SUSAN HOLTZER – Curly Smoke. Anneke Haagen #2. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1995; paperback, 1996.

   I thought Susan Holtzer’s first book. Something to Kill For, was surprisingly good. I say “surprisingly” because most first novel’s aren’t, and because it was a good bit cozier in type than I usually read.

   Anneke Haagen is moving into a rental cottage in Ann Arbor after a fire destroyed her home and all her belongings. The cottage is in .a small residential grouping located in the middle of commercial territory, and it’s in immediate danger of being demolished to make way for another development. The small group living there — which includes the prospective developer — are very much at odds over it all, and Anneke wonders what kind of people she’s landed among. Then on the night of a heavy snow a man is killed, and she knows — murderous.

   [Holtzer] still hasn’t written the kind of book I usually like, and she still does a pretty damned good job of it. She has an easy prose style, and a very deft hand at characterization. I like [Anneke Haagen}, her computer consultant sleuth, and her ex-pro football player cop lover (yes, one of those; I told you I didn’t usually like this kind), and with an exception or two the cast of suspects is well done also.

   The plot is fairly mundane and seemed the slightest bit contrived to me. I guess that very readable prose and very likable characters overcome a multitude of sins (not that there were that many), and I really liked the fact that Holtzer didn’t have her heroine charge into unnecessary danger and end the story with a burst of needless violence.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #22, November 1995

      The Anneke Haagen series —

1. Something to Kill for (1994)
2. Curly Smoke (1995)
3. Bleeding Maize and Blue (1996)
4. Black Diamond (1997)
5. The Silly Season (1999)
6. The Wedding Game (2000)
7. Better Than Sex (2001)



TERI HOLBROOK – A Far and Deadly Cry. Gale Grayson #1. Bantam, paperback original, 1995.

   This is a first novel by a lady who is a former journalist. Interesting — the publicity material refers to her several times as Teri Peitso.  She is an American, a Southerner.

   Gale Grayson, an American expatriate once married to an Englishman, and her 3-year old daughter Katie Pru live in a picturesque Hampshire village where now all seems well. It didn’t three years ago, when Gale’s husband was cornered in the local church by police seeking to arrest him for terrorism, and rather than be arrested blew his brains out.

   All will not be well again, either, as Gale’s baby-sitter, a young local woman, is found murdered. The policeman who led the charge that resulted in the church death is dispatched from Scotland Yard to investigate, and all the half-healed wounds are opened again.

   This was recommended to me by someone whose tastes I didn’t know that well, and it looked a bit thick (nearly 400 pages), but it was a village mystery, so I tried it-and it turned out pretty well. Quite well, actually. The Chief Inspector and his lady Sergeant were believable and likable characters, and the numerous villagers were generally well-drawn also. The viewpoints shifted frequently (with that of the police predominant), and the story occasionally slowed down a bit; not surprising in a book of this length.

   But considering how little actually happened, action-wise, it held up really well. It could have been 50 pages shorter, but as is it’s still one of the better village mysteries I’ve read this year.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #22, November 1995

      The Gale Grayson series

1. A Far and Deadly Cry (1995)
2. The Grass Widow (1996)
3. Sad Water (1998)
4. The Mother Tongue (2001)

Bibliographic Update: The author’s full name is now known to be Teri Peitso-Holbrook.

DAVID PETERS – Mind-Force Warrior. Psi-Man #1. Charter/Diamond, paperback original; 1st printing, October 1990. Ace, paperback, 2000, under the author’s real name, Peter David.

   Actually, [as far mystery fiction goes], this is a ringer, and maybe I shouldn’t be reviewing it here. You might find this book in the “action-adventure” section of your favorite chain bookstore. If that fails, you might want to check through the science fiction section before you find it, if you find it at all.

   Then again, the series that this is intended to be the first of might actually take off, like the endless series of Mack Bolan adventures or the Destroyer books that, now that my friend Will Murray is writing them, seem to be going as strong as ever.

   To get down to particulars, if you don’t expect a literary masterpiece, and are either a pulp or comic book fan, there is a better than even chance you even enjoy this. The year is 2021, a former high school teacher named Chuck Simon is the hero, and his trouble begin when the authorities learn that he has psychic powers that can kill. Telekinesis, mental telepathy, maybe even more.

   The problem is that Chuck is a Quaker, and he refuses the opportunity to become the government’s number one assassin, Things have downhill in the years from then to now. Constant air pollution, suspension of the Bill of Rights, a cashless society, cities infested with constant violence. (I think we can blame it on former President Quayle, whose statue is seen on page 104.)

   Not quite as bloody violent or militaristic as most of the men’s adventure series have become lately, this a book that can be read in a very short time. Since David Peters is in reality comic book writer Peter David — the Amazing Spider-Man, among other credits — you should not be surprised at the vivid, picturesque style of writing. You should also not be surprised at either the shallow characterization or the creaky turns of plot. Let me know: if I ever read another, do you want to hear about it?

– Slightly revised from Mystery*File 26, December 1990.

      The Psi-Man series —

1. Mind-Force Warrior (1990)
2. Deathscape (1991)
3. Main Street D.O.A. (1991)
4. The Chaos Kid (1991)
5. Stalker (1991)
6. Haven (1992)



STEPHEN SOLOMITA – Damaged Goods. Stanley Moodrow #6. Scribner, hardcover, 1996.

   Solomita writes New York City crime novels that are as down and dirty as you’re likely to find. His protagonist, Stanley Moodrow, was a Big Apple cop for the first few books, but is now a private eye of sorts. At nearly 60 he’s still a pretty bad dude, too.

   Jilly Sappone was one of the wiseguys who was a little too much of a mad dog for them, even, and they allowed him to be sent to prison. His wife testified against him, and he hasn’t forgiven them or her. Now he’s been paroled after 14 long ones, still crazy after all these years, and he starts off by putting his wife in the hospital with a beating and then kidnapping her child by another man.

   A woman’s organization comes to Moodrow for help in finding the child before Sappone kills her, and soon he’s tracking through his old East Side haunts in hot pursuit. Jilly’s just starting, though, and the dying’s about to begin.

   I keep reading these because I like Stanley Moodrow. He’s violent and profane — which is a pretty good description of the books — but still one of the good guys. Solomita does really good over-the-top psychos and hoods, and peoples his stories with characters that you wouldn’t want to know but are fun to read about These aren’t for the delicate of sensibilities or the faint of heart, but I like ’em. Sometimes, anyway.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #22, November 1995


      The Stanley Moodrow series

1. A Twist of the Knife (1988)
2. Force of Nature (1989)
3. Forced Entry (1990)
4. Bad to the Bone (1991)
5. A Piece of the Action (1992)
6. Damaged Goods (1996)


NIGEL MORLAND – Mrs. Pym of Scotland Yard. Mrs. Palmyra Pym #13. Vallancey, UK, hardcover, 1946. No US edition.

   In his anthology The Female of the Species, Ellery Queen disapprovingly quotes some unnamed “students of the genre” to the effect that “Edgar Wallace never wrote a first-rate story.” Whatever the case about Wallace, I think that the criticism is valid for Wallace’s friend and follower Nigel Morland. I have yet to read a memorable story by Morland, but he did maintain a high level of competence — despite having written one novel that received attention in Bill Pronzini’s Gun in Cheek.

   Mrs. Pym of Scotland Yard   contains nine short stories in very small type — Vallencey press seems to have continued the “raid” pamphlets in cloth, and with the post-war paper shortage Vallencey crammed as many words as possible onto each page.

   The first two stories, though not first rate, are quite clever. In “The Perfect Valet,” Mrs. Palmyra Pym (Scotland Yard’s only woman Inspector) uses her knowledge of bath-salts and syphons to solve a case of drowning. “The Rotherhithe Miracle” explains how there can be constant sounds of commotion in a room occupied only by a paralyzed woman. The other tales are less original.

   What is most interesting about Mrs. Pym of Scotland Yard is Morland’s contribution to the concept of a female detective. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the idea that a woman would actually lower herself to become a professional  sleuth was almost unthinkable.

   Many authors, therefore, said that their female detectives had been forced into that occupation by family reverses or by unfair accusations against a husband; certainly they wouldn’t have detected if they had any other choice. In this pattern, we have among others Mrs. Paschal (1864), Lady Molly (1910), and Constance Dunlap (1916).

   The main exception is Fergus Hume’s Hagar Stanley, the gypsy detective (1898). The authors emphasize the femininity of their detectives, as the cases are solved by intuition or, as in F. Tennyson Jesse’s Solange Stories (1931), by an innate feeling for the presence of evil. (Not even Jesse’s writing ability masks the silliness of that concept.)

   Much more convincing and perhaps the best woman detective of all time is Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple (1930). All of these sleuths are distinguished by, as Mrs, Paschal’s anonymous chronicler put it, their “ladylike conduct.” Mrs. Pym represents the other extreme from these feminine ferrets, intuitive investigators, and ladylike Lecoqs.

   When Nigel Morland, with Edgar Wallace’s assistance, invented Pym around 1930, the detective was first a “he,” one “Ignatius Pym.” “Ignatius” became “Palmyra,” but his/her masculine characteristics still predominated. Although Morland mentions her “dormant maternal instincts” and “feminine illogicality,” it is difficult to find any stereotypical womanly characteristics in her actions.

   She is “as hard as nails” and “her tongue’s rough on both sides.” She uses such phrases as ”Let’s grill Ma Forrest; she looks like a talker,” and when she is disgusted she “snorts malevolently.” She obtains a confession by threats of torture, and she allows an innocent suspect to be executed because she is certain that he is guilty of unpunished crimes. It is difficult to know why Torquemada in The Observer described her as “that perfection of a woman.”

   In his article about Mrs. Pym in Murderess Ink, Morland describes “her often ruthless ways” as “a curious sign-post to a slowly emerging woman’s lib.” Certainly Mrs. Pym needs no assertiveness training.

   Mrs, Pym is indeed an important development toward the modern female sleuth, but her aping of men seems to me less a signpost than a detour. The current direction is toward capable women who have not given up all womanliness, by whatever definition.In the traditional detective story we have finally gotten the proper balance in P.D. James’ Cordelia Gray, and in the private-eye story a similar balance is maintained in Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski. Neither of these sleuths would be cowed by Mrs. Pym.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 6, Number 1 (Spring 1984). Permission granted by Doug Greene.


   Contents (alphabetically) —

The Curious Death
The Golden West
The Hungry Duchess
The Missing Forger
The Obvious Flaw
The Perfect Valet
The Rotherhithe Miracle
The Sorrowful Duke
The Stolen Heart


PAUL McGUIRE – Murder by the Law. Supt. Fillinger #2. Skeffington, UK, hardcover, 1932. No US edition.


   Paul McGuire is known almost exclusively for his classic, A Funeral in Eden, taking place on an imaginary island. Many of his other novels, set in more prosaic locales, deserve better than the almost complete neglect which has been their fate.

   A case in point is Murder by the Law. The crime – -murder of a thoroughly detestable author – is standard, but the book is enlivened by the setting, the character of the detective, and McGuire’s sardonic writing style, The events take place at a meeting of The New Health and Eugenist Conference, and McGuire so thoroughly punctures the movement that even R. Austin Freeman, had he read the book, might have had second thoughts about Eugenics.

   The narrator, Richard Tibbetts, wonders whether a convinced Eugenist might have killed Harold Ambrose simply because the world would be a better place without him. There are, of course, additional suspects, as Ambrose was writing a novel which would embarrass every woman with whom be had an affair.

   The case is competently handled by Superintendent Fillinger, McGuire’s series detective who also appeared in at least two other books, Daylight Murder and The Tower Mystery (which Tibbetts calls “an odd, queer volume”). Fillinger, at more than 400 pounds, may put even Dr. Fell and Nero Wolfe almost literally in the shade. But he is not so eccentric as those worthies. The investigation is straightforward. And it is not until the final four lines that the murderer is revealed.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 6, Number 3 (Fall 1985). Permission granted by Doug Greene.

Bibliographic Update: As it so happens, there are now known to be seven recorded adventures in Fillinger’s case file, to wit:

Three Dead Men. Skeffington 1931.
Murder by the Law. Skeffington 1932.
The Tower Mystery. Skeffington 1932.
Death Fugue. Skeffington 1933.
There Sits Death. Skeffington 1933.
Daylight Murder. Skeffington 1934.
Murder in Haste. Skeffington 1934.

   As for Australian-born Paul McGuire (1903-1978), he has sixteen works of mystery and detection listed in Hubin, all between 1931-1940, including the seven above. Five of his novels have been published in the US, but as noted above, not this one.

   And, not surprisingly, while Al Hubin reviewed this one here earlier on this blog, there is not a single copy to be found offered for sale. But also by Paul McGuire and  previously reviewed here is Murder in Bostall (US: The Black Rose Murder), this time by Bill Deeck.



JEROME DOOLITTLE – Kill Story. Tom Bethany #6. Pocket Books, hardcover, 1995; paperback, 1996.

   Doolittle had told me in a letter that this was going to be called Spread Eagle. but said at EyeCon that Pocket Books had decided the original title might be offensive. He didn’t really understand why, and neither do I. Oh, well.

   Tom Bethany lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and makes his living doing … well, sort of whatever comes to hand. He’s managed to extract himself from all the databases most of us are in, and officially he doesn’t really exist But he’s real, and an old friend asks for his help when one of her old friends is found dead, an apparent suicide.

   She’s not sure it is, but if it was feels the woman was driven to it by the newspaper publishing baron who bought her newspaper, and then fired many of her old friends. The man is known as “the Cobra” in the business, and not because of his looks. Bethany doesn’t know if there’s anything there, but a friend’s a friend and he agrees to poke around in the rubble.

   I think Doolittle is one of consistently best storytellers in the business. Sometimes his plots requite a little suspension of disbelief, but never more than I’ve been able to handle. Bethany, the ex-college wrestler and ex-government pilot in Southeast Asia, is simply a tremendously appealing (and irreverent) character. The first person narration is smooth and witty, but not burdened with a wisecrack every other sentence.

   Doolittle’s books are not “heavy,” and are notably free of angst. What they are is entertaining, and readable, and very much worth your time and mine.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #21, August-September 1995

      The Tom Bethany series

1. Body Scissors (1990)
2. Strangle Hold (1991)

3. Bear Hug (1992)
4. Head Lock (1993)

5. Half Nelson (1994)
6. Kill Story (1995)

Reviews by L. J. Roberts


JANE ADAMS – The Greenway. Det. Inspector Mike Croft #1. Macmillan, UK, hardcover, 1995. Fawcett Gold Medal, US, paperback, 1997. Setting: Contemporary England.

   Cassie Maltham’s cousin disappeared while they were taking a short-cut home through the Greenway, an ancient passageway in Norfolk. Cassie couldn’t remember what had happened, but has suffered from depression and nightmares ever since. Now, 20 years later, Cassie has returned to Norfolk trying to let go of the past. But when another young girl disappears, it draws Cassie back into her nightmares. Detective Inspector Mike Croft, through the urging of Sergeant Bill Enfield, elicits the help of John Tynan, the retired detective who investigated the disappearance of Cassie’s cousin.

   Ms. Adams has written a haunting, yet very human book about guilt and loss. Cassie suffers survivor’s guilt; why did her cousin disappear rather than she. Croft knows the anguish of losing a child, although his son had been killed in a hit-and-run. The story was absorbing with good twists along the way and touches of the supernatural. I shall definitely read more of Ms. Adams’ work.

Rating: Good Plus

— Reprinted from the primary Mystery*File website, January 2006.


      The Det. Inspector Mike Croft series –

1. The Greenway (1995)
2. Cast the First Stone (1996) aka The Secrets
3. Fade to Grey (1998) aka Their Final Moments / Final Frame
4. The Liar (2019)

Reviews by L. J. Roberts


PAUL ADAM – Sleeper. Gianni Castiglione #1. Time Warner, UK, paperback, 2005. Published in the US as The Rainaldi Quartet (St. Martin’s, hardcover, 2006; Felony & Mayhem, paperback, 2007).

   Giovanni “Gianni” Castiglioni is a luthier – a violin maker – at whose home his friends – a policeman, Guastafeste, a priest, Father Arrigh, and a fellow luthier, Rainaldi – gather each month as an informal string quartet. After one of their sessions, Guastafeste and Gianni find Rainaldi murdered in his studio nearby. His widow tells them he was searching for “The Messiah’s Sister,” the twin to a perfect, unplayed, priceless violin made by Stradivari. Gianni is asked by Guastafeste to help in the investigation.

   This book is being released in hardcover by St. Martin’s as The Rainaldi Quartet in February 2006. No matter the title, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The character of Gianni, the supporting characters and the settings in Italy were well done. The killer, and the motive, weren’t ones I anticipated. But it was the history of violins and violin making I found fascinating. The information enhanced, rather than detracted, from the story. If this is an example of Mr. Adam’s writing, I should definitely read another book by him.

Rating: Good Plus

— Reprinted from the primary Mystery*File website, January 2006.


      The Gianni Castiglione series

1. Sleeper (2004) aka The Rainaldi Quartet
2. Paganini’s Ghost (2010)
3. The Hardanger Riddle (2019)The Gianni Castiglione series —

SHEILA RADLEY – The Chief Inspector’s Daughter. Inspector Quantrill #2. Scribner’s, US, hardcover, 1980. Constable, UK, hardcover 1981. Dell / Murder Ink, paperback, 1981. Bantam, paperback, 1987. Felony & Mayhem, trade paperback, 2007.

   The inspector’s name is Quantrill, and you may have met him before in Death in the Morning. That one I haven’t read myself, but I’m going to. This one’s a good one.

   To tell you the truth, though, I wasn’t so sure it was going to be when I started. The first couple of chapters are not all that promising. Stories involving British policemen and their dreary home lives I find more-or-less depressing. A little bit of it, at least, usually goes a long way.

   Apparently, vital communications between Quantrill and his wife have been gradually breaking down over the years, and to compound the problem, their younger daughter has just arrived home from London after a break-up with her lover. Nothing like a good case of murder to bring a family together, hmmm?

   But that’s just what it does. Daughter Alison takes a job as an assistant to Jasmine Woods, a well-known writer of romantic fiction. When Alison finds her employer brutally murdered one morning, she goes into shock, and then she disappears before revealing the important clue she knows.

   Some of the best clues in this story are provided by the simple expedient of omission, however, and you as reader are going to have to stay on your toes to stay ahead of the game. The plotting is rather cleverly done, but Sheila Radley does play fair. And you really do have good chance of beating Quantrill to the killer.

   I liked the ending. While it has nothing to do with the mystery, per se, I think by story’s end the characters have indeed become reasonable facsimiles of human beings for it to considered on of the better cliffhanger finales I’ve read in quite some time.

Rating: B plus.

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 2, March/April 1981.


      The Chief Inspector Douglas Quantrill series —

Death and the Maiden (n.) H. Hamilton 1978.
The Chief Inspector’s Daughter (n.) Constable 1981.
A Talent for Destruction (n.) Constable 1982.
Blood on the Happy Highway (n.) Constable 1983.
Fate Worse Than Death (n.) Constable 1985.
Who Saw Him Die? (n.) Constable 1987.
This Way Out (n.) Constable 1989.
Cross My Heart and Hope to Die (n.) Constable 1992.
Fair Game (n.) Constable 1994.

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