Characters


REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


ROB KANTNER – The Quick and the Dead. Ben Perkins #7. Harper, paperback original, 1992.

   Thanks to Leonard, Estleman, Jackson, and Kantner, Detroit has become one of the better-known cities on the hardboiled map. The city, its makeup and its history, are an important part of each author’s approach to his story, though the focus of each of course varies. Kantner’s for the seventh Ben Perkins is the world of Detroit Catholicism.

    Perkins, the sometime private eye, full time maintenance head of a large apartment complex, is currently enjoying the benefits of an interesting life. His boss would like to fire him, a mafia don wants some incriminating material Perkins has, and an ex-lover is about to have their child.

   Now a local judge who is in a position to both help and harm him wants him to take on a job for St. Angela’s parish — for no pay. The ex-priest of the church is being considered for canonization during an upcoming visit by the Pope. The problem is that when his body was dug up to be examined, it wasn’t there; the coffin was filled with bricks. Perkins’ job: find it, and find out why it is missing.

   I’ve generally enjoyed Kantner’s novels. Perkins, and ex-factory worker and ex-union enforcer, is a well-realized bluecollar type of PI, and Kantner tells a good story in very good prose. The books don’t make me want to start babbling about “transcending the genre,” but then again they rarely bring on one of my tirades about foolish people and foolish plots. This one is no exception. It won’t make you forget Chandler, but it’s a solid example of the hardboiled type.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #5, January 1993.


       The Ben Perkins series —

1. The Back-Door Man (1986)

2. The Harder They Hit (1987)
3. Dirty Work (1988)
4. Hell’s Only Half Full (1989)
5. Made in Detroit (1990)
6. The Thousand Yard Stare (1991)

7. The Quick and the Dead (1992)
8. The Red, White and Blues (1993)
9. Concrete Hero (1994)
10. Trouble is What I Do (story collection; 2005)
11. Final Fling (2007)     ADDED LATER (see comments)

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


WALTER SATTERTHWAIT – A Flower in the Desert. Joshua Croft #3. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1992. Worldwide Library, paperback, 1993. University of New Mexico Press, trade paperback, 2003.

   Besides the three Joshua Croft books, Satterthwait has also written a historical mystery featuring Oscar Wilde, Wilde West. It received mixed reviews, but I liked it considerably, as I have the previous two Croft books.

   Croft and his partner, the crippled Rita Mondragon, are hired to find the (divorced) wife and child of a well-known TV actor. The case is complicated by the fact that the actor was charged with child abuse, though cleared of the charges.

   The missing wife had worked in LA for a group aiding Salvadorian refugees; her sister living in LA has just been murdered. Connections? There is an ongoing subplot concerning Croft’s so far unrequited passion for his partner.

   Croft, wisecracking but caring, is a member in good standing of the PI fraternity and represents it well. It really isn’t a regional mystery, as much of the book takes place in LA, but still gives a nice feel for Santa Fe. I think Satterthwait one of the better of the new PI writers, and look forward to his books. This one is good, but not great.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #5, January 1993.


       The Joshua Croft series —

Wall of Glass (1987)

At Ease With the Dead (1990)
A Flower in the Desert (1992)
The Hanged Man (1993)

Accustomed to the Dark (1996).

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


RICHARD STARNES – Another Mug for the Bier. Lippincott, hardcover, 1950. Pocket #858, paperback, 1952.

   While Senator Philander Chance is on the Senate floor trying to get a natural gas pipeline bill enacted, Courtney Mandrel, gossip columnist and TV and radio newscaster, is at the U.S. Capitol preparing to unleash scandal about the bill. Someone on the Hill then puts an end to Mandrel’s muckraking.

   Barney Forge, reporter for a wire service, finds Madrel’s body and moves it so a good guy won’t be accused. Forge then hies himself to Alexandria, Va., to consult Dr. St. George Peachy, elderly pathologist. In a complicated case with several other deaths occurring, one right in front of him that he was supposed to prevent, Peachy clears things up. Well, except for one or two details that I am still puzzling about.

   I don’t know how good a reporter Forge is, but he is a delightful character, as are his wife; Haggis the Airedale; and Ewe-All the goat.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 6, No. 3, Fall 1990, “Political Mysteries.”


      The Barney Forge & Dr. St. George Peachy series

And When She Was Bad She Was Murdered. Lippincott, 1950.
Another Mug for the Bier. Lippincott, 1950.
The Other Body in Grant’s Tomb. Lippincott, 1951.

JANET DAWSON – Kindred Crimes. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1990. Fawcett Crest, paperback, May 1992.

   This is the first of fifteen recorded cases tackled and solved by Oakland-based PI Jeri Howard, including four novellas, and it’s a good one. I’m not alone in holding that opinion. Kindred Crimes won the St. Martin’s Press/PWA contest for best first private eye novel. It was also nominated in the best first novel category for the Shamus, the Macavity and the Anthony.

   In this novel Jeri is hired by a forlorn husband whose wife left their baby son with his grandparents, cleaned out their joint checking account and completely disappeared. Using nothing more than feet and wheels on the ground, Jeri discovers that the missing woman had married him under a phony name, and that her brother had been convicted of killing their parents when they were still children.

   This is a tough-minded detective story. Hints of child abuse immediately come to Jeri’s mind. If you don’t care for detective stories in which the detective gets too emotionally involved with the case she is working on, this may not be the book for you.

   Dawson is a smooth but not overly slick writer, and the puzzle aspect is as well done as the characters. If you decide that this is the kind of book you’d like to read, I think you’ll see why Jeri Howard has managed to hang around for quite a while now.

       The Jeri Howard series —

1. Kindred Crimes (1990)
2. Till the Old Men Die (1993)

3. Take a Number (1993)
4. Don’t Turn Your Back On the Ocean (1994)
5. Nobody’s Child (1995)

6. A Credible Threat (1996)
7. Witness to Evil (1997)
8. Where the Bodies Are Buried (1998)
9. A Killing at the Track (2000)

10. Bit Player (2011)
11. Jeri Howard Casebook: 4 Stories (2011)
12. Cold Trail (2015)

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


SARAH DUNANT – Birth Marks. Hannah Wolfe #1. Doubleday, hardcover, 1992. First published in the UK: Michael Joseph, hardcover, 1991.

   This is Sarah Dunant’s second mystery, but the first (I believe) featuring London-based private detective Hannah Wolfe.’ I believe we have a winner here.

   Hannah accepts a job that’s basically a missing persons case — young ballet dancer hasn’t send her more-or-less adopted mother a card when she should have, and the woman is concerned. Though Hannah first believes that the young woman simply wanted not to be found, she takes the case because she needs the money. After the investigation has begun, but before anything substantive has been learned, the missing dancer is fished out of the Thames, dead, an apparent suicide, eight months pregnant.

   Based on what she’s learned, Hannah doesn’t believe it,`nor does someone else: she is retained by an anonymous client to investigate further. The` trail leads to Paris, and leads Hannah into an ever-deepening questioning of her own feelings about motherhood.

   Hannah Wolfe was not only believable, but appealing, and altogether the best feminine PI I’ve met in a long while. The character was beautifully developed, as were those of her sister, her ex-boss and “mentor,” and several others. Dunant’s prose style is literate and understated, and the narrative flow was very good.

   This was an excellent book. There were no unbelievable characters, the plot made sense, the writing was fine, and it didn’t end in an orgy of violence. I don’t want to go overboard, but I liked this better than any first book (for me) I’ve read in a while. You need to give this lady a try.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #5, January 1993.


       The Hannah Wolfe series —

Birth Marks. Joseph, 1991.
Fatlands. H. Hamilton, 1993.
Under My Skin. H. Hamilton, 1995.

ANDREW BERGMAN – The Big Kiss-Off of 1944. Holt Rinehart & Winston, hardcover, 1974. Ballantine, paperback, March 1975. Perennial Library P673, paperback, 1983.

   Andrew Bergman’s novels about Manhattan-based private eye Jack LeVine are very much in the Raymond Chandler vein, which is not a bad vein to be in at all.

   From page 15:

   I really wanted to soak up the box scores, to follow the exploits of wartime baseball’s one-armed outfielders, and blind, deaf and dumb infielders, but I was trying to figure how I had wandered into a murder in a space of two hours. World wars were all very interesting, but the stiff in 805 had me staring into my coffee long before I could drink it. The feeling was unmistakable. I have it one one case a year, maybe every year and a half. I was getting in over my head.

   Jack is a big guy, bald, Jewish, once married but no longer, smokes Luckies, drinks Blatz, and is a very good guy for a Broadway chorus girl being blackmailed for making the wrong kind of movie to have on her side. What Jack doesn’t count on is that the case will end up with him deeply involved in the Roosevelt-Dewey election campaign of 1944.

   Mr. Dewey, in fact, makes a major appearance. Mr. Roosevelt does not. Mr. Bergman, who later on became a well-known scriptwriter and director, knew his way around a typewriter even at this early date, and the story goes down nice and easy. Very enjoyable.

Bibliographic Note:   There was one immediate followup novel, Hollywood and LeVine (Holt, 1975), then nothing was heard from Mr. LeVine for over 25 years, when Tender Is LeVine came out from St. Martin’s in 2001.

CHARLES KNIEF – Emerald Flash. St. Martin’s, hardcover, April, 1999; paperback, May 2000.

   Opening paragraph:

   The first time I saw Margo Halliday she was stark naked, running for all she was worth down a Honolulu alley in the middle of the night.

   Telling the story is ex-SEAL and now Hawaii-based private eye John Caine. Emerald Flash is the third of four recorded adventures.

   Chasing Margo Halliday is her ex-husband:

   The big man jogged past and I dropped him with a flying kick, He went down easy but refused to let go of the pistol, so I broke his wrist and he gave it up. All the fight went out of him. He deflated like an octopus brought up on a lure and dropped into the bottom of a canoe, when it knew it was going to die.

   Caine doesn’t see Margo again until seven months later, when she is accused of killing her ex-husband. Not only that, but hard on her trail is a gang of Colombian thugs, and for good reason. They think she is somehow in possession of a fortune in stolen emeralds. She remembers Caine, and she calls on him for help.

   He does, but it isn’t easy. I was reminded of John D. MacDonald in a couple of ways, not only the obvious one, but Caine also has a philosophy of life very similar to that of a certain Travis McGee. But there is a difference: no matter how close he and Margo get as man and woman, they sleep in separate beds, and none of the McGee books had the same amount of firepower that is called upon in this one: rifles, grenades, Glocks, even an elephant gun.

   Somewhat toward the end of the book:

   It had been a year of extremes. I felt good and fit. My wounds all had healed. I had gone up against powerful enemies and had vanquished them all, including the one who had ordered my destruction.

   And now it was over.

   It’s not a perfect book. Too much of the story depends on things that happened in earlier ones, for example, and a long, lengthy portion of the book consists of Caine and Margo on the run, which with all of the aforementioned firepower is exciting enough for two or three books, but crammed into just this one, it somehow managed to slow the pace down rather than enhance it.

   On the other hand, when things are going a little slower, Caine manages to get along with a brain as well as brawn, and is as quick with a quip as Jon Stewart on a good night, and that’s very good indeed.

       The John Caine series —

Diamond Head (1996)
Sand Dollars (1998)
Emerald Flash (1999)
Silversword (2001)

SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


GASTON LEROUX “The Woman with the Velvet Collar.” First published in English in Weird Tales, October 1929. Reprinted in Startling Mystery Stories, Spring 1969, and in several anthologies of weird fiction since. Originally published in French as “La femme au collier de velours” in 1924.

   Although it took me a while to become fully immersed in Gaston Leroux’s “The Woman With the Velvet Collar,” by the story’s end I was left with the indelible impression that I had just read a well-crafted horror tale. First appearing in English translation in Weird Tales, Leroux’s conte cruel transports the reader to Corsica, a land known for its vendettas and its cultural and physical separateness from mainland France.

   “The Woman With the Velvet Collar” unfolds with a discussion between two sailors, a sea captain named Gobert and his friend, Michel. The two men are discussing Corsican vendetta stories, with Gobert assuring Michel that he has a story that is far more horrifying than any run of the mill vendetta. The tale further unfolds as Gobert begins to tell a story within a story, about his experiences in Corsica in which he encountered a ghost like woman dressed all in black and with a black velvet ribbon around her neck.

   As it turns out, the woman was named Angeluccia and she was married to a local Corsican official. But she kept a secret from her husband! She was secretly romantically involved with her cousin, one of her husband’s employees. Without giving too much of the plot away, let’s just say that the guillotine makes a bloody appearance in this fiendishly clever tale about what happens when a costume party in which Angeluccia dresses up as Marie Antoinette turns into the beginning of a dark foray into the supernatural.

Bibliographic Note:   Captain Michel also appeared in three additional stories:

       Le noël du petit Vincent-Vincent (1924); The Crime on Christmas Night (1930).
       Not’ Olympe (1924); The Mystery of the Four Husbands (1929).
       L’auberge épouvantable (1925); The Inn of Terror (1929).

JACK LYNCH – Seattle. Warner, paperback original, October 1985. Reprinted under the author’s original title Yesterday is Dead, Brash Books, softcover, May 2015.

   Jack Lynch, who died in 2008, was a long time newspaper reporter who began his career in Seattle before moving to San Francisco and the Chronicle, then quitting to write eight PI Pete Bragg novels, all but the last paperback originals in the 1980s. Of these one won a Edgar and two received Shamus nominations.

   The books came out during a time in my life when I was buying paperbacks like crazy but reading almost none of them. This is the first of the Bragg books that I’ve read, and I have to knock myself on the side of head and wonder why.

   The information that the original title for this, the seventh in the series and the last until 17 years later, came from the Thrilling Detective website, and as is often the case in situations like this, the original title, Yesterday Is Dead, is better. In this book Bragg, who is based in San Francisco, makes a return trip to his home town of Seattle to help a friend who’s in trouble, and along the way he finds that going home is almost never as easy as it sounds.

   The friend is Benny Bartlett, a mild-mannered photographer and freelance writer whose life has been threatened. If he doesn’t get out of town, he’s been warned, he’s going to be killed. Bragg drops everything at once and heads northward to Seattle, where he hasn’t been in five years.

   In the course of helping Benny with his problem, Bragg’s path crosses those of several distinctive women, one of them his ex-wife Lorna. Sparks fly with at least two of them, including Lorna. It also shouldn’t come as any surprise that several seemingly unconnected threads of the story are connected, in a fairly prosaic fashion.

   But it is Bragg as a character, who tells his own story, that’s the fascination here. Over the years he’s changed a lot, Lorna says, he’s tougher now, and in the course of his stay in Seattle, he takes an graphically described beating with perhaps an even more painful recovery. He learns even more about himself in Seattle, and for me it’s a bit of a shame that this last novel turns out to me to be the first one I read. Worse, though, I’m sure, for fans of the series at the time, as it took longer and longer for a next book to occur, it left them wondering if there would ever be another one.

      The PI Peter Bragg series —

Bragg’s Hunch. Gold Medal, 1981.

The Missing and the Dead. Gold Medal, 1982.
Pieces of Death. Gold Medal, 1982.
Sausalito. Warner, 1984.
San Quentin. Warner, 1984.

Monterey. Warner, 1985.
Seattle. Warner, 1985.
Wolf House. iUniverse, 2002.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


MICHAEL BOWEN – Faithfully Executed. Richard Michaelson #2, St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1992. No paperback edition.

   I enjoyed both this and the first Michaelson novel, Washington Deceased. Michaelson is a retired foreign service officer, now with the Brookings Institution. He is somewhat of a Washington insider, and is shamelessly angling for a high ranking post with the`next administration.

   The Michaelson novels remind me somewhat of Ross Thomas in their plots and general outlook on the world of politics, though Bowen isn’t the writer that Thomas is. He’s more than adequate, though, and writes entertainingly. He’s also written two baseball mysteries that I haven’t had the opportunity to read, and one other non-series mystery.

   The current book deals with the murder of a man about to be executed, plots to rig computerized elections results, and various other kinds of skullduggery. Recommended for those who enjoy political goings on mixed with mayhem.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #4, November 1992.


      The Richard Michaelson series —

1. Washington Deceased (1990)

2. Faithfully Executed (1992)
3. Corruptly Procured (1994)
4. Worst Case Scenario (1996)
5. Collateral Damage (1999)

Other Bibliographic Notes:   Bowen has written three books in his Thomas & Sandrine Cadette Curry series, taking place in New York in the 1960s, but only the second, Fielder’s Choice, appears to have baseball as part of its plot. Since the year 2000, Bowen has also written five books in a series featuring Rep & Melissa Pennyworth. Rep is an attorney who keeps running across cases of murder.

Next Page »