Bibliographies, Lists & Checklists

HAROLD ADAMS – The Man Who Met the Train. Carl Wilcox #7. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1988; paperback, May 1989.

   Although in the past Carl Wilcox has been on both sides of the law, at the beginning of The Man Who Met the Train he is a itinerant sign painter, working his way around 1930s Depression-era South Dakota, making ends meet when and how circumstances allow. When he comes across a one-car auto accident in which three are dead, one is seriously injured and a small four-year-old girl is pulled to safety unscratched, circumstances allow him to put on his favorite guise, that of private detective.

   Working for both the local judge and then the town banker (but not at the same time), Wilcox finds himself more and more the center of both the town’s curiosity and hostility, and as he does so, incidentally solves the murder of the young girl’s father, a genius with numbers who could not hold his liquor and who was assumed to have had a fatal accident or committed suicide (perhaps) by walking in front of an ongoing train not long before.

   Although he had his own distinctive style, Adams wrote as closely in the mode of Dashiell Hammett as any author I can think of. His stories are as definitely hardboiled as they come, but they come fully equipped with an underlying sensibility that shows how deeply he understood people too. And it’s not the plot that’s the key in this one. It’s the people in it that makes this story sing.

        The Carl Wilcox series —

1. Murder (1981)
2. Paint the Town Red (1982)
3. The Missing Moon (1983)
4. The Naked Liar (1985)
5. The Fourth Widow (1986)
6. The Barbed Wire Noose (1987)
7. The Man Who Met the Train (1988)
8. The Man Who Missed the Party (1989)
9. The Man Who Was Taller Than God (1992)
10. A Perfectly Proper Murder (1993)
11. A Way with Widows (1994)
12. The Ditched Blonde (1995)
13. Hatchet Job (1996)
14. The Ice Pick Artist (1997)
15. No Badge, No Gun (1998)
16. Lead, So I Can Follow (1999)

FRANK GRUBER – The Limping Goose. Johnny Fletcher & Sam Cragg #12. Rinehart, hardcover, September 1954. Detective Book Club, hardcover 3-in-1 edition, December 1954. Bantam 1488, paperback, August 1956.

   It is not easy to write a detective novel that’s truly funny and at the same time populate it with all of the clues, alibis and red herrings that make a true detective novel, much less a entire series of them, all with the same characters. One time pulp writer Frank Gruber doesn’t always succeed in this series, but he comes as close as anybody.

   The comedy in the Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg books comes primarily from the pair themselves, and to a lesser extent, the situations they find themselves in. From the cover of the Bantam paperback, illustrated above:

   “The little guy is Johnny Fletcher — he can talk his way out of anything. The big lug is Sam Cragg, ‘strangest man in the world,’ with a muscle-bound brain.” The disparity between the brain power of the two is the basis for most of the humor in their adventures.

   Johnny Fletcher is close enough to being a private eye that he might as well be one, but the true profession of both he and Sam Cragg is that of traveling book salesmen, even though they are so broke at the beginning of The Limping Goose, they have no money to even buy books for sale — usually encyclopedias, as I recall.

   Eating being a very habitual habit of theirs, especially Sam’s, Johnny decides to hire himself out as a skip-tracer. Soon enough, though, he gets himself mixed up in a case of murder, and the story is off and running. The limping goose of the title is a “piggy bank” in the form of a goose with one leg longer than the other, and even though it is filled only with old coins with no particular value, there are plenty of people who seem to want it.

   The explanation of who they are who want it, and why, is, unfortunately, less interesting than the byplay not only between Johnny and Cragg, but also between the pair and the rest of the world. If they ever made any money on the successful outcome of any of their adventures, I’d be surprised to know about it.

   On balance, I’d rate this one as a “C plus” for the detective work, and an “A minus” for the funny stuff, which continues on throughout the book. I need to read more of these.

      The Johnny Fletcher & Sam Cragg series —

The French Key (1940)
The Hungry Dog Murders (1941)
The Navy Colt (1941)
The Gift Horse (1942)
The Laughing Fox (1943)
The Talking Clock (1944)
The Mighty Blockhead (1945)
The Honest Dealer (1947)
The Scarlet Feather (1948)
The Silver Tombstone Mystery (1948)
The Leather Duke (1950)
The Limping Goose (1954)
The Whispering Master (1956)
The Corpse Moved Upstairs (1964)
Swing Low, Swing Dead (1964)

KENN DAVIS – Acts of Homicide. Carver Bascombe #7. Fawcett Gold Medal, paperback original; 1st printing, October 1989.

   What makes this adventure of black PI Carver Bascombe a bit different is that he’s introduced into the case as a suspect, not as the detective of record. Dead — in gruesome fashion — is a girl who loved the theater, working for a stage company in her spare time.

   Bascombe also gets involved with the (female) police detective in charge, a first for them both. Unfortunately none of the other people involved in the case are a pleasure to know, and every once in a while David lapses into a “gosh-wow” pulpish way of telling the tale.

— Very slightly revised from Mystery*File #20, March 1990.

       The Carver Bascombe series —

The Dark Side. Avon, 1976 [with John Stanley].
The Forza Trap. Avon, 1979.
Words Can Kill. Gold Medal, 1984.
Melting Point.Gold Medal, 1986.
As October Dies. Gold Medal, 1987.
Nijinsky Is Dead. Gold Medal, 1987.
Acts of Homicide. Gold Medal, 1989.
Blood of Poets. Gold Medal, 1990.

      Previously on this blog:

The Compleat Kenn Davis.

My review of The Dark Side (CB #1) by Davis & John Shirley.

A later review of mine of Acts of Homicide, written without remembering I’d done this one earlier.

FRANK PARRISH – Snare in the Dark. Constable, UK, hardcover, 1982. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1981. Perennial, US, paperback, 1983.

   Dan Mallett is a poacher by profession — he once was a banker and didn’t like it — so he went back to the way of his father — to his now aged mother’s dismay.

   Caught in the open while setting up snares for a forest filled with plump pheasants, a shot rings out (in all honesty, not quite — it’s an arrow from a crossbow) and his gamekeeper nemesis is dead. Mallett has to spend the rest of the book with the police on his trail. The only way to clear himself is to find the real killer.

   It doesn’t seem like a lot to base a full length novel on, but Parrish somehow finds a way to fill the pages and keep them turning at the same time. What’s amusing about this case is how women are attracted to Mallett, a short and not very handsome man. But obviously not one without some charm, and in its own quiet bucolic way, so is this, his third of eight adventures. If you like books about the rustic side of English life as it was in the 1970s and 80s, don’t miss this one.

      The Dan Mallett series —

Fire in the Barley. Constable, 1977.
Sting of the Honeybee. Constable, 1978.
Snare in the Dark. Constable, 1982.
Bait on the Hook. Constable, 1983.
Face at the Window. Constable, 1984.
Fly in the Cobweb. Constable, 1986.
Caught in the Birdlime. Constable, 1987.
Voices from the Dark. Constable, 1993.

M. S. KARL – Death Notice. Pete Brady #2. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1990. No paperback edition.

   The second case involving Pete Brady as a retired New Orleans crime reporter, now the editor of a small weekly newspaper in Louisiana — murder and arson just seem to follow some people, no matter where they go. I missed the first one, but this one’s a humdinger.

   This one begins when a paroled killer is unaccountably allowed to return to the town in which the murder occurred. Doing nothing but sit on his front porch, he simply allows subsequent events to happen as they will, in ultra high intensity. This one really is a page turner.

   Even better, it’s actually a detective story. There are clues, lots of them, and lots of false trails too. Lots of promise here. The only weakness, as far as I’m concerned, is that the basic setting is that of corrupt politics, crooked politicians and the money grubbing political bosses that back them. My first reaction was that of disbelief, that Karl was overdoing it by a factor of ten — but then again, just maybe not, considering that this is the country that also hatched Huey Long.

   Under the name of M. K. Shuman (real name Malcolm Shuman), Karl writes another series of detective novels with PI Micah Dunn as the leading character. Dunn’s beat is New Orleans, and if this book is any indicator, that may be a series worth looking into as well.

— Rewritten and revised from Mystery*File #20, March 1990.

      The Pete Brady series —

1. Killer’s Ink (1988)
2. Death Notice (1990)
3. Deerslayer (1991)


JEREMIAH HEALY – Rescue. John Francis Cuddy #10. Pocket, hardcover, 1995; paperback, 1996.

   Jerry Healy, besides being a hell of a nice guy (I played poker with him at the Seattle Bouchercon), is one of the group of “modern” PI writers I like the most. As with most of that group, however, I haven’t enjoyed his last few books as much as I have the earlier ones.

   It all starts with Cuddy being a good Samaritan, stopping to help a young woman change a flat. She is defiant and obviously scared, as is her companion a 10-year-old buy with a disfiguring birthmark. Finding that Cuddy is a PI, the boy asks him if he would ever find him if he were ever lost, and Cuddy assures him that he would.

   The next day he reads that the woman’s body has been found, but there is no mention of the boy. Cuddy made a promise in Viet Nam once that he was unable to keep, and that he has never been able to forget. He intends to keep this one. It leads him to the other end of the country and to a religious group, and to violence he didn’t anticipate.

   Healy is writing a different kind of PI novel than I remember his first few being, though my memory may be at fault. His tales have trended more and more toward the action-adventure, with Cuddy going mano a mano with the bad guys and not being averse to taking the law into his own hands, a la Spenser.

   Not that Healy’s plots have ever descended to the idiocy that Parker’s did for a while, mind you, but still. I think that Healy is an enormously talented writer, and I haven’t read a book of his I didn’t enjoy. His pacing is excellent, his prose smooth as silk, and his characters well drawn. Cuddy himself is one of today’s more likable and believable of the “growing” PI’s. I don’t like “cowboy” stories as well as I do the more traditional kid, but Healy does what he does very well indeed.


— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #16, November 1994.

The John Francis Cuddy series —

1. Blunt Darts (1984)
2. The Staked Goat (1986)
3. So Like Sleep (1987)
4. Swan Dive (1988)
5. Yesterday’s News (1989)
6. Right To Die (1991)
7. Shallow Graves (1992)
8. Foursome (1993)
9. Act Of God (1994)
10. Rescue (1995)
11. Invasion Of Privacy (1996)
12. The Only Good Lawyer (1998)
13. Spiral (1999)

TIMOTHY FULLER – Three Thirds of a Ghost. Jupiter Jones #2. Little Brown, hardcover, January 1941. Popular Library #81, paperback, no date stated. [1946].

   There is a word game called Ghosts from which the title is derived, but I’m afraid I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the book to tell you how. (Mystery writer Helen McCloy wrote a book called Two-Thirds of a Ghost which as I recall explained the connection to the story a whole lot better, but it’s been 50 years or so since I read that one, and I don’t even remember what I had for breakfast that day.)

   This is the second mystery to e solved by a fellow named Jupiter Jones. (His real first name was mentioned once, but I neglected to jot it down. To me this was important only to know his parents didn’t really name him Jupiter.) In the first book, Harvard Has a Homicide, Jupiter was a grad student at Harvard. In this second one he has moved up the academic ladder to the position of Instructor in the Fine Arts Department at the same school.

   But he’s also got a nose for solving mysteries, and the basic one in this one is a good one. An author known for the mysteries he writes has also been dabbling in romans à clef — his latest is said to be based on the members of a well-to-do real life family in the Boston area — and when the author is killed, shot to dead while speaking in front of a crowd of people at a long-established, not to mention prestigious, bookstore, no one is really surprised.

   What is surprising is that the shot came from the back of the room, and not one person saw who fired the gun. Not exactly a locked room mystery, but an impossible crime? Yes.

   The dead man’s Chinese secretary gets third billing as one of sleuths who tackle the case, but the focus is mostly on Jupiter Jones and his girl friend, the charming Betty Mahan. All of the of the other characters have their place in the story, but none of them distinguish themselves enough from the others for their names to stick in the readers’ minds as to who is who.

   A typical early 40s puzzle mystery, in other words. It’s told in a lighthearted way that’s fun to read, and not only that, every once in a while the characters sit down together to chat about the allure of mystery novels and why readers want to read them.

   If this sounds like your kind of detective novel, then it is. It was mine.

   The Jupiter Jones series —

Harvard Has a Homicide. 1936
Three Thirds of a Ghost. 1941
Reunion with Murder. 1941
This Is Murder, Mr. Jones. 1943
Keep Cool, Mr. Jones. 1950


ROB KANTNER – Concrete Hero. Ben Perkins #9. Harper, paperback original, 1994

   This is Kantner’s third Perkins book for Harper after doing six for Bantam, all paperback originals.

   Ben donates himself to a charity auction at the urging of his ex-love and the mother of his young daughter, and os “won” by an Ann Arbor lady who wants him to look into the death of her husband. The man, a copywriter for an ad agency, was found dead in his office of what appeared to be an auto-erotic asphyxiation.

   Ben pokes around halfheartedly,wanting to be done with it, but the case won’t go away. The dead man participated in a porno computer bulletin board that specialized in digitized photos, and it appears that too much good, unclean fun may have led to murder, Meanwhile, an out-of-town friend shows up in bad shape, and takes up with one of Ben’s best friends, and he’s got to worry about that, too.

   Like most series PI novels, or most crime series of any kind for that matter, the Perkins books pretty much follow their own internal pattern each time. Perkins gets a case, pokes around, spends some pages on personal relationships, gets some help from his cop friends, decides to handle things himself, and brings it all to a violent climax, usually with extreme danger and injury to himself.

   Nothing wrong with that if you like how it’s done, and I’ve liked how Kantner did it in the past. I still do, some, but not as much as before. Some of the characterizations are good and I like his storytelling, but I’m getting weary of the state cop who’s more and more willing to act like Perkins’ sidekick, and I didn’t think Kantner spent nearly enough time here setting up his villains.

   It’s decent, but he can do and has done better.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #16, November 1994.

       The Ben Perkins series

1. The Back-Door Man (1986)

2. The Harder They Hit (1987)
3. Dirty Work (1988)
4. Hell’s Only Half Full (1989)
5. Made in Detroit (1990)

6. The Thousand Yard Stare (1991)
7. The Quick and the Dead (1992)
8. The Red, White and Blues (1993)
9. Concrete Hero (1994)
10. Trouble is What I Do (story collection, 2005)
11. Final Fling (2007)

ELMORE LEONARD – The Hot Kid. Carl Webster #1. William Morrow, hardcover, May 2005. HarperTorch, paperback, 2006.

   As you very well may know without my telling you, Elmore Leonard’s writing career began with westerns of the classic, traditional variety. While he was more than slightly successful at it (with books turned into movies like Hombre and 3:10 to Yuma) his sales didn’t begin to take off until he switched to contemporary crime novels (with books turned into movies like Mr. Majestyk and Get Shorty).

   What The Hot Kid is, is a semi-combination of the two genres, permuted and shuffled around into a smooth, well-blended concoction of the two. Historical gangster fiction, that is, one that takes place in the Old West of the 1920s: the world of Pretty Boy Floyd, Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, and Bonnie and Clyde, all of whom are mentioned, as are Will Rogers and Count Basie, but while Floyd comes close, none of the aforementioned villains and world famous stars actually appear.

   It’s a meandering sort of tale, but when it comes down to it, there are only two primary players involved, and they are (as one would expect) on the opposite sides of the law: Carlos (Carl) Webster, a U.S. Marshal, and Jack Belmont, the son of a wealthy businessman, but a gent who is intent on becoming Public Enemy Number One.

   And he very nearly succeeds. Carl is better, however, and who knows, he may return in yet another adventure. Here’s a quote from page 57, as true crime reporter Tony Antonelli is trying to convince his editor to allow him to write a piece on Carl:

   And then [he] suggested, how about a close study of a deputy U.S. marshal, a good-looking young guy who was on his way to becoming the most famous lawman in America. The hot kid of the Marshals Service who said if he had to draw his gun, he would shoot to kill the felon he was apprehending. “And Carl Webster has drawn his Colt .38 four times in his career. You can tell he’s sharp just by the way he wears his panama, his suit’s always pressed. You look at him and wonder where he keeps his gun.”

   “He’s good-looking, uh?”

   “Could be a movie star.”

   The resulting story is in turn profane, mundane and jazzy. Sparked every so often with confrontations, holdups and numerous shootouts, it’s vastly entertaining. The problem is that it may be too smooth and too easy-going, not to mention the fact that everyone’s dialogue, while suitably terse and in the vernacular, sounds exactly the same as everyone else’s. That includes the descriptive passages as well, as if a grizzled old-timer back in the 1920s had wound himself up in a place of his own choosing and spieled off a yarn of his own making.

   One might have expected a little more jaggedness. Except for a few isolated moments that directly contradict this statement, and I will certainly concede there are, this one’s surprisingly straightforward and calm, in its own sentimental way.

— October 2005. (A shorter version of this review appeared previously in the Historical Novels Review.)

        The Carl Webster series —

1. The Hot Kid (2005)
2. Up in Honey’s Room (2006)
3. Comfort To The Enemy (story collection; 2009)

CHRISTOPHER NICOLE – Angel Rising. Anna Fehrbach #6. Severn House, hardcover, 2008.

   …Anna Fehrbach, alias the Countess von Widerstand, alias the Honourable Mrs Ballantine Bordman, alias Anna Fitzjohn. Her ebullient confidence had carried her, when hardly more than a girl, through the horrors of the Second World War, not to mention the traumas of trying to survive afterwards, which for her had been greater than for most, as she had remained for too long the most wanted woman in the world.

   A fair summation from the prologue of the sixth entry in a series of the heroine of this sexy playful historical series by Christopher Nicole, a British writer of big sexy historical thrillers in the Wilbur Smith/James Leasor vein, best known here for his popular spy novels as Andrew York about professional assassin Jonas Wilde (*) and later CID operator Tallant in the Cockpit country of Jamaica.

    When I say sexy, I should point out I mean in the James Bond sense and not the Lady from L.U.S.T. or Man from O.R.G.Y. vein. While these may not stop at the edge of the bed neither do they overly dwell on activities between the sheets, the object being tease more than fulfillment. In fact the best I can describe this series is a cross between Ilsa She Wolf of the SS, Geoffrey Bocca’s soft core Commander Amanda titles about a sort of female Candide serving in the SOE during WWII, Modesty Blaise, and Flashman with far more ties to the latter two in style and mood.

   At eighteen in 1938 Austro-Irish Anna Fehrbach and her family are arrested during the Hitler putsch in Austria. Forced by the SS, who hold her family hostage, Anna becomes the top agent of the SD, their number one assassin and mistress of Reyhard Heydrich, at one point even pursuing an attempt on Joseph Stalin, but eventually Anna is recruited by MI6 and her future husband Clive Bartley and becomes a double agent, even planning the execution of Heydrich in Czechoslovakia and plotting the failed coup against Hitler.

   In and out of bed whether with Heydrich, Stalin, or Hitler Anna is a busy girl.

   That is all back story as this one begins at the end of the war when the Soviets under Stalin’s orders and MVD (predecessor to the KGB) head Beria’s directions decide along with the Americans and Anna’s ex-American lover, Joe Andrews, formerly OSS and now the fledgling CIA, agree Anna is too dangerous to live, and join forces to find and kill her leaving her with no where to hide, pursued and betrayed by the deadliest killers in the world not to mention vengeful Nazis.

   The chase takes her from the highlands of Scotland to Brazil, Germany and Switzerland, a confrontation with her SS trained and loyal Nazi sister, Katherine, and a reckoning with former lover Joe Andrews until Anna wins a brief respite and relieves the Soviets of a considerable sum of money along the way.

   ‘I gave up trusting people, most people, long ago. But I have grown to understand a little of human motivation; there are only three that matter: love, fear and greed.’

   ‘You wouldn’t include hate?’

   ‘Hate is merely an aspect of fear. We only hate the things we fear.’

   ‘And thus you hate no one.’

   ‘Not right now. Which is not to say that there are a few people I believe the world would be a better place without.’

   Anna is described as amoral, but instead is something of an original moralist along the lines of Frank McCauliffe’s Augustus Mandrel, Mark Gattiss’s Lucifer Box, and Kyril Bonfigioli’s Mortdecai. She is all the more fun for it eschewing the tiresomely earnest purity of too many of contemporary fiction’s cold-blooded killers.

   This history is of the playful behind-the-scenes type, both accurate and imaginative, the plot fast moving, and the pleasure in watching the beautiful and brilliant Anna (she has an IQ of 173) outwit everyone and anyone trying to use her or kill her, and often both. It is a lighter variation of the kind of thing both Ian Fleming and William F. Buckley did, offering a playful peek at the inner workings of the great and powerful with their hair down and make-up off.

   Yes, it is nonsense, but not without some actual models in the case of Anna, albeit in a less superhuman mold. I don’t want to oversell this; it is fluff, but it is good fluff of the kind not seen as often as it should be these days, not bloated or self important, and Anna’s cheerful blend of amoral survival, healthy (and not so healthy) sexuality, and crisp action and violence is exactly the kind of beach read that used to be a summer staple before the advent of the hernia-inducing beach book.

   Anna threw herself sideways, rolling across the floor but at the same time dragging her dress to her waist to reach the Walther. The two men turned back again, and died before they realized what was going on. Anna kept on firing.

   The writing is crisp and professional, the nonsense factor the tongue-in-cheek sort of the better Bond and Modesty Blaise imitators (which Nicole was), and as I said, the history accurate if playfully tweaked as only the better thrillers manage. Think Dennis Wheatley’s Gregory Sallust without the clunky info dumps.

   Best of all it never overstays its welcome unlike too many thrillers today.

   By the time Anna has earned her rest you will likely feel she fully deserves it and be wanting to join her on other adventures, done in a high style that seems to be lost to many of today’s more heavy-handed thriller writers and their earnest Boy Scout heroes. Pink champagne and caviar with a Vodka chaser taken in proper amounts makes a nice change up from the lite-beer and potato chip boys of too many modern thriller series.

   There is something to be said for style above all else in entertainment which is the only serious intent here.

   ‘And you mean you and Clive didn’t manage to sneak off and live happily ever after, spending your loot?’

   ‘Not right then. We had our moments. But I was about to find out just how cold the Cold War could get.’

   ‘So tell me, did you ever come face to face with Beria?’

   Anna Fehrbach smiled.

    To be, as they say, continued.


   (*) Jonas Wilde debuted in The Eliminator and went on to a long and successful career, most of the books published here in paperback by Berkeley and even resulting in a solid little film, Danger Route, starring Richard Johnson as Wilde, which Quentin Tarantino champions as a model of its kind and has often said the wanted to remake.

   As Nicole the author also penned a juvenile spy series about young agent Jonathan Anders (published here by Dell). He is a popular historical novelist in England with numerous series. The Anna Fehrbach series is up to the ninth entry in that series, and I warn you Nicole is nothing if not prolific…

      The Anna Fehrbach series —

1. Angel from Hell (2006)
2. Angel in Red (2006)
3. Angel of Vengeance (2007)
4. Angel in Jeopardy (2007)
5. Angel of Doom (2008)
6. Angel Rising (2008)
7. Angel of Destruction (2009)
8. Angel of Darkness (2009)
9. Angel in Peril (2013)

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