Characters


FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins

   

   In previous columns I’ve discussed Lawrence Block’s earliest Matthew Scudder novels, in which the ex-cop turned unlicensed PI was a practicing alcoholic. That period culminated with EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE (1982), in the final chapter of which he admitted his alcoholism at an AA meeting, and WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES (1986) in which, a few years into sobriety, he tells a story from back in his drinking days.

   From then on he remains sober—even if tempted at times to return to the bottle—and changes some of his habits, no longer tithing as in previous novels but giving away countless dollar bills to the panhandlers he meets on the street.

   In OUT ON THE CUTTING EDGE (1989) he’s working on the kind of case Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op called a wandering daughter job: a Subaru dealer from Indiana has hired him to locate the fourth of his six children, who came to New York in hopes of an acting career but dropped out of touch with her family a few months earlier and vanished from her usual haunts.

   That is one of CUTTING EDGE’s two plot threads. The other begins after an AA meeting when fellow alcoholic Eddie Dunphy hints that, pursuant to Step Five of the organization’s program, he’d like to confess to Scudder all the sins of his past life. A few days later Matt discovers Dunphy’s body in the bathroom of his rent-controlled apartment. The evidence indicates death by autoerotic asphyxiation, which means that he hanged himself while masturbating.

   In most crime novels this plot thread would turn out to be interconnected with the other one. Not here. While checking out the bars the vanished Paula Hoeldtke frequented, Scudder encounters Mick Ballou, a huge Irish professional criminal known for his brutal rages: he’s said to have beaten one informer to death with a baseball bat and to have displayed another’s severed head in a bowling bag. Oddly enough, this stone killer and Scudder become close friends of sorts. Ballou happens to know the truth about Paula and eventually shares what he knows with his newfound buddy, after which the two go off to attend the Butchers’ Mass, a ritual that will pop up regularly in future novels.

   As for the second plot thread, Block blithely conceals from us until the climax that Scudder has linked Eddie Dunphy’s death with a whole series of murders, whose motivation would only be possible in New York. With even less of a unified structure than earlier Scudders, with entire chapters not the least bit relevant to what little story there is, CUTTING EDGE is certainly a minor entry in the series. But somehow it keeps us reading, almost as if we were being swept downstream by a swiftly flowing river. Very few authors could have pulled off this feat but Larry Block is one of them.

***

   With A TICKET TO THE BONEYARD (1990) the series takes a quantum leap forward as, for the first time, Scudder is pitted against an adversary who might be described as a cross between Max Cady from CAPE FEAR and Hannibal Lecter, as close to a Satan figure as is possible in a godless world.

   Scudder gets a late-night phone call from Elaine Mardell, the enterprising hooker from IN THE MIDST OF DEATH (1976), who has received an envelope with a clipping from an Ohio newspaper telling of the brutal slaughter of a family—a respectable furniture store owner, his wife, and their three children—which local police have written off as a murder-suicide case. The wife, Elaine tells Scudder, had been a colleague of hers in prostitution before her marriage, and in a flashback sequence from Scudder’s years as a cop we learn that, a dozen years ago, he and the two call girls had conspired to frame James Leo Motley, a sadistic psycho apparently beyond the law’s reach, and send him to prison on a one-to-ten-year sentence.

   Motley had sworn vengeance on Scudder and the women, and now it seems that he’s slaughtered one of them, along with her husband and kids, and that Elaine is his next target. Motley comes on stage only a few times in this 300-page novel, but Block creates a sense of menace throughout the book as Motley (who thinks nothing of butchering children and having anal sex with a dead woman) claims several more victims, including a woman whose only link with Scudder is that they shared the same last name.

   At one point he even lures Matt into a trap and, as a taste of what lies ahead, tortures him. Finally Scudder takes the offensive and—well, do you remember the climax of CAPE FEAR when Robert Mitchum as Cady is drowning Gregory Peck and Peck grabs a large rock at the river bottom and smashes Mitchum’s skull with it? All but a handful who saw that movie were clamoring for Peck to keep hitting Mitchum with that rock until his brains were mush.

   When I interviewed J. Lee Thompson, who directed the picture, he told me that he too wanted Peck to kill Mitchum but was overruled by studio execs who demanded that the movie should end with a ringing endorsement of the legal system’s competence to protect us from feral humans. Whether the mano a mano between Scudder and Motley ends as CAPE FEAR ended or as Thompson wanted it to end, I’d be a toad if I revealed here. Most of Block’s readers won’t need three guesses, or even two, to reach the answer.

***

   With A DANCE AT THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE (1991) Block returned to the two-plot-threads structure he’d used without great success in OUT ON THE CUTTING EDGE, but this time the parts of the whole are connected in a fresh and unusual way. We open with Scudder and Mick Ballou attending a mediocre boxing match at a near-empty arena in the dreariest part of Queens. Amid the sparse spectators Matt happens to notice a man smoothing back a teen-age boy’s hair, and the gesture strikes him as strangely familiar.

   Next comes a flashback chapter in which we learn what brought Scudder to the arena: not the fight but a job. A gay man with HIV, the brother of a brutally murdered young pregnant woman, has hired him to investigate her husband, an exec of the cable TV service that televises the matches in that Queens arena, whom the brother suspects of being behind the murder. That night in bed Scudder suddenly remembers where he’d seen that hair-smoothing gesture before: in a snuff film.

   A second flashback, this one running two chapters, begins after an AA meeting six months earlier as a fellow alcoholic asks Scudder to look into a videocassette of THE DIRTY DOZEN that he’d rented from a local store, only to find that fifteen minutes of the film had been erased and replaced with footage of a man and woman in S&M costumes having sex with a teen-age boy in shackles and then apparently killing him.

   Now we return to present time, and stay there. Trying to trace the boy in the snuff film and the boy in the Queens arena, Scudder encounters a black teen known as TJ who will become a fixture in the series from this point forward, his dialogue a compound of it-be-rainin-out argot and rhyming jivetalk that tends after a while to get on the nerves. My nerves anyway. Eventually our unlicensed PI finds the connection between the two plot threads—yes, this time there is one. The climax is a Walpurgisnacht of sex and gore in the same arena where the book began as Scudder and Mick (with some backup) take on a devilish pair of recreational killers (with some backup).

   Afterwards they attend the Butchers’ Mass and both of them take Communion. Why did Scudder do that? “I don’t know,” he says on the last page. “There are lots of things I do without knowing why the hell I do them. Half the time I don’t know why I stay sober….”

   For me SLAUGHTERHOUSE is the breakthrough book, the one where Block worked out and perfected all the key elements of the Scudder series. The proper length and complexity. The guest appearances by characters from previous Scudders: not only Elaine and Ballou but the cop Joe Durkin and the pimp-turned-art-dealer Chance and the “albino Negro” Danny Boy Bell and Scudder’s mentor Jim Faber. The explosive climax in which Scudder imposes his own brand of private justice or vengeance or whatever you choose to call it against one or more sadistic sociopaths beyond the reach of the law.

   And last but far from least, the interspersed stories—from the daily newspapers, from the cops Scudder encounters and from his own past and those of fellow AA members—all irrelevant to the plot but cumulatively painting a grim portrait of la cité noire. One of the longest of these story sequences, from the morning Daily News and Chapter 8 of SLAUGHTERHOUSE, offers a superb example of Block’s technique:

   An elderly Washington Heights woman had been killed watching television, struck in the head by a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting on the street outside her apartment….The woman was the fourth bystander killed so far this year….

   On Park Avenue…a man had leaned out the window of an unmarked white van to snatch the handbag of a middle-aged woman who was waiting for the light to change. She’d had the bag’s strap looped around her neck…and when the van sped off she was dragged and strangled….

   In Queens, a group of teenagers walking across the Forest Park golf course had come upon the body of a young woman who had been abducted several days earlier in Woodhaven. She’d been doing her grocery shopping on Jamaica Avenue when another van…pulled up at the curb. Two men jumped out of the back, grabbed her, hustled her into the van, and climbed in after her….A preliminary medical examination disclosed evidence of sexual assault and multiple stab wounds to the chest and abdomen.

   Don’t watch television, don’t carry a purse, don’t walk down the street. Jesus.

   Or, as Hammett put it several years before Larry Block was born: We live while blind chance spares us.

PATRICIA WALLACE – Deadly Grounds. Sydney Bryant #2. Zebra, paperback original; 1st printing, May 1989.

   I don’t remember the title of the first one, but this is [San Diego-based] PI Sydney Bryant’s second recorded adventure. She’s hired here by a neighbor, a 15-year-old schoolgirl who finds the body of a friend along a pathway of the private girls’ academy they both attended.

   Complicating the story is Sydney’s potentially torrid love affair with the policeman in charge. While Wallace’s easy writing style often seems to explain too much, as if telling the story to someone reading a mystery for the first time, she does know teenage girls.

PostScript: Well, she convinced me, at least. It’s really too badthat both the title and packaging make th book look to much like a run-of-the-mill horror novel, at least at first glance — and how much chance does a book get to find its proper audience, anyway?

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #13, June 1989

      The Sydney Bryant series —

Small Favors. Zebra 1988

            

Deadly Grounds. Zebra 1989
Blood Lies. Zebra 1991

            

Deadly Devotion. Zebra 1994

            

August Nights. Five Star, hardcover, 2002

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


ASHLEY GARDNER – Death at Brighton Pavilion. Cpt. Gabriel Lacey #14. JA/AG Publishing, softcover, December 2019. Setting: Regency England.

First Sentence: I woke, or seemed to.

   Captain Gabriel Lacey’s old enemy, Colonel Hamilton Isherwood, has been murdered. Isherwood’s blood is on Lacey’s clothes and a cavalry saber is in Lacey’s hand, and there is a gap in his memory as to what happened. The one person who might know is Clement, a footman, and Isherwood’s son asks for Lacey’s help in identifying his father’s killer. While trying to put the pieces together, Gabriel learns of two Quakers who are missing and promises to make inquiries as to their whereabouts.

   There’s nothing like a good hook; an opening that captures your attention from the very beginning. Having the protagonist come to consciousness in the company of a dead body, a saber in this hand, and the victim’s blood on his clothes accomplishes that goal.

   It’s also nice that new readers need not worry about coming into the series with this 14th book. Gardner does a very good job of introducing each of the characters and establishing their relationships. She also incorporates the intimacy between Lacey and his wife Donata in a way that is lovely, romantic and a bit sexy, but never detailed.

   Gardner creates an excellent sense of place, inviting the reader into the environment in which the characters find themselves. Often, too, she provides bits of history and general information, such as that about Quakers, never overwhelming the story, but enhancing it.

   One likes to read of protagonists who have a strong moral and ethical base, who believe in doing what is just. Lacey is just such a character in spite of the urgings of others. At the same time, he is not perfect and does have a past, yet one of the best traits of Lacey is his humanity; his sense of responsibility. In other words, he is believable.

   Gardner creates an assumption and immediately dispels it carrying one along in the investigation. Her writing draws one back to her books due to her voice; her dialogue and the subtle humor incorporated which is offset by an excellent accounting of grieving– “That was the trouble with death. I too had been brought up to believe we should rejoice that the one we loved was with the lord, but somehow I never could. I could feel only emptiness, the lessening of myself for the absence of that person.”

   Death at Brighton Pavilion is a thoroughly enjoyable period mystery with plenty of twists, action, wonderful period details, and an ending that moves the series forward. As the author says– “Captain Lacey’s adventures continue…”

Rating: Good Plus.


      The Captain Gabriel Lacey series —

1. The Hanover Square Affair (2003)
2. A Regimental Murder (2004)
3. The Glass House (2004)
4. The Sudbury School Murders (2005)
5. A Body in Berkley Square (2005)
6. A Covent Garden Mystery (2006)
7. A Death in Norfolk (2011)
8. A Disappearance in Drury Lane (2013)
9. Murder in Grosvenor Square (2014)
10. The Thames River Murders (2015)
11. The Alexandria Affair (2016)
12. A Mystery at Carlton House (2017)
13. Murder in St. Giles (2018)
14. Death at Brighton Pavilion (2019)

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:

VERONICA STALLWOOD – Oxford Exit. Kate Ivory #2. Scribner, US, hardcover, 1995. Np US paperback edition. First published in the UK by Macmillan, 1994.

   Yet another author new to me. Stallwood was born in London and lives in Oxford, where she has worked at the Bodelian and Lincoln College libraries. The first book in this series is Death and the Oxford Box.

   Kate Ivory is a struggling romance novelist who has experience with computers and library cataloguing. She is called on by a friend to help investigate a possible series of thefts from the Oxford University Library System, and after agreeing is plugged into the system as a roving cataloger and consultant.

   Shady doings are afoot, all right, and Kate discovers that a young library assistant who was murdered in the recent past may have stumbled across them also, What seemed to be a relatively safe assignment now takes on a darker hue.

   Were this an American book, I’d call it a cozy, but given how I’ve defined those I think I’d be doing this an injustice. I like Stallwood’s prose, and I like her characters, an dI like the milieu. She tells her story by interleaving chapters told from the viewpoints of Kate and the anonymous murderer, and I thought she made unusually good use of the device.

   Secondary characters were also well done. It’s a type of book that British authors do exceptionally well, and Stallwood does this reputation no harm.

      

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #19, May 1995.

       The Kate Ivory series —

1. Death and the Oxford Box (1993)
2. Oxford Exit (1994)
3. Oxford Mourning (1995)
4. Oxford Fall (1996)
5. Oxford Knot (1998)
6. Oxford Blue (1998)
7. Oxford Shift (1999)
8. Oxford Shadows (2000)
9. Oxford Double (2001)
10. Oxford Proof (2002)
11. Oxford Remains (2004)
12. Oxford Letters (2005)
13. Oxford Menace (2008)
14. Oxford Ransom (2011)

MORAY DALTON – The Body in the Road. Hermann Glide #1. Sampson Low, UK, hardcover, 1931. Harper & Brothers, US, hardcover, 1930. Black Cat Detective #8, US, digest-sized paperback, 1944, Dean Street Press, UK, trade paperback, 2019; introduction by Curtis Evans.

   Moray Dalton was the working byline of Katherine Dalton Renoir, the British author of 29 mysteries published between 1924 and 1951. If you live in the US, you can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of her. Only three of her books have ever been published in the country, including this one (but how it happened to be published here a year before the British edition, I have no idea).

   It looks as though, however, if sales do well, that the folks at Dean Street Press are doing their best to be sure readers in this country can easily get their hands on them. Five were published last year and five more will be published in March. This is a totally unexpectedly bonanza for fans of obscure detective fiction from the Golden Age of Detection.

   I caution you, though, on the basis of this, the first of her work I’ve read, that any comparison to the contemporary authors of her time, those who are still well known today, are well in the favor of the latter. Dalton’s approach to both dialogue and storytelling are both rather unfocused and naive.

   The following excerpt comes from page four of the Dean Street edition. Two young women who have just met as musical performers at the same cafe, are talking:

   Linda laughed. “All right. I ought to be getting back to my diggings, anyway. I wish you shared them with me. There’s a bedroom to let on my floor. We’d have such fun.”

   “It would be jolly!” said the other [Vivian], wistfully.

   Vivian is living with n older woman who has acted as her guardian since she was young, and who has kept her under her very strict eye for all that time. It is no wonder she wishes to rebel, and finally she does, and in fact she decides to go into partnership with Linda on setting up a small tea shop together.

   Until, that is, the day they find the titular body in the road, that of a small dog that has been badly injured. They go off in opposite directions to obtain help, but Vivian is never to be seen again. And who is accused but Linda. Luckily for her, the new Lord Harringdon in the area has met her and has taken more than a liking to her.

   The case against Linda is flimsy, to say the least, but the local police are inexplicably set on their case against her. Lord Harringdon also investigates, but in his mind it is the strange doctor with stranger patients and medical staff that gets all of his attention. Finally, about 45 pages from the end, he hires Hermann Glide, a frail-looking private eye in London who resembles (at first appearance) “a monkey on a barrel organ.”

   Glide is not given many pages to do his work, and in fact we see very little of it, but he does his job, and as it turns out in the end, he did it perhaps a little too well. I’ll not say more about that, but it is one of the more interesting thing I can hint at in terms of the detective work that is done.

   Overall then, I’m glad I read this book, and I plan to read more of Moray Dalton’s work. As for you, though, unless you’re really a devout fan of old traditional detective novels, I’d recommend this on to you only if you’ve run out of other (and more solidly constructed) ones to read.


       The Hermann Glide series —

The Body in the Road (1930/31)
The Night of Fear (1931)
Death in the Cup (1932)

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


DAVID ROSENFELT – Dachshund Through the Snow. Andy Carpenter #20. Minotaur Books, hardcover, October 2019.

First Sentence: It has been almost fourteen years since Kristen McNeil’s body was discovered.

   A tag on a Christmas charity wish tree leads attorney Andy Carpenter and his wife Laurie to a young boy wanting his father Noah Traynor to be brought home. The murder, for which Noah has been arrested, was a cold case until his DNA is identified on the victim’s body. In the meantime, K-9 officer Sergeant Corey Douglas is about to retire, but his dog, Simon, still has time left to work. Corey wants Andy to help him get Simon released to retire with him. Andy agrees to represent Simon on the basis of species discrimination.

   How refreshing it is when characters defy stereotype. Laurie, Andy’s wife, is the type of person one aspires to be; kind, generous, compassionate toward people. She is an ex-cop, and very capable of taking care of herself and Andy. Andy, on the other hand, is a lawyer who keeps trying to retire from the law and is passionate about dogs. As a self-described weakling, he depends upon Laurie and the indomitable Marcus to protect him. There are interludes of Andy at home with his family and friends, yet they avoid the over-sentimentality such interaction can bring about.

   Rosenfelt’s courtroom scenes are a pleasure to read. They are well presented and honest, even when the client is decidedly unusual. He creates an excellent analogy by likening a court case to a mountain climb such as Mt. Everest, and through it, introduces the rest of Andy’s quirky and memorable team.

   It is always tragic when someone young dies. It is appreciated when Rosenfelt acknowledges one of the great sorrows of such a death– ‘It also once again highlights the terrible loss that occurred when her best friend died; Kristen might have gone on to bring other people into the world or cure some disease or just do kind things for people that needed kindness.”

   The story includes alternative POVs, but only when needed to move the plot forward by characters other than the protagonist. Rosenfelt creates a plot which seems simple but grows into something more complicated and more dangerous as it progresses. Be aware; despite the cute dog on the cover, this is not a cozy. Rosenfelt does like his body count, but the scenes aren’t particularly gory. He is also very good at the unexpected, and very effective, plot twist, and a fun mention which lightens the situation.

   The dialogue is so well written, the courtroom exchanges come alive. Along with the on-going outside investigation, in which there is a very nice escalation of suspense, plot twist, and an excellent red herring, one feels the anticipation of awaiting the jury’s decision.

   Dachshund Through the Snow is a well-done legal mystery with plenty of twists and suspense. A very nice aftermath hints at the future of the series.

Rating: Very Good.


       The Andy Carpenter series —

1. Open and Shut (2002)
2. First Degree (2003)
3. Bury the Lead (2004)
4. Sudden Death (2005)
5. Dead Center (2006)
6. Play Dead (2007)
7. New Tricks (2009)
8. Dog Tags (2010)
9. One Dog Night (2011)
10. Leader of the Pack (2012)
11. Unleashed (2013)
12. Hounded (2014)
13. Who Let the Dog Out? (2015)
14. Outfoxed (2016)
15. The Twelve Dogs of Christmas (2016)
16. Collared (2017)
17. Rescued (2018)
18. Deck the Hounds (2018)
19. Bark of Night (2019)
20. Dachshund Through the Snow (2019)
21. Muzzled (2020)
22. Silent Bite (2020)

HUGH PENTECOST “Jericho and the Nuisance Clue.” Short story. John Jericho #6. First appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystey Magazine, August 1966. Collected in The Battles of Jericho (Crippen & Landru, 2008).

   Some clarification is needed. This is the sixth of 25 John Jericho stories that Hugh Pentecost wrote for EQMM between 1964 and 1987. It does not include six novels he appeared in between 1965 and 1970, nor several dozen stories he appeared in as a member of the Park Avenue Hunt Club for the pulp magazines, mostly Detective Fiction Weekly, between 1934 and 1944, all under the author’s real name, Judson Philips.

   The two earlier incarnations are not really the same person as the one in this story, but if television can re-invent or re-imagine old series characters every so often, why can’t mystery writers? Nor, for example, do I think that Ellery Queen was the same Ellery Queen in every novel over the years as time went on.

   The more recent John Jericho was a painter/social activist whose eye for detail stood him in good stead when it came time to solve mysteries. He’s described in “Nuisance Clue” as being a giant of a man, about 40, six-feet-six inches tall, weighing 240 pounds, a giant with red hair and red beard.

   Not only does he have an eye for detail, but he also has the knack of being in the right place at the right time. In :this story he’s sitting at a local bar, minding his own business, when a local mobster picks a fight with him, not knowing who he is.

   Why, Jericho can’t help but think, is he trying to establish an alibi? Sure enough. The story’s only ten pages long, and it flies by quickly and smoothy, showing that telling a well-reasoned out detective story doesn’t need 400 pages to do so.

MARY (THERESA ELEANOR) HIGGINS CLARK, author of some 50 plus crime and suspense novels died yesterday, January 31, 2020, at the age of 92. Her sales, in the millions of copies, must rank her as being among the greatest of any recent or current writer in the field.

   Theatrical films have been made of the following novels: A Stranger Is Watching (1982), Where Are the Children? (1986), Lucky Day (2002) , and All Around the Town (2002), and dozens more have been adapted into made-for-TV films.


   The following bibliography has been taken from the Fantastic Fiction website:

      The Alvirah and Willy series —

   [A lottery winner and her husband use their winnings to solve crimes.]

1. Weep No More, My Lady (1987)

2. The Lottery Winner (1994)
3. All Through The Night (1998)
4. Deck the Halls (2000) (with Carol Higgins Clark)
5. The Christmas Thief (2004) (with Carol Higgins Clark)
6. Santa Cruise (2006) (with Carol Higgins Clark)
7. Dashing Through the Snow (2008) (with Carol Higgins Clark)
8. I’ll Walk Alone (2011)
9. The Lost Years (2012)
10. As Time Goes By (2016)
11. All By Myself Alone (2017)

      The Regan Reilly series (with Carol Higgins Clark)

   [Regan Reilly is a private investigator based in Los Angeles.]

Deck the Halls (2000)

The Christmas Collection (2006)
Santa Cruise (2006)
Dashing Through the Snow (2008)

      The “Under Suspicion” series

   [Laurie Moran is a producer on the television series ‘Under Suspicion’, a documentary program which investigates unsolved cold cases.]

1. I’ve Got You Under My Skin (2014)

2. The Cinderella Murder (2013) (with Alafair Burke)
3. All Dressed in White (2015) (with Alafair Burke)
4. The Sleeping Beauty Killer (2016) (with Alafair Burke)
5. Every Breath you Take (2017) (with Alafair Burke)
6. You Don’t Own Me (2018) (with Alafair Burke)

       Other Novels —

Aspire to the Heavens (1960) aka Mount Vernon Love Story (non-criminous)
Where Are the Children? (1975)

A Stranger Is Watching (1978)
The Cradle Will Fall (1980)
A Cry in the Night (1982)
Stillwatch (1984)
While My Pretty One Sleeps (1989)
Loves Music, Loves to Dance (1991)
All Around the Town (1992)
I’ll Be Seeing You (1993)
Remember Me (1994)
Pretend You Don’t See Her (1995)
Let Me Call You Sweetheart (1995)
Silent Night (1995)
Moonlight Becomes You (1996)
You Belong to Me (1998)
We’ll Meet Again (1998)
Before I Say Good-Bye (2000)
On the Street Where You Live (2000)
He Sees You When You’re Sleeping (2001) (with Carol Higgins Clark)
Daddy’s Little Girl (2002)
The Second Time Around (2003)
Nighttime Is My Time (2004)
No Place Like Home (2005)
Two Little Girls in Blue (2006)
I Heard That Song Before (2007)
Where Are You Now? (2008)
Just Take My Heart (2009)
The Shadow of Your Smile (2010)
Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (2013)
Inherit the Dead (2013) (with C J Box, Lee Child, John Connolly, Charlaine Harris, Jonathan Santlofer and Lisa Unger)
The Melody Lingers on (2015)
I’ve Got My Eyes on You (2018)
Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry (2019)


   Seven issues of Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine were published sporadically between 1996 and 2000.

ALLEN K. YOUNG “Reflection on Murder.” Short story. Professor Posenby #2. First published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, October 1968. Presumably never reprinted.

   The tenth rule of Ronald Knox’s Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction says that “twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.” This second of several stories Alan K. Young wrote about retired poetry and code expert Professor Ponsby (no first name known) takes this rule head on and makes an excellent story out of it.

   It doesn’t in any way break the rule, since the fact that Tom and Barnaby Varden are twins is stated up front with no denying it. There is also no denying that one of them murdered their uncle, but which one? Almost no one can tell them apart, so eye witnesses to the fact that one was seen leaving the house at the time of murder are of no value.

   What’s more, the other brother was seen at a boxing match the next town over at the time of the murder, gives one of the two an unshakeable alibi. But which one was which?

   Totally sure that no jury would ever convict either one “beyond a shadow of a doubt,” they boastfully send the following poem to the harried police chief, who comes to Ponsby with it. I hope you can read it:

      

   I believe I have read another story with exactly the premise, but without the poem, and yet, if so, I do not remember where I read it or who wrote it. You may be able to figure it out — all the clues are there — but I am chagrined to say I didn’t. This is a puzzle story only, with only a cursory attempt at characterization, but as such it’s exceedingly well done. It’s like admiring a solidly constructed crossword puzzle at the end of the week in the New York Times. I enjoyed it immensely.

   It probably won’t ever happen, but Young wrote enough Ponsby stories to put together a very decent collection. I’d buy it!

NOTE: Alan K. Young’s papers regarding his short story writing are stored at Columbia University. A short desription of the collection says that the author “is a former junior-college English instructor, with a B. A. in English from Harvard and an M. A. in the same subject from the University of California.”


       The Professor Ponsonby series —

Letter from Mindoro (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Mar 1968
Reflection on Murder (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Oct 1968
The Secret of the Golden Tile (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Jun 1969
Ponsonby and the Shakespeare Sonnet (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Oct 1969
Ponsonby and the Dying Words (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Aug 1970
Ponsonby and the Classic Cipher (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Dec 1971
Child’s Play (vi) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Jan 1972
Ponsonby and the Ransom Note (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Jun 1972
To See Death Coming (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Apr 1973
Truth Will Out (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Jun 1974
Incident on a Bus (ss) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Feb 1975

     —

PostScript:   Since most you are not likely to ever read this story, I will give you a big hint as to the solution in Comment 1. Don’t read it until you’ve either given up or you want to know if the answer you’ve come up with is correct or not.

Added later: A full explanation is given in Comment #2.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


REX BURNS – Blood Line. Gabe Wager #10. Walker, hardcover, 1995. No paperback edition.

   And yet another hardboiled writer moves down publishers’ economic row. Walker is picking up some good writers, and I hope it pays off for them. Buns’ stories of the Denver policeman have gotten a good bit of critical acclaim,but evidently not the requisite sales.

   Gabe Wager has a 13 year-old black male dead in what looks like a gang killing, and a young cousin a victim of what he’s afraid is the same disease. To add to his problems, a convicted felon that he shot in self-defense has filed a civil suit against him from prison. Life’s never simple in the big city, especially for a Hispanic cop.

   This seems to me to be of a piece with Burns’ earlier Wager books — a good solid police novel. He does a nice job of blending characterization with the procedural, and of working in the Denver background. Wager has become a well-developed character over the course of the series. Denver must be a lot different than Dallas, though, if a police sergeant could have even a close friendship that was common knowledge with a lady councilperson.

   I think Burns does about as good a job as anyone of writing “small” nitty-gritty police novels, and I’m glad that someone will still buy them.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #19, May 1995.


       The Gabe Wager series —

1. The Alvarez Journal (1975)
2. The Farnsworth Score (1977)
3. Speak for the Dead (1978)
4. Angle of Attack (1979)
5. The Avenging Angel (1983)
6. Strip Search (1984)
7. Ground Money (1986)
8. The Killing Zone (1988)
9. Endangered Species (1993)
10. Blood Line (1995)
11. The Leaning Land (1997)

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