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

Barry's Reviews---"Double In Trouble"

DOUBLE IN TROUBLE (Fawcett, 1959) by Richard S. Prather & Stephen Marlowe
reviewed by Barry Ergang

Richard S. Prather's Shell Scott and Stephen Marlowe's Chester Drum were two of the most popular private detectives in Fawcett's Gold Medal line of paperback originals. The writers had an agent in common who suggested that his clients team up their sleuths, and so Double in Trouble was born. (For additional information, see the reminiscence by Stephen Marlowe at Ed Gorman's blog.)

The story begins with Scott in Los Angeles, hired by Alexis Frost to find her missing father. Gideon Frost is scheduled to testify in Washington before the Senate committee chaired by Senator Blair Hartsell, a committee which has been investigating corruption in labor-management relations and which has recently targeted the very corrupt National Brotherhood of Truckers union. Shortly thereafter, one of Scott's best friends and a dues-paying member of the union is murdered.

Later that same day, in Washington, D.C., Drum thwarts the attempted kidnapping of a woman who won't tell him her name. The incident eventually thrusts him into the investigation of the National Brotherhood of Truckers, too—as a special operative for the Hartsell Committee.

Each detective, working his side of the country, learns that the other is involved. Each knows of the other by reputation. But as events unfold, each begins to suspect the other of being in league with the enemy. At the same time Scott's investigation takes him to Washington, Drum's takes him to L.A. Eventually, of course, they meet face to face—or collide, as the book's cover blurb accurately terms it—when their separate but intimately related cases converge for some surprise revelations and the (literal) sock finish.

I first read Double in Trouble when I was in my teens, which means more than forty years ago. I had read nearly all of the Shell Scott novels and short story collections that had by then been published (and continued to read them as new ones appeared), and quite a few of the Chester Drum novels (and have read quite a few more, purchased on e-Bay, in recent adulthood). Liking both in different ways, when I acquired a copy of Double in Trouble, I was filled with what Shell Scott describes in it as a "joyously anticipatory emotion." After I read it, I felt as Scott subsequently did: "My joyously anticipatory emotion was all shot to hell."

Rereading it after all these years, I have a better idea why. Marlowe was a better "pure" writer than Prather, with a stronger sense of character and place. Though his cases were vastly different, usually taking him out of the country, Chester Drum's style and manner were clearly influenced by Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. (I've long wondered if Drum's creator, who was born Milton Lesser and who legally changed his name to Stephen Marlowe, did so specifically because of Chandler's influence.) At the opposite extreme, Prather was a master of comical circumstance and prose style. Shell Scott could be as hardboiled as Mike Hammer—but with a wacky sense of humor and a lighthearted lecherousness that would appeal to most male readers, regardless of how "liberated" they were. Scott's most entertaining cases put him in outlandish situations—see, for example, Strip for Murder and Dance With the Dead.

It's this clash of styles and approaches that weakens Double in Trouble, that militates against Prather more than Marlowe because the storyline doesn't permit the kind of zaniness the reader expects and wants from Prather.

Additionally, because the book alternates chapters told by each detective, it's hard to keep track of the details of the case, who's trying to do what to whom. In spite of this, it's readable and loaded with enough action to fill a year's worth of pulp magazines, so eventually you quit worrying about the details and just rocket along for the ride.

For more on this novel and others created during the Golden Age of Detection follow the link to where you can search by author and/or title.

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.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Barry's Reviews--"THE HOUDINI SPECTER" (Avon, 2001) by Daniel Stashower

THE HOUDINI SPECTER (Avon, 2001) by Daniel Stashower
reviewed by Barry Ergang

According to an inside-cover blurb, Harry Houdini has appeared as a character in a number of crime novels over the years. That may be, but I've only seen him referred to as a magician and escape artist in stories featuring impossible crimes, not as an active character. When I ran across a copy of The Houdini Specter and saw that it dealt with Harry Houdini solving a seemingly impossible crime, I had to read it.

I'm glad I did. It's an entertaining read.

Narrated by Houdini's brother, Dash Hardeen, who is both a magician and Harry's booking agent, the story takes place in New York in 1898. Houdini has yet to attain the success and fame he would in the future, although to hear him tell it, he's famous all over the world. Compared with his ego, Hercule Poirot, Nero Wolfe, and Sir Henry Merrivale are paragons of humility.

A newspaperman named Biggs, a longtime friend of Dash's, introduces the brothers (whose real last name is Weiss) to his old friend Kenneth Clairmont. Clairmont is the son of the late Jasper Clairmont, the shipping magnate who apparently took his own life by shooting himself in his locked, private study. Kenneth's mother, Augusta Clairmont, has since become enchanted with and by a spiritualist named Lucius Craig, whom she has taken into the family home as her guest, along with Craig's young daughter Lila. Certain that Craig is a charlatan and confidence man out to take advantage of his mother's hospitality and wealth, Kenneth enlists the aid of Harry and Dash to expose him.

At the Clairmont home, in addition to Craig and Mrs. Clairmont, Harry and Dash meet Edgar Grange, the family lawyer; Dr. Wells, Augusta's physician; and Sterling Foster, Mrs. Clairmont's drunken brother. After a sumptuous dinner, the party adjourns to a room Craig has decked out as a "seance chamber." Once everyone is seated around a table, Craig goes into his act, which apparently includes clairvoyance. Harry, unable to restrain himself, proceeds to demonstrate how it's done. Craig indignantly insists that Houdini knows nothing of the spirit world, and Mrs. Clairmont takes his side. Grange and Wells align themselves with Houdini both as disbelievers and as potential suitors for the wealthy widow.

Unruffled and undeterred, Craig plunges on into the seance. To prove the veracity of his spiritualism, he invites Houdini to tie his hands to the arms of the chair in which he is sitting. Harry, master of escapes, trusses him so as to render impossible the chance of Craig's freeing himself. The room goes dark, and eventually everyone seated at the table, their hands and feet touching so as not to break "the spirit circle" necessary to invoke manifestations from the other side, witnesses the frightening spectacle of a green "glowing apparition" brandishing a knife. Is this the ghost of Jasper Clairmont? Both Harry and Dash leap from their seats to grapple with it as Kenneth calls for light. Harry and Dash collide with one another, the lights come on, and Edgar Grange, gasping, "Jasper!" slumps forward in his seat, a knife in his back.

The door to the room was locked before the seance began. It is subsequently determined that the windows were fastened, too. Unless a ghost committed the murder of Edgar Grange, one of the seven remaining people clustered around the table must have done it. But how—since their hands and feet were touching?

Daniel Stashower is to be commended. Harry Houdini is not portrayed as the infallable, dignified detective. His brother Dash is not portrayed as the idolatrous but otherwise inept Watson. (In fact, in this book, at least, Dash does more to arrive at a solution—and a somewhat startling one at that, given its motivation—than does Harry.)

If I have any complaint, it's that the book is not a strictly fair-play whodunit/howdunit by Golden Age standards. Nevertheless, it's such delightful and fast-paced reading that I can highly recommend it. It's the third in a series that includes The Dime Museum Murders and The Floating Lady Murder, both of which I intend to track down.

For more on the Golden Age of Detection

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, November 04, 2007


As many of you know, I have the pleasure of writing a book review column for the SENIOR NEWS newspaper distributed across Texas. For those of you who were unable to find a copy or live out of Texas, I thought I would show you want I did last month.

Touched By Darkness
By Catherine Spangler
Berkley Sensation
ISBN # 978-0-425-21400

Atlantis existed thousands of years ago before being destroyed and sinking into the North Atlantic due to a climatic battle between good and evil. The legacy of Atlantis lives on today envisioned by Richardson, Texas Author Catherine Spangler as the backdrop for her new paranormal romance series.

Simplifying greatly, seven years ago, Kara's Sentinel lover Richard Wayman was killed in a violent confrontation with a Belian. His death left her alone to care for their unborn child, Alex. Haunted by the terror of what happened she moved constantly until she finally stopped running at the small Texas town of Zorro where she resumed her medical practice.

But now, the past is back in the form of a powerful Sentinel, Damien Morgan who is trying to track another Belian killer. Not only will he need Kara's help, he will have to protect her young son as well because as an untrained Sentinel he is broadcasting his presence and is surely going to draw the evil to him. Kara is torn between her desire to run again, the memories of a man she once loved more than anything else, the romantic lure Damien represents, and the danger her young son faces. Gradually, she realizes that this time she has to stand and fight with Damien.

With interesting characters, the occasional plot twist, and plenty of romance this is a very good novel that delivers a strong read within the genre.

East Texas Garden Of Verses
By Carolyn Cochran, Inc.
ISBN # 1-932196-88-9

Through entertaining poetry, short slice of life memory stories, family pictures and illustrations by Joe Tomlinson, Author Carolyn Cochran recounts part of her life growing up in East Texas. From the years 1934 to1946 she lived in Tyler, Texas and those memories and experiences are the foundation of the book. This inspiring book of memories came about due to her creative writing efforts at Richland College in Dallas, Texas. The short book at 50 pages takes readers back to the way it was for Carolyn Cochran. Sure to please not only folks who remember the way things were in Texas small towns, it is also sure to please those looking to read about a seemingly simpler time and way of life.


In the November 2007 edition available now, I went with politics since the topic is on the minds of so many. This month I reviewed "Barbara Jordan: Speaking the Truth with Eloquent Thunder" which was edited edited by Max Sherman and "Texas Political Memorabilia: Buttons, Bumper Stickers and Broadsides" written by Chuck Bailey with Bill Crawford. Hope you find a copy at your local newsstand, grocery store, doctor's waiting room, etc. But, if not, I will post the column next month so you don't miss out totally.

And if you have a suggestion for what I should review for SENIOR NEWS (remember it has to be a Texas based book in setting or author or something that could fit the over fifty demographic) please drop me a note here or at

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Barry's Reviews--"Dead Famous" (2001) by Ben Elton

Dead Famous (2001) by Ben Elton
reviewed by Barry Ergang

One of the first and most popular of the so-called "reality TV" shows, "Big Brother" should begin its latest season shortly. Whether you've seen it or only read about it, you probably know the premise: a group of people are confined to a house for several months, isolated from the outside world, their every activity and interaction monitored by cameras and microphones twenty-four hours a day. One by one the housemates are evicted by their fellows until only two remain. The evicted housemates vote to determine the winner, who receives half a million dollars. The runner-up comes away with fifty thousand.

Apart from the prospect of emerging with a lot of money, why do the contestants put themselves through this? They may offer a variety of reasons, but the reality is they crave the instant, if dubious, fame being seen on a nationally or internationally broadcast program brings.

Why would a network (CBS, in "Big Brother's" case) broadcast this kind of program? Because there's an audience for it to whom they can transmit advertisements which in turn pay the network's revenues. The programs that make it to the air are of course carefully edited for their "dramatic" value. Fanatical viewers can pay their subscription money to watch everything, including the mundane moments, via Internet feeds.

This is the basis for Ben Elton's clever satirical whodunit Dead Famous. The program is "House Arrest," brought to an English audience by Peeping Tom Productions, the company owned by the calculating Geraldine Hennessey, also known as "Geraldine the Gaoler."

A diverse group of ten men and women, all relatively young and, with one notable exception, fairly attractive, are confined to the "House Arrest" house under the constant surveillance of Peeping Tom. Friendships and enmities quickly develop as the housemates are assigned tasks by Peeping Tom to earn their weekly share of food and drink. Having no television to watch or books to read, the rest of their time is spent in group and individual interaction. Geraldine, ever alert for "good telly," hopes sexual liasons will ensue, and has done her best to provide for them.

Twenty-seven days later, after the first eviction and the arrest—which stands in lieu of an eviction—of another housemate for a past crime, someone (the reader doesn't learn who until two-thirds of the way through the book) is brutally murdered by person unknown. Given all of the cameras and microphones covering every inch of the house, it can't have happened—but it has.

Thus, an "impossible" murder in a "locked house."

Old-school, often splenetic Chief Inspector Stanley Spencer Coleridge and his team are compelled to wade through unedited, unaired videotapes, hoping to find a motive or a clue. The reader is a party to their investigations as well as to what goes on in the house, the editing suite, and in the minds of the book's characters.

Eventually Coleridge discovers the solution to the fairly-clued puzzle and reveals it in grand fashion.

Ben Elton's crisp prose moves the reader swiftly through the story, which includes some good comic moments as well as suspenseful ones. Dead Famous works very well as a detective story and as a satirical take on our modern culture's inexplicable taste for fabricated fame. I recommend the book with the warning that readers who find raw, rampant profanity and graphic sexual depictions offensive will want to avoid it.

Barry Ergang (c) 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 02, 2007

Barry's Reviews: "Elephants in the Distance" (1989) by Daniel Stashower

Elephants in the Distance (1989) by Daniel Stashower
reviewed by Barry Ergang

Published in 1989, this was Daniel Stashower's second mystery novel. Not an entry in his Harry Houdini series, Elephants in the Distance takes place in the present day. Like the Houdini series, however, this one features illusionists and magicians—several, in fact.

The book opens with a third-person prologue in which an aging professional magician, Josef Schneider, is performing at a child's birthday party. For many years he had been a headliner in theaters in Europe and the United States, during the heyday of the great magic acts which included Blackstone, Kellar, and Thurston. Mourning that era's passing, Schneider nevertheless continues to practice his arts on a vastly smaller, less glamorous scale. While blowing up balloons and shaping them into animals for the children, Schneider begins to feel ill. Ultimately he collapses of dies of an apparent heart attack.

Beginning with chapter one, the story is related in the first-person by Paul Galliard, son of the late Thomas Galliard, a magician who died while trying to perform the dangerous "bullet-catch." Paul, a history professor who gave up teaching while in the midst of writing his doctoral dissertation to become a professional magician himself, learned his craft from Schneider—a friend of his father's—who began to mentor him when Paul was eleven. After Schneider dies, Paul inherits his prop case.

One afternoon at a TV studio, where Paul is shooting a commercial for a product called "Stain Begone," he takes a break between takes to have coffee with the woman he's been seeing for several months, Clara Bidwell. Their conversation is interrupted by the appearance of Paul's boss and his young son. To entertain the boy, Paul begins to do some card tricks and to teach him a little about how they're done. The boy really wants Paul to "make a balloon" for him. They walk back to the studio where Paul takes some balloons from Schneider's prop case, blows them up, and begins to shape them into animal forms. A few minutes later he goes into convulsions and collapses, awakening in a hospital.

Recalling that Schneider died while doing exactly what he did, Paul examines the pump in the prop case. It has clearly been tampered with, which means Schneider had to orally inflate the balloons. Paul takes a handful of the balloons to a friend of his from his teaching days who works in a research lab at the college. She subsequently determines that the nozzles of the balloons were coated with a drug called isoproterenol, which is typically used to treat bronchial spasms and which also contains a cardiac stimulant. Paul is now certain that Schneider's death was not from natural causes, and that he himself, being much younger and healthier, was lucky to have suffered only a seizure.

I don't want to give too much more of the story away here, lest I spoil it for potential readers, because it contains quite a few surprises, some of which date back to World War II. Suffice it to say that Paul's investigation leads to further attempts on his life and to a couple of additional corpses before the murderer is unmasked—when Paul, in an exciting climax, undertakes to recreate the bullet-catch trick for a nostalgic TV special.

Elephants in the Distance, a brisk, fairly-clued mystery, should appeal to readers who enjoy the Great Merlini mysteries of Clayton Rawson. Although his plot is less complex than those in Rawson's novels, Stashower's sense of pace is better, his style leavened with dry wit, his hero more believable than Merlini because he's more fallible.

If you can find a copy, this one is well worth your time.

For more on the Golden Age and for more on this novel see also

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