Saturday, July 30, 2011

Lord Mullion's Secret, by Michael Innes

Lord Mullion's Secret
By Michael Innes

If you can write a novel in which not much happens and still make it a page-turner I'd call that a rare talent. I know it sounds rather paradoxical but Michael Innes pulls it off quite nicely in Lord Mullion's Secret.

Innes was actually John Innes Mackintosh Stewart, or J.I.M. Stewart, and he wrote quite a lot of crime and mystery fiction between 1936 and 1986. I've read one other of his Charles Honeybath mysteries, but memory fails me right now as to what the title was.

Honeybath is a portrait painter who is called on in this instance to do a portrait for one of the members of a slightly down at the heels upper crust British family. Which is a similar premise to the other Honeybath book I read. When he gets to the family's suitably grandiose home, he finds, as is so often the case in these books, that all is not well.

At first, it seems that the plot is going to tackle the matter of a missing painting, but at some time during the proceedings Innes seems to abandon that thread to focus the story on some sordid incidents in the family's past.

I liked this one quite a bit for the sense of atmosphere Innes creates and the look he provides into the world of the British upper class, a world that I really know only from books like these. As already noted, the very skimpy plot wasn't really a problem for me but your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Killed in the Fog, by William DeAndrea

Killed in the Fog
By William DeAndrea

After seeing some favorable reviews of the late William DeAndrea's books on various other mystery sites I decided to give one a try. One of my barometers for what I thought of a book is whether I'd read another title by that author. In the case of DeAndrea, I'd say probably not.

Which is not to say that there was anything wrong with Killed in the Fog, because there wasn't. I guess I'd just have to say that it although it was quite well done and moved along at a good pace it just wasn't my sort of thing.

Apparently number eight in a series of books that featured TV executive and amateur detective Matt Cobb, this one finds Cobb relocating to London and getting tangled up in a mess that involves visa (not the credit card) scams and a couple of murders. Well done, but just not my cup of tea.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Return of the Black Widowers, by Isaac Asimov

The Return of the Black Widowers
By Isaac Asimov

With the demise of Isaac Asimov in 1992, came the demise of his Black Widowers. The Black Widowers were a fictional group of well-heeled men who met periodically for dinner and to solve some sort of mystery or puzzle. Asimov wrote 66 of these short stories during his lifetime and most were published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

But a little more than a decade after Asimov's demise The Return of the Black Widowers made its way to bookstores. It contains six previously uncollected stories by Asimov as well as ten of the best from the previous five volumes. Also on board, a new Black Widowers tale by Charles Ardai, the editor of this volume, and a tribute piece by writer William Brittain. Bookending the volume are an introduction by Asimov pal, Harlan Ellison, and an excerpt from Asimov's autobiography, in which he discusses the genesis of the Black Widowers.

As I said in my previous review of a Black Widowers volume, the stories are probably an acquired taste. But they're definitely one that I've acquired and I plan to check out the other four books.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Elementary, My Dear Groucho, by Ron Goulart

Elementary, My Dear Groucho
By Ron Goulart

I like mystery fiction and I like the Marx Brothers, but I wasn't exactly convinced of the merits of a book in which Groucho Marx moonlights as an amateur detective. I decided to give Elementary, My Dear Groucho a shot, even so, and ended up being pleasantly surprised.

Goulart wrote six books in his Groucho Marx series between 1998 and 2005. This one is the third. This time around Groucho and his writing partner, Frank Denby, team up again, this time to find out who killed Felix Denker, a German director who is found dead on the set of his latest movie. Nazis and anti-Nazi groups play a part in the proceedings and Groucho and Denby are challenged by a well-known actor (whose latest role is Sherlock Holmes) who vows to solve the crime before they do.

Probably the best part of all this is how it takes place while Groucho is tossing off a non-stop stream of very Groucho-ish wisecracks. Goulart has got these down to an art so if you like Marx Brothers' styled humor be sure to check this series out.

Now if anyone could do Harpo as an amateur detective, that would be a feat...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The House Without the Door, by Elizabeth Daly

The House Without the Door
By Elizabeth Daly

It appears that Elizabeth Daly wrote about sixteen books chronicling the adventures of Henry Gamadge in the years from 1940 to 1951. Gamadge is an expert in rare books and documents and an amateur detective who is assisted in the latter venture by his wife and his live-in assistant Harold.

In The House Without the Door Gamadge is called upon to find out why a woman who had been acquitted of her husband's murder some years back has come close to becoming the victim of four separate attempts on her life. He springs into action and methodically goes about sorting it out. The ending was certainly not one that I saw coming but maybe a more shrewd reader of these kinds of books would have done so.

Worth a look. Here's some more info about Daly.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Murder in E Minor, by Robert Goldsborough

Murder in E Minor
by Robert Goldsborough

If I'd applied some foresight to the matter I'd have read all of the Nero Wolfe books in order, starting with Rex Stout's Fer De Lance, which hit the shelves in 1934, and winding up with Robert Goldsborough's The Missing Chapter, which was published six decades later. So much for good intentions.

Murder in E Minor is the first of the seven Nero Wolfe novels Goldsborough published between 1986 and 1994. It came out about a decade after Rex Stout's death and though I wasn't a fan at the time I'd guess that the pressure on Stout's successor was probably pretty intense. Not to worry though, for E Minor is a work that, in my opinion, is a worthy follow-up the official Wolfe canon.

As the title suggests, music is the theme here. Wolfe and Archie are in an unofficial state of retirement and, not surprisingly, Archie is not too happy with this state of affairs. Before long a symphony conductor is bumped off and the pair spring back into action. Part of Wolfe's motivation in rousing himself from his state of rest is that said conductor is a freedom fighter he fought beside in his early years in Montenegro. Said personal connection arguably makes for a more interesting book, as opposed to those in which the big man's only stake in the proceedings is collecting a fee.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Tanglewood Murder, by Lucille Kallen

The Tanglewood Murder
by Lucille Kallen

It just so happens that I've run across several mysteries lately that have a musical connection. In addition to The Tanglewood Murder, I've just finished Murder in E Minor, Robert Goldsborough's first Nero Wolfe novel, and I've got Mayhem in B-Flat, by Elliot Paul, on my to be read pile.

Lucille Kallen, as nearly as I can tell, is best known for being a TV writer who wrote for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, among others. Unless there's another writer by this name who penned mysteries, she also turned out about six books during the Eighties that chronicled the adventures of amateur crime solvers C.B. Greenfield and Maggie Rome. Greenfield, the smarty pants of the group, is the editor of a small newspaper in New England. Rome is a reporter there and narrator of the pair's assorted and sundry adventures.

The Tanglewood Murder, as the name suggests, takes place at the annual Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts. Greenfield attends and drags his reluctant sidekick along. Before long a murder breaks out, as it so often does when amateur detectives are on the scene, and the duo go into action to try to sort it all out.

Not so bad overall, although I found some aspects regarding the killer's motivations and methods to be a bit farfetched. While I won't be seeking out the rest of Kallen's works anytime soon I'd probably be inclined to check out another one if I ran across it.