Monday, December 31, 2007

Reviewing: "Deadly Beloved" by Max Allan Collins

Hard Case Crime is one of those publishers that consistently releases quality books. Or, at least, books that are very good in my opinion and ones that my local library will often carry. Occasionally, they don’t carry a title such as the one below. In a rare moment of having a little money not already spoken for this one was purchased through their book club.

Deadly Beloved
By Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime
December 2007
ISBN# 0-8439-5778-6
203 Pages (including author afterword)

Billed on the cover as “The First Ever Ms. Tree Novel!” the book opens with Ms Tree describing a dream she has had while reclining on the couch of her psychiatrist, Dr. Cassel. In her dream she is attacked by a figure who is revealed eventually to be her late husband. As her dream goes she is forced to kill him to save her own life. What her dream represents is unclear and something the Dr. would like to pursue. Moreover, since she missed the last two sessions and she is the last patient of the day, the Dr. is willing to stay late and listen as Ms. Tree explains the events of the past week or so.

His willingness to stay is a good thing because in direct contrast to her current state on his couch, Ms. Tree has been on the move and very active on a number of fronts. She is directly involved in a recent murder case that has made tabloid type headlines in the news media. Marcy Addwater, who has a history of mental instability, without question gunned down her husband and a hooker he was with in a motel room. The cops see the incident as twin murders committed by an angry and crazed wife fed up with her husband’s chronic infidelity. Bernie Levine, who also happens to be Ms. Tree’s attorney, sees a defense strategy and wants Ms. Tree’s help. After meeting her, Ms. Tree sees a vulnerable woman at the brink that needs help in every sense of the word and quickly agrees to help.

Over the next 203 pages (including author afterword which goes into extensive detail about the graphic novel history of Ms. Tree) Ms. Tree works the case as well as other issues while trying to keep her husband’s legacy, the detective agency, afloat. Her skills, while considerable and clearly evident, are constantly in question by others in the agency and elsewhere who are supposed to be helping her and not causing problems. Much of her energy is spent dealing with subtle and not so subtle sexism in her world. While set in current times there is a constant undercut of sexism throughout the work as if the novel was written forty or fifty years ago. This could be due to the graphic novel history of the character dating back to 1980, the inspirations for the character which go back considerably further, and the attempt to go back to the beginnings of the character as a sort of setup for the graphic novels. Or, it could be just another stylistic choice by the author seeking to build character development.

Told throughout the novel in the format of her telling the psychiatrist all that has happened the book quickly pulls the reader into her world. When the real world has fallen away in favor living through the character and experiencing the character the author has succeeded at what he or she is trying to do. That certainly is the case here and is done very well through the technique of a patient and her doctor. The choice of story technique is in direct contrast to the action nature of the work. A pace that, at times, is clearly and with reason broken by frequent interruptions for the patient and Dr. to converse on a minor issue. By doing so, the reader is reminded of the setup and point of view while at the same time reinforcing the point that Ms. Tree is working her way verbally to a point in her tale. The questions are where the tale will lead and what the point will be?

The case is complex, the characters real and very interesting, and the action plentiful while like the reader, Ms. Tree is reclining. This is a very good book and another excellent offering from Hard Case Crime.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Reviewing Children's Books

Despite my asking because I work with a lot of kids with varying abilities, I am just not sent children's books for review. Some publishers blame the fact that I am not affiliated with a children's review site and others state they don't send them out to anyone but certified permanent teachers or school librarians. It is a shame but that is the way it seems to be despite my efforts. Below are two very good ones that just might work for the children in your life.

Cha-Cha & Zee Explore San Antonio
By Indigo Tyler
TK Publishing
ISBN# 978-0-9765100-3-1
32 Pages

Second in a series from TK Publishing, this book released last April finds the traveling penguins in San Antonio, Texas. They team up with their cousin Frobby and explore various sites across the city including the Alamo. At 32 pages with full color photographs this is a charming children's guidebook for the Alamo city. The penguins look life like in the photos as they travel the city which is captured in beautiful color photos as well as text. The way it is done makes it look like they are really there and really exploring the various landmarks. Advertised as being appropriate for 3-8 year olds; it does appear that the text is beyond the capabilities of most in the younger age range. Despite that, with parental assistance, this can be a wonderful book that serves to educate and encourages natural curiosity.

Don't Eat the Bluebonnets
By Ellen Leventhal and Ellen Rothberg
Bluebonnets, Boots & Books
ISBN# 978-0-9645493-3-3
36 Pages

Aimed at 3 to 8 year olds, this children's book tells the tale of a strong willed cow, Sue Ellen. She just won't listen when others tell her not to eat the delicious bluebonnets. Each spring, Max, a longhorn steer puts up a sign saying not to eat the Bluebonnets. Despite the sign and being told by Lisa Jean not to eat the bluebonnets, Sue Ellen does anyway. When the following spring arrives, Sue Ellen learns it isn't so easy to bring the bluebonnets back. Filled with charming color illustrations by Bill Megenhardt and a gentle message about following the rules for a reason, this book is due to delight kids of all ages especially in Texas where the book is set.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Friday, December 28, 2007

Barry's Reviews--"Fast One" by Paul Cain

FAST ONE (1933) by Paul Cain
reviewed by Barry Ergang

I can enthusiastically recommend Fast One to any reader who loves the hardboiled school—especially from the pulp era—but don’t ask me for a detailed plot summary. That’s next to impossible. Suffice it to say that a tough character named Gerry Kells, who is visiting L.A. from New York and who seems to know every major racket boss in southern California, is in the first chapter framed for a murder he didn’t commit, and who spends the remainder of the book either dodging or deliberately confronting cops and hoods with words, fists, and firearms. Along the way he considers trying to take over L.A.‘s rackets himself.

It’s an aptly titled book because the story roars along at a hectic pace. The pace is aided in no small measure by Cain's staccato prose style, which almost redefines “lean and mean.” But the pace and the story’s complexity are the book’s undoing because there is no characterization for readers to relate to. Most of the players—including the principal female—are referred to only by their last names. The absence of character definition reduces them to mere names on the page. It’s frequently an effort trying to recall from one chapter to another who's who and who's done what to whom.

Fast One has long been hailed as the ne plus ultra of hardboiled gangster tales by the likes of Bill Pronzini, E.R. Hagemann, and Raymond Chandler. David A. Bowman, in his introductory essay to the 1987 Black Lizard edition I have, writes: “Cain took the hardboiled style as far as anyone would want to. Fast One is the Antarctica of hardboiled writing. There is nowhere else to go.”

Forget about any insights into the human condition or any other sorts of profound meanings. Just buckle up and go along on the wild ride.

For more on this novel or the Golden Age of Detection follow the link to the GA Detection wiki.

Barry Ergang © 2007
Currently the Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, winner of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2007Derringer Award in the Flash Fiction category, Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. His hardboiled Hanukkah story has just been published in the latest Apollo's Lyre at For links to material available online, see Barry’s webpages.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas and A Mouth Full Of Bullets

The below is the latest from BJ Bourg on MFOB.......

Howdy folks! I'm pleased to announce that the Winter 2007 Issue of Mouth Full of Bullets is now available at Between the printissue and the online issue, there are twenty-fourstories and eleven poems for your viewing pleasure.

In addition to the new material in the print magazine andonline, y'all can now access all the original material from the first print issue in the Archive section -- for FREE!That's sixteen stories and five poems from some of thebest new and veteran writers in the business. So, throwyour feet up, pour yourself a hot cup of cocoa, and settlein for some great entertainment.

Here's the lineup for the Winter 2007 Issue:

(Note: all stories and poems preceded by asterisksare currently available in the print magazine only. At the end of the three-month life of the issue, they will be archived in the online 'zine and will then be available to view for free.)


A Thousand the Hard Way by Robert L. Iles
*Blowing Smoke by Stephen D. Rogers
Christmas Comes To Criminal Court by Robert L. Iles
*Hard Light by Michael Morris
*High Anxiety by John M. Floyd
*Highs and Mellows by Clair Dickson
Judge And Jury by Robert Weibezahl
*Killer Personality by Wanda C. Keesey
*The Christmas Heist by Kim Smith
The Cinderella Caper by Herschel Cozine
The Perfect Gift by Suzanne Berube Rorhus
*The Santa Caper by Philip J. Lees
*Whoever Fights Monsters by D. H. Reddall


*A Protocol to Die For by Margaret B. Davidson
*Devil's Night by Kaye George
*Dreaming of a Spite Christmas by BV Lawson
*Gravidational Force by Barry Ergang
*The Last Laugh by Jonette Stabbert
Lord Of His Domain: A Bo Fexler Short Story by Clair Dickson
*Mistaken Identity by Jillian Berg
*Mortimer's Slip by Sophie Bachard
Rotten In The State Of New Jersey by Albert Tucher
*Your New Fan by Keri Clark


Mr. Sparks by SF Johnston - (Installment THREE of FOUR)


*A Killer Caught Red Handed by Guy Belleranti
A Wife In The Country by John M. Floyd
*Carl's Bad Kid by Branch Isole
*Do you See Me Then by Danny B. Bourg
IMMORTALITY by John M. Floyd
*Mask by Gerald So
*My Brother of Arms by Danny B. Bourg
*Research, Your Honor by Stephen D. Rogers
*Tables Turned by Guy Belleranti
*The Assignation by James S. Dorr

REVIEWS (From Kevin R. Tipple)

Fit to Die: A Supper Club Mystery by J. B. Stanley
Heroes Often Fail: A River City Novel by Frank Zafiro
Seasmoke: Crime Stories by New England Writers
A Dirty Business: A Kevin Bailey Novel by Joe Humphrey
Murder New York Style: 21 Stories by Authors Of Greater New York
Carols and Crimes, Gifts and Grifters Edited by Tony Burton
Relative Danger by June Shaw

Small Caliber Reviews


Target Shooting by Kevin R. Tipple


Featured Author: JT Ellison

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

BJ Bourg (c) 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Reviewing: "Fire Prayer" by Deborah Turrell Atkinson

Other than Mark Troy’s excellent work, I just don’t often read novels set in Hawaii. Not that I plan or decide to do things that way. It just is the way it happens as opposed to my seeking out books set in the Southwest because that is where I am from and what I know. In this case, I have missed the first two books of the series and can only review this novel and not the series as a whole.

Fire Prayer
By Deborah Turrell Atkinson
Poisoned Pen Press
ISBN# 978-1-59058-402-6

Storm Kayama and Ian Hamlin, who is both her partner and her lover; have made the short island hop to Molokai on behalf of a rich client whose son is missing. He went out on a tour run by a local outfit two weeks ago never to be seen again. The son is twenty six, sits on the board of directors as well as being an officer of the company. The client may have a very well paying negligence suit if something bad has definitely happened. Such suits are more in Ian’s realm and Storm doesn’t want to fool with them or the client connections necessary to work those kinds of cases.

Besides, she has her own agenda that also involves a son. In her case, an old high school classmate, Tanner Williams wants her help. His marriage crashed in flames for a variety of reasons which included his wife’s drinking and his own mental illness. The last thing he wants is for their son, Luke, to have issues especially since he has just been diagnosed as a diabetic. While on Molokai, she can also take care of checking on things for Tanner. Within hours of Storm’s first visit to check on Luke, his ex wife is dead, Tanner is missing, Luke is in the hospital and there are links to a nearly ten year old murder case. Secrets are tough to keep especially on the Islands with the coconut wireless. With Storm and Ian doing their own things, as well as a veritable plethora of other characters, everything is bound to come out eventually.

The result is an interesting read featuring two difficult main cases as well as numerous interesting secondary deals such as the old murder case, the culture of the islands, Storm’s love of horses, etc. As such, each and every plot point is seen through the eyes of nearly every single character. The resulting multiple shifts of pov often taking place in the same chapter slow the novel down too a glacial place. Time seems to nearly stand still in the work as an event is depicted through the eyes of one character, then through another, then through another and often through a couple more before the reader is moved on to a new event where the same pattern is repeated.

The result creates a glacially slow moving read in terms of action while at the same time provides deep understanding of each character major and minor. Along the way the rich cultural history of the islands is discussed and further bolstered by a multi page glossary at the end of the novel. At 282 total pages the novel is not a quick read in terms of length or content and leans more towards the cozy side of the mystery genre as it entertains readers.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Reviewing: "The Marathon Murders" by Chester Campbell

Chester Campbell is one of those authors you never hear much about who constantly produces quality books. Instead of posting everywhere on everything, he just goes about his business and his latest novel is another good one.

The Marathon Murders: A Greg McKenzie Mystery
Night Shadows Press
February 2008
Hardback ISBN# 978-0-9790167-0-0
Trade Paper ISBN# 078-0-9799167-1-7

When Warren Jarvis comes with a case, there isn’t anything Greg and Jill McKenzie won’t do for him. He brings with him a friend who goes by various names due to the nature of her work with the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations. She has a family link to a ninety year old murder case involving the Marathon Motor Works located near downtown Nashville. Though the plant isn’t operating anymore, a bunch of old records have been found hidden in a wall and they seem to indicate that a former employee suspected of embezzlement was actually innocent. At least, that is what they believe and the family involved would like to see the records themselves but the man who had them is now missing. She wants to hire them to find the missing man and the records.

Greg and Jill agree and begin to work the case by starting at the most obvious point. They start with the construction company and easily find out where the man lives and what he drives. That angle, and working the familial connection, sends them off into a case that eludes nearly ever attempt they make.

While the fourth in a series, this novel could easily be read as an enjoyable stand alone cozy mystery. Greg and Jill do make the occasional reference to earlier events but for the most part are constantly working the current case. Character development is nil as these are characters that series readers have long since become accustomed to and don’t expect major changes. Instead the focus is on the mystery and it is not one easily solved with numerous twist and turns along the way. The result is another excellent cozy style mystery from Chester Campbell and another enjoyable read.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Talking Politics

The column in Senior News last month was on politic stuff. Something I expect to be doing a lot of in the coming year unless I can get more local (Texas) authors to send me their fiction books. I'm really sick of politics and we still have another year to go. Too bad there does not seem to be another Barbara Jordan in our midst.

Barbara Jordan: Speaking the Truth with Eloquent Thunder
Edited by Max Sherman
University of Texas Press
ISBN # 978-0-292-71637-7

A little over ten years after her death, Editor Max Sherman has collected a number of her pivotal speeches, testimonies before congress, and numerous pictures to showcase Barbara Jordan and her values. At 100 pages with an accompanying DVD that contains some of the same pictures as well as context for each one courtesy of the editor, this is a slim volume and yet reflects her values and beliefs very well. Much like the way she was in life, this book showcases wonderfully in a short capsule just how powerful and moving Barbara Jordan was and the legacy she left behind for others to follow. It is too bad that very few in politics today measure up to her standards and her legacy which was statesmanship and country first and foremost as clearly detailed in this book.

Texas Political Memorabilia: Buttons, Bumper Stickers and Broadsides
By Chuck Bailey with Bill Crawford
University of Texas Press
ISBN# 0-292-71625-7

This work is number 11 in the "Clifton and Shirley Caldwell Texas Heritage Series" and features the memorabilia behind national as well as Texas political campaigns. What began as a hobby for Chuck Bailey according to the foreword written by Paul Burka morphed into an intriguing 218 page book including index. While other kids collected baseball cards, Chuck Bailey collected campaign items. The result is page after colorful page where items are photographed and identified. From Presidential campaigns all the way down the ticket to local races, the book serves to pleasantly chronicle the way campaigns used to be before media sound bites and the internet took over. This book is sure to be a hit for those strongly interested in history and politics.

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2007

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Barry's Reviews--"Ellipsis" by Stephen Greenleaf

ELLIPSIS (2000) by Stephen Greenleaf
reviewed by Barry Ergang

Despite being nominated for an Edgar for Strawberry Sunday as the best novel of 1999, Stephen Greenleaf doesn't receive the recognition that's his due as one of the finest exemplars of the hardboiled detective story at work today—and one of the best ever. Robert B. Parker makes the bestseller lists, but he's not nearly the writer Greenleaf is. His Spenser is a pallid Marlowe-wannabe who lacks the depth, complexity, and literate articulation of Greenleaf's John Marshall Tanner.

In Ellipsis, the fourteenth book in the series, Tanner is approached by an attorney to bodyguard the spectacularly successful and popular romantic suspense novelist Chandelier Wells, who has been receiving ominous threats from person or persons unknown. It's not his kind of case and he's on the point of turning it down when he learns he was referred by Millicent Colbert, former client, friend, and unknowing mother of his daughter (see False Conception).

In between accompanying the bitchy Chandelier and her ever-present retinue to TV appearances and to book-signings that attract huge crowds of devoted fans in and around San Francisco to promote the release of her latest blockbuster, Tanner digs into the writer's private life and into the lives of people with present and former connections to her to try to identify the menacer who nearly kills her and who succeeds in killing a couple of others. Along the way, he must contend with the angst-ridden approach of his fiftieth birthday, the problems of an elderly neighbor he likes, the safety of Millicent Colbert and their daughter, his feelings for assistant DA Jill Coppelia, and the aftermath of a year-old case (see Past Tense), the tragic consequences of which still haunt him. The case involved a corrupt group within the SFPD known as the Triad, and Jill is trying to put together a case against them to present to a grand jury. Tanner's amorous relationship with her complicates matters and is a source of tension between the two of them.

Some of the primary mysteries are solved, but other questions linger to tease the reader. Not the least of these is whether Greenleaf plans to continue the series, especially considering the unexpected and potentially life-changing surprise Tanner gets at the book's end.

Ellipsis is a novel that grabbed me from the get-go and which was nearly impossible to put down. Readers who enjoy compelling stories rich in characterization, drama, humor, and pungent observations, and told in intelligent, often lyrical prose, should find it irresistible.

For more on this novel, take a look here

Barry Ergang © 2007
Currently the Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, winner of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2007Derringer Award in the Flash Fiction category, Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. For links to material available online, see Barry’s webpages.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Helping The Kids

An update from Tony Burton.......

I have just placed a notice on the Crime and Suspense web site where I am auctioning off four copies of the anthology CAROLS AND CRIMES, GIFTS AND GRIFTERS that will have the signatures of all fifteen authors in the front.

The CAROLS AND CRIMES anthology is the second anthology Wolfmont has published to raise money for the Toys for Tots foundation. Last year we were able to present $1,365 to the Toys for Tots. This year, I'd love to make it up to $2,000, but right now we are at about $1,700. So, I'm auctioning off these special limited-edition copies to try to fill the gap a little.

If you want to read more about the anthology, what it's about and who is in it, you can go to

If you want to bid on one of the four copies to be auctioned off at the Crime and Suspense website, drop by there ( and you'll see a link where you can get the details on how to bid.

Either way, may you have the happiest and most joyous of holidays.

Tony Burton
Editor, Crime and Suspense ezine

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Barry's Reviews--"Swan Dive" by Jeremiah Healy

SWAN DIVE (1988) by Jeremiah Healy
reviewed by Barry Ergang

Roy Marsh is well-off, big, mean, and abusive. His wife Hanna, mother of their five-year-old daughter Vickie, is divorcing him. Her attorney is the not-very-well-to-do Chris Christides, P.I. John Cuddy’s college chum. Because Chris has been paid a menacing visit by Roy Marsh the day before he and Hanna have a meeting with Marsh and his attorney, he asks Cuddy to participate in a body-guarding role.

Cuddy soon discerns that Chris, though a tough offensive guard on their college football team, isn’t a very tough negotiator. He’s much too willing to accept Marsh’s settlement offer, tendered by Felicia Arnold, an expensive lawyer who, Cuddy later learns, offers more than legal services to some of her clients. Hanna Marsh refuses the solely monetary offer—and a relatively meager one, at that—wanting as well the house her daughter has grown up in. The meeting ends with no resolution but lots of flaring tempers.

Chris has another appointment, so Cuddy drives Hanna and Vickie to their shabby temporary residence. The little girl can’t wait to show Cuddy the pet cat on which she dotes—the cat that sets off her screams when she discovers it skinned, mewing pathetically and bleeding profusely. Cuddy is certain Roy Marsh is responsible.

As events unfold further, Cuddy is mugged and his gun stolen. It later turns up in a seedy twelfth floor hotel room from which Marsh has plummeted to his death. A prostitute has been shot to death in the same room.

The Boston police don’t believe Cuddy is innocent of the murders, but they don’t jail him, either. He’s soon confronted by J.J. Braxley, a Caribbean drug distributor, and his noxiously odoriferous bonebreaker Terdell. It seems that a quarter million dollars worth of J.J.’s cocaine is missing, cocaine Roy Marsh had in his possession before he died. J.J. demands that Cuddy recover and return it, or he’ll take out his revenge on the innocent Hanna and Vickie. Thus, Cuddy has to play footsie with the police, who have an agenda of their own, while trying to clear himself by solving two murders and preventing two more. How he finally does guarantees some surprises, perhaps even shocks, for the reader.

Swan Dive is the first of his novels I’ve read, and Jeremiah Healy is a writer impressive in his economy. He tells a rapid-paced, strongly plotted story in prose free of pyrotechnical flourishes, providing descriptions of people and places spare enough to allow the reader to exercise his imagination but still get the picture. The story is long on dialogue (sometimes laden with raw language—a warning to the prudish) that individualizes characters, eliminating the need for narrational analyses of their psyches. Cuddy himself, while able to dish out and take batterings when he has to, is also fairly cerebral. He reaches the solution by examining the information he’s shared with the reader along the way.

Some of the review blurbs on the Pocket Books paperback edition I have compare Healy with Robert B. Parker. This was probably inevitable because both John Cuddy and Parker’s Spenser work out of Boston. As far as I’m concerned there is no comparison; Healy has it all over Parker. Then again, I have to concede a long-standing bias against Parker, whom I gave up on after reading the first dozen or so Spenser novels, the insulting-to-Raymond Chandler Poodle Springs, and the godawful Perchance to Dream. I’ve never understood why reviewers and critics, let alone readers, find him so appealing. Spenser is frequently childish. Parker is pretentious: he once told an interviewer that although he knew he couldn‘t write The Sound and the Fury, he could write The Big Sleep.

I can’t be the only one to notice he hasn’t come close.

Enough harangue. Whether or not Parker suits your tastes, if you like modern private eye fiction, you’re apt to enjoy Jeremiah Healy.

Barry Ergang © 2007
Currently the Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, winner of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2007Derringer Award in the Flash Fiction category, Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. For links to material available online, see Barry’s webpages.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Barry's Reviews--"The Burglar In The Library"

THE BURGLAR IN THE LIBRARY (1997) by Lawrence Block
reviewed by Barry Ergang

The lovely Ms. Lettice Runcible, although American, seems to be attracted to all things English. She's also attracted, much to his delight, to bookseller/burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, and the two have spent a fair amount of time in Bernie's small New York apartment making love. After one such session, Bernie, assuming she'll be thrilled at the prospect, tells her he's made reservations for them to spend an "English country" weekend at Cuttleford House in the Berkshires.

Lettice tells him she'd love to go but can't. The weekend in question is not good for her. When he suggests changing the reservation to the weekend after, Lettice confesses that that one won't work either.

Because she's getting married.

Bernie is disappointed but not shattered by the information, which he recounts to his best friend Carolyn Kaiser, lesbian dog groomer*, over lunch. Carolyn is one of the very few who know that Bernie, besides operating Barnegat Books, occasionally reverts to his old profession, making burglarious forays into select locations for select items. Thus, his desire to go to Cuttleford House isn't motivated entirely by the desire to charm the...uh...heart of Lettice.

Casual reading of the memoir of a pulp fiction writer, combined with additional research, has told him that there exists a unique first edition of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, and that it's located at Cuttleford House. First editions of the book are rare to begin with, but what makes this one unique is that it's a copy Chandler inscribed and personally presented to Dashiell Hammett. When Carolyn asks what it would be worth, Bernie admits he doesn't know—he'd probably have to auction it at Sotheby's or Christie's. The only thing he's certain of is that it would fetch a pretty healthy sum.

Bernie hasn't canceled his reservation. He persuades Carolyn to close The Poodle Factory and join him for a weekend in the mountains, soaking up atmosphere worthy of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers.

The snow starts to fall on their way to the place, and is coming down with growing intensity by the time their taxi drops them off at the bridge that crosses the gulley over Cuttlebone Creek. Leading to the inn, the bridge, supported by ropes at either end, is not the kind that will support vehicular traffic; it's for pedestrians only.

Cuttleford House is huge, a somewhat confusing maze of rooms upstairs and down, and populated by a colorful crew of guests and staff. The last guests to arrive during the snowstorm that is now raging are newlyweds, Mr. and Mrs. Dakin Littlefield. Mrs. Littlefield is the far-from-iceberg Lettice.

Many of the various downstairs rooms are loaded with books, but Bernie eventually spots The Big Sleep in the Great Library. He plans to take it late that night, but when he approaches the unlighted library he overhears two people talking in low voices. He can't discern either who the speakers are or what they're saying, and decides now is not the time to grab the book.

Early next morning he and the rest of the house are awakened by a scream. One of the maids has discovered the body of a guest, Jonathan Rathburn, in the library. It appears that Rathburn fell from a set of rolling library steps, hit his head, and died either from a concussion or the ensuing blood-loss. Bernie, however, soon realizes he was murdered and explains how to the congregation of guests and staff. The inn's proprietress thinks—and fervently hopes—that the murderer was a passing tramp, but that notion is soon dispelled and everyone knows one among them is the killer.

To further complicate matters, the phones are out. It's suspected at first that the storm temporarily disabled them, but the establishment's owner later discovers that the lines have been cut. There is no way to contact the police. Even if they could be reached, the snow would hamper their arrival.

Then the body of the inn's handyman is found lying at the bottom of the gulley, the bridge over which has collapsed because its ropes were partly sawn through. It's a very deep gulley, and the snow makes it impossible for anyone to get down to him. The angle of his neck makes it plain he can't still be alive.

Then the cook is found dead in the kitchen. Later on still another guest is found strangled. Then The Big Sleep vanishes.

Carolyn says it feels as though they're all caught up in a cross between And Then There Were None and The Mousetrap.

Bernie realizes he's going to have to solve the murders to prevent any additional ones and so they can all get out of there. The method he undertakes to do so puts him into the position of prime suspect and makes for very entertaining reading.

Lawrence Block, as anyone who has read his work knows, is a good, versatile writer. He can create comic cozies (some of the Chip Harrison books which pay homage to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, and of course the Bernie Rhodenbarr "Burglar" series) and hardboiled noir (the Matthew Scudder series) with equal skill. His Evan Tanner espionage novels are also fast-paced and humorous. To those who don't mind slightly erotic non-mysteries, I recommend his very funny epistolary novel Ronald Rabbit is a Dirty Old Man—if you can find a copy, because it’s out of print.

The Burglar in the Library is recommended for its homage to and pastiche of the English country house whodunit, motley cast of characters, wonderful dialogue (some of Bernie's exchanges with Carolyn and with a precocious ten-year-old girl are hilarious), and various references to classic detective stories which should delight Golden Age fans.

*That is, Carolyn's a dog groomer who happens to be a lesbian. She doesn't groom lesbian dogs.
For more on this book, surf to

Barry Ergang © 2003, 2007
Currently the Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, winner of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2007 Derringer Award in the Flash Fiction category, Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. For links to material available online, see Barry’s webpages

Monday, December 10, 2007

Earl Staggs Reviews: "Deadly Sins-Deadly Secrets"

Occasionally, I can talk Earl Staggs into providing a review. This is one of those occasions and I am glad he was willing to contribute the following review.

Deadly Sins – Deadly Secrets
By Sylvia Dickey Smith
L&L Dreamspell
ISBN 978-1-60318-018-4

In her first novel, DANCE ON HIS GRAVE, Sylvia Dickey Smith introduced Sidra Smart, a woman brave enough to step out of an inhibitive marriage and begin a new life. When she divorced her possessive, controlling Baptist minister husband, Sid had no idea what she was stepping into. First, she inherited a private investigation agency from her late brother along with a leftover case involving an old murder. Next, she discovered within herself a person she did not know existed, a person unable to ignore injustice or turn away people desperately needing help, even if it meant placing her own life in danger.

In DEADLY SINS – DEADLY SECRETS, Sid continues her journey toward personal self-discovery, supported once again by her somewhat eccentric and lovable Aunt Annie and a crusty veteran PI willing to teach her the tricks of the trade, but who also enjoys her stumbling attempts to learn the hard way. In this, her second case as a PI, Sid is drawn into a situation wherein shrouded secrets of the past must be revealed to solve grisly murders of the present. Her digging for the truth extends as far back as Civil War days in the small East Texas town where the story is set when she discovers the diary of a fascinating and feisty woman who seems to be nudging Sid in the right direction.

Sid’s resolve to prove a man innocent of murder in spite of staggering evidence against him leads her through attempts on her life, butting heads with powerful people equally determined to keep old secrets hidden, and a romantic involvement she tried hard to avoid.

Sylvia Dickey Smith is a talented author who, in this second novel as successfully as in her first, seamlessly weaves the story of a woman determined to become the person she left behind years ago with an engrossing tale of murder, deceit and suspense.

Reviewed by Earl Staggs © 2007

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Reviewing: "Carols and Crimes, Gifts and Grifters" Edited by Tony Burton

Having had the pleasure of reading last year’s offering By The Chimney With Care published by Wolfmont Publishing to benefit the Marine Corp “Toys For Tots” campaign I have been eagerly awaiting my copy of this year’s effort. It finally arrived and was well worth the wait. The anthology titled, Carols and Crimes, Gifts and Grifters is a real treat for mystery readers and serves a great cause with proceeds going to the campaign.

Carols and Crimes, Gifts and Grifters
Edited By Tony Burton
Wolfmont Publishing
October 2007
ISBN # 978-1-60364-002-2
260 Pages
Large Trade Paperback

This anthology of fifteen stories kicks off with “Ho Ho Homicide: An Odelia Grey Short Story” by Sue Ann Jaffarian. Odelia Patience Grey did what any daughter does when her father asks. She took her step mother Gigi shopping. If that wasn’t enough, like some spy novel, Odelia is soon confronted at the mall by a woman with a gun and man in a trench coat and fedora with a heavy European accent. Not to mention being hassled by a Santa whose beard is certainly not white as snow as well as the cops. And she thought escorting the non stop talking Gigi would be the worst part of her day.

Earl Staggs offers the charming story, “Robbery On Christmas Eve.” It tells the tale of a theft of church money. For Sheriff Mollie Goodall, it is particularly annoying as it is Christmas Eve with her own husband out of town and a church and adjacent community hall full of suspects. One gets the feeling readers might just see Sheriff Mollie Goodall again.

Also using Christmas Eve as a backdrop to events is Thomas H Cook’s story titled, “The Lesson Of The Season.” Veronica Cross works part-time at the Mysterious Bookshop and is just fifteen minutes away from closing when a frequent customer walks in. In this personal favorite from the anthology and powerfully moving story, Veronica deals with her own echo of the pain. You simply have to read this work to understand because it isn’t going to be explained here.

Redemption is a frequent them of most of the stories in this anthology and is certainly at work in “Santa And The Poor Box” by Gail Farrelly. The story is about how a local Santa was accused of stealing from the poor box at the church. Pushed by her daughter Lily, Roberta Mchlugh has connections and begins to work the case with Lily’s eager help with a plan to clear him by Christmas.

“The Proper Trimmings” by Nick Andreychuck plays off a concept frequently reported in the media regarding men in prison and the women who begin romances with them. Russ just got out of prison after ten long hard years and meets his female pen pal, Anna. He comes to her home for dinner and something more if she meets expectation and she does and then some.

“The Grinch and I” by Herschel Cozine revolves around George. An average man, George took the job of Mall Santa for one simple reason. A plan honed by years of practice always works best when you are Santa.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the “River City” novels from Frank Zafiro or many of his stories in various anthologies and elsewhere, you have another chance. Police officers have a hard time getting time off, especially during the holidays. Something that Detective Katie Macleod’s mother doesn’t get in “Home For Christmas.” Crime doesn’t take a holiday and before very much of Christmas Day passes; Detective MacLeod is hard at work on the trail of a thief.

Traditions are important and they certainly take precedence for George Grimble in “The Christmas Tree Thief” by Chris Grabenstein. Before his three young sons can open their gifts on Christmas morning, George always lights up the baby Jesus as a reminder to all of the real purpose of the day. Something someone apparently didn’t understand when they cut down part of his pine tree in his yard and ruined Christmas morning.

“A Piece Of Christmas” by Deborah Elliot-Uptown is the story of Arlen. Arlen isn’t very happy working as private security for rich folks. But, you do what you have to especially with Christmas next week and at least the rich folks in this case pay in cash. When you destroy your won police career, your marriage and just about everything in your life your options are few and everyone deserves their own piece of Christmas booty.

Jan Christensen often creates tales that are just a little off in a way that isn’t easy to put a finger on and always delight readers. In “Santa Solves A Murder” the gorgeous Mrs. Cary MacIntyre hires private investigator to find her husband Jimmy MacIntrye who disappeared three days ago. She had no idea that he also worked a second job down at the local mall playing Santa. He does and while dressed in full Santa regalia spots the missing husband and the chase is on. Something Mall Manager Ingrid Scruggs isn’t thrilled about but you don’t tell Santa what to do while he is checking his list and adding up the clues.

“Mystery On Capital Street: A Hannibal Jones Short Story” by Austin S. Camacho also appears in this anthology. All four of the novels featuring Hannibal as well as the two thrillers were good ones and this is no exception as Mr. Camacho has penned an excellent story. Just two nights before Christmas, Private Detective Hannibal Jones has plenty of things to do before being detoured by events on his way home. Events, like dominoes, that once set into motion lead Hannibal in a new direction down a dark and twisting trail.

Editor Tony Burton offers his own story, “The Christmas Cut Out Caper.” The for local teenagers called themselves “The Fantastic Four” but as far as most adults in the area were concerned they are known by worse names for very good reason. Since a year has passed since the last prank, some of the adults are starting to relax. When the Christmas crèche figures suddenly are missing from the outdoor display at the church, the suspects are obvious.

Virtually any woman is afraid of being confronted by a man with bad intentions on his mind in an empty building. That is precisely what happens in “Ballet Exercises” by Gay Toltl Kinman when she is confronted by a perverted Santa who wants to deliver a present she does not want.

Margaret Fenton offers “Christmas Every Day” where lifting the wallet was the easy part. For the thief, it set into motion events she never foresaw in her wildest dreams.

The anthology closes with “Have A Harpy Christmas” by Peggy Jaegly. A kidnapped Rebecca is found backstage at the Theater by her agent Manny. Despite her ordeal, the show must go on and Manny intends to find out who was behind everything.

The anthology this year while not darker in tone does not have the humor that the one last year had. Which isn’t to say this one is a bad one. If anything, the effort is superior in terms of the quality of the stories as well as the diversity in styles and tones. The really nice thing is the proceeds still go to a wonderful cause. Copies may be ordered directly from Wolfmont Publishing at and you can help make Christmas a joy for a little girl or boy and get a very good anthology in the process.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Reviewing: "Murder New York Style: 21 Stories By Authors Of Greater New York" Edited By Randy Kandel

Regional anthologies, as opposed to ones on a certain literary them or device, seem to be very popular these days. Usually it is a state or a region of the country but in this case it is a city. One would think it would be published by a publisher there. Instead, and what pulled my attention to it in the first place, was the fact that it was done by the same Texas publisher that did Sylvia Dickey’s “Dance On His Grave” novel. L&L Dreamspell seems to be doing a lot of interesting things in a wide variety of areas.

Murder New York Style: 21 Stories By Authors Of Greater New York
Edited By Randy Kandel
L & L Dreamspell
November 2007
ISBN# 978-1-60318-032-0
Large Trade Paperback
339 Pages

Showcasing New York past and present, these twenty one tales by authors of the Sisters in Crime New York/Tri State Chapter contain murder and mayhem in a variety of forms.

“Name Tagging” by Randy Kandel, who pulls double duty as editor and also serves as President of the chapter, revolves around murder and deception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Friendship leads to murder in “Mister Right” by Ronnie Klaskin in a way you will never see coming.

New York very well could be the shopping capital of the world especially in terms of fake goods. A certain knock off purse in “the Knock Off” by Chelle Martin just might be more trouble than it or the real counterpart is worth.

Bodies in the backyard should not appear before ten in the morning—especially on a Saturday. If one does, it would be nice not to have Mrs. Zablonksky living next door. Once she starts screaming about the body in the backyard there is no way Lydia is going to get back to sleep in “Out In The Cold” by Meredith Cole.

Being the adult child of a cop as well as a cop herself isn’t easy for Ellie in “NYPDaughter” by Triss Stein. Such a situation makes one see the world very differently.

Lies take on a life of their own in “The Lie” by Anita Page. It may be forty years later but the lie never went away.

Teaching business at Hudson College isn’t the background one really needs to catch a test thief in “None of the Above” by Deirdre Verne. Professor Zoe Johnstone is not about to let that stop her as she hunts for a thief.

Also included in this anthology are stories from Cynthia Baxter, Fran Bannigan Cox, Peggy Ehrhart, Erica Harth, Marianna Heusler, Nan Higginson, M. E. Kemp, Margarret Mendel, Terrie Farley Moran, Dorothy Mortman, R. M. Peluso, Pearl Wolf, Lina Zeldovich, and Elizabth Zelvin. The sketches that frame the eight sections of the book were done by Kat (no last name listed) and the cover art was done by Rebecca A. Kandel.

Featuring diverse backgrounds and varied settings such as belly dancing in a nightclub, a vice president’s office, a mill factory, each story is clearly and distinctively New York. Each story features rich characterizations and an avoidance for the most part of graphic violence. Humor occasionally plays a part in these tales which often unroll at a sedately pace whether set now or far in the past. The result is an anthology that will bring hours of pleasure for those so inclined to partake and serve not only to entertain with mystery but to provide a sort of cultural roadmap to the city.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Small Caliber Reviews---"Hundred Dollar Baby"

Spenser returns in Robert B. Parker’s novel “Hundred Dollar Baby” and April Kyle returns as well (“Ceremony” and “Taming A Sea Horse”) and the resulting reunion is bittersweet at best. She has become the highly successful madam of an escort service located in Back Bay. She needs help as forces are bearing down on her to try to take her business away from her. Once more, Spenser along with Hawk and a couple of others try to save her from her fate. This is typical Spenser fare and as such a fast read that skims the surface of complex topics such as emotional dysfunctionality, fate, and the alleged power men hold over women.

This review previously appeared online in the "Small Caliber Reviews" section of the Spring Edition of the "Mouth Full of Bullets" found easily at Submissions and readers always welcome!

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007

Small Caliber Reviews: "SPIDER MOUNTAIN"

If you haven't read "The Cat Dancers" by P. T. Dueterman than you need to rectify that immediately. Not only is it one of the best books I have read in along time, "Spider Mountain" is the powerful and disturbing sequel. Former Cop Cam Richter returns to the scene of the crime and once again does so, in an attempt to help Park Ranger Mary Ellen Goode. Neither one has gotten over the events of the last book and seeing him is almost more than she can bear. But, she needs him because of her Rangers was brutalized, almost destroyed as a human being and the powers that be on every level are refusing to really do anything about it. There are reasons, complicated reasons and Can doesn't really care since he isn't counting on anyone else these days. By sticking his nose into things on the outskirts of the Great Smoky Mountains Park, Cam unwittingly unleashes a wave of retribution against him and everyone around him. P. T. Dueterman once again spins an intensely searing tale that takes readers deep into the abyss.

This review previously appeared online in the "Small Caliber Reviews" Section of the spring 2007 edition of Mouth Full Of Bullets found at Look for our new winter issue later this month.

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2007

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Barry's Reviews---"The Five Silver Buddhas"

THE FIVE SILVER BUDDHAS (1935) by Harry Stephen Keeler
reviewed by Barry Ergang

I knew Harry Stephen Keeler by name only until I read about his eccentricities in Bill Pronzini's hilarious Gun in Cheek a number of years ago. When I came upon a copy of The Five Silver Buddhas, also several years back, in a used-book store, I bought it but didn't get around to reading it until very recently.

The 281-page novel chiefly concerns one between-jobs newspaper reporter named Penn Harding who, on his way to propose marriage to Neva Edgecomb, daughter of wealthy Chicago steel magnate Bradley Edgecomb, stops in at an auction and purchases a pocket-sized silver image of the Buddha—one of five—that is supposed to be a how-sei-gei, a good luck charm. What makes the item unique is that the Buddha has his hands over his eyes. After leaving the auction, Harding stops at the laundry owned and operated by Fook Wong, who tells him the image—because it's of a "blinded" Buddha—is actually a mo-sei-gei, a bad luck charm.

Before the reader learns what kind of bad luck befalls Harding, Keeler treats him to the fates of the possessors of the other four images. These narratives consume quite a few chapters, especially the one concerning burglar Tim Waldo, but except as demonstrations of bad luck, they are completely irrelevant to the main plot, which in itself is little more than a short story expatiated upon via Keeler's astoundingly turgid, digressive prose style.

But back to Penn Harding. He visits the Edgecomb mansion, apprehensive about whether Neva will accept his proposal, and is surprised to see uniformed policemen posted at the front and rear of the house. Admitted by Jelkins, an English butler of cold demeanor, Harding joins Neva in her father's study. The Japanese houseman, Tano, brings them glasses of grape juice and chocolate walnuts, exchanges some friendly words with Harding, and departs. Harding proposes to Neva, worried she'll reject him because he doesn't want to accept her father's offer to work in the steel business, and is happily surprised when she agrees to marry him.

Bradley Edgecomb is out of the house on a business appointment when Harding arrives, but returns not long afterward. In the interim, Neva explains that her father's appointment is with fatally ill metallurgist Peter Cron, who has developed a formula for making steel virtually impregnable. "Steelcron," as the formula is known, will enable Edgecomb to manufacture steel plates for American battleships, thus making his company superior to his bigger competitors and making him that much wealthier.

On the way back to the rooming house where he lives, Harding is accosted by thugs. Still later, someone invades his room in the middle of the night. Subsequently, Harding is hauled in by the police, accused of stealing the Steelcron formula from the safe in Edgecomb's study, since he was the only person, other than Edgecomb himself, the police know for a certainty came and went that night. A piece of damning evidence pointing to him has been found in the safe.
The remainder of the story concerns Harding's efforts to prove himself innocent—as additional obstacles confront him—and uncover the identity of the culprit who's framed him. As new events unfold and more information comes to light, the story gets delightfully sillier.

As I mentioned earlier, the novel is 281 pages long. Yet on page 147 the reader sees
a "challenge to the reader" that wouldn't exactly have Ellery Queen eating his heart out since neither Harding nor anyone else solves the mystery until quite late in the second half of the book. I couldn't tell you if it's fairly-clued. This is one of those stories you don't try to figure out; you just coast along with it.

As William Poundstone points out at his website, to read Keeler is to experience the literary equivalent of watching a film by Edward D. Wood, Jr—who, by the way, wrote a few pulp novels himself. Which is to say, Keeler is so bad he's good.

The Five Silver Buddhas could serve as a primer on how not to write fiction, particularly of the mystery/suspense variety. For instance, Keeler has the habit of letting one character relate in dialogue information to another which the other already has—this for the benefit of the reader. Since Keeler uses the omniscient viewpoint much of the time, this amateurish method is unnecessary.

He throws in at least three "had-he-but-knowns."

Keeler's idiosyncratic prose is a commingling of what he probably thought of as "literary" with the slang of the day. He's overly fond of incomplete and complete sentences that wander herky-jerkily all over the map before getting to their predicates. He loves the exclamation mark, no doubt imagining it heightens impact on the reader.

Here's a passage from Chapter Three, which details the mo-sei-gei of Ivan Kossakoff, a serial strangler in possession of one of the Buddhas, who's stalking his next victim:

"She certainly ought to be along soon. For her life, so he'd found, was as regular a thing as a train time-table. It was right here, in fact, that he had first seen her, a number of evenings before, as she strode briskly home after her dinner. Which dinner, he'd found, was invariably eaten in the little basement French tea-room a half block or so up the street. An expensive 'dump,' too. A 'buck' for a 'table de hoat'—with wine! She was a tall dark girl—28 years, perhaps, in age—maybe more. Either she was disregardful of Chicago hold-up men—or else, as was most probably the case, she knew she was perfectly safe on a well-lighted street at 8 o'clock in the evening. For the diamond that glistened in each of her ear-lobes was the real thing—and Ivan prided himself that he knew scintillations—when he saw scintillation! For hadn't Aunt Sonya Vointskaya, when he'd been a boy there on Goose Island, had at least half a dozen real diamonds—and given them all to the Russian Church, too, when she died, the damned old bitch? No, these earrings were, as Ivan put it, the 'McCoy'—showing that he knew the argot of his native-born criminal brothers as well as he knew jewelry. The ear-drops were, in fact, as 'good stuff' as the dinner ring—the 'hoop,' as Ivan called it—that always reposed on the middle finger of this girl's ungloved right hand. To be sure, she had Ivan more or less puzzled. But because the big first-floor rear room to which she always repaired after eating her dinner—and immediately went to bed in, and alone, moreover!—was in a theatrical rooming house just a few blocks further south on Washington Square, Ivan guessed that she might be a 'kicker'—a 'burleycue gal,' that is—or maybe a 'chorine'—now at leisure—but one whose 'daddy,' during some previous 'affair'—had 'iced her' generously. And even 'padded her purse' as well. Though she might be a principal, at that. An actress. A 'warbler' maybe...."

The quirky Keeler style sorely dilutes his efforts to generate either convincing characterizations or suspense.

The book teems with racial and ethnic stereotypes, and occasional slurs. Keeler evidently never learned that extended passages of dialect pull readers out of the story as they try to decipher what foreign-born characters are saying. Thus we have the German rooming-house owner Mrs. Schempelwitz (whose scene goes on for pages!): "'Oh—vun derrible ding vass happen' on Soud Stade Sdreed tonide. About vun block down. Unt agross der sdreed from diss site. A man vot vas [sic] run a Shinese oction vass killed deat—by masked holduppers.'" (Why there's an apostrophe after "happen" is beyond me, unless it's a typo, of which the book contains plenty.)


"'Me no know a single tling,' declared Fook Wong, his lips shut so firmly that they made virtually a line as straight as the one between Euclid's famous two points. 'Know not'ing. Nev' see 'im befo'.' He shrugged his shoulders with magnificent insouciance. 'Oh—mabbe goo' luck, Mista Haldling. Mabbe—how-sei-gei. Mebbe [sic] blad. Gloddamn blad. Mo-sei-gei. Who know? Not me.'"

Here's Tano, the Japanese houseman: "'The eegn'rant Chinese,' he went on, 'to soch a fine race like we Japs—for we consider the Chinese mongrel dogs, fit to do but as you say your friend do—iron shirts—yes they believe impleecitly that images of Buddha breeng luck. Now me, I am American-born Jap—an' am myself beyon' soch superstitious state....'"

Hilda, the Swedish maid: "'I guess he dittent go by Elyin....He say you sen' him from County Yail Beelding to get a paper from your room.'"

The French Mr. Boissevain: "'Zis ees eet, Shief! Wan of zee five, annyway. Our nombaire for eet—one hondard and zirty-five—eez on zee bottom. Only so leetle you 'ave to 'ave beeg glass like zees wan of mine for to see. Zee ozzer four, zey was nombaired in same way, but from wan hondard and zirty-seex to wan hondard an' zirty-nine eenclusive.'"

Keeler's publisher could have used a good copy editor. Mispunctuations and spelling errors abound.

It's unlikely that modern readers could devour one Keeler title after another unless they're masochists. If The Five Silver Buddhas exemplifies his work—and from what I've heard, it's tame in comparison with later books—his books have to be regarded as the same kind of once-in-a-great-while "guilty pleasures" as Ed Wood's movies.

For additional information and examples of Keeler's work, check out the Harry Stephen Keeler Society.

As always, for more on this novel or The Golden Age of Detection surf to

Barry Ergang © 2007

Currently the Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, winner of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2007 Derringer Award in the Flash Fiction category, Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. For links to material available online, see Barry’s webpages.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Barry's Reviews---"The Innocent Mrs. Duff"

THE INNOCENT MRS. DUFF (1946) by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
reviewed by Barry Ergang

Discussions about mystery/suspense fiction often debate whether certain stories are plot-driven or character-driven. I take the first to signify a tale in which plot is something extraneous that happens to the characters, imposed from without; the second to signify a tale in which the plot develops from the characters populating it, who themselves create the situations they become entangled in. I don't find one type necessarily better than the other. The result, for better or worse, depends on any given author's integration of the multitude of elements that make up the storytelling process. That said, let me highly recommend as a first-rate example of the character-driven story The Innocent Mrs. Duff by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding.

The story is told from the point of view of the priggish, class-conscious Jacob Duff, a man in his forties who has recently remarried following the death of his first wife Helen, the mother of his young son Jay. Regina (“Reggie”) Duff, née Riordan, is twenty-one, beautiful, caring, outgoing and, in Jacob's view, shallow and stupid. A year into the marriage, he has lost interest in her and ponders divorce. It becomes apparent to the reader early on that Duff himself, with his narrow snobbery, his selfish insistence on the way things ought to be, and his unwillingness to communicate with his wife to effect understanding and compromise, is the shallow one. Fourteen pounds overweight, he vows to lose the excess poundage by exercising and dieting—but he begins to drink heavily, frequently getting sick. After each drinking bout, he swears he’s going to cut down or quit, but finds himself unable to, rationalizing the need for alcohol every time.

As the story deepens, his own idiosyncrasies create worsening problems for him which he blames on Regina and others, ultimately leading to a tragedy of his own making. Holding skillfully and subtly develops her drama and its personae in a clear prose style—without resorting to the kind of analysis and psycho-babble one is more likely to find in current “psychological suspense” stories. Instead, the reader observes Duff in action and interaction, is privy to his thoughts, and can thus indulge in his own analysis if he wishes to.

In a letter to Hamish Hamilton, his British publisher, Raymond Chandler wrote: “Does anybody in England publish Elisabeth Sanxay Holding? For my money she's the top suspense writer of them all. She doesn't pour it on and make you feel irritated. Her characters are wonderful; and she has a sort of inner calm which I find very attractive. I recommend for your attention, if you have not read them, Net of Cobwebs, The Innocent Mrs. Duff, The Blank Wall.” The edition I have, which also contains The Blank Wall, is published by Academy Chicago and contains a cover blurb from Anthony Boucher: “For subtlety, realistic conviction, incredible economy, she's in a class by herself.”

Can I get an “Amen”?

For more on this book or The Golden Age of Detection surf over to The Golden Age of Detection Wiki found at

Barry Ergang © 2007
Currently the Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, winner of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2007Derringer Award in the Flash Fiction category, Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. For links to material available online, see Barry’s webpages

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

We interrupt our regular programming so that Barry and I may wish each and everyone of you a Happy Thanksgiving. If it wasn't for you, our readers, we wouldn't be here. So, thank you for reading us not only here but in our different places across the world wide web.

In a couple of days or so we will be back to talking books. In the meantime, travel safe if you must travel and save us a piece of pie. We will need directions but one of us just might be in driving range.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Kevin R. Tipple and Barry Ergang (c) 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Reviewing: "Songs Of Innocence: A John Blake Mystery"

Songs Of Innocence: A John Blake Mystery
By Richard Aleas
Hard Case Crime
July 2007
ISBN #978-0-8439-5773
256 Pages

A noir tale full of misdirection, violence and guilt begins with the death of Dorothy Louise Burke. Her very angry mother wants John Blake to find out who killed her daughter. Detective work isn't what he does anymore and he isn't what she expected to find at the small memorial service. When her pleas for help are rebuffed her hostility grows.

"'What's wrong with you?" She didn't wait for an answer, which was just as well because I didn't have one to give her.'" (Page 19, Chapter 1)

John Blake doesn't have many answers. It has been three years since the events depicted in the novel "Little Girl Lost" and he escaped/drifted into the writing program at Columbia. Paired with Dorothy (whom everyone else but Mom called Dorrie) for an assignment, the kindred souls full of pain and guilt bonded. A romance began and a pact was made only to be broken. With her death, an angry and driven John Blake begins both a public and a private hunt for answers.

What follows is a dark rich tale full of violence, vengeance and urban justice where nothing and no one is what they appear. In one reading, events of the first book were a long prelude that put John Blake right here at this time to not only deal with the present but to answer for the past. Justice can take a long time and it has been years. In another reading, John is just a domino, one of many in a long complex trail that forms a never ending line, tickled by the fickle finger of God.

However you interpret the book, there is no question that this is a powerfully good read as well as a disturbing one. Relentless in its pacing as it build steadily towards a conclusion that is both a surprise and inevitable this is a read that hooks the reader from the opening line,

"I was a private investigator once. But then we've all been things we aren't anymore." (Page 15, Chapter 1)

This sums up the entire novel in a sense where everything is two sides of the same coin. This novel is well worth your investment as is the first novel "Little Girl Lost."

Obviously, the novels should be read in order.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Barry's Reviews--"The Last Best Hope" (1998) by Ed McBain

THE LAST BEST HOPE (1998) by Ed McBain
reviewed by Barry Ergang

Jill Lawton comes to attorney Matthew Hope's law office in Calusa, Florida to get a divorce—with alimony—from her long-gone husband Jack. Nine months earlier, Jack had gone north, ostensibly in search of freelance graphic design work, and she has not heard from him since. Jill hopes to invoke the Enoch Arden Law, but Matthew explains that not enough time has passed for this to apply, and that they'll have to find Jack and serve him with the divorce papers.

It's not long thereafter that a man's body is found on a beach in Calusa, the face gone from a shotgun blast. A driver's license and Visa card in the man's pockets suggest he's Jack Lawton. But when Jill is summoned to positively identify the body, she instantly determines from the absence of a miniscule blue dot on his Adam's apple that the man is not her husband.

Matthew puts a firm of private investigators on the case, and on his own phones a precinct in the city where Jack was last known to have been. The city is unnamed; the precinct is the 87th; the detective Matthew talks to is Steve Carella.

Thus McBain melds two series and the sleuths therefrom, each working in different locations on the same case.

As the body count increases and surprises unfold, McBain with the skill his fans know and love conveys the story's past and present from different angles and viewpoints, switching among the various investigators and multiple villains. The reader is taken into the heads of the characters, all of whom are believably fleshed-out, and comes to know them from their conversations with others and their internal monologues—another McBain trademark.

The Last Best Hope never lets up—it's a superb example of a "page-turner"—as characters and events converge in a wild climax tense with excitement but leavened with humor situational, coincidental, and authorial. The lyric from a song in a James Bond movie aptly sums up Ed McBain: "Nobody does it better."

For more on this novel and mysteries in general surf to

Barry Ergang © 2007
Currently the Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, winner of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2007Derringer Award in the Flash Fiction category, Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. For links to material available online, see Barry’s webpages.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Small Caliber Review--"Wreckers' Key: A Novel of Suspense" by Christine Kling

"Wreckers' Key: A Novel of Suspense" by Christine Kling is the forth in the series revolving around Seychelle Sullivan. Sullivan is the owner/operator of the 46 foot aluminum tug "Gorda." She has taken the tug down to Key West to help her old friend Nestor Frias get the yacht "Power Play" back to its home. Nestor was making the maiden voyage with the yacht when something went wrong with the GPS and he grounded it. The circumstances of the grounding were strange and then when days later Nestor is killed in suspicious circumstances, Sullivan begins to snoop. That is when she isn't lamenting her past, navel gazing for paragraph after paragraph, worrying about what her boyfriend is doing with her best friend, or trying to decide her future. The slowest and by far weakest read in a series that has always been very enjoyable in the past ends in a contrived manner. It isn't clear if this is the end of the series or an abrupt charge in it. With so many changes one gets the feeling that this could be the end and after this read, that might be just as well.

This review previously appeared online as part of the "Small Caliber Reviews" section of the zine "Mouth Full Of Bullets" found at in the summer 2007 edition.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Small Caliber Review--"Fresh Disasters" by Stuart Woods

Stone Barrington returns in "Fresh Disasters." Once again author Stuart Woods weaves a tale that manages to make sure Barrington eats a lot of very good food, makes quick friends with a lot of beautiful women, and deals with a psycho or two. Herbie Fisher is back and now he is a lawyer. He hasn't learned much and after being roughed up by a couple of wise guys for a bookie he owes 24 K to, decides it would be a wonderful idea to sue the crime boss that wants the money. Stone becomes his lawyer not by choice and things go from bad to worse. That is also the situation in a secondary storyline that becomes the major theme of the second half of the book. This is typical Woods of late and the read is a pleasant diversion of fluff from weightier books.

This review previously appeared in the "Small Caliber Reviews" section of the Suumer 2007 edition of the "Mouth Full Of Bullets" zine found at

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2007

Monday, November 12, 2007

Small Caliber Review---"Kindness Goes Unpunished: A Walt Longmire Mystery"

Craig Johnson writes a fantastic novel and does it again in "Kindness Goes Unpunished: A Walt Longmire Mystery." Sheriff Walt Longmire of Wyoming began in "The Cold Dish"

and continued on in "Death without Company."

In this third installment of a series that absolutely without question has to be read in order, Sheriff Longmire and his good friend Henry Standing Bear are far from their beloved home of Absaroka County, Wyoming. They are in Philadelphia for fun which quickly turns into heartbreak and horror when Longmire's daughter is attacked and left for dead. While she fights for her life in a hospital bed, Longmire fights for a reason to go on besides revenge in the wake of this tragedy. Working on many levels this latest installment of the series is another powerful testament to quality writing and masterful storytelling.

This review previously appeared online in the "Small Caliber Reviews" section of the Summer 2007 edition of Mouth Full of Bullets zine found at

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Small Caliber Reviews--"A Field of Darkness" by Cornelia Read

"A Field Of Darkness" by Cornelia Read came out last year and is well worth the read if you haven't already done so. Its 1988 and Madeline Dare hates Syracuse, can barely tolerate her job writing fluff pieces for a local paper and is madly in love with her husband, Dean. Dean is gone a lot which makes Syracuse even worse. Things go darker still when she is shown a set of dog tags owned by her cousin which were found at a murder scene nearly twenty years ago. Two young ladies were killed and arranged in a field and the police still have not been able to solve the case. A case that hangs over her once she knows of it and she wants to believe with every fiber of her being that her well off cousin who she has always secretly and not so secretly loved could have done such a horrible thing. The resulting investigation as she literally and figuratively stumbles along the trail will turn over a lot of rocks, quite a few snakes, and a host of dead bodies. The result is one heck of a read and one that shouldn't be missed.

This review previously appeared in my "Small Caliber Reviews" column in the Summer 2007 edition of the "Mouth Full Of Bullets" zine found at

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2007

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Barry's Reviews--"THE FLOATING LADY MURDER" (Avon, 2000) by Daniel Stashower

THE FLOATING LADY MURDER (Avon, 2000) by Daniel Stashower
reviewed by Barry Ergang

An episode from the second season of Monk titled "Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico" contains a tantalizing premise for fans of impossible crime stories: a young skydiver plunges to his death, which is witnessed by his friends on the ground. An autopsy subsequently reveals that the fall didn't kill him; he drowned, apparently in mid-air.

The episode's moments that dealt with Adrian Monk's obsessive-compulsive behavior were often hilarious, but as a mystery it was huge let-down for a couple of reasons. It didn't play fair with the viewer, and the solution was basically a "cheat" because it concerned events only Monk knew about.

The Floating Lady Murder, the second in Daniel Stashower’s series featuring Harry Houdini and his brother Dash Hardeen as detectives, employs a similar premise. It doesn't play entirely fair with the reader, but the solution doesn't cheat so it's not likely to disappoint him either.

In 1898, Harry Houdini—except in his own mind—has not yet achieved the fame that would later make him known throughout America and abroad. His brother Dash, the story's narrator, though a somewhat accomplished performer himself, serves primarily as Harry's booking agent. Lately he's been unable to secure jobs for Harry and Harry's wife Bess, Houdini's on-stage assistant. Thus, when he reads that Harry Kellar, "the dean of American magicians," is hiring additional crew members for his troupe, Dash suggests that he, Harry and Bess apply. In his vanity, Harry balks at the notion until Dash and Bess persuade him of the wisdom of it.

They are hired, and soon learn that Kellar is determined to debut his Floating Lady levitation when the touring company returns to New York City from Albany. The illusion was conceived years earlier by Kellar's mentor, The Wizard of Kalliffa (a.k.a. Duncan MacGregor). Levitation was common among magicians, but this one was to be spectacular in that the person levitated would float out over the stage and high above the audience. MacGregor's wife, assisting her husband by taking the role of the Floating Lady, fell to her death from a great height when the illusion failed. In tribute to the MacGregors, Kellar wants to perform the illusion on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Mrs. MacGregor's passing. He has only a matter of days to refine it. Working with the Great Man and his stage crew, Harry and Dash devise an effective means of doing so, receiving Kellar's ecstatic gratitude.

The performance has every member of the troupe holding his breath as the beautiful Francesca Moore seemingly levitates high up into the theater's dome, "borne aloft by the hypnotic force of animal magnetism." The audience is enchanted. But then something goes horribly wrong, and Francesca Moore plummets seventy-two feet to her death.

It seems a terrible accident until, during an autopsy, it's learned that Miss Moore's death resulted from drowning, apparently—and impossibly—in mid-air. When one of the stagehands, Jim Collins, is arrested for murder, Harry and Dash are determined to prove his innocence and uncover the real murderer. This they do when Kellar and a rival magician, Servais Le Roy, team up to perform the illusion once again, putting Bess and Harry's lives in peril.

Stashower does an excellent job of bringing the era to life while serving up a well-paced story that's loaded with action, suspense, a great puzzle, and a lot of humor. Dash Hardeen is not a vacuous Watson who marvels at his brother's brilliance. He, in fact, is the brainier of the two. Harry provides the brawn, as well as unchecked egotism that spawns some wonderful comic moments.

Recommended without reservations.

For more on this novel and the Golden Age of Detection follow the link

Barry Ergang © 2007
Currently the Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, winner of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2007Derringer Award in the Flash Fiction category, Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. For links to material available online, see Barry’s webpages.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Small Caliber Review--"Red Cat"

"Red Cat" is the third novel of the John March series and he finds himself with an unlikely client. This time it is his brother David who comes to him out of sheer desperation. David has been involved in what he thought was a no strings affair but things have turned out not the way he wanted at all. The woman he knows as Wren seems to know everything about him and seems to be stalking him. He wants John to do what he does best—start turning over rocks and find where she crawled out from. John agrees and once again Author Peter Spiegelman crafts another tale that is part crime and part study of the human mind. Another good read that works best if you have read the series in order. Begin with "Black Maps" and follow with the second book known as "Death's Little Helpers." You won't be sorry.

This "Small Caliber Review" previously appeared at in the summer 2007 edition of Mouth Full Of Bullets found at For your ease of ordering I have added the Amazon links for the other two titles which I heartily recommend.

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2007

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Contest News courtesy of Tony Burton

In case you have not read about the contest, I am taking the liberty of posting a message from Tony Burton that he has posted on a couple of the lists.


If any of you are also short-story writers and would like to take a shot at some nice prizes (including $125 for first place), go by and check out the Homecoming Writing Contest on the Crime and Suspense ezine web site. Even third place gets a $25 Amazon gift certificate!

The deadline for entry, however, is November 15th.

Hurry, hurry, hurry!

Tony BurtonEditor, Crime and Suspense

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Reviewing: "The One Minute Assassin" by Troy Cook

The One Minute Assassin: A Novel
By Troy Cook
Capital Crimes Press
ISBN #978-0-9776276-4-6
September 2007
Large Trade Paperback
287 Pages
List Price $14.95

Good help is hard to find and that is certainly true in this case. Barry and Nails have a very simple task. They are to eliminate one by one the strongest competition in the latest chaotic governor's race in California. It would be nice if they made the deaths look like accidents. And maybe the first one does as people do, on occasion, fall out of windows.

Though they rarely happen to be so lucky as to face plant into their own star on the sidewalk of the Walk of Fame. Still, it could happen.

Things begin to go seriously haywire for Barry and Nails when they target Eleanor, the sister of John Black. John Black, part of a powerful political family and yet has zero interest in politics, an affinity for telling others not only what to do but also how to do it, and an independent streak that rubs many the wrong way including his own mother affectionately named "The Barracuda." Once he was a private investigator and now what he does is a bit shadowy but clearly results oriented. He, along with his Australian by birth partner and mentor, Harry are used to working cases and achieving justice in unconventional ways. The attempted hit on his sister which puts her near death in the hospital just days before Election Day where she probably would win makes it clear to him that he has to deal with the twin bedfellows of crime and politics. Is there any surprise that the Russian Mafia is also involved?

In what could easily be the start of an entertaining new series, author Troy Cook has surpassed his debut novel "47 Rules of Highly Effective Bank Robbers." That novel was a funny twisted read and there remains no doubt why it was highly successful and won numerous awards.

It was good. If you haven't read it—you should. Immediately.

The same is true here in a novel that is completely different and at the same time has so much in common with the first book. Once again, the killers are dysfunction at best. Nails, somewhere around 400 pounds with very bad knees, is an unwitting human guinea pig for a pharmaceutical company and a severe eye twitch when he becomes agitated. All involved soon learn to watch for the eye twitch.

Then, there is Barry, a skinny white man who constantly argues that there should be a union for killers. If they could become unionized they could make sure to get decent pay and benefits.

With these two at work, it is no wonder why John Black constantly wonders what is going on as there really doesn't seem to be a rhyme or reason to their actions. He would also like to know how Harry can not only change the ring tone on John's cell phone to anything he wants leading to frequent embarrassment, but how he does it?

While not nearly as funny as the first novel, author Troy Cook routinely uses humor as a weapon. A weapon often aimed at politics and politicians and a weapon that always hits its target. Which is much better than a certain rapper in the story who just can't live up to his own myth.

The result is a highly entertaining read that is part mystery, part comedy, and all good from start to finish. It features unique characters, often witty dialogue, and plenty of action that is never slowed down by the numerous observations of the American political system and California politics. The result is a very good read well worth your time.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007