Bibliographies, Lists & Checklists


REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


  ROBERT J. RANDISI – Stand-Up. Miles Jacoby #6. Walker, hardcover, 1994. Perfect Crime, softcover, 2012.

   Miles Jacoby is at a crossroads in his PI career. One of the best PI’s in New York is offering him a partnership, and he’s tempted. Before he can finalize a decision, though, two cases pop us. One involves a stand-up comedian who thinks someone has stolen all his jokes, and the other a strongarm friend who’s involved in some way in a gangster’s murder. Jacoby finds himself bouncing back and forth between them, and both of them generate bodies and blood.

   Before I say anything more, let me say this: I wish to hell that crime writers would either quit trying to use microcomputers as part of their plots, or get someone who knows something about them to check the manuscripts. I am so tired of their fuck-ups I could just scream. Don’t they realize that there are enough people out there now who are computer-literate that they can’t get away with it? Pfui. Bah.

   Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I can say that this was a typical Randisi book — breezy, facile, competent, lots of snappy dialogue, fast-moving. I like Jacoby as a character, and the supporting cast too. The plot has a pulpy feel to it this time; not that that’s necessarily bad, you understand, but I seem to remember earlier books having a little more depth.

   Easy, pleasant reading, but it’s nothing you’ll remember a week later. I always have the feeling Randisi could do a lot better if he’s just take the time.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #17, January 1995.


      The Miles Jacoby novels —

Eye in the Ring (1982)
The Steinway Collection (1983)
Full Contact (1984)
Separate Cases (1990)
Hard Look (1993)
Stand Up (1994)

GEORGETTE HEYER – Behold, Here’s Poison. Supt. Hannasyde #2. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1936. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover, 1936. Dutton, hardcover, 1971. US paperback reprints include: Bantam, January 1973. Fawcett Crest, 1979. Berkley, July 1987. Also reprinted many times in paperback in the UK.

   There was a time in the 1970s, I’d say, when every used bookstore that carried paperbacks had a shelf devoted to Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. For all intents and purposes, she created the category. Many publishers put out two or three a month, all following the style, pace and mode of Georgette Heyer’s books Those were gentler times, and modesty prevailed. The category no longer exists. Like Gothic romances, publishers stopped publishing them quite a few years ago.

   Heyer also wrote thrillers, twelve n all, four of them with Superintendent Hannasyde along with his trusty assistant Sergeant Hemingway, who if Behold, Here’s Poison is an accurate example, spent much of his time asking questions of the servants of the house.

   Hannasyde’s problem in this book is two or maybe even threefold. Dead is the master of the house, one in which two overlapping but directly related families reside, and all of them had to put up with Gregory Matthews’ temperament and mean-hearted ways, or move out. There are plenty of suspects, in other words.

   Problem number two: The doctor’s first diagnosis is that of natural causes, but when one family insists on an autopsy, the cause of death is discovered to have been nicotine poisoning. By t he time Hannasyde is called in, five days have gone by. No physical clues remain.

   Alibis are also useless. There is no way to even determine how the poison was administered. It’s a tough case for any detective to crack, and Hannasyde has to admit so also, if only to himself and Hemingway.

   But the dialogue between the squabbling and assorted family members is both wicked and delicious, particularly that of cousin Randall, whose sharp tongue exposes all of the false pretenses and facades of the rest of the family, much to the sophisticated reader’s amusement and pleasure. His barbs especially hurt since he is also the primary beneficiary of the dead man’s estate. He’s quite the character, Randall is, and one not easily forgotten once met.

   The solution to the mystery is the weakest part of the book. The killer’s identity I’d say is impossible for the reader to discern on his or her own. The motive, at least. You might be able to figure who done it by the process of elimination, but what’s the fun in that?


        The Superintendent Hannasyde series —

Death in the Stocks. 1935
Behold, Here’s Poison!. 1936
They Found Him Dead. 1937
A Blunt Instrument. 1938

       The Inspector Hemingway series —

   [all four of the above, plus]
No Wind of Blame. Hodder 1939
Envious Casca. Hodder 1941
Duplicate Death. Heinemann 1951
Detection Unlimited. Heinemann 1953

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “The Silver Mask Murders.” The Man in the Silver Mask #3. Novelette. Detective Fiction Weekly, 23 November 1935.

   In the years during which Erle Stanley Gardner was one of the most prolific pulp writers around, he tried his hand not only at mysteries — tons of them — but westerns, adventure stories and even science fiction (collected in The Human Zero: The Science Fiction Stories of Erle Stanley Gardner, 1981). Given the undeniable fact of the latter, it should come as no surprise that he dabbled in the equivalent of the hero pulps as well.

   The most famous of the latter were The Shadow, The Spider, Operator #5 and so on. Most were the primary occupants of their own magazines. Gardner’s contributions to the genre consisted of only three long stories in the pages of Detective Fiction Weekly, all in 1935. Having read only this, the third and last of them, I don’t know if the hero in these stories was ever given a name. He seems to have been known only as The Man in the Silver Mask.

   You can probably guess why, but to confirm your suspicion, the cover of the magazine his third adventure appeared in will illustrate as well as words could do. Besides his general anonymity, nothing also is known about his background, nor why he feels to need to keep his identity a secret. All we know for sure is his fierce determination to fight crime.

   Assisting him in these endeavors are a hunchbacked Chinese mute servant by the name of Ah Wong, and a female secretary/assistant named Norma Lorne and described as “a rather slender, willowy young blonde,” who aids The Masked Man outside the office as well as in.

   In “The Silver Mask Murders” this vigilante on the side of justice comes up against a powerful nemesis named Thornton Acker, a lawyer whose clientele consists solely of other criminals who can afford his steep fees ($250,000 this time around) to help them get out of jams they can’t manage to do on their own.

   Acker’s task in this one is to make sure that a man in prison doesn’t testify against his boss in court, which he does in spectacular fashion. But the Man in the Silver Mask is working on the other side, that of law and order, and Acker’s meticulous planning soon begins to go further and further awry.

   For the most part, this is routine stuff, with a lot more violence, I suspect, than ever appeared in any other Erle Stanley Gardner story. One scene sticks out, though, one in which Silver Mask is threatening a hoodlum he’s holding captive with physical torture at the hands of his Chinese assistant. When asked later by Norma Lorne whether or not he was bluffing, Silver Mask confesses that he doesn’t know.

   The story ends with many underlings dead or in jail, but with Acker still at large. A blurb at the end of the story advertises that the next installment of the series would be coming soon, but it never did. The world of mystery fiction never noticed.


   The Man in the Silver Mask series —

The Man in the Silver Mask. Detective Fiction Weekly, July 13 1935

               

The Man Who Talked. Detective Fiction Weekly, September 7, 1935

               

The Silver Mask Murders, Detective Fiction Weekly, November 23, 1935

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


JERRY KENNEALY – Beggar’s Choice. Nick Polo #9. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1994. No mass market paperback edition.

   One of the cover blurbs calls this an “underrated series,” and I’d have to agree. Almost none of the books have made it to paperback, which is dismaying when you think about the large amount of trash that does. Kennealy is, like his character, a San Francisco PI.

   Polo and his lady friend are doing a regular stint of volunteer work in a soup kitchen when one of the homeless regulars asks Nick to check a couple of license plate numbers. He says they belong to people who’ve been generous to him, but Nick has doubts about that. He has even more doubts when they turn out ti belong to a Tong lord and a wealthy businessman, but before he can find out anything else, the homeless man is dead, victim of a somewhat suspicious hit-and-run. He decides to check into it a little further, and the hornets stat buzzing about the proverbial nest.

   The Polo books aren’t Edgar material but they are enjoyable, solid examples of standard PI fare without a lot of breast-beating, angst, and Significant Social Issues. Polo is a likable and well-developed character, as is his current lady, reporter Jane Tobin.

   Kennealy’s prose is competent though not flashy, and he tells a reasonably fast-moving, well-constructed story. Though he doesn’t overwhelm you with ambiance, he obviously knows San Francisco [and overall, what he’s doing].

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #17, January 1995.


       The Nick Polo series —

   NOVELS

Polo Solo (1987)
Polo Anyone? (1988)
Polo’s Ponies (1988)
Polo in the Rough (1989)
Polo’s Wild Card (1990)
Green With Envy (1991)
Special Delivery (1992)
Vintage Polo (1993)
Beggar’s Choice (1994)
All That Glitters (1997)
Long Shot (2017)

   SHORT STORIES

“Polo at the Ritz” (May 1993, New Mystery; also 1999, First Cases 3)
“Reluctant Witness” (2000, The Shamus Game)
“Carole on Lombard” (2001, Mystery Street)
“Love for Bail” (2015, Fifty Shades of Grey Fedora)

JOHN STEPHEN STRANGE – The Clue of the Second Murder. Van Dusen Ormsberry #2. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1929. Grosset & Dunlap, hardcover reprint (cover shown).

   When this book was written (60 years ago!), Philo Vance was all the rage, and in the same pattern is fastidious gentleman detective Van Dusen Ormsberry, whose second recorded case this is. Assisting him is his 13-year-old protégé, the freckle-faced Bill Adams.

   While the book is readable, the telling is flawed, and Ormsberry does very little in the way of detecting. He is a bad judge of character, and allowing young Bill to assist leads to an even greater error on his part. His career was over after only one more book.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #18, December 1989, very slightly revised.


        The Van Dusen Ormsberry series —

The Man Who Killed Fortescue. Doubleday 1928
The Clue of the Second Murder. Doubleday 1929
Murder on the Ten-Yard Line. Doubleday 1931


[UPDATE] 11-28-18.   Time does not stand still. It’s now been almost 90 years since this book was written, very near a relic — but not a forgotten one. There is currently a POD edition published by lulu.com, apparently from a source in the UK. I don’t know if how interested anyone (including myself) would be after reading review above, but as a note to myself, I did say it was readable.

   I did not say much about the plot, so I went looking, and I found this description of the book online:

   “After leaving his sisters opulent Garden Party in 1927 Greenwich, Connecticut a naval inventor is shot dead while driving his Packard down a country lane beside the estate. Bill Adams, teen sleuth, begins the investigation, calling his friend, Detective Van Dusen Ormsberry home from his vacation in France to prevent an unjust conviction. Ormsberry must wade through the accused’s past political scandal; the torrid love triangle of the accused, the stage actress and the victim; and the post-World War I International espionage ring he discovers to find the actual murderer.”

JEFFERY WILDS DEAVER – Hard News. Rune #3. Doubleday, hardcover, 1991. Bantam, paperback, June 1992.

   Rune, not her real name, but the name she goes by, is an aspiring photojournalist and filmmaker living in a houseboat on the Hudson River in Manhattan. She’s in her early 20s, and as taken from Jeffrey Deaver’s website, she’s “five feet two inches of slick repartee, near-purple hair, and poetic imagination” with “with more ambition than political savvy.”

   A description which doesn’t entirely do her justice, but it’s close enough. In Hard News, after watching a videotaped interview with him, she becomes convinced that a convict named Randy Boggs is actually innocent of the murder he claims he didn’t commit.

   Where does she take her story on him to prove his innocence? Directly to Piper Sutton, the news anchorwoman for Current Events, one of the mostly highly watched TV news programs on the air. Somehow she manages to persuade Sutton to go ahead with the project. (It may have something to do with the fact that the man murdered was the head of the network at the time.)

   All to the good. But do things go smoothly? In a word, no. She does manage to stir up a lot of trouble for both herself and the man in prison. Rune’s life style is, shall we say, somewhat unique, making for a story that’s a lot of fun to read. What makes it even more so is the fact she does all of the work on her project burdened down by a three-year-old girl whose mother abandoned her in Rune’s care.

   Even as early as this in his career Jeffery Deaver, well-known now as the author of a long list of books about quadriplegic detective Lincoln Rhyme, had a way with words, turns of phrases and twists in the tale he’s telling that titillates the reader’s mind and teases one’s brain. The story, while rushed in the ending, isn’t at all bad either.


Bibliographic Note: At the end of the paperback edition, which I’ve just read, the next Rune book was announced as being The Mystery of You, to be released in January 1993. The book was never published. I wonder if it was ever written.


       The Rune series —

Manhattan Is My Beat. Bantam 1989
Death of a Blue Movie Star. Bantam 1990
Hard News. Doubleday 1991

IONE SANDBERG SHRIBER – Pattern for Murder. Lt. Bill Grady #7. Farrar & Rinehart, hardcover, 1944. Detective Book Club, hardcover reprint, 3-in-1 edition. Armed Services Edition #798, paperback. Mercury Mystery #113, digest-sized paperback (slightly abridged).

   With all of the above options available, unfortunately I had to settle for the one that was abridged. I’ve never checked to see what kind of editing job was done by the people at Mercury and their line of mystery paperbacks, but I’m hoping I didn’t miss too much with this one. I don’t think so, but I’m saying that with my fingers crossed.

   And a word about Grady, the police detective on the case. He appeared in eight of of the eleven mysteries written by author Ione Sandberg Shriber between 1940 and 1953. In Pattern for Murder he’s almost always referred to only as Grady. His first name of Bill is used only once, as I recall. Once he’s called Major, never as Lt. Grady, but other sources all agree that that’s his proper title.

   The use of “Major” may have come from his Army days; he’s accompanied on his investigation in this one by a chap named Hemingway who lives with Grady and appears to be a sort of aide-de-camp. Readers of earlier books in the series may know more about both gentlemen, but this is not the kind of mystery novel that pays any attention to its detective’s background or personal life.

   And in fact he does not show up or is even mentioned until page 49 of the 126 page edition I read. It takes that long to set up the situation — one of those very, very dysfunctional that show up awfully often in 1930s and 40s mystery fiction — and believe it or not, I was looking at the page number, which just happened to be 47, when I was trying to decide whether to keep reading or not.

   I’m glad I did, though. This turned out to be quite a decent work of detective fiction, with lots of suspects, alibis, red herrings and so on. The story is largely told from the perspective of an outsider, Miss Katy Sturtevant, who comes to the home of an old college friend to be the maid of honor at her wedding.

   But her friend is not marrying the man Katy expects, but her guardian, who is many years only. The man Katy expected to be the groom is already married, as it turns out, and to the daughter of Shannon’s guardian. There are several other relatives on hand as well, including a sister, an aunt and a cousin, only the latter of whom seems to be leading a normal life, plus a ultra-fat gentleman who turns out to be the family lawyer, along with a nurse and a missionary to China in the US now trying to raise funds for a trip back.

   Once started, though, the focus is which one of these could be a killer. It’s enjoyable ride, albeit a very somewhat disjointed one. As an author, Shriber has an annoying habit of ending one chapter with what seems to be a major revelation, only to jump in time to begin the next one. It’s a bit disconcerting, that’s all, no more than that, I assure you. Fans of the books published by the late lamented Rue MOrgue Press will love this one.


       The Lt. Bill Grady series —

The Dark Arbor. Farrar 1940
Head Over Heels in Murder, Farrar 1940
Family Affair. Farrar 1941
Murder Well Done. Farrar 1941
A Body for Bill. Farrar 1942
Invitation to Murder. Farrar 1943
Pattern for Murder. Farrar 1944
The Last Straw. Rinehart 1946

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


  WENDI LEE – The Good Daughter. Angela Matelli #1. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1994; paperback, 1996.

   Lee is [at the time of this review] the Associate Editor of Mystery Scene, and is married to Terry Beatty. artist of the Max Allan Collins-written crime comic, Ms. Tree. This is her first novel, though she has published short stories featuring Angela Matelli.

   Matelli is an ex-Marine, member of an extended Italian family, and a brand-new PI hanging out her shingle in Boston. She has an ex-cop uncle (“No-Legs” Charley), and a mother and a good sister and a bad sister. Her first case comes to her on her first day through the auspices of the previously mentioned uncle — an ex-cop friend of his wants Angela to investigate a man his daughter is seeing, because he has a bad feeling about him. Something is wrong somewhere. because very quickly her client is killed and Angela herself is attacked.

   A brief aside, telling you that the client is killed is exactly the sort of plat point that I don’t like to see revealed in reviews, but the cover copy gives it away, so why not?Blurb writers are worse than reviewers, sometimes. Often.

   This wasn’t bad. It has the typical focus on family/friend relationships that’s part of almost every mystery write by women, and here they verge on being, but aren’t quite, the irritating kind that ruin so many of the current crop of crime books for me.

   Matelli is a nicely drawn and appealing character, and already stands out from the crowd by not falling for a cop or a suspect in her first book. Lee’s writing is competent and her pacing good, and if she doesn’t know Boston like the back of her hand, she fakes the hell out of it,

   The plot was decent except for one major hole: the client could gave easily done what Matelli did, which was go to a friend on the police and have the background on the suspect dug up. Overall I don’t think Lee is or has the potential to be a threat to any of the top-line PI writers, but she’s certainly better than some.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #17, January 1995.


The Angela Matelli series —

   Novels:

The Good Daughter (1994)
Missing Eden (1996)
Deadbeat (1999)
He Who Dies (2000)
Habeas Campus (2002)

   Short stories:

“Salad Days” (Winter 1994, Noir)
“The Disappearance of Edna Guberman” (1994, Murder For Mother)
“Check Up” (1996, Lethal Ladies)
“The Other Woman” (1997, Vengeance Is Hers)

JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Man Who Could Not Shudder. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1940. UK hardcover: Hamish Hamilton, 1940. Hardcover reprints: P. F. Collier & Sons, no date; Books, Inc., 1944. Paperback reprints: Bantam #365, August 1949; Bantam 1504, 1956; F2837, 1964. Berkley S1941, January 1971. Zebra, paperback; 1st printing, May 1986.

   Unless a reader is less than 40 years old, roughly speaking, here is an author that needs no introduction. If you’re a mystery reader who’s under 40 years old and John Dickson Carr is an author who’s already familiar to you, I have a feeling that you’re in a distinct (but very exclusive) minority. Zebra (or Kensingston) did a series of paperback reprints of many of Carr’s novels in the late 1980s – with very nice covers – but that’s already 20 years ago, and like Ellery Queen, his books are being slowly forgotten.

   But for many of us over 40 (and then some), Carr’s books (and those he wrote as Carter Dickson, whom some believe are even better) are among the best detective stories ever written. Or, speaking personally now, that’s the way I remember them. Does the actuality measure up to the reality? I’m at an age now when I can go back and re-read a book that I first tackled when I was, say, 12 to 15 years old, and see it through completely different eyes.

   Or in other words, I didn’t remember this one at all. The detective who was on hand for most of Carr’s mysteries was Dr. Gideon Fell, a caricature whom some say was based on G. K. Chesterton. I didn’t know this when I was 12 or 15, and since no one knows who G. K. Chesterton is any more either, somehow I do not believe that it helps to point this out to today’s mystery readers, if in fact, any of them are still reading this short essay or long review.

   Suffice it to say that Fell was an unkempt, heavy-set fellow, prone to incisive thinking and frustratingly inclined to stay mum about his thoughts on matters of mystery, expect for the most cryptic utterances when pressed, but of course (I hasten to add) one of the world’s greatest experts on impossible crimes.

   The Man Who Could Not Shudder falls right in the middle of the list of Gideon Fell novels, but chronologically it’s much closer to the beginning of his (and Carr’s) career than to the end, which is all to the good – in one sense, and maybe not in others. More after the list:

Hag’s Nook. Harper & Brothers, 1933.
The Mad Hatter Mystery. Harper & Brothers, 1933.
The Eight of Swords. Harper & Brothers, 1934.
The Blind Barber. Harper & Brothers, 1934.
Death-Watch. Harper & Brothers, 1935.
The Three Coffins. Harper & Brothers, 1935.
The Arabian Nights Murder. Harper & Brothers, 1936.
To Wake the Dead. Harper & Brothers, 1938.
The Crooked Hinge. Harper & Brothers, 1938.
The Problem of the Green Capsule. Harper & Brothers, 1939.
The Problem of the Wire Cage. Harper & Brothers, 1939.
The Man Who Could Not Shudder. Harper & Brothers, 1940.
The Case of the Constant Suicides. Harper & Brothers, 1941.
Death Turns the Tables. Harper & Brothers, 1941.
Till Death Do Us Part. Harper & Brothers, 1944.
He Who Whispers. Harper & Brothers, 1946.
The Sleeping Sphinx. Harper & Brothers, 1947.
Below Suspicion. Harper & Brothers, 1949.
The Dead Man’s Knock. Harper & Brothers, 1958.
In Spite of Thunder. Harper & Brothers, 1960.
The House at Satan’s Elbow. Harper & Row, 1965.
Panic in Box C. Harper & Row, 1966.
Dark of the Moon. Harper & Row, 1967.

   If you are anything like me, the thing that will strike you the most if you were to read any of these, I’m sure, is what a game Carr delighted in when he was telling a mystery. Even well along in his writing career and knowing exactly what he was doing, he always demonstrated the sheer fun of telling a detective story and daring the reader to play along and to see who gets to the ending first.

   The Man Who Could Not Shudder begins in a bar in a gentleman’s club with a number of participants jovially telling each other ghost stories. Only two of people in the bar appear in any of the later chapters: the narrator, Bob Morrison, and his guest at the time, Martin Clarke, who in spite of the story told about Longwood House (or perhaps even because of it) buys it, renovates it, and invites a gaggle of guests down for a weekend.

   What was the story? That twenty or so years ago a butler was found dead in the house, crushed beneath a chandelier that he had (terrified?) jumped up to hold onto and – this is the only explanation possible – swung back and forth on it until it came loose and fell down upon him.

   A ghost story of some magnitude, in other words, and apparently the ghost is still there, in spite of the renovations. A small, mild incident occurs first, that of a mysterious clutching hand that disappears as quickly as it appears. It is not until later that one of the guests, the man who could not shudder, is shot by a pistol which had been set up for display upon some pegs in the wall – but which “jumped off the wall” and was somehow fired while still in the air, with nary a human hand anywhere about.

   Rather fantastic, you may think, but is the atmosphere that Carr creates beforehand that makes this work. Here’s a long quote that will demonstrate, from pages 61-62, on the night previous. Morrison is in bed, trying to fall asleep:

   I put on my slippers and dressing gown. I lit a cigarette, was annoyed at the absence of an ash tray, wondered what to use for an ash tray, and compromised (as we usually do) by dropping the burned match into the soap dish.

   In the raw reaction of seeing light, nerves crawled. I would have given five pounds for A strong whisky and soda, to send me to sleep. There was no reason why I should not go downstairs and get myself one, except that it would be an admission of weakness if anybody saw me, and it seems the height of something-or-other to creep out and take whisky in another man’s house in the middle of the night.

   No: no whisky. Reading might do it. The cigarette smoke rose up blue, tasting thin and bitter. I was going over to the mantel to get a book when I heard, from somewhere down in the house, a heavy thud as though a sofa had been lifted and dropped.

   Then silence.

   Though that noise was not loud, the whole house seemed to vibrate to it; the tingle of the window frames, the jar of the electric bulb, the fancied shift of a plaster ceiling, for the thud had been in my chest as well.

   And here I made a discovery. In the shock of that noise, I think I discovered what is at the root of all the psychology of fear. The hot-and-cold feeling I experienced was one of pure relief. Something had happened: it could be investigated. It was no longer a question of lying supine, between starchy sheets, without shoes or the moral armor of a dressing gown, waiting in the dark for something to come to you. You could go to it. You could face it. And it was thereby shorn of half its terrors. We are frightened of ghosts because, in the literal sense, we take them lying down.

   If preparation is one weapon in Carr’s arsenal of writing tools, misdirection is another. Quite a bit is made of hidden passages (none found), sliding panels (no) and long poles with or without fishing hooks on a line (the opportunity is there, but neither poles nor hooks are to be found). Alibis are questioned, identities are mistaken, people make up tales to protect themselves, but in case you are wondering, as Fell tells Morrison on page 267, “…this is not Roger Ackroyd all over again.”

   Characterization is minimal. I would certainly have to concede that. The plot is everything, and if you don’t pick up on the clues that Dr. Fell spots and bases his solution to the matter upon, then you have no one to blame but yourself. They’re there; there are no two ways about it.

   If you were to persist in pointing out, however, that some of the characters’ actions are doubtful, designed only to further the plot as part of the massive authorial misdirection, I would have to confess that I could not disagree.

   I also confess that when the final denouement finally arrived, I was – not disappointed, but – let down. I was hoping for better – but of course there could be no other explanation, even though (in retrospect) it makes the chances of the events happening that led to the title character’s death slim and (dare I say it?) far-fetched, if not worse.

   Would the book make for a decent movie? Yes, in the 1930s. No, not today. To explain more would mean to explain too much. I’m tempted, but no, I simply can’t do it. There are some very nice twists in the tale, both beforehand and afterward, but I think the audiences of today are too well sophisticated for this particular explanation to have a snowball’s chance of going over and being accepted.

   This is not to say that I did not enjoy the book, for indeed I did. It is a marvelous game that Carr was playing here, and if this particular effort is not up to his best, which was the best there ever was, then so be it. The enjoyment that arises from reading a purely puzzle story like this one, whether it’s successful or not, can come from observing an expert who enjoys what he’s doing and who is careful and methodical about doing it. Even if Carr doesn’t manage to pull this one off, and I don’t think he does, there’s still plenty of pleasure to be found in simply sitting back, watching closely and seeing just what it is that he’s trying to do.

   There are not many other authors who’d even make the attempt, then or now.

— November 2005 (slightly revised)

BILL CRIDER – Dying Voices. Carl Burns #2. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1989. No paperback edition.

   A return visit with Carl Burns, English professor at Hartley Gorman College, somewhere in Texas. (Well, Pecan City, wherever that is.) He’s put in charge of a seminar honoring HGC’s most famous former faculty member, bestselling author Edward Street, a man hardly changed by the success he’s had since.

   He’s till as obnoxious as ever, that is, and he’s threatening to wrote another blockbuster novel, this one based on his days at HGC, truthfully or not. He’s found dead the next morning. The killer is easy to spot but the laugh on every page makes this one next to impossible to resist.

   I should warn you, though, that some of the jokes and stories are of a decidedly academic nature, and the one on page 117 is so technical that I confess I still haven’t been able to figure it out.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #18, December 1989, in slightly revised form.

        The Carl Burns series —

1. One Dead Dean (1988)
2. Dying Voices (1989)
3. A Dangerous Thing (1994)
4. Dead Soldiers (2004)

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