Reviews


REVIEWED BY DOUG GREENE:

   

RUPERT PENNY – The Talkative Policeman. Collins Crime Club, UK, hardcover, 1936. Ramble House, US, softcover, 2009.

   Rupert Penny (pseudonym of Ernest Basil Charles Thornett) would have been astonished that his books are occasionally still read almost 50 years after they were published. In the foreword to The Talkative Policeman, Penny writes:

   The detective story is no self-supporting form of literature. It is not, as the works of Blake or Beethoven or Botticelli are, destined for the future equally with the past. By its nature it is for to-day, and possibly for tomorrow; and perhaps its highest hope is to pass by and by from dustbin to dustman, and back again to bin, until, the day after tomorrow it begins to smell too strongly of bloater skins and tea leaves, even for a dustman’s nose, and is allowed to go the inevitable way of all rubbish. The detective shall find his grave at last as surely as the lifeless flesh be theorized upon.

   (My copy does not smell of bloater skins, but it does look like it has spent some time in dustbins.)

   The Talkative Policeman is a puzzle story of the purest sort, unadulterated by characterization (Penny’s characters are indeed “lifeless flesh”), atmospheric setting, or felicitous writing style, Though there are two murders — one of a harmless clergyman, the other of an unknown — the corpses are bloodless, existing only to provide the problem for the detective.

   When the detective’s friend, Tony Purdon, remarks that “one realized that Tatham was really alive once, and not always part of a puzzle,” Chief Inspector Beale responds, “Yes — I know that feeling, I usually try not to encourage it, if you understand.”

   Penny’s adoption of a flat writing style seems to have been conscious , for when he wished he could introduce bits of humor and effective description. Purdon occasionally composes comic verses about the crime. After a suspect irrelevantly asks Sergeant Matthews for his opinion of the Sitwells, Matthews tells Beale, “Well sir, having no idea who the Sitwells might be, I wasn’t sure what’d be best, I said they’d do much better if they forgot they were the Sitwells.”

   But such passages are rarities; Penny seems to have avoided them as mere distractions in a puzzle story.

   Penny cites Ellery Queen as a model in writing a challenge-to-the-reader novel, and includes an “interlude” in which “the intelligent reader, if he has not already done so, should be able to attempt the solution of the problem with every prospect of success.”

   To enjoy The Talkative Policeman,  the reader must accept the book on its own terms: how good a puzzle is it? And on that standard it is a very good book indeed. The book has a map, transcriptions of questions and answers, and even  characteristics of fingerprints. When these are not being compiled, Purdon and Beale consciously attempt to make deductions, sometimes also in the form of a list as “deductions (general)” and “deductions (particular)”.

   Although once or twice their conclusions resemble those of Jack Ritchie’s Henry Turnbuckle, often they scintillate with intellectual excitement. I guessed the identity of the murderer, but I missed most of the clues (for which Penny calls me “a less intelligent reader”).

   In short, The Talkative Policeman does exactly what Penny sets out to do; it challenges “players in the game” who are not “mere idlers, apathetic page-turners torpidly filling up the time.” The reader must pay attention.

   In later books, Penny, while not mininalizing the puzzle, makes some concessions to readers interested in character and action as well as deductions. In Policeman’s Evidence, for example, the first half is told by Tony Purdon in the absence of Beale. The characters are revealed gradually; the humor is more evident; the murder occurs after the story has begun; and the problems — a cryptogram revealing a buried treasure and a locked-room murder — are compelling. After Beale arrives, however, the book is dominated by slow-moving question-and-answer. Oddly, in a TAD review Barzun and Taylor like the second half and find the first, more lively, section old-fashioned. But I’ve commented elsewhere on B & T’s aversion to the ingenious and bizarre.

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

   

      The Insp. (Chief Insp.) Edward (Ted) Beale series

The Talkative Policeman. Collins 1936.
Policeman in Armour. Collins 1937.
Policeman’s Holiday. Collins 1937.
The Lucky Policeman. Collins 1938.
Policeman’s Evidence. Collins 1938.
She Had to Have Gas. Collins 1939.
Sweet Poison. Collins 1940.
Sealed-Room Murder. Collins 1941.

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts

   

ANN CLEEVES – The Darkest Evening. Vera Stanhope #9. Minotaur Books, hardcover, September 2020. Setting: England.

First Sentence: Lorna lifted Thomas from his high chair and held him for a moment on her knee.

   DCI Vera Stanhope comes upon a car that has skidded off the road in a snowstorm. There is no driver to be seen, but an infant has been left secured in a child seat. Knowing she can’t leave him there, Vera and the child head for a nearby house, Brockburn, where her father grew up. When a neighbor of the house finds the body of a murdered woman half-covered by the snow, Vera calls up her team to solve the crime, uncovering family secrets along the way.

   Vera is one of the best creations of contemporary mystery fiction. She is older, overweight, rather shabby, completely devoid of maternal instinct, and raised in a way to make her a loner, yet not unaffected by how others view her, and not without insecurities— “She paused for a moment, Cinderella looking in: the fifteen-year-old girl again, excluded.”

   In addition to her descriptions of Vera, Cleeves creates a vivid sense of place— “The sight was like something from a fairy tale. Magical. The flurry of snow had passed and there was moonlight, and a sky flecked with stars.” —and scene— “…pheasant, cooked slowly with red wine and shallots…And a vegetable casserole…Roast potatoes and parsnips and sprouts…A variety of puds, hot and cold.”

   Vera’s relationship with her team is interesting. She knows their vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Although she seems to take advantage of them, in knowing what drives them, she is helping them grow and improve individually and as a unit. What makes it work is that they understand what she is doing. They know her, too, with the teammates often bolstering one other.

   Cleeves’ books are as much personality studies as they are mysteries. By focusing on motivation, it becomes clear how the past can influence the present and the future. One cannot help analyzing oneself in the process.

   The plot is excellent. The information on anorexia is well presented and stresses the severity of the disease — which not simply an issue of vanity. There are plenty of questions and red herrings. The question as to who fathered the baby leads to effective supposition. A “ta-dah” moment gives way to real suspense and threat, and a wonderfully English ending.

   The Darkest Evening is another example of Cleeves’ excellent storytelling. The climax is well done and even touching. It’s a mystery one may not figure out before the end when it all makes sense, and the use of Frost’s poem in the title is perfect.

Rating: Excellent.

RIFFRAFF. RKO Radio Pictures, 1947. Pat O’Brien (PI Dan Hammer), Walter Slezak, Anne Jeffreys, Percy Kilbride, Jerome Cowan. Director: Ted Tetzlaff.

   It’s a question that needs investigating, but while I recognize the truth of that statement, I haven’t yet done so. Here it is, though: Who came first Dan Hammer, or Mike Hammer? Both made their first appearance in 1947, and that’s as far as I personally have gotten. What is not up for doubt is the obvious followup question: Which of the two made the bigger impact on American pop culture history?

   While there are quite a few good things to be said about Dan Hammer, and Riffraff, his only appearance in motion picture form, he’s remembered by almost nobody. Almost all of Riffraff takes place in Panama, where Dan Hammer, as played ever so suavely by movie actor Pat O’Brien, is the to-go-to man about town. He knows the people to see, the ropes to pull, and every so often, it is said that folks in need of help actually pay him for the tips he gives them.

   He may have hit the jackpot this time around, one that may be worth several thousand dollars to him – if only he can find the map to several Peruvian oil wells potentially worth many times that amount. With both Jerome Cowan and Walter Slezak in the picture (pun intended), the competition is fierce. And of course there’s a girl involved. Just whose side is she on?

   Unfortunately, the dialogue, acting and the photography are all individually and collectively better than the plot which is as barebones as that previous paragraph would suggest. In quite unusual fashion, the opening scenes go on for six or seven minutes with no dialogue, an interesting approach in starting a B-movie mystery back in 1947. It is as if those in charge in production were striving for more, and in fact I think they were almost but not quite successful in doing so.

   Unfortunately (for the second time), the romance between Pat O’Brien (48 at the time) and Anne Jeffreys (half his age at 24) falls totally flat, or so it seemed to me. No sparks. He’s middle-aged, a bit paunchy with a receding hairline, and she’s young, blonde and vivacious. Of course she’s leaving Jerome Cowan for him, so maybe there’s a message somewhere there.

   But do watch this movie if you get the chance, especially if you’re a fan of minor league PI’s located in out-of-the-way places. And any movie with Percy Kilbride in it is always worth watching, no matter what kind of old movie you’re a fan of.

   

REVIEWED BY MIKE TOONEY:

(Give Me That) OLD-TIME DETECTION. Spring 2021. Issue #56. Editor: Arthur Vidro. Old-Time Detection Special Interest Group of American Mensa, Ltd. 36 pages (including covers). Cover image: EQMM cover, September 1953.

   The latest issue of Old-Time Detection has, as they say (or as they used to say), hit the stands, and it was certainly worth the wait. Classic detective fiction has found a congenial home in OTD.

   Dr. John Curran, known far and wide as the foremost living expert on Agatha Christie, is up first with his coverage of all things AC-related — Christie on Screen (the sputtering adaptation of Death on the Nile, yet a third version of Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, and a questionable Swedish-German production featuring a bisexual Sven Hjerson); Christie on Stage (the return of The Mousetrap to the West End and a dubious public domain adaptation of The Mysterious Affair at Styles); and The Christie Festival, also making a cautious return.

   Michael Dirda is up next with his thorough-going review of Mark Aldridge’s nonfiction Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Greatest Detective in the World (2020). Dirda notes the “tyranny of the contemporary,” a very real phenomenon of the social media age in which Christie’s brilliant sleuth, Doyle’s Holmes, Stout’s Wolfe, and Chesterton’s clergyman don’t receive the high regard they deserve.

   J. Randolph Cox spotlights John Buchan, the thriller writer’s thriller writer of the post-World War I era. Critics are divided on what made Buchan’s fiction so popular; perhaps, as Cox tells us, it was “the matter-of-fact, no-nonsense tone of Buchan’s style, [which] explains the high degree of plausibility surrounding even the most improbable events. The reader is drawn into the vortex of the situation along with the hero, neither one aware of what will happen next.” You can’t ask more of that from any thriller.

   When it comes to analyzing detective fiction, no one was more qualified than the late Edward D. Hoch, the ne plus ultra of short mystery writers. Here he takes on Ellery Queen’s novel output at some length and concludes how important EQ’s long fiction was: “Ellery Queen’s novels, and the changing character of Ellery himself, reflected the evolution of the American mystery from 1929 to 1971.”

   This issue’s piece of fiction is the extremely rare “The EQMM Cover Murders,” which saw publication only once before. The author, Marvin Lachman, has added an explanatory introduction about what some might dismiss as a piece of juvenilia — but shouldn’t — because it’s an excellent character study of a misanthropist who decides to exact revenge on the world only to discover the truth of Emerson’s dictum about foolish consistencies and hobgoblins. There’s a nifty twist ending worthy of O. Henry.

   While Ed Hoch dealt with Ellery Queen’s novels, Stephen Thompson launches into EQ’s short fiction, specifically in this installment the stories in his/their first collection, The Adventures of Ellery Queen (1934). Thompson can’t help but noting how Queen’s early tales have “in miniature, the same inventiveness displayed in the early novels: the bizarre situations, the brilliant deductions, and the startling solutions.” This column is the first of a series covering EQ’s seventy-seven short stories.

   As for EQ’s latter day novel The Finishing Stroke (1958), not only does Ted Hertel tell us why it’s his favorite but editor Vidro also appends a letter from a very well-known detective fictioneer to Ellery Queen, calling it “the best story you have ever done.”

   Next come Jon L. Breen’s short but pithy reviews of Ted Wood’s Dead in the Water and Don Flynn’s Murder Isn’t Enough (both from 1983), followed by Charles Shibuk’s 1971 reviews of contemporary paperback reprints. Concerning the latter, how many of these titles do you recognize? Christie’s Appointment with Death, Collins’s Night of the Toads, Francis’s Enquiry, Garve’s Boomerang, Gilbert’s The Family Tomb, Harrington’s The Last Known Address, Kendrick’s The Last Express, Macdonald’s The Dark Tunnel and Trouble Follows Me, Marsh’s Killer Dolphin, Sayers’s Clouds of Witness and The Documents in the Case, Symons’s Bland Beginning, and Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes and To Love and Be Wise.

   And, as usual, the issue finishes up with readers’ reactions and a puzzle page. If you’re one of those rare types who are au courant with old-time radio you shouldn’t have a problem with the puzzle, but if, like me, you aren’t . . . .

   If you’d like to subscribe to Old-Time Detection:

Published three times a year: spring, summer, and autumn. – Sample copy: $6.00 in U.S.; $10.00 anywhere else. – One-year U.S.: $18.00 ($15.00 for Mensans). – One-year overseas: $40.00 (or 25 pounds sterling or 30 euros). – Payment: Checks payable to Arthur Vidro, or cash from any nation, or U.S. postage stamps or PayPal. – Mailing address: Arthur Vidro, editor, Old-Time Detection, 2 Ellery Street, Claremont, New Hampshire 03743.

Web address: vidro@myfairpoint.net

PETER RABE – Bring Me Another Corpse. Gold Medal #864, paperback original; 1st printing, March 1959. Included in Daniel Port Omnibus 2: The Cut of the Whip / Bring Me Another Corpse / Time Enough to Die, Stark House Press, trade paperback, 2015.

   Some time ago — I think it was last issue, as a matter of fact — I said that I didn’t read crime stories any more, Or something to that effect, That was last issue, though, this is now, and here is a Peter Rabe crime story, There never was a better man to write about the mob, about gangsters and hoodlums, than Peter Rabe.

   This is also a Daniel Port suspense thriller, or so says the cover, Besides stories like Benny Muscles In and Kill the Boss Goodbye, Rabe also did a series about the adventures of a former syndicate man named Daniel Port, and unfortunately this is the first one I’ve read of them. In other words, I can’t tell you very much about the earlier ones, but this is a good one, and I’m going to recommend the others to you, sight unseen.

   It’s a crime story all the way, but (of course) there’s a mystery involved as well, and it’s going to take some filling in.of some background before I can tell you what it is, When Port left the syndicate, he carefully stored away some papers that, when he died, would go straight to the police, Since then, Callo’s men have left him strictly alone.

   Why then, beginning with Chapter One, has a hit man been hired to bump him off? Port doesn’t know, nor does the FBI, who are also interested in Port’s predicament. In fact, they are interested enough to get Port to impersonate another notorious killer and (get this) to offer his services to assassinate himself, the original having been lured off to France, where he’s cooling his heels in a French jail.

   The idea, of course, being to infiltrate the mob from the inside, to discover just why the idea of bumping Port off has come up again.

   It should be obvious, if you were to think about it, but it takes Port 50 pages or so before he finds exactly what is going on. The mystery then, to get back to that, is to discover who the head man behind the assassination plot actually is. No matter how many underlings are disposed of, if the big cheese isn’t nabbed as well, it’s back to square one.

   Rabe’s writing is tough and lean and moody, and somehow — I’m not sure just how — it reminds me of what the result might read like if Cornell Woolrich had ever written a mobster story. The ending is a bit of a letdown, though, in that while Rabe had a decent surprise for the reader with only 15 pages to go —  a totally logical one, I’m happy to say, and since it hadn’t occurred to me, I liked it all the more — I came up with an even greater twist that didn’t occur to Rabe at all.

   Maybe it wasn’t logical, but I had some other agency involved altogether in getting Port mixed up in a scrape like this.

– Slightly revised from Mystery*File 26, December 1990.
REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

A GOOD WOMAN. Lions Gate, 2004. Helen Hunt, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Wilkinson, Milena Vukotic, Stephen Campbell Moore, and Mark Umbers. Screenplay by Howard Himelstein, loosely based on Lady Windermere’s Fan,   by Oscar Wilde. Directed by Mike Barker.

   Whothehell did they ever think was gonna go see a movie called A Good Woman?

   A pity, that title, because this is an excellent, film: moving, witty and romantic, even as it runs over Wilde’s play with a mulching mower.

   

   For starters, writer Howard Himelstein moves the action from London to Italy, the scenic towns near Naples, a visual treat beautifully exploited by director Mike Barker. Then he turns Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt) and the Windermeres (Johansson & Umbers) into Americans, the latter two vacationing in luxury, the former penniless and on the prowl.

   From there, Himelstein touches on the play in fits and starts, tossing in Wildean epigrams of his own composing, opening out the action, and rearranging scenes while flirting with the original story line: Mr. Windemere seems to be having an affair with the predatory Mrs. Erlynne, and when Mrs. Windermere finds out, she flees to the amorous Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore) leading to a tense confrontation on his yacht, where Truth rears its ugly head and promptly ducks back down again when Love shows up.

   All this would be plenty enough for an enjoyable movie, but again, Himelstein gives us more: two wonderfully thought out and affecting scenes (not in the play) that Ms Hunt caries off movingly, just by hiding her emotions, so we can read our own feelings into the thing.

   All of which got fed to the lions. The critics sneered, turned thumbs down, and audiences turned the attention to the cinematic gladiators and chariot races on other screens at the multiplex. Too bad. They missed a fine movie.

   

REVIEWED BY JIM McCAHERY:

   

STUART KAMINSKY – Murder on the Yellow Brick Road. Toby Peters #2.  St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1977. Penguin, paperback, 1979.

   This is the second in Stuart Kaminsky’s historical series starring his 1940s Hollywood private investigator, Toby Peters (a.k.a. Tobias Leo Pevsner), who made his own debut last year in Bullet for a Star. This second entry is by far superior to the first.

   Once again, Hollywood stars join the fun in both major and minor roles. In this vehicle Toby ls summoned from the Warner Brothers lot (where he helped Errol Flynn in Bullet) to M.G.M. by an urgent call from Judy Garland, who has just discovered the body of a murdered Munchkin on the still-standing publicity set of Munchkin City from The Wizard of Oz, released more than a year earlier.

   Peters is hired by Louis B. Mayer himself to keep the investigation quiet and protect Judy, whose own safety seems at stake. Toby’s interview with the “little” suspect arrested in connection with the murder convinces him of his innocence. Peters, of course, whose wife has already walked out on him and who shares office space with a dentist, is a progeny of the classic Hammett/Chandler tradition. (“My nose is mashed against my dark face from two punches too many. At 44 I’ve a few grey hairs in my short sideburns, and my smile looks like a cynical sneer even when I’m having a good time, but there are a lot around town just as tough and just as cheap. I fit a type, and in my business I was willing to play it up rather than try to cover.”)

   And again: “I was doing what private detectives are supposed to do.  I was walking the mean streets. I was acting like a damn fool.” Indeed, Raymond Chandler also has a bit part as himself in the novel. He spots Toby while doing research on flophouses and decides to shadow him, but is waylaid for his efforts. Since Toby is the first real detective he has ever met, our investigator lets him tag along on the case so he can drink in some local color and dialogue first hand. A second fatal stabbing, a defenestration, and two attempts on Toby’s life all ensue before the climax, in which even Judy has a hand (or an elbow, to be more exact).

   Murder on the Yellow Brick Road is a well-paced and very neat yarn, indeed, even if it doesn’t require a wizard to spot the culprit. The dialogue is crisp and lively, especially between Toby and his antagonistic brother LAPD Lieutenant Philip Pevsner, whose boiling point is nil whenever he runs up against his younger brother.

   Add Clark Gable in a minor role as a prospective witness and several other M.G.M. stars in walk-through parts, and it all adds up to quite a pleasant stroll down memory lane as well. Unfortunately, there was a very careless printing job by St. Martin’s Press on the first edition which will hopefully be corrected in subsequent printings, including that scheduled for the Mystery Guild.

   Kaminsky’s third work is already in progress and will involve Toby Peters with the Marx Brothers.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 1, Number 3, May 1978).

   

Editorial Notes: The title of that next book in the series was You Bet Your Life (1978). There were in all 24 books in the series before it ended.

   Jim McCahery was an early member of DAPA-Em whom I met once in a party held at Jeff and Jackie Meyerson’s home. A lot of mystery fans who had met only by zine exchanges met in person for the first time there. I asked Jeff today and he told me that Jim had been a teacher at Xavier High School in Manhattan and had just retired at 60 when he died of a heart attack.

   His ambition in retirement was to become a full time writer. Before he passed away, he had written two mysteries:

McCAHERY, JAMES (R.) (1934-1995)
      Grave Undertaking (Knightsbridge, 1990, pb) [Lavina London; New York]
      What Evil Lurks (Kensington, 1995, hc) [Lavina London; New York City, NY]

   Lavina London is described online as a “spry and savvy septuagenarian sleuth … a retired radio actress.” I enjoyed reading both books.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Karol Kay Hope

   

JOHN CREASEY – The Insulators. Dr. Palfrey #30. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1972, Walker, US, hardcover, 1973. Manor 12311, US, paperback, 1975.

   One could speculate that John Creasey was really a trademark for some kind of bizarre writing machine secreted away in the English countryside. In reality, he was an individual who produced some 560 books under more than twenty pseudonyms over a forty-year period. Some writers are prolific. Creasey was incredibly so. No other mystery writer can boast of such an output.

   On the other hand, if you are writing to a rigid formula, as Creasey did, you can probably put a plot together during a TV commercial. Your characters are set and good; all you have to do is imagine a catastrophe that is suitable to the talents and circumstances of one of your heroes, and off you go. That is, if you have a mind with the inventive bent of Creasey’s — and more ideas per minute than most people entertain in a lifetime. That was Creasey’s real forte — the number and variety of his ideas.

   Under his own name-he also wrote under such pseudonyms as Gordon Ashe, Michael Halliday, J. J. Marric, and Jeremy York. Creasey created four basic heroes. Two — Richard Rollison (“the Toff”) and Superintendent Roger West — are involved with domestic crime, bringing to justice or disgrace bad boys and girls within the British borders. The other two — Dr, Palfrey and Gordon Cragie — are world travelers; they worry about international villains, the kind that alone or, usually, in gangs lust for world domination.

   The Insulators features Dr. Palfrey and the men of Department Z5. From the start we know the good guys are going to win. If they don’t, the world is going to blow up, and Creasey was the kind of writer who would never let that happen. He takes us to the brink, however, showing us the kind of absolute evil that exists in the world.

   The “insulators” of this title are a gang of mad scientists/power mongers who have discovered a magic gas that can insulate humans against atomic radiation. With that as a tool, along with the requisite bombs, they try to blackmail every world government into total capitulation.

   Department Z5, the good guys, is a gang of   international policemen headed by our hero, Dr. Palfrey — sort of a cross-cultural crime-fighting organization that pools its resources and its talents in times of world crisis. They come together in a fantastic effort to keep these scientists from erasing human misery through enslaving the world’s population.

   There are too many weaknesses in this plot, although it is  entertaining. How many of us can believe that the bad guys could build underground nuclear arsenals all over the world without anybody noticing? And it’s also hard to believe in Z5; Creasey’s good guys are just too good.

   Other titles about the men of Z5 include Traitors’ Doom (1970), The Legion of the Lost (1974), The Voiceless Ones (1974), and The Mists of Fear (1977).

     ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

REVIEWED BY BOB ADEY:

   

A. R. HILLIARD – Justice Be Damned. Judge Thomas W. Manfred #1. Farrar & Rinehart, hardcover, 1941.

   Unusual story — almost a tour de force. Counsel for the defence Jerome Carver finds himself defending Frank Peabody for the second time against a charge of murder. Acquitted once when his wife was the victim, he now stands trial for the murder of her lover.

   In flashback sequences the ground is covered leading to the present predicament, and we watch Carver wriggle, apparently unsuccessfully, to get his man off the hook. But after the verdict and sentence, the twists and turns really begin, and the trial judge turns detective and poses a series of seemingly loony questions of which John Dickson Carr would have been proud.

   I did guess the real murderer — but not much else. Hilliard only wrote two mysteries – a pity.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 6, Number 1 (Spring 1984).

   

Bibliographic Update: The second and final case solved by Judge Thomas Manfred was Outlaw Island (Farrar, hardcover, 1942).

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:

   
SUE GRAFTON – “L” Is for Lawless. Kinsey Milhone #12. Henry Holt, hardcover, 1995. Fawcett Crest, paperback, 1996.

   The Grafton/Milhone express keeps chugging along. I really liked the “K” book. Matter of fact, I’ve liked most of her books. She’s one of the few bestsellers who I think generally lives up to her reputation and sales. Most of the time I rate her and Muller about even, way ahead of Paretsky.

   Kinsey is getting ready to attend a wedding. Her landlord’s brother and her Hungarian friend Rosie are getting hitched, but a little before the happy event her landlord asks her to help out the relatives of an old acquaintance of his, said acquaintance being recently deceased. It seems the man was supposed to have been a veteran, but when his relatives try to get benefits from the government, no record of him exists.

   Kinsey is asked to see what she can do, and the seemingly innocent and simple request turns into something very complex indeed, and dangerous. The dead little old man was more than he seemed, and had some very nasty friends.

   Grafton still writes well, but the plot in this one left me so cold that I basically skip-read the last third or so. I didn’t believe any of it, and I didn’t get interested in it. I didn’t give a damn about any of the characters aside from Kinsey, either, and she acted like an idiot for most of the book I’m sure most of her fans will love it, but the best I can say is it wasn’t egregiously bad. It sure wasn’t good, though.

   I seem to be a lot more demanding of rational behavior from my fictional heroes than most people are; or maybe I just have different ideas as to what’s rational. Sometimes I wish I didn’t, because it spoils a lot of books for me that I might otherwise like.

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

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