Characters


THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


C. DALY KING – Obelists at Sea. Knopf, US, hardcover, 1933. Heritage, UK, hardcover, 1932; Penguin Books, UK, paperback, 1938.

   During the bidding for a number in the ship’s pool on distance traveled by day, the lights go out and Victor Smith, either a copper king or a Western railroad magnate, is shot twice in the heart. Only one gun is found to have been fired, and that is proved not to have committed the murder. Smith’s daughter also dies, although of what cause is not known. To add to the complexity, Smith had taken or been given poison almost immediately before he was shot.

   The case is too much for the ship’s detectives, so four gentleman aboard assist in the investigation. Dr. Hayvier, a well-known behaviorist, Dr. Pechs, an equally well-known psychoanalyst, and Dr. Pons, inventor of Integrative Psychology, and Professor Miltie, who had carefully avoided being identified with any of the schools of his “science” — all have their theories, all different, with different suspects.

   Put aside the fact that the Meganaut has ten decks above the water line and a crew of at least a thousand and that Captain Mansfield invariably refers to it as a “boat.” This is still a fascinating, albeit a bit slow, novel.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Editorial Comments: While I do not know if all four of the detective characters in this novel appear in all of the books below, Professor Pons is stated in Hubin to be in each of them.

       The Dr. L. Rees Pons series –

Obelists at Sea. Knopf, 1933.
Obelists en Route. Collins, UK, 1934.
Obelists Fly High . H. Smith 1935.
Careless Corpse. Collins, UK, 1937.
Arrogant Alibi. Appleton, 1939.

    Also of interest, I believe, is the following quote taken from author Martin Edwards in his review on his blog of C Daly King’s mystery output in general:

    “‘Obelist’ was a word that King made up. He defined it in Obelists at Sea as ‘a person of little or no value’ and then re-defined it in Obelists en Route as ‘one who harbours suspicion’. Why on earth you would invent a word, use it in your book titles, and then change your mind about what it means?”

For more on C. Daly King, the mystery writer, may I also direct you to Mike Grost’s comments about his work on his website.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


JOHN LESLIE – Night and Day. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1995. Pocket Books, paperback, 1996.

   This is the second of four mysteries featuring Gideon Lowry, a jazz pianist and private investigator based in Key West. His brother committed suicide at the end of the first book and Gideon’s girl friend (Casey) has moved to Miami.

   A visiting singer named Asia (with lips the color of plum) hires Gideon to locate her estranged husband, a writer obsessed with Hemingway. This is a not inappropriate obsession in Key West with the annual Hemingway Days celebration and the Hemingway house, which is open to the public as a museum. Gideon finds the missing husband, but he’s soon killed and Asia looks like a prime suspect.

   The novel (like the other three) is heavy with sultry heat and the perfume of whatever produces heavy scents In Key West. A nice series of grace notes on the 1990s private eye scene.

       The Gideon Lowry series —

Killing Me Softly (1995)

         

Night And Day (1995)
Love For Sale (1996)
Blue Moon (1998)

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


ED McBAIN – The Gutter and the Grave. Hard Case Crime #15, paperback, December 2005. First published as I’m Cannon — for Hire, as by Curt Cannon (Gold Medal #814, 1958), with the leading character also named Curt Cannon.

   Ed McBain’s The Gutter and the Grave is a quick, entertaining read and quite good, if not overly complicated, murder mystery. It’s also a time capsule of sorts, an enchanting mirror looking backward to late 1950s Manhattan, an age when jazz was king, the Bowery was for bums, and there were down and out and hard drinking private eyes like the book’s protagonist, one washed out thirty-something, Matt Cordell.

   Cordell, as the narrator of the work, lets us know early on who he is and what he is. “I’m a drunk. I think we’d better get that straight from the beginning.” (Page 13.) Our “hero” spends his days hanging out around Cooper Union in lower Manhattan. Then one day, a friend—of sorts—from the old neighborhood uptown — way uptown — shows up and wants an investigative favor.

   Enter Johnny Bridges who wants Cordell to look into some fishy goings on in the tailor shop he runs with a guy named Dom Archese. Maybe Dom’s fishing from the cash register late at night.

   All fine and good, until the duo head uptown only to find Dom Archese dead. Worse still, at least for Bridges, are the initials “JB” scrawled in chalk. Bridges, to no one’s surprise, becomes the chief suspect and ends up in police custody. It’s now up to Cordell to figure out what’s going on and to exonerate his so-called friend, if possible.

   Along the way, Cordell meets up with Dom’s wife, Christine (who also ends up dead), Christine’s sister, who is an aspiring musician by the name of Laraine Marsh, a Manhattan cop named Miskler, and sundry other colorful characters including a rival PI and his sultry employee. All the while, Cordell is reminded of his ex-wife, Toni, his one true love who ended up in the arms of another man.

   Cordell’s world is not a happy one, but it’s an extraordinarily vivid one. At least that’s how Ed McBain paints it. And what a painting! Reading The Gutter and the Grave transports you to a specific time and a specific place. It’s sometime in the late 1950s and Manhattan’s a crowded, hot city in the summer. The murder and the lies all around Cordell only make it hotter. Recommended.

       The Matt Cordell/Curt Cannon short stories (as by Evan Hunter) –

“Die Hard” (January 1953, Manhunt)
“Dead Men Don’t Dream (March 1953, Manhunt)
“Now Die in It” (May 1953, Manhuntt)
“Good and Dead” (July 1953, Manhunt)
“The Death of Me” (September 1953, Manhunt)
“Deadlier Than the Male” (February 1954, Manhunt)
“Return” (July 1954, Manhunt)
“The Beatings” (October 1954, Manhunt)

   The first six of the above were collected in I Like ’em Tough, as by Curt Cannon (Gold Medal #743, 1958).

THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


JAMES MITCHELL – Dying Day. Henry Holt, hardcover, 1989. First published in the UK by H. Hamilton, hardcover, 1988.

   James Mitchell has done a number of crime novels, as himself and as James Munro, and now turns up with a London private eye named Ron Hogget. Hogget finds things for people, though the finding usually involves some fearful activities.

   Ron is often fearful — he’s that sort of person — but he usually gets the job done. And he has Dave, a friend who drives a cab, reads Literature, knows everything about guns and self-defense and nothing about fear.

   Hogget’s second adventure is Dying Day. [But see below.] Here Tony Palliser, filthy rich now from business that began with airplanes — Dakotas — participating in the Berlin airlift in 1948, calls on Hogget’s services. It’s one of those planes, lost at that time, that Palliser now wants Ron to find.

   Why, after all these years? Palliser’s reason is thin, but his money is good so Ron starts. And finds he’s not alone on the search, that the real reason must be quite impressive for all the dying being arranged on its behalf. Including, very likely, his…

   A solidly constructed, high-tension story with a well-crafted array of characters.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

      The Ron Hogget series —

Sometimes You Could Die. H. Hamilton, 1985. No US edition.
Dead Ernest. H. Hamilton, 1986. Holt, 1987.
Dying Day. H. Hamilton, 1988. Holt, 1989.

RHYS BOWEN – The Twelve Clues of Christmas. Berkley, hardcover, November 2012; paperback, November 2013.

   Lady Georgianna Rannoch, who tells the story, is 34th (or 35th; sources differ) in line to the throne of England, but due to various misfortunes, none of her own doing, she is dependent on the good will of others, especially at the beginning of Clues that of her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Rannoch, commonly known as Fig, as to her overall welfare and a roof over her head.

   Determined not to spend Christmas at the ancestral (and austere) Rannoch castle where she is not particularly welcome, Georgie answers an ad in a magazine to act as a social director for a lengthy Christmas house party in Devonshire. Her application is accepted almost at once, and it is goodbye to winter in gloomy Scotland even more quickly.

   Turns out, as it so often does in fiction if not real life, that her mother, a flighty lady and a sometimes actress who abandoned Georgie at very young age, is staying in a nearby cottage with none other than Noel Coward. (There is no ill feeling between Georgie and her mother. The former has learned to accept her for who she is.) And as it also turns out, Georgie’s good friend, the adventurous Mr. Darcy O’Mara, is on hand as well.

   As in cozy mystery fiction of which this is a fine example, Georgie’s personal life, family relationships and the like take up a sizable percentage of the story. There is a murder involved, or in fact a whole series of them. Or perhaps I should take that back. There is a whole series of strange deaths that occur, all of which appear accidental, nor is there any apparent connection between them.

   We, the reader, know better. It is a murderous scheme on the part of someone, a plan worthy of a villain in an Agatha Christie or Ellery Queen detective story, but without a detective on hand to solve it. With the local police inspector barely up to the job, it is up to the purely amateur efforts of Lady Georgianna, and the sometimes assistance of Darcy, to come up with killer or killers.

   The Twelve Clues of Christmas is fun to read, and is chock full of various Christmas customs of England in the 1930s, but the detective plot certainly could have been filled out more. It’s clever to begin with, but the details become more and more sketchy as time goes on. In fact, the connection between the deaths is discovered with more than 70 pages to go, leaving only Georgie’s kidnapping (and a couple of gruesome deaths) to fill in most of the rest of the novel.

      The Royal Spyness series –

1. Her Royal Spyness (2007)

2. A Royal Pain (2008)
3. Royal Flush (2009)
4. Royal Blood (2010)

5. Naughty In Nice (2011)
5.5. Masked Ball at Broxley Manor (novella, 2012)
6. The Twelve Clues of Christmas (2012)
7. Heirs and Graces (2013)

8. Queen of Hearts (2014)

THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


M. R. D. MEEK – A Mouthful of Sand. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1989. Worldwide, paperback, 1990. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1988.

   I quite like M.R.D. Meek’s stories about Lennox Kemp, and A Mouthful of Sand is no exception. Kemp, a lawyer, was barred from practice when he took money to pay his wife’s gambling debts. She disappeared along with his reputation, and he served a lonely six years’ penance as a private investigator.

   Now he’s back in the law, doing very well, having a relationship (albeit uneasy) with Penelope Marsden. His life is coming back together; perhaps he will marry Penelope and banish the loneliness he fears so much.

   Here a tycoon asks him for a written opinion on the state of British marriage law. Lennox complies, then [leaves] to go on vacation to Cornwall, coincidentally to the coastal town where the tycoon’s wife has gone to recover from severe depression. But her condition worsens, and the battered head of a man is found on the beach. Soon Kemp finds himself ensnared — heart and mind.

   Very effective storytelling, full of subtleties and dense with expressive language.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes: Since Lennox Kemp is a Private Eye, there’s no place better to look for information about him than the Thrilling Detective website. There Kevin Burton Smith says, in part: “… while waiting to be reinstated (the events leading up to his disbarment are related in the first book in the series), he earns his daily bread as an op for the London-based McCready’s Detective Agency. But he is eventually reinstated, and this spare yet often elegant series, full of rich characterization, and sharp writing, continues, with Kemp as a particular hands-on type of attornney, part Perry Mason and part Lew Archer.”

   His creator was in real life Margaret Reid Duncan Meek (1918-2009), a retired lawyer.

       The Lennox Kemp series —

With Flowers That Fell (1983)

The Sitting Ducks (1984)
Hang the Consequences (1984)
The Split Second (1985)
In Remembrance of Rose (1986)

A Worm of Doubt (1987)
A Mouthful of Sand (1988)
A Loose Connection (1989)
This Blessed Plot (1990)
Touch and Go (1992)

Postscript to Murder (1996)
If You Go Down to the Woods (2001)
The Vanishing Point (2003)
Kemp’s Last Case (2004)

THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


EDWARD MATHIS – The Burned Woman. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1989. Berkley, paperback, 1990.

   The late Edward Mathis [1927-1988] reportedly left a pile of manuscripts, and, if The Burned Woman is any indication, we have some fine treats in store. Here we travel further down the Dan Roman trail. He’s [a private eye] married to Susie, sixteen years his junior and very successful in TV reporting.

   Those years of age difference, the demands of her job, the crude advances of one of Susie’s celebrity interviewees — these all eat at Dan, and he drives her away. Whereupon, after a meeting with the celebrity, she disappears. Dan is plunged into alcoholic despair, alienating his best friend, “proving” his love for Susie by dallying with a prostitute, flailing randomly about as the weeks pass.

   Could the celebrity be holding Susie somewhere, could Susie’s disappearance be connected with a road accident near the celebrity’s home on the night she disappeared?

   Roman here emerges as a deeply flawed person, but the tale is masterfully plotted and utterly compelling.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

       The Dan Roman series –

From a High Place (1985)

Dark Streaks and Empty Places (1986)
Natural Prey (1987)
Another Path, Another Dragon (1988)
The Burned Woman (1989)
Out of the Shadows (1990)

September Song (1991)
The Fifth Level (1992)

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