Bibliographies, Lists & Checklists


EMMETT McDOWELL – Stamped for Murder. Jonathan Knox #1 . Ace Double D-329, paperback original, 1958.

   I used to collect stamps. I’ve never been able to explain what the fascination is, but even though I sold my collection some time ago, for no good reason, the urge has never quite gone away. I never had any like the ones at the core of this story, though, a set of rare Hawaiian “missionary” stamps.

   Louisville auctioneer Jonathan Knox has an eye for rare collectibles, too. After a few stories for the pulps (*), this is his first book appearance. I’m sorry to say that it shows. Lots of incoherent action, in a naive sort of way, although the topless belly dancer does have her charms.

   The other half of this Ace Double is entitled Three for the Gallows, and consists pf three novelettes by Emmett McDowell, the first featuring Jonathan Knox as well. It’s reprinted from a 1953 appearance in Triple Detective Magazine (“All She Wants Is Money,” Summer 1953).

   The remaining two stories, neither of them with Knox) were first published in 1949 in King Features Syndicate’s Great Mystery Novelettes series, and that’s all I can tell you about that. Does anyone know anything more. (*) I also have not been able to identify another Knox story that appeared in the pulps, so the use of the plural in this regard in the original review may be in error.

–Slightly revised from Mystery*File #16, October 1989.


        The Jonathan Knox series —

Stamped for Death. Ace 1958
Bloodline to Murder. Ace 1960
In at the Kill. Ace 1960
Portrait of a Victim. Avalon 1964 (no paperback edition)

M. D. LAKE – Amends for Murder. Peggy O’Neill #1. Avon, paperback original, November 1989.

   A frustrating book. There aren’t many detectives who are female campus cops, and the idea produces lots of good possibilities, most of which are only hinted at in this book. Peggy O’Neill is her name, and she’s the one who finds the body of a murdered professor of English.

   Determined to show the city police a thing or two, Peggy then uncovers some of the dead man’s more unseemly past. What bothered me was the way she knew things before she (and the reader) was told, and the way the killer was caught, by sheer accident.

–Very slightly revised from Mystery*File #16, October 1989.


   The Peggy O’Neill series

1. Amends for Murder (1989)
2. Cold Comfort (1990)
3. Poisoned Ivy (1992)
4. A Gift for Murder (1992)
5. Murder by Mail (1993)
6. Once upon a Crime (1995)
7. Grave Choices (1995)
8. Flirting with Death (1996)
9. Midsummer Malice (1997)
10. Death Calls the Tune (1999)

FRANCIS DUNCAN – So Pretty a Problem. Mordecai Tremaine #5. John Long, UK, hardcover, 1950. Sourcebooks, US, trade paperback, 2018.

   It’s strange, but I have a feeling that Francis Duncan’s detective novels are selling now as well as they ever did, if not a whole lot better. Four of his six novels are back in print, and in the list of the titles at the end of this review, I’ve added the current Amazon sales ranking. They may not look spectacular, but believe me, they are — especially for detective fiction. Most of the books I have listed for sale on Amazon have rankings in the 3 to 8 millions. I don’t have any books there over 20 million.

   For an author no one had even heard of a year ago at this time, that’s quite an achievement.

   Duncan’s series character is a chap named Mordecai Tremaine, a retired tobacconist whose hobbies are reading romance novels and solving crimes. He’s done so well at the latter that’s he’s on a first name basis with several policemen at Scotland Yard, and they don’t mind in the least if he does some investigating for them on his own.

   The structure of So Pretty a Problem is an odd one, especially at first glance. Part I consists of the murder and the immediate investigation. This section is about 90 pages long, and it serves largely as a prologue to Part II, all of which takes place before the murder. This portion, over 160 pages long, consists entirely of Tremaine’s interactions with the murder victim and his wife and all of the other suspects-to-be. Ordinarily this section would come first, chronologically speaking, but 160 pages in a detective novel before the first murder occurs is an awfully long time to keep a reader’s interest at a high edge of anticipation.

   Part Three reverts to real time and Tremaine’s meticulously worked out explanation, including one of those “gathering the suspects together in one room” types of detective story expositions. Since this section is over 130 pages long, any complaints that current mysteries are longer than than they used to be will fall on deaf ears when you compare them to this one.

   Dead is an extremely successful high-society artist. He is found shot to death in his isolated home off the coast of England, connected to the mainland by means of only a single footbridge that an invalid lady is constantly watching. The only person found in the house except for the dead man is his wife, who tells two obviously false stories to the police, who believe neither one, but neither do they believe that she is the killer.

   I enjoyed this one. What impressed me the most about the story is how well Duncan made the explanation fit the facts so precisely, and yet before the explanation, there does not seem that there is one that’s possible. Knowing human character is a big asset for Mordecai Tremaine, and if this is an example of how he unravels a mystery as complicated as this, I’m going to go on and read all of his other cases in solving crimes.


       The Mordecai Tremaine series –

Murderer’s Bluff. Jenkins 1938
They’ll Never Find Out. Jenkins 1944
Murder Has a Motive. Long 1947 (*) #600,815
Murder for Christmas. Long 1949 (*) #119,807

         

So Pretty a Problem. Long 1950 (*) #192,556
In at the Death. Long 1952 (*) #88,764
Behold a Fair Woman. Long 1954 (*) #123,776

   Those marked with a (*) have been recently been reprinted in the US by Sourcebooks.

THOMAS POLSKY – Curtains for the Copper. “Scoop” Griddle #3. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1941. Handi-Books #5, paperback, 1942. Dell #29, mapback edition, no date stated [1944]; Dell #700, paperback, 1953.

   While Polsky wrote one additional non-series book in 1952, Curtains for the Copper is the last of three cases that ace newspaper reporter L. F. “Scoop” Griddle worked on shortly before World War II. The cop who dies is a rookie on the beat, shot and killed during a raid on a gambling house.

   There are lots of suspects on the scene, including a good-looking girl and a police chief with a IQ of 62. In fact it is only the sorry excuse for police work that makes the final scene possible. Nothing more than a good imitation of George Harmon Coxe, only the latter did it better.

–Reprinted and slightly revised form from Mystery*File #16, October 1989.


       The L. F. “Scoop” Griddle series —

Curtains for the Editor. Dutton 1939
Curtains for the Judge. Dutton 1939
Curtains for the Copper. Dutton 1941

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


WILLIAM MURRAY – Now You See Her, Now You Don’t. Shifty Lou Anderson #8. Henry Holt, hardcover, 1994. No paperback edition.

   This is a series that doesn’t seem to get a huge amount of ink, but nevertheless has made to the eighth book and is still in both hard and soft covers. Murray is a New Yorker staff writer, and has written a number of other fiction and non-fiction books.

   It’s just another season at Hollywood Park and Del Mar for Shifty and his buddy Jay — or at least it starts out that way. Then he meets a girl, a very pretty and elusive girl. She’s involved in PR work for a movie star who owns a racehorse and has political aspirations, but she’s non-committal about just what she does, and she’s gone a lot, and she won’t give Shifty her phone number.

   The movie star is a right-winger involved with a group that has had several prominent members murdered in the past year, and the whole thing worries Shifty more than somewhat. Not as much as it worries him after someone shoots him, though.

   Murray is one of those writers whose books don’t seem to stick in my mind, and I’m pleasantly surprised each time I read a new one by how well he writes. His dialogue is crisp and witty, both on and off-track, and his characters are vividly drawn.

   Shifty is a likable first-person narrator, but I found the plot a bit fuzzy in this one. Some of it was deliberate, but still… It’s a different sort of ending.

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


The Shifty Lou Anderson series —

1. Tip on a Dead Crab (1984)
2. The Hard Knocker’s Luck (1985)
3. When the Fat Man Sings (1987)
4. The King of the Nightcap (1989)
5. Getaway Blues (1990)
6. I’m Getting Killed Right Here (1991)
7. We’re Off to See the Killer (1993)
8. Now You See Her, Now You Don’t (1994)
9. A Fine Italian Hand (1996)

Bibliographic Update:   Barry spoke a little too soon there in his first paragraph. This may have been the first book in the series that didn’t have both a hard and soft cover release. In general, that’s a sign that interest in a series is starting to tail off, and sure enough, there was only the one more.

   For those not familiar with the leading character, most sources describe him as a “part-time magician and lifelong horseracing addict.”

SAM McCARVER – The Case of Compartment 7. John Darnell #2. Signet, paperback original; 1st printing, February 2000.

   When the book begins, the year is 1914, and the drums of war are beginning to echo their way across the European continent. It seems hardly the time to take a train ride from Paris to Bucharest on the famed Orient Express, much less a honeymoon trip, but paranormal investigator John Darnell is mixing business with pleasure. He’s been hired to investigate why compartment number seven is being haunted by a female ghost who keeps appearing in it while dressed in bloody clothing.

   As it turns out, ,however, his primary task is shoved off to the side once several deaths and near deaths start occurring. Europe is a hotbed of intrigue, and thefts, aborted bomb attempts, and various secret plots of all kinds find the train a perfect setting to take place.

   This is one of those works of historical fiction in which purely fictional characters are mixed in with others who are real (or were), most notably Mata Hari, traveling under her name at birth, and a nurse named Agatha Miller, a year before she married a certain Mr. Christie. The conceit of course being that she is taking notes for a career, she hopes, in writing mystery fiction.

   With all of the plotting going on in such closed confines, the overall story has a continual tension to it, there’s no denying it. It’s all the more disappointing then, that the ending fails to rise to the occasion as greatly as it does, in comparison to everything that’s gone before.

   Mysteries that take place on trains are always a lot of fun, though, as long as the Orient Express remains in motion, making its way across the European landscape, so is this one.


       The John Darnell series —

1. The Case of Cabin 13 (1999)
2. The Case of Compartment 7 (2000)
3. The Case of the 2nd Seance (2000)
4. The Case of the Ripper’s Revenge (2001)
5. The Case of the Uninvited Guest (2002)
6. To Die, or Not to Die (2003)

BERNARD SCHOPEN – The Big Silence. Jack Ross #1. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1989; paperback, January 1990.

   The first chapter of this, the first recorded adventure of private eye Jack Ross, is a good one. Described is Ross’s meeting with his client, a prostitute named Glory, in a bar at the Reno Hilton. She wants him to find her grandfather, a man who, accused of murder, vanished into the desert 40 years ago.

   A fine start, as I say, but for me, the story ran out of steam no more than 80 pages in. The case simply became too complicated, with too many entanglements and too many outsiders with inside interests. Or could it be that I confuse too easily?

   The desert plays a large part in the resulting drama, perhaps one greater than any of the living characters. What Schopen succeeds in doing, more than anything else, is to describe the solitary beauty of the desert in such a way that it’s brought to life more than any of the people who live in and around it.

   There are not many PI’s who work in the Nevada area, which is a surprise, when you think of it, but while this first case for Jack Ross does have promise, right now I’m more inclined to call it potential not yet realized.

–Reprinted and somewhat expanded upon from Mystery*File #19, January 1990.

       The Jack Ross series —

The Big Silence (1989)
The Desert Look (1990)
The Iris Deception (1996)

TERRIE CURRAN – All Booked Up. Basil & Hortense Killingsley #1. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1987. Worldwide, paperback reprint, July 1989.

   In spite of any and all expectations, given the title and the setting, you know a book is going to present problems for you when (a) all of the leading characters’ names are Edwina Gluck (librarian), Basil Killingsley (professor), Hortense (his wife), Cyril Prout (rare books curator), and Cecil (‘Ceese’) Blinn (Teas oil baron),

   And (b) all of the action takes place in the Smedley, a small research library somewhere in the Boston area. A rare book is missing, and before this tale is over, two persons are dead. Humor is a matter of taste and timing, of course, but generally speaking it needs more than funny names or potty people to satisfy your palate.

   I did not find much to enjoy with this one.

–Reprinted and somewhat revised from from Mystery*File #19, January 1990.


Bibliographic Update:   Two more books in the series have appeared in recent years, both available as ebooks only: Rotten Eggs (November 2012) and Battle of the Books (March 2014).

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


RICHARD HILL – Kill the Hundredth Monkey. Randall Gatsby Sierra #3. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1995. No paperback edition.

   I don’t know anything about Hill, other than that he is described as a prize-winning author, and lives in Gainesville, Florida.

   Old three-names isn’t really looking for work right now, but some things a man’s just gotta do. One of the nation’s sports icons, a young white basketball player who was also a Rhodes scholar, has just been gunned down in Atlanta in an apparent random act of violence. Sierra is called down off his North Carolina mountaintop by n ex-movie star who lives not too far away in the mountains, where she presides over a group dedicated to stopping the destruction of personal liberty, civility, and various other Good Parts of American Life.

   The dead youth had come from their community, and she wants Sierra to investigate his death. It’s not his thing — he specializes in finding people — but he was one of the youth’s admirers himself, and can’t resist her entreaties. It’s a cold and dark trail, but he puts his nose to the ground and starts.

   I wish Hill weren’t quite as good a writer as he is, so I could just unload in this and be done with it. It’s filled with the Crumley/Parker macho, Brotherhood of Real Men bullshit that annoys me so much, and has pages and pages of commentary (in a not too lengthy book) on the ills of our society and how we have lost our way.

   I hate being preached to at the expense of the story, and particularly so by writers who get off on and glorify violence. I mean, hey, if we’ll all just do a little bonding and then kick some righteous ass, everything will be fine. You bet,

   But he is a good writer prose-wise, a very good one when he remembers to tell his story. His men and women are just a little too good, staunch, and caring to be true, but they’re the kind you want to root for. The plot really wasn’t all that bad, which is surprising: kick-ass books are usually more than a little silly when you look at them closely.

   Decidedly mixed feelings, that’s what I’ve got about this one.

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


Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   I have discovered little more abut the author than Barry knew at the time he wrote this review. He is listed in Ak Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV as RICHARD (Fontaine) HILL (1941-1999?), along with the three books in his leading character’s series given below. Hill has escaped notice from both the Fantastic Fiction and Thrilling Detective websites, but both his second and third books were reviewed by Publishers Weekly.

      The Randall Gatsby Sierra series —

What Rough Beast, Foul Play, 1992
Shoot the Piper. St. Martin’s, 1994

Kill the Hundredth Monkey, St. Martin’s, 1995

ALICE KIMBERLY – The Ghost and the Dead Man’s Library. Penelope Thorton-McClure & PI Jack Shepard #3. Berkley, paperback original; 1st printing, September 2006.

   Even though this was both written and published for the “cozy mystery” market, there are a few things going on that might attract the attention of male readers as well. It did me. For one thing, Penelope McClure owns and operates an independent bookstore in a small town in Rhode Island. For seconds, the entire plot revolves about an obscure set of the collected work of Edgar Allan Poe — and even better, there’s a strong hint that there’s a code to a unknown treasure hidden within their pages.

   But wait, wait, as they say, there’s more. The bookstore is haunted. The ghost of a private detective named Jack Shepard, who died in the 1940s, can only be seen and heard by Pen, however, and yet they communicate well enough for him to be her assistant of sorts whenever she gets involved with a case of murder, which seems to occur fairly often.

   Shepard’s way of speaking comes straight from the second or third tier of detective pulps. The quotes from the stories at the beginning of each chapter come from the better pulps of the same era, however, and these fit in very well, often to perfection.

   But as in all the cozies I’ve read or know about, Pen has other problems. Besides the death of the frail old man who gave her the books to sell for him, Pen also has to keep her store going, deal with customers and the like, and as a major subplot, her 10-year-old son’s being bullied at school.

   Even with Jack’s help, Pen’s attempt to solve the mystery is quite amateurish, which in all honesty, is exactly how it should be. The secret behind Jack’s murder, which occurred in the bookstore in 1949, is left to be revealed in later books, perhaps. Altogether, an interesting concept for a series, but for me — not a member of its primary target audience — this particular entry promised quite a bit more than it was able to deliver.

Bio-Bibliograhical Notes:   Alice Kimberly is the joint pen name of a husband and wife writing team (Marc Cerasini and Alice Alfonsi) who also write a series of “Coffeehouse Mystery” novels as Cleo Coyle.


       The Haunted Bookshop series —

The Ghost and Mrs. McClure. 2004

The Ghost and the Dead Deb. 2005
The Ghost and the Dead Man’s Library. 2006
The Ghost and the Femme Fatale. 2008
The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion. 2009
The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller, as by Cleo Coyle. 2018

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