William F. Deeck

AUSTIN LEE – Miss Hogg and the Missing Sisters. Jonathan Cape, UK, hardcover, 1961. No US edition.


   The elderly ladies who live next door to Alan Johnston, middle-aged author of historical novels, have written a book about the old days in Ireland and are worried about parts of it perhaps being libelous. Thus they seek Johnston’s advice. Before he can read much of the book, his neighbors disappear and the manuscript is the only item taken from his house during a burglary.

   In addition, in the same neighborhood a death, possibly murder, with seemingly no connection to the disappearance or the burglary, has taken place. Johnston consults Miss Hogg, B.A., Private Investigator, and he, she, and Miss Hogg’s friend, Millie, travel to the elderly ladies’ childhood home, with both good and bad results.

   This novel takes place near the end of Miss Hogg’s career as a private investigator — it is the penultimate; the final one is fittingly titled Miss Hogg’s Last Case — and contains little about her as an individual. Her first name is an aberration on her mother’s part, she says, and she prefers to be known as ‘Hogg, tout conn. ” Her given name is revealed, though not by her, as Flora, about which someone remarks, I must say that Miss Hogg did not immediately suggest to one the goddess of the spring.”

   Whether Miss Hogg can be placed in the little-old-lady-detective category, I cannot say since her age is not provided. She is a former schoolteacher, but not as far as I could tell a retired one. Johnston, whose views are more elderly than he, makes for a somewhat amusing narrator.

   On the other hand, Miss Hogg really doesn’t come alive, the plot is minimal, and the murderer and the motive are patent. Nonetheless, while Austin Lee’s name is not going on my list of authors to look for, should I come across another of his Miss Hogg novels serendipitously, I would not hesitate to read it.

   Since Hubin’s bibliography does not mention it and there might be those who would like to know, I’ll note that Austin Lee was a clergyman.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring 1991.

      The Miss Flora Hogg series

Sheep’s Clothing. Cape, 1955.
Call in Miss Hogg. Cape, 1956.
Miss Hogg and the Bronte Murders. Cape, 1956.


Miss Hogg and the Squash Club Murder. Cape, 1957.
Miss Hogg and the Dead Dean. Cape, 1958.
Miss Hogg Flies High. Cape, 1958.
Miss Hogg and the Covent Garden Murders. Cape, 1960.


Miss Hogg and the Missing Sisters. Cape, 1961.
Miss Hogg’s Last Case. Cape, 1963.



MARIANNE MACDONALD – Die Once. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, May 2003. No US paperback edition. Published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton, hardcover, 2002.

   Antiquarian book dealer Dido Hoare loses a recent but good customer in an apparent suicide. Of course, things are never what they seem, so when the suicide is investigated, Dido finds herself involved as she inventories his collection for the firm of lawyers that’s handling the estate and gets increasingly drawn into the maze the case turns into.

   The book dealing is nicely integrated, as usual. The plot is somewhat too intricate (and perhaps too drawn out) to be completely involving, but this is certainly a recommended bibliomystery.

       The Dido Hoare series –

1. Death’s Autograph (1996)


2. Ghost Walk (1997)
3. Smoke Screen (1999)
4. Road Kill (2000)
5. Blood Lies (2001)


6. Die Once (2002)
7. Three Monkeys (2005)
8. Faking It (2006)

JONATHON KING – A Visible Darkness. Signet paperback reprint; 1st printing, April 2004. Hardcover edition: Dutton, 2003.

JONATHON KING A Visible Darkness

   The first book in this series was The Blue Edge of Midnight, and in 2003 that was the book that won the MWA’s Edgar award for the Best First Mystery Novel (American). Unfortunately I’ve not had the pleasure of reading that earlier book, so before starting this one, the Signet reprint, all I had to rely upon were the several pages of quotes inside the front cover, from all kinds of sources. King has been compared most often, it appears, with Michael Connelly and James Lee Burke.

   This is embarrassing. I’ve not read Connelly, and the one Burke I began, I stopped after a chapter or so. This is rather disgraceful on my part, and now that I am much older, I fully intend to move both authors a notch higher on the To-Be-Read pile really soon now.

   But I digress. King’s leading character is Max Freeman, an ex-Philadelphia cop who had enough of the dirty Philly streets, and he now lives in seclusion in a former hunting lodge on the edges of the Everglades. There is a back story behind this, it goes without saying, and apparently not all of it was not told in the earlier volume, as it continues to be revealed in short, incisive bits and pieces in this one.

   Max has two friends. One is Billy Manchester, a black attorney – one of the few success stories to emerge from the Philadelphia ghetto – who calls Max out of his private sanctuary to help him on a case of serial murders he believes he has uncovered in the established black community. The other is a very sharp police detective named Sherry Richards, with whom he is also on good terms, most of the time.

   Unfortunately – from my point of view, and maybe not yours – we know who the killer is in Chapter One. It is an insurance racket, however, and who is pulling the strings is kept a secret by the author until page 160, when the case is all but solved. That there are still well over a hundred pages to go should tell you that an old-fashioned detective investigation is not one of King’s primary points of focus.

   On the other hand, characterization, dialogue and a sharp eye for locale are definitely among his strong points. Whether it’s the smell of the mangroves and the flooded cypress forests of the Everglades – about which perhaps there should have been more – or the tangy, edgy sense of awareness of being in the wrong section of town, on the other side of the tracks, or doing the police beat in West Palm Beach – King’s been there, and he’s able to tell us what it’s like.

   No wonder. He’s also been a long-time journalist and an award-winning news feature writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. While the book may be deficient as a novel of finely-tuned detective fiction, from the level of the streets, it’s as bold as brass and almost as striking.

– April 2004

       The Max Freeman series —

1. The Blue Edge of Midnight (2002)
2. A Visible Darkness (2003)
3. Shadow Men (2004)
4. A Killing Night (2005)
5. Acts of Nature (2007)
6. Midnight Guardians (2010)

[UPDATE] 03-02-14. Another series I’ve lost track of, but I have an excuse, of sorts. The last couple of the books have been published by a small independent press and (I believe) only in hardcover. Even though my comments at the time I wrote this review could only be called mixed, it’s good to see that the series continued on in spite of my lack of participation.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


JOHN BUCHAN – The Three Hostages. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1924. Houghton Mifflin, US, hc, 1924. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and paperback, including Bantam #31, US, pb, April 1946; Penguin, UK, pb in dj, 1955 (both shown). TV movie: BBC, 1977, with Barry Foster & Diana Quick as Richard & Mary Hannay; director: Clive Donner.

   The Three Hostages is the fourth novel by John Buchan in the series of novels featuring Richard Hannay. Hannay made his debut in The Thirty-Nine Steps as a South African in his late thirties living in England on the eve of WWI, where he is drawn into a conspiracy and finds himself on the run from the police and the conspirators. He finally meets Sir Walter Bullivant, who is something in the British Secret Service, and foils a German plot to cripple the British fleet.

   In the sequel, Greenmantle, Hannay is a Major in the army recalled from the front by Bullivant to take on a dangerous mission to stop the Germans from exploiting a prophecy involving a Turkish leader that could open a new front in the European war. In this book we first meet American agent John S. Blenkiron, South African voortrekker Peter Piennar, and Hannay’s best friend, the Lawrence of Arabian style mystic, warrior, and scholar Sandy Abuthnot, Lord Clanroyden.

   In Mr. Standfast, Hannay is now a Brigadier General, again called back from the front to face the German spy master who eluded him in the first two books. He meets his wife to be, Mary, and again teams with Sandy, Blenkiron, and Peter Piennar, and RAF pilot Archie Roylance, who will feature in later Buchan novels, John McNab, Huntingtower, and The Courts of Morning.


   The Three Hostages takes place five years after Mr. Standfast. Hannay, now Sir Richard, is comfortably retired with his wife Mary, and their infant son Peter John. The last thing Hannay wants is an adventure, but when he is approached by a man whose son has been kidnapped, but who cannot go to the police, he is reluctantly drawn back into action. With the help of Sandy Arbuthnot he decyphers a mysterious Latin quote, and that leads him to the charismatic upcoming political figure Dominic Medina, a man of considerable charm and rare hypnotic power.

   Medina is ambitious and dangerous, and soon Hannay is caught in the middle of a power grab that involves kidnapping the children and loved ones of important figures and using the dark and possibly mystic hypnotic influence Medina has over the victims to control their loved ones.

   Soon Hannay, Sandy, Mary, and a small group are racing across the continent from London’s night life to a remote farm in Norway to free the victims. Hannay foils Medina and the angered Medina sets out to stalk him in the rough country of Hannay’s estate. Medina dies horribly and Hannay is rescued by his wife and groundskeeper.

   That’s a fairly simple description of what is one of the best and most influential thrillers ever written. Fully half the books under the thriller category fall under Buchan’s spell, and a whole school of writers like Geoffrey Household, Hammond Innes, Gavin Lyall, Desmond Bagley, Allan MacKinnon, Geoffrey Jenkins, Victor Canning, and more are his direct descendants.

   In addition Buchan is generally credited with having created the modern spy novel with his 1910 Strand Magazine novella, “The Power House,” in which he predicted the rise of Fascism in the 20th Century.

   In addition he moved the setting of the thriller from the wilds to the heart of the urban world when his hero, Edward Leithen first recognizes, in the middle of busy Piccadilly Circus, that the only thing protecting him is the thin veneer of civilization.


   In The Thirty-Nine Steps Buchan carries it further by setting the pattern of the innocent man caught up in circumstances that he can’t control that would be the theme of writers such as Graham Greene and Eric Ambler (albeit with far more complex and less sportsman like heroes than Richard Hannay), and filmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang. The novel of chase, pursuit, conspiracy, and intrigue comes from Buchan’s work. He is what O. F. Snelling once called, ‘the onlie beggeter.’

   Buchan is unique among writers of popular fiction in that his influence in the real world is even more important than that in fiction. The son of a lower middle class Scottish family he became a noted scholar, historian, biographer, and political figure. He knew and influenced the most important figures of the early 20th Century from Lawrence of Arabia to Bernard Baruch.

   A Member of Parliament he was later given the title of first Baron of Tweedsmuir, in 1935 he was given the difficult post of Governor General of Canada, his assignment to repair the shaky state of affairs between Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King and London and King and the United States, assuring that in any coming conflict Great Britain could count on its most important Commonwealth partner.

   Working tirelessly, he died of exhaustion in 1940, he charmed King, reconciled him with London, reconciled him with FDR and the United States, and had no small influence in the eventual Lend Lease program that kept England alive in the early days of WWII before America entered the war. Time magazine had called him one of the most influential men of the age when they featured him on the cover. When he died he was mourned by statesmen, commoners, and kings.

   That he was also a storyteller whose tales of horror inspired H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, a biographer of note, a noted historical novelist, a writer of popular thrillers (he preferred the term ‘shockers’), and a scholar is a mark of how great his talents were. Two of the books on John F. Kennedy’s famous list of this ten favorite books were by Buchan, his memoir Pilgrim’s Way (aka Memory Holds the Door) and his biography of Montrose. Scholar, statesman, and bestselling novelist is a difficult combination to beat.

   The genius of the Hannay novels lies largely in the character of Hannay himself. Richard Hannay is a likable man of above average intelligence, some strength, and some ambition, but he is not a superman. He succeeds by hard work, risk, loyalty, and no small amount of luck. He has his flaws. He can be stubborn, obtuse, and impetuous (in Greenmantle his overreaction to a German officers sexual advance very nearly blows his cover and sends him on the run endangering himself, his friends, and his mission). He is also capable, generous, and unusually strong and fit. In short, he’s the perfect man for an adventure. And like all Buchan’s heroes he is motivated by duty, and willing to work to near exhaustion to get the job done.

   He is also one of fictions most physical characters. In Buchan’s novels no one ever rests, stands still, or lollygags around. There is almost constant movement, tension, and physicality. Reading his novels is the literary equivalent of an aerobic workout. It isn’t uncommon to finish them literally breathless. Buchan heroes work hard and succeed big. Hannay gets a knighthood, Clanroyden is always off in some backwater of the Empire playing at international politics, Edward Leithen (the most biographical of Buchan’s characters) gets a knighthood and becomes England’s Solicitor General (more of less Attorney General), and even Glasgow grocer Dickson McCunn becomes wealthy and moves with the movers and shakers of the world. Buchan’s Calvinist upbringing valued hard work and its rewards, and his own poor health led him to overcompensate in those areas.

   In The Three Hostages Buchan does for the civilian thriller what his previous novels did for wartime intrigue. He creates his greatest and most complex villain in Dominc Medina (Buchan was by all accounts a genuinely nice man, and villains aren’t usually his strong suit, but Medina is an exception).

   Medina is charming, charismatic, mysterious, and chilling. His near hypnotic control over people is so great that even Hannay only escapes because he is the unimaginative type and less susceptible to that sort of thing, but he plays a desperate game getting close to Medina and playing at being under his influence.

   As Medina’s ambitions rise Hannay, his wife Mary, and Sandy work to out maneuver the powerful man, and it is Mary who rises to the occasion first to put the fear of God into Medina who has hypnotised a young boy and hidden him in plain sight hypnotised to believe he is a little girl:

    “You have destroyed a soul,” she said, “and you refuse to repair the wrong. I am going to destroy your body, and nothing will ever repair it.”

    Then I saw her meaning, and both Sandy and I cried out. Neither of us had led the kind of life which makes a man squeamish, but this was too much for us. But our protests died half-born, after one glance at Mary’s face. She was my own wedded wife, but in that moment I could no more have opposed her than could the poor bemused child. Her spirit seemed to transcend us all and radiate an inexorable command. She stood easily and gracefully, a figure of motherhood and pity rather than of awe. But all the same I did not recognise her; it was a stranger that stood there, a stern goddess that wielded the lightnings. Beyond doubt she meant every word she said, and her quiet voice seemed to deliver judgment as aloof and impersonal as Fate. I could see creeping over Medina’s sullenness the shadow of terror.

    “You are a desperate man,” she was saying. “But I am far more desperate. There is nothing on earth that can stand between me and the saving of this child. You know that, don’t you? A body for a soul–a soul for a body–which shall it be?”

    The light was reflected from the steel fire-irons, and Medina saw it and shivered.

    “You may live a long time, but you will have to live in seclusion. No woman will ever cast eyes on you except to shudder. People will point at you and say ‘There goes the man who was maimed by a woman–because of the soul of a child.’

   It’s the kind of scene Buchan does with great power and conviction, and certainly Mary’s finest moment in the book. In the end Hannay saves the victims, Medina’s cronies are given rough justice, but Medina escapes, only to come after Hannay in the wild for revenge — always a mistake in Buchan, for his heroes have an almost uncanny relation with rough country. After a desperate struggle Medina falls, and Hannay tries to save him:

   He had found some sort of foothold, and for a moment there was a relaxation of the strain. The rope swayed to my right towards the chimney. I began to see a glimmer of hope.

    “Cheer up,” I cried. “Once in the chimney you’re safe. Sing out when you reach it.”

    The answer out of the darkness was a sob. I think giddiness must have overtaken him, or that atrophy of muscle which is the peril of rock-climbing. Suddenly the rope scorched my fingers and a shock came on my middle which dragged me to the very edge of the abyss.

    I still believe that I could have saved him if I had had the use of both my hands, for I could have guided the rope away from that fatal knife-edge. I knew it was hopeless, but I put every ounce of strength and will into the effort to swing it with its burden into the chimney. He gave me no help, for I think–I hope –that he was unconscious. Next second the strands had parted, and I fell back with a sound in my ears which I pray God I may never hear again — the sound of a body rebounding dully from crag to crag, and then a long soft rumbling of screes like a snowslip.

* * * * *

    I managed to crawl the few yards to the anchorage of the gendarme before my senses departed. There in the morning Mary and Angus found me.

   And there it ends, with Hannay alive and returned to the bosom of his family and Medina dead and broken on the rocks below. The Three Hostages is a remarkably prescient novel too. Buchan not only warns of the dangers of the post war world, but the strange lassitude that seems to fill England and Europe and the kind of man, men like Medina — and Adolph Hitler — who will use it to build their power bases and threaten all of civilization:

    ‘In ordinary times he will not be heard, because, as I say, his world is not our world. But let there come a time of great suffering or discontent, when the mind of the ordinary man is in desperation, and the rational fanatic will come by his own. When he appeals to the sane and the sane respond, revolutions begin.’

   That’s a pretty fair interpretation of the madness Europe would soon descend into ending in another, and more vicious war.

   There are one or two minor racial matters to deal with in the book and some of Buchan’s earlier books, but unlike fellow thriller writers of the period Buchan came early to be embarrassed by these remarks and even removed them from later editions of some of his books. He was an early voice decrying Fascism and the plight of the Jews in Germany, and an early supporter of the Jewish movement in Palestine.

   Throughout his career he was a voice of reason, though certainly prey to the errors and the prejudice of his time and world. The most embarrassing passages in the book deal with a discussion of Gandhi. But in Buchan’s case I think forgiveness comes more easily than with some others. First he was a splendid writer, second a genuinely good person, and most important a man who gave his life that the Western World might untite in a time of danger against the forces of darkness and barbarity.

   Hannay appears briefly to introduce The Courts of Morning (where Sandy Clanroyden, Archie Roylance and his wife Janet, and John S. Blenkiron are involved in a South American revolution), and the narrator of one of the short stories in the collection, The Rungates Club, and finally in one last adventure with Sandy and Hannay’s teenaged son, Peter John, Man From the Norlands (aka Island of Sheep).

   There are three film versions of The 39 Steps, including the Hitchcock classic, a remake with Kenneth More as Hannay, and a third version with Robert Powell. There was also a short lived BBC series called Hannay. The Three Hostages (1977) was a made-for-television film shown here on PBS with Barry Foster as Hannay and John Castle as Medina, Clive Donner directed.

   Also screenwriter Stephen DeRosa has uncovered evidence Alfred Hitchcock considered filming The Three Hostages, and that it may have influenced his first film of The Man Who Knew Too Much.

   There was a silent film of the Dickson McCunn book, Huntingtower and later a BBC mini series, and Buchan’s Witch Wood, a novel of about devil worship in seventeenth century Scotland, was also adapted for television.

   The Three Hostages shows Hannay at his most mature and capable, and Buchan at his best. Away from all the trappings of his earlier shockers he nevertheless creates a suspenseful and intelligent tale that at once demonstrates the mental state of the world in the post war era and at the same time warns of the dangers that world is prone to.

   Good thrillers aren’t rare, but genuinely prophetic ones are. The Three Hostages succeeds as both a thriller and a prophetic look at a new breed that would use the unrest and disquiet of the post war era to play havoc with European society — the very ‘rational fanatic’ Buchan warned of.

   Nor is the hint of occult powers and dark matters far off the mark from the Occultism practiced by the Nazi’s — a sinister Indian hypnotist named Kharama features in the novel, but turns out to be less dark than he is painted — literally. It is also some how prophetic that the evil in the novel is defeated by decent men who refuse to be swayed by attractive and easy solutions. Like Buchan himself they choose hard work, duty, and simple decency.

   And all that might not amount to much if The Three Hostages wasn’t also a first class thriller with genuine puzzle elements. The obscure Latin quote that leads Hannay to Medina and the rescue is handled with intelligence and skill, and in these days of Da Vinci Code ripoffs and pseudo-scholarship, it is nice to know that Buchan managed to create a quote so realistic that for years Latin scholars sought its source before finding it was original to Buchan.

   You can find more on Buchan at the John Buchan Society website.

Note:   The quote was: ‘Sit vini abstemius qui hermeneuma tentat aut hominum petit dominatum.’ Translated in the Oxford University Press World Classics edition by Professor Miller as: ‘whoever seeks to interpret the world or seeks to exercise power over men should be an abstemious drinker of wine’. Or: ‘He who tries to interpret or seeks to dominate men should not drink wine.’ I don’t think even Christie ever managed to plant a clue that fooled classical scholars.

by Monte Herridge

        #17. OLD CALAMITY, by Joseph Fulling Fishman.

   Joseph Fulling Fishman created the prison series (ran 1928-1939) for Detective Fiction Weekly about the jailer Old Calamity, making use of his knowledge of crime and prisons. In fact, Fishman wrote more nonfiction articles on these subjects from 1925-1942 for Detective Fiction Weekly than stories in the fiction series.

   He also wrote articles for other magazines such as Reader’s Digest and The Saturday Evening Post, and books about crime and prisons. Fishman was a 1931 choice for a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was awarded a grant for being chosen. According to Wikipedia, the Fellowships “have been awarded annually since 1925 by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to those ‘who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.’ ”

   The name Old Calamity is what the three thousand inmates of the state prison at Cosmopolis call him. The guards and other personnel call him Ole Dep Fletch out of his hearing. His real name is Deputy Warden Fletcher, and even though there is a warden who is a political appointee, Fletcher is really the one running the prison.

   The wardens of the prison were all political appointees, but Fletcher was a professional jailer. The wardens were appointed by the state governor, but the governor on one occasion said: “You know, Fletcher. You’re really the one I should appoint warden, but of course there’s politics . . .” (Old Calamity’s Stick-up)

   “Thirty years of combating the plots and counterplots and the intrigues and chicanery of thousands of inmates of every degree of criminality and cunning and viciousness . . . had sharpened the perceptions of the Deputy Warden.” (Old Calamity Starts a Fight)

   This long experience gave Old Calamity an advantage when dealing with the many problems that he came across in his job. He knew just about every trick the convicts tried, and how to deal with them. He enjoys his work, and at one point turns down a job offer from a rich businessman with the comment “I’m afraid not, thank you,” Old Calamity replied. “I’m doing the kind of work I like and that’s worth more than money.” (Old Calamity Sniffs a Clue)


   He usually went to work in the prison at seven in the morning, and had a regular routine except when emergencies or problems interrupted. His usual morning routine was “supervising the count, reading his mail, making assignments of new prisoners, and so on, . . .” (By a Nose)

   He doesn’t let the routine of everyday work get himself in a rut where he overlooks things; he notices the smallest detail of what may turn out to be very important to him and the prison. Probably why he has lasted so long in his job.

   The stories are basically all about Old Calamity, with very few appearances by a regular cast of characters. One regular is Croaker Engle, the “brusque old prison doctor.” His appearances in the stories are usually very short. Before him, a Doctor Cosgrove made a single appearance in the story “Fine Feathers.”

   The prison warden is mentioned in the stories, but plays very little part in the stories. An exception to this are the stories “Old Calamity Starts a Fight,” and “Between the Lines,” where part of the story takes place around the warden. The warden of the prison is replaced at one point in the series. The warden and Old Calamity both have homes right next to the prison grounds.

   The stories usually involve murder in the prison by inmates murdering other inmates, for various motives. Prison breaks and conspiracies aimed at escaping prison are also elements in the stories. Fletcher has to break up the escapes, which sometimes are very cleverly planned.

   In the story “Old Calamity Scores Twice,” he not only has to foil a planned escape, but solve a clever locked cell murder made to look like suicide. In “Between the Lines,” he literally has to read between the lines of a prisoner’s book reading material to discover a plot to escape using explosives.


   The earliest story in the series, “By a Nose,” involves uncovering a murder by bomb and finding the culprit. His investigations of various kinds involve him acting more as a detail-oriented detective than as a deputy warden.

   Another concern of prison authorities is the use of illegal drugs by the inmates. The story “Fine Feathers” relates the attempt of Old Calamity to stop the flow of drugs into the prison, and in a later story, “Old Calamity Starts a Fight,” the problem of drug usage is also the main theme. This is certainly based on situations in real prisons at the time. Morphine is the drug mentioned in these stories.

   “Fine Feathers” relates some of the problems that drug usage by inmates causes – aggressiveness and fighting by prisoners, and other irrational behavior. One prisoner high on drugs even set his cell on fire.

   One story showed Old Calamity on vacation, enjoying relaxing fishing. However, the local law enforcement find out he is there and enlist his aid in solving a series of inexplicable burglaries. (Old Calamity Sniffs a Clue)

   This use of Old Calamity’s talents outside his own prison was not the only time this occurred. It appears that he was available for aid at other prisons having problems. In the story “The Suicides in Cell 32,” he travels to Milford State Prison to help investigate a series of murders made to look like suicides.


   Warden Olmstead of the prison knew of his reputation and had requested his help. In less than twelve hours Old Calamity has solved the mystery and was on his way back to his own prison. He noted: “I guess that some of the birds up at my place will be sorry it didn’t take me several weeks. I’m afraid they won’t be any too glad to see me back in the morning.”

   In “Old Calamity Lays the Ghost,” he travels to another prison in Springdale in response to another request for help. Warden Armitage of the prison has a mystery for him to solve: twice men in their cells have been stabbed and nearly killed. In both instances knives were found in the cells, but no evidence was found as to how the men could have been stabbed inside of locked cells.

   Old Calamity finds an ingenious method has been employed in the stabbings. It took him a few days to resolve this one, but he had developed the patience to wait for the right time. “He had often waited weeks and sometimes months for the development of a prison plot. He knew it was something that could not be hurried, . . .”

   The series is very good in its story telling and relation of the various mysteries Old Calamity is involved in. Altogether, Fishman’s descriptions of prison life and the psychological aspects of the stories seem to be very convincing, and made the stories more than mere sensationalistic prison stories such as other pulp writers wrote.

       The “Old Calamity” series by Joseph Fulling Fishman:

By a Nose October 27, 1928
Fine Feathers February 2, 1929
The Yawn March 2, 1929
Old Calamity Stages an Act April 6, 1929
Old Calamity Lays the Ghost April 9, 1932
Old Calamity Holds the Wire July 23, 1932
Old Calamity Starts a Fight September 17, 1932
Old Calamity Scores Twice February 11, 1933
The Suicides in Cell Thirty-Two June 17, 1933
Between the Lines September 9, 1933
Old Calamity Sniffs a Clue April 7, 1934
Old Calamity Cleans Up May 19, 1934
Old Calamity’s Stick-up June 23, 1934
Old Calamity Stops a Leak June 5, 1937
Honor of Thieves March 18, 1939

    Previously in this series:

1. SHAMUS MAGUIRE, by Stanley Day.
2. HAPPY McGONIGLE, by Paul Allenby.
3. ARTY BEELE, by Ruth & Alexander Wilson.
4. COLIN HAIG, by H. Bedford-Jones.
6. BATTLE McKIM, by Edward Parrish Ware.
7. TUG NORTON by Edward Parrish Ware.
8. CANDID JONES by Richard Sale.
9. THE PATENT LEATHER KID, by Erle Stanley Gardner.
11. INSPECTOR FRAYNE, by Harold de Polo.
12. INDIAN JOHN SEATTLE, by Charles Alexander.
13. HUGO OAKES, LAWYER-DETECTIVE, by J. Lane Linklater.
14. HANIGAN & IRVING, by Roger Torrey.
15. SENOR ARNAZ DE LOBO, by Erle Stanley Gardner.
16. DETECTIVE X. CROOK, by J. Jefferson Farjeon.

DAVID HILTBRAND – Killer Solo. Avon, paperback original. First printing, January 2004.


   I was going to start this review by stating that this is the best rock music detective novel I have ever read. It then occurred to me that this may be the only rock music detective novel I have ever read. I know there are others. Unless there are some that aren’t coming to mind right now, though, I just haven’t read them.

   Forgive me if you’re not a rock music fan. I’m going to quote the entire first page. You can skip this and go on the rest of review, if you want to. In fact, you can even go on to the next review, if you want to. I can’t stop you.

   The house lights dimmed and the crowd erupted, a scalding howl of bloodlust and anticipation. The PA system began pumping out strange Sufi snake-charming music that became more insistent and penetrating as it gradually grew louder and faster. The audience, already stoked, got swept up by this swirling, modal sound – hypnotic music that seemed to climb and coil around your brain stem.

   Roadies were leading band members out onto the dark stage, focusing hooded flashlights down at their feet. The people at the front of the arena were the first to notice the eerie processional and their cries of delight swept like a paper fire past where I stood behind the mixing board to the back of the floor and up into the tiers of balconies.

   All the time, the crowd and the music continued to feed off one another. At the precise moment that the tension inside the arena crested, flash bombs exploded, clusters of spotlights began raking the hall and the wild dervish music segued ingeniously into the thunderous opening chords of “Blood Money.” And Shirley Slaughterhouse was there. In fact, he was everywhere.

   Wow. David Hiltbrand nails it, as far as I’m concerned. And it’s no wonder. The brief bio on the inside back cover points out that among other things, he’s been a rock journalist for a number of well known magazines and newspapers. (He’s currently a consulting editor for TV Guide.)

   Working out of Winsted CT as an insurance investigator is Jim McNamara, á la old time radio’s Johnny Dollar, who in his many years on the air may have checked out a mysterious death on a rock band’s tour, but if he did, I haven’t listened to it yet.

   Dead is Shirley’s good buddy, Jake Karn, and one of the crew. He fell off a catwalk after a show late at night, and Jim is asked to see if foul play could have been involved.

   Back to Shirley, who is male, and who is described on page 7 as “the one who looks like Johnny Depp with dysentery.” It takes some time, but Jim, at one time also heavily involved in the world of rock music, eventually gets on his good side, following along with the tour from city to city, a brutally honest behind-the-scenes inside look. Quoting again, this time from page 136:

   … I marveled that Shirley could be miserable when most people under the age of thirty would give anything in the world to trade places with him. … If someone like Shirley can’t be happy, what chance do us sad-sack civilians have?

   Musicians, groupies, roadies, managers, PR people and more, they’re all represented, and they’re all among the suspects. Jim works alone, but since he needs someone to bounce ideas off, he has his AA sponsor to talk to by telephone, not to mention the girl friend he picks up along the way.

   So how’s the mystery, someone asks. More than tolerable, is my reply, with enough suspects and opportunity and motive to accommodate two books, and by the way, if there’s a second one coming in the series, it would be OK by me.

   The ending of this one is rather over the top, I hasten to caution you, including the killer (yes, it was murder) giving a long ten-page explanation of everything that went on prior to then, when the realistic course of action is to simply do away with one nosy insurance investigator.

   My first sentence still holds, though.

– April 2004

        The Jim McNamara series –

1. Killer Solo (2003)
2. Deader Than Disco (2005)
3. Dying to Be Famous (2006)

SIMON BRETT Situation Tragedy

SIMON BRETT – Situation Tragedy. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1982. First published in the UK by Victor Gollancz, hardcover, 1981. Dell/Murder Ink #57, paperback, 1986. Warner, paperback, 1990.

   In case you’ve never come across one of these mystery adventures of actor-sleuth Charles Paris before, be forewarned: there will be times when you will be convinced that if there is any detection going on it is definitely taking second place to Simon Brett’s witty, caustic commentary on the world of show business, British style.

   In this, his seventh case, Paris tackles the world of commercial television. Somewhat to his own surprise, he has a bit part in a new sitcom. It’s a continuing part, at least — but so’s the series of fatal “accidents” that begin to plague the show, and even before the first episode is ever aired.

   Also be forewarned that Charles Paris is something of a tosspot and a womanizer, but he is certainly also one not to be overly impressed with the glamour of show-biz. There are also a couple of digs at the peculiarities of some mystery collectors. (Nobody who doesn’t deserve it!)

   The ending is tragic, scarcely believable, and yet, mostly a fitting one.

Rating: B

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 3, May-June 1982 (very slightly revised).This review first appeared in the Hartford Courant.

The Charles Paris series –

1. Cast in Order of Disappearance (1975)
2. So Much Blood (1976)
3. Star Trap (1977)
4. An Amateur Corpse (1978)
5. A Comedian Dies (1979)
6. The Dead Side of the Mike (1980)
7. Situation Tragedy (1981)

SIMON BRETT Situation Tragedy

8. Murder Unprompted (1982)
9. Murder in the Title (1983)
10. Not Dead, Only Resting (1984)
11. Dead Giveaway (1985)
12. What Bloody Man is That (1987)
13. A Series of Murders (1989)
14. Corporate Bodies (1991)
15. A Reconstructed Corpse (1993)
16. Sicken and So Die (1995)
17. Dead Room Farce (1997)
18. A Decent Interval (2013)

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