncover the surprising truth behind the murder of Gerald Fairfax on that Fatal Friday (1937).

THE CHARACTERS: I should have found this book tiresome and routine.  It is after all yet another of the myriad English  country house weekends gone wrong that serve as the background for hundreds of Golden Age mystery novels.  True, this familiar story is chock-full of stock characters like the annoying twit aristocrat Geoffrey Tracy who talks like a parody of Lord Peter Wimsey combined with Bertie Wooster peppering his inane sentences with "Eh whats?" and "I say ol' chaps".  We also have a hard of hearing Dowager Countess with a wicked sense of humor and a barely competent Chief Constable in the person of Colonel Merryweather-Winter, a recurring character in Gerard's early detective novels.  Even the blackmail plot that seems to be the motive behind the shooting of Fairfax was far from original.  It all should have bored me.  But it didn't. 

Gerard's lively sense of humor, his love of wordplay and farce are turned on full force in Fatal Friday.  In later books his love of farce is sharpened and becomes increasingly absurd the more outrageous his stories become. Though the characters seem to be carbon copies of the usual gang of suspects that populate these country house type whodunits Gerard has a knack for throwing in reversals of character traits and personalities.  For example, the Dowager's hearing loss is not used as stupid comic relief but rather as a ploy to manipulate the rest of the characters and to make fun of them.  She is well aware that people will talk too loudly and her supposed deafness comes and goes on a whim.  She hears nearly everything and plays at being deaf only to humiliate and embarrass the guests in her son's home.  I was hoping that she would turn out to be the villain and literally have the last laugh on the whole lot of them as well as the reader.  But the Dowager is present merely as a comic figure. Her scenes, not at all crucial to the multiple crime plots, are some of the best in the book. The story would have been a thousand times more entertaining had she been a pistol packing mama as well a trickster who pretends to be deaf.

Fairfax, too, comes from a long line of familiar murder victims you love to hate and who come to a well deserved violent end.  He's a cad of the worst sort who was rumored to have been having an affair with Lady Prunella Colchester, the Earl's much younger wife, when they were spotted at the same French hotel.  Fairfax who has desired Lady C from afar never bothered to deny the rumors choosing instead to play them up and enhance the rumors with suggestive comments to the press.  When he shows up again at another hotel that Lady C is staying at the press goes wild. Again, Fairfax does not deny what is clearly gossip and allows the papers to spread the story of Lady Colchester spending time not only with him but having a string of lovers.

Meredith enters the story when Geoffrey Tracy and his wife Stella learn that Prue is being blackmailed.  Someone has gotten hold of steamy sexually explicit letters she wrote to a boyfriend in her past. He travelled to Malaysia to take a job on a rubber plantation and while he was gone she became engaged Lord Colchester.  But all the time she carried a torch for this other man, who oddly enough is also named Gerald -- Gerald Fawcett to be specific, though he goes by the ridiculous nickname of Pussy.  [What the hell is that about?  This is the fourth book I've read since doing this blog where a British man is nicknamed Pussy. Beyond strange!]   And why would any writer choose to give two of his male characters the same name, I hear you ask?  You best not be asking that of a mystery writer. I knew immediately there was a secret purpose behind that apparent lack of imagination.

A pair of identical leather suitcases with engraved initial plates turn up. What are those initials?  G.F.!   Of course the suitcases are mistakenly switched and... Ta-da!  The reason for the two Geralds is made clear.  Or is it?  Turns out those two suitcases and their contents are extremely important to the plot and the ultimate explanation of who owned them is one of the many surprises Meredith exposes in the finale.

The mystery of who shot Fairfax is also deviously plotted.  Though Lord C has confessed to the crime the bullet fired from his gun is not found in Fairfax's body.  A .35 caliber bullet is extracted from the body and the .35 caliber gun that fired that bullet belongs to Gerald Fawcett.  He told a tale of what he did with that gun in Malaysia and how he unconsciously packed the gun out of habit and brought it with him to the house party. Everyone who heard that story the night before Fairfax was killed knows that Gerald had a gun in his room. But all events surrounding the night before and the day of the shooting keep coming back to Fawcett. His gun killed the man, his footprints were found in mud outside the open window of the library where Fairfax was shot, and Fawcett himself lies repeatedly about his whereabouts because he wants to protect Prue from further damaging her reputation.  Meredith is sure that Fawcett is the murderer and arrests him. 

At the inquest even the jurors return a verdict that specifically names Fawcett as the murderer.  And then we read of two trials - one for Lord Colchester charged with manslaughter and one for Fawcett charged with premeditated murder.  Things turn out well for one man, but not for the other.  Is the story over at that point?  Is it all anticlimactic and all too easily solved?

Juanita Meredith refuses to believe that Fawcett is guilty of the murder.  She insists that her husband investigate further.  Many a man has been hanged on circumstantial evidence she reminds her policeman husband. Don't let it happen to Gerald Fawcett. He is innocent, she protests, and her husband are responsible for that mistaken arrest and conviction. After looking into a few troubling aspects of the crime Meredith begins to see his wife's side of the story.  Ultimately he finds the truth behind the blackmail scheme and Fairfax's murder. When he reveals the truth it comes as a shock to all involved.

INNOVATIONS:  Gerard loves the kind of absurd misinterpretation of words in conversations and interrogation scenes that Abbot and Costello did so well in the routines like "Who's on First?" and the Monty Python troupe reveled in for so many years.  The inquest and courtroom sequences when Geoffrey Tracy must testify are like something you'd find from either of those comic geniuses.  Readers of Henry Cecil's satirical courtroom mysteries might also enjoy these scenes that Gerard does so well. The humor threatens to become a bit too silly but I always welcome silliness in detective novels that might otherwise become ponderous in these all to frequent dull Q&A rehashes during inquests and courtroom scenes.

Gerard engages in some clever plot machinations with the manner in which the murder was pulled off. It's sort of a reversal of an impossible crime or locked room mystery. Rather than a room in which all doors and windows were sealed when Gerald Fairfax was killed in a room in which all the doors and windows were open. When the bullet from Lord Colchester's gun is found embedded in the brick wall of the garden outside the police then look for where another bullet could have been fired. Lord C talks about a "echo" that followed shortly after he shot Fairfax and how Fairfax didn't fall immediately after he fired his gun.  That echo Meredith determines was the sound of the second gun being fired. But from where was it fired?  From the gallery above the library?  From outside through the window in the corner?  From within the library in a cleverly hidden gizmo of some sort?  The nicely drawn floor plans (included here as illustrations)  come in very handy when Meredith and his police team began to look for all possibilities for the origin of that second shot.

The more I read of the John Meredith books the more I realize that Francis Gerard was a genuine fan of detective novels.  Often he makes allusions to the genre itself and it happens here again when the contents of one of those suitcases reveals, among many other items, a handful of mystery novels by Sayers, Carr, Christie and Charteris.  He enjoyed playing with conventions, upending expectations of stock characters and their cliched personalities, and devised some clever criminal plot twists.  As the series went on the books become more fantastical as he added aspects of fantastic adventures, supernatural and occult, and even elements of the lost race subgenre.  One thing is for sure with their offbeat sense of humor and an outrage for amorality and wickedness these books are never dull.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Pretty Sinister Influence, or News on Reprints & Reissues

Lots of news on my overwhelming influence in getting books back into print.  OK, that's an exaggeration.  But suggestion and influence seem to commingle these days.

First. the Bruce Graeme Project of reissuing the Theodore Terhune mystery books continues with the release of the third title from Moonstone Press: A Case for Solomon.

It's been on sale since the beginning of this month at various internet sites in the UK and should be available from the US based Amazon very soon. At Book Depository the listing for this book does not have Bruce Graeme's name as the author, but instead has mine as the author of the introduction. Oops! But my often bruised ego doesn't mind that at all.

The rest of the Terhune mysteries will follow in quick succession:
Work for the Hangman in September, Ten Trails to Tyburn in October, A Case of Books in November, And A Bottle of Rum in December.

A few months ago Stark House sent me a copy of their latest Black Gat paperback reprint of Tears for Jessie Hewitt by Edna Sherry. I was surprised and happy to see this back in print. Back in 2019 I reviewed Sherry’s novel and had good things to say about it. For those of you who like noir fiction it comes recommended. A snippet from my blog post appears inside the book as the last laudatory blurb. You can read my full review on Tears for Jessie Hewitt here.  

Out of curiosity I wanted to what else Greg Shepherd had reprinted in his Black Gat imprint. These are single, smaller books in old-fashioned 4.25" x 7" size rather than his 2-for-1 volumes in larger trade paperback size. Imagine my delight when I saw this:

Yet another book I raved about on this blog.  And there's a portion of my rave right on the front cover! If you want to read the rest of the review for So Young, So Wicked click here.

Saving the best news for last.  The long awaited reprint of Pray for the Dawn by Eric Harding will soon be out from our good friends at Ramble House.  As soon as I get my copy I'll be sure to let everyone know it’s available for purchase.  In quirky style so suited for Ramble House Pray for the Dawn will have an Afterword by Yours Truly rather than a foreword.  With an afterword I was able to talk about all sorts of surprise elements in the book without worrying about ruining the story for anyone. 

Expect book giveaways and fun contests to win copies when the Moonstone and Ramble House books are ready for sale.