Characters


THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


M. R. D. MEEK – A Mouthful of Sand. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1989. Worldwide, paperback, 1990. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1988.

   I quite like M.R.D. Meek’s stories about Lennox Kemp, and A Mouthful of Sand is no exception. Kemp, a lawyer, was barred from practice when he took money to pay his wife’s gambling debts. She disappeared along with his reputation, and he served a lonely six years’ penance as a private investigator.

   Now he’s back in the law, doing very well, having a relationship (albeit uneasy) with Penelope Marsden. His life is coming back together; perhaps he will marry Penelope and banish the loneliness he fears so much.

   Here a tycoon asks him for a written opinion on the state of British marriage law. Lennox complies, then [leaves] to go on vacation to Cornwall, coincidentally to the coastal town where the tycoon’s wife has gone to recover from severe depression. But her condition worsens, and the battered head of a man is found on the beach. Soon Kemp finds himself ensnared — heart and mind.

   Very effective storytelling, full of subtleties and dense with expressive language.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes: Since Lennox Kemp is a Private Eye, there’s no place better to look for information about than the Thrilling Detective website. There Kevin Burton Smith says, in part: “… while waiting to be reinstated (the events leading up to his disbarment are related in the first book in the series), he earns his daily bread as an op for the London-based McCready’s Detective Agency. But he is eventually reinstated, and this spare yet often elegant series, full of rich characterization, and sharp writing, continues, with Kemp as a particular hands-on type of attornney, part Perry Mason and part Lew Archer.”

   His creator was in real life Margaret Reid Duncan Meek (1918-2009), a retired lawyer.

       The Lennox Kemp series —

With Flowers That Fell (1983)

The Sitting Ducks (1984)
Hang the Consequences (1984)
The Split Second (1985)
In Remembrance of Rose (1986)

A Worm of Doubt (1987)
A Mouthful of Sand (1988)
A Loose Connection (1989)
This Blessed Plot (1990)
Touch and Go (1992)

Postscript to Murder (1996)
If You Go Down to the Woods (2001)
The Vanishing Point (2003)
Kemp’s Last Case (2004)

THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


EDWARD MATHIS – The Burned Woman. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1989. Berkley, paperback, 1990.

   The late Edward Mathis [1927-1988] reportedly left a pile of manuscripts, and, if The Burned Woman is any indication, we have some fine treats in store. Here we travel further down the Dan Roman trail. He’s [a private eye] married to Susie, sixteen years his junior and very successful in TV reporting.

   Those years of age difference, the demands of her job, the crude advances of one of Susie’s celebrity interviewees — these all eat at Dan, and he drives her away. Whereupon, after a meeting with the celebrity, she disappears. Dan is plunged into alcoholic despair, alienating his best friend, “proving” his love for Susie by dallying with a prostitute, flailing randomly about as the weeks pass.

   Could the celebrity be holding Susie somewhere, could Susie’s disappearance be connected with a road accident near the celebrity’s home on the night she disappeared?

   Roman here emerges as a deeply flawed person, but the tale is masterfully plotted and utterly compelling.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

       The Dan Roman series –

From a High Place (1985)

Dark Streaks and Empty Places (1986)
Natural Prey (1987)
Another Path, Another Dragon (1988)
The Burned Woman (1989)
Out of the Shadows (1990)

September Song (1991)
The Fifth Level (1992)

THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


JAMES E. MARTIN – The Mercy Trap. Putnam’s, hardcover, 1989. Avon, paperback, 1990.

   James E. Martin, policeman in Norwalk, Ohio, turned special investigator for the State of Ohio and now retired, authored a mystery in 1973 (The 95 File) and now returns with The Mercy Trap, the first of a series about private eye Gil Disbro.

   Disbro comes full-grown out of the standard P.I. womb: former cop, former husband, getting his sex without commitment, a man with his own particular standards which are at once adaptable and firmly held. He walks the mean streets of Cleveland, retrieving bail jumpers for a bondsman between real jobs.

   Here a mission of mercy comes his way: wealthy contractor Howard Eberly’s adopted daughter is dying for lack of a kidney transplant, and Eberly wants her real mother or other close relative found as a possible donor. Not a quest likely to involve violence, though a twenty-nine-year-old trail with the mother’s true identity carefully hidden may prove a tad faint.

   But the traces are quickly picked up by Disbro’s capable hands, though along the way (but where? and why?) he seems to have stepped on somebody’s toes. Martin’s narrative is compelling, his sense of plot and pace sure. I’ll await the next Disbro with much anticipation.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

       The Gil Disbro series –

The Mercy Trap. Putnam 1989.
The Flip Side of Life. Putnam 1990.
And Then You Die. Morrow 1992.
A Fine and Private Place. Morrow 1994.

THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


WILLIAM MARSHALL – Out of Nowhere. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1988; reprint paperback, 1989.

   The thirteenth mad adventure from Hong Kong’s Yellowthread Street Station is Out of Nowhere, by William Marshall. Here as usual Inspector Harry Feiffer and his minions have several wacky puzzles. There is the matter of the rented van, loaded with second-quality plate glass and carrying four persons, which vehicle roars the wrong way down a 3 A.M. freeway for a spectacular collision with a truck. Everything Harry learns about this matter serves to increase his bafflement.

   Meanwhile, there’s the Dalmatian which repeatedly attacks an herbal medicine shop, wrecking the premises (mighty dog!) and carrying off selected medications as well as an array of wind chimes. And finally, Inspector O’Yee, manning a line designed for the pacification of telephonically inclined psychopaths, finds he has a ten-year-old child on the other end with a loaded and cocked Luger in his school bag.

   Marshall stirs this mix in his typical onomatopoeic fashion. Enjoyable but not the strongest in the series.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


      The Yellowstreet Station series –

1. Yellowthread Street (1975)

2. The Hatchet Man (1976)
3. Gelignite (1975)
5. Thin Air (1977)
5. Skulduggery (1979)
6. Sci-fi (1981)
7. Perfect End (1981)
8. War Machine (1982)
9. The Far Away Man (1984)

10. Roadshow (1985)
11. Head First (1986)
12. Frogmouth (1987)
13. Out of Nowhere (1988)
14. Inches (1994)
15. Nightmare Syndrome (1997)
16. To the End (1998)

Note:   There was also a Yellowthread Street television series in England. Produced by Yorkshire Television, it ran for one season (13 episodes) in 1990. It has not yet been released commercially, but DVDs can be obtained on the collector-to-collector market.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


OSMINGTON MILLS – At One Fell Swoop. Geoffrey Bles, UK, hardcover, 1963. Roy, US, hardcover, 1965.

   Aware that the case won’t do his career any good, Superintendent William Baker of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch nonetheless undertakes the investigation of the missing head of the C.I.D. in Bramwith. The policeman, a lay preacher in the Johnsonite sect, had disappeared shortly before he was to address a centenary celebration of the sect, if the Johnsonites can be said to celebrate.

   Since the policeman’s wife had tried to divorce him for cruelty and now has a lover, she and the lover are the first suspects, if there has indeed been foul play. Information also turns up that the C.I.D. man had with him on his travels two warrants; perhaps the individuals sought made sure that the warrants would not be served.

   Possible, too, is the involvement of the police superintendent where the C.I.D. man was going to serve the warrants. But what role does the leek slasher play?

   A good investigation by Baker and his assistant, Inspector Hughes, and an engrossing portrait of a fundamentalist Christian sect. Forgive the far-fetched coincidences and enjoy this one.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTES:

      The Insp. (Supt.) William Baker series —

Unlucky Break. Bles, 1955.
The Case of the Flying Fifteen. , Bles, 1956.
No Match for the Law. Bles, 1957.
Misguided Missile. Bles 1958.
Stairway to Murder. Bles, 1959.
Trial by Ordeal. Bles, 1961.
Headlines Make Murder. Bles, 1962.
At One Fell Swoop. Bles, 1963.
Traitor Betrayed. Bles, 1964.
Enemies of the Bride. Bles, 1966.

   Osmington Mills was the pseudonym of Vivian Collin Brooks (1922-2002), whose other series, eight in all, recorded the cases of Chief Insp. Rupert “Rip” Irving and P.C. (Sgt.) Patrick C. Shirley.

THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


CHARLOTTE MacLEOD – Vane Pursuit. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1989; paperback, 1990.

   Vane Pursuit is one of the better tales in Charlotte MacLeod’s series about Peter Shandy, professor of botany at Balaclava College in the nether regions of Massachusetts. Shandy’s wife Helen is here working on a book project involving the potentially famous weathervanes created by the nomenclaturally unforgettable Praxiteles Lumpkin.

   However, disaster seems to attend her photographic rounds: buildings burn and weathervanes are destroyed. Or mysteriously disappear. One of the casualties is the Lumpkin Soap Factory, the conflagration of which destroys the Lumpkinton employment base, returns one employee to his Maker, and signals the departure of a particularly stellar vane.

   These goings-on, plus the antics of a crew of rural survivalists and a fascinating cave dweller, fully engage the Shandys to the brinks of their lives. Vane Pursuit has a stronger plot than some in this series, with less reliance on the soon tiresome tactic of outrageous character names, and the dialog is sprightly.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


      The Professor Peter Shandy series –

Rest You Merry (1978)
The Luck Runs Out (1979)
Wrack and Rune (1981)
Something the Cat Dragged in (1983)
The Curse of the Giant Hogweed (1985)
The Corpse in Oozak’s Pond (1986)
Vane Pursuit (1989)
An Owl Too Many (1991)
Something in the Water (1994)
Exit the Milkman (1996)

IT’S ABOUT CRIME
by Marv Lachman

FRANK PARRISH – Death in the Rain. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1984. Perennial Library, paperback, 1986. First published in the UK as Face at the Window (Constable, hardcover, 1984).

   Fans of Dick Francis will enjoy that other master of the narrative, Frank Parrish, whose fifth book about Dan Mallett, Death in the Rain, is in paperback from Perennial Library. We identify with Francis’s heroes and feel every bit of pain inflicted by sadistic villains. With Parrish’s “professional” poacher, we observe nature as if we are also lying on the English ground, feeling the cold and dampness. He is marvelously knowledgeable about the Wessex countryside made famous by Thomas Hardy.

   Death in the Rain plays down the major weakness in prior Mallett books, his long-standing attempt to get money for the hip operation his mother won’t consider free, under British socialized medicine. Yet Mrs. Mallett plays a greater role in this book, and she is a delightful supporting character.

   She and Natasha Chapman, a very believable young actress, help compensate for a plot with some structural weaknesses. There are too many coincidences, too many blackmailers, and too many people simultaneously in (or watching) the murder flat.

   Those are the only flaws I can discuss without giving away too much plot, but suffice it to say that, warts and all, this is as much fun to read as Parrish’s prior novels about one of the more unusual series characters of the 1980s. The first four Mallett books are also available from Perennial and equally recommended.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bibliographic Notes: Frank Parrish was the pen name of Roger Longrigg. (1929-2000). Under his own name he has two marginal entries in Hubin. Other pseudonyms are: Laura Black (four novels), Ivor Drummond (nine adventures of Jennifer Norrington, Alessandro di Ganzarello & Coleridge Tucker III) and Domini Taylor (nine novels).

       The Dan Mallett series –

Fire in the Barley. Constable, 1977.

Sting of the Honeybee. Constable, 1978.
Snare in the Dark. Constable, 1982.
Bait on the Hook. Constable, 1983.
Face at the Window. Constable, 1984. US: Death in the Rain.
Fly in the Cobweb. Constable, 1986.
Caught in the Birdlime. Constable, 1987. US: Caught in the Net.

Voices from the Dark. Constable, 1993. No US edition.

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