Sunday, July 21, 2024

Eyes in the Wall by Carolyn Wells, 1934


This is Fleming Stone #37.

About the author: Carolyn Wells (1862-1942) was married to Hadwin Houghton, the heir of the Houghton-Mifflin publishing empire. Like Mary Roberts Rinehart, being in a publishing family created an easy pipeline for getting her works into print. She wrote a total of more than 170 books. See this Wikipedia article.

Major Characters:

*Justin Leonard, a lawyer
Myrtle Leonard, his touchy-feely wife
Nathaniel Bancroft, millionaire portrait subject
*Eleanor Bancroft, his daughter
Ellis Kane, a painter
Ann Murdock, a painter
Alonzo "Lonny" Abbott, writer
Sammy "Pinky" St. Clair, a painter
*Mark Mason, art critic, the victim
Emily Mason, Mark's mother
Lily Dana, Mason's fiancée
Ellen Talcott, Lily's chaperone/companion
Hal Deming, next in line for Lily Dana
Fleming Stone, private investigator

*on the portrait selection committee

Locale: New York City

Synopsis: Millionaire Nathaniel Bancroft is going to sit for his portrait, and a committee has been formed to select a painter for the lucrative commission. The committee consists of Nathaniel's daughter Eleanor Bancroft, lawyer Justin Leonard, and art critic Mark Mason. The painters being considered are traditionalist Ellis Kane, modernist Ann Murdock, and bohemian "Pinky" St. Clair. At a gathering at Kane's studio, the principals are seated (mostly) at a round table, looking over Kane's collection of miniature paintings:

Suddenly Mason cries out that someone has stepped on his foot, although no one saw this happen. He turns ill immediately and soon is dead. There is no apparent cause, but an autopsy shows poisoning by strophanthin, a cardiac stimulant.


Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Saint Intervenes by Leslie Charteris, 1940


Also published as 'Boodle'

About the author: Leslie Charteris (1907 – 1993), was a British-Chinese author of adventure fiction, as well as a screenwriter. He was best known for his many books chronicling the adventures of his charming hero Simon Templar, alias "The Saint". Charteris spent 55 years – 1928 to 1983 – as either writer of or custodian of Simon Templar's literary adventures, one of the longest uninterrupted spans of a single author in the history of mystery fiction, equalling that of Agatha Christie (from Wikipedia). 


The Ingenious Colonel - The Saint meets up with a Colonel who has developed a con game to predict the winner of horse races. The Saint places his bets and manipulates the Colonel's system to his own benefit.
The Unfortunate Financier - A financier with the unfortuate name of Wallingford Titus Oates (see article) has a scheme to manipulate stock values. He is also a rabid stamp collector, and The Saint uses a rare stamp to lure him to his come-uppence.
The Newdick Helicopter - Oscar Newdick has supposedly invented an improved version of helicopter, and teases The Saint into investing in it. 
The Prince of Cherkessia - The Prince is in London supervising creation of a fabulous jeweled crown. Inspector Teal takes measures to ensure it is not stolen, but The Saint gets away with it anyway.
The Treasure of Turk's Lane - Turk's Lane is a quaint little London back street which time has passed by. Now a developer is buying up all the property to gentrify the street with moden businesses and apartments, and The Saint does not take that lightly.
The Sleepless Knight - Truck drivers are being pushed past their limits and causing accidents. The Saint teaches the owner of the trucking line, Sir Melvin Flager, what being a driver is really like.
* The Uncritical Publisher - Herbert Parstone is a "vanity printer" who prints small runs of books despite his wild promises of promoting their sale. The Saint traps him into printing something not quite legal.
The Noble Sportsman - Maurice Vould has been receiving threatening letters. The Saint and Inspector Teal attend his house party, but he is murdered under their very noses.
The Damsel in Distress - Domenick Naccaro brings his unmarried daughter and her child to The Saint, and hires him to help persuade the baby's father to do the right thing and marry her. If The Saint can grab him, Domenick will do the persuading - with a bar of soap.
The Loving Brothers - Brothers Walter and Willie Kinsall never got along, and never tired of cheating each other. Now their father has died, but there are several versions of his will floating around. The Saint manages to purchase (!) the latest one.
The Tall Timber - The Saint encounters a Ponzi scheme: Sumner Journ gets people to invest in his African timber production. But it takes ten years for his trees to grow up and make a return on their investment.
The Art Photographer - Photographer Gilbert Tanfold sells "saucy" photos of Parisian ladies, while looking for blackmail victims. He traps The Saint into a compromising pose, but his blackmail scheme backfires.
The Man Who Liked Toys - Lewis Enstone is shot to death in a locked room. It appears to be suicide to Inspector Teal, but The Saint knows it is murder.
The Mixture as Before - Louie Fallon shows The Saint a contraption which supposedly can produce artificial diamonds. The Saint tries it himself, and to Fallon's surprise, it works!

* some editions omit the stories "The Uncritical Publisher" and "The Noble Sportsman"

Monday, May 6, 2024

The Man in the Green Hat by Manning Coles, 1955

About the authors: (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:

Leonard Montagu Adair - a diplomat, the man in the green hat
Giorgio Mandoli, imprisoned forger
Agostino Grisoni, a.k.a. Rodrigo Algani
Gian Grisoni, a.k.a. Carlo Rezia
Ettore Stefano, the Grisoni's servant
Rosario Rossini, old man with the notebooks
Antonio Morra, "Il Cieco", the blind man
Tommy Hambledon, British Secret Service
William Forgan and Alexander Campbell, Hambledon's friends, the "model makers"

Locale: Italy



May 6 2024: reading now, please check back again. RM

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Dead Men Leave No Fingerprints by Whitman Chambers, 1935


About the author: Elwyn Whitman Chambers (1896-1968) was a novelist of hard-boiled detective stories, primarily set in the Oakland and San Francisco areas. He was also a writer for the television series 77 Sunset Strip.

Major characters:
  • Stanton Lake, Private Investigator
  • Abe Bloom, his assistant
  • Hilda Hann, a.k.a. Hilda Viborg; Danish film star
  • Theodore Raybourne, Hilda's boyfriend, "a rat".
  • Inez Raybourne, Theodore's half-sister
  • Dr. Jacques Pageot, Inez's fiancé
  • Rufus Raybourne, Theodore's father
  • Maurine Raybourne, Rufus' young trophy wife
  • Rae Amerton, a medium
  • Farley Amerton, Rae's husband
  • Fong Woo, the Raybourne servant
  • John Royal, convict, is he dead or not?
  • Sheriff Catalin, sheriff
  • Lenny McManus, sheriff's deputy
Locale: San Francisco, CA

Synopsis: Private Eye Stanton Lake is approached by Danish film star Hilda Hann. She is travelling to the US incognito with her overbearing boyfriend, Theodore Raybourne. They are staying at his parents' beach house in Dipsea, near San Francisco; and there she is using the alias Hilda Viborg. She hires Lake to spring her from Theodore's clutches.

Also at the beach house are Theodore's father (Rufus Raybourne) and his young trophy wife (Maurine), her daughter (Inez), Inez' fiancé (Dr. Jacques Pageot), and the household servant (Fong Woo).  Also present are spiritulist Rae Amerton and her husband Farley. 

Lake manages to install himself in the household by faking a swimming distress incident. While recuperating, Theodore is found dead, having been struck with a fireplace poker. Fingerprints on the poker are examined, and found to belong to John Royal - who had died ten years earlier while in prison.

Review: I had a hard time liking Stanton Lake. He is a hard-boiled tough guy straight out of the pulps and asks questions with his fists. He also lies a lot, bullies the police around, digs up corpses, and generally messes around with evidence. I almost DNF'd the book, but being about halfway through, decided to stick with it to see how the fingerprint issue was resolved. It was a clever method, but a stretch to believe. 

There is a big buildup about spiritism and Rae Amerton holding a seance, but nothing comes of it - no seance is ever held.

There is a lot of technical details about fingerprints, leading to a detailed explanation of how a dead man's fingerprints could start appearing ten years after his death. 

Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie, 1924


Major characters:
  • Madame Nadine, a dancer and a spy
  • Count Sergius Pavolvitch, Russian spy
  • Anne Beddingfeld, young adventurer, our protagonist
  • L.B. Carton, "Mothball Man", electrocuted on the third rail
  • Sir Eustace Pedler, M.P., owner of the house to let
  • Mrs. deCastina, victim found in Pedler's house
  • The Man in the Brown Suit, a.k.a. The Fake Doctor
  • Lord Masby, publisher of The Daily Budget
  • Colonel Race
  • Mrs. Clarence Blair

Upon the passing of her father, young Anne Beddingfeld is ready to leave London to seek adventure and romance. She is standing on the subway platform when another passenger is startled and falls off the platform, getting himself electrocuted on the third rail. As she watches, he is hauled off the tracks and declared dead by a man claiming to be a doctor. She observes his procedure is quite un-doctor-like. As he departs the scene, he drops a paper with a notation: 17 . 122 Kilmorden Castle.

The Daily Budget reports the victim was identified as L.B. Carton, and was carrying a real estate order-to-view for Mill House,  up for rent by Sir Eustace Pedler, M.P. Not only that, but a murdered woman was found in Mill House, identified as Mrs. deCastina. She also had an order-to-view, and met a man there, apparently her murderer. He was wearing a distinctive brown suit, and Anne realizes that he is the fake doctor from the subway incident.

Anne noticed the dead man had a distinct mothball odor, so she refers to him as "Mothball Man". She approaches Scotland Yard with her information, but the inspector there seems uninterested. She then goes to the pubisher of The Daily BudgetLord Nasby, who agrees to support her in her amateur investigation in search of a publishable story.

She tries to locate Kilmorden Castle without luck, then finds it is not a place, but the name of a passenger liner. She books passage on it to South Africa. 


You may also enjoy Review #1 and Review #2 by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.

My Late Wives by Carter Dickson, 1946


Major characters:

Roger Bewlay - the killer husband
Angela Phipps - late wife #1
Elizabeth Posner - late wife #2
Andrée Cooper - late wife #3
(Unnamed) - late wife #4
Mildred Lyons - witness
Beryl West - theatre director
Dennis Foster - attorney
Bruce Ransom - actor
Daphne Herbert - bait in the trap
John Herbert - her father
Sir Henry Merrivale
Inspector Masters


Scotland Yard has been after Roger Bewlay ever since a string of murders eleven years ago, in which he killed four wives in succession to gain their money. No bodies were ever found, and all they have to go on is a witness to the fourth, Mildred Lyons.

Now theatre director Beryl West invites her friend, attorney Dennis Foster, to meet famed leading-man actor Bruce Ransom. Someone has sent him the manuscript of a play based on Bewlay's murders. There are details in the play known only to the killer and the police, leading them to suspect Bewlay is the author.

In an attempt to flush Bewlay out, Ransom pretends to be Bewlay and starts a relationship with Daphne Herbert, following the plot of the play. 

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, 1920


Image only - no review

You may enjoy this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.