Bibliographies, Lists & Checklists


THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


MERLDA MACE – Motto for Murder. Julian Messner, hardcover, 1943. Detective Book Club, hardcover reprint, 3-in-1 edition, November 1943. Black Cat Detective #17, digest-sized paperback, 1945, abridged.

   The classic situation — isolated old house, blizzard raging outside, nasty old lady hated by most of those in the house, and escalating murders.

   Maria Hammond, the nasty old lady, has complete control of the family fortune and need not turn over any money until she is convinced that her grandchildren can handle the money responsibly. Since one of her children is a drunk who has married a money-hungry shrew and who has stolen $10,000 from the firm for which he works to provide the shrew with a fur coat in the hope that she will treat him kindly — a failed scheme, needless to say — it appears that the old lady is not completely in the wrong in not turning over the money at least to him.

   Anyhow, she invites the three grandchildren to spend Christmas with her, and two of the spouses also show up. Her intention, violating the spirit of the season and maybe even the letter of the law, is to tell the grandchildren she is changing her will so that they will be totally disinherited. Her lawyer is murdered, she disappears, and others start being murdered.

   Tip O’Neil, who works with the ne’er-do-well grandson, goes along for the weekend to make sure that the grandson does not run off to Canada. Since O’Neil is the only one not concerned in the murders, he does the investigating. On page 148, he says to himself: “Maybe it would be healthier for me to play dumb … on this investigation.” Strange. I had the feeling that is what he had been doing from the beginning.

   One among many oddities appears to be a peculiar law of New York State in regard to wills. O’Neil is asked to witness “the will” of Maria Hammond. While watched by her lawyer, O’Neil signs a piece of paper folded back so he can’t see what is written on it. He can’t be sure it’s a will, and he certainly isn’t witnessing her signing it.

   Deeck’s Law No. 1 states: Beware of authors who use exclamation points frequently in narrative! Mace is a big violator!

   (A motto, by the way, is a piece of candy around which is wrapped a fortune, making it somewhat similar to a fortune cookie. It was apparently old-fashioned even in 1945.)

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1990.


Bibliographic Notes: This was the only novel that Timothy “Tip” O’Neil appeared in. His day job was as a special investigator for a Manhattan-based investment firm. The author’s other two mysteries featured a continuing series character named Christine Anderson. She may have been the blonde in Blondes Don’t Cry, but other than that, no other information is readily available.

MERLDA MACE. Pseudonym of Madeleine McCoy, 1910?-1990?

       Headlong for Murder. Messner, 1943. [Christine Anderson]
       Motto for Murder. Messner, 1943.
       Blondes Don’t Cry. Messner, 1945 [Christine Anderson]

JANICE LAW – Death Under Par. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1981. iUniverse, softcover, 2000.

   With the obvious exception of horse-racing, I think more mysteries have had to do with golf than with any other sport. Unless you can come up with another physical pastime I’m not thinking of, golf is the clear runner-up, which is what leads us to the latest Anna Peters thriller.

   She and long-time boy friend Harry have finally tied the knot, and for their honeymoon they travel to Scotland, for a working vacation during the British Open — he’s an artist on assignment for Sports Illustrated. There have been vandals at work, however, and threats have been made against one of the golfers. In case you haven’t been following Miss Peters’ adventures, she runs her own security business, and it quickly becomes a working honeymoon for her as well.

   She finds a common thread between the golfer and two of her leading suspects: they all attended the same small college in Hartford (Trinity College, recognizably incognito). As a result, there is a good deal of local Connecticut scenery involved as well, including a quickie tour through the offices of the same newspaper [the Hartford Courant] that prints most of my reviews.

   Which, of course, interested me much more than it will most of you. This is a straightforward crime story, making it more realistic than the puzzle artifices of a pure whodunit, perhaps, but in all truth, this case of Anna Peters presents no other challenge than that of sheer endurance.

   A twist was needed. This one comes straight.

Rating: C.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 3, May/June 1981 (slightly revised).


The Anna Peters series –

1. The Big Payoff (1975)
2. Gemini Trip (1977)
3. Under Orion (1978)
4. The Shadow of the Palms (1979)
5. Death Under Par (1981)
6. Time Lapse (1992)
7. A Safe Place to Die (1993)
8. Backfire (1994)
9. Cross-Check (1997)

WILSON TUCKER – To Keep or Kill. Rinehart & Co., hardcover, 1947. Lion #21, paperback, 1950; Lion Library LL84, 1956.

   Tucker, who is probably better known today for his science fiction, wrote a total of five Charles Horne mysteries for Rinehart back between 1946 and 1951. After that he apparently decided he was better off not trying to write detective fiction, even as a sideline.

   Not that he left the field completely, but I think he probably made the right decision.

   Horne is a private eye. Most of his work is done for insurance companies. He quite vehemently does not do divorce work. The small metropolis of Boone, Illinois, where he has his office, is a figment of Tucker’s imagination, although there is a Boone County (up near Rockford).

   This is the second Horne book. As it begins, he is witness to an explosion. He thinks it’s a practical joke at first, but when it goes off it takes part of a city block and a couple of victims with it. Later, Horne is kidnapped and kept a prisoner in the home of the girl who planted the bomb. She’s a redhead, tall, beautiful, and as loopy as a loon.

   She is in love with Horne, she has been stalking him for months, and now that she “owns” him, so to speak, she expects — well, this was written before such explicit intentions could be stated, but those are the kinds of intentions she has. Viewed from today’s more permissive perspective, Horne’s brave resistance to temptation seems both admirable and refreshingly naive.

   Tucker’s style in this book is a burbling, slap-happy one, somewhat reminiscent of Fredric Brown in nature. In all, however, it hardly manages to disguise a total apparent lick of respect for logical thought processes. Or let me put it another way: the sort of logic that is used by all concerned would make sense only to the well-confined inmates of a lunatic asylum.

   It wouldn’t be hard to enjoy this quirky excuse for a detective story immensely. There is a thin line, it is said, between genius and lunacy. If I’d been able to follow the plot at all, I’d have said this was the work of the former.

   As for a letter grade, I’m not too sure of this one at all, but if it means anything to you, what I’m going to do, if I don’t change my mind tomorrow, is give this book a definite (C plus?).

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 3, May/June 1981.


The Charles Horne series –

The Chinese Doll. Rinehart, 1946. Dell Mapback #343, 1949.

To Keep or Kill. Rinehart, 1947. Lion #21, 1950.
The Dove. Rinehart, 1948.
The Stalking Man. Rinehart, 1949. Mercury Mystery #150, no date.
Red Herring. Rinehart, 1951.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


ROBERT J. CASEY – Hot Ice. Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1933. Greenberg, reprint hardcover, no date stated. Prize Mystery Novels #4, digest-sized paperback, 1943.

   Robert J. Casey’s Hot Ice was something I picked up at an antique store just to be nice and let it sit on my TBR shelf for five or ten years till I finally seized it in fit of read-it-or-rid-of-it. Well, it’s not a keeper, but I’m glad I took the time for this charming, hard-boiled tale of double-cross and murder in the stolen gem market.

   It features Joseph Crewe, a Chicago police detective, and an ex-reporter named Jim Sands as an engaging pair of sleuths following a trail of unrelated (or are they?) murders across the city, and author Casey uses a ploy here you don’t see very often: we all know how irritating it is when an author provides information to the detective and withholds it from the reader (she bent down and picked something off the floor, tucking it carefully in her pocket. “I’ll pull this out in the last chapter,” she smiled knowingly) but Casey provides information to the reader that the sleuths have to puzzle out for themselves (or will they?) and there’s some dandy suspense engendered watching them stumble towards it, plus a few added twists as the reader and detectives are both faced with the mystery of a murdered milkman who finished his route post mortem.

       The Jim Sands series –

The Secret of Thirty-Seven Hardy Street. Bobbs, 1929.
The Secret of the Bungalow. Bobbs, 1930.
News Reel. Bobbs, 1932.
Hot Ice. Bobbs, 1933.
The Third Owl. Bobbs, 1934.

Editorial Comment:   Hubin does not say whether Joseph Crewe is in all of these novels or not. According to a limited Google search, he is in some of them.

RANDY STRIKER – Key West Connection. Signet, paperback original, 1981. Reprinted as by Randy Wayne White “writing as Randy Striker,” Signet, paperback, 2006.

   Here’s the first installment of a brand new “action-packed” adventure series. The hero is Floridian charterboat captain Dusky MacMorgan, ex-US Navy (underwater demolition). He’s a cross between Travis McGee and Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan, if you can believe it.

   He leaves a lot of dead people behind him. And, of course, so do the villains. In this book they’re a gang of dope smugglers. The top levels of the gang include a US Senator (unnamed) and assorted top officials in all levels of the executive branch. And an ounce of humanity you would not find in any of them.

   MacMorgan’s wife and twin little boys are killed in a bomb accident (it was meant for him), and he takes his remorse out in total retaliation. He leaves a lot of dead people behind. (Or did I say that?)

   I think Randy Striker (is that his real name?) should quit the annoying habit of telling the end of each chapter first. Otherwise, well, you probably already know if you’re going to go out looking for this book or not. If Striker is the charterboat captain we are informed he also is, these are — if you’ll excuse this expression — his wet dreams.

Rating:   C minus.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 3, May/June 1981.


The Dusky MacMorgan series –

1. Key West Connection. Signet, 1981.
2. The Deep Six. Signet, 1981.
3. Cuban Death-Lift. Signet, 1981.

4. The Deadlier Sex. Signet, 1981.
5. Assassin’s Shadow. Signet, 1981.

6. Everglades Assault. Signet, 1982.
7. Grand Cayman Slam. Signet, 1982.

DANA CAMERON – A Fugitive Truth. Avon, paperback original, May 2004.

   Though an archaeologist by profession, Emma Fielding somehow manages to run into an abundance of cases of murder on her many and varied field trips, this being the fourth in a series, and unfortunately only the first that I’ve read.

   Based on the example at hand, it’s a lapse I’d like to remedy as soon as I can. This one’s an impressive outing, beginning as if it were a gothic romance novel from the 1970s, as Emma travels through a dark and overcast night to the Victorian mansion where the Shrewsbury Library is located, and where her latest project has taken her.

   After helping to excavate the 18th century home of one Margaret Chandler and putting the life of the woman in the proper context, Emma plans on reading the young bride’s diary, written while she was still trying to adjust to life in the American “wilderness” as a new arrival from England. Here’s a quote that will help describe how Emma’s philosophy of life (and career) put her on my side, immediately and forever. From page 56:

   I also reminded myself of why I had finally decided that my work was important. History tends to be about great events or trends that are disassociated from the common person. Historical archaeology is about everyday things, it’s finding out about people who didn’t always have a voice or fair representation by those who kept the public records, it’s about filling in the blanks. By teaching what archaeology teaches about the past, I was letting my audiences know how people like them made great things possible. On good days, I felt like I was a preacher, teaching empowerment, hope and ownership.

   When one of her fellow resident scholars is found drowned under mysterious circumstances, Emma is asked by the local police lady to use her academic insight and help with the investigation from the inside. As in the best of detective novels, there are a number of suspects, all with differing motivations, and all must be scrutinized with care, since – if Emma is not careful – she may become the killer’s next victim.

   In parallel with the present day crimes, Emma also discovers that Margaret, the lady of the diary, was abruptly accused of the death of a clergyman in her day, but the comments she wrote about her criminal trial are written in code, which requires deciphering on the part of Emma.

   When Margaret’s problems are over and she was absolved of the crime she was accused of, her comments were, “The truth is more than a sum of the facts,” an observation that does not explain the circumstances of her acquittal – the crucial pages are inscrutably missing – but it gives Emma the shove she needs, and at the right moment, in her own investigation.

   Besides the good, no, excellent characterization and a better than average detective story – and somehow it manages to slip my mind and I have to realize this over and over again, don’t the two go hand-in-hand? – there is an epilogue that is absolutely outstanding. Moralizing after the fact is not all that common in detective fiction, and moralizing on the level of Spider-Man? Now that’s unique.

PostScript:   Besides being a mystery writer, Dana Cameron is by primary occupation a professional archaeologist, which comes as no surprise at all.

— May 2004

      The Emma Fielding series

1. Site Unseen (2002)

2. Grave Consequences (2002)
3. Past Malice (2003)

4. A Fugitive Truth (2004)
5. More Bitter Than Death (2005)
6. Ashes and Bones (2006)

   And as a sign of the times, perhaps, given the end of this Emma Fielding series, beginning in 2013 Dana Cameron has written five novels in a fantasy-paranormal “Fangborn” series. Here’s a description:

    “Archaeologist Zoe Miller has been running from a haunting secret her whole life. But when her cousin is abducted by a vicious Russian kidnapper, Zoe is left with only one option: to reveal herself.

    “Unknown to even her closest friends, Zoe is not entirely human. She’s a werewolf and a daughter of the ‘Fangborn,’ a secretive race of werewolves, vampires, and oracles embroiled in an ancient war against evil.”

JOYCE HOLMS – Payment Deferred. Headline, UK, hardcover, 1996; paperback, 1997. Bloody Brits Press, US, softcover, 2007.

   The cover bills this as “A Fizz & Buchanan Mystery,” which was intriguing right then and there, because (a) I admit that Joyce Holms was a new name to me, and (b) what’s (who’s) a Fizz? Doing some investigation on my own, it was not difficult to discover that Payment Deferred is the first of [nine] in a series, and why I’d happened to have never heard of the author is that [at the time I read this book] none of them have been published in this country.

   I’ll get back to that particular point later, I think. Of the pair of sleuths working out of Ms. Holms’ books, let’s take Tam Buchanan first, as it’s much simpler that way. The town is Edinburgh, and Tam (male) is a lawyer who donates a morning a week to a free legal clinic, a more-or-less straight-and-narrow sort of fellow. As for “Fizz,” I think I’ll do some quoting from pages 7 and 8:

   Tam arrives late to find “a plump girl of about seventeen” waiting for him.

    “You’re waiting to see me, are you?”

    She had a sweet, dimpled face and an expression of unassailable innocence. “Well,” she said with a hesitant smile, “that rather depends on who you are.”

    The discrepancy between what his eyes saw and what his ears heard was so great that Buchanan was momentarily at a loss. It was like being savaged by a day-old chick, which was clearly impossible, so that he had to assume that she had not intended the put-down but was merely trying to sound sophisticated, or some such rubbish.

    “I do beg your pardon,” he said, with exaggerated politeness, and then regretted it. She was, after all, just a kid, and besides, he should have had the common decency to introduce himself before barking at her. “I’m Tam Buchanan, Legal Advice.”

    She gave him a shy nod and offered a small but surprisingly strong hand. “In that case I am waiting to see you. I’m your new assistant. The name’s Fitzpatrick.”

   And so from here the relationship begins, full of sparks and brief bursts of annoyance and vexation (on both sides, but mostly Tam’s). Here’s another long quote from much toward the end of the book (page 291):

    Bloody Fizz!

    Buchanan was equally disgusted at himself for (a) ever letting her into his life, and (b) being markedly less than enthusiastic to be rid of her.

    She was a pain in the neck. Let’s face it, she was horrendous. She was an inveterate liar, a manipulator, selfish, opinionated, miserly, and didn’t give a hoot in hell about anyone but herself. Her philosophy, as propounded by herself, was: everything I have is yours and everything you have is mine. Which was fair enough till you remembered that she didn’t have anything you’d want.

    On the other hand, when she was in a good mood – which, okay, was almost always – she was quite nice to be around. She was different. She made you see things in ways you hadn’t seen them before. Also, she had a strange kind of innocence about her, even though you couldn’t trust her with the gold fillings in Grandma’s teeth. But she was honest. That was the funny thing. Way down deep, where it counted, she was as honest a person as he’d ever met.

    However, be that as it may, he was rid of her now, and he wasn’t about to change that, regrets or no regrets. Common sense dictated that he learn his lesson and steer clear of her from now on.

   Obviously the man is hooked on her. And, no, all first impressions aside, she’s not seventeen, either. More like twenty-six. She’s starting law school in the fall, and working for Tam is to get her foot in the door, and she has no intentions of being a mere secretary. She begins assisting on Tam’s next case almost before he knows there is one.

   Which consists of trying to clear the name of an old (and rather dull) friend of Tam’s, Murray Kingston, who has just been released from prison after being convicted of molesting his young daughter.

   Who had anything to gain from the false conviction – who could have wanted Murray out of the way for any reason – and who could have faked all of the evidence that put him into prison for three years?

   Well, yawn. This is not the most gripping of tales – there’s a heaping abundance of legwork and around page 120 the book gets really talky. Even though (of course) there’s eventually a murder to solve, the real fun is watching the free-spirited Fizz walk loops around the laid-back Buchanan. For the edgiest of relationships since Maddy and David — back before they jumped the shark and “did it” – this is the book you’ll want to read next.

JOYCE HOLMS – Foreign Body. Headline, UK, hardcover, 1997; paperback, 1997. Bloody Brits Press, US, softcover, 2008.

   Authors, on occasion and for various reasons, go in their own direction, and that is not always where the reader is going, or wants to, and he or she (the reader) is left leaning the wrong way, and sometimes in the most awkward of positions.

   Which is to say, strangely enough, in this the second adventure of Fizz and Buchanan, the edge is gone. Vanished. Only the slightest sense of sexual tension between the two mystery solvers remains, showing itself only now and then, and mostly then.

   There’s also a sizable gap in time between the previous book and this one. Fizz, having gotten fired from Tam’s legal clinic, has somehow attached herself to his legal firm itself – and there’s got to be a story there that’s (apparently) never going to be told.

   What we do get, as a rather inadequate substitute – I’m being Uncle Grumpy here – is a intimate look into Fizz’s background – the small Scottish village where she grew up, orphaned at an early age, and raised her elderly grandfather.

   Persuading Tam to recuperate from an inconvenient gall bladder operation in Perthshire, around Am Bealach where Fizz’s grampa lives, Fizz also has an ulterior motive – persuading Tam to also take an interest in the strange disappearance of Old Bessie, an elderly villager Fizz was fond of. In the meantime, another mystery is encountered – that of a strangely behaving camper with a tent full of weird objects including a blonde wig and a mannequin’s hand.

   Can the two cases be connected? Have you not read enough crime fiction to know the answer without asking? You realize of course that the twist might be that they are not – and I’ll never tell.

   Once the reader (that’s me) rights himself (or herself, if it’s you, and the pronoun is appropriate) this pair of semi-dueling detectives does do themselves a fair amount of justice on the pair of mysteries with which they’re confronted.

   Once again the book plods a little in the middle, but the pieces of the puzzle are painstakingly shaped and given time to develop – perhaps a little too painstakingly – but do stay with them. What better reading experience can there be when all sorts of mysterious occurrences are eventually explained and slide into place?

— May 2004

       The Fizz and Buchanan series –

1. Payment Deferred (1996)
2. Foreign Body (1997)
3. Bad Vibes (1998)

4. Thin Ice (1999)
5. Mr Big (2000)
6. Bitter End (2001)

7. Hot Potato (2003)
8. Hidden Depths (2004)
9. Missing Link (2006)

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