Characters


JOSEPH FINDER – Guilty Minds. Nick Heller #3. Dutton, hardcover, 2016; paperback, 2017.

   Nick Heller is, according to the back cover of the softcover edition of this book, “a private spy — an intelligence operative based in Boston who prides himself on uncovering the truth.” His assignment in this case: to find out who’s responsible for a scurrilous story about a Supreme Court justice that’s about to appear in one of those scandal sheet websites that are so widely read around the world today, but most particularly in the DC area.

   The justice is accused of having an ongoing liaison with a call girl in a downtown DC hotel, an accusation that Heller quickly proves to be false. When the call girl is found dead, obviously a suicide, Heller decides to follow up on his own — he doesn’t believe the official verdict — and to find out who’s really behind this ever evolving conspiracy, and why.

   This is PI work in the modern age, no doubt about it. Heller has a staff fully conversant with all kinds of illicit computer spying and other high tech surveillance capability, as well as contacts of all kinds whenever his own staff needs assistance. It does make things a whole easier in one sense, compared with the resources a Philip Marlowe had, or didn’t have — but on the other hand, the villains of the take have equal abilities, and they’re not hesitant about using them.

   I don’t usually tackle books as long as this one — almost 450 pages of small print — but Finder has a very smooth writing technique that allows the reader to gulp in whole paragraphs at a time. Truthfully, though, it’s more of a thriller novel than it is a PI novel, with a lot of firepower bringing the story to a grand slam conclusion in the final few chapters.

   There’s nothing in this one that I’m sure I haven’t read before, but even if so, I didn’t mind at all reading it again.

      The Nick Heller series —

1. Vanished (2009)
2. Buried Secrets (2011)
2.5. Plan B (novells, 2011)
3. Guilty Minds (2016)

   Also of note: “Good and Valuable Consideration: Jack Reacher vs. Nick Heller,” a short story by Lee Child & Joseph Finder included in the ITW (International Thriller Writers) anthology FaceOff (2015).

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


SANDRA WEST PROWELL – The Killing of Monday Brown. Phoebe Siegel #2. Walker, hardcover, 1994. Bantam, paperback, 1996.

   I’ve got this picture of a sweet LOL cozy fan spying the three names on the spine and pouncing on it with little yips of anticipation, carrying it home and settling down with a cup of tea for a nice comfortable read … and then the widening eyes, the shocked expression, the flushed face, and the sense of betrayal. Fair warms my heart, it does.

   Phoebe Siegel is an ex-cop who’s now a private investigator in Billings, Montana. She’s got a large family, an old house she wants to fix up, a lot of emotional baggage, and some bad memories from her last case.

   A murder of Crow Indians from the |nearby reservation show up in her front yard, referred to her by a cop friend of hers who’s their relative. One of the family has been arrested for the murder of an artifact-stealing white man, and they want Phoebe to find out what really happened. There’s a German artifact dealer in town who seems to have an in with the government, and several more complications, one of which being that the Indians hand her a bunch of stolen artifacts.

   This is a pretty good book, and anything but a cozy. Siegel is rougher’n hell and has a mouth on her like a stevedore. She’s an interesting character, and most of the other players are well drawn too.

   Prowell is one of the better prose-handlers I’ve see in the newer writers of late, and has a real feel for the Montana landscape. The plot wasn’t bad at all — I’m always surprised, any more, to be able to I say that — but she tossed in a lot of no-doubt authentic Native American mysticism that she seemed to like a lot, and which didn’t do anything for me at all.

   I haven’t read her first book, which is into its second printing but I’m moderately impressed with this one. I understand she’s got a six-figure contract from Bantam, and that impressive she ain’t.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #12, March 1994.


      The Phoebe Siegel series —

By Evil Means (1993). Nominated for nominated for the Hammett Prize and the Shamus Award.

The Killing of Monday Brown (1994). Nominated for the Shamus Award.
When Wallflowers Die (1996).
An Accepted Sorrow (unpublished).

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


NANCY PICKARD – Confession. Jenny Cain #9. Pocket, hardcover,1994; paperback, 1995.

   I’ve been a Jenny Cain fan ever since Pickard started writing about her, though I thought her last — But I Wouldn’t Want to Die There — was a distinctly minor effort.

   Things are going swimmingly in Port Frederick, Massachusetts for Jenny and her policeman husband Geoff, until. Until one morning when an acned, sullen teenager shows up on their doorstep and tells Geoff that’s he’s his biological son, but all he wants to do with him is for him to find out who killed his mother and father.

   The cops said the man killed the woman and then himself, but the kid doesn’t buy it. Geoff feels guilty but a little elated — he’s been wanting children — and Jenny just feels upset. She hasn’t. The boy’s non-real father was a member of a family with a weird religion (Jesus as homebuilder) and his mother was the town punch as a girl. Interesting times for Jenny & Geoff.

   Pickard’s strengths are evident here. They are a very engaging and readable prose style, and a set of characters that you can like (or dislike, as the case may be) and believe in. All too often in the current plethora of “personal” mysteries the feelings and thoughts of the protagonist distract from the story, but I don’t find that to be the case with the Cain series. Pickard is an effective and enjoyable writer.

   The story falls apart a bit at the end, though, when Jenny goes to see a person, a sort of unsavory deus ex machina, who enlightens her on past matters that explain all. It’s all wrapped up neatly, but both the person and circumstances are unlikely to the point of idiocy. It diminished my pleasure in the book considerably, but not enough to be sorry I read it.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #12, March 1994.


       The Jenny Cain series —

Generous Death (1984)
Say No to Murder (1985)
No Body (1986)
Marriage is Murder (1987)
Dead Crazy (1988)
Bum Steer (1990)
I.O.U. (1991)
But I Wouldn’t Want to Die There (1993)
Confession (1994)
Twilight (1995)

   By career, Jenny Cain is the director of the Port Frederick Civic Foundation, and as such is “is privy to the charitable intentions of the town’s wealthiest citizens.”

GAYLORD DOLD – Hot Summer, Cold Murder. Mitch Roberts #1. Avon, paperback original; 1st printing, April 1987.

   I don’t know how many full-length adventures of PI Mitch Roberts there were, but this is one of four that I have been able to track down. It takes place in Wichita, circa 1956, and even though Kansas is in the Midwest, and it’s about a decade too late, this is Chandlerville USA, no doubt about it.

   Roberts, hired to find a junkman’s son, a kid who’s been sniffing around one of the wealthiest girls in town, the stepdaughter of the head of the Vice Squad, soon finds himself in some pretty deep trouble, although he never quite admits it.

   While Gaylord Dold is doing some fancy work with similes and metaphors, his leading character is busily trying to cut himself in on a heroin deal. I thought he was in over his head myself, so I let the story coast on downhill, more or less on its own. It picked up some momentum in the final few pages again, and just in time, when it was almost (but not quite) too late.

— Reprinted from Nothing Accompliced #4, November 1993 (very slightly revised).


      The Mitch Roberts series —

Hot Summer, Cold Murder (1987)
Snake Eyes (1987)
Cold Cash (1987)

Bonepile (1988)
Muscle and Blood (1989)

Disheveled City (1990)
A Penny for the Old Guy (1991)

Rude Boys (1992)
The World Beat (1993)
Bay of Sorrows (1995)
Schedule Two (1996)
The Devil to Pay (1999)
Samedi’s Knapsack (2001)

COMMENT: The series switched from paperback to hardcover with A Penny for the Old Guy, and so did the locale of the stories. His later cases took Roberts away from Kansas to adventures all around the world.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


KYRIL BONFIGLIOLI – Don’t Point That Thing At Me. Charlie Mortdecai #1. Weidenfield & Nicolson, UK, hardcover, 1972. Published in the US by Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1973, as Mortdecai’s Endgame. Later published in the US under the British title by International Polygonics, paperback, 1990. Reprinted several times in various editions. Film: Mortdecai (2015), with Johnny Depp.

   For the many who may have spent sleepless nights wondering what sort of novel P.G. Wodehouse might have produced had he tried his hand at a depraved, unwholesome, im- or amoral tale — that is to say, a novel wholly about aunts of the vilest antecedents — Don’t Point That Thing At Me will give you a good idea what the master might have written.

   Describing the Hon. Charlie Mortdecai, sometime art dealer, is a difficult task, but there can be no doubt that he is one of the great antiheroes of the literature. Perhaps if you were to remove most of his good points from Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy — including his sexual drive, if that’s a good point — and make Frank McAuliffe’s Augustus Mandrell a coward and a sybarite, and then merge the two characters, you might have Mortdecai, or then again you might not.

   In this, Mortdecai’s first recorded adventure, he and his thug Jock, a sort of reverse Jeeves whose surname Mortdecai doesn’t recall but thinks it is probably Jock’s mother’s, have in their possession Goya’s “Duquesa de Wellington” and a scheme to smuggle it from England to the United States. The scheme involves a bit of blackmail, which gives rise to all sorts of nasty goings-on, or going-ons , if you prefer.

   Everyone, with the exception of a few minor characters, is thoroughly despicable, with Mortdecai and Jock having a few redeeming virtues, if one could only think of them. Mortdecai himself says that he has, like the Woosters, a code, but he doesn’t tell us what it is.

   Much mayhem, some torture, and as little sex as is possible — Mortdecai seems to lead a celibate life, although he is capable of indulging with a female, reluctantly — are contained herein, as well as some Lovejoyian asides on art. Torture, of course, isn’t funny, but somehow it produces laughs in Bonfiglioli’s hands.

   (This novel won the John Creasey Memorial Award in 1974.)

— Reprinted from CADS 9, July 1988. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.


      The Charlie Mortdecai series —

         by Kyril Bonfiglioli:

Don’t Point That Thing at Me (1972)
Something Nasty in the Woodshed (1976)
After You with the Pistol (1979)

         by Kyril Bonfiglioli & Craig Brown:

The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery (1996)

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


NEVADA BARR – A Superior Death. Anna Pigeon #2. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, 1994. Berkley, paperback, 1995. Avon, paperback, 2002(?). Berkley, paperback, 2003.

   I’ve heard a lot of good reports on Barr’s first novel, Track of the Cat, but for whatever reason have not read it. Barr, like her protagonist, is a Park Ranger, at the lovely Natchez Trace Park in Mississippi.

   Ranger Anna Pigeon has been transferred from the Texas high desert to Isle Royale National Park, a remote island off the coast of Michigan in Lake Superior and known for deepwater dives to wrecked sailing vessels. One of the vessels contains five well-preserved bodies that make it a prime diving attraction. Before long there’s a fresher body to contend with — a recently married diver who conducted diving tours on the lake. In addition, the young wife of an old-salt Park Ranger hasn’t been seen lately, and a New Age-ish couple are hinting to Anna of cannibalism and murder.

   Agh friend asked me when I was about two-thirds through the book how I liked it, and my answer was, “Pretty well, and if she doesn’t screw up the plot like so many of them do these days, I’ll like it a lot.”

   She did, though, bigtime. The eventual key to the plot was one of the most contrived and unlikely I’ve come across in many moons, and it comes to Anna in a blinding flash. Too, there’s the all-too-common situation of the law (including the FBI, this time) idling off-stage while the smart people catch the crooks, and the heroine plunging breathlessly into foolish danger.

   On the plus side, I think Barr writes very good prose, particularly when she’s dealing with nature and the environment, and manages to convey a strong ecological message without it getting in the way of the story. I liked Anna and thought that Barr did a good job with characterization overall. If you don’t share my distaste for reality shat upon, you might like this.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #12, March 1994.

      The Anna Pigeon series —

1. Track of the Cat (1993)

2. A Superior Death (1994)
3. Ill Wind (1995)
4. Firestorm (1996)

5. Endangered Species (1997)
6. Blind Descent (1998)
7. Liberty Falling (1999)
8. Deep South (2000)
9. Blood Lure (2001)

10. Hunting Season (2002)
11. Flashback (2003)
12. High Country (2004)
13. Hard Truth (2005)
14. Winter Study (2008)

15. Borderline (2009)
16. Burn (2010)
17. The Rope (2012)
18. Destroyer Angel (2014)

19. Boar Island (2016)

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


LINDA GRANT – A Woman’s Place. Catherine Sayler #4. Charles Scribner’s Sons, hardcover, 1994. Ivy, paperback, 1995.

   This is Grant’s first book since 1991, and I was beginning to be afraid she’d left the field. I thought that she along with Kijewski was one of the most promising newcomers to the female private eye group.

   Catherine and her partner Jesse aren’t your typical private eyes. They specialize in corporate security with a focus on computers, and here they are hired by a software firm to investigate sexual harassment in the form of pranks and computer mail. The firm has just been taken over a smaller one, and the male employees of the acquired firm seem to be having a difficult time adjusting to the larger firm’s corporate culture.

   Catherine and Jesse both go undercover and begin to work on the problem from separate angles. They discover that there is indeed a large problem, and no shortage of potential suspects. Catherine herself becomes a target of harassment, and then there is a murder.

   I believe this is Grant’s best book to date. It;s a book a man could have written nearly so effectively, and a powerful statement about not only sexual harassment in the workplace, but of the difficulties our legal systems have in dealing with the problems of sexual abuse in general.

   I continue to regard Sayler as one of the better characaterized protagonists in the field, as are her niece Molly, her atypical PI lover Peter, and her cop ex-husband Dan. Grant is a very good prose stylist, telling her story cleanly and without flamboyance. She manages to be intense about her subject without being hysterical, and holds her heroine’s Ramba-esque antics to a minimum. Excellent writer, interesting characters, good book.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #12, March 1994.

      The Catherine Sayler series —

Random Access Murder (1988).

Blind Trust (1990).
Love Nor Money (1991).

A Woman’s Place (1994).
Lethal Genes (1996).
Vampire Bytes (1998).

G. M. FORD – The Bum’s Rush. Leo Waterman #3. Walker, hardcover, 1997. Avon, paperback; 1st printing, March 1998.

   Before I begin, yes, in case you were wondering, that is the author’s real name. I had some serious doubts myself, way back when I bought his first book — in hardcover, no less. But, in spite of my best intentions, after shelling out big money for the book, I never got around to reading it, and in fact, this is the first in the Leo Waterman series that I have read. There’s just not enough time in a day, or a month, or a year, or a decade. Two decades.

   What’s strange, even after reading this one, I don’t have a clear picture of Leo Waterman in mind. His home town and primary stomping ground is Seattle, and in the beginning, he seemed to me to be a bit of a slacker, not taking his PI profession very seriously at all, punctuated by the fact that the gang he hangs out with are a bunch of — well, I’d call them homeless, but I don’t know that I can tell you where they do live. Mostly they hang out in a local bar and come to Waterman’s assistance every once in a while. While under the influence of varying amounts of intoxication, some more than others.

   But as the case goes on — two of them, in fact — Waterman displays a lot more toughness, and a lot more brainpower than he seemed to let on in the beginning. (He tells the story himself.)

   Case number one: a homeless woman whom Waterman and “the boys” rescue from an attack on the streets. She accidentally lets slip that she is the mother of a talented (and very wealthy) rock star who recently was found dead from an overdose of heroin, leaving an estate that’s worth upward of fifty million dollars. Against her wishes, Waterman decides to check out her claim.

   He is also hired to find a lady librarian who has absconded with a much smaller amount of the library’s money, but to libraries, even a smaller amount is a lot.

   The two cases do not ever really meet, only tangentially, but between them they keep Waterman busy. I should also mention that he’s a guy who’s quick with a quip, whenever needed, and of course he has a girl friend to spend a lot of time bantering back and forth with. Robert B. Parker has a lot to answer for, you may be thinking. Final verdict? While it’s far from being a classic, I had a good time with this one.

   And it may even be memorable, in a fashion, in that DorothyL, the well-known online mystery group, becomes an integral part of Waterman’s investigation. (How else to track down a missing librarian who loves mysteries?)

       The Leo Waterman series —

Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca? (1995)

Cast in Stone (1996)
The Bum’s Rush (1997)
Slow Burn (1998)

Last Ditch (1999)
The Deader the Better (2000)

Thicker Than Water (2012)
Chump Change (2014)
Salvation Lake (2016)
Family Values (2017)

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


MOLLY THYNNE – He Dies And Makes No Sign. Hutchinson, UK, hardcover, 1933. Dean Street Press, UK, trade paperback, 2016.

   In the third and apparently final case of Dr. Constantine, he is asked to take steps to end the engagement of the son of the Duchess of Steynes. According to the Duchess, the young man has become engaged to a most unsuitable young woman, one who is an actress of sorts. Constantine meets her, finds her enchanting, and is then involved in the disappearance of her grandfather, a violinist. Unfortunately, when the grandfather turns up, he is in the unlucky circumstance of being a corpse.

   One can see why this was the last in the series. It is wretchedly dull, the villain is obvious, and none of the characters are the least bit interesting. What Constantine is a doctor of is left unmentioned in this novel. Perhaps Thynne thought readers of the third book would have read the first two, in which she may, though I doubt it, have provided more detail. All we learn here is that Constantine is not an M.D., that he has just returned from the Continent where he took part in a chess tournament, and that only a dedicated masochist would care to read about him and his investigations.

— Reprinted from CADS 27. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes:

      The Dr. Constantine series —

The Crime at the “Noah’s Ark”. Nelson, 1931.
Murder in the Dentist’s Chair. Hutchinson, 1932.
He Dies and Makes No Sign. Hutchinson, 1933.

      Non-series mysteries by Molly Thynne —

The Red Dwarf. Nelson, 1928.
The Murder on the “Enriqueta”. Nelson, 1929.
The Case of Sir Adam Braid. Nelson, 1930.

   All six have recently been reprinted by Dean Street Press, four for the first time in the US.

   For a long essay on the life of the author, go here on Curt Evans’ “Passing Tramp” blog. Highly recommended!

LINDA BARNES – Steel Guitar. Carlotta Carlyle #4. Delacorte Press, hardcover, 1991. Dell, paperback; 1st printing, January 1993.

   In case you haven’t come across any of her cases before, Carlotta Carlyle is a tall red-headed female PI who drives a cab in her spare time (and to make a living) in the Boston area. Whether she ever met a gent named Spenser, I don’t know. I don’t really think so, but it’s fun to wonder whether or not they’d get along.

   A lot of Carlotta’s past comes to the forefront of this one, as a blues singer named Dee Willis who’s now on the verge of becoming a huge success comes back into her life. They met in the folksinger days of their youth. Dee had a voice and a dream. Carlotta decided to pursue other goals, especially when Dee went off with her ex-husband, Cal.

   It turns out, though, that Dee now needs Carlotta. She is being blackmailed for allegedly stealing the songs that made her famous, and she hires Carlotta to find the person behind it. When the bass player (female) in Dee’s band is found dead, thoughg, the stakes, Carlotta realizes, are suddenly a whole lot higher.

   The show business portion of the plot seems authentic, especially when it comes down to old jealousies and friendships. Not as interesting is the real nuts and bolts of the motive, which is always present when there’s big money to be had.

   Carlotta Carlyle’s career lasted for a total of twelve books. She wouldn’t have lasted as long if author Barnes hadn’t always had something to say, and the bittersweet ending added to this one gives it quite a poignancy that few PI novels ever come close to achieving.

      The Carlotta Carlyle series —

A Trouble of Fools (1987)

Snake Tattoo (1989)
Coyote (1990)
Steel Guitar (1991)
Snapshot (1993)

Hardware (1995)
Cold Case (1997)
Flashpoint (1999)

The Big Dig (2000)
Deep Pockets (2004)
Heart of the World (2006)
Lie Down with the Devil (2009)

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