SPARKLE HAYTER – What’s a Girl Gotta Do. Robin Hudson #1. Soho Press, hardcover, 1994. Penguin, paperback, 1995.

   Hayter is a TV newswoman who has worked for CNN and WABC, and this is her first novel. She’s also been a standup comic. Would you believe I actually bought this, on a whim?

   Robin Hudson is a third-string reporter — fallen from better times — for ANN, a news network obviously modeled on CNN. In the process of being divorced from an unfaithful husband, she is not in the mood for a package of material from someone who has fond out a lot about her she isn’t particularly proud of.

   She’s supposed to meet the man at a hotel where the network is having a party, but he doesn’t answer his door. The next day he’s found dead in the hotel room, and it turns out he was trying to blackmail several of the network’s employees. But why, and who was he working for?

   Hayter does have a way with words — “dumber than a sack of hammers” and “a few bees short of a hive” were just a couple of phrases that caught my eye early on. I liked Robin Hudson, and I liked the quick, sure hand Hayter showed with the other characterizations. She writes a bit better than she plots, as is nearly always the case these days with first novelists. This one wasn’t egregious, though, and only broke down a little toward the end.

   I thought is was a strong contender for the First Novel Edgar most of the way through, and I’m not sure I still don’t. I liked Hayter’s maiden voyage a lot.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #14, May 1994.

      The Robin Hudson series —

1. What’s A Girl Gotta Do? (1994)
2. Nice Girls Finish Last (1996)

3. Revenge of the Cootie Girls (1997)
4. The Last Manly Man (1998)

5. The Chelsea Girl Murders (2000)

CONRAD ALLEN – Murder on the Mauretania. George Porter Dillman & Genevieve Masefield #2. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, December 2000; paperback, January 2002. Gerald Duckworth and Co Ltd, UK, softcover, 2002.

   If I can’t read a mystery taking place on a train, the next best thing is one that takes place on an ocean liner crossing either the Atlantic or the Pacific. It’s a happy combination of travel, limited access, and the proximity of new people to meet — and once a murder has been committed, a whole list of possible suspects.

   This second adventure in crime for the detective twosome of George Porter Dillman and Genevieve Masefield takes place in 1906 aboard the maiden voyage of the Mauretania, the pride of the Cunard Line — the biggest and the fastest at the time and for many years to come. They met in Murder on the Lusitania, the first book in the series and are now not only co-workers on board ship, but lovers as well.

   Conrad Allen certainly did his research before tackling this book, and it shows. Details of life aboard all three the ship’s passenger levels are described in detail, from the elegance of first class as compared to the cramped quarters of third.

   The book starts out leisurely enough, with the only crimes Dillman is required to investigate are some thefts of silver jewelry, and he very quickly has his eye on the most likely suspect. But after a hige afternoon squall, the man has disappeared. He’s nowhere to be found. Has it anything to due with a fortune in gold bullion the ship is also carrying?

   You bet it does.

   And lest you think Genevieve Masefield has nothing to with the story, her portion of the job is to mingle with the passengers in first class, and keep on eye on an elegant lady who seems to have nothing in common with the man who is masquerading as her husband.

   A long, nearly 300 pages of fine, sophisticated detective work. I think Dillman and Masefield could not help but love their jobs!

       The George Porter Dillman and Genevieve Masefield series —

1. Murder on the Lusitania (1999)

2. Murder On the Mauretania (2000)
3. Murder On the Minnesota (2002)
4. Murder on the Caronia (2003)
5. Murder on the Marmora (2004)

6. Murder on the Salsette (2005)
7. Murder on the Oceanic (2006)
8. Murder on the Celtic (2007)

NOTE:   Conrad Allen is but one of the pen names to have been used by British author Keith Miles, aka David Garland, Martin Inigo, Edward Marston, and Christopher T Mountjoy.

KATHERINE HALL PAGE – Murder in the Belfry. Faith Fairchild #1. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1990. Avon, paperback, 1991.

   Finding the body is [the former] Faith Sibley, displaced New Yorker and now the wife of a minister in a small New England town. The dead girl has been president of the Young People’s Club, but she was also a blackmailer, and worse — and somebody probably wanted her stopped.

   At first this is a “let’s solve a murder — it’ll be such fun” type of book, but when the dead girl’s innocent boy friend is suspected, a real reason for finding the killer emerges. Unfortunately Faith stumbles onto the truth almost by accident, spoiling the ending more than a little.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990. (very slightly revised).

[UPDATE.] Faith Sibley’s married name is Faith Fairchild, and this is how she is known throughout the rest of series. If you has asked me in 1990 when I wrote this review how many books would end up being in the series, I’m sure I’d have said three or four. I believe that was the standard publishers contract at the time for a new series. Unless the books and the leading characters caught on, and for Katherine Hall Page, I’m happy to say that they did. See for yourself:

      The Faith Fairchild series —

1. The Body in the Belfry (1990)
2. The Body in the Kelp (1990)
3. The Body in the Bouillon (1991)
4. The Body in the Vestibule (1992)
5. The Body in the Cast (1993)
6. The Body in the Basement (1994)
7. The Body in the Bog (1996; aka The Body in the Marsh)
8. The Body in the Fjord (1997)
9. The Body in the Bookcase (1998)
10. The Body in the Big Apple (1999)
11. The Body in the Moonlight (2001)
12. The Body In The Bonfire (2002)
13. The Body in the Lighthouse (2003)
14. The Body in the Attic (2004)
15. The Body in the Snowdrift (2005)
16. The Body in the Ivy (2006)
17. The Body in the Gallery (2008)
18. The Body in the Sleigh (2009)
19. The Body in the Gazebo (2011)
20. The Body in the Boudoir (2012)
21. The Body in the Piazza (2013)
22. The Body in the Birches (2015)
23. The Body in the Wardrobe (2016)
24. The Body in the Casket (2017)

MAX ALLAN COLLINS – The Baby Blue Rip-Off. Mallory #1. Walker, hardcover, 1983. Tor, paperback, November 1987.

   It takes a while in this, Mallory’s first appearance, for details of who he is to be filled in. But as the story goes on, we learn that is is an ex-Viet Name vet as well as a former cop, and is now beginning a career as a mystery writer. He’s also just moved back to the small home town of Port City, Iowa. (By the end of the book, though, his first name is still not known, at least by me.)

   The book begins as he describes how he’s been inveigled by a girl friend (who then almost immediately splits on him) into volunteering as a Meals on Wheels delivery person for the elderly. This may be a first (and only?) as an occupation for the leading character in a mystery novel.

   But what this does is to serve as a means for Mallory to get involved in his first case of actual murder. When he arrives at the home of one of the elderly women on his route, he finds a gang of thieves ransacking the place, and worse, he discovers the woman herself tied to a chair and very much dead.

   Besides taking her death as personal affront and deciding to find the ones responsible on his own, he also gets involved with an old flame from high school who now needs his help. One thing leads to another in that regard as well.

   Collins tells the story in a nice breezy tone that’s as comfortable as an old pair of shoes, with more than a bit of nostalgia mixed in. It’s also very well plotted — three solid reasons why I’m hooked and will go on to read the rest of series as soon as I can. There were four more. See below:

       The Mallory series —

1. The Baby Blue Rip-Off (1982)
2. No Cure for Death (1983)
3. Kill Your Darlings (1984)
4. A Shroud for Aquarius (1985)
5. Nice Weekend for a Murder (1986)

ASHLEY WEAVER – Death Wears a Mask. Amory Ames #2. Minotaur Books, hardcover, October 2015; trade paperback, September 2016.

   Although not intended, I imagine, for most readers of this blog, as a detective mystery novel, this is a book — as well as a series — that has a lot going for it. It has, first of all, a spunky heroine named Amory Ames, a young married woman who is quite at home in the wealthy upperclass set in England in the 1930s. She loves her husband, but he in turn seems to have a restless eye, a fact that causes a lot of heartache between the two of them.

   Lots of romantic conflict and stress, in other words, but what’s also of interest to modern day readers is that Amory has a growing reputation for solving mysteries. This, her second venture into solving a murder, starts slowly, though, as she is asked by a friend to find out who has been stealing some of her jewelry. A bracelet studded with fake sapphires is chosen as bait for the thief. And where? At as masquerade ball.

   Before the ball is over, however, a man is dead, but why? Did he confront the thief? He can’t have been the thief because he was in on the plan, and he knew the jewels were only paste. Surprisingly enough, the same policeman who was on the job in Amory’s first adventure, Murder at the Brightwell, manages to turn up again, but this time working for Scotland Yard.

   And since the world in which the murder takes place, that of the well-to-do and wealthy, does he ask Amory to snoop around and see what she can learn about all of the suspects, who are limited in number, but who live in a class that Inspector Jones can hardly expect to penetrate? In a word, yes.

   Overshadowing the case, however, is Amory’s problem with her husband Milo, who always has excuses for long stays away from home, and worse, has had his photo in the newspapers kissing a well-known French actress. Is a divorce in the works? On the other side of the coin is the attention that a certain Lord Dunmore is paying Amory.

   The mystery is complicated, but it’s nowhere near the level of that of an Agatha Christie novel, or even a Georgette Heyer mystery, both of whom are prominently referred to in the blurbs on the back cover. If you get the idea from the preceding paragraph that as much time is spent with Amory’s marital difficulties as with solving the mystery, I suspect that you may be correct.

   Personally, while I don’t know what’s going on with Milo — a theme that will assuredly be carried along in the next book — but I think he’s a dope to leave poor Amory twisting in the wind as he does.

The Amory Ames series —

1. Murder At the Brightwell (2014).     Edgar nominee for Best First Novel.

2. Death Wears a Mask (2015).
3. A Most Novel Revenge (2016).
4. The Essence of Malice (2017).
5. Intrigue in Capri (2017).

BILL PRONZINI – Quincannon. John Quincannon #1. Walker, hardcover, 1985. Berkley, paperback, September 2001.

   When readers of this blog see Bill Pronzini’s name, I’m sure that most of them will immediately think of his Nameless PI series, and rightfully so, since there are over 40 of them. A good percentage of these readers will also know him as the author of a large number of straight suspense novels. Relatively fewer will associate him with an additional 8 or 10 western novels, however, some published under other names.

   What you can count on with a Pronzini book, though, no matter what genre, is one that is is well-researched, will-plotted, and above all well-dialogued (if such is actually a word). Quincannon is actually a hybrid, a crossover between a western and a detective novel. The leading character is John Quincannon a longtime agent for the Secret Service in the 1890s, based in San Francisco. The case which he’s assigned to in this, his first recorded adventure, is finding out who’s flooding the West Coast with phony currency and counterfeit silver eagles and half-eagles.

   The trail leads him to a small mining town in Idaho, but unfortunately Quincannon is suffering from a bad case of the whiskey blues. If the word alcoholic was in use then, he would be one. His present is constantly clouded by the memory of the young pregnant woman he accidentally killed on on earlier assignment.

   But completely sober or not, in the guise of a patent medicine salesman, he’s still capable of doing the detective work needed to crack the case. Of even more importance, perhaps, is that in doing so, his path crosses that of a young independent woman named Sabina Carpenter, who has an uncanny resemblance to the woman whose death he was responsible for. And more, she also does not seem to be whom she claims to be.

   That they end up working together is a fact that followers of their combined careers already know. At the end of the book there is a strong hint that they will continue to be partners in a San Francisco-based private investigation business, which of course they did.

Bibliographic Notes:   Following this book, Quincannon next appeared in Beyond the Grave (1986), co-authored with Marcia Muller. Carpenter and Quincannon then appeared in a long list of short stories, some co-written by Myarcia Muller and most if not all collected in:

Carpenter & Quincannon, Professional Detective Services (1998).

Burgade’s Crossing (2003).
Quincannon’s Game (2005).

   Eventually the pair began appearing in book form, in the following list of novels, under the combined byline of Muller and Pronzini:

The Bughouse Affair (2013).

The Spook Lights Affair (2013).
The Body Snatchers Affair (2015).
The Plague of Thieves Affair (2016).
The Dangerous Ladies Affair (2017).


FLORENCE STEVENSON – Mistress of Devil’s Manor. Kitty Telefair #4. Award AN1130, paperback original; 1st printing, 1973.

   Florence Stevenson, the author of the short-lived Kitty Telefair psychic detective series, of which this is the fourth, seems to have been published only in paperback originals. I loved the first one I read, Altar of Evil, and knowing of my fondness for these marzipan confections, a good friend recently sent me this one and The Sorcerer of the Castle.

   In Mistress, Kitty goes off to a resort hotel to find out what has happened to her friend, Gillian Bond, who has disappeared on a honeymoon trip to a Western ghost town. The ghost town is, of course, inhabited by something more frightening than Patrick Swayze, and even Kitty’s psychic powers seem, for a time, perhaps not equal to the horror she find there.

   But our girl, outfitted in silk shorts, Levis and riding boots, wins out, although her powers are somewhat diminished by a roll in the hay with Professor Darius Flynn, a hot-blooded Irish academic.

   The moral dilemma posed by Kitty’s betrayal of her relationship with her fiance is neatly disposed of in the last paragraph. I like Kitty a lot. She’s not the fainting type, has a healthy appetite, and buys clothes that flatter her figure: “At about four in the afternoon I drove to Goldwater’s Department Store and bought three pant suits of the thinnest nylon I could find; I also bought Levis, riding boots and a white Stetson that probably spelled ‘dude’ in mile-high letters across the hat band, but since it was madly becoming, I did not care.” Right on, Kitty.

   And right on, Florence Stevenson, too. She probably dashed these off for the public’s sweet tooth, but she has a sharp eye for telling detail and the story generates suspense and a goosebump or two. Oh, and by the way, there’s a treasure map and a lost cave in a forbidding mountain range, guarded by … but why don’t you look this one up and find out?

      The Kitty Telefair series —

The Witching Hour. Award A868, 1971

Where Satan Dwells. Award A883, 1971
Altar of Evil. Award AN1107, 1973
Mistress of Devil’s Manor. Award AN1130, 1973
The Sorcerer of the Castle. Award AN1219, 1974
The Silent Watcher. Award AQ1413, 1975

The Horror from the Tombs. Award AD1658, 1977.

EDITORIAL UPDATE:   That last line, as it has turned out, is quite a teaser. This review first appeared in Walter’s DAPA-Em zine for September 1990, and in the meantime, copies of this particular paperback have all but disappeared. There is only one to be found for sale on the Internet, and that one in the $40 range. Of some of the others, there are only one or two copies, often in only fair to good condition, with none at all of Altar of Evil or The Horror from the Tombs. In fact, of the latter, it was not known to Hubin until now that Horror was a Kitty Telefair novel.

   Thanks to Ken Johnson and his online Fantasy Gothic checklist for assisting on the bibliographic data above. Covers to all may be found there as well.

MARION BRAMHALL – Murder Is Contagious. Kit Acton #5. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1949. Unicorn Mystery Book Club, hardcover, 4-in-1 edition. No paperback edition.

   Life on the college campus was different after World War II both as it was before the war and as it is now. Veterans were coming home and going to school. They were often older, married, and they had kids. They also lived in makeshift housing. Quonset huts.

   And if one kid got the measles, there was an epidemic. What Kit Acton and her professor husband Dick also face is a pair of murders, born of love and hatred and the cramped housing conditions. Reading this book 40 years later, you know what this reflects, more than anything else, is an era of the past that will never appear in any high school history class.

   According to Hubin, this was the last of five mysteries written by Marion Branhall, all starring Kit (Marsden) Acton. He doesn’t mention husband Dick. I assume that Marsden was her maiden name, and that they met and got married sometime earlier in the series.

   Dick is the detective in the family, however. Issuing a small PLOT WARNING notice at this point, he discovers who the killer is long before Kit, but he doesn’t tell her (or the reader) until after the climactic finale, during which Kit has interestingly made the clues fit another suspect altogether.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990. (shortened and slightly revised).

[UPDATE.]   At the end of this review, I made some comments about the author, now deleted, not knowing much about her, I wondered if she might possibly be male, thinking that the name Marion is often masculine. On the other hand, “it’s Kit who tells the story, and it sure doesn’t sound like a man who’s putting words in her mouth.”

   I can now report that, as Al Hubin says in the latest CFIV, that Marion Bramhall (1904-1983) was indeed female, and in fact was the daughter of a minister and lived in Massachusetts.

      The Kit (Marsden) Acton series —

Murder Solves a Problem. Doubleday, 1944
Button, Button. Doubleday, 1944
Tragedy in Blue. Doubleday, 1945
Murder Is an Evil Business. Doubleday, 1948
Murder Is Contagious. Doubleday, 1949

Note:   A Kirkus review of Tragedy in Blue suggests the correct order of the first two books, both published in 1944, is as above. There is no mention of husband Dick in the review. Kit Acton’s partner in solving this third case is instead Lt. Gifford, apparently a Massachusetts state trooper In fact, the review calls it “[a]nother Kit Acton-Lieutenant Gifford story…”

Reviews by L. J. Roberts

C. J. BOX – Paradise Valley. Cassie Dewell #3. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, July 2017.

First Sentence: “The trap is set and he’s on his way,” Cassie Dewell said to Sheriff Jon Kirkbride.

   Inspector Cassie Dewell has been hunting the Lizard King, a serial killer of truck-stop prostitutes, runaways, and of her former boss. Now, she hopes she has set up the perfect lure to get him to come to her. She is also concerned about the disappearance of Kyle Westergaard, a young man with mild fetal-alcohol syndrome, and his friend Raheem.

   Box does a very good job of explaining the details of things; lot lizards, the way in which independent truckers work, etc. At the same time, he does it without disrupting the flow or making one feel as though he has dumbed-down the information.

   The characters are very well drawn and developed. The rest of the cast are people one would like to know, one has been unfortunate enough to know, and those one hopes never to know. Cassie and Wyatt, in particular, are wonderful characters.

   There are villains, and then there are villains! From the very first book in which the Lizard King appeared, The Highway, it was clear Box had created one of the most frightening villains there is, partly because the type of crimes he commits are actually happening across our interstate highways. That said, one needn’t have read the first three books, as Box also does a good job of catch-up for new readers.

   Box is always such a pleasure to read. He is a wonderful wordsmith with a very visual style who creates excellent analogies: “…driving an 18-wheeler was liking piloting a ship on the ocean. The captain of that ship had an entire blue-water sea in front of him and he could go anywhere on it.”

   In spite of this being his 24th book, plus some short stories, there’s no sign of them being formulaic or getting stale. Each is informative and very exciting. So much so that I often forget to make notes while reading

    Paradise Valley is filled with excellent suspense, yet comes to a complete and satisfying ending.

      The Cassie Dewell series —

1. The Highway (2013)
2. Badlands (2015)
3. Paradise Valley (2017)

    Preceding these three books, as part of Box’s “Highway Quartet,” was Back of Beyond (2011).

— For more of LJ’s reviews, check out her blog at :

VALERIE WOLZIEN – Murder at the PTA Luncheon. Susan Henshaw #1. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1988. Fawcett Gold Medal, paperback, 1st printing, July 1990. TV movie: CBS, 4 December 1990, as Menu for Murder (with Julia Duffy as Susan Henshaw).

   From the title you probably already know if there is a chance in the world you’ll read this one or not, but just in case, I’m here to tell you that the title really is all that you need to know. (The person who wrote the cover blurbs, front and rear, apparently never did read the book.)

   To solve the case, two Connecticut state police troopers (one male, one female) engage the assistance of a local housewife to help them dig into the seamier side of suburbia. The emphasis is on personalities and motivation; the mechanics of the murder are all but ignored.

   To add to this, while it’s not entirely unexpected, Wolzien does have a sitcom sense of humor about life in the country club set. So much so that if you’re not ready for it, the confusion it also produces can be awfully distracting. The third or fourth time our lead protagonist Susan Henshaw knocks over a glass of wine of a cup of coffee in the presence of the handsome young policeman from Hartford — and she’s supposed to be happily married — I was ready to heave a brick at the screen. Figuratively, of course. (Picture Susan St. James in the role.)

   It does pick up from there, however.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990. (slightly revised).

      The Susan Henshaw series —

1. Murder at a PTA Luncheon (1988)
2. The Fortieth Birthday Body (1989)
3. We Wish You a Merry Murder (1991)
4. All Hallows’ Evil (1992)
5. An Old Faithful Murder (1992)
6. A Star-Spangled Murder (1993)
7. A Good Year For a Corpse (1994)
8. ‘Tis the Season to Be Murdered (1994)
9. Remodeled to Death (1995)
10. Elected For Death (1996)
11. Weddings Are Murder (1998)
12. The Student Body (1999)
13. Death at a Discount (2000)
14. An Anniversary to Die for (2002)
15. Death in a Beach Chair (2004)
16. Death in Duplicate (2005)

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