Bibliographies, Lists & Checklists


THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


C. DALY KING – Obelists at Sea. Knopf, US, hardcover, 1933. Heritage, UK, hardcover, 1932; Penguin Books, UK, paperback, 1938.

   During the bidding for a number in the ship’s pool on distance traveled by day, the lights go out and Victor Smith, either a copper king or a Western railroad magnate, is shot twice in the heart. Only one gun is found to have been fired, and that is proved not to have committed the murder. Smith’s daughter also dies, although of what cause is not known. To add to the complexity, Smith had taken or been given poison almost immediately before he was shot.

   The case is too much for the ship’s detectives, so four gentleman aboard assist in the investigation. Dr. Hayvier, a well-known behaviorist, Dr. Pechs, an equally well-known psychoanalyst, and Dr. Pons, inventor of Integrative Psychology, and Professor Miltie, who had carefully avoided being identified with any of the schools of his “science” — all have their theories, all different, with different suspects.

   Put aside the fact that the Meganaut has ten decks above the water line and a crew of at least a thousand and that Captain Mansfield invariably refers to it as a “boat.” This is still a fascinating, albeit a bit slow, novel.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Editorial Comments: While I do not know if all four of the detective characters in this novel appear in all of the books below, Professor Pons is stated in Hubin to be in each of them.

       The Dr. L. Rees Pons series –

Obelists at Sea. Knopf, 1933.
Obelists en Route. Collins, UK, 1934.
Obelists Fly High . H. Smith 1935.
Careless Corpse. Collins, UK, 1937.
Arrogant Alibi. Appleton, 1939.

    Also of interest, I believe, is the following quote taken from author Marti Edwards in his review on his blog of C Daly King’s mystery output in general:

    “‘Obelist’ was a word that King made up. He defined it in Obelists at Sea as ‘a person of little or no value’ and then re-defined it in Obelists en Route as ‘one who harbours suspicion’. Why on earth you would invent a word, use it in your book titles, and then change your mind about what it means?”

For more on C. Daly King, the mystery writer, may I alos direct you to Mike Grost’s comments about his work on his website.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


THE WHISTLER. Syndicated, 1954-55. – CBS Television Film Sales Inc – Lindsley Parsons Production (first 13 episodes) Joel Malone Associates (final 26 episodes). Cast: William Forman as The Whistler. Music by Wilbur Hatch. Produced by Joel Malone.

   THE WHISTLER began as a radio anthology suspense drama featuring unexpected twists. It aired on the West Coast CBS radio network. While attempts to succeed on the East Coast were failures, the radio show proved very popular on the West Coast to Chicago and lasted between 1942 and 1955. You can listen to over 400 radio episodes at Archives.org.

   The radio program would lead to eight films from Columbia Studios: THE WHISTLER (1944), THE MARK OF THE WHISTLER (1944), THE POWER OF THE WHISTLER (1945), THE VOICE OF THE WHISTLER (1945), MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER (1945), THE SECRET OF THE WHISTLER (1946), THE THIRTEENTH HOUR (1947), and THE RETURN OF THE WHISTLER (1948).

   Here on YouTube is MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER, starring Richard Dix and directed by William Castle, for as long as the link lasts.

   In February 1954 CBS TV Film Sales had three programs in early development to become a possible TV series. The three were ESCAPE, ROMANCE, and THE WHISTLER. (1)

   In April CBS TV Film sannounced plans to bring the radio series THE WHISTLER to television through syndication. (2)

   September 1954 Lindsley Parsons Production (FILES OF JEFFREY JONES) was signed to produce twenty-six episodes of THE WHISTLER. (3) (4)

   “Billboard” reported (5) there were production problems on THE WHISTLER over cost and length of shooting. Joel Malone, who was the show’s producer and who “Billboard” called the “originator” of THE WHISTLER TV series, formed his own production company Joel Malone Associates to take over production from Lindsley Parsons Production.

   “Broadcasting” (6) interviewed Joel Malone (CRIME BY NIGHT, APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH). Malone had edited and written THE WHISTER radio series since 1946. He had written or helped write around two hundred THE WHISTLER radio scripts.

   Malone made changes in production methods. Shooting took place six days a week, taking off only Sunday and a major holiday such as Thanksgiving. Starting in November, Malone and company filmed thirteen episodes in little over a month. An article (7) about the cost of filming syndicated TV series included a photo of the cast and crew of THE WHISTLER shooting on the streets of Los Angeles at 3am.

   The article (6) noted the shooting day of November 24, 1954, when filming of the episode “Kind Thought” ended, by 1pm the same day the next episode’s cast was ready at the studio to begin work on “Roark Island.”

   The stories were the main attraction for THE WHISTLER in all its forms. Joel Malone wisely used his co-writers from the radio series, Harold Swanton (ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENT, WAGON TRAIN and PERRY MASON) and Adrian Gendot (DANGEROUS ASSIGNMENT, SKY KING and PERRY MASON).

   No doubt helpful in maintaining the speed of production was the reuse of the radio scripts to make the TV episodes. Sadly, the budget and the restrictions of 50’s television against violence and true visual horror prevented the TV episodes from reaching the suspense of the radio versions.

   Most of the TV episodes were directed either by Malone, Will Jason (SHOTGUN SLADE), or William F. Claxton (TWILIGHT ZONE and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE). I found the Claxton episodes the most creative visually.

   The music and famous opening stayed much the same through all the formats. The iconic theme song written by Wilbur Hatch and performed by Dorothy Roberts remains recognizable today. The Whistler himself remained a character of mystery, a shadow drifting through the world observing and commenting on the story and characters. While others including William Forman played the character in other formats, Forman was the only one to play it on the TV series.

   The acting was an important selling point for the TV series as it was for the radio version. The TV series attracted such talent as Howard Duff, Marie Windsor, and Linda Stirling. It often reused actors in more than one episode, actors such as Martha Vickers, Craig Stevens, John Ireland, Nancy Gates, John Howard, Robert Hutton, Marshall Thompson and many more.

   Most likely shooting began with the hiring of Lindsley Parsons Production in September 1954.

   We do know it was on the air in October 1954 when the series major sponsor Signal Oil had it in 28 markets (8). Signal Oil was the West Coast part of Standard Oil. This limited the area Signal Oil would sponsor THE WHISTLER. The series other major sponsor, Lipton also did so in only some markets. Both sponsors limited their support to alternated weeks. (4)

   The series lasted one season of thirty-nine episodes, thus leaving enough episodes for THE WHISTLER to be sold over and over for many years. The extra cost of producing an anthology series, plus the lack of a national weekly sponsor probably played important roles in the decision to stop shooting new episodes.

   Considering the shooting schedule of thirteen episodes a month, shooting for the series most likely ended in January 1955. By February 1955 (9) Joel Malone was busy with NAVY LOG for CBS-TV network where it would appear in primetime in 1955-56 for CBS before moving to ABC where it remained on air until 1958.

       THE WHISTLER TV SERIES EPISODE INDEX

   Twenty-six of the thirty-nine episodes can be viewed at Archive.org. (Scroll down to zip files and the TV episodes begin at 18 and ends with 30.) The episodes are also available on YouTube. Below I have linked to two of my favorite episodes.

      EPISODES BY LINDSLEY PARSONS PRODUCTIONS

“Search For An Unknown.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Barton MacLane, King Donovan and Jean Howell. *** Businessman hires a PI to find who is threatening to kill him and three other people – four people without any connection.

“Backfire.” Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Frank MacDonald. Cast: Lon Chaney and Dorothy Green. *** Ex-con chauffer falls for the wife of his rich employer. When she dumps him he thinks of revenge.

“Cup O’Gold.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Tom Brown and Barbara Wooddell (sic). *** A corrupt member of the D.A.’s office turns to murder. A woman sees him run from the scene, but fails to identify him as the killer to the police.

“Letters From Aaron Burr.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by William H. Claxton. Cast: Howard Duff and Martha Vickers. *** When he leaves prison Ernie finds a persistent beautiful young woman representing a rich old lady who wants to help him.

    NOTE TO PROOFREADERS: William Claxton on-air credit in Lindsley Parsons Production episodes used the middle initial H but it would change to F for the Joel Malone Associates episodes.

“Fatal Fraud.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by William H. Claxton. Cast: Patric Knowles and Marie Windsor. *** Marie Windsor plays a femme fatale who uses two men to help her steal a quarter of a million dollars.

“Grave Secre.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Miriam Hopkins and Murvyn Vye. *** Harriett has kept her secret about her killing her employer, but it is another secret she will regret.

“Lady In Waiting.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by William H. Claxton. Cast: Nancy Gates and Craig Stevens. *** A mobster’s love for a nice girl causes her a great deal of trouble.

“The Big Jump.”. Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: John Ireland and Tina Craver. *** A crook in New York fakes his death and escapes to San Francisco where he goes straight. He has a new life as a happily married man until one of his fellow thieves from New York spots him.

      EPISODES BY JOEL MALONE ASSOCIATES

“Cancelled Flight.” Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Richard Arlen and Barbara Woodell. *** Two partners fall out when the police get too close to their smuggling operation.

“The Blank Wall.” Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Wallace Ford, and Philip Van Zandt. *** A respected bank employee is proud when his daughter agreed to marry the Bank’s owner son. But her happiness is threaten when a man from his hidden past as an ex-con tries to blackmail him.

“Sleep My Pretty One.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Based on a Radio Play by Ruth Bourne. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Martha Vickers, Paul Langton and Linda Stirling. ***A doctor may have the cure for a sick patient but the drug must be tested first. He turns to his fiancee for help.

“The Pattern.” . Written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Robert Ellenstein, Ellen Corby and Ken Tobey. *** A bookstore owner tells his detective friend that he had found a pattern of suspicious deaths and that the next death would happen on his street.

“The Jubilee Earring.” Written by Harold Swanton. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Marguerite Chapman, Douglas Kennedy and Art Gilmore. *** A successful female executive is heading to a 10 year reunion with her two closest College friends, one a professional football player who has always wanted to marry her.

“The Glass Dime.” .Teleplay by Ellis Marcus and Harold Swanton. Based on a Radio Play by Adrian Gendot. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Robert Hutton and Eve Miller. ***On the run from the cops a desperate con man steals from his rich uncle.

“Lovely Look.” . Screenplay by Joel Malone. Based on a Radio Play by Mary Ruth Funk. Directed by Will Jason. Cast: Murvyn Vye and Pamela Duncan. *** An unhappy husband falls for the new housekeeper.

“The Other Hand.”. Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: John Howard, Dorothy Green and Angela Greene. *** A businessman checks himself into a sanitarium for rest when the stress of work and his relationships with two women get too much for him.

“A Case For Mr. Carrington.” . Screenplay by Harold Swanton. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Patric Knowles, Paul Dubov and Reginald Denny. *** Gordon prepares a plan to murder with the help of a book written by the local Police Inspector.

“Man Who Ran.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Tommy Tomlinson and Harold Swanton. Directed by Charles F. Haas. Cast: Les Tremayne and Dorothy Patrick. *** A bored accountant seeks to escape his routine existence.

“Death Sentence.” . Written by Fred Hegelund and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Marshall Thompson, Dani Sue Nolan and John Doucette. *** Told he has three months to live Martin confesses, for money to take care of his family, to a murder he didn’t commit.

“Dark Hour.” Written by Joel Malone. Directed by Charles F. Hass. Cast: Robert Hutton and Nancy Gates *** Young lawyer believes in the innocence of his client despite the arguments of the DA, the Uncle of his girlfriend.

“The First Year.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Virginia Field, Craig Stevens and John Hoyt. *** A disapproving Uncle sets up his will to punish his niece for marrying a playboy. To receive his fortune they need to stay married and together for ten years.

“Meeting On Tenth Street.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Robert Ellenstein, Peggy Webber and Willis B. Bouchey. *** A rejected suitor hires a hitman to kill his romantic rival.

“Silent Partner.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by Joel Malone and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Charles McGraw and Hugh Sanders. *** Matt, the original owner of a large ranch finds himself being pushed out by his partner.

“An Actor’s Life.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Based on a Radio Play by Gene Fromherz. Directed by William F. Claxton. Cast: Arthur Franz and Margaret Field. *** Julie is a successful singer in Hollywood with problems. She fears her boss who is forcing her to marry him, and now an ex-boyfriend arrives needing her help to get an acting job in Hollywood.

“Trigger Man.” Screenplay by Adrian Gendot. and Harold Swanton. Story by Robert and Beatrice Gruskin. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Marshall Thompson, and Dani Sue Nolan. *** Dave, a promising young lawyer, is warned by those around him that there will be a price to pay if he continues to work for a mobster.

“Marriage Contract.” Screenplay by Joel Malone. Story by George & Gertrude Fass and Harold Swanton. Directed by Joel Malone. Cast: Charles Winninger and Tom Brown. *** Eddie becomes a rich man’s lawyer and friend to get into the old man’s will. He succeeds until a twenty-four year old woman with no interest in the money agrees to marry the old man.

      TV EPISODES NOT VIEWED

“A Friendly Case of Blackmail”

“Stolen Chance”

“Incident at Scully’s Key.’ 16 mm film print: Lindsley Parsons Production, directed by Will Jason, written by Joel Malone and Adrian Gendot, cast: Audrey Totter and Carleton Young (10)

“A Trip To Aunt Sarah’s”

“The Return”

“Kind Thought”

“Roark Island” (aka “Murder At Roark Island”)

“Lucky Night”

“Favor For a Friend”

“Borrowed Byline”

“Stranger in the House”

“Windfall”

“Trademark”

       SOURCES:

BILLBOARD – March 6, 1954 (1)

    September 11, 1954 (4)

    November 27, 1954 (5)

    February 4, 1955 (9)

BROADCASTING – April 12, 1954 (2)

    September 6, 1954 (3)

    November 8, 1954 (7)

    January 10, 1955 (6)

    September 19, 1955 (8)

TV OBSCURITIES. http://www.tvobscurities.com/spotlight/the-whistler

ON THE AIR: THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OLD-TIME RADIO. (Oxford University Press, 1998) by John Dunning

OCLC World Cat. http://www.worldcat.org/title/whistler-incident-at-scully’s-key/oclc/60373830 (10)

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


JOHN LESLIE – Night and Day. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1995. Pocket Books, paperback, 1996.

   This is the second of four mysteries featuring Gideon Lowry, a jazz pianist and private investigator based in Key West. His brother committed suicide at the end of the first book and Gideon’s girl friend (Casey) has moved to Miami.

   A visiting singer named Asia (with lips the color of plum) hires Gideon to locate her estranged husband, a writer obsessed with Hemingway. This is a not inappropriate obsession in Key West with the annual Hemingway Days celebration and the Hemingway house, which is open to the public as a museum. Gideon finds the missing husband, but he’s soon killed and Asia looks like a prime suspect.

   The novel (like the other three) is heavy with sultry heat and the perfume of whatever produces heavy scents In Key West. A nice series of grace notes on the 1990s private eye scene.

       The Gideon Lowry series —

Killing Me Softly (1995)

         

Night And Day (1995)
Love For Sale (1996)
Blue Moon (1998)

EDITH HOWIE – Murder for Tea. Contained in the 3-in-1 omnibus volume Three Prize Winners. Farrar & Rinehart, hardcover, 1941. No editor stated. Foreword by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Also published by T. V. Boardman, UK, paperback, 1942.

   The other two books in this scarce volume are Old-Fashioned Murder by Marguerite McIntire, and Westbound Murder by C. S. Wallace. The only copy offered for sale on abebooks.com right now, for example, is being offered at a rather steep $75 price tag. When I spotted one on Amazon last month for $20, I snapped it right up.

   What the three books have in common, you might ask, is that they were all “losers” in the second year of the Mary Roberts Rinehart Mystery Contest. Well, it says “Honorable Mention” in the lower right corner of the book’s front cover, so it’s clear that none of the three were winners.

   So who did get the top prizes? Mary Roberts Rinehart’s foreword tells us that the contest was open only to first time authors. Getting the honor of having their novels published in stand-alone volumes were A. R. Hilliard with Justice Be Damned, and Carolyn Coffin with a book entitled Mare’s Nest. Hilliard (male) wrote only one more work of crime fiction, Outlaw Island (1942), and also so did Carolyn Coffin, that one being Dogwatch (1944).

   Of the runners-up, this was the only work of crime and detective fiction that either McIntire or Wallace (male) managed to get published. In some sense, that makes Howie the real winner, as she went on to write six additional detective novels. A list will be provided later.

   At the moment I don’t know how long this contest continued, but I can tell you who the winners were for 1940: Clarissa Fairchild Cushman (I Wanted to Murder), Ione Sandberg Shriber (Head Over Heels in Murder), Elizabeth Daly (Unexpected Night) and Frank Gruber (The French Key, reviewed here by Jeff Meyerson). I believe, but I am not sure, that all four books were published individually.

   A couple of those authors’ names I’m sure everyone will recognize.

   As for Murder for Tea, I enjoyed it, most of it, that is. I wonder why Howie didn’t make a series with the two leading characters in this one. Shawn Cosgraeve, a six foot black Irishman with a temper to boot, is a mystery writer. Telling the story is his wife of three years standing, Kit, who didn’t make it in New York as a musician niy did find a husband whom she can manage very well, most of the time.

   It takes all of those three years to convince Shawn to take a trip back to her home town of Nashiona, somewhere in the American midwest, not too far from Chicago. From here I’ll quote from page 172:

    “Then what was he doing in Lower Town?” the Sergeant demanded. “Oh, I know there ain’t an answer. Hell! I’m sick of this whole screwy case, Look at it! A woman gets poisoned while a couple hundred people stand around and nobody knows who done it nor why nor even where the poison could have come from. Then a man’s killed and safe’s blown while people wonder what was the noise and a bunch of dopes stand around to watch the guys who did it flop in their car and drive off. And that ain’t all!” The Sergeant flapped his hands despairingly. “We got another murder and a brace of threatening letters and a mess of jewelry that you don’t know whether or not it’s going to be real or phony the next time you see it–” It was too much. He dropped his head and remained sunk in a misery beyond all expressing.

   Kit’s problem is that all of the suspects are friends of hers and their husbands and wives. She knows them from before, but she soon discovers that she doesn’t know them now very much at all — and one of them, the killer, not at all.

   On the overall scale of things, the story takes place in the upper middle class of a small town, which means of course that they think of themselves as the upper class. The prospects of an upcoming war are not mentioned at all.

   One huge drawback to the story is the Had I But Know aspect of Kit’s story, told some time well after all of the events in it had taken place. One wonders if that is what might have caught the judges’ eyes. The other drawback is that when the killer’s identity is revealed I discovered that it didn’t really much matter who it was. Picking a name from a hat may have produced the very same reaction.

   Nonetheless, it might have been instructive to see if Edith Howie could have thought of another situation to place her two leading characters in, to give them a chance of cracking another case. Even though it’s a detective story through and through, this one may have been a little too personal.

    Bibliography: EDITH HOWIE (1900-1979).

Murder for Tea. Farrar, 1941.
Murder for Christmas. Farrar, 1941.

Murder at Stone House. Farrar, 1942.
Murder’s So Permanent. Farrar, 1942.
Cry Murder. Mill, 1944.
The Band Played Murder. Mill, 1946.

No Face to Murder. Mill, 1946.

Note: For more about the author and a review of Murder for Christmas, check out what Curt Evans has to say over on his blog.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


ED McBAIN – The Gutter and the Grave. Hard Case Crime #15, paperback, December 2005. First published as I’m Cannon — for Hire, as by Curt Cannon (Gold Medal #814, 1958), with the leading character also named Curt Cannon.

   Ed McBain’s The Gutter and the Grave is a quick, entertaining read and quite good, if not overly complicated, murder mystery. It’s also a time capsule of sorts, an enchanting mirror looking backward to late 1950s Manhattan, an age when jazz was king, the Bowery was for bums, and there were down and out and hard drinking private eyes like the book’s protagonist, one washed out thirty-something, Matt Cordell.

   Cordell, as the narrator of the work, lets us know early on who he is and what he is. “I’m a drunk. I think we’d better get that straight from the beginning.” (Page 13.) Our “hero” spends his days hanging out around Cooper Union in lower Manhattan. Then one day, a friend—of sorts—from the old neighborhood uptown — way uptown — shows up and wants an investigative favor.

   Enter Johnny Bridges who wants Cordell to look into some fishy goings on in the tailor shop he runs with a guy named Dom Archese. Maybe Dom’s fishing from the cash register late at night.

   All fine and good, until the duo head uptown only to find Dom Archese dead. Worse still, at least for Bridges, are the initials “JB” scrawled in chalk. Bridges, to no one’s surprise, becomes the chief suspect and ends up in police custody. It’s now up to Cordell to figure out what’s going on and to exonerate his so-called friend, if possible.

   Along the way, Cordell meets up with Dom’s wife, Christine (who also ends up dead), Christine’s sister, who is an aspiring musician by the name of Laraine Marsh, a Manhattan cop named Miskler, and sundry other colorful characters including a rival PI and his sultry employee. All the while, Cordell is reminded of his ex-wife, Toni, his one true love who ended up in the arms of another man.

   Cordell’s world is not a happy one, but it’s an extraordinarily vivid one. At least that’s how Ed McBain paints it. And what a painting! Reading The Gutter and the Grave transports you to a specific time and a specific place. It’s sometime in the late 1950s and Manhattan’s a crowded, hot city in the summer. The murder and the lies all around Cordell only make it hotter. Recommended.

       The Matt Cordell/Curt Cannon short stories (as by Evan Hunter) –

“Die Hard” (January 1953, Manhunt)
“Dead Men Don’t Dream (March 1953, Manhunt)
“Now Die in It” (May 1953, Manhuntt)
“Good and Dead” (July 1953, Manhunt)
“The Death of Me” (September 1953, Manhunt)
“Deadlier Than the Male” (February 1954, Manhunt)
“Return” (July 1954, Manhunt)
“The Beatings” (October 1954, Manhunt)

   The first six of the above were collected in I Like ’em Tough, as by Curt Cannon (Gold Medal #743, 1958).

THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


JAMES MITCHELL – Dying Day. Henry Holt, hardcover, 1989. First published in the UK by H. Hamilton, hardcover, 1988.

   James Mitchell has done a number of crime novels, as himself and as James Munro, and now turns up with a London private eye named Ron Hogget. Hogget finds things for people, though the finding usually involves some fearful activities.

   Ron is often fearful — he’s that sort of person — but he usually gets the job done. And he has Dave, a friend who drives a cab, reads Literature, knows everything about guns and self-defense and nothing about fear.

   Hogget’s second adventure is Dying Day. [But see below.] Here Tony Palliser, filthy rich now from business that began with airplanes — Dakotas — participating in the Berlin airlift in 1948, calls on Hogget’s services. It’s one of those planes, lost at that time, that Palliser now wants Ron to find.

   Why, after all these years? Palliser’s reason is thin, but his money is good so Ron starts. And finds he’s not alone on the search, that the real reason must be quite impressive for all the dying being arranged on its behalf. Including, very likely, his…

   A solidly constructed, high-tension story with a well-crafted array of characters.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

      The Ron Hogget series —

Sometimes You Could Die. H. Hamilton, 1985. No US edition.
Dead Ernest. H. Hamilton, 1986. Holt, 1987.
Dying Day. H. Hamilton, 1988. Holt, 1989.

RHYS BOWEN – The Twelve Clues of Christmas. Berkley, hardcover, November 2012; paperback, November 2013.

   Lady Georgianna Rannoch, who tells the story, is 34th (or 35th; sources differ) in line to the throne of England, but due to various misfortunes, none of her own doing, she is dependent on the good will of others, especially at the beginning of Clues that of her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Rannoch, commonly known as Fig, as to her overall welfare and a roof over her head.

   Determined not to spend Christmas at the ancestral (and austere) Rannoch castle where she is not particularly welcome, Georgie answers an ad in a magazine to act as a social director for a lengthy Christmas house party in Devonshire. Her application is accepted almost at once, and it is goodbye to winter in gloomy Scotland even more quickly.

   Turns out, as it so often does in fiction if not real life, that her mother, a flighty lady and a sometimes actress who abandoned Georgie at very young age, is staying in a nearby cottage with none other than Noel Coward. (There is no ill feeling between Georgie and her mother. The former has learned to accept her for who she is.) And as it also turns out, Georgie’s good friend, the adventurous Mr. Darcy O’Mara, is on hand as well.

   As in cozy mystery fiction of which this is a fine example, Georgie’s personal life, family relationships and the like take up a sizable percentage of the story. There is a murder involved, or in fact a whole series of them. Or perhaps I should take that back. There is a whole series of strange deaths that occur, all of which appear accidental, nor is there any apparent connection between them.

   We, the reader, know better. It is a murderous scheme on the part of someone, a plan worthy of a villain in an Agatha Christie or Ellery Queen detective story, but without a detective on hand to solve it. With the local police inspector barely up to the job, it is up to the purely amateur efforts of Lady Georgianna, and the sometimes assistance of Darcy, to come up with killer or killers.

   The Twelve Clues of Christmas is fun to read, and is chock full of various Christmas customs of England in the 1930s, but the detective plot certainly could have been filled out more. It’s clever to begin with, but the details become more and more sketchy as time goes on. In fact, the connection between the deaths is discovered with more than 70 pages to go, leaving only Georgie’s kidnapping (and a couple of gruesome deaths) to fill in most of the rest of the novel.

      The Royal Spyness series –

1. Her Royal Spyness (2007)

2. A Royal Pain (2008)
3. Royal Flush (2009)
4. Royal Blood (2010)

5. Naughty In Nice (2011)
5.5. Masked Ball at Broxley Manor (novella, 2012)
6. The Twelve Clues of Christmas (2012)
7. Heirs and Graces (2013)

8. Queen of Hearts (2014)

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