GRET LANE – Death Prowls the Cove. Herbert Jenkins, UK, hardcover, no date stated but known to be 1942.

   Nothing much seems to be known about Gret Lane, author of 13 works of crime and detective published in England between 1925 and 1943, except that the name itself is a pseudonym. The first two are standalone tales, two others are cases tackled (and solved, one presumes) by a policeman by the name of Inspector Hook. All of the rest (nine in all) feature an amateur originally named Kate Clare, but once she is married, she is Kate Marsh, as she is in Death Prowls the Cove.

   And in eight of the nine, she is paired up with a police inspector named John Barrin, but by the time Cove was written, and perhaps for some time before, he had retired from Scotland Yard. Both families, Kate and her husband Tony Marsh (who writes adventure tales), and Barrin and his wife Jennie (a matron of 60 or so who knits a lot) now live in semi-detached cottages in the small town of White Owl Cove along the shore in South Devon.

   Between them they have two maids, Polly and Sarah, sisters who in turn are engaged to two former miscreants, now totally reformed, from earlier books, named Bill and Jo-Jo. Dead not too far into the book is Jo-Jo’s Uncle Pierre, a former smuggler who has come to live in England from France.

   Suspected are Uncle Pierre’s former colleagues in crime; Bob Daw, a loutish local poacher of a fellow who had an argument with the dead man in a local drinking establishment before his death; a coterie of neighbors high above the cove who act very suspiciously; and Bill or Jo-Jo themselves, separately or together.

   This is a very cozy affair, with lots of huddled plans and strategies on the part of the combined two households, along with a local police inspector who is more than willing to let both Kate and John Berrin have the way with the investigation.

   And any self-respecting criminal who begin to beware when Kate starts reflectively rubbing the side of her nose. I hope I haven’t made this as unexciting as it is not, but truthfully the killer(s) can easily discerned by the laziest of readers — the scale and scope of the tale being so narrowly restricted as it is.

   I wouldn’t mind reading another, if I could afford it. The least expensive copy offered for sale online is in the $60 range, and some of the earlier ones have even higher price tags, if they are offered for sale anywhere at all.

       The Kate Clare (Marsh) series –

The Cancelled Score Mystery. Jenkins 1929 [JB]
The Curlew Coombe Mystery. Jenkins 1930 [JB]
The Lantern House Affair. Jenkins 1931
The Hotel Cremona Mystery. Jenkins 1932 [JB]
The Unknown Enemy. Jenkins 1933 [JB]
Death Visits the Summer-House. Jenkins 1939 [JB]
Death in Mermaid Lane. Jenkins 1940 [JB]
Death Prowls the Cove. Jenkins 1942 [JB]
The Guest with the Scythe. Jenkins 1943 [JB]


J. ROBERT JANES – Sandman. Soho, US, hardcover, 1996; paperback, 1998. First published in the UK by Constable, hardcover, 1996.

   The sixth in a series of novels set in occupied Paris (1943) and featuring an unlikely pair of investigators who have become friends, Louis St. Cyr of the French Sûreté, and Hermann Kohler of the German Gestapo. They investigate what are thought of as “ordinary” crimes (not connected to the ongoing occupation), which in this case is the series of rapes and murders of schoolgirls by a serial killer called the “Sandman.”

   Within the confines of the unusual situation, the novel follows a fairly conventional path, with incompetent superiors who threaten to impede the investigation by the two dogged, competent detectives.

   The distinction of the book is in its setting, a cold winter in occupied Paris, where the weather and the occupation have settled into the bones and the soul, and the believable characterizations. This is definitely a series to which I will want to return.

       The St. Cyr and Kohler series —

1. Mayhem (1992)
2. Carousel (1992)
3. Kaleidoscope (1993)

4. Salamander (1994)
5. Mannequin (1994)
6. Sandman (1994)
7. Stonekiller (1995)
8. Dollmaker (1995)

9. Gypsy (1997)
10. Madrigal (1999)
11. Beekeeper (2001)
12. Flykiller (2002)

13. Bellringer (2012)
14. Tapestry (2013)
15. Carnival (2014)

16. Clandestine (2015)

William F. Deeck

FRANK GRUBER – Swing Low, Swing Dead. Belmont L92-586, paperback original, April 1964. Cover art: Victor Kalin. Reprinted several times, including Belmont B75-2039, 1970.

   Once again through no fault of their own, Johnny Fletcher, masterly and maybe masterful bookseller who specializes in one title, and Sam Cragg, the strongest man in the world, are living hazardously. Sam has won all rights to a rock-and-roll song called “Apple Taffy,” the first line of which is “I love apple taffy, sweet, sweet, sticky sticky apple taffy.”

   Johnny claims this song is better than most, and adds: “The whole point and purpose of rock and roll music is to see how childish, how infantile you can make it.”

   Several people are seeking the original manuscript, some for a consideration, others for nothing, except, perhaps, the lives of Johnny and Sam. After all, someone has poisoned the original composer, and that someone is not likely to let a few more lives stand in his or her way.

   Fletcher has street smarts and Cragg has no smarts. Both of them would like to be rich, but Fletcher knows such a change in fortune would take all the fun out of their lives, such as it is, though Cragg may have a different opinion since he likes to eat regularly. Gruber`s Fletcher and Cragg novels are great fun if not sampled too often.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1990, “Musical Mysteries.”

       The Johnny Fletcher & Sam Cragg series —

The French Key. Farrar 1940.

The Laughing Fox. Farrar 1940.
The Hungry Dog. Farrar 1941.
The Navy Colt. Farrar 1941.

The Talking Clock. Farrar 1941.
The Gift Horse. Farrar 1942.
The Mighty Blockhead. Farrar 1942.
The Silver Tombstone. Farrar 1945.

The Honest Dealer. Rinehart 1947.

The Whispering Master. Rinehart 1947.
The Scarlet Feather. Rinehart 1948.
The Leather Duke. Rinehart 1949.
The Limping Goose. Rinehart 1954.
Swing Low Swing Dead. Belmont 1964.


ELAINE VIETS – Murder Between the Covers. Signet, paperback original, 2003.

   Touted by one Tim Dorsey (blurb writer and author of The Stingray Shuffle) as Janet Evanovich Meets The Fugitive, this second in the “dead end job mysteries” finds Helen Hawthorne on the run from a very messy divorce in St. Louis and working at a bookstore, Page Turners, in Fort Lauderdale.

   The bookstore is run by a mean, book illiterate black sheep of a once successful family operation that he’s running into the ground. When he’s predictably murdered and a friend of Helen’s is charged with the murder, Helen, with the help of her eccentric landlady, sets out to find the real killer.

   Viets worked for a year at a Barnes & Noble and the behind-the-scenes bookstore business details seem authentic. The book is funny and the warm Florida setting was irresistible to me in the prospect of a cold Pittsburgh winter. It’s not as drop-dead funny as the early Evanovich books, but the blurb shouldn’t deter anyone looking for an entertaining bibliomystery.

The Dead-End Job series –

1. Shop Till You Drop (2003)

2. Murder Between the Covers (2003)
3. Dying to Call You (2004)
4. Just Murdered (2005)
5. Murder Unleashed (2006)

6. Murder with Reservations (2007)
7. Clubbed to Death (2008)
8. Killer Cuts (2009)
9. Half-Price Homicide (2010)

10. Pumped for Murder (2011)
11. Final Sail (2012)
12. Board Stiff (2013)
13. Catnapped! (2014)

14. Checked Out (2015)
15. The Art of Murder (2016)

William F. Deeck

REX STOUT – The Broken Vase. Farrar & Rinehart, hardcover, 1941. Paperback reprints include: Dell #115, ca.1946; Pyramid R-1149, “A Green Door Mystery,” 1965; Bantam Crimeline, 1995.

   At a friend’s behest, Tecumseh Fox contributed $2,000 to the purchase of a Stradivarius violin for “the next Sarasate.” Attending the premier performance of the violinist at Carnegie Hall, Fox finds it mildly enjoyable, but the music lovers are aghast at the performance. So, too, is the violinist, who, in front of witnesses, kills himself during the intermission.

   The violin is stolen and then returned. Fox is asked to investigate the circumstances by the violinist’s rich patron and later is hired to find out who committed a murder.

   On the cover of the [Pyramid] paperback the publisher says, “As great as Nero Wolfe.” Well, publishers will have their little drolleries. Nonetheless, while a Fox is not a Wolfe, this is a good, fair-play novel that should make the reader want to find the earlier Fox novels to find out more about this detective.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1990, “Musical Mysteries.”

      The Tecumseh Fox series –

Double for Death. Farrar & Rinehart, 1939.
Bad for Business. Farrar & Rinehart, 1940.
The Broken Vase. Farrar & Rinehart, 1941.


SHARON FIFFER – Dead Guy’s Stuff. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 2002; paperback, 2003.

   Jane Wheel is an antiques “picker” (similar to a book scout who finds books for dealers, Jane has a gift for spotting treasures among other people’s trash, which she then sells to e dealer who’s “sponsoring” her). Jane is not only a scout for other people, she’s also a collector of Bakelite. (Even after reading the book, I was a bit unclear about this product, but wife volunteered the information that she remembered it as plastics used in the manufacture of dinnerware. She then made a quick web search courtesy of Google and found that its use dates back to at least the 1930s and includes the manufacture of appliances and jewelry, among other products.)

   This unfortunately reminded me of shows I go to where glassware predominates with books and magazine relegated to also-ran status. Still, the obsession in itself is still recognizable to any collector and who am I to look down on any knowledgeable collector, whatever the field?

   Anyhow, Jane has found a collection of tavern memorabilia, which resonates with her tavern-owning parents who are renovating their bar and grill in Kankakee, Illinois.

   To my mind, the whole subject is somewhat cluttered, and the novel is, too, with gangsters and long-buried family secrets in the mix. In addition, her marriage is shaky and and she and her husband are only maintaining a relationship for their teen-age son.

      The Jane Wheel series –

1. Killer Stuff (2001)

2. Dead Guy’s Stuff (2002)
3. The Wrong Stuff (2003)
4. Buried Stuff (2004)

5. Hollywood Stuff (2006)
6. Scary Stuff (2009)
7. Backstage Stuff (2011)

8. Lucky Stuff (2012)


JOHN MALCOLM – Sheep, Goats and Soap. Tim Simpson #8. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1992. First published in the UK by Collins Crime Club, hardcover, 1991.

   I’m a Tim Simpson fan, and it has been a continuing source of irritation to me that the American paperbacks are so far behind in the series — four books now, with this one. Simpson is an ex-rugby player who works for a London merchant bank as one of the Trustees of their Art Fund, and is resident expert`of same. He is married (finally) to Sue, who has alternated between being his lover and the bane of his existence in the earlier books in the series. She is an art historian for the Tate.

   Tim receives a letter from an old rugby acquaintance, hinting at art treasures to be acquired, and making reference to sheep, goats, and soap. These are, it develops, terms used in connection with the pre-Raphaelite group of artists. You’ll have to read the book to understand the exact relevance of the terms, assuming that you don’t already know.

   Tim and Sue hie themselves off to Hastings in search of the acquaintance, and arrive just after his cottage has been blown off a cliff. He himself is missing but there are two corpses discovered in the ruins. They encounter an old nemesis, Inspector Foster, who is less than pleased by their appearance. The plot eventually involves Simpson’s old Scotland Yard rugby chum, Nobby Roberts, and (much to Sue’s displeasure) an old one-afternoon stand of Tim’s.

   The Simpson books appeal to me on several levels. Oddly, one is the painless but quite interesting historical lore about whatever the focus of the current book happens to be. Odd because though I’m reasonably interested in the history of painting, I have almost no interest at all in sculpture and antique furniture; both of which have been the subject of earlier books.

   Malcolm is a founding member of the Antique Collector’s Club, and his love of the subject is evident. Most importantly, though, I like his way of telling a story. He keeps the action moving along while at the same time developing his characters and throwing in the odd bit of art history. And finally, of course, I like Tim Simpson as a leading man.

   It all adds up to a very good series, and a very good current offering. I recommend them all.

– Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #3, September 1992.

      The Tim Simpson series –

1. A Back Room in Somers Town (1984)

2. The Godwin Sideboard (1984)
3. The Gwen John Sculpture (1985)
4. Whistler in the Dark (1986)
5. Gothic Pursuit (1987)

6. Mortal Ruin (1988)
7. The Wrong Impression (1990)
8. Sheep, Goats and Soap (1991)
9. A Deceptive Appearance (1992)

10. The Burning Ground (1993)
11. Hung over (1994)

12. Into the Vortex (1996)
13. Simpson’s Homer (2001)
14. Circles and Squares (2003)
15. Rogues’ Gallery (2005)

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