Characters


STEVE SHERMAN -The White Mountain Murders. Hugh Quint #2. Walker, hardcover, 1989. No paperback edition. (See also comment #2.)

   Hugh Quint, ex-Boston cop, now a PI, heads for New Hampshire to help find the half-sister of a friend and ends up preventing the theft of a $100,000 antique chest. Several murders occur as well, he most obvious suspect being a back-to-nature Abenaki Indian.

   The same Indian who’s gone off with the half-sister who started it all. The detective work is slight, and most of the book’s charm comes from the rustic setting and the bucolic nature of its inhabitants. Unfortunately it begins to wear off about halfway through.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #15, September 1989 (very slightly revised).

       The Hugh Quint series —

The Maple Sugar Murders. Walker 1987
The White Mountain Murders. Walker 1989
Primary Crime. Appledore 2000

MICHAEL J. KATZ – Last Dance in Redondo Beach. Andy Sussman & Murray Glick #2. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, 1989. Pocket, paperback, 1990.

   Here’s a first. It’s gotta be. A professional wrestler dies, apparently of a heart attack, in a network’s “celebrity sports” competition. It’s really murder, of course, and on the scene, in his second brush with detective work is CBS sportscaster Andy Sussman.

   Doing most of the legwork, however, is his pal, a sleazy Chicago PI named Murray Glick, who works out of a Northbrook Court mall. You may have gotten the idea by now that the tone of this book is not entirely serious, but I surprised myself and enjoyed it anyway. (*)

       —

(*) I’d be remiss in pointing out, however, that I found the ending to be a bit too slick. The final confrontation works out far too easily — and not easily enough to avoid leaving a mess behind. Katz seems to think that justice is done, or at least his characters do, and in a sense they’re right, maybe as well as it ever does in real life, but I still think there’s some guilt not yet accounted for.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #15, September 1989 (very slightly revised).


      The Andy Sussman & Murray Glick series

Murder Off the Glass. Walker, 1987.
Last Dance in Redondo Beach. Putnam, 1989.
The Big Freeze. Putnam, 1991.

MICHAEL ALLEGRETTO – The Dead of Winter. Jake Lomax #3. Scribners, hardcover, 1989. Avon, paperback, 1991.

   In this his third case, PI Jake Lomax is hired to find a barber’s missing daughter. The barber’s also a bookie, and the daughter, a sensitive type, has just found out. A good beginning, and the stakes quickly become even higher. The next day a bomb destroys the barber’s car.

   Allegretto has a smooth, even style of writing, but until the kidnapping plot is revealed, not much out of the ordinary actually happens. I’m ambivalent about the kidnapping plot, too. It’s an interesting twist, but overall the story line is a combination of bad coincidence mixed with poor judgment.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #15, September 1989 (slightly revised).


      The Jake Lomax series —

Death on the Rocks (1987)
Blood Stone (1988)
Dead of Winter (1989)
Blood Relative (1992)
Grave Doubt (1995)

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


MIKE PHILLIPS – Point of Darkness. Samson Dean #3. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1995. First published in the UK by Michael Joseph, hardcover, 1994. No US paperback edition.

   Phillips is new to me, though obviously not to everyone. The two previous tales about Sam Dean, a reporter of Anglo-Caribbean descent, have been set in London — Blood Rights and The Late Candidate. This, the first since 1991, takes place in New York City. Phillips also write the novelization of for the movie Boyz in the Hood.

   Sammy Dean is in the Big Apple to try to find the straying daughter of a boyhood friend dying in London. He’s no stranger to the city abd its Caribbean neighborhoods — Jamaica, Queens, the Bronx — but an outsider nevertheless, The girl had disappeared after working as a domestic for the aging parents of a high City official, and more people than Dean are looking for her — for reasons he doesn’t know. What seemed to be an uncomplicated if tedious and difficul task turns nasty, and he soon finds both himself and the object of his search in serious danger.

   This is blurbed as being “on the tradition of Walter Mosley.” Me, I’d have thought that Mosley was a few books shy of a “tradition” — but hey, whatever works. Phillips is a lot closer in tone ro Mosley than to Chester Himes or Barbara Neely, if that counts. Traditional or not, I liked it. Phillips seems to know his territory, and tells his story in first-person in an undramatic, semi-reflective way that I found appealing.

   The urban black/Caribbean world was new to me, and I thought he did an excellent job of painting its picture without slowing down the story. As I’ve said before, it would be foolish of me or any white man to try to judge the realism of black characters, but they seemed like real people to me, and believable and sympathetic ones. Phillips is a good writer with a different viewpoint.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #18, February-March 1995.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   One online source describes the author as having been “… born in Georgetown, Guyana. He came to Britain as a child and grew up in London. He was educated at the University of London and the University of Essex, and gained a Postgraduate Certificate of Education at Goldsmiths College, London.” Another source calls Sam Dean a “Jamaican-born, London-bred, street-smart, sexy, self-effacing, tough, and likeable black journalist.”

   There was but one more book in the series, that being An Image to Die For (1995).

RICHARD ROSEN – Saturday Night Dead. Harvey Blisssberg #3. Viking, hardcover, 1988. Signet, paperback, June 1989.

   In this third adventure of PI (and former major league baseball player) Harvey Blissberg, the death of the producer of a late-night comedy show is designed to give him a smooth transition from sports-related mysteries to the world of show business. It doesn’t work. Compared to earlier entries in the series, it’s definitely not a step up.

   There are a lot of suspects, many of whom Harvey quickly eliminates. In fact, most of the clues point one way, but it still comes as a surprise when Harvey decides who the killer is with nearly 80 pages to go. On page 233 Harvey admits his reasoning was all guesswork.

   Neither exceptionally well told, nor more than merely bland. On the basis of this one, I think Harvey had better go back to playing the outfield.

–Reprinted with some mild revisions from Mystery*File #14, July 1989.


       The Harvey Blissberg series —

Strike Three You’re Dead (1984)
Fadeaway (1986)
Saturday Night Dead (1988)
World Of Hurt (1994)
Dead Ball (2001) .

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


CAROL O’CONNELL – The Man Who Cast Two Shadows. Mallory #2. Putnam, hardcover, 1995; paperback, 1996.

   I was really afraid to read this, after liking O’Connell’s debut with Mallory’s Oracle as much as I did.

   TV news reports policewoman Kathy Mallory dead at 6 o’clock, but she’s not. Someone who resembled her and was wearing one of her castoff coats is, however, and Malory naturally takes an interest in who she was and who saw to it that she wasn’t any more.

   Mallory is technically on suspension because of a shooting incident, but she doesn’t fret about technicalities. She quickly determines by computer-aided deduction that the killer must live in a particular building, and shortly thereafter is ensconced in the same building, determined to smoke him out.

   But there are several suspects, and though Mallory wouldn’t agree, there seems to be some question as to who is the hunter, and who the prey.

   This didn’t have the impact on me that Mallory’s Oracle had. Having said that, I should probably say that there’s a real tendency on my part (and I imagine on that of most of us) to judge the follow-up to a highly regarded book by standards that are perhaps set too high. I should judge it on its own merits, and not by how it compares to its predecessors, but I don’t know if I’m able to do so.

   O’Connell is still a superb prose stylist. There were no passages that “grabbed” me as there were in the previous book, but there was a sustained quality of word-crafting that not too many equal. I felt there were some plot problems here, and some character problems, the latter mostly causing the former.

   It’s impossible to discuss them without giving away the plot, which I almost guarantee will have some surprises for you. Too many, maybe; some mental gear-shifting that O couldn’t easily manage.

   This is the kind of book that I hate to review briefly, as its pluses and minuses call for a critique that I’m probably not qualified, certainly not prepared to do. O’Connell is a vastly talented writer, but I think she needs an editor. And I don’t think she had one here. Still—

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #18, February-March 1995.


      The Kathleen Mallory series —

1. Mallory’s Oracle (1994)
2. The Man Who Cast Two Shadows (1995)
3. Killing Critics (1995)
4. Stone Angel (1997)
5. Shell Game (1999)
6. Crime School (2002)
7. Dead Famous (2003)
8. Winter House (2004)
9. Find Me (2006)
10. The Chalk Girl (2012)
11. It Happens in the Dark (2012)
12. Blind Sight (2016)

SHELLEY SINGER – Spit in the Ocean. Jake Samson #4. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1987. Worldwide, paperback, June 1989.

   Vandalism — let’s not get into whether you’d call it murder — at a sperm bank, then a fatal accident off the rocky spit into the ocean north of San Francisco suspiciously does look like murder. Luckily unlicensed PI Jake Samson is already on hand to investigate.

   Along with him is his partner, Rosie Vincente. It takes a while to determine their relationship more than that, but in a word: none. This mystery comes as close to the classic detective story as any I’ve read recently, spoiled only by a “gratuitous” sex scene.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #14, July 1989.


        The Jake Samson series —

Samson’s Deal. St. Martin’s, 1983.
Free Draw. St. Martin’s, 1984.
Full House. St. Martin’s, 1986.]
Spit in the Ocean. St. Martin’s, 1987.
Suicide King. St. Martin’s, 1988.
Royal Flush. Perseverance, 1999.

RICHARD HOYT – 30 for a Harry. John Denson #2. M. Evans, hardcover, 1981. Penguin, paperback, 1984.

   Having worked for a newspaper at one time himself, private eye John Denson is a natural to be hired by the Seattle Star to help flush out a Harry, vernacular for a crooked reporter with a habit of shaking down local business establishments.

   Denison has a suspect from the start, but when the man is found murdered, the scope of his investigation is widened dramatically. The local vice industry is strongly interested in the case, and so are certain Japanese gentlemen with a finger in the area’s salmon business.

   Hoyt’s first book and Denson’s case immediately preceding this one was entitled Decoys, and overall, it’s probably the stronger of the two. The approach taken this time around is considerably more direct, for one thing, with fewer layers of misdirection being applied. Hoyt has a winning way in creating well-defined characters, however — in this case those especially of the type usually found hanging around a city room. I’m already looking forward to his next one.

–Reprinted in slightly revised form from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 1, Jan-Feb 1982.


        The John Denson series —

1. Decoys (1980)
2. Thirty for a Harry (1981)
3. The Siskiyou Two-Step (1983) aka Siskiyou (1984)
4. Fish Story (1985)
5. Whoo? (1991)
6. Bigfoot (1993)
7. Snake Eyes (1995)
8. The Weatherman’s Daughters (2003)
9. Pony Girls (2004)

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


DON WINSLOW – A Cool Breeze on the Underground. Neal Carey #1. St.Martin’s, hardcover. 1991; paperback, 1996. Nominated for an Edgar award for Best First Novel.

   Neal Carey is a young man employed by a firm called Friends of the Family, which exists to solve nagging little problems that might annoy friends, acquaintances, or business associates of an old New England bank. Carey is called away from his studies — the firm is financing his education — to hunt down the daughter of a politician who has run away from home, and has been sighted in London.

   He doesn’t care much for the assignment, or the timing that’s going to cause him to fail a course, but really doesn’t have much choice. And as if finding a runaway in a huge city weren’t chore enough, he’s given a deadline. Off he goes to the Smoke, where he finds that nothing is ever simple. But he already knew that.

   I can see why Winslow is getting a lot of attention. I don’t know whether the series will stand the test of time — or even if the second and third are as good as the first, for that matter — but I liked this considerably. A good bit of the book is devoted to flashbacks that tell us who Carey is, and how he got to where he is today, and these interludes are well integrated with the story proper.

   Winslow has what may be the most important ingredient in making it big in the field — an engaging “voice.” His characters are interesting and believable, his narration smooth. The plot was nothing special, but nothing especially offensive either. Underground is one of the better series debuts I’ve read, and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain the standard he’s set.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #18, February-March 1995.


      The Neal Carey series —

A Cool Breeze on the Underground (1990)
The Trail to Buddha’s Mirror (1992)
Way Down on the High Lonely (1994)
A Long Walk Up the Waterslide (1995).
While Drowning in the Desert (1996).

MICHAEL INNES – Lord Mullion’s Secret. Charles Honeybath #3. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1982. Penguin, US, paperback, 1983. Published previously in the UK by Victor Gollancz, hardcover, 1981.

   There may be a few others, but Innes is one mystery writer who can get away with writing a full-length detective story that doesn’t have a single murder in it. Famed portrait painter Charles Honeybath returns for this latest of now three witty adventures. allowing Innes’s more famous detective character, Sir John Appleby, to continue enjoying his retirement a while longer.

   Asked by an old friend to paint his wife, Honeybath quickly discovers that Mullion Castle is filled to the brim with secrets. Small unaccountable things begin to happen as soon as he arrives, including some switched paintings, a clandestine romance between a gardener and the lord’s older daughter, and a dotty great-aunt’s sudden penchant for sleepwalking.

   Stately mansions may be becoming more and more difficult to maintain, but they do have their places in mystery fiction, don’t they?

–Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 1, Jan-Feb 1982.


      The Charles Honeybath series —

The Mysterious Commission. Gollancz 1974
Honeybath’s Haven. Gollancz 1977
Lord Mullion’s Secret. Gollancz 1981
Appleby and Honeybath. Gollancz 1983

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