Category Archives: Book Reviews

Holmes – Mummies – and Mystery

Sherlock Holmes, Mummies and MysteryMX Publishing has issued another winner in the ongoing saga of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes and the Egyptian Tomb Mystery by Joanna M. Rieke entertains. This case of Holmes, mummies and mystery moves quickly along.

Holmes and Watson have a friendlier relationship in this case than in some cases in the original Conan Doyle canon. The regard they have for each other because of their long association is evident. Holmes even hugs Watson at one point, showing more emotion than is usually apparent from Holmes. Also, Holmes drags Watson to safety after Watson suffers a concussion.

This case has the famous duo in trouble caused by Colonel Moran and Professor Moriarty.  Important plans about the Suez Canal are stolen. Holmes and Watson trace them to an Egyptology exhibit at the British Museum. While investigating the death of a night watchman in connection to the case, the duo go to the basement. A fire set by Colonel Moran imperils Holmes and Watson.

Of course, there are many twists and turns in the detection and discernment of clues by Holmes with Watson’s help. The pacing is steady, but sluggish in spots. Rieke deftly draws Holmes and Watson. Their friendship and comradery are unmistakable.

Rieke has written other works based on the Holmes and Watson saga. I will read others in the future.

I received a free copy of Sherlock Holmes and the Egyptian Tomb Mystery but was free to give my honest opinion.

Black Cat Mysteries and Mean Streets

Black Cats and Mysteries - The Ninth LifeThe Ninth Life by Clea Simon is not the first book I’ve read in which the narrator is nonhuman. (Think the Chet and Bernie mystery series by Spencer Quinn, for one.) Black cat mysteries have joined the group.

Blackie, a cat, is the first-rate narrator in this story of urban survival and friendship. Street smart, tough, aging, Blackie exhibits a no-nonsense outlook. Simon gives Blackie the voice of a full-fledged human private investigator. As Blackie says, or thinks, to himself, too bad he can’t talk. He has a soft spot for Carrie (nicknamed Care). She’s the street teen who saves Blackie from drowning in a drainage ditch.

Care and Blackie work on solving the mystery of who killed Care’s mentor – a nameless private investigator alluded to as “the old man” throughout the book. They interact with low-life businessmen, drug dealers, and gangs of thugs. Care’s younger, some-time friend, Thomas (known as Tick) wants to stay friendly with Care but is drawn back into the gang life from which Care is trying to escape. Throughout the book, Blackie does not totally trust Tick. Tick wants the drugs and other things he thinks he can get from Care’s former associates.

Much as I enjoyed Blackie’s narration, he sometimes seems overly knowledgeable about everything. The book’s ending also left me feeling let down – it sort of fizzled. But, on the whole, black cat mysteries, especially by Clea Simon, may be my new enjoyment.

The Ninth Life
by Clea Simon
© 2015
Severn House Publishers Ltd.

Mummies – Moriarty – and Sherlock Holmes

Mummies, Moriarty and SmugglingFrom unwrapping stolen mummies to Professor Moriarty escaping in an early flying machine, these Sherlock Holmes stories by Robert V. Stapleton enchant. From Scotland to Cornwall to Berlin, Holmes and Watson deal with a mummy’s curse, smuggling and international politics.

Stapleton’s short stories in Sherlock Holmes: A Yorkshireman in Baker Street entertain for the most part. Professor Moriarty stars in an interesting affair that culminates in his making his escape in an early flying machine. (For me, this story tops the rest of the stories in the collection.) “The Whitehaven Ransom” captured my attention, too. Watson drags Holmes off on a vacation to the English Lake District. While there, the duo solve a 30-year-old local mystery. Holmes and Watson are called to Berlin to intercede with delegates attending a conference on Africa. Events go awry quickly in “The Black Hole of Berlin.” Most of the stories move along at a steady clip. Most are believable. “You Only Live Thrice,” involving voodoo, is not quite up-to-par as far as plot. In fact, I found it rather weak.

I enjoyed the voice of Dr. John Watson as he narrated these stories. Stapleton made Watson’s voice crisp, clear and convincing. Whereas, in some of the early black-and-white movies on television, Watson is portrayed as a bumbling fool. (Think Nigel Bruce to Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes.) Since Watson was a doctor, he was no fool. Nor was he stupid, even if he couldn’t match Holmes’ analytical deductions.

Stapleton’s story collection satisfies my craving for short stories and all things Holmesian. At least temporarily. Although mummies are not my thing, Moriarty and Holmes certainly are. No doubt, I will be back reading about Holmes very soon. For another post I’ve written regarding works involving Sherlock Holmes, find it here.

Golden Age Detective Stories

Tuesday Club Murders - Golden Age Mystery StoriesAs you may be aware, I enjoy reading short-story-length mysteries. Thus, I subscribe to a number of magazines that feature short stories. (See my previous post, here.) Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery MagazineMystery Scene and Strand don’t seem to quell the hunger pangs for ever more stories. So, I search for anthologies and linked short stories in novel length format. Thus, I espied The Tuesday Club Murders by Agatha Christie and Golden Age Detective Stories, edited by Otto Penzler.

The Christie book includes a series of linked stories, all involving Miss Marple. Each member of the Tuesday Club takes a turn describing mysterious circumstances or a problem of which they have knowledge without disclosing the outcome. The rest of the group attempts to discern the ending to the problem. Naturally, Miss Marple is miles ahead of the pack. One or two of the stories dragged, but most were pleasant and interesting.

Golden Age Detective StoriesFor some time, I had wanted to read some of the Golden Age of Mystery writers other than Agatha Christie. Well, I got that chance with Golden Age Detective Stories. Charlotte Armstrong, Anthony Boucher, Mignon Eberhard and Erle Stanley Gardner are among the stellar authors presented. I had seen the dramatization of Gardner’s story (“The Case of the Crimson Kiss”) as part of the 1960s Perry Mason series starring Raymond Burr. Truth be told, I enjoyed the TV dramatization more than the original story.

The Ellery Queen offering was a pleasure. Craig Rice (“Good-bye, Good-bye!”) is a new addition to my growing list of favorite authors. As are Frances and Richard Lockridge, creators of the Mr. and Mrs. North mystery series, as well as three or four other series. The Lockridges now sit atop a towering pinnacle of authors whose entire oeuvre I want to read.

 

 

Private Investigator in 1940s Los Angeles

private investigator in 1940s Los AngelesEzekiel “Easy” Rawlins makes a likeable protagonist. As Devil in a Blue Dress begins, he’s just been fired from a job at a defense plant. In order to pay the mortgage payment on his new little house, Easy works as a private investigator in 1940s Los Angeles for a strange, white gangster.

Rawlins’ search for a white, blonde-haired female last seen wearing a unique blue dress takes the reader all over the late-1940s Los Angeles area. He finds the female but allows her to slip through his fingers. Easy benefits to some degree from money stolen by the woman from the white business owner who’s looking for her. Rawlins later learns the woman’s true identity. This factors significantly into the story told to the police and to the white man paying to have her found. Several folks end up killed, including the gangster who had acted as go-between with Rawlins and the businessman.

Over the course of the story, I came to like Easy Rawlins very much. He’s mostly honest, smart and courageous, although the same can’t be said for some of his so-called friends. By the end of the novel, Rawlins has found himself self-employed. He invested some of the “found” money and some of his investigator’s fee into another house that he rents out. And he takes on cases as a private investigator.

Devil in a Blue Dress (written in 1990) handles race relations as a noticeable subplot. Similarities exist between when the plot takes place – the late 40s – and today. “The thought of paying my mortgage reminded me of my front yard and the shade of my fruit trees in the summer heat. I felt that I was just as good as any white man, but if I didn’t even own my front door then people would look at me like just another poor beggar, with his hand outstretched.”

WANTING MORE

Reading more of Walter Mosley‘s Easy Rawlins series will be no hardship. Mosley’s prose style draws you into the story and holds your attention. I look forward to seeing what he’s been up to since this series opener. Judging by the number of books (15, including Blood Grove, published in 2021), Easy Rawlins has gotten himself into quite a bit of mystery and tight spots.

Van Life – A Great Way to Go Vagabonding

Van Life - A Great Way to Go Vagabonding

Here’s a review of a book, Van Life: Your Home on the Road, by Foster Huntington, that is totally different from my norm of mysteries, memoirs and poetry.

I’ve been thinking for a while that once I’m able to do so, I’d like to live in a camper van. (I currently live with and care for an elderly relative.) At least for a while. I’ve always wanted to travel around the U.S. This seems like a convenient way to do that. I’ve had this desire even pre-pandemic – this is not just lockdown frustration talking.

Interesting concept for this book: photos of various style vans and interviews with some of the owners. The author focuses on 20- and 30-somethings who have spent a short time in a van following the surfing or snow. Including some more mature van owners in the mix might have widened the appeal of the book.

He also highlights various types of vans and the modifications made by the owners. Most were bought second- or third-hand and are by no means upscale camper vans. This isn’t about glamping. (You know—those huge campers on bus chasses that contain everything, including the kitchen sink!) I bought Van Life because, as I said, I’m interested in doing some basic camper living in the future rather than going totally upscale. (Who wants to clean a huge camper? You can stay home and do that…)

Someday this may be my style of life. I’d try to do it a tiny bit more upscale, though, than some of the illustrated vans. But, all told, a great book about an amazing lifestyle that’s not for everyone. Also, great pictures of the places visited by the van owners interviewed.

Here’s a fascinating article about Foster Huntington, author of Van Life: Your Home on the Road.

I have no affiliation with the author nor did I receive a copy of the book.

Van Life: Your Home on the Road
by Foster Huntington
© 2017
Hachette Book Group

 

Please Pass the Guilt by Rex Stout

Please Pass the GuiltThe Wolfe Pack, which I joined recently, offers discussions about a Wolfe novel every other month. So, I picked up Please Pass the Guilt, the book scheduled for discussion in June.

I’m interested in the Wolfe canon although I have only read one or two, many years ago. I don’t even remember which books I read(!) However, I remember enjoying the witty banter of Wolfe’s assistant, Archie Goodwin.

Rex Stout was prolific – his works run the gamut from mainstream to science fiction. But he is probably best known for his mysteries. Although he wrote non-series mysteries and short stories, the most well-known is the series featuring Nero Wolfe.

In Please Pass the Guilt,  an executive gets killed in another exec’s office. Who was the intended victim? Who was the perpetrator? Even Nero Wolfe is confused at first.

Not one of my favorite mysteries. Even though I’ve enjoyed one or two Wolfe mysteries in the past, this one seemed to run in circles and not really head for the finish line until rather late in the book. Plus, Archie Goodwin, Wolfe’s assistant, has a rather strange conversation and interaction with a female (feminist) suspect he was interviewing.

I did enjoy visiting the brownstone, again, and hearing about the gourmet meals served there. Although not as famous and Holmes’s 221B Baker Street, Wolfe’s brownstone on West 35th Street in Manhattan is very much a character in the Wolfe novels.

If you’ve always wanted to read the Wolfe mystery series by Rex Stout, don’t start with this one. Dedicated Wolfe fans may enjoy this one.

Please Pass the Guilt
by Rex Stout
© 1973
The Viking Press, Inc.

Connubial Corpse – Ghost Wedding Victims?

Thomas J. Thorson‘sConnubial Corpse Connubial Corpse, the second book in the Malcom Winters series, pulls the reader quickly into the story. Sparse but sufficient backstory clues the reader into what’s gone before. (See my blog post about Thornton’s Heirs Apparent.)

Thorson’s spare prose grabs the reader and drives the story inexorably forward. Who’s killing Asian female university students? Winters gets sucked into the mystery when Lily Cheng, an Asian student Vinn (Winters’ girlfriend) teaches, goes missing. What follows is a chase through Chicago’s Chinatown section. Of course, Winters’ eccentric tenants, Leo and Ted/Rebecca, give an assist. So do another of Vinn’s students and an assortment of offbeat acquaintances of Rebecca. The actions of this motley group set in motion a succession of falling dominoes. Included in these tumbling dominoes are Hop Leung, head of the local tongs, and a severed head.

Malcom and Vinn’s relationship has advanced since the series’ debut. It’s stable enough for Malcom to even have some snarky thoughts about Vinn: about “her off-the-charts intelligence” and “ravishing beauty.” Or better yet, when thinking about the larger size of Vinn’s university office compared to Malcom’s: “She also needs the room to hold her outsized intellect.” (Shades of an unreliable narrator here, maybe?)

Other than some minor grammar glitches (using I and myself instead of me in several instances) and nomenclature of Chinese names, this second outing in the Winters series rolls along. It’s also great fun meeting Leo and Rebecca again. And the assorted secondary characters. Nice pace to the plot and great characterization. I’m looking forward to the follow-up to Connubial Corpse.

I received a free copy of Connubial Corpse from the author. All opinions are my own.

Connubial Corpse: A Malcom Winters Mystery Malcom Winters
Thomas J. Thorson
© 2021
Thorshammer Books

Orca and Ayers – Predatory Killers

 

Orca and Ayers - Predatory Killers

Orca by JC Norton does a slow, stealthy burn. Stone Ayers stalks a man as they cruise to Antarctica aboard Polar Adventurer, a luxury expedition ship. Like the orcas, Ayers, a former Special Forces Ranger, is not faint-hearted when it comes to conflict and death. Ayers plans to kill another passenger, of whom he has been contracted to dispose. Orcas and Ayers, predatory killers, is the theme here.

As time passes in Orca’s milieu, Ayers morphs from a ski-loving, IT guy into a contract killer. He works for Dominic Balducci, who has businesses on both sides of the law. Shades of the mafia? Characterization of Ayers and a few of the secondary characters stands out as well done. The story’s pacing is steady, but somewhat sluggish. Much is said about penguins, with other wildlife in that region, such as the huge elephant seals, given short shrift. In fact, only one mention is made of an orca pod. Considering orcas, and by extension, Ayers, are alpha killers, that’s an indirect connection that hits below the radar. 

Orcas and Ayers – predatory killers extraordinaire

Although likeable, Ayers’ compartmentalization of what he really does, is off-putting. He considers his body a machine and killing as “just a job.” To others, he says he works as an IT consultant—true enough as far as it goes. He does have a college degree in information technology. What will happen to his budding relationship to Gudrun, one of the naturalists leading the expedition, if and when she finds out? Granted, Ayers becomes personally involved with a few of the crew members. He even starts considering their passions and feelings. Hopefully, this change continues as the Ayers series progresses.

For me, the ending was anticlimactic. The plot plods a bit too slowly to be suspenseful. For fear of spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. 

Orca
by JC Norton
© 2019

Caribbean Mystery – Strange Characters

Caribbean mysteryA junk-filled, foot-ball-shaped house was all that Calvin Batten inherited. Or so he thought. Then why did every islander he met talk about hidden treasure, high finance, and golden elixirs when speaking about his father, Rhodes Batten? Cal Batten was on Blacktip Island to finalize his late father’s estate. But, Cal finds, things rarely go so smoothly or quickly on Blacktip. What’s going on in The Secret of Rosalita Flats, a Caribbean mystery by Tim W. Jackson?

Blacktip Island is an out-of-the-way, down-on-its-luck Caribbean misfit. It’s small community, from hardscrabble to nouveau riche, is filled with daydreamers and slouchers. A few, it appears, are looking to strike it rich by finding Rhodes Batten’s hidden treasure.

Strange Characters and Stranger Goings On

Who was Rhodes Batten, besides a loner who seemed to have no visible source of income, yet could afford to support a wife and son? Why had Rhodes Batten’s wife suddenly pulled up stakes and moved to the U.S. with her young son, Cal?

Who is Rosie Bottoms and why does she insist on continuing to clean the house after Rhodes’ death? Why are Rich Skerritt and Sandy Bottoms so eager to buy the weird-shaped house and rather useless patch of land? Tensions mount as Cal’s new home is broken into several times during his short stay on the island. Again, why? Cal’s search within the house leads to several rather befuddling clues. Why have significant amounts of money, a computer, flash drives and a satellite phone been stashed in unique hiding places?

When Rosie Bottoms eventually tracks down Rhodes’ will and other important papers, Cal hopes he’ll finally be able to move quickly to close his father’s estate. And resume his so-called-normal life in the U.S. But to what does he have to go back? His divorce is finalized while he’s on Blacktip Island. His small clock shop is virtually moribund. He’s growing accustomed to the oddball house and becoming interested in Marina, a friend from his childhood on Blacktip.

Tim Jackson does a fairly good job illustrating a variety of eccentric and not-on-the-up-and-up characters in this addition to his Blacktip Island series. Pacing gets slightly sluggish in parts, but still pulls the reader towards the culmination of the mystery.

I found The Secret of Rosalita Flats an entertaining Caribbean mystery, overall. I look forward to reading other offerings in the Blacktip Island series.