Sunday, August 30, 2020

Not Negotiable by Manning Coles (1949)


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:
  • Yanni the Nephew
  • Louis Burenne
  • Alexandre Maurice, a counterfeiter; a.k.a. Pierre Guyon
  • Hilde, a.k.a. Leonie Vermaas, Maurice's wife
  • Colette Masurel, Maurice's fiancée
  • Jules Parisot, a naive young man
  • Tommy Hambledon, British Intelligence
  • Antoine Letord, of the Sureté

Locale: Brussels, Belgium; and Paris, France

Synopsis: During WWII the Germans made an effort to destablize other nation's economies by producing large quantities of counterfeit money. Tommy Hambledon of British Intelligence is in Brussels to look into counterfeit currency emanating from there. In a cafe, Tommy notices a man (Yanni the Nephew) looking at something written on the bottom of a beer coaster, and slipping it in his pocket. Yanni leaves the cafe, and is followed by a man (Louis Burenne) under a bridge, where Yanni is shot. Tommy was following Burenne, who runs away. Tommy retrieves the beer coaster, which has the message "Parcel at 208 Rue Olive. Ask for Raoul". Meanwhile, Tommy was followed by another man who accosts him for the coaster. This man turns out to be Antoine Letord of the French Sureté. Now that Tommy has encountered another good guy, they team up to see if the mysterious parcel is full of counterfeit money.

Tommy goes to 208 Rue Olive to find it inhabited by an old man (Papa) and two young girls, Giselle and Brigitte. The girls depart, and Tommy is unable to find the parcel. The girls had taken it away. Tommy and Letord locate the girls, and retrieve the parcel which is full of counterfeit. A man (Alexandre Maurice) is watching them, so Tommy replaces the money with some clothing and allows the man to steal it.

Tommy follows Maurice to his hideaway cottage in Belgium, where he encounters Maurice's wife (Leonie Vermaas) in residence, along with a large safe. After several adventures, including setting up a confrontation between wife Leonia and fiancée Colette Masurel, Tommy winds up imprisoned in an underground room beneath the cottage.

Review: An excellent Manning Coles adventure complete with the usual uproars. The fight in the cafe over the mysterious parcel is excellent, especially when it is found to contain only clothing. Tommy discovers the astounding fact that Maurice has not only a wife in Belgium, but a fiancée in Paris - and sets up a meet between them with a predictable cat fight among a pile of counterfeit money resulting. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Deaves Affair by Hulbert Footner (1922)

image: Roy Glashan's Library

You can read this book online here.  

About the author: See this Wikipedia article.

 Major characters:

  • Evan Weir, a "gig economy" artist
  • Charley Straiker, his roommate
  • Carmen Sisson, their landlady
  • Corinna Playfair, haunting young lady pianist staying in the same house
  • Leonard Anway, Corinna's boyfriend
  • Simeon Deaves, rascally old man who enjoys arguing with the public
  • George Deaves, his son

Locale: New York City

Synopsis: New York artist Evan Weir is out and encounters an old, apparently destitute gentleman, Simeon Deaves, arguing with a vendor, and intervenes to save him from injury. Accompanying him to his home, he meets his son, George Deaves. George explains that his father enjoys going out for walks, but usually winds up having arguments with people and generally getting into mischief. George hires Evan to accompany Simeon on his walks, and generally look out for him.

Now, a complication. The Deaves begin receiving polite (and amusing) blackmail letters. The blackmailer offers to sell them little stories about Simeon's embarassing adventures - and if they do not buy, they will release them to The Clarion newspaper. Now the Deaves expand Evan's job description to include finding the blackmailers, known as The Ikunahkatsi.

Evan works at finding the blackmailers, even making one of the payoffs in the reading room of the New York Public Library. 

Evan, meanwhile, has become enchanted with a pianist, Corinna Playfair, lodging in the same building. Despite his approaches, she remains distant. She moves out suddenly. Evan traces her to an organization called The Ozone Association, which provides activities and meals for poor children aboard a boat The Ernestina as it cruises around New York harbor. Corinna and rival Leonard Anway work providing meals, and Evan steps in to assist by telling adventure stories to the children. Evan works on the boat but is unable to get Corinna to warm up to him.

Review:  The blackmailers are quite polite and amusing, even providing receipts (!) for the blackmail payments. The concept of paying to purchase an embarassing story is not unique - this is the same catch-and-kill routine used by Donald Trump and The National Enquirer to quash stories about his affair with playmate Karen McDougal). 

The first half of the book deals with the Deaves and the blackmailers. The second half takes a sudden turn, with Evan leaving the Deaves to focus on Corinna's activities aboard The Ernestina. I had doubts that the story line would return to the Deaves, as the two story lines had been completely separate; and there was no apparent connection. However, a connection does occur and Evan gets in trouble with the blackmailers at their hideout.

This 1922 story is notable for its lush descriptions of New York City of that era, and especially the ways of getting around the city. I wanted to get out a map and follow his adventures, that much detail is provided.

The blackmail payoff scene in the New York Public Library reading room is quite amusing - I have been in that room and it certainly has not changed in appearance or protocol since 1922.

This is a good read with considerate blackmailers, Manning Coles style humor, and a love story intertwined.

Monday, August 17, 2020

The Dark Eyes of London by Edgar Wallace (1929)

About the author: 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 (Goodreads). In terms of production, by cranking out one novel per month, he was the British equivalent of Erle Stanley Gardner. See this Wikipedia article.

Edgar Wallace

Major characters:
  • Inspector Larry Holt, Scotland Yard
  • Diana Ward, his secretary
  • Patrick Sunny, his valet
  • Gordon Stuart, a Canadian, drowned as the story opens
  • Clarissa Stuart, his daughter
  • Police Commissioner John Hason
  • Dr. Stephen Judd, director of Greenwich Insurance Co.
  • Strauss, a.k.a. #278, Judd's Butler, an ex-con
  • Flash Fred Grogan, a natty blackmailer
  • Rev. John Dearborn, playwright, runs a boarding house for the blind
  • Blind Jake Bradford, a.k.a. Big Jake Bradford
  • Fanny Weldon, an impersonator
  • Emma, a charwoman
Locale: London

Synopsis: Scotland Yard Inspector Larry Holt is called back from Paris to look into the suspicious death of Canadian Gordon Stuart. What's suspicious? He was found drowned on the Embankment, but above the waterline, as the tide was coming in. How can this be? Clearly, someone else was involved. Stuart had left a theatre at intermission, he had been attending a show with Dr. Stephen Judd.

Inspector Holt returns to find he has been assigned an efficient secretary, Diana Ward, whose analytical skills keep Holt in awe.

Dr. Judd has a visit from slick crook Flash Fred Grogan, who is blackmailing him over knowledge about the death of his brother, David Judd.

Suspicion turns to Todd's Home, a boarding house for the blind, run by Rev. John Dearborn. While investigating, Diana is kidnapped right from under Larry Holt's eyes. Dearborn himself raises some eyebrows, he is supposedly blind himself. He writes plays which are produced at a nearby theatre, and underwritten by Dr. Judd. There are mysterious connections between Dr. Judd, Blind Jake Bradford, and other underworld characters. Meanwhile, the search for Clarissa Stuart, heiress to Gordon, continues.

Review: This story has a lot of creepy things happening all at once, a great read for your dark and stormy night. Blind Jake is a character, large and menacing, with the disconcerting habit of entering a room and immediately squeezing the light bulb and popping it to put you in the dark; so you on equal footing with him. (Ouch! He would have appreciated LED lights!) The boiler room hideout (called The Tubular Room) is dark, claustrophobic, and nasty. Secret passages abound, and even an elevator with a fake paper floor waiting to drop you down the shaft when you step in. There is so much going on, this could have easily been split into two novels. There are also a few secret identities to be revealed, and a surprise happy ending. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Body in the Road by Moray Dalton (1930)

About the author: Katherine Dalton Renoir ('Moray Dalton') was born in London in 1881. Her career in crime fiction did not begin until 1924, after which, as Moray Dalton, published twenty-nine mysteries, the last in 1951. The majority of these feature her recurring sleuths, Scotland Yard inspector Hugh Collier and private inquiry agent Hermann Glide. She died in West Sussex, in 1963. (Fantastic Fiction)

Major characters:
  • Linda Merle, pianist, our protagonist
  • Violet Hunter, violinist
  • Annie Coleman, landlady/protector of Violet
  • Lady Agatha Chant, of Spinacres
  • Lord David Haringdon, her nephew
  • Diana Culver, likely future bride of Lord David
  • Dr. Michael Saigon, of Black Ridge
  • Herbert Capper, Dr. Saigon's servant
  • Mr. Smith, has an eye for Violet
Locale: Jessop's Bridge, England

Synopsis: Linda Merle takes a job playing piano in a local café. The other musician is Violet Hunter, a ditzy woman and mediocre violinist. Violet lives under the thumb of landlady Annie Coleman, who has cared for her since she was a child. Annie is quite over-protective. 

Linda finds an out-of-the-way cottage for sale cheap, and buys it with a plan to turn it into a little café. She talks Violet into leaving Annie and going in with her. Annie is not pleased.

Nearby is Spinacres, home of Lady Agatha Chant and her nephew, David Haringdon. His likely future wife is stuck-up Diana Culver. David goes off for a hike and finds a distraught Linda Merle in the road. She and Violet had been walking and found an injured dog outside the closed gates of Black Ridge, home of mysterious Dr. Michael Saigon. Violet had gone off one way for help, leaving Linda to go the other way. Linda appeals to David for help. They return to the spot, but the dog is gone. It turns out Violet is gone, too. 

David returns home and convinces Lady Agatha that she could do a little snooping at Black Ridge, to see what has become of the dog, and maybe Violet. Lady Agatha has a brief visit but learns nothing from Dr. Saigon. Violet cannot be found. David snoops and eventually enlists the help of P.I. Hermann Glide, who has a sketchy reputation.


When halfway through I wrote: "wondering if this is really a murder mystery, as no one is dead yet; and there has been no body in any road. I am a bit anxious about this, as thus far all the characters have been quite likable and I don't wish to see any of them dead. Although stuck-up rich girl Diana Culver is quite annoying."

Soon after that point we do indeed have a murder mystery and some bodies are starting to pile up. 

The book consists of two independent story lines (disappearance of Violet Hunter and mysterious Dr. Saigon), which only touch each other briefly. 

David Harrington gets in over his head and enlists a P.I., Hermann Glide. Glide is an odd one, and resorts to trickery to get to the bottom of everything - in methods the authorities would certainly not condone. The book has a hint of the writer getting too far in and wondering how to wrap everything up. 

As others have noted, the title doesn't match the story. There is no body in the road.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Now or Never by Manning Coles (1951)

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:
  • Karl Torgius, found hanging as story opens
  • George Yeoman, British subject visiting Cologne
  • Magda Von Bergen, his one-time girlfriend
  • Monsieur Albert Baptiste, a French con man
  • Heinrich Spelmann, private investigator
  • Tommy Hambledon, British Secret Service
  • Alexander Campbell, British model maker
  • William Forgan, his partner
  • Alfonso d'Almeida, Spaniard #1
  • Miguel Piccione, Spaniard #2
Locale: Cologne, Germany

Synopsis: Tommy Hambledon is in postwar Cologne, a city much in ruins. He is posing as a tourist while looking for an underground Fascist group, the Silver Ghosts. He finds one desolated street, the Unter Goldschmied, which locals avoid - there is nothing there but rubble piles, anyway. One morning Karl Torgius is found hanging from a beam in a rubble pile. His family hires P.I. Heinrich Spelmann to find out what happened to him. 

There are two young women who are always seen in that street, sometimes guiding men through the rubble piles to a point unknown. No one asks questions. One woman in Magda Von Bergen, once a girlfriend of British soldier George Yeoman, who has returned to Cologne after the war to look for her, but she rebuffs him.

Tommy teams up with Spelmann. He finds the Silver Ghosts are expecting a visit from two Spaniards Alfonso d'Almedia and Miguel Piccione. Tommy's associates, Alexander Campbell and William Forgan, who run a model railroad shop in England as a cover, arrive and manage to get the two Spaniards arrested and deported. Campbell and Forgan then assume the Spaniards' identities in order to infiltrate the Silver Ghosts. It is found the two woman act as guides/guards for their meetings. 

Review: This may be a Tommy Hambledon story but the stars are the modelmakers Alexander Campbell and William Forgan. They run a model railroad shop in London, and it may be assumed that is a cover for their real work in British intelligence. They are fearless and jump right into any adventure that comes their way. The climax of the story comes when they are fooled into taking a fake autobus tour and wind up help captive in an inn along with the others.

The story gives the reader a feel for what the ruins of postwar Germany must have been like. Another of Manning Coles at his best.