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.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Girl From Scotland Yard by Edgar Wallace (1929)

also published as THE SQUARE EMERALD


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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:
  • Lady Jane Raytham
  • Anthony Druze, the Raytham's butler
  • Mrs. Greta Gurden
  • Peter Dawlish, convicted forger
  • Margaret Dawlish, Peter's mother
  • Princess Anita Bellini, Peter's aunt
  • Mrs. Inglethorne, Peter's landlady
  • Leslie Maughan, The Girl From Scotland Yard
  • Chief Inspector Josiah Coldwell
  • Lucretia Brown, Leslie's servant

Locale: London

Synopsis: Peter Dawlish is just released from serving a forgery sentence. Down and out, he is assisted with a small loan from perky Leslie Maughan, assistant to Chief Inspector Josiah Coldwell. While officially an "assistant", she is a detective in her own right.

Leslie has been checking up on Lady Jane Raytham following her substantial bank withdrawals. Lady Jane is annoyed, and does not cooperate - she prefers to spend time with Princess Anita Bellini, who is Peter Dawlish's aunt.

Leslie takes Peter under her wing and encourages him to re-enter society. Peter had been convicted of forging a check under his former employer, maintained his innocence, and suspected butler Anthony Druze of having committed the forgery; and causing his imprisonment.

Peter find a room lodging with Mrs. Inglethorne, who has a collection of rag-tag children. One girl, Elizabeth, becomes fond of Peter.

Druze is found dead on the street - shot. Peter Dawlish had the obvious motive - suspecting Druze of being the forger for which he was convicted. Leslie is convinced of his innocence, and seeks out the real murderer. In doing so, she finds that pretty much everyone has a secret to conceal.

Review:

Leslie Maughan is a treat - a confident investigator who follows her own trail. It is refreshing to find a female protagonist in books of this era, bringing to mind the Madame Rosika Storey series (list) by Hulbert Footner (see The Under Dogs), and the stories of Mary Roberts Rinehart.

Everyone in the story has a secret, and a couple of them are good ones. Druze's "handicap" is revealed, however, the reasoning behind it is not. This story has lots of threads and they are all tied up nicely at the end.



Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Silk Stocking Murders by Anthony Berkeley (1928)

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About the author: Anthony Berkeley Cox was an English crime writer. He wrote under several pen-names, including Francis Iles, Anthony Berkeley and A. Monmouth Platts. One of the founders of The Detection Club (from Goodreads)

Major characters:

  • Janet Manners a.k.a. Unity Ransome, chorus girl, victim #1
  • Moira Carruthers, Janet/Unity's roommate
  • Anne Manners, Janet/Unity's sister
  • Elsie Benham, prostitute, victim #2
  • Lady Ursula Graeme. victim #3
  • --- Playdell, Lady Ursula's fiancé
  • Dorothy Fielder, actress, victim #4
  • George Dunning, suspect #1
  • Hon. Arnold Beverley, suspect #2
  • Gerald Newsome, suspect #3
  • Roger Sheringham, novelist, newspaper contributor, amateur detective
  • Chief Inspector Moresby of Scotland Yard

Locale: London

Synopsis: Roger Sheringham, amateur detective/novelist/newspaper contributor, receives a letter from parson A. E. Manners, inquiring if he could look into the disappearance of his eldest daughter Janet Manners. Roger finds she had taken the name of Unity Ransome for a London theatre production, and was in the news for having committed suicide by hanging herself with one of her stockings.

Once Roger confirms that Unity is really Janet, he informs the parson; and strikes up a friendship with next-eldest daughter Anne Manners.

Two more identical deaths occur almost immediately: Prostitute Elsie Benham and socialite Lady Ursula Graeme. Both die in identical methods: hanging on a hook on a door, by one of their own stockings, just removed, leaving the mate in place.

Roger takes up a collaboration with Chief Inspector Moresby of Scotland Yard, on the theory a newspaper man is better at getting people to talk than a Scotland Yard man.

A similar case has been reported in Monte Carlo. By comparison of lists of male friends of the victims, three names are found in common (George Dunning, Arnold Beverley, Gerald Newsome), and become the prime suspects.

A fourth death occurs: Dorothy Fielder, actress.

Roger, convinced on Gerald Newsome's innocence, teams up with him and ends his collaboration with Scotland Yard. Roger gathers the suspects for a re-staging of the crime and denouément.

Review:

I was able to pick out the murderer from his introduction to the story, which generally eludes me. However, I couldn't see the motive - the motive I had in mind from the first did not pan out.

A unique twist occurs when Roger seemingly abandons his Scotland Yard alliance and teams up with one of the suspects.

The reconstruction of the crime / denouément staged by Roger is very Nero Wolfe .. specific placement of chairs and seating for the show, and the police conveniently standing near the murderer. The murderer is revealed by not reacting to a certain event, as he knew what was coming. (This immediately brought to mind the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, in which one vital lead to the perpetrators was a security camera image of the crowd, all heads turned towards the sound of the explosion, except for two - the bombers - who did not react.)

Note: stereotypes of Jewish persons abound.

See also this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.