Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Silver Key by Edgar Wallace (1930)

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:

Dick Allenby, inventor of a silent air-powered gun
Gerald "Jerry" Dornford, of Half Moon Street, man about town, gambler
Mike Hennessey, theatre manager 
Mary Lane, actress, fiancee of Dick Allenby
Leo Moran, of 17 Naylor Terrace, banker and speculator
Horace Tom Tickler, burglar
Washington Wirth, a party-giver with an eye for the young ladies
Hervey Lyne, rich, moneylender, disabled, guardian of Mary Lane, uncle of Dick Allenby
Binny, Hervey's assistant
Chief Inspector Surefoot Smith, C.I.D.

Locale: London

Synopsis: Horace Tom Tickler, a small time burglar, is hanging around rich Hervey Lyne's place, plotting to get in. Chief Inspector Surefoot Smith encounters him and moves him along. Later that night, Smith is looking for a cab for put actress Mary Lane, in - and the cab he chooses has Ticker dead inside; and the cab is found to have been stolen. An anonymous note suggests he go talk to banker Leo Moran to find out about the killer.

Moran has been dealing in some shady financial transactions, and flees to parts unknown. While Surefoot investigates, he comes across a curious large silver key. Hervey Lyne, while in the park in his Bath Chair (type of wheelchair), is shot. 

Mary Lane takes on the role of a private investigator and sets out to find where the silver key fits, and runs into danger.


Edgar Wallace has thrown in plenty of traditional mystery plot elements: secret rooms, secret identities, secret keys, disguises, stolen cars, and secret hideaways. Surefoot plods along, making progress; but Mary Lane takes the initiative to go find the lock to which the silver key fits. An enjoyable Wallace, with the culprit being revealed well before the end; then the task is finding him!

The vacant room which Surefoot locates - having just the silver key and a wardrobe of clothes - is a similar plot element to Ellery Queen's Halfway House. which would follow in 1940.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

No Hands on the Clock by Geoffrey Homes (1939)

About the author (gadetection): Geoffrey Homes was a pseudonym for Daniel Mainwaring (1902-1977), an American novelist and screenwriter. He was born in California, and attended Fresno University. He held various jobs, including migrant fruit picker, private investigator and reporter, before turning to writing in the thirties. He subsequently became a screenwriter for movies. Homes's series characters were Jose Manuel Madero, LA reporter Robin Bishop and PI Humphrey Campbell. Bishop eventually marries Mary Huston, a secretary at the Morgan Missing Persons Bureau detective agency.

Major characters:
  • Humphrey Campbell, 28, works for Oscar Morgan
  • Oscar Morgan, age 65, 310 lbs, owner of Morgan Missing Person Bureau of Los Angeles
  • Warren E. Benedict, millionaire
  • Dale Benedict, his son, disappered
  • Rose Benedict, ward of Warren Benedict, fiancee of Dale
  • Mrs. Billie Toker, a.k.a. "Gypsy", waiting out her divorce interval in a Reno bar
  • David Paulson, the bar's piano player, who knows everything and everyone
  • Irene Donovan, the redhead last seen with Dale
Locale: Reno, Nevada

Synopsis: In the opening, workers are installing a strange clock on the outside wall of the Darwin Mortuary - a clock with no hands. Leon Darwin explains it is because "death is timeless".

Humphrey Campbell is in a bank when it is robbed, and one of robbers mentions that Campbell is familiar. The robbers escape. Campbell and Oscar Morgan work as private "heir finders", and are hired by millionaire Warren E. Benedict of Lake Tahoe to locate his missing son, Dale Benedict, last seen in Reno. Dale is engaged to Warren's ward, Rose Benedict.

Campbell and Morgan head to Reno. Campbell meets up with "Gypsy" (Mrs.  Billie Toker), who is waiting out the residency requirement to obtain a divorce by hanging out in a bar, where David Paulson plays piano and knows everyone and everything. Paulson tips him off that Dale had left with redhead Irene Donovan. Campbell heads to her place, only to find her murdered. Then a ransom note arrives for Dale Benedict.


This book reminds me of the writings of Erle Stanley Gardner, when he wrote at A. A. Fair. There are no long descriptions, but nonstop tough guy action on every page. We have the wisecracking P.I. who is, of course, irresistable to women. Much of the action takes place out in desolate desert at night, again reminiscent of Gardner. 

There are a couple of odd aspects: every character gets named, no matter how brief their appearance in the story. When someone pops in for a moment, the reader wonders if he will have to remember this character for future reference. The other odd aspect is the clock with no hands installed at the mortuary - from its appearance in chapter one, one expected it would have a central point in the story - much like the various clock and candle gimmicks in Gardner - but it was carefully described at the beginning and that was that. There was only one additional passing reference to it near the end. And I was looking forward to hearing more about it.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1942)

Major characters:
  • Nurse Hilda Adams, "Miss Pinkerton"
  • Inspector Fuller
  • Eliza Fairbanks, 72, the widow 
  • Carlton Fairbanks, her son
  • Susan "Susie" Fairbanks, nee Kelly; his wife
  • Marian Fairbanks Garrison, 38, her daughter (divorced)
  • Francis "Frank" Jarvis Garrison, Marian's ex-husband
  • Eileen Garrison, 35, Frank's second wife, pregnant
  • Janice Garrison,  19, daughter of Frank and Marian
  • Dr. Courtney Allen Brooke, 28, Eliza's doctor and neighbor
  • William, butler
  • Amos, handyman who lives above the garage
  • Margaret "Maggie" O'Neil, the cook
  • Ida Miller, 40, the maid
Helpful hint: If you get confused about the relationships of the players, refer to Chapter 16 which has a police report and full bio on everyone.

Locale: New York City

Map: The Dell Mapback provides this handy map for us (click to enlarge):

Synopsis: Frail, paranoid widow Eliza Fairbanks complains to the police that bats are getting into her bedroom, although there are no obvious apertures. She wants a police officer to resolve this, but Inspector Fuller sends Nurse Hilda Adams ("Miss Pinkerton") over instead, to stay with her and calm her down, and see what can be done about the bats. Nurse Adams does indeed come across a bat, and an occasional rat also. Although she searches the room thoroughly, she cannot find how they got in.

Eliza also states someone attempted to poison her with arsenic and there are also rats in the house in addition to the bats. Both statements are confirmed - Dr. Courtney Brooke (quite friendly with Eliza's granddaughter Janice Garrison) identified the arsenic, and Nurse Adams saw a rat herself.

Drama comes along: Frank Garrison is visiting to see his daughter Janice, and his ex-wife Marian Garrison disappears. His 2nd wife, pregnant Eileen Garrison, shows up at the door. She is not feeling well and is put to bed in Marian's bed, wearing Marian's nightgown. (Oh, this will be most awkward when Marian gets home!)

Hilda goes in to check her patient to find she has been murdered in her bed. Suspicion immediately falls on son Carlton, last person to enter her bedroom.

Review: It seems as if we have been here before. The dark old family manse, ruled by a frail, elderly (wait a minute - she's only 72!) widow dowager with loads of money in the bank - and inhabited by sniping relatives (don't these kids ever move out?); most of them impatient to get to the reading of the will. Mysterious sounds in the night, and doors that open and close by themselves add to the atmosphere.

We shall overlook the fact that having rodents in the house is not a police matter, and furthermore insufficient to justify placing an RN in residency*; when a cat would be the more appropriate choice. But Nurse Hilda is our investigator, and here she is. Mary Roberts Rinehart's signature "Had I But Known" teasers abound, pointing us to clues to remember as we go along.

Nice unexpected twist at the end reveals the murderer whom I did not suspect.

*This writer is fortunate to have an RN in residency, and she is adamant that rodent control is not in her job description.