Wednesday, July 1, 2020

They Tell No Tales by Manning Coles (1942)

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About the author:

Major characters:

Locale:

Synopsis: 

Review:

Also please see this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.

July 1 2020: reading now. please check back. RM

Monday, June 29, 2020

The D.A. Breaks an Egg (1949)

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Final book in the Doug Selby series. The full series is:
  1. The D.A. Calls It Murder (1937) 
  2. The D.A. Holds a Candle (1938)
  3. The D.A. Draws a Circle (1939)
  4. The D.A. Goes to Trial (1940)
  5. The D.A. Cooks a Goose (1942)
  6. The D.A. Calls a Turn (1944)
  7. The D.A. Breaks a Seal (1946)
  8. The D.A. Takes a Chance (1948)
  9. The D.A. Breaks an Egg (1949)
Major Characters:
  • Daphne Arcola, from Montana
  • Rose Furman, a private detective
  • Alphonse Baker Carr, "Old A.B.C.", a shifty lawyer
  • Eleanor "Babe" Carr, his wife of convenience
  • Lorraine Lennox, a highly respectable type
  • Moana Lennox, her daughter
  • Steve Lennox, her son
  • Horace Lennox, her son
  • Dorothy Clifton, Horace's fiancé
  • Doug Selby, District Attorney
  • Rex Brandon, Sheriff
  • Sylvia Martin, reporter for The Clarion
Locale: Madison City, California

Synopsis: Dorothy Clifton is driving to Madison City to meet her fiancé's family (The Lennox's), and is apprehensive since they seem so high-society. While there, someone borrows her car - and returns it - but there is a purse in the back seat belonging to a Daphne Arcola.

That night, a woman's body is found stabbed in a park - but no purse. She is traced back to her hotel room, and appears she is Daphne Arcola. While D.A. Doug Selby and Sheriff Rex Brandon are looking around the room, lawyer A. B. Carr shows up; looking for Daphne, who he says is a friend of his wife Eleanor Carr.

About the same time, a burglar enters the Lennox home and makes off with some jewelry.

Later, Doug Selby returns to the hotel room for another look, and find an indignant woman in the room who claims she is Daphne Arcola, and what are they doing in her room anyway? No good answer for that one. Looks like the I.D. on the body wasn't too good. Turns out the deceased is a private detective, Rose Furman, who bears a superficial resemblance to Daphne Arcola.

Review: Well, this concludes my trip through the nine Doug Selbys, and it is sad there are no more. They are more satisfying than the Perry Masons. Next I am going to read some of the other non-Perry Masons, there are a few.

As this series progressed, attorney A. B. Carr gets more and more respectable (and more believable). The plot got a bit confusing when trying to follow who-what-when with the two redheads (Daphne Arcola and Rose Furman). The final chapters introduced some new characters who may have had a passing mention earlier but I did not remember them. I did find myself wondering if I was in the same book for a while. Other than that, a good read from Madison City.




Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Double by Edgar Wallace (1932)

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About the author: (Goodreads): Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (1875-1932) was a prolific British crime writer, journalist and playwright, who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and countless articles in newspapers and journals.

Edgar Wallace

Major characters:

  • Detective Inspector Dick Staines
  • Lord "Tommy" Weald, his friend
  • Mr. Minns, Tommy's butler
  • Walter Derrick, Tommy's amusing, carefree neighbor
  • Larkin, Derrick's caretaker
  • Mary Dane, a nurse with grey eyes
  • Mr. Cornfort, her patient, an invalid
  • Henry, her "chairman" (he pushes Mr. Cornfort's chair)
  • Lordy Brown, an ex-con
Locale: London and Brighton

Synopsis: Detective Inspector Dick Staines and his friend Lord "Tommy" Weald are in Brighton on holiday, and Weald describes a beautiful woman he has seen in town - nurse Mary Dane. They run into Tommy's neighbor, Walter Derrick. Staines meets Mary Dane and is enchanted.

Staines has to head back to London. Tommy suggests Staines is welcome to stay in his Lowndes Square, London house. The house is strange - formerly owned by an obscure Religious Order who enjoyed building staircases, chapels, tunnels, and what-not. Staines settles in, but manages to lock himself out on the balcony. The neighbor's balcony is within reach. Staines remembers the adjacent balcony is Walter Derrick's house, and since he is an acquaintance anyway, he may as well try to cross to that balcony, enter Derrick's house, and get out to the street, then return to Tommy's.

Staines jumps over to the adjacent balcony, enters Derrick's house, and is trying to find his way downstairs and out when he encounters a man drugged and tied on the floor, with a woman bending over him - apparently Mary Dane. She and an unseen accomplice escape. The tied man is Derrick's caretaker, Larkin. A fingerprint is found on the glass which had the drugged beer - and is traced back to an unsolved murder.

Derrick reveals this is the third burglary in his home. It is found that his late father left an inheritance which was never found, and it is thought concealed in the home somewhere.

Staines is walking with Mary Dane when she is accosted by Lordy Brown, just off a ship, who claims she is really Mary de Villiers.

Now there are two - maybe three - Mary Danes: the nurse, the burglar, and Mary de Villiers. Or are there?

Review:

We are set up quickly with various mysteries: Who is masquerading as Mary Dane, and why? Why is everyone interested in Walter Derrick's architecturally-strange house? Who is Lordy Brown and why is he lurking around?

This is a long book (320 pages) and longer than most Wallaces, which were probably intended for Britons to read while on the Tube going to the Office. The entire middle of the book eats up a lot of pages with a love triangle: both Staines and Tommy have their eyes on Mary Dane, who consents to marry each (simultaneously!)

An amusing episode occurs in a department store when Mary gives Staines the slip (pardon the pun), by insisting she visit the Ladies' Undergarments section where men are simply Not Appropriate Shoppers.

Wallace did manage to fool me - I thought I had the killer pegged from the opening - but was wrong. The denouément did get complex, and I gave up trying to follow the shell game.

The reader may wish to have a copy of Knox's 10 Commandments (1928) handy, this story skirts several:
  • All supernatural ... agencies are ruled out as a matter of course. We have a ghost inhabiting Wallace's house.
  • Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable. Lost count. Secret passages are explained by renovations which walled-in staircases. Secret doors swing in and out. 
  • No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end. The appliance appears on schedule: a vacuum pump with a long needle in the center; but relax - it is not the murder weapon. Scientific explanation is provided at the end.
  • Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them. Doubles abound! Mary's double is duly prepared for, but wait, there's more!

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon (1939)


About the author: J. Jefferson Farjeon worked for Amalgamated Press in London before going freelance. One of Farjeon's best known works was a 1925 play, Number 17, which was made into a number of films, including Number Seventeen (1932) directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and joined the UK Penguin Crime series as a novel in 1939. He also wrote the screenplay for Michael Powell's My Friend the King (1932) and provided the story for Bernard Vorhaus's The Ghost Camera (1933). Farjeon's crime novels were admired by Dorothy L. Sayers, who called him "unsurpassed for creepy skill in mysterious adventures." (from a Wikipedia article). 

Major characters:

  • Ted Lyte, amateur thief
  • Detective Inspector Kendall
  • Thomas Hazeldean, freelance news writer/yachtsman
  • John Fenner, house owner
  • Dora Fenner, his niece
  • Madame Paula, host of the French pension (boarding house)
  • Dr. Jones, Madame Paula's husband
  • Gustav, the mysterious silks seller

Synopsis: Ted Lyte, amateur thief, chose the wrong house for his first burglary. After entering the isolated house, Ted stumbles upon a locked room containing seven dead bodies. Detective Inspector Kendall takes on the case with the help of passing freelance news correspondent/yachtsman Thomas Hazeldean. They find some odd things: an ancient cricket ball on the mantle, a dead cat in the back yard, and a cryptic note referencing a "suicide club" with a coded reference to where they can find "the particulars". The search for the house's owners, John Fenner and his niece Dora Fenner, leads Hazeldean to Boulogne, France; where he catches up to them. They are unaware of the tragedy which occurred after their departure. The Fenners are staying at a "pension" (boarding house) run by Madame Paula, who husband, Dr. Jones, is promptly killed in an airplane crash. A mysterious "dark-skinned silks seller" (later identified as Gustav) follows the Fenners around. 

Review: Creepy happenings and atmosphere abound. The scenes in Boulogne have a Casablanca atmosphere, where shady peddlers lurking around and peeking in windows.

The questioning of Dora by Hazeldean runs way too long, and stretches believability - who would respond to persistent questioning by a stranger who does not reveal why he wants to know?

The questioning of  French maid Maria also runs way too long - and is rendered in "Frenglish" which seems to be a little of both, alternating between confounding and amusing:
"Mais non! And I tell 'im! But when I go to ze door 'e get in my way, and when I slap 'is face, oui, 'e bite me; zen I bite 'im, and we 'ave, qu'est-ce que c'est? - le fisticuff!"
There are loads of loose starts and ends. By loose starts, I mean something just appears in the story which has not been mentioned previously. By loose ends, some events are just not explained. A dead man is found with the silks seller, but it never explained who it was. It was assumed to be a certain person, yet that person shows up alive and well later in the story. The writer could have used a "continuity person" to match up starts and ends.

Some aspects stretch credibility: a dead man in England has half a red pencil clutched in his hand, and the other half is found later on a desert island in the South Atlantic.

Overall, a bit cluttered and haphazard; not as good as the other title I have read (Mystery in White). 

One little annoyance: This British Library Crime Classic edition, being on metric sized paper, is larger than US paperbacks, and is perfect bound (individual pages glued into the binding) rather than signature bound and my pages kept detaching from the binding glue and coming loose as they are turned. Perhaps just an issue with my copy, but it made one-handed reading pretty much impossible.


Monday, May 25, 2020

A Toast to Tomorrow by Manning Coles (1941)

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also published as Pray Silence.

About the author (wikipedia): Manning Coles is the pseudonym of two British writers, Adelaide Frances Oke Manning (1891–1959) and Cyril Henry Coles (1899–1965), who wrote many spy thrillers from the early 40s through the early 60s. The fictional protagonist in 26 of their books was Thomas Elphinstone Hambledon, who works for the Foreign Office.

Major characters:
  • Tommy Hambledon, British intelligence, a.k.a. Klaud Lehmann
  • Franz, his servant
  • Charles Denton, British intelligence, a.k.a. Herr Dedler
  • Reck, former British wireless operator
  • Joseph Goebbels
Synopsis: In the previous book, Tommy Hambledon was lost at sea in 1918 and presumed dead. Now 1933. He had been found washed up on the beach in 1918, and had amnesia. He then accepted an identity as Klaus Lehmann, believes he is a German, and is working his way up in the Nazi party.

Certain events trigger his memory gradually, and he remembers he is actually a British agent. He gets word back to Britain that he is alive via his old wireless operator Reck, concealing the message within a radio play.

Hambledon realizes he is in a good position to sabotage the Reich, and sets about to do as much damage as he can without revealing himself; while getting his associates and friends out of harm's way.

Review: This is the second Hambledon book, the continuation/sequel to Drink to Yesterday. I highly recommend reading these two as one novel, especially as many characters and references are carried over from Drink to Yesterday.

About halfway through the book we begin to get hints of the humorous side of Manning Coles, which will follow through to the remainder of the series. It is rather dark up until the episode of smuggling documents through customs inside a gramophone; when the story take an amusing turn.

Any readers of Manning Coles would do well to begin with these two, as they are foundation for all that follows.

Note: Two occurences of the n-word, in colloquial expressions.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Drink to Yesterday by Manning Coles (1941)

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About the author (wikipedia): Manning Coles is the pseudonym of two British writers, Adelaide Frances Oke Manning (1891–1959) and Cyril Henry Coles (1899–1965), who wrote many spy thrillers from the early 40s through the early 60s. The fictional protagonist in 26 of their books was Thomas Elphinstone Hambledon, who works for the Foreign Office.

Major characters:


  • Michael Kingston, a.k.a. Bill Saunders, a.k.a Dirk Brandt
  • Diane, his wife
  • Tommy Hambledon, a.k.a. Hendrik Brandt
  • Dixon Ogilvie, Michael's school chum
  • Professor Amtenbrink, retired German scientist
  • Max von Bodenheim, German Intelligence
  • Charles Denton, a.k.a. Ludwig Wolff
  • Kaspar Bluehm, a German
  • Marie Bluehm, his sister
Locale: France and Germany

Synopsis: Michael Kingston, underage, assumes the fake identity of Bill Saunders in order to join the British military. He is seen as a good prospect for intelligence work, and comes under the wing of Tommy Hambledon. 

They team up, assuming the identities of Hendrik Brandt and his nephew Dirk. As Dirk Brandt, he infiltrates German intelligence, cultivating a friendship with Max von Bodenheim.

First they investigate whether retired professor Amtenbrink is involved in a German plot to drop cholera germs into England's water supplies.

Dirk manages to be sent to Ahlhorn (by the Germans) as a civilian security agent, where Zeppelins are being constructed. Dirk sabotages the Zeppelins with a fire, and is discovered to be a British agent.

When suspicions fall on them, they arrange to be picked up at sea at night - Kingston makes it but Hambledon appears lost at sea.

Kingston (as Dirk) returns to Germany, this time with agent Denton, who assumes the identity Ludwig Wolff.

Kingston matures through his adventures, and begins to regret marrying Diane; waiting at home for him.

Review:

This is the first Tommy Hambledon novel, however, the focus is not on him - but his protegé Michael Kingston. This is a not a slick sexy James Bond spy novel, it is more like a police procedural showing the not-always-exciting steps in intelligence work. It is somber at times, especially as it nears the end. They make mistakes and feel regret for them.


The first chapter is really the end of the story - chapters two forward are told in flashback. 

Although I really enjoy the later Hambledons which are much lighter and funnier, it is good to see the genesis of the Hambledon story. 

The sequel to this book is A Toast to Tomorrow, a.p.a. Pray Silence. 


Sunday, May 17, 2020

The D.A. Takes a Chance by Erle Stanley Gardner (1948)


#8 of 9 in the Doug Selby series. The full series is:
  1. The D.A. Calls It Murder (1937) 
  2. The D.A. Holds a Candle (1938)
  3. The D.A. Draws a Circle (1939)
  4. The D.A. Goes to Trial (1940)
  5. The D.A. Cooks a Goose (1942)
  6. The D.A. Calls a Turn (1944)
  7. The D.A. Breaks a Seal (1946)
  8. The D.A. Takes a Chance (1948)
  9. The D.A. Breaks an Egg (1949)
Major characters:
  • Jim Melvin, inventor/salesman of a new parking meter
  • Paula Melvin, his wife
  • Doris Kane, Paula's mother
  • Eve Dawson, a.k.a. Eve Hollenberg, aspiring actress
  • Eleanor "Babe" Harlan, Eve's roommate
  • Milton Granby
  • Hudson Parlin, investment broker; owner of the parking meter patent
  • Alphonse Baker Carr, "Old A.B.C"
  • Doug Selby, District Attorney
  • Rex Brandon, Sheriff
  • Sylvia Martin, reporter for The Clarion
Locale: Madison City, California

Synopsis: Doris Kane gets concerned after her just-married daughter, Paula Melvin, stops responding to her calls and letters. She sets out for Madison City to see what is going on, and finds Paul's house vacant, newspapers piling up on the step. She finds a key in the mailbox, and lets herself in to snoop. The house is dusty, with cigarette butts and empty glasses around, and in one bedroom she finds bloodstains on the bed and in the adjoining bathroom.

Doris appeals to Doug Selby. He and Sheriff Rex Brandon and Doris return to the house - without a warrant - and surprise - everything has been cleaned up. 

After a tip, Paula and her husband, Jim Melvin, are found occupying a house in neighboring La Salidas. They invite Doris to stay but don't say anything about why they are in the wrong house.The house comes with a guest - aspiring actress Eve Dawson. Doris enters Eve's room to find her dead, stabbed. Her body also has evidence of a prior gunshot wound.

Review: For once, Doug Selby stays a step ahead of old A.B. Carr. Every time Selby encounters a Carr setup, he immediately recognizes it for what it is. I am even starting to like A.B. a bit now, his presenting a duplicate knife to Selby seems to be with the best intentions; and he and I share several characteristics (doesn't like to go out at night, doesn't drive fast, has a nice home library, etc)!

I have found my best way of reading any ESG yarn is to read it start to finish in one or two sittings. Once the action begins, it has a certain momentum; and if I set it aside a few days the momentum fades.

Overall, this was a great Selby - perhaps the best thus far. I didn't miss Inez Stapleton a bit.