Characters


REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


BILL GRANGER – Drover. Jimmy Drover #1. William Morrow, hardcover, May 1991. Avon, paperback, May 1992.

   Bill Granger is the author of the four book Chicago Police series of quite a few years ago (originally published as by Joe Gash, and underrated in my opinion, though one won an Edgar), and the very successful November Man spy series, which now runs to twelve.

   This book introduces his third series, and is about a well-known sportswriter unfairly banned from sportswriting because of alleged contacts with the underworld. The second in the series, Drover and the Zebras, has already been released.

   Jimmy Drover now lives in Santa Cruz, and makes his living investigating various aspects of the sports world for the owner of a Las Vegas book As the story opens, he goes to the aid of an old flame whose husband has killed himself because of gambling debts. Shortly after, an old gangster acquaintance from Chicago contacts him with a story about someone planning a major fix in the NFL, and offering Drover help with his lady’s problem in return for assistance with his own. The plot thickens, bubbles, and boils over.

   Granger creates interesting characters, and tells their story in his usual highly professional manner. Drover and his friends are reasonably engaging (particularly the ex-fireman, Black Kelly, naturally), and the villains — who include professional gamblers, government agents, and Chicago commodity traders — are truly scuzzy. Good, but not great.

– Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #2, July 1992.


       The Jimmy Drover series –

1. Drover (1991)
2. Drover and the Zebras (1992)

3. Drover and the Designated Hitter (1994)

Note:   There were 13 books in Granger’s “November Man” series, one more than when Barry wrote this review.

SYDNEY HOSIER – Most Baffling, Mrs. Hudson. Avon, paperback original, January 1998.

   This was a nice idea, based on just the one in hand, but one that was only indifferently carried out. Other readers may have thought so too, as the series lasted a total of only four books, of which this is the third.

   Not that Most Baffling is bad, for it isn’t. The concept is that Mrs. Hudson, having had some success in solving mysteries on her own, has become an inquiry agent herself, independent of her boarder upstairs. Holmes himself does not appear, not does Dr. Watson, but one of the former’s discarded suits does play a small role.

   Mrs. Hudson has her own Watson, so the speak, although her friend and live-in companion Mrs. Warner, or Vi, short for Violet, does not tell the story. She’s there primarily for comic relief and of course to have someone on hand to bounce ideas off of, and vice versa.

   In Most Baffling, the two are hired by a lady whose husband was killed at a party under the most unusual of circumstances. In spite of a large number of people being present in the room, no one heard the fatal shot, nor did anyone see who did it.

   In terms of period detail, the setting as described is at least satisfactory, and the dialogue is mostly OK, to my tin ear. In terms of the mystery itself, Mrs. Hudson and her friend Vi do not do a lot of detecting. It is more a matter of serendipitous luck, shall we say. A neighbor down the street who Mrs. Hudson happens to meet and chat with for the first time, for example, connects her with another fellow who just happens to be intimately involved with the murder.

   A gathering of all the suspects in one room at the end gets us on familiar ground, to be true, but the “impossible” nature of the crime needs to be talked about, I think. I will discuss the solution to the case in more detail as part of the first comment, so please be warned in advance before heading there. All in all, enjoyable enough in its fashion, but I’m unlikely to read another.

       The Mrs. Hudson series –

1. Elementary, Mrs. Hudson (1996)

2. Murder, Mrs. Hudson (1997)
3. Most Baffling, Mrs. Hudson (1998)
4. The Game’s Afoot, Mrs. Hudson (1998)

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


RICHARD HOYT – Whoo? John Denson #5. Tor, hardcover, 1991; reprint paperback, 2000.

   This fifth (after a several-year hiatus) of the Denson books is set against the backdrop of the spotted owl-lumber industry conflict in the Northwest. Denson assists a stranded motorist who turns out to be a federal owl-counter, beds her that night, and goes on to the case that’s brought him to the area.

   She is murdered, he vows vengeance, and (surprise) Denson’s original case turns out to be connected. His sometime partner, native American Willy Prettybird, becomes involved and things move right along to a more or less satisfying finish.

   The owls or trees issue gets a lot of space; more, perhaps, than some readers would wish, even though the issue itself is integral to the plot The explanations are not one-sided, which is refreshing though the author and Denson make it clear where their ultimate sympathies lie.

   I enjoyed the book. Hoyt is an excellent writer who knows how to tell a story, and create sharply defined and interesting characters. Denson is, as always, irreverent and witty. The plot, however, doesn’t bear thinking about very deeply while reading — there are simply too many elements that upon reflection are unlikely, improbable, or just plain silly.

   It isn’t one of Hoyt’s major efforts, but nevertheless recommended.

– Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #1, May 1992.


       The John Denson series

Decoys (1980)

30 for a Harry (1981)
The Siskiyou Two-Step (1983). Published in slightly expanded paperback form as Siskiyou.
Fish Story (1985)

Whoo? (1991)
Bigfoot (1993)
Snake Eyes (1995)

The Weatherman’s Daughters (2003)
Pony Girls (2004)

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


JANET EVANOVICH & LEE GOLDBERG – The Heist. Bantam, hardcover, June 2013; paperback, February 2014.

   It used to be when writers collaborated they actually collaborated, but today more often than not mega-sellers like Janet Evanovich (the Stephanie Plum series and Lizzy & Diesel series) provide front names for original work by others — often well known even bestselling writers like Justin Scott, Thomas Perry, Eric Lustbader, and Lee Goldberg.

   Despite the picture of the two authors on the back of the jacket of the hardcover, there is little chance that Janet Evanovich actually wrote this, though she likely came up with the concept with her agent, publisher, and even Goldberg (a screenwriter, producer, and author).

   Clive Cussler, James Rollins, and others have these franchises as do deceased writers such as Tom Clancy, Harold Robbins, Robert Ludlum, and in the past Alistair MacLean.

   The Heist is a short book, under 300 pages, and basically reads like the pilot for a television series on one of the networks, loosely borrowed from Elmore Leonard’s Out of Sight, though slicked up more like Remington Steele than Leonard’s gritty charming book and the film it inspired.

   Kate O’Hare is a gung-ho FBI officer with a special relationship with brilliant con man and criminal Nicholas Fox. As the book opens she is about to close in on Fox, and we learn some of their back story as she ponders catching him. The incident where he pulled off a heist and then hid in her hotel room plundering the mini-bar and even stealing the towels still irks her. But not as much as the Toblerones, her favorite candy bar, that he took.

   Fox makes a wild escape from that trap, but she does get him, literally driving a bus into his car in pursuit soon after. They meet, flirt, she wants to kill him, and sleep with him — and then he escapes, almost impossibly on the way to court.

   Kate flips out, and she reacts badly when she is not assigned the case. But she thinks she knows where Nick is; Mount Athos in Greece, where a priest calling himself Father Dowling recently arrived. Kate, a former SEAL (the authors acknowledge that Demi Moore aside there are no women SEALS, but they think there should be) whose father is a former SEAL, recruits him to help her, and she corners Fox, finally got him, a Federal fugitive. Done deal.

   One problem. Nick is sitting there with her boss Jessup, and the Deputy Director of the FBI.

   It will take a stretch of your imagination to bite on the next part, though it is one of those things in movies and television we shrug off with a smile depending on how much we enjoy the show (Castle is the best example). The major flaw here is this kind of thing is a harder sell in a book, and it is pretty much just dumped in your lap here. It seems the FBI is going to finance Nick’s swindles in return for freedom after five years, if he will help take down criminals they currently can’t touch. One of those handy secret funds Congress can’t trace will fund the thing.

   This gets dumped on the reader about as gracelessly as they dump it on Kate after one of those phony test missions that only happen in books and movies when they don’t have enough story to fill the time given.

   Meanwhile Nick will be on the Most Wanted list hunted by police around the world and Kate will be in charge of seeing he isn’t caught, unless he double crosses the FBI, which there is no guarantee he won’t do.

   Of course she hates the idea.

   He loves it. He can torment Kate, who is clearly interested in.

   And he can steal more of her Toblerones.

   Well, hard to blame her for her doubts, it is kind of stupid. You have to wonder they didn’t recruit G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt.

   I always found It Takes a Thief a bit of a stretch as much as I enjoyed it.

   Then again Sidney Reilly, the great British spy, was a serial bigamist who may have murdered at least one of his eleven wives, and Eddie Chapman, head of the Gelignite Gang in pre-War England, was one of the most effective British agents of the war, himself actually a handsome dashing womanizer who might of stepped out of a novel by Leslie Charteris written with Ian Fleming and Peter Cheyney.

   It isn’t as if the OSS didn’t recruit Lucky Luciano to help us invade Sicily.

   Not that any of that lifts this out of the realm of pure fantasy.

   I just don’t happen to mind the realm of pure fantasy once in a while.

   Their first big case fills out the second half of the book as they go after a corrupt investment banker hidden out on a private fortress island in Indonesia with a team that includes Kate’s dad, a wanted wheelman (have to have car chases), and a flamboyant actor, because two people can’t carry a series by themselves no matter how charming they are.

   At this point they have added Mission Impossible to their list of creative borrowing.

   Originality in Hollywood is stealing equally from everyone.

   There are no surprises here, not a lot of suspense either, since there really isn’t time for either the romance or any of Nick’s schemes to play out.

   Basically, like Goldberg’s books for the Monk series, this is a novelization of something that never got made.

   But wait, because I actually liked a good many novelizations, and surprise surprise, I like this.

   It’s fast, it’s fun, the characters are attractive, if cardboard, the action moves at a pace, and the writing, if cinematic, is literate, and the dialogue plays cute between Kate and Nick with at least what passes for sophistication on television. It’s not either version of The Thomas Crown Affair, but you can imagine Fox as Pierce Brosnan if you want.

   That’s what this is: a novelization of an unsold pilot that was never produced. But it’s also a quick read, and I bought it remaindered for under $5, so for the hour and an half it kept me entertained, and I recommend it highly. Add more detail, more depth to the characters, a few more high concept set pieces, and more plot, and you would have a damn good book.

   What you have anyway is a pleasant time killer on a level with the kind of books most of us readily devoured in the fifties and sixties in paperback originals and mid-list mystery fare. That’s not as faint praise as it may sound. Some of those were more pleasure to read than some better books, and this one is a light escapist work with a bit of charm, something sadly missing today.

   And its not bloated. Every page and every word goes right to plot, character, and action — a bit mechanically, granted, but there’s no side trips to distract you.

   If it is lying around or you run across it, read it, but don’t spend much looking for it.

       The Fox and O’Hare series —

The Heist. June 2013.
The Chase. February 2014.
The Job. November 2014

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


REED STEPHENS – The Man Who Risked His Partner. Axbrewder & Fistoulari #2. Ballantine, trade paperback, October 1984; mass market paperback, 1986. Forge, hardcover, revised edition, 2003; Tor, paperback, 2004.

   As the book opens, the main characters are recovering from the events in the first book of the series, The Man Who Shot His Brother. Ginny Fistoulari, the head of the agency, lost her left hand in an explosion, and is depressed and fearful to the point of real neurosis; Mick Axbrewder, who shot his brother while drunk, is now a recovering alcoholic with all the attendant problems. They are offered a job by an accountant, supposedly to protect him from a gang boss to whom he is in debt.

   Fistoulari, reasonably enough, doesn’t want to take the job, feeling that to oppose the gang leader is insanity. For reasons of his own, Axbrewder more or less shames her into accepting it. There is a subplot involving a Chicano youth befriended by Axbrewder who has been killed who was a numbers runner for the gang boss, who is known as El Senor.

   The plot is complex, as their client proves layered with deception after deception. What kind of man he really is, and why he needs their protection, change in definition almost from chapter to chapter.

   These are terribly damaged pe6ple. All of them. There are no characters in the book, even those sketched most lightly, for whom it was possible for me to feel any empathy, or any emotion other than a horrified or distasteful pity. The despair is unremitting. By the end my only feelings were relief and a determination not to subject myself to more such.

   It will come as no surprise to those who have read Stephen Donaldson‘s books that Reed Stephens is a pseudonym of his. Few if any authors are more adept than Donaldson at delineating pain and despair, and seemingly none more determined to explore them in all their myriad facets. More power to him, and to those who enjoy such misery. I am not among them.

– Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #1, May 1992.


       The Axbrewster & Fistoulari series –

The Man Who Killed His Brother (1980)

The Man Who Risked His Partner (1984)
The Man Who Tried To Get Away (1990)
The Man Who Fought Alone (2001)

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


SUZANNE ARRUDA – The Leopard’s Prey. NAL, hardcover, January 2009; trade paperback, September 2009.

   “It comes at you with madness in its pale yellow eyes, Simba Jyke.”

   Among the more entertaining mystery series to emerge in this century, Suzanne Arruda’s books about female flyer and photojournalist American Jade del Cameron, aka Simba Jyke, meaning lioness, set in British East Africa post WWI, are an entertaining mix of adventure, action, solid detection, exotic location, and early feminism.

   Like Hemingway, Jade drove an ambulance in Italy during the war, and has come home to British East Africa where she has an ongoing romance with bush pilot and former ace Sam Featherstone. As The Leopard’s Prey, the fourth entry in her adventures, opens she is working for the Perkins and Daley Zoological Company helping to collect and capture animals for zoos (don’t go all politically correct, this is taking place in the era of Frank Buck, Clyde Beatty, and great white hunters of the Hemingway vein.

   The stories are historically accurate and feminist or not, Jade is a woman of her time, taking the job to keep the animals from extinction), as the jacket says: “…lassoing zebras, chasing down a rhinoceros, and posing as bait for a leopard.” She even has a pet cheetah named Biscuit, again not untrue to the era or the type.

   There is a murder of course. Jade’s friends Maggie and Neville Thompson find the body of a merchant, and her lover Sam is implicated, so Jade naturally has to clear his name, which leads to cracking Sam’s plane up in the African wilderness and a long trek to safety where savage beasts are the least of her problems. All this leads to being cornered by a murderer planning to use a killer leopard as a murder weapon, and an aging lion named Percy with a mind of his own.

   “My mother says you must watch for danger in a killer’s eyes.” a native warns Jade. She just misunderstands which killer the old native woman means, to her almost fatal chagrin.

   Jade is not a particularly cerebral sleuth, hardly Miss Marple in a leather flying jacket and jodhpurs. She has an Indiana Jones streak, though she is never presented as a super woman or comic book heroine. Her adventures are well within the laws of probability, given that she stumbles on more than her fair share of adventure and bodies while moving from one job to the next.

   Her attitudes are enlightened, but not unknown in that time frame, yet another example of Arruda’s research. She’s something of a mix of Amelia Earhart, Beryl Markham, and Pancho Barnes with a bit of Pearl White and Nyoka the Jungle Girl thrown into the mix along with a grown up Nancy Drew.

   The series captures the Africa of the era, from the adventure and romance of Out of Africa to the high and low social whirl of White Mischief, with nods to Hemingway’s African tales and memoirs. The action is well handled, and Jade is no mean sleuth. Like Barbara Cleverly’s Joe Sandilands mysteries Arruda never lets the mystery take a back seat to the adventure aspect of the books, and like that series, the world Jade moves in is richly portrayed and researched from the attitudes and politics of that world to the details of cameras, planes, and clothes.

   Arruda’s style is simple and straightforward, literate, but never complex and deceptively easy to read.

   I haven’t been able to follow the series beyond this one, but the first four books remain fresh and original, with green-eyed Jade a heroine you can root for. The books have the quality of an old fashioned adventure film like Clark Gable and Myrna Loy in Too Hot to Handle, with the same crackling dialogue, wit, and action, but there is a well done mystery at the heart and a clever heroine/sleuth to pull for.

          The Jade del Cameron Series

Mark of the Lion (2006)
Stalking Ivory (2007)

The Serpent’s Daughter (2008)
The Leopard’s Prey (2008)
The Treasure of the Golden Cheetah (2009)

The Crocodile’s Last Embrace (2010)
The Devil’s Dance (2015)

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Art Scott


JAY FLYNN – A Body for McHugh. Avon T-444., paperback original, 1960. MacFadden-Bartell 75-378, paperback, 1966.

   This is one entry in a nifty little five book paperback series that Flynn did in the early 19608. McHugh owns a backstreet San Francisco bar, the Door, that serves as the local watering hole for assorted spy types, ours and theirs.

   McHugh (no first name is supplied) is one of ours, working for one of those secret agencies tucked away in a Pentagon sub-basement; he periodically takes on assignments messing around in Mexican or Caribbean revolutions, recovering Nazi war prizes, and the like.

   Oddly, the books were packaged as if they were typical private-eye novels; consequently they may have failed to find the audience that would best appreciate these neatly crafted action yarns. Matt Helm fans,in particular, will find them right up their street.

   In this one, a man is knifed just outside the Door, and a scared young girl, apparently there to meet him, slips out the back way before McHugh (and the FBI and CIA agents hanging around) can get a line on her.

   The killings that ensue (some engineered by adept assassin McHugh) have to do with a missing suitcase full of money, the loot from a double-cross-infested operation by a group of Cubans trying to get their wealth out before Castro grabbed it.

   The action ranges up and down the California coast, from San Francisco to L.A. to Carmel, with assorted law-enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies, and the Mafia mixed into the caper.

   The other four books in the series are McHugh (1959), It’s Murder, McHugh (1960), Viva McHugh! (1960), and The Five Faces of Murder (1962). Flynn also wrote a number of nonseries suspense novels, among the best of which are Drink with the Dead (1959), about a bootlegging operation in northern California; and The Action Man (1961), about a heist involving a golf tournament modeled on the one at Pebble Beach.

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

Editorial Note:   For a long personal profile of Jay Flynn by Bill Pronzini, along with a complete bibliography of the author put together by myself, check out this page on the primary Mystery*File website.

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