Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My Good News

In addition to my story "Visions of Reality" which is currently available to subscribers of the Crime and Suspense zine at http://crimeandsuspense.com/ I have had a little more recent success. This announcement was posted online yesterday:

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In addition to the winners of Mysterical-E' s Skeletons in the Closet contest, there were Honorable mentions this time around and they are:

FIESTA by Steven Torres
SOUTHERN EXPOSURE by Charles Schaeffer
TWO OF US by Victor Banis
BURNING QUESTIONS by Kevin Tipple

Needless to say I am very pleased and honored by the company I am part of. Shocked and amazed also come to mind. I am told by Editor Joe Demarco that the story will be published in a future edition. Which issue it will appear in I do not know at this time. I will shout it out long and loud once I am told. In the meantime, check it out at http://www.mystericale.com/


Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Barry's Reviews--"Instruments of Night" (1998) by Thomas H. Cook

Instruments of Night (1998) by Thomas H. Cook
reviewed by Barry Ergang



Novelist Paul Graves is a man literally haunted by his past. The ghosts of one grim and brutal night invade his thoughts daily, summoned or unbidden, and lend their power to his books.

Raised on a small farm in North Carolina, Graves was already an imaginative young man who had taken a liking to writing when his parents were killed in a car accident. Paul was twelve and his sister Gwen was sixteen. The two continued to live on the farm for about a year until the night Gwen was tortured and eventually slain by a sadist named Kessler and his tremulous sidekick Sykes. Forced to witness his sister's agonies, Paul retreated into a long silence.

In the story's present, a forty-five-year-old Graves lives a life of self-imposed relative seclusion in New York City. He's the author of a popular series of novels set in that city at the end of the 19th Century. They feature a detective named Slovak who, much like Sir Denis Nayland Smith chasing after Dr. Fu Manchu, pursues the bloodthirsty Kessler and the slavish Sykes from murder to murder, aging and wearying in the process—much as his creator has aged and wearied and considered self-extinction.

Graves is invited to Riverwood, an estate in the Hudson Valley that remains a family home and also an artists' colony, by wealthy Allison Davies, who grew up there and who has never left. She offers him an odd commission: look into the fifty-year-old murder of her closest friend Faye Harrison, who was killed at the age of sixteen, and write a story about it that will satisfy Faye's dying mother about who killed her daughter. The story needn't be true, only plausible.

Reluctant at first, Graves finally accepts the job and takes up residence at Riverwood, where he's given access to all of the information about Faye's death, including the detailed reports by the investigating police detective, Dennis Portman. He is joined by Eleanor Stern, a playwright, who is quite possibly more intrigued by the project than Graves is.

What might seem like a dry historical probe is rendered dramatic by Graves's vivid imagination. He visualizes the players and the scenes they enact so as to carry the reader into the moments Portman's summaries only sketch. His investigations lead to revelations about Riverwood and its denizens in that long-ago time, and about Graves's own past.

I should add, for Golden Age fans, that although Instruments of Night is very much a psychological thriller, it's also a fairly-clued mystery. The key clue is extremely subtle and easily overlooked.

I discovered Edgar Allan Poe in early adolescence, William Faulkner in my late teens. What struck me about both of their prose styles was the quality of envelopment: you might be sitting in a riotous, crowded stadium during the Super Bowl or the World Series, but if you were reading one of their stories, you'd feel as though you were alone in inky blackness, aswirl in the story's events. Thomas H. Cook—at least in this novel, the first of his I've read—conveys that same envelopment.

So why am I torn about this book?

It's very well-written, Cook's prose often lyrical. The characters are properly fleshed-out, the pacing spot-on, and the suspense carefully built and sustained.

But its tone is unremittingly dark. In short stories like Poe's, where uniformity of tone was a goal, that quality is tolerable. Many of Faulkner's darker novels were occasionally relieved by moments of levity. Not so Instruments of Night. Cook sometimes overdoes Graves's recollections of his own horrors. Thus, compelling as the storyline is, I found it hard to sustain long periods of reading. I can't recall ever having read anything darker: not Sanctuary, The Sound and the Fury, or Light in August. Nor Bernard Malamud's The Fixer. Not even Elie Wiesel's Night.

With that caveat in place, I can recommend Instruments of Night as worth your time.

For more on the Golden Age follow the link http://gadetection.pbwiki.com/


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

Monday, October 29, 2007

Barry's Reviews---"Oh, Murderer Mine"

OH, MURDERER MINE (1946) by Norbert Davis
reprinted in 2003 by The Rue Morgue Press
reviewed by Barry Ergang



In the course of an arduous trek through Mignon G. Eberhart's Next of Kin, I took a break and tore through this little gem, the third and—alas!—final novel about the unlikely team of Doan and Carstairs (the other two are The Mouse in the Mountain and Sally's in the Alley). Doan is a chubby, pleasant-faced private detective; Carstairs is the regal, haughty Great Dane he won in a crap game and who disapproves of him.

Doan is hired by 54-year-old cosmetics magnate Heloise of Hollywood to bodyguard her husband, 26-year-old meteorologist Eric Trent—a.k.a. "Handsome Lover Boy" in Heloise's magazine ads. Heloise, though still quite attractive herself, is afraid younger women will hit on Eric and wants Doan to supply the necessary discouragement.

Things get going when Melissa Gregory, an anthropology instructor at Breckenbridge University, is incensed by Trent's usurpation of her office, as sanctioned by T. Ballard Bestwyck, the university president. She confronts Trent about it, but her impetrations have no effect. Trent is arrogant and stubborn. Melissa learns he might even be taking over the apartment she maintains on campus.

That night, Melissa returns home after a date with assistant English professor Frank Ames to find an intruder in her apartment. The intruder knocks her out and flees, but not before Melissa has had time to scream. Hearing her, Doan and Carstairs investigate, and in the course of their pursuit, Doan is shot at and barely missed by the assailant. He subsequently discovers Frank Ames's body in a trash can. Ames's throat has been sliced open.

It's only the beginning. More bodies remain to be discovered before Doan wraps things up. I won't to go on—the book is only 128 pages long—except to say that the chapter in which Carstairs runs amuck in Heloise's salon is worth the price of the book. I recommend this one and its predecessors, along with the out-of-print The Adventures of Max Latin from The Mysterious Press (five novelettes originally published in Dime Detective), as wonderful examples of the screwball comedy school of mystery a la Jonathan Latimer and Craig Rice. Forget about realism, thematic explorations, or character depth—although some of Davis's characters are memorably wacky. This is storytelling as pure entertainment. Davis could and did write stories as hardboiled as those of Dashiell Hammett, Frederick Nebel, and Raymond Chandler, but his best work features an off-the-wall comic perspective on the tough detective story. I'm looking forward to the forthcoming Crippen & Landru collection.

For more on Norbert Davis, see http://www.blackmaskmagazine.com/norbertdavis.html

For more information on the Golden Age of Detection and on this book in particular follow the link http://gadetection.pbwiki.com/Oh,+Murderer+Mine

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, October 28, 2007

Barry's Reviews: "Case of the Vanishing Beauty"

Case of the Vanishing Beauty (1950) by Richard S. Prather
reviewed by Barry Ergang


Released in 1950, Case of the Vanishing Beauty was Richard S. Prather's first published novel but the second one he wrote. The first, The Maddern Caper, was subsequently published under the pseudonym David Knight but retitled Pattern for Murder. Still later it was retitled The Scrambled Yeggs and published under Prather's own name. (All of this is explained by Prather in an interview conducted by Linda Pendleton.)

Vanishing Beauty begins when private detective Shell Scott is hired by Georgia Martin to find her missing sister Tracy. She also insists that Scott accompany her to a less-than-respectable L.A. nightclub called El Cuchillo (Spanish for "the knife"), but beyond saying she might need his protection, she won't tell him why.

At El Cuchillo, Scott and Georgia watch the feature act: the knife-throwing Miguel Mercado and his beautiful assistant/target Lina Royale. After Scott has an altercation with Mercado, he meets the club's owner, the equally repellent Maggie Remorse.

When he and Georgia leave the club, they're tailed by someone in another car who's not reluctant about shooting at them. Scott fires back and the shooter takes off. But Georgia has been fatally wounded. She's able to say "I killed...Narda" before she dies.

Determined to see the case through despite—and because—of the loss of his client, but with very little to go on, Scott talks to his friend Captain Phil Samson, head of L.A. Homicide. When he mentions Narda, Samson tells him a man by that name is the head of a religious cult called the Inner World Society of Truth Believers.

Scott returns to El Cuchillo and later tails Miguel Mercado, who practically leads him to the IW's door. It seems pretty clear the cult is somehow involved in the events that led to Georgia Martin's murder and the disappearance of her sister. Consequently, Scott attends a service, pretending to be a philanthropic sort and using the name Francis Joyne. Narda, he discovers, is very much alive.

As events unfold, Scott eventually finds and rescues Tracy, but there are still multiple mysteries to be solved—among them why Georgia was killed and how Narda, the IW, Miguel Mercado, Maggie Remorse, and twin gunmen Peter and Paul Seipel fit into the picture. Solve them Scott does, of course, and in a fairly-clued manner, with plenty of physical action in the process.

I first read Case of the Vanishing Beauty when I was in my teens—more than forty years ago—so apart from recalling that Scott's term of endearment for Lina was "pepper pot," I had no recollection of the story during my rereading. But when I was a teenager, I didn't read the early Scott novels in order of publication—gave no thought to doing so—I read them in whatever order my father or I purchased them or as the whim took me. I mention this only because, remembering certain things about the series even after all these years, Vanishing Beauty has some of the earmarks of an early series novel in the way it establishes scenes, descriptions, and authorial tendencies that will recur in later books. Among the latter is Prather's habit of having first-person narrator Scott tell the reader at some point during his cerebrations that there's something tickling at his unconscious which, if he could only pull it out, would completely elucidate and solve the case at hand. The technique serves the dual purpose of offering a challenge to the reader, letting him know that he now has all the information Scott has and can solve the mystery himself if he can put all the pieces together; and allowing the author to protract the action and suspense so he can build to a "sock finish."

There have been many Shell Scott novels with sock finishes. Case of the Vanishing Beauty is not one of them. Oh, it's satisfying as far as wrapping up the mystery is concerned, but it doesn't have the wild action and comedy Prather became famous for in later works. Nevertheless, it's a long way from the weakest in the series, and stands up as a fast-paced piece of entertainment.


For more on the Golden Age of Detection as well as about this book follow the link
http://gadetection.pbwiki.com/Case%20of%20the%20Vanishing%20Beauty



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, October 26, 2007

Barry's Reviews--"Pattern For Panic"

PATTERN FOR PANIC (Fawcett, 1954) by Richard S. Prather
reviewed by Barry Ergang


Prather's thirteenth novel, and the twelfth in the Shell Scott series, Pattern for Panic was first published in 1954 and "specially revised by the author" in 1961. The latter is the version I just reread for the first time in roughly forty years—a nostalgic revisit to the work of a writer I've long enjoyed, and who passed away on February 16, 2007.

L.A. private eye Shell Scott is summoned to Mexico by his old friend Amador Montalba with the promise of a high-paying job of considerable urgency. The much younger, somewhat round-heeled wife of prominent General Lopez is being blackmailed, the blackmailer having obtained an incriminating film of one of her trysts he's threatened to make known to her husband. General Lopez is well-known in the U.S. as well as Mexico for his anti-Communist efforts.

Not long after Scott arrives, he meets Dr. Jerrold Buffington, his lovely daughter Susan (better known as Buff), and their beautiful friend Monique Durand. Dr. Buffington is in Mexico to address a meeting of the International Legion for Peace.

Buffington is a research scientist seeking an anti-polio vaccine more effective than Salk's, his wife having died from the disease despite three injections of the Salk formula. One of his experiments resulted in a deadly serum which, if it fell into the wrong hands, could become a potent biochemical weapon. A pacifist, Buffington destroyed the serum and all of his notes pertaining to it to prevent anyone from obtaining it.

Scott's pleasant evening of drinks and dinner with Buffington and the ladies is abruptly curtailed when a man unknown to any of them offers to buy Buff a drink. She declines, he persists, and Scott tells him to go away. This doesn't sit well with the man, and he invites Scott outside to settle it. The two get into a brawl, and suddenly the police appear, pummel Scott, and drag him off to jail—but not before he knocks out the front teeth of Captain of Police Emilio who, as you might imagine, is a man who holds a grudge.

Amador, however, prevails on Señora Lopez to bail out Scott. This she does, and Scott soon after begins his quest to recover the incriminating film before General Lopez has a chance to see it. This requires him to gain entry to a fancy whorehouse where the screening will take place, and to snatch the film off the projector in the presence of the general and his associates without being identified.

The mission accomplished, Scott delivers the film to Señora Lopez. He's concerned about the welfare of Dr. Buffington, his daughter, and Monique, but has trouble resisting the allure of the seductive señora. His resistance returns tenfold when General Lopez comes home unexpectedly early.

Matters quickly become more complicated when Scott can't locate either Dr. Buffington or his daughter, and it soon becomes obvious they've been kidnapped by Communists led by the mysterious, rather fabled Culebra. His motive is equally obvious. Dr. Buffington may have destroyed the notes for the unintentional biochemical weapon, but he knows how to reproduce it.

Scott sets out to save them, encountering a multiplicity of surprises, obstacles, and a dose of the nightmare chemical. Along the way, he realizes the situation concerning General Lopez and the one concerning the Buffingtons have converged.

A thriller rather than a whodunit—though Prather has written more than a few of the latter—Pattern for Panic reflects the prevalent anti-Communist attitude common to many a mystery writer of the 1950s (think Mickey Spillane in One Lonely Night). The Communist villains were portrayed as not only cunning, crafty, and conspiratorial, but also as slavering sadists. The pacifistic Dr. Buffington is portrayed as idealistically naïve. Scott, unsurprisingly, is virulent in his hatred for Communism.

It's not a vintage Shell Scott novel on the order of, say, Strip for Murder or Dance With the Dead, but Pattern for Panic contains a few moments of the racy, sometimes wacky, humor the series is famous for, along with a rapid-fire pace and plenty of action. I had completely forgotten the storyline, so my nostalgic visit was akin to reading the book for the first time. Taken on its own terms, it was an entertaining (re)read.

For more on the Golden Age of Detection as well as this novel which features a rather interesting cover, be sure to follow the link http://tinyurl.com/ywch6d

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, October 24, 2007

Barry's Reviews: "Murder in the Hellfire Club"

Murder in the Hellfire Club (1978) by Donald Zochert
reviewed by Barry Ergang



Devoted mystery fans, especially those who treasure locked-room tales, should make every effort to avoid wasting time on this novel.

The time of the story is 1757, and Benjamin Franklin goes to England to conduct some business with the Penn family concerning the colony of Pennsylvania. In London, he's sought out by Francis Dashwood, founder and leader of the Hellfire Club, notorious for its licentious conclaves. John Raleigh, a porter at the Vulture Tavern and a friend of Dashwood's, has been found dead in a locked room. There are no signs of violence on his body, but Franklin suspects he was murdered. Dashwood has received a bizarre poem that he and Franklin regard as a threat to all of the Club's members.

Two more murders occur before Franklin reveals the culprit and the motive behind the crimes.

If you find my synopsis brief and bland, it's because to tell anything more would be to tell the entire story. Because Murder in the Hellfire Club is scarcely more than a short story poorly padded to novel-length—often annoyingly so, at that.

The narrative is written in a deliberately "antiquated" style, no doubt to "evoke the period," and peppered with the author's attempts at aphorisms. He spends more time describing Franklin's trips, by carriage or on foot, through London than he spends on the story itself. Characters—of which there are many—are delineated more by physical descriptions and authorial comments than by their words and actions. Few become figures of blood and bone, and then pallidly. The dialogue is choppy and frequently incoherent. The murder method—if it weren't already revealed on the dust jacket—is one any experienced mystery reader will guess early on, even if s/he doesn't figure out the details of the locked-room and other murderous situations.

As the detective, Franklin does a lot of brooding interspersed with bouts of self-deprivation or gluttony. He does very little actual investigating.

This is the worst mystery I've encountered since I read Mignon G Eberhart's Next of Kin several years ago. It's time to cleanse my peruser's palate by rereading some Richard S Prather.

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For more about the Golden Age of Detection and on this book in particular, follow the link to: http://gadetection.pbwiki.com/Murder+in+the+Hellfire+Club


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

Monday, October 22, 2007

Review: "Seasmoke: Crime Stories by New England Writers" Edited by Kate Flora, Ruth McCarty, and Susan Oleksiw

Some parts of the country seem to produce anthologies on a regular basis. Florida, for example or Minnesota for another seem to produce if not just one several a year. Texas doesn’t seem to partake in these deals and why I have no idea. The anthology below comes to readers courtesy of writers based in New England but the cold is only part of the story in a few cases.

Seasmoke: Crime Stories by New England Writers
Edited by Kate Flora, Ruth McCarty, and Susan Oleksiw
Level Best Books
http://www.levelbestbooks.com
2006
ISBN 0-97009484-3-X
Large Trade Paperback
263 Pages
$15.00 US


This is the fourth annual anthology released by Level Best Books and this one once again features the annual “Al Blanchard” award winning story. The winner was “Roundhouse Medeiros and the Jade Dragon” by Jim Shannon. The story is a good one as are all of the stories in the anthology. Below are a few of my personal favorites:

“Winter Rental” by Barbara Ross revolves around the idea of a small group of women time sharing a heated bungalow on Nantucket. While their gender may be the same, their places in life and purposes are very different.

Stephen D. Rogers can always be counted on for a good tale told well and “/KS” certainly fits the bill. Transcribing interview tapes of detectives may not be glamorous but the information provided can help.

Planning the harvest is not easy as Frank Cook observes in his story, “Liberty.” But, when it all comes together, the harvest can be bountiful and a beautiful thing.

“Disturbance in the Field” by Roberta Isleib proves that sometimes the cops just know things have been tampered with despite evidence to the contrary.

You just can’t judge things on appearance as S. A. Daynard skillfully points out in “The Good Samaritan.”

In “The Hechicera’s Ace” by John Russo lady luck isn’t all she is advertised to be.

Despite the planning, having a loan go bad simply isn’t acceptable in “Killer De-Termination” by Paula Mello.

Also contained in this strong anthology are stories from Norma Burrows, Catherine Cairns, John Clark, Kate Flora (editor), Judith Green, Janet Halpin, Woody Hanstein, Marilis Hornidge, Ruth M. McCarty (editor), Susan Oleksiw (editor), Carol Perry, Mary E. Stibal, John Urban, Kathleen Valentine and Leslie Wheeler. Each story is a good one and each author created a tale well worth reading.

The stories, in general, often are complex and feature characters living on the fringes that don’t quite fit into society. Coping with physical demons of both the mental and physical variety, the se characters are in a daily struggle to survive. Sometimes the outcomes are considerably more positive than in other cases though each story provides a sort of life lesson to the reader. Seasmoke: Crime Stories by New England Writers is a good anthology that showcases new and well published writers coming from a variety of viewpoints and styles and culminates in a good enjoyable read.


Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Reviewing: "Heroes Often Fail" by Frank Zafiro

Child kidnap as well as child molestation are themes that, as a reader, I stay away from and very rarely read. While I recognize for a writer they represent a vast emotional goldmine, I’m just not interested in reading such books. I read to be entertained. Not to be reminded of what we often see in our daily news. In this case, I made an exception because Frank Zafiro is one of those authors that one makes exceptions for.


Heroes Often Fail: A River City Novel
Frank Zafiro
http://www.frankzafiro.com/
Aisling Press
http://www.aislingpress.com/
2007
ISBN # 978-1-934677-16-2
Large Trade Paperback
260 Pages (Includes 8 Page Author Interview)
$13.95 US



The parental nightmares begin, as the often do, under clear skies and the promise of a new day early in the morning. It is March 15, 1995 as six year old girls Kendra and Amy walk to school like they have before and will walk home that afternoon like they have countless times before. That is until the van comes and slides to a stop next to them. They both freeze as a man leaps out of the van. He grabs Amy and Kendra runs knows the man could get her next. Instead, she gets away. The man in black didn’t get her but as the hunt begins for Amy, Kendra is filled with guilt.

At the River City Police shooting range, Stefan Kopriva is filled with pain as well as guilt. Having barely survived a shootout at the Circle K six months ago, Kopriva remains on light desk duty. Despite being shot three times he survived and now wonders what more he could have done then and when his reputation will return to what it was before the robber known as Scarface rocked River City, Washington. The six months since have been painful. Not only as his body struggles to heal but in the misplaced admiration by some and the misplaced hostility from other members of the small police force who feel he, at best, failed them. Powerful pain medications and a growing romance are the only things keeping him going as he hates the mind numbing routine of desk duty. He wants his old life back and a symbol of that is getting off the restrictions and back on the streets.

He gets it but not the way he wants. As news of the possible kidnapping spreads through the department, it becomes a classic all hands on deck situation with every person pressed into service. Kopriva, as well as the other men and women of the River City police force desperately try to find Amy knowing that as the hours and days pass the idea that it is a simple kidnapping for ransom is more and more unlikely. For little Amy, kidnapping is quickly the least of Amy’s worries.

Much of what happens regarding the child molestation in this well written but disturbing novel happens offstage. As such, scenes and images are created initially with a heavy emphasis on implied actions that are never described to the reader. As such, while not graphic or detailed, the implications and meanings of what is happening to Amy as well as what happens to another child in one of several secondary storylines are very clear and that material may disturb some readers.

With that being said, it should also be noted that this is a very good novel. Building on characters and events from the preceding novel “Under A Raging Moon” author Frank Zafiro has created a substantially more complex police procedural with multi layered characters, a rich setting, and plenty of action. It is clear that from a technical aspect this novel is superior in all aspects to his first novel which was very good in its own right. This novel is a step upwards and it is clear that Frank Zafiro is steadily improving his fictional game.

It is often said and assumed by many that an author’s second book will be weaker than the first. While that often is true, it certainly is not the case here. What is also true is the fact that we have to wait far too long till the fall of 2008 for the third River City novel “Beneath A Weeping Sky.”

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Barry's Reviews---"Next Of Kin"

Next of Kin (1982) by Mignon G. Eberhart
reviewed by Barry Ergang
This is the first novel I've ever read by Eberhart. This is the last novel I will ever read by Eberhart.



Requiring the most sustained act of willpower since that exercised when in my senior year of high school I had to plod through Silas Marner, this is the most exasperating excuse for a mystery novel I've ever had the displeasure of experiencing. I bought it from an e-Bay auction because it contains a locked room problem. About eighty pages into it, I seriously considered not bothering with it. The only reason I didn't was to see how the locked room business was solved.

In terms of reading time that could have been satisfactorily spent elsewhere, it was a mistake.

Mady Smith, the viewpoint character – I'm loath to call her the “heroine” because she's neither heroic nor much of a sleuth – is a young woman of wealth and privilege who has never done much. When former senator Stuart Channing is offered a Cabinet appointment, Mady hopes to be able to get some sort of job with him to fill the void in her life. She's quite enamored of Stuart's younger brother Hill Channing, a physics professor, whom everyone calls Chan and whom she's known for years strictly as a “friend.”

On Valentine's Day, to celebrate the ex-senator's future appointment, his wife Lettie, a childhood friend of Mady's whom Mady originally introduced to Stuart, throws a party at their luxurious New York apartment. Mady and Chan arrive late because of inclement weather, by which time the party is over. They discover that Stuart earlier had locked himself in his study to make some important phone calls and had not emerged. Chan's knocks elicit no responses from his brother. Using a key, he unlocks the door and finds Stuart slumped over his desk, dead from a gunshot to the back. The room is stiflingly hot, the thermostat having been set higher than the senator would have set it. The gun on the study floor is his brother's.

The cast of characters consists of Mady, Chan, Lettie, Mady's stepfather Clarence, Stuart's vanished secretary Nadine Hallowell, a lawyer named Larry Todd, and a couple of police detectives. About halfway through the book Lettie's uncle, who's been living in Australia for years, shows up. On page 195 of a 224-page book we're introduced to Lettie's mother and her mysterious, Middle Eastern second husband. The latter's role is crucial to the story's solution. Bringing him in at the last minute violates one of the basic tenets of good mystery writing.

There is virtually no detection to speak of in this story – and “story” is the apt word because like Silas Marner, this is a short story badly padded to novel-length. Unlike John Dickson Carr, for instance, in Patrick Butler for the Defence, Eberhart generates no great sense of urgency or suspense to keep matters interesting. “Action” consists mainly of people running from one home to another or Mady brooding about Chan, worrying that he's not interested in an amorous relationship with her and that his solicitousness towards his bereaved sister-in-law is motivated more by attraction than from a mutual sense of loss. Characters are defined by their physical features and manners of dress; the dialogue doesn't differentiate them because they all sound alike – including the cops. If you're one of those readers who gets annoyed with Carr's habit of breaking off unfinished sentences, you'll be apoplectic with Eberhart's. Carr did it for dramatic effect and to keep the reader plunging ahead. Eberhart uses the device ad nauseum, doing nothing to advance either the story or the characterizations.

The characters rehash the same information over and over again – endlessly, it seemed to me – as though the author were just trying to fill pages rather than advance the plot. If two people discuss something in one chapter, you can be sure that a few chapters later one of them will tell the same thing to another character.

Both in narrative and dialogue, Eberhart's favorite word is “lovely.” The hardcover edition, published in 1982, sold for $10.50. If you had a nickel for every time she used “lovely,” you could pay for the book, sales tax included, and still have several dollars left to pocket.

By the time I reached the last page, I didn't care who did it – I just wanted it to be over so I could find something good to read. The final revelations aren't as surprising as they're meant to be, and my irritation was intensified by Chan's mention of clues he spotted that told him the murderer's identity in the early chapters. It only reinforced my notion that this story could have been told effectively in a much shorter form.

Oh – that locked room “puzzle”? It's barely touched on or pondered by anyone, police included, and its simple solution is glossed over in Chan's explanation.

Why Eberhart received the Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award is the biggest mystery of all.



For more on this review as well as the Golden Age be sure to check out the Golden Age Wiki at
http://gadetection.pbwiki.com/Next+of+Kin


Barry Ergang © 2003, 2007

Friday, October 19, 2007

Barry's Reviews---"Wilders Walk Away"

Wilders Walk Away (1948) by Herbert Brean
reviewed by Barry Ergang




Former newspaper reporter turned freelance photojournalist Reynold Frame travels to the village of Wilders Lane, Vermont to get a story and steps back in time. Figuratively, that is, because Wilders Lane has been restored to its pre-Revolutionary War look.

The village is named after its oldest family, the Wilders, whose history is pocked with inexplicable, seemingly impossible disappearances starting with Jonathan's in 1775 and extending forward to the novel's mid-20th Century present. The vanishings have given rise to a chant known to everyone in Wilders Lane and surrounding areas:

"Other people die of mumps
Or general decay,
Of fevers, chills, or other ills,
But Wilders walk away."

In search of lodging, Frame goes to the restored home of the lovely Constance Wilder, her sister Ellen, and their Aunt Mary. As he arrives, Ellen emerges from the house carrying a suitcase. She's been invited to visit another aunt. Frame gallantly lugs the heavy suitcase to the bus stop for her, then returns to the house where he strikes an agreement with Constance to rent a room for a week.

Later that night, there are suspicions that Ellen has "walked away." Her mysterious vanishment is of brief duration, however, because Reynold Frame finds her murdered body in a freshly dug grave. This in turn leads to the discovery of Constance and Ellen's father's body, also clearly the victim of a murderer. A year or so earlier, at his office, Fred Wilder walked into a storeroom under observation from outside—and disappeared.

A day or two later, at the Wilder home, Aunt Mary leaves Frame and Constance at the dining table, goes into the kitchen to fetch dessert, and vanishes.

Smitten with Constance and possessed of the reporter's inextinguishable curiosity, Frame is inexorably drawn into the investigation. As the situation deepens, he manages to solve the "walkaways" of the past as well as those of the present, and ultimately identifies the present-day murderer.

Although I employed more intuition and guesswork than deduction a la Frame, I found it relatively easy to identify the murderer. In spite of that, I enjoyed the book a great deal thanks to Brean's unerring pace and construction.

Brean was undoubtedly influenced by John Dickson Carr, as his sense of history and penchant for the "impossible situation" attest. His writing style is much leaner and his atmospheric effects more understated than JDC's, but he can be quite engrossing nonetheless. For a little while I thought I'd found in Wilders Walk Away a companion to The Three Coffins and Rim of the Pit for ultimate greatness. That degree of feeling didn't sustain itself, but I can still recommend Wilders enthusiastically. It's even better than Brean's The Traces of Brillhart, which I read a few weeks before.

Brean's work is long out of print, so those who are curious will have to try e-Bay, Half.com, and ABE.books as I did. I have two other Reynold Frame novels, Hardly A Man Is Now Alive and The Clock Strikes Thirteen, to read, along with a non-Frame police novel that appears to be more thriller than whodunit called Dead Sure (original title Matter of Fact). I'll report accordingly.


For more on this book as well as the Golden Age, follow the link
http://gadetection.pbwiki.com/Wilders-Walk-Away-?doneSave=1 to the Golden Age Wiki.


Barry Ergang © 2003, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Barry's Reviews; " Hardly A Man Is Now Alive"

Hardly A Man Is Now Alive (1952) by Herbert Brean
reviewed by Barry Ergang




On the drive to Concord, Massachusetts, photojournalist Reynold Frame and his fianceé Constance Wilder (whom Frame first met in Wilders Walk Away) want nothing more than to get married and go on their honeymoon. Frame has but one other task to complete while he's there: photograph a visiting professor of American history, Dr. Vann, at one of the sites pertinent to the Revolutionary War for a magazine article.

Frame and Connie are to be married by Concord's "patriarch," 104-year-old John Annandale, who learned first-hand during his boyhood about the battle that began the Revolution from one of the combatants who also lived to a ripe old age.

The couple are supposed to be staying at the home of Connie's aunt and uncle, Kate and Bowler Eliot, who have hired decorators to redo some of the rooms. The one intended for Frame has a newly varnished, still tacky floor, rendering it temporarily uninhabitable. The local Colonial Inn having no vacancies, Kate and Bowler have arranged with their neighbors the Satterthwaites, who often take in roomers, to put Frame up for the next two days.

Upon arriving at the Satterthwaite home, besides meeting Tom and his flirtatious (albeit engaged) daughter Retty, Frame encounters two fellow roomers, a history professor named Humphrey Hobbes and a spiritualist named Maria Carswell. The latter desperately wants to swap rooms with Frame, who has been given the room in which Percy Nightingale, a mortally-wounded British soldier, died during the battle of Concord. Frame, tired from his drive and irritated by Carswell's manner, refuses. He retains his assigned room, goes to bed, and is awakened in the middle of the night by the presence of a lamp burning in his room—a so-called "Betty lamp," the one that burned there on the night of the British officer's death and which was not there when Frame first entered the room. Frame extinguishes the lamp and goes back to sleep. When he awakens in the morning, the lamp is gone.

This is the first of two "ghostly" manifestations he must contend with. The other is the sound of soldiers marching to fife and drum, a sound which chills him until he ultimately manages to explain its source.

Frame learns from Tom Satterthwaite that his room's previous tenant was an academic named J.J. Walmsley from the University of Chicago. A month or so earlier, Walmsley apparently skipped out under seemingly impossible circumstances, sticking Satterthwaite with an unpaid bill of seventy-five dollars. Shortly thereafter, Frame and Connie discover Walmsley's body in the well in back of the Satterthwaite home.

Not too long after, John Annandale, who has gone out with Professor Vann to answer some historical questions, vanishes. Frame, reluctant despite his proclivity for mysteries to get involved in a murder and kidnapping case, is thus compelled to get to the bottom of things and find Annandale so that the latter can perform the marriage ceremony as planned.

I think John Dickson Carr would have liked this book. For all I know, he did like it, because it was published during his lifetime. It combines an historical mystery—which Frame solves—with a modern one. It contains some wonderfully eerie moments. It's fairly clued. It's well-constructed and well-paced.

Although I solved it instinctively rather than deductively, and with relative ease, I strongly recommend it—if you can find a copy, because it's long out-of-print.



For more on the Golden Age Wiki or this review, please follow the link:
http://gadetection.pbwiki.com/Hardly-A-Man-Is-Now-Alive-?doneSave=1

Barry Ergang © 2003, 2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Barry's Reviews: "The Clock Strikes Thirteen"

The Clock Strikes Thirteen (1954) by Herbert Brean
reviewed by Barry Ergang




"When And Then There Were None meets The Satan Bug"--that's the kind of cover blurb this fast-paced whodunit might have received except that, although it post-dates the former, it pre-dates the latter.

Freelance journalist/photographer Reynold Frame, hero of several other Brean titles, gets a middle-of-the-night call from a magazine editor telling him to be ready to board a plane for Maine at 10 a.m. Frame is excited because, although the story is being written by someone else, he hopes the assignment will enable him to prove his photographic skills. He's replacing a photographer of Russian descent who doesn't have the security clearance necessary for the job.

Upon landing in Portland, Maine, Frame is met by Army Major Harry Geddes and driven to the town of Pethwick. From there they board a boat manned by elderly lobsterman Jonas Kilgore, who takes them twenty-four miles offshore to Kilgore Island, a desolate rock in the Atlantic he used to own.

The island is presently owned by Dr. North Wayland, a bacteriologist--and skilled surgeon before a personal tragedy deprived him of the necessary steadiness--who worked for the government at Fort Detrick in Maryland during WWII. Wayland bought the island to continue his researches privately, albeit with governmental security provided by Major Geddes.

Dropped off by Jonas at Kilgore Island, Frame meets Wayland, his research staff, the magazine writer, and Wayland's housekeeper and her peculiar son. After dinner, Wayland takes Frame to visit his laboratory and show him what he'll be photographing. Everyone's curiosity is aroused because the scientist has been secretive about some work he's been doing on his own. They know only that it involves a biological warfare agent.

Leaving Frame in the lab, Wayland goes off to retrieve something he wants to show the photographer. A moment later Frame hears some sort of hubbub. When he investigates, he finds the scientist dead--stabbed--and with broken Petri dishes and bits of agar scattered around his body. Frame alerts the others, and Major Geddes decides he's the prime suspect.

What follows is both detective story and thriller, as Frame tries to determine the identity of the real murderer and the isolated group on the island try to survive in the wake of what might be an outbreak of a deadly biological agent set loose during the murder.

Though it lacks the impossible crimes of Brean's excellent Wilders Walk Away and the eerie atmospheric touches of Hardly A Man Is Now Alive, The Clock Strikes Thirteen is recommended to mystery readers who like their puzzles mixed with action and high-tension suspense.

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As always, for more information on the Golden Age of Mystery and on this review follow the link to GA Detection Wiki at
http://gadetection.pbwiki.com/The%20Clock%20Strikes%20Thirteen


Barry Ergang © 2007

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Barry's Reviews--"Catspaw Ordeal"

CATSPAW ORDEAL (1950) by Edward Ronns (a.k.a. Edward S. Aarons)
reviewed by Barry Ergang



Edward S. Aarons, best known for his Sam Durell Assignment series of paperback originals, may not have been a great writer by the purest of literary standards, or by the standards set by more prominent mystery and suspense novelists, but he was a first-rate storyteller.

Catspaw Ordeal is among the mystery thrillers he wrote under the pseudonym Edward Ronns. It deals with one Daniel Archer, a man who would seem to have it all, but whose dissatisfaction with the good life in Southwich, Connecticut has led to the possible dissolution of his marriage and reveries about his more adventurous past—reveries which involve old flame Della Chambers and the late Burke Wiley, his shipmate aboard the Martin J. Crump on which Archer served as radioman, who died when the ship was torpedoed.

The novel opens with Archer getting himself drunk in a local watering hole when the bar's owner tells him there's a man who's been asking about him. Archer confronts the man, one Skit Moore, who might be either a private detective hired by Archer's estranged wife Rosalind or some sort of petty hoodlum. A brawl erupts between them which sets the story in motion.

Archer later discovers Moore in his—Archer's—home, bludgeoned to death, and circumstances compel him to help dispose of the body. Among other surprises, figures from his past, including Della Chambers, resurface to complicate matters, as well as his brother-in-law and business partner Stanley Manning, their secretary Louise Camp, the coldly criminous Clem Holloway, and Holloway's daughter Lisbeth. Much like an unwitting hero out of a Hitchcock film, Archer must dodge the police long enough to solve Moore's murder, dodge someone who would murder him, and thwart a criminal scheme with national and international ramifications.

Many years ago I read but no longer have a number of the Sam Durell espionage novels. Like those, Catspaw Ordeal is rapid-fire reading with plenty of action and suspense throughout. Unlike them, it's also a fairly-clued whodunit—though since it's populated with so many unsavory characters, a number of whom get their comeuppances before the final revelation, most experienced readers won't find it difficult to solve even if they do so by pure guesswork. Read strictly as a detective story it will likely prove disappointing. Read as a fast-paced, sometimes noirish adventure story with the bonus of a whodunit aspect, it's very satisfying.

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As always, for more information on the Golden Age of Mystery and on this review (especially a misleading novel cover), follow the link to GA Detection Wiki at http://tinyurl.com/yp3j6r



Barry Ergang © 2007

Monday, October 15, 2007

Currently Reading

My bookmark is deep into "HEROES OFTEN FAIL" by Frank Zafiro. This is the second in his books set in the fictional "River City" and this one deals with child abduction. Not a topic that I normally deal with. I made an exception for Frank Zafiro becuase I have enjoyed his various works before and he is a talented author.

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2007

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Barry's Reviews--"The Case Of The Baker Street Irregulars"

THE CASE OF THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS (1940) by Anthony Boucher
reviewed by Barry Ergang



Mystery lovers who haven't read it will probably find The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars by Anthony Boucher a lot of fun. It combines bizarre situations, action, humor, lively and intelligent prose, and the advancement of several plausible solutions before the actual one is revealed.

Stephen Worth, ex-private detective turned hardboiled mystery novelist and sometime screenwriter under contract to Metropolis Pictures, is supposed to write a screen adaptation of “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” which will be produced by F.X. Weinberg. When word of this makes the newspapers, Weinberg starts receiving irate letters from the Baker Street Irregulars. The want the screenplay entrusted to someone who reveres the Canon as they do, not a “rat,” as they refer to Worth, who writes hardboiled fare. For his part, Worth contemptuously dismisses the BSI as a bunch of “deductionists.” The studio's publicity director, Maureen O'Breen, who has no liking for Worth, a heavy-drinking lecher and prankster, suggests that Weinberg simply take him off the film and assign another writer. When Weinberg tries to persuade Worth to work on a different project, Worth balks at the idea and points to a contractual clause that effectively prevents him from being replaced involuntarily. From his position between rock and hard place, Weinberg hits on a solution and sends letters to each of the five Irregulars who have written to him, inviting them to Hollywood at his expense to serve as advisors on the film. When they agree, the studio provides a house for them at 221B Romualdo Drive, complete with a housekeeper named Mrs. Hudson.

To help tout the film, Maureen plans a party for the press. On the afternoon of the party, Maureen, trying to coordinate the preparations at 221B, is besieged by mysterious callers, messages, and telephone calls. Once things are under way, Stephen Worth makes a drunken, belligerent appearance. When he tries to hit one of the Irregulars, his wild swing hits instead one of the guests, Lieutenant Jackson of the police department. Jackson knocks him cold and he and some others carry Worth to a room upstairs to sleep it off. That ends the party. Later on, Maureen goes upstairs and finds a still drunk and abusive Worth standing in the doorway of the room. Moments later she hears a shot, blood blossoms under the hand Worth claps to his heart, and he falls back into the darkened room. When she bends to help him, something strikes the back of her head, rendering her unconscious. One of the Sherlockians carries her downstairs. When she revives and reports what's happened, Lieutenant Jackson goes to investigate.

There's a lot of blood in the room. There are other significant things there, too. There just isn't any corpse. The next day, each of the Irregulars has a peculiar, sometimes frightening adventure. Each adventure has its roots in a Holmes story, and each elicits information about another Irregular which he'd prefer not be revealed. The police and the Sherlockians thus have their hands full trying to unravel codes and ciphers, interpret the meaning of the adventures, and discover the whereabouts of Worth's body and the means by which it was removed from the house. There's a cover blurb from the New York Times Book Review on the paperback edition I have which reads, “Delightful...offers a surprise on nearly every page.”

This brings me to the only complaint I have about the book—the edition. Mine was published by Carroll & Graf. I'm not sure about the number of pages containing surprises, but this particular book must have been proofread by someone whose idea of intellectual activity is dwarf-tossing. Even by C&G standards, which generally seem to be abysmal in the typographical error department, this one qualifies for the Guinness Book of World Records. By all means read the book. Just avoid the Carroll & Graf edition if you have options.

As always, for more information on the Golden Age of Mystery and on this review, follow the link to the GA Detection Wiki at http://tinyurl.com/2c6um9



Barry Ergang © 2003, 2007

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Barry's Reviews---Mr. Monk Goes To The Firehouse

MR. MONK GOES TO THE FIREHOUSE by Lee Goldberg
Signet Books, January 2006
ISBN 0-451-21729-2
$6.99

Reviewed by Barry Ergang




“Defective” detectives are not new to mystery fiction. Decades ago, Baynard Kendrick wrote a number of novels about blind private detective Duncan Maclain, who was also featured in some “B” movies and who, allegedly, was the basis for the TV series “Longstreet.” Pulp magazines abounded with sleuths who suffered from physical and emotional ailments and impairments: amnesia, hemophilia, even literal facelessness. D.L. Champion’s legless Inspector Allhoff may have inspired TV’s paraplegic “Ironside.” More modern examples include Michael Collins’s one-armed Dan Fortune; George C. Chesbro’s dwarf detective, Dr. Robert “Mongo” Frederickson; and Jeffery Deaver’s paralyzed Lincoln Rhyme.

None has captured the public’s attention the way the USA Network’s Adrian Monk has.

The obsessive-compulsive, multi-phobic Monk combines Sherlock Holmes’ skill for observing the minute details of everyday life the rest of us miss with a childlike innocence and incomprehension of the way most of the world operates. A former San Francisco Police Department homicide detective whose tics became more extreme after his wife was murdered, he now works as a private detective and, most frequently, as a paid consultant to the SFPD, usually at the behest of his friend Captain Leland Stottlemeyer.

Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse is the first in a series of original paperbacks based on the TV series. Lee Goldberg was a writer for and executive producer of “Diagnosis Murder” and has written novels based on that program plus The Man With the Iron-On Badge (Five Star). He has written several episodes of “Monk,” and so is very familiar with the series’ format and recurring characters.

The novel is narrated by Monk’s assistant, Natalie Teeger, the widowed mother of a twelve-year-old daughter. Events begin when Monk’s apartment building is scheduled to be tented and fumigated for termites—that Monk himself discovered: “He spotted a pinprick-sized hole in a piece of siding and knew it was fresh. He knew because he keeps track of all the irregularities in the siding.” When Natalie asks him why, he answers, “Doesn’t everybody?”

Knowing he won’t be able to deal with staying at a hotel for the duration, Natalie invites him to move in with her and her daughter Julie, and Monk accepts. Julie is upset when she learns that Sparky, the local firehouse dog Firefighter Joe annually brings to school with him when he lectures on fire safety, has been brutally murdered by a person unknown. Monk promises Julie he’ll uncover the killer.

His investigation takes him to the scene of a house fire in which a chain-smoking woman named Esther Stoval has died, apparently the victim of her own carelessness. Monk quickly determines she was murdered, and soon after realizes that her death and Sparky’s are connected.

The “Monk” television mysteries usually fall into one of two types: the whodunit, in which there are multiple suspects and the viewer can compete with Monk to spot the clues that identify the culprit; and the inverted detective story, in which the viewer knows from the outset who the killer is and can compete with Monk to spot the clues that will lead to his or her arrest. A sub-category of both types is the case in which the murderer has a seemingly unbreakable alibi Monk must see through to effect an arrest.

Halfway through the novel, after interrogating a number of suspects who have solid reasons to want Esther Stoval dead, Monk determines which of them is the murderer. Breaking that person’s alibi proves harrowing if not impossible: the second half of the book requires him to track down the piece of damning physical evidence that will convict the murderer. He faces the daunting—and comical—task of wading through the city’s garbage dump to try to find it.

Along the way, with an unassuming brilliance and humility foreign to Sherlock Holmes, Monk solves a number of unrelated murders.

The “Monk” TV scripts, because of time constraints, often subordinate mystery to humor. In Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse, Lee Goldberg neatly balances conundrums and comedy in a dishy, informal, treat-the-reader-as-confidant style. The novel is far from the greatest detective story ever written, but fans of the TV series will probably enjoy it, and those who read it without ever having seen broadcast episodes may become regular viewers.

Originally published in Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, May/June 2006



Barry Ergang © 2006, 2007

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Reviewing: "Fit to Die: A Supper Club Mystery"

Fit to Die: A Supper Club Mystery
By J. B. Stanley
http://.www.jbstanley.com/
April 2007
Midnight Ink
ISBN 978-0-7387-1067-9
Large Trade Paperback
ARC




This second book in the supper club mystery series brings readers back to the small town of Quincy's Gap, Virginia. Home of James Henry, Lucy, (who is an object of romance for Henry if he can just work up his nerve) Lindy, Gillian and Bennett who together are known as the Flab Five. For the group food and dieting is a constant issue. The recent holidays were less than helpful and with spring in the air, they all know that they need to work on their diets.

As it happens, Veronica Levitt has moved to their town and is about to open "Witness to Fitness." Combining exercise and foods bought through her, the persuasive and vibrant Veronica "Ronnie" Levitt promises to make the Flab Five leaner, stronger and definably sexier within the next six weeks. All they, and her other customers have to do is join her program at "Witness to Fitness" by eating her food, keeping a food journal, attending counseling and weighting sessions and attending at least three exercise classes a week and it isn't going to be cheap. Not only will it cost serious money there are absolutely no refunds.

Also new to Quincy's Gap is Willy Kendrick who owns and operates the new "Chilly Willy's Polar Pagoda." Willy intends to sell all types of detectable ice creams and treats which sets him quickly at odds with various parties including Veronica Levitt. Then there is the shape of his building and his t-shirts that have a clever marketing slogan. Both sit wrong with other parties who also make their displeasure known.

Before long, constant discussions of food make way for discussions of arson and murder, the Flab Five begin once more to investigate and put themselves in harm's way.

Featuring several secondary storylines, this cozy style mystery is very slow to get going. Much of the first half of the book is taken up constant discussion and consideration of food and dieting. Virtually every paragraph covers something good to eat, motivation to diet, how hard it is to diet, etc. Much like late night television where commercial after commercial announces tempting choices at this fast food restaurant or other (open later that ever before thank you very much) there is constant repetition about food bordering on obsession. Unlike late night TV where one can temporarily escape by changing channels, there is no escape here short of closing the book.

It is only after crimes have happened and authorities don't seem to have any basic curiosity into matters that the characters finally show that they have quite a lot going on besides food obsessions. Directly because of their interest and pursuit of justice, matters are finally resolved in classic style where all is explained to the group at the end and order has been once more restored.

The result is an entertaining read though difficult to stomach for those of us who do suffer the joys and perils of dieting. The characters are interesting and real, the case is interesting though rather obvious to seasoned readers, and ultimately happily resolved in the way preferred by cozy readers everywhere. Depending on your personal reading tastes, this might just hit the spot or be a little too sweet and sugary.


Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Barry's Review: "KIRINYAGA: A FABLE OF UTOPIA" by Mike Resnick

KIRINYAGA: A FABLE OF UTOPIA by Mike Resnick
reviewed by Barry Ergang



Among all of the highly readable, intelligent and well-crafted novels Mike Resnick has written, I have three favorites: Walpurgis III, The Dark Lady, and the book under consideration here: Kirinyaga: A Fable of Utopia (Del Rey/Ballantine, 1998).

Although Resnick considers it a novel, it developed from a short story he was asked to write by Orson Scott Card for an anthology about future Utopian societies. “Because of my love for Africa,” Resnick explains in an afterword, “and my knowledge of East Africa in particular, I chose to write about a Kikuyu Utopia. The story was ‘Kirinyaga,’ and I handed it to Scott at the 1987 World Science Fiction Convention in Brighton, England, where I stopped for a few days on my way down to Kenya for another safari....

“...Even before Scott let me know he was buying it, I took my Kenya safari--and a strange thing happened. Maybe it was because I had just written ‘Kirinyaga’ a couple of weeks earlier and it was still fresh in my mind, maybe it was because my subconscious is a lot smarter than my conscious mind, but whatever the reason, I realized that ‘Kirinyaga’ was not a stand-alone story, but rather the first chapter in a book....

“I decided to write the book a chapter at a time, and to sell each chapter as a short story...but never to lose sight of the fact that these stories were really chapters in a novel, which, when completed, would build to a climax as a novel does, and have a coda after the climax, as so many of my own novels do.”

Spanning the period from 2123 to 2137, Kirinyaga is narrated by Koriba, a man of Kikuyu descent who was educated at Cambridge and Yale, who reveres what Kenya and his culture was and has come to reject what it has become:

“In the beginning, Ngai lived alone atop the mountain called Kirinyaga. In the fullness of time He created three sons, who became the fathers of the Maasai, the Kamba, and the Kikuyu races, and to each son He offered a spear, a bow, and a digging stick. The Maasai chose the spear, and was told to tend herds on the vast savannah. The Kamba chose the bow, and was sent to the dense forests to hunt for game. But Gikuyu, the first Kikuyu, knew that Ngai loved the earth and the seasons, and chose the digging stick. To reward him for this Ngai not only taught him the secrets of the seed and the harvest, but gave him Kirinyaga, with its holy fig tree and rich lands.

“The sons and daughters of Gikuyu remained on Kirinyaga until the white man came and took their lands away, and even when the white man had been banished they did not return, but chose to remain in the cities, wearing Western clothes and using Western machines and living Western lives. Even I, who am a mundumugu--a witch doctor--was born in the city. I have never seen the lion or the elephant or the rhinoceros, for all of them were extinct before my birth; nor have I seen Kirinyaga as Ngai meant it to be seen, for a bustling, overcrowded city of three million inhabitants covers its slopes, every year approaching closer and closer to Ngai’s throne at the summit. Even the Kikuyu have forgotten its true name, and now know it only as Mount Kenya.”

Along with a group of like-minded people, Koriba leaves Earth to live on a chartered, terraformed planetoid called Kirinyaga, where he reverts to the old ways of the Kikuyu. As their mundumugu, he’s the repository of the collected wisdom and customs of the tribe, living alone and apart from the rest but participating daily in their lives, the most feared and venerated among them--feared even by Koinnage, the paramount chief. Only Koriba possesses the computer that allows him to communicate with Maintenance, which can change the orbit of Kirinyaga to maintain or alter climatic conditions. Koriba uses this facility, unknown to his people, to his own advantage, bringing rain or drought as he sees fit, often to fulfill his own prophecies and prayers to Ngai.

Each chapter presents Koriba with a new problem that threatens the Utopia he and the others have created. Invoking tribal laws with a fanatical stringency, he tries to find solutions. Not all of the solutions are happy ones, but Koriba is determined to prevent any change that will corrupt tradition, even if it means bettering his people’s lot--by what he sees as European standards. Ultimately he is forced to realize that change in a society is inevitable, that inherent in the concept of Utopia is stasis and stagnation, and that one man’s idea of perfection can be another’s agony. Resnick’s artistry lies in portraying Koriba’s fanaticism so that the reader is simultaneously repelled by and sympathetic to it. He and the other characters, and the problems that befall them because of the society they’ve created, will resonate in the reader’s mind long after the book has been put down.

Easily Mike Resnick’s finest work, Kirinyaga is, to date, the most honored book in the history of science fiction. Read it, and you’ll understand why.


Originally published in Maelstrom, Vol. II, Issue 2, 1999

Barry Ergang © 1999, 2007

Monday, October 08, 2007

It really is "A Dirty Business"

The problem with reviewing is often more books come than I have time to do in a timely manner. This was the case here as this book arrived just after the start of the year and as the weeks passed got shuffled down to the bottom of the pile. That is never a good thing to happen and certainly not here as this is a very good book.

A Dirty Business: A Kevin Bailey Novel
By Joe Humphrey
DaKarna Publishing
http://www.dakarna.com/
2007
ISBN #978-0-9787871-0-3
Large Trade Paperback
184 Pages


Kevin Bailey is back in New York City after a year of being away and nothing much has changed except him. The second of January finds him in need of a job. He uses a connection, calls in a favor and before long by being in the right place at the right time, (despite his total non-experience and maybe directly because of it) he is quickly working for Frank Givens. Givens owns a private investigation agency and Kevin Bailey plans on learning the business from him.

While he gradually reconnects with his past, Bailey is eased into his first case. It is supposed to be a simple one perfect for a novice investigator. Selena Eldridge is a wealthy woman and has a son named Edward. Edwards intends to marry and the lucky woman is one that his mother feels strongly is below their station in life. Mom says that the woman is, “…of a different social class, and I suspect she has designs on our fortune. Look into any dealings her family has been involved with, and unearth as many damaging secrets as you can manage. But stop at nothing until the full truth concerning this woman is in the open.” (Page 26)

Givens takes the case and assigns Bailey to it as it should be something easily handled by him. Before long, Bailey is chasing clues, getting beaten up, and getting nowhere with the case in this fast paced mystery reminiscent of classic mystery novels. Bailey himself is an interesting character with little revealed but a lot hinted at and a determination to resolve issues from the past that are never really disclosed. Bailey seems to be carrying a load of personal guilt but the reasons why or what happened are never explained. Then there are the secondary characters such as Givens who also have a lot of potential should this series go forward and at the same time manage not to take over the novel.

The result is an engrossing 184 page read that reminds one of the style and tone of the class mystery novels and yet is clearly set in current times. Along the way, Bailey hints about his past and chases clues in a case that constantly twists and turns surprising Bailey and the reader. The book is a very good read that when finished leaves the reader eagerly anticipating another installment in the series.


Kevin R. Tipple © 2007




Sunday, October 07, 2007

What I'm Reading

My bookmark recently traveled through A DIRTY BUSINESS by Joe Humphrey and FIT TO DIE: A SUPPER CLUB MYSTERY by J. B Stanley (reviews coming soon) and is currently in THE CLEANER by Brett Battles. THE CLEANER is about an operative named Quinn who is on the run after a number of his fellow operatives have been killed.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Barry"s Review: "Lucky You" by Carl Hiassen

I'm pleased to present Barry's second review which is on the novel "Lucky You" by Carl Hiassen. This is exactly the kind of situation I had in mind when I asked Barry to contribute here. The truth of the matter is I don't think I have read any of the other authors he lists below. Which isn't good since my TBR pile is quite large enough. I have read two of Carl Hiassen's novels and neither really appealed to me. I have no desire to read another. Obviously, Barry would disagree.
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LUCKY YOU by Carl Hiaasen
(Reviewed By Barry Ergang)





“Suspense” is one of those words that, in fiction, we probably take too much for granted as implying apprehension and associate purely with the sinister. We expect to experience suspense when reading a mystery, horror, science fiction or adventure story, but we forget that it can enter into even the homiest of tales--e.g., Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, unlikely as it would seem one of the most suspenseful novels ever. Ultimately, any good story contains an element of suspense or we wouldn’t bother reading it to the end. “Suspense” equals “page-turner,” whether the author is Homer, Dante, Dostoevsky, Raymond Chandler or Stephen King.

Where does suspense enter into comedy? A joke is a perfect example. You listen intently, waiting for the punchline, sometimes anticipating it, sometimes only thinking you’ve anticipated it correctly. If the punchline delivers the goods, you laugh; if it doesn’t, you remain silent--or groan.

Can a mystery or crime novel be both funny and suspenseful? All you have to do to answer that is read one of Jonathan Latimer’s Bill Crane novels, or Craig Rice’s novels and stories about John J. Malone. Even John Dickson Carr (a.k.a. Carter Dickson), best-known for the eerie atmospheres that surrounded his “impossible crime” tales, occasionally injected some wacky humor into otherwise macabre proceedings. Donald E. Westlake, in God Save the Mark, The Hot Rock and many others, has shown that the criminous can be comical.

Which brings us to Carl Hiaasen, who may be as good as comedic suspense writers get, and his recent book Lucky You (Alfred A. Knopf, 1997; Warner Books, 1998). It’s a page-turning good time that’ll have you smiling and occasionally laughing out loud. The only problem Hiaasen elicits is the conflict between wanting to devour his books in one or two sittings versus wanting to savor the hilarity over a period of days.

Lucky You starts when a young black woman, JoLayne Lucks, a veterinary assistant in the small town of Grange, Florida, learns that she’s won the state lottery to the tune of $28 million. With her winnings, she hopes to purchase a tract of land called Simmons Wood before developers do, to prevent it from being transformed into a shopping mall. What she doesn’t know is that there’s another winner, a white supremacist wannabe named Bodean Gazzer, who has enlisted the dubious assistance of the glue-sniffing, aerosol-huffing misfit Onus Dean Gillespie, who goes by the monicker Chub. Bodean intends to steal JoLayne’s ticket, $14 million not being enough to fund his newly founded organization, the White Clarion Aryans.

Tom Krome, formerly an investigative reporter for a New York paper that downsized its staff, and now working as a feature writer for a small Florida paper called The Register, is assigned to interview the reticent JoLayne. When she’s robbed, beaten and humiliated by Bodean and Chub, Krome decides to help her recover her ticket.

That’s how the book starts.

Deliciously complicating matters are various bizarre subplots and characters, among them Mary Andrea Finlay Krome, Tom’s wife, whom he’s been trying to divorce for years and who keeps eluding his attempts to do so; Katie Battenkill, with whom Tom has had a two-week affair; Judge Arthur Battenkill, Katie’s philandering but vindictive husband, who dispatches an inept assistant to burn Tom’s house down; Sinclair, Tom’s managing editor, who has a religious revelation in Grange and begins “speaking in tongues” after he holds a turtle whose shell is painted with the image of one of the Apostles--painted by Demencio, an entrepreneur who preys on the devotions of the ultra-religious by creating and perpetuating roadside miracles--among them a statue of the Virgin Mary that weeps perfume-scented tears; Dominick Amador, the incompetent builder who cashes in on the religious trade by drilling holes in his hands and feet to create “stigmata”; Shiner, the convenience store clerk recruited by Bodean and Chub and assigned by Chub to kidnap the love of his life: Amber, the canny waitress at Hooters; and Bernard Squires, investment manager for the Central Midwest Brotherhood of Grouters, Spacklers and Drywallers International, sent to Grange by Richard “The Icepick” Tarbone, who is skimming the union’s pension fund, to purchase under any circumstances the same tract of land JoLayne wants to preserve.

Hiaasen, himself an investigative reporter for the Miami Herald (which makes one wonder what kinds of people he’s encountered in real-life, and whether some of them find their ways into his books), skillfully blends these characters and situations into a plausible sequence of comic and not-so-comic events in a way that will keep you turning the pages to find out what happens next. Like Swift, Twain and Thurber, all of whom he’s been compared to, Hiaasen has a satirical take on contemporary life; like Dickens, he has a knack for rendering outlandish characters so as to make them goofily believable. Even his villains, if hardly likeable, are fascinating to watch.

If you haven’t read Hiaasen, whose previous novels--Tourist Season, Double Whammy, Skin Tight, Native Tongue, Strip Tease (the book is infinitely better than the movie!), and Stormy Weather--are all eminently worth your time, Lucky You is a wonderful place to start. If you have read him but haven’t gotten to this one as yet, you’re in for a laugh-peppered treat rich with subtle social commentary that never hinders the pace.

Still doubt that comedy can be suspenseful? Lucky you: you can dispel the doubts by reading Lucky You.


(Originally published in Maelstrom, Volume II, Issue 4, 1999)




Barry Ergang © 1999, 2007

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Barry would like to remind readers that most of his reviews cover books that are no longer in print and may be found in used bookstores, libraries, etc. For those readers who would like to learn more about the Golden Age of Mystery go to the GA DETECTION WIKI at http://gadetection.pbwiki.com/

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THE LONG GOODBYE by Raymond Chandler
(Reviewed By Barry Ergang)

Mark Twain defined a classic as “a book which people praise and don't read.” The point is well-made, although Twain was fortunately wrong. People still read Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and The Prince and the Pauper.

They still read Raymond Chandler, too. Chandler, along with Dashiell Hammett and Ross Macdonald, is the chronological second in the Supreme Triumvirate of the “hardboiled” school of mystery writing. All three worked in what was long considered a second-rate genre and elevated it to the status of “serious literature.” Chandler garnered accolades from, among others, cantankerous critic Edmund Wilson and poet W.H. Auden. In his first five novels, Chandler worked within the traditions of the genre but added his own distinctive touches. These included character development well beyond that found in the work of most of his peers and a writing style that was among the most influential of the Twentieth Century. Critics have called Chandler's style “the poetry of violence,” and Chandler “the hardboiled Shakespeare.”

Wisecracks and wry social commentary came from Philip Marlowe, the cynical but never quite despairing shamus with the unstated but steadfast code of honor and incorruptible character in a morally ambiguous world where chivalrous behavior no longer matters, whose brisk, simile-laden first-person narratives set the tone for generations of Chandler's/Marlowe's followers. (The best include Earl Emerson's Thomas Black and Stephen Greenleaf's John Marshall Tanner. The worst is the pretentious Robert B. Parker's Spenser, the Philip Marlowe wannabe with the New England pallor.) Marlowe was not the first private eye in literature, but he became the quintessential one. In his sixth book, The Long Goodbye, Chandler pushed beyond the boundaries of genre conventions. More than either his predecessor Hammett or his successor Macdonald, Chandler succeeded in blending elements of the hardboiled detective story with elements of the mainstream novel. The reader who approaches The Long Goodbye expecting lots of slugfests and gunplay will be disappointed.

There is action, certainly, but not in the quantities found in earlier Chandlers--The Big Sleep; Farewell, My Lovely; The High Window; The Lady in the Lake; The Little Sister--or in Mickey Spillane and Ian Fleming. The Long Goodbye should be approached as a novel that happens to deal with Philip Marlowe, who happens to be a private detective, and who happens to get involved in a murder case. Thematically it is much more. It is the story of a man who tries to do the right thing from deeply felt loyalty and conviction, who is punished and betrayed for his efforts. The story begins when Marlowe lends well-intentioned assistance to a drunken Terry Lennox, abandoned by his much-married wealthy ex-wife Sylvia in the parking lot of a Hollywood nightclub. Over a period of months, their acquaintance develops into friendship. Lennox and Sylvia eventually remarry, but their relationship is neither happy nor healthy.

When, very early one morning, Lennox shows up at Marlowe's home, demanding the detective drive him to a Tijuana airport, Marlowe agrees to play chauffeur. He knows intuitively that Sylvia is dead, but his instincts tell him Lennox is not her killer. Returning to L.A., Marlowe is arrested on suspicion of murder, assaulted by the police, and jailed for several days. When word comes from Mexico that Lennox committed suicide and left a confession, Marlowe is released, disbelieving the confession based on his knowledge of Lennox. As he remarks, “A dead man is the best fall guy in the world. He never talks back.” The next day, Marlowe gets a visit--and a warning--from a powerful local hood named Menendez, who tells him to forget the Lennox case. Menendez, Lennox, and Las Vegas-based hood Randy Starr were in the Commandos together during WWII and Lennox saved their lives. Menendez resents that Lennox, when in trouble, sought Marlowe's help rather than his and Starr's. It also becomes increasingly clear that details of the case have been quashed by Lennox's influential multimillionaire father-in-law, who values his and his family`s privacy above all else.

Soon afterward, Marlowe is consulted by a New York publisher who wants him to babysit a bestselling historical novelist named Roger Wade. Wade, an alcoholic, has been unable to finish his latest novel, and the publisher wants Marlowe to keep him off the booze and at the typewriter. Marlowe refuses the job as an impossibility, but when Wade suddenly disappears, he's hired by the writer's beautiful wife Eileen. When Marlowe finds him and brings him home, he becomes almost inextricably involved with the Wades' tormented lives. The seemingly disparate plotlines eventually converge, other deaths occur, and Marlowe solves two murders--with some undesirable surprises. All of this sounds like standard mystery-novel fare. What sets it apart from the run-of-the-mill are Marlowe's and other's comments about society, crime and criminals, wealth, and power; the interplay among the well-defined characters; strongly visualized scenes; and the motifs: pride; honor; the abuse of official or private power; and the traps we set for ourselves.

Why review a well-known novel originally published in 1954? I recently reread it for the sixth time, rediscovering again Chandler's virile prose-poetry, irresistible storytelling abilities, and timeless observations. I thought it appropriate to recommend The Long Goodbye to readers who have not yet come to it, and to remind those who have that it is eminently worth reading again. To those who have only ever seen Robert Altman's feebly inaccurate film adaptation: read the book! With all due respect to Mark Twain, not all classics are ignored.

(A shorter version of this review originally appeared in
Maelstrom, Volume IV, Issue 3, 2003)

Barry Ergang © 2003, 2007