Category: Book Review

Audiobook Review: Tales of Max Carrados

Max Carrados is one of those easily overlooked figures of detective fiction’s golden age. He’s thrown into a mass of detectives that entertained readers in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Like many of them, he’s been mostly forgotten.

Yet, Carrados is worth checking out. If you like Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown, Carrados will be right up your alley.

Carrados was created by Ernest Bramah. Carrados was a blind man and compensated for the loss of his sight to such a degree that he became a first-class amateur detective. He often assisted a private investigator named Carlisle as well as the official police. He’s assisted by his observant and able manservant Parkinson.

Tales of Max Carrados is audiobook released by Audible and is read by British Actor/Comedian Stephen Fry (Fry and Laurie).

The stories are generally solid mysteries that are remarkably clever and well-written for the most part. The stories have a light and fun tone. Carrados solves a variety of cases, mostly of the non-murderous variety. The supporting characters are well-written and intriguing. I found myself wanting to know more about a few of them. The stories include Carrados’ work during the War and a case that involves Britain’s militant suffragettes.

A few cases involve Carrados in peril and how he handles himself. “The Game Played in the Dark” is a classic example and is quite suspenseful. The last story is in the same vein but with heightened stakes. In “The Missing Witness Sensation,” Carrados is a key witness in the trial of an IRA member and is abducted off the street and taken to a country house and locked up in the basement. Eventually, the blind man’s left alone without food or water and without any of the aides that he’s relied on the past. It’s all that shakes the generally unflappable detective. It’s fascinating to see how he gets out of it.

I didn’t much care for the first story. “The Coin of Dionysus” introduces Carrados but contains too much actionless exposition and goes on too long for what it offers as a mystery. Other than that, the stories are all quite enjoyable.

Fry is a fantastic narrator and infuses the story with a great deal of warmth and charm. He infuses each character with so much personality, I almost forgot I was listening to an audiobook rather than an audio drama. I’d definitely love to listen to him read again.

Bottom line: If you like Golden Age Mysteries and listen to audiobooks, this is a title that’s well worth a listen.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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Book Review: Enter the Saint

Enter the Saint is the first short story collection featuring Simon Templar after he appeared in the novel Meet the Tiger.

The book collects three stories:

“The Man Who Was Clever” sees the Saint trying to take down a drug smuggler and blackmailer. It’s a good crime-busting yarn that allows the Saint to show his pure unadulterated nerve and ability to bait a trap.

“The Policeman with Wings” has the Saint investigating the curious case of a wealthy man who disappeared from his house after being escorted away by a mysterious policeman. This leads an elaborate and somewhat high-handed set up to uncover the true motives of the kidnappers and prevent them from harming the kidnapped man’s niece and heir.

Finally, there’s “The Lawless Lady” which finds the Saint in the background as one of his men. Dicky Tremaine goes undercover with a gang planning a big jewel heist at sea, and finds himself falling for female leader of the gang. Meanwhile, another member appears to be playing to eliminate him. The Saint does make his presence known at the end, but this is an unusual story to say the least.

The stories this book are enjoyable crime tales for the most part. It’s clear that Leslie Charteris is still developing the nature of the Saint. However, this book features most of what makes the Saint work.  You have dashing escapes, the Saint’s absolute audacity and laughing in the face of danger, and you have three good rogues who are worthy adversaries. The third story is a little strange, but it’s still entertaining.

Probably, the book’s biggest shortcoming is giving the Saint an entire organization of agents in support of him. I can see why this was done. Other popular literary figures of the era such as Doc Savage, the Shadow, and Nick Carter had their men to support him. Besides that it supported Charteris’s attempt to brand the Saint the Robin Hood of Modern Crime. After all, what’s Robin Hood without his merry men?

Yet, the Saint is really best when working with one assistant or two at most. In effect, in most of these stories, that’s what he’s doing. We really don’t get to focus on the Saint’s band, and eventually, they’d be discarded as surplus.

If you enjoy some good crime stories from the Golden Age of fiction, you could do far worse than this book. Despite its flaws, the book showcases the talent and style that would make Leslie Charteris a literary fixture for decades to come.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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Graphic Novel Review: Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie

I’m a longtime fan of both the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. So, I picked up this selection, the NOIR take on the character with curiosity but also trepidation. Would they completely destroy these beloved characters in an overly gritty, grim, dark story?

To be honest, the early issues had me nervous. The book begins quite dark with Frank and Joe’s father already murdered and them the prime suspects and Frank being beaten up by the lovable Chief Colig from the novels. He’s not so lovable here. No one is to start out. The book begins with Nancy almost hard as nails as she leads the hapless Hardys through her plan to find the truth, a plan that puts the Hardys on the wrong side of the law.

The story gets better and you do feel by the end that these characters do relate to the ones in the novel, even in this grittier world. While it’s not my preferred take on the characters, it’s a respectful one that tells a compelling story with some nice emotional moments.

The artwork helps. It’s more stylized than your typical comic book art, but it uses its colors and shading intelligently to help tell the story and it succeeds in building the noir atmosphere. The cover art is particularly striking.

The book isn’t without its flaws. Anthony Del Col, like many older writers, is trying to tell a story of modern teenagers and has them using pop culture references any teenager would know–if they were alive in a decade before their time. In addition, the book tries to randomly re-imagine other books opened by the same publishing syndicate as the Hardy Boys such as the Bobsey Twins and Tom Swift as a butcher’s son (what the heck?) and occasionally I feel like the book tried too hard to be edgy. Still, these were few and far between. If you’re open to a different take on the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, this might be a good book for you.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

****Disclosure: I Received a free copy from Net Galley in Exchange for an Honest Review***

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Book Review: Mycroft Holmes


What was Mycroft Holmes like as a young man? What events made him the man he became? His more famous brother once said he “was the British government.” He was a behind-the-scenes player who set the pace for national security foreign policy, while founding and running a social club for the anti-social known as the Diogenes Club.

This is the topic of Basketball Legend Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Anne Waterhouse’s novel Mycroft Holmes. The book begins with Mycroft Holmes as a young man working at the foreign office, engaged to marry a beautiful woman. He’s best friends with Douglas, a native of Trinidad who secretly owns the finest tobacconist shop in London. Douglas pretends to be an employee of two white shopkeepers who pretend to run it in order to avoid the prejudices of the time. When children began mysteriously dying in Trinidad, Mycroft’s fiancée (whose family has a plantation there) takes off for the island and tells him not to follow. He, however, joins Douglas and departs for the Island to aide her and find out what he can do to help her and stop the trouble.

The novel is superbly researched. Abdul-Jabaar traces his heritage backs to Trinidad and the book reflects a broad knowledge of the island, its history, and the various sub-cultures that are part of it. The book’s plot deals with issues of slavery and race but rarely comes across as if we’re reading a modern-day screed on the topic. Much of it is told as simply what happened, with any sentiments being expressed being believable for people living in the Victorian era.

The book has pacing that’s appropriate to a novel set in this era. The pacing is never glacial but the book isn’t afraid to take its time, to paint a vivid picture, and to show the action’s development. As for the story itself, it’s a bit more action than it is a mystery.

At the heart of the book is Mycroft’s relationship to Douglas. In many ways, Douglas is Mycroft’s Watson. He’s not a genius, but he’s steady, reliable, courageous, and street smart. The dynamic is different because, as the book starts, Douglas is a 40-year-old man of the world, while Mycroft is a brilliant young man in his twenties who is, in many ways, naïve about the ways of the world. The book is a coming-of-age story for him.

Of course, no Holmes book would be complete without Sherlock playing a role in it, in some way. In Mycroft Holmes, it’s limited to a couple of brief cameos that offer a compelling take on the two brothers’ relationship. The book manages to be true to who the characters have been established to be in canon while showing just enough of brotherly warmth between them.

There are a ton of pastiches about Sherlock Holmes and friends. Many of them are awful. If you’re a little bit skeptical and wonder if a basketball player could write one of the good ones, wonder no more., Mycroft Holmes is a superb novel and a great origin story for the Greatest Detective’s big brother.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Graphic Novel Review: Jazz Age Chronicles, Volume 1

This black and white comic book collection features two stories set in the 1920s. Both feature Private Detective Ace Mifflin, a Boston-based Private Detective. He has many of the same vices as Sam Spade, but isn’t quite as good as Spade. Though he is good enough to get the job done in most cases.

In the first case, “The Case of the Beguiling Baroness,” Mifflin is hired to keep tabs on a baroness. A secret society is interested in her because of her dabbling in the black arts. When she dies, it’s just the start of the case. This one’s an intriguing mystery and a bit of a genre mash-up between a traditional private detective story and the strange tales featured in the Doc Savage and the Shadow pulp magazines. This one works okay, but Mifflin’s role in this is a bit confused. He’s out of his element, and the hero is supposed to be Clifton Jennings, who hired him. This one could have worked better.

The second case is, “Vote Early, Vote Often.” Mifflin gets in trouble, gets his license suspended, and runs into a whole lot of political corruption. All as he tries to help a friend get free of a murder charge. It’s a good noirish story with a neat mystery to unravel. Mifflin works far better in this story and he is in his element. Of the two tales in the book, I preferred this one more.

Overall, this is a decent graphic novel collection and a nice read if you’re a fan of 1920s’ detective and pulp fiction stories.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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