INTRODUCTION: Of all the various incarnations of Mystery*File, this is one I’d have thought lost forever — if I’d remembered that it even existed, that is.

   The issue is dated January 1987, and as far as I know now, there were only two copies made, the one I found this past weekend, and one I sent to Ellen Nehr, a well-known (and strongly opinionated) mystery fan who was also a good friend of mine. If you ever met her, I’m sure you’ve never forgotten her. Both copies were printed out using an Apple IIe computer and a dot matrix printer.

   The issue consisted only of reviews I had written during a between-semesters break, with a short recap at the end. In a cover letter to Ellen, which I still have, I said I wasn’t looking for subscribers, nor was I going to join up with DAPA-Em again, so I don’t know what my intentions were. I assume I put the issue together for the fun of it.

   At some point in time, I may have sent these reviews to George Easter, who’s still putting out his print magazine, Deadly Pleasures, but I’ll have to check the time frame involved to see if there’s any possibility of that.

   The floppy disk I stored this issue on is long gone. Ellen died in 1995, alas, and I don’t suppose anyone happened to save the copy I’d sent her. So I assume my single dot matrix printout is the only way these reviews have existed these past eleven and a half years — until now, of course.

KARIN BERNE – False Impressions.

Popular Library; paperback original, November 1986.

   From the copyright page – OK, so I’m a bit of a detective, too – aren’t we all? – it is easily deduced that “Karin Berne” is actually the Joint pseudonym of two other ladies: Sue Burnell and Michaela Karni. This is their third book; presumably the first two (Bare Acquaintances and Shock Value) also starred the “incomparable” Ellie Gordon as dedicated amateur detective.

KARIN BERNE False Impressions

   The “incomparable” was swiped from the front cover. If pressed, however, I guess I’d have to agree I haven’t an idea of whom I could compare Ms. Gordon to. (On the back cover Tony Hillerman suggests Kate Fansler, but I think Ellie is more down-to-earth than what I remember of the snobbishly academic Ms. Fansler. Or should that be academically snobbish?)

   Ellie Gordon is divorced, but still young enough (apparently 39, but it is not altogether clear) to cause some of the chief male characters to look her way. And, no kidding, she does have charm. Or charms (usually, but not always concealed). Her previous two cases have given her a slight reputation as a detective, but not with the local Santa Fe police. (She’s visiting from California.)

   In this particular case, a local art critic is murdered, at the opening of a gallery one of Ellie’s friends is the new co-owner of. Naturally, this leads to lots of suspects, as the art critic took his job seriously. And equally naturally, there’s more to the case than that.

   This is a long book: 310 pages, to be exact. There is a lot of authentic-sounding New Mexican background to go with the mystery, plus a couple of near-fatal accidents – the second involving the rapid descent of a hot-air balloon — and occasionally one wishes for the story to pick up just a little. Still, the clues are nicely placed, and the plot thickens just in time for a rousing conclusion.

   In retrospect, one can easily identify the killer at a pair of crucial junctures. One was intended, and the other probably not — but of course I can’t tell you about either one, can I?

— January 1987.

[UPDATE] 07-21-08.  As it so happened, this was indeed the third adventure of Ellie Gordon, and it was also her last. Nor did either co-author write another mystery under this or any other name, including their own. All three were paperback originals from Popular Library between 1985 and 1986.

   Note in passing that I called a 310 page mystery novel “long.” Times have changed since then, haven’t they?

   And, oh, one last thing. It has just occurred to me to check the Amazon sales ranking for False Impressions. As of five minutes ago, it was the 2,989,979th most popular book, which means that it’s not totally forgotten. Some sales rankings are in the 6 million range, so in a sense, it’s holding its own.