Sunday, May 28, 2017

BREAD - Ed McBain

























Elizabeth screamed again, a long blood curdling scream that echoed through the squad room.  the horror of it gut-wrenched even the detectives of the 87th Precinct;..

Yet they played the tapes of the mass assault again and again.  It could be th best clue yet to a mess of arson, dope, homicide and porn.

The above blurb makes this run of the mill police procedural sound much more interesting that it turns out to be.

McBain is solid but this is one of his lesser efforts and without the outrageously bigoted  and smelly Detective Ollie Weekes it would be totally forgettable.  I'd recommend giving this a miss unless you are a McBain completist.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

CASTLE GAY - John Buchan

























Jaikie and Dougal, two  past members of the Glasgow Street gang, The Gorbals Die Hards adopted by Mr Dickson McCunn visit McCunn at his country retirement home in a novel is set six years after the first book that introduced these characters, 'Huntingtower".

From there the two young men take off tramping. At the first nights accommodation they find a newspaper magnate who has recently escaped from a kidnapping where he was mistaken for a local politician.
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They are asked to go to the country estate Castle Gay, of the newspaper owner, Mr Craw and arrange for him to be uplifted by his staff.  On arrival at the castle it is found that this is not possible due to citizens of a European country wanting Mr Craw for their own purposes , to legitimize there control of the country and by another group wanting to re-install the legitimate ruler through the use of his newspaper empire.

This is a 'thriller'' but its all boys own stuff, where doing the right thing and being a decent person will see the good guys win in the end.  There is great descriptions of the Scottish countryside, great dialogue and its just 'nice'.  There's nothing wrong with doing the right thing and decency winning, in fact its something I admire.

This isn't in the league of the Hannay books, certainly not as serious but a very pleasant read.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

MR JELLY'S BUSINESS - Arthur W. Upfield

























The car lies wrecked and abandoned near the world's longest fence, the " rabbit " fence, in the wheat belt of Western Australia.  Of its owner there is no sign.  Has George Loftus simply decamped, for reasons of his own? Or is it a case of murder? Detective Inspector Bonaparte suspects the worst, and is determined to find the body - and the murderer.

From 1937 we have this 'Bony' mystery.  This is the first of this series I've read, although I saw the television series many years ago starring James Laurenson.

Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte is half Aboriginal  / half European and a brilliant detective. The mixed race issue is a factor in the story, generally with abuse towards "black fellas"and I assume this was quite a punt having him as the main character in a series written in Australia between 1928 and 1964.

This novel has two mysteries running in tandem which tie in beautifully at the end.  The story is set rurally and centres around the small town pub and weekend dances that were a regular part of Australian and New Zealand life until not that long ago.

Initially Upfields writing took some getting used to, but once I got used to the cadence, I thoroughly enjoyed it,.  There is good characterization for such a short story ( 177 pages) and a lot of humour.

Recommended if you are into this genre.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

KING SOLOMON'S MINES - H.Rider Haggard

























Allan Quatermain is hired to travel into the African interior to locate the estranged brother of one of his client's.

The tale is one of over coming hardship,surviving using their wits when confronted by an extremely blood thirsty tribal chieftain and the location of  a massive treasure.  Even after locating fabulous wealth they still have to escape a final threat to their lives.

This was published in 1885 and as an adventure story it stands up fairly well today.  Attitudes have changed of course but if you are able to read the book for what it is, an adventure yarn, rather than compare today's more enlightened attitudes to whats written you will enjoy it.

The dedication says it all -  To all the big and little boys who read it.

This book is nothing like the truly appalling movie of the same name based on this book starring Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

THE SINGING SANDS - Josephine TEY

























Inspector Grant travels north to Scotland for a holiday by train; he needs the break as stress , manifesting itself as chronic claustrophobia is slowly sending him mad.

As the train berths he is on hand when a passenger in a  compartment near his is found dead.  While observing this discovery he inadvertently picks up a newspaper from this compartment and later discovers a piece of verse scrawled on it in pencil.

While fishing on a friends estate on holiday he becomes somewhat haunted by the dead man and the lines of verse so for his mental well being begins a private investigation into the death.

This is excellent, Tey writes beautifully,with great humour and of course constructs a very good murder mystery.

As the previous owner of my edition has written on the cover- "Jolly good, well written".

Josephine Tey, the pseudonym of Elizabeth MacIntosh is now one of my favourite detective fiction writers. If you see her stuff about, grab it, it will be mostly second hand as unfortunately great swathes of writing talent from the last 100 years are just not  getting re-issued.  This is her last book published in 1952 the year she died aged 56 of cancer.






Wednesday, May 10, 2017

THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS - John Wyndam







































Bill Masen wakes up in hospital expecting his eyes to have their bandages removed and his sight restored after being struck in the face by a poisonous plant.

What he is initially unaware of is that the previous night the majority of the worlds population had viewed a meteor shower.  This next morning the majority of the worlds population are permanently blind, million upon millions of his fellow citizens are blind.

Being one of the few people still with sight he sees civilization break down within days.

To add to what is already the end of the world as it was known deadly plants with the ability to walk called 'Triffids" are killing anyone who comes within range of them.

This book tells the story of the sighted few and their survival, battling the plants, plague and each other, knowing that they have to start the human race again.  Countries and races no longer exist, the devastation has caused such a loss of life that all there are is humans.

I remember hearing this as a radio drama when I was a kid and it was scary.  I've just read the book as a 56 year old and its scary.  The most unsettling for me is the blindness, something I dread.

This is an outstanding book, there are a few questions asked by the author that some would say are particularly relevant to the world today, the way we treat the planet etc, but mostly this is just a thrilling read.  Its so good it must be due to be made into a movie again and have the story completely destroyed.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A THREE PIPE PROBLEM - Julian Symons

























" Julian Symons provides a stylish spin-off from the Sherlockian revival.  It tells of a fading actor playing the Great Detective in a television series who persuades himself that by following in the master's  footsteps he can solve a string of apparently unrelated murders:  the Karate Killings."

Once you get past the absurdity of the 'hero's fantasy you are still left with a quite absurd story filled with very unsympathetic characters.

This story was published in 1975 and I assume written just prior and as a 70's book its full of slang particular to that time i.e 'birds' 'poofs'.  Language that has been consigned to the rubbish dump as it should be.  I read lots of books published much earlier and they sound more contemporary than this.

So this is a short 'entertainment' which I would recommend giving a miss.  Evidently the author wrote many mysteries that come highly recommended but this is all a bit silly plus its solvable three quarters of the way through.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

THE DOOR WITH SEVEN KEYS - Edgar Wallace

























"Detective Dick Martin is leaving Scotland Yard.  His final job is to bring in Lew Pheeney, who is wanted in connection with a bank robbery.  When Lew confesses to trying to open a dead man's tomb, however, Martin must unravel a mystery.  He races to find the connection between an attractive librarian, a mad scientist and the vanished heir to a vast fortune, as everyone becomes entangled in a web of fraud, deceit, torture and murder".

This started off as a standard murder mystery and then segued into a Gothic horror and then back to a plain old 'who dunnit', which was all very strange.

The story is interesting enough but there are some strange quirks about the writing.  The 'hero' Dick Martin is known on the force as 'Slick', a nick name, Wallace refers to him in some paragraphs as 'Dick' and other's as 'Slick'.  I've never come across this before and for me it was annoying, having the major character known under two different names.

The way the chapters are constructed, they are very episodic,would make for a great television adaptation which was unlikely to have been the authors intention seeing as this was published in 1926.

As stated above it try's to be  a horror story and a murder mystery and falls a bit short on both accounts.  The highlight was some great dialogue between characters but this wasn't enough to save this from a 5/10.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

THE RED HOUSE MYSTERY - A.A. Milne






























"Far from the gentle slopes of the Hundred Acre Wood lies The Red House, the setting for A.A. Milne's only detective story, where secret passages, uninvited guests, a sinister valet and a puzzling murder lay the foundations for a classic crime caper.

When the local police prove baffled, it is up to a guest at a local inn to appoint himself 'Sherlock Holmes' and, together with his friend and loyal 'Watson', delve deeper into mysteries of the dead man."

The author, best known for writing the Winnie the Pooh books was hugely prolific as a writer who wrote one detective story and this is it from 1922.

This is just great fun, featuring the old 'English Country House' where someone gets murdered early on and then the mystery is solved by some nosy individual.

The nosy individual in this case is a complete amateur who happens along shortly after the killing,and drags in a friend to assist.

I was rapt to find a copy of this, I knew it existed but its not something you would see often in second hand stores.  I assume its available on Kindle so if you like this type of story I can recommend it.