Category: Book Review

Book Review: 400 Things Cops Know


In 400 Things Cops Know, veteran Milwaukee and San Francisco Police patrolmen Adam Plantinga shares his experiences as a 21st Century big city police officer.

The book is divided into nineteen chapters, the first eighteen are centered on subjects ranging from what you would think would be the mundane issues in seasonal policing to the straight dope about shootings and car chases. The final chapter is fifty-four miscellaneous “things” that didn’t fit easily into the proceeding chapters. The “400 things” are a mix of short vignettes, quick tidbits of cop information, and longer reflections on the life and methods of police officers.

Plantinga makes each of these tips engaging. Some are humorous, some are poignant, and others are just plain interesting. Some of these include sharing the advice that when a police officer stops a car full of shady characters to do a search, that the passengers should be seated in a specific manner to avoid a sudden escape or interference with the search.

Or the fact that it’s possible for pedestrians to be hit so hard by a car, they fly out of their shoes.

If you ever wondered about criminals in TV shows and movies who were horrible shots and fire repeatedly at a target without hitting it, that isn’t necessarily unrealistic. “Most bad guys can’t shoot for spit,” writes Plantinga. The book also tells how police officers can recognize a shoplifter.

The book offers several rules of the road for patrolmen that you won’t find in a manual. For example, Plantinga says, if an officer comes across children selling lemonade or raffle tickets for their school or sports team, “you shall buy some, and if you have no cash on you, you shall go to an ATM and procure some.” He further states police officers should give an offending motorist either a ticket or a lecture but that’s “it’s not fair” to give both.

The book goes into deeper and sadder sides of police work in chapters about “being among the Dead,” “Domestic Violence,” and “Hookers and Johns.”  Plantinga’s insights are often poignant and always honest. Often the book’s language reflects the ugly and coarse world many metropolitan policemen operate in.

This insightful book is a must-read for anyone who writes modern day crime fiction. It’s further recommended for anyone who wants to know what real life on the street is like for a modern urban patrolmen.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

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Book Review: The Sinister Shadow


Doc Savage and the Shadow are two of the greatest pulp heroes of all time. Yet, they’ve never met in their original book medium. There have been attempts to do this in comic book form, but the ones I’ve read have been somewhat underwhelming.

The Sinister Shadow by Will Murray takes an original idea by Lester Dent in order to bring these two legends of the 1930s together in one book.

In the books, “Lamont Cranston” was not the true identity of the Shadow. Rather, the Shadow forced Cranston to let him impersonate him when Cranston was away from the city (which was most of the time) on the threat that, if he didn’t, the Shadow would completely steal Cranston’s identity, leaving Cranston without a place in the world because somebody’s got to fight evil, right? In the pulps, Cranston’s amused by this and agrees. In this book, Cranston isn’t as much amused as resigned.

However, Cranston receives a blackmail notice from a villain identifying himself as the Funeral Director who threatens to kill Cranston unless he gives him $50,000. Cranston thinks the villain is the Shadow and turns to Doc Savage’s aide Ham Brooks for help. Before they can get to Doc, both are kidnapped. This leads to both the Shadow and Doc Savage being on the trail of the Funeral Director.

The book has a lot to offer. Much of it is spent with Doc and friends suspecting the Shadow as the creepy methods of the Funeral Director seem his style and the Shadow works outside the law while Doc is an honorary Inspector for the NYPD. In addition, Doc and his men have a no killing rule, while the Shadow has no qualms about dealing out rough justice to the criminal world. Thus our two protagonists spend time hunting and battling each other before turning to the real bad guy. These parts of the book are fun and Murray does a good job writing both characters. Doc’s men are their usual selves while Doc remains ever the unflappable and brilliant man of bronze. The Shadow is mysterious and baffles the great Doc Savage with his strange methods. Doc’s assistants also are great though they’re pushed more to the background than usual. The Shadow’s henchmen are generic and lack a lot of personality.

As for the villain, the Funeral Director is a perfect foil for our protagonists. He’s a creepy, evil villain whose theme is centered around death and dying complete with coffins. It seems like an obvious idea for a supervillain but I’ve never read it done before. Why the Funeral Director came after Cranston is never satisfactorily explained and it comes off as a plot convenience.

This book is enjoyable, though it’s not Shakespeare or even Raymond Chandler. It’s a new pulp adventure team up from the man who is better at recapturing the spirit of the original pulps than any other writer today. While I won’t say it exceeded my expectations, it certainly met them. After nearly eighty years, Will Murray finally created a story worthy of these two great characters and if you’re a fan of either one, it’s a worthwhile read.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Graphic Novel Review: The Ocean of Osyria

The Ocean of Osyria is the first book in the Hardy Boys graphic novel series from Papercutz setting the Hardy’s adventures in modern day.

The basic plot is that the Hardy’s old pal Chet Morton gets into trouble when he accidently buys an art treasure off of an online auction site. Now, the Hardys have to clear him in a globe-trotting adventure that takes them to the Middle East and Europe.

The book does a good job capturing the Hardy Boys’ basic personalities. The mystery is kind of light and the focus of the book is on adventure. The numerous locations in the story are very well-drawn. The book does borrow a bit from the Hardy Boys Case Files of the late 1980s and 1990s with the involvement of a secret government agency in setting the Hardys on the case. In addition, we do get Frank and Joe’s girlfriends involved in the adventure which didn’t usually happen either in the original series or in the later books. The art is vibrant and exciting.

As someone who devoured the Case Files in the 1990s, I do find the graphic novel format weaker. You lose a lot of relationship moments between Frank and Joe and really don’t get to know a lot of the side characters. The story is also simple compared to the complexity that could be developed in a 150 page paperback novel. But then again, I found of Ocean of Osyria fast-paced and fun. Frank and Joe Hardy lived the life and had the adventures that every boy dreams of and the graphic novel still captures that spirit nicely. Overall, this is a solid book and it’s a nice way to introduce younger comic fans to the Hardy Boys.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Book Review: The Private Practice of Michael Shayne


The Michael Shayne that appeared in his first book, Dividend on Death has little resemblance to the character as he’d come to be known in film, television, and future books. In the second book, The Private Private Practice of Michael Shayne, the later character begins to emerge.

The book features the close friendship and partnership between Shayne and reporter Tim Rourke, which was a hallmark of the series. In addition, Shayne shows a bit of character and humanity in trying to ward off an ambitious young lawyer from an unethical deal. The barely grown Phyllis Brighton returns from the first book and Shayne steps in (against her wishes) to save her from crooked gamblers. There’s a bit of reluctant romance that begins to develop between Shayne and Phyllis and it’s handled nicely and believably.

To be clear, he’s not Philip Marlowe, certainly not as mopey and world-weary. The character is plenty of fun and has a lighter, comedic flare. The plot of this book was used as one of the major inspirations for the first Shayne movie starring Lloyd Nolan, Michael Shayne, Private Detective, and the movie and book track pretty well. The result is a Michael Shayne who manages to be comical but not foolish, and tough without being abrasive.

The story is well-plotted, even if it’s not particularly innovative. The humor works a couple twists including Shayne finding a way to get himself out of a murder charge but later outsmarts himself when he tries to mess around with the murder gun. Given all the evidence tampering both in this book and the previous one, it was satisfying to see a consequence to it for Shayne.

This still isn’t quite the Michael Shayne of later books, but it’s a huge step forward for the character.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Book Review: A Study in Terror

In A Study in Terror, while trying to work on his latest novel, Ellery Queen is distracted by a friend who brings him a manuscript purporting to be a lost Sherlock Holmes story where Doctor Watson recounts how Holmes investigated the Jack the Ripper murders.

The book is mostly a Sherlock Holmes pastiche with an Ellery Queen story framing it. The pastiche is a good one that shows proficiency in Holmes and a love for the character that the author obviously possesses. The framing story is mostly okay. It’s hindered by an unnecessary romantic angle that doesn’t add much to the story. It takes quite a while to figure out why Ellery Queen is in this book and it’s that someone thinks the conclusion of the Sherlock Holmes story is wrong. The author deserves credit for finding some way to make this argument without creating a situation that makes Ellery Queen out to be a better detective than Sherlock Holmes.

The book is enjoyable but those looking for a realistic solution to the Ripper murders will have to look elsewhere. The solution offered in the book is consistent with the book but not with all the evidence that’s been put out on the Ripper murders. It would have probably been better to fictionalize the murderers rather than to make it a well-known case and not offer a plausible solution.

Still, A Study in a Terror is an enjoyable mash up of two great detectives that gives both of them their due.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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