Characters


IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts

   

JANE ADAMS – The Greenway. Det. Inspector Mike Croft #1. Macmillan, UK, hardcover, 1995. Fawcett Gold Medal, US, paperback, 1997. Setting: Contemporary England.

   Cassie Maltham’s cousin disappeared while they were taking a short-cut home through the Greenway, an ancient passageway in Norfolk. Cassie couldn’t remember what had happened, but has suffered from depression and nightmares ever since. Now, 20 years later, Cassie has returned to Norfolk trying to let go of the past. But when another young girl disappears, it draws Cassie back into her nightmares. Detective Inspector Mike Croft, through the urging of Sergeant Bill Enfield, elicits the help of John Tynan, the retired detective who investigated the disappearance of Cassie’s cousin.

   Ms. Adams has written a haunting, yet very human book about guilt and loss. Cassie suffers survivor’s guilt; why did her cousin disappear rather than she. Croft knows the anguish of losing a child, although his son had been killed in a hit-and-run. The story was absorbing with good twists along the way and touches of the supernatural. I shall definitely read more of Ms. Adams’ work.

Rating: Good Plus

— Reprinted from the primary Mystery*File website, January 2006.

   

      The Det. Inspector Mike Croft series –

1. The Greenway (1995)
2. Cast the First Stone (1996) aka The Secrets
3. Fade to Grey (1998) aka Their Final Moments / Final Frame
4. The Liar (2019)

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts

   

PAUL ADAM – Sleeper. Gianni Castiglione #1. Time Warner, UK, paperback, 2005. Published in the US as The Rainaldi Quartet (St. Martin’s, hardcover, 2006; Felony & Mayhem, paperback, 2007).

   Giovanni “Gianni” Castiglioni is a luthier – a violin maker – at whose home his friends – a policeman, Guastafeste, a priest, Father Arrigh, and a fellow luthier, Rainaldi – gather each month as an informal string quartet. After one of their sessions, Guastafeste and Gianni find Rainaldi murdered in his studio nearby. His widow tells them he was searching for “The Messiah’s Sister,” the twin to a perfect, unplayed, priceless violin made by Stradivari. Gianni is asked by Guastafeste to help in the investigation.

   This book is being released in hardcover by St. Martin’s as The Rainaldi Quartet in February 2006. No matter the title, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The character of Gianni, the supporting characters and the settings in Italy were well done. The killer, and the motive, weren’t ones I anticipated. But it was the history of violins and violin making I found fascinating. The information enhanced, rather than detracted, from the story. If this is an example of Mr. Adam’s writing, I should definitely read another book by him.

Rating: Good Plus

— Reprinted from the primary Mystery*File website, January 2006.

   

      The Gianni Castiglione series

1. Sleeper (2004) aka The Rainaldi Quartet
2. Paganini’s Ghost (2010)
3. The Hardanger Riddle (2019)The Gianni Castiglione series —

SHEILA RADLEY – The Chief Inspector’s Daughter. Inspector Quantrill #2. Scribner’s, US, hardcover, 1980. Constable, UK, hardcover 1981. Dell / Murder Ink, paperback, 1981. Bantam, paperback, 1987. Felony & Mayhem, trade paperback, 2007.

   The inspector’s name is Quantrill, and you may have met him before in Death in the Morning. That one I haven’t read myself, but I’m going to. This one’s a good one.

   To tell you the truth, though, I wasn’t so sure it was going to be when I started. The first couple of chapters are not all that promising. Stories involving British policemen and their dreary home lives I find more-or-less depressing. A little bit of it, at least, usually goes a long way.

   Apparently, vital communications between Quantrill and his wife have been gradually breaking down over the years, and to compound the problem, their younger daughter has just arrived home from London after a break-up with her lover. Nothing like a good case of murder to bring a family together, hmmm?

   But that’s just what it does. Daughter Alison takes a job as an assistant to Jasmine Woods, a well-known writer of romantic fiction. When Alison finds her employer brutally murdered one morning, she goes into shock, and then she disappears before revealing the important clue she knows.

   Some of the best clues in this story are provided by the simple expedient of omission, however, and you as reader are going to have to stay on your toes to stay ahead of the game. The plotting is rather cleverly done, but Sheila Radley does play fair. And you really do have good chance of beating Quantrill to the killer.

   I liked the ending. While it has nothing to do with the mystery, per se, I think by story’s end the characters have indeed become reasonable facsimiles of human beings for it to considered on of the better cliffhanger finales I’ve read in quite some time.

Rating: B plus.

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 2, March/April 1981.

   

      The Chief Inspector Douglas Quantrill series —

Death and the Maiden (n.) H. Hamilton 1978.
The Chief Inspector’s Daughter (n.) Constable 1981.
A Talent for Destruction (n.) Constable 1982.
Blood on the Happy Highway (n.) Constable 1983.
Fate Worse Than Death (n.) Constable 1985.
Who Saw Him Die? (n.) Constable 1987.
This Way Out (n.) Constable 1989.
Cross My Heart and Hope to Die (n.) Constable 1992.
Fair Game (n.) Constable 1994.

REVIEWED BY DOUG GREENE:

   

SIMON NASH – Unhallowed Murder. Adam Ludlow #5. Geoffrey Bles, UK, hardcover, 1966. Roy Publishers, US, hardcover, 1966. Perennial P758, US, paperback, 1985.

   In 1951, Edmund Crispin and his detective don, Gervase Fen, disappeared from the scene (except for an occasional short story) for more than 25 years. But at least for the early 1960S, their places were more than adequately filled by Simon Nash, a pseudonym of Raymond Chapman, and his detective don Adam Ludlow.

   Indeed, Ludlow is basically a new incarnation of Fen, with the same curiosity, the same humor, the same fund of miscellaneous (but literate) information. But imitation is not necessarily bad, especially when it’s done by a fine stylist and plotmonger like Nash. In short, this, the fifth and apparently final book by Nash, is very good indeed. As the title indicates, the setting is a church, whose vicar proceeds to get murdered. There are plenty of possible motives:

   Is someone after the vicar’s accumulation of rare books (which he absentmindedly hid?) Is it significant that the parish council is planning to throw a working family out of a house to be occupied by the curate? Are the desecrations of the altar the responsibility of a group of Satanists.? Did low churchmen, fearing that the parish is “going over to Rome” commit the murder?

   Much of the book is filled with humorous descriptions of parish life, including the high churchmen of the Guild of Saint Cyprian and Severus (“Ah my friend, when will the sweet savour of incense again be sent up in every parish church throughout the land”) opposed by the League for Confuting and Suppressing the Errors of the Tractarians (“Things haven’t been the same since the Roman hierarchy was restored”).

   The detective problem itself is well-handled, but whether the “Romanizers” or the “zealous heretics” would be more pleased with the solution is a moot point.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 4, Number 2 (April, 1981). Permission granted by Doug Greene.

   

      The Adam Ludlow series —

Dead of a Counterplot (n.) Bles 1962.
Killed by Scandal (n.) Bles 1962 .
Death Over Deep Water (n.) Bles 1963.
Dead Woman’s Ditch (n.) Bles 1964.
Unhallowed Murder (n.) Bles 1966.

REVIEWED BY DOUG GREENE:

   

GUY BOOTHBY – A Bid for Fortune. Dr. Nikola #1.  Appleton, hardcover, 1895. Published earlier in the UK by Ward Lock, hardcover, 1895. Reprinted as Enter Dr. Nikola. Newcastle, UK, paperback, 1975. Later reprinted by Oxford University Press, US, paperback, 1996; then many POD editions. Silent film: Unity-Super, 1917.

   Searching for books is often a frustrating task, not merely because (as we all know) some books simply won’t be found but also because those that are located often turn out to be disappointments. In my experience, many highly touted classics have not lived up to their publicity. That is not the case, I’m glad to report, with Guy Boothby’s first novel about Dr. Nikola.

   I leave it to others to discover whether Dr. Nikola is fiction’s first arch-criminal (is Moriarty in the same category?), but it seems likely that the Nikola books form the first sustained series featuring such a nefarious malefactor. A Bid for Fortune has coincidences galore and occasional purple prose (“Oh, my girlie! my poor little girlie! what have I brought you to through my. obstinacy?”), but it is generally well-told and well-plotted. Boothby keeps the reader interested not by overwhelming use of violence – indeed, I don’t recall a single murder in it – but by a sense of mystery.

   The book opens with Dr. Nikola meeting 3 co-conspirators who plan, for an unnamed reason and by unspecified means, to ruin a man named Wetherell: “My toils are closing on you … you will find yourself being slowly but surely ground into powder. Then you may be sorry you thought fit to baulk Dr. Nikola.” The scene then shifts to Australia, to young Dick Hatteras who has made a fortune pearling and who plans to visit his ancestral home in England. He falls in love with Wetherell’s daughter, and on shipboard they pledge their troth (as they used to do; nowadays they just shack up).

   Once in London, his fiancee is forced to 1eave him; he meets Dr. Nikola, and befriends a young nobleman whom he agrees to guide to Australia. The plot becomes steadily more complicated, as Nikola’s minions kidnap Hatteras and the young Lord in Cairo. Eventually, they return to Australia, and rescue all in distress, but Dr. Nikola obtains what he has sought from Wetherell. Nevertheless, the veil of mystery remains even in the final paragraph: “What gigantic coup [Nikola] intends to accomplish … is beyond my power to tell.”

   Boothby, an Australian, had not only a sense of mystery but also a talent for description of 19th century England, Australia and Egypt. A Bid for Fortune is an excellent example of leisurely but engrossing fin de siecle storytelling.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 4, Number 2 (April, 1981). Permission granted by Doug Greene.

   
      The Dr. Nikola series

A Bid for Fortune; or, Dr. Nikola’s Vendetta. Ward 1895.
Doctor Nikola. Ward 1896.
The Lust of Hate. Ward 1898.
Dr. Nikola’s Experiment. Hodder 1899.
Farewell Nikola. Ward 1901.

T. T. FLYNN “The Deadly Orchid.” Trixie Meehan & Mike Harris #1. First published in Detective Fiction Weekly, April 15, 1933. Reprinted in The Pulps, edited by Tony Goldstone (Chelsea House, hardcover, 1970) and Hard-Boiled Dames, edited by Bernard Drew (St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1986).

   I have written about the bickering pair of PI’s by the name of Trixie Meehan and Mike Harris before. You can find my review of “Barred Doors,” the seventh in the series, here. To recap quickly, though, they both work for the Blaine Agency and are always casting barbs at each other – in a friendly way, you know —  or at least I think so.

   In this, their first appearance, they go undercover in a plush hotel disguised as husband and wife (but in a suite of adjoining rooms, with a lock on the door between them). With the benefit of an unlimited expense account, they also are pretending to be a fabulously wealthy pair of Texans (oil money), and living it up greatly.

   Their target: a incredulously beautiful wisp of a girl, nicknamed the Orchid, who is also a notorious blackmailer who has also been known to kill her victims when things don’t work out perfectly with one of her schemes.

   Mike is the one who tells the story and the one who works up the plan to discover where the love letters she is holding over her latest victim are located, but Trixie is no slouch either when she is needed to take part in the action.

   There’s not a lot of depth to the tale, but it’s smoothly told, in something of a screwball story sort of way. Somebody really ought to put together a complete collection of their adventures together.
   

      The Mike Harris & Trixie Meehan stories –

The Deadly Orchid (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly Apr 15 1933
Falling Death (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Oct 28 1933
Murder’s Masquerade (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Mar 31 1934
The Yin Shee Dragon (na) Detective Fiction Weekly Sep 29 1934
Murder Harbor (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Dec 1 1934
The City Hall Murders (na) Detective Fiction Weekly Mar 23 1935
Barred Doors (na) Detective Fiction Weekly May 18 1935
Nitro! Nitro! (na) Detective Fiction Weekly Apr 4 1936
The Letters and the Law (na) Detective Fiction Weekly Jun 27 1936
Abbey of the Damned (na) Detective Fiction Weekly Oct 30 1937
Murder Circus (na) Detective Fiction Weekly May 21 1938
The Secret of the Swamp (na) Detective Fiction Weekly Feb 25 1939
Brother Murder (na) Detective Fiction Weekly Dec 2 1939
Mike Finds Trouble (sl) Detective Fiction Weekly Aug 17 1940, etc.
Build Up for Murder (nv) Detective Fiction Aug 20 1941
Killer in the Clouds (ss) Detective Tales Mar 1951

   

RICHARD HOYT – Decoys. John Denson #1. M. Evans, hardcover, 1980. Penguin, paperback, 1984.

   John Denson is a Seattle-based private eye. While his first case is no out-and-out classic, it is refreshingly different, and Denson’s a character I’d love to see again.

   Nor would I mind if his competition in this book for an unknown treasure – unknown to Denson, that is – were to show up along with him. She is Pamela Yew, also a private investigator, and she knows what the objective is. They make a bet. She will win the $50,000 piece of artwork adorning Denson’s office. He will win, um, her.

   A lot of male/female stuff comes into play. Denson does not think PI work is a woman’s line. She refuses to stay on the pedestal he offers her. Who wins? You’ll have to read this one for yourself to find out.

   There are also a large number of “decoys” in this book. It all depends on how deep allegorically you want to dig. And even so, if you like your detective fiction fast-paced with a lot of twists, and populated by characters who know what they are all about, I can’t imagine your failing to enjoy this one.

Rating: A minus.

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 2, March/April 1981.

   
     The John Denson series –

Decoys (1980)
30 for a Harry (1981)
Siskiyou (1983; aka “The Siskiyou Two-Step”)
Fish Story (1985; aka “Contract Killer”)
Whoo? (1991; aka “Flight of Death”)
Bigfoot (1993)
Snake Eyes (1995)
The Weatherman’s Daughters (2003)
Pony Girls (2004)

      Short Stories –

“Private Investigations” (1984, The Eyes Have It)

PAUL KRUGER – Weave a Wicked Web. Phil Kramer #2. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1967. Paperback Library 63-180, paperback; 1st printing, December 1969.

   There’s a little reviewer’s license going on there in the line up above. Phil Kramer’s not a licensed PI. What he is instead is a practicing attorney, but what he’s hired to do in this, his second appearance, is definitely a PI’s job, and the way he tackles it is exactly how a PI would. A PI in other colors is still a PI, no matter how you may look at it. Or him, as the shoe may fit.

   It all begins when a beautiful blonde walks into his office to have a woman called Kitty Bates found. She also has a description of her, but nothing about her background or anything else. She also will not say why she wants her found. There’s not much for Kramer to go on, but when he sees a story in a newspaper about a woman’s otherwise unidentified body having been found, the wheels in the case finally get going.

   And what a case it is. It turns out that Kitty Bates – yes, it is she – has been blackmailing someone in his client’s family for a long time, and that possibly even before she was killed, someone else had impersonated her to obtain $50,000 in cash from someone else in the family. And then two, maybe three, other deaths occur, Kramer is knocked out from behind at least once, and all of the alibis of those who may have responsible are leaking like sieves.

   This, in other words, is a detective story with a capital D. Do not expect any more character development than there is in your average Perry Mason novel, for there is none. There are twists galore in the telling, culminating in a long scene at the end, over ten pages long, in which all of the suspects have been gathered together while Kramer explains all – naming two killers in succession before finally implicating the real one.

   All fine and good, but even if this sound fine and good to you (and I freely admit that some may not), the telling is awfully dry, with lots of repetition as Kramer continually goes over the facts with everyone he speaks to. It’s a good mystery, no doubt about it, but with only a minimum amount of  juice in it to speak of, it’s not a great one.

   

      The Phil Kramer series –

Weep for Willow Green. Simon 1966
Weave a Wicked Web. Simon 1967
If the Shroud Fits. Simon 1969
The Bronze Claws. Simon 1972
The Cold Ones. Simon 1972

   Besides her five Phil Kramer novels, “Paul Kruger,” a pen name of Roberta Elizabeth Sebenthall,   (1917-1979), has five other works of crime fiction included in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV.

ARTHUR LYONS – Castles Burning. Jacob Asch #5. Holt Rinehart & Winston, hardcover, 1979; paperback, 1982. Movie adaptation: Slow Burn (Showtime, 1986). Reviewed here.

   I didn’t care much for The Dead Are Discreet, the first of several adventures of PI Jacob Asch that Arthur Lyons has written up. It was four years ago when I read it, and in these pages I called it “mired in … muck [with] a plot full o! inconsistencies …” and I gave it a “D.”

   I might have been wrong. (Well, maybe .) At any rate, what Castles Burning strongly suggests is that I should not have been automatically skipping all the books he’s written since then.

   Not that this one started out all that well. Asch decides to give an artist a helping hand in tracking down the latter’s son, the spoils of a marriage that went on the rocks some ten years before. The artist’s specialty: kinky sex, brought lovingly to life on canvas. Quoting the artist’s agent on page three, “We live in an erotic age, dear boy.”

   But group groping and decor in leather are soon dismissed as a major topic of interest, and thankfully so. The true theme cuts just a little closer to home: alienated children, children with all that money can buy, but junked-out children nonetheless, and maybe therefore. Quoting again, this time from page 190, “They grew up bent because that was the way the light was coming in.”

   The boy Asch is looking for is dead. The mother has remarried, and now she has a stepson instead. Thanks perhaps to Asch’s inquiries, the boy is kidnapped, and Asch’s client is blamed.

   The characters are vivid and sensitively drawn. Pain and anguish always tend to do that to people, but this time it’s real and not simulated. Asch’s Jewishness only once comes to the fore, serving briefly to help escalate his growing sense of guilt. In all, the kidnapping serves to create some nicely tension-packed scenes before they fade off into a fairly tame closing.

   But only in comparison. For some books the ending would be enough; it’d be what they’d build upon.

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 1, January-February 1981.

Rating: A minus.

   
   The Jacob Asch series —

The Dead Are Discreet (1974)
All God’s Children (1975)
The Killing Floor (1976)
Dead Ringer (1977)
Castles Burning (1979)
Hard Trade (1981)
At the Hands of Another (1983)
Three With a Bullet (1984)
Fast Fade (1987)
Other People’s Money (1989)
False Pretenses (1994)

         Short stories:

“Trouble in Paradise” (1985, The New Black Mask # 1)
“Missing in Miami” (1986, Mean Streets)
“Double Your Pleasure” (January 1989, AHMM)
“Dead Copy” (1988, An Eye For Justice)
“Twist Of Fate” (January 1990, AHMM)
“The Tongan Nude” (October 1997, AHMM)

REVIEWED BY RAY O’LEARY:

   

MARGARET DOODY – Aristotle Detective. Bodley Head, UK, hardcover, 1978. Harper, US, hardcover, 1980. Penguin, paperback, 1981.

   Stephanos, a young Athenian and ex-pupil .of Aristotle, is taking a morning walk when he hears cries coming from the house of a wealthy neighbor named Boutades, who is shortly thereafter discovered with an arrow in his throat. A few days later, Stephanos’ cousin Philemon, who is in exile for having killed a man in a tavern brawl, is accused of the murder.

   As Philemon’s nearest relative, Stephanos must defend him in the ancient Greek equivalent of a trial. Naturally, considering the title of the book, he goess to his old mentor for help in clearing his cousin’s name.

   An interesting and entertaining excursion into ancient Greek culture, with an intriguing mystery and a lot of information about the Athenian legal system passed painlessly and pleasantly along to the reader.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #42, November 1989.

   
      The Aristotle and Stephanos series —

1. Aristotle Detective (1978)
2. Aristotle and Poetic Justice (2002)
3. Aristotle and the Secrets of Life (2003)
   aka Aristotle and the Mystery of Life
4. Poison in Athens (2004)
5. Mysteries in Eleusis (2005)
6. Aristotle and the Egyptian Murders (2010)
7. A Cloudy day in Babylon (2013)

   Short Story:

Aristotle and the Fatal Javelin (1980)

   

From Wikipedia: “Margaret Anne Doody (born September 21, 1939) is a Canadian author of historical detective fiction and feminist literary critic. She is professor of literature at the University of Notre Dame, and helped found the PhD in Literature Program at Notre Dame, and served as its director from 2001-2007.”

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