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.

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.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1932)

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Major characters:
  • Harriet Vane, writer of detective stories
  • Lord Peter Wimsey
  • Julian Perkins, a teacher
  • Paul Alexis, a gigolo (deceased)
  • Mrs. Flora Weldon, who believed herself engaged to Paul Alexis
  • Henry Weldon, her son, a farmer
  • Haviland Martin, who was in the vicinity
  • Mrs. Morecambe, driving a Bentley
  • Antoine, another gigolo
  • William Bright, owner of a razor
Locale: Wilvercombe, on the coast of England

Synopsis: Harriet Vane is hiking along the coast in a remote area and comes across a dead body - his throat cut - perched on a rock at the tide line. She retrieves a razor as being the likely weapon, and walks to the nearest town for help, encountering hiker Julian Perkins along the way.

After reporting the body, Harriet stays at the posh Hotel Resplendent. The hotel employs four "gigolos", or professional dance partners for the guests. They are Antoine, Paul Alexis, Doris, and Charis. The police believe the deceased to be Paul Alexis, but have yet to recover the body. Hotel guest Flora Weldon is distraught, she had believed she was to marry Paul Alexis, but the other gigolos suggest that ha ha, that was just his usual line to the middle-aged ladies; she should have known that.

Lord Peter Wimsey arrives and in between marriage proposals to Harriet takes on the tracing of the razor. He finds it was last in the possession of a William Bright. Perhaps Bright and Perkins are the same person? 

The situation is complicated when it is found that Alexis believed himself to be Russian royalty, awaiting a return to mother Russia. A series of coded messages between him and someone in Russia adds to the intrigue.

Narrowing down the suspects is pretty straightforward, there aren't too many - but it is quite a puzzle to place them in space and time to have done the murder. One by one, Wimsey's theories are found to be incorrect.

Review: This starts off in the vein of John Dickson Carr, with Harriet Vane finding a body perched on a rock surrounded by smooth sand, with two sets of footprints: hers and the deceased. The episode of the discovery of the body is quite amusing:

Harriet Vane, a writer of detective stories, is puzzled when confronted with a real body; which never happens to writers of fiction who are trying to pass off knowing what they are writing about. What should she do? Well, what would the heroic investigator of her detective stories, Robert Templeton, do? He would do thus-and-so; so that is what I shall do. So now we have fictional Harriet Vane looking to her fictional character Robert Templeton, as she encounters a real (to her, but ultimately fictional) body. But wait, the onion has another layer! We have real detective story writer Dorothy L. Sayers writing of fictional detective story writer Harriet Vane looking to her own fictional detective Robert Templeton. Oh, my head!

The plot includes a secret message encoded using the Playfair Cipher, and includes an excellent description of how to encrypt and decrypt messages using it. I compared it to a description I had in a textbook, and it is not only correct, but explained much better using everyday language. (The wikipedia article linked above also cites Have His Carcase as a reference).

The repeated testing of theories by placing the suspects in time and space wore on and got a bit tiring when breaking down events in small intervals. The murderer is indeed found at the end.

See also this 2011 review and this 2020 review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.


Thursday, April 23, 2020

The D.A. Breaks a Seal by Erle Stanley Gardner (1946)




#7 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:
  • Frank Norwalk, hotel manager
  • Fred Roff, attorney, deceased
  • Henry Farley, waiter, the accused
  • Coleman Dexter, a land speculator
  • Major Doug Selby, former D. A.
  • Carl Gifford, current D.A.
  • Alphonse Baker Carr, "Old A.B.C"
  • Anita Eldon, a Hollywood blonde bombshell, A.B. Carr's client
  • Sylvia Martin, reporter for The Clarion
  • Inez Stapleton, attorney
  • Barbara Horncutt, Inez' client
Locale: Madison City, California

Synopsis:  Major Doug Selby is arriving home on a furlough from the Army, prior to heading out to the Pacific in the waning days of WWII. He notices a man and woman on his train wearing gardenias. As they alight at the Madison City, attorney A. B. Carr is waiting for them on the platform - and Selby realizes the gardenias are a signal so they recognize each other.

Selby runs into old flame - now attorney - Inez Stapleton. She is working on a contested will case, against A. B. Carr.

Word comes of a dead body found in the Madison Hotel. Selby accompanies Sheriff Rex Brandon to the scene, where they find Fred Roff deceased from poison in his room. He has a gardenia also. A blonde bombshell, Anita Eldon, is in the adjacent room, also with a gardenia. It appears all the gardenia wearers may be parties to the contested will case.

While D.A. Carl Gifford tries to discover evidence to prosecute hotel waiter Henry Farley for the murder, the contested will case goes to trial; as Selby tries to sort out the various gardenia-wearers. The trial comes to an abrupt halt when of the witnesses is poisoned.

Review: The previous Selby novel, The D.A. Calls a Turn, was a low point in the series; but in this novel Gardner and Selby are both back in good form. The gardenia club is an interesting twist, and we have two simultaneous cases (poisoning, contested will) heading to trial; with some obscure link between them. Selby is no longer D.A., but gets involved by being associated with old flame Inez Stapleton; who again is portrayed as breaking down in tears when things go badly - not a good attribute for an attorney; and this distracts from the story. 

The writing is very well done, one of my favorite sentences describes the deceased as he lies on the floor:
His bifocal spectacles had been pushed into one-sided incongruity by his fall and in some strange way lent an oddly facetious note to the occasion, as though these man-made aids to vision were somehow jeering at the final destiny of the eyes they had served.
The revelation of the murderer was a surprise, as this person served a minor role; and their connection to the victim a stretch. Nonetheless, a strong Doug Selby yarn.

Also see this review by Bev Hankins on her blog, My Reader's Block.


Monday, April 20, 2020

The Man Who Knew by Edgar Wallace (1918)

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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:
  • John Minute, wealthy mining magante
  • Jasper Cole, his secretary
  • Frank Merrill, his nephew
  • May Nuttall, Frank's girlfriend
  • Saul Arthur Mann, The Man Who Knew
  • Rex Holland, a mysterious person
  • Henry Crawley, a.k.a. Smith, a policeman
  • Constable Wiseman
Locale: England

Synopsis: Wealthy John Minute is home with his secretary, Jasper Cole; an amateur chemist. Jasper is interested in May Nuttall, a local mission worker; but so is Minute's nephew, Frank Merrill.

Meanwhile, a (unnamed) servant on his way to a job interview drops dead on the street. Constable Wiseman is standing over the body when Saul Arthur Mann appears, examines the dead man's pockets, and reels off a litany of facts about the person. Mann is "The Man Who Knows", who "collects facts as some men collect postage stamps". He runs an "information bureau", commonly known as a newspaper clipping service. He is the Google of his time. Similar to a newspaper morgue, news items are clipped and gathered and filed; and information sold to anyone who desires; usually Scotland Yard. Mann introduces a new twist - the news items are filed by number, not name; and only he has the index which reveals which number is used for each person.

After much discussion and positioning regarding wills, inheritances, and which suitor (Cole or Merrill) will get May Nuttall, John Minute is found shot in his home. Circumstantial evidence points to Merrill, who is tried and acquitted on a lack of direct evidence.

Additional intrigues occur. Another servant (Feltham) dies, from inhaling poison. Jasper Cole has been keeping a second house in a sketchy part of town known as Silvers Rents; which has a ladder but nothing to climb to. There is another man masquerading around as "Frank Merrill" who bears an amazing resemblance. There is a quiet mystery woman who is kept under wraps. There is a corrupt cop (Henry Crawley / Smith) who has some hold over her.

Review: An excellent read, with many parallel mysteries all at once. Mann's information bureau is a fascinating look at informational archival pre-internet. Who has the role of the detective? Not Saul Arthur Mann, as you may expect. He ran down facts, but is shocked at the revelation of the murderer. It takes some plodding work by Constable Wiseman and a group denouément to get at the truth, and the complex solutions are worthy of Agatha Christie. This is the best Wallace I have read thus far.