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29Mar/140

Book Review: Death of a Doxy

In Death of a Doxy (1966), Archie agrees to a favor for Orrie Cather and reclaim an item from the house of a young woman. Instead, Archie finds the woman dead and smells a set up. Archie extricates himself, but Orrie, a long time associate of Wolfe’s, is charged with murder.

In a conclave with Wolfe, based on the strong conviction of Saul Panzer, the private detective decide Orrie is innocent and set out to prove it. The murdered woman was having an affair with a powerful man and the first but not last task is to find this man.

Death of a Doxy is a solidly written story. The character of Julie Jaquette, a successful nightclub singer who does an impromptu song and dance for Wolfe, which is, without a doubt the greatest moment of the book. Jacquet showed that Stout’s ability to write memorable characters was still very much intact.

The book is a bit darker and cynical than many early Wolfe mysteries of the 1950s particularly with how the killer was disposed of.

The book also introduces Avery Ballou, a character who’d play a minor role in several of the later Wolfe novels, as well as provide some foreshadowing of events that would occur in the final Wolfe novel.

Overall, I rate the book: Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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8Mar/141

Book Review: The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes


"The Case-book of Sherlock Holmes"  is  the very last Sherlock Holmes short story collection, published in 1927. It is a proverbial mixed bag. There are some stories in the book that are essential reading for Holmes fans ("The Problem at Thor Bridge" and "The Sussex Vampire"), and then there are some of the weakest stories in the Canon ("The Lion's Mane", "The Blanched Soldier", and "The Veiled Lodger"), and then others that range between average to fairly good.

"The Problem at Thor Bridge" is simply one of Holmes' best cases. There's so much in the story and the solution is classic. The same thing goes for "The Sussex Vampire" which presents Holmes a problem that's evocative of the supernatural but with a surprising natural solution that is pretty emotional in its own right.

Most of the worst stories came towards the end of the book. Both "The Blanched Soldier" and "The Lion's Mane" were attempts to tell Holmes' adventures from Holmes own perspective. While "The Blanched Soldier" was slightly better of the two, both stories were somewhat dry and uninteresting tales that it was hard to care about. The biggest failing of  "The Veiled Lodger"s is that Holmes really does nothing. He describes a mystery and then has one of the perpetrators tell him what happened. While Holmes did say something very wise in response to that, it wasn't really a detective story.

Looking at the rest of the stories:

"The Mazarin Stone": Told in third person, I actually thought it was a pretty fun story showing Holmes cleverness. It was a similar story to the Dying Detective, but I liked this story better.

"The Creeping Man": This is a bizarre story and I know some people really don't like it because it's almost into the realm of speculative fiction, but I thought it was carried off fine and is a classic mix of horror and the detective genre, though good luck trying to guess as to what's happening.

"The Three Garidebs": This is once again a story that calls to mind previous adventures. In it, a man with an unusual last name stands to make a fortune just for his last name, but he brings in Holmes to discern the truth of the business. This story is not as good as "The Red Headed League" but is actually better than "The Stockbroker's Clerk."

"The Illustrious Client": This isn't a whodunit but a challenge for Holmes to stop the marriage of a naive woman to a scoundrel. This is a very well-executed story where Holmes is put to the test.

"The Three Gables": This story of a bereaved mother receiving mysterious offers to buy her house is a very good and enjoyable story.

"The Retired Colourman": This is actually a pretty enjoyable story though Holmes doesn't seem as warm towards Watson in a few places. The solution is a good change of pace, if perhaps a bit melodramatic.

"Shoscombe Old Place": The last Holmes story by Doyle and its solid. Its clearly not at the high quality of Doyle's prime but Holmes gets a pretty engaging case with a clever and unexpected solution revolving around a race horse and the odd behavior of the lady of the manor.

Overall, this is a must for mystery fans even if Doyle is clearly past his prime as a writer in this one.

Let me add that this Oxford edition I read really was splendid and added to the reading experience. The explanatory notes section was helpful to me reading this as an American in the 21st century, as so many phrases that I'd have just glossed over or imagined what they meant. There's also a copious amount of introductory information that provides some great background on the book and is a great resource if you can get a hold of it.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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24Feb/140

Book Review: The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

This book is the proverbial mixed bag. There are some stories in the book that are essential reading for Holmes fans (The Problem at Thor Bridge and the Sussex Vampire), and then there are some of the weakest stories in the Canon (The Lion's Mane, the Blanched Soldier, and the Veiled Lodger), and then others that range between average to fairly good.

"The Problem at Thor Bridge" is simply one of Holmes best cases. There's so much in the story and the solution is classic. The same thing goes for the Sussex Vampire which presents Holmes a problem that's evocative of the supernatural but with a surprising natural solution that is pretty emotional in its own right.

Most of the worst stories came towards the end of the book. Both "The Blanched Soldier" and "The Lion's Mane"  were attempts to tell Holmes' adventures from Holmes own perspective. While "The Blanched Soldier" was slightly better of the two, both stories were somewhat dry and uninteresting tales that it was hard to care about. "The Veiled Lodgers" biggest failing is that Holmes really does nothing. He describes a mystery and then has one of the perpetrators tell him what happened. While Holmes did say something very wise in response to that, it wasn't really a detective story.

Looking at the rest of the series:

"The Mazarin Stone": Told in third person, I actually thought it was a pretty fun story showing Holmes cleverness. It was a similar story to the Dying Detective, but I liked this story better.

"The Creeping Man": This is a bizarre story and I know some people really don't like it because it's almost into the realm of speculative fiction, but I thought it was carried off fine and is a classic mix of horror and the detective genre, though good luck trying to guess as to what's happening.

"The Three Garidebs": This is once again a story that calls to mind previous adventures. In it, a man with an unusual last name stands to make a fortune just for having his last name, but he brings in Holmes to discern the truth of the business. This story is not as good as "The Red Headed League" but is actually better than "The Stockbroker's Clerk."

"The Illustrious Client": This isn't a whodunit but a challenge for Holmes to stop the marriage of a naive woman to a scoundrel. This is a very well-executed story where Holmes is put to the test against a clever adversary who is a master at manipulating the sympathy of women.

"The Three Gables": This story of a bereaved mother receiving mysterious offers to buy her house is a very good and enjoyable story with a satisfying solution.

"The Retired Colourman": This is actually a pretty enjoyable story though Holmes doesn't seem as warm towards Watson in a few places. The solution is a good change of pace, if perhaps a bit melodramatic.

"Shoscombe Old Place": The last Holmes story by Doyle and its solid. Its clearly not at the high quality of Doyle's prime but Holmes gets a pretty engaging case with a clever and unexpected solution revolving around a race horse and the odd behavior of the lady of the manor.

Overall, this is a must for mystery fans even if Doyle is clearly past his prime as a writer in this one.

Let me add that this Oxford edition I read really was splendid and added to the reading experience. The explanatory notes section was helpful to me reading this as an American in the 21st century, as it gave meaning to so many phrases that I'd have just glossed over or imagined what they meant otherwise. There's also a copious amount of introductory information that provides some great background on the book and is a great resource if you can get a hold of it.

Rating 4.0 out of 5.0

25Jan/140

Book Review: Too Many Clients

In Too Many Clients, Archie is asked by a man named Thomas Yeager to find out if anyone is following him and gives him an address in a poor part of town. However, the man turns out to be Yeager and the real Yeager’s body is found near the address, Archie visits it and is shocked to find a very elaborately designed love nest.

Archie and Wolfe have a mystery on their hands and the “client” who hired them set them up to discover the body and they have to get to the bottom of who hired them and who committed the murder and pick up multiple several offered clients, many of whom want to suppress the existence of a very embarrassing room.

Overall, this was a very well-crafted later Wolfe mystery with a wide range of suspects, a great premise, and some solid scenes in the Brownstone. It doesn't quite deliver those little human touches that the very best Wolfe’s do, but I still highly recommend it.

Rating: Satisfactory

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4Jan/140

Book Review: Pattern of Wounds

The latest murder Houston homicide detective Roland March investigates seems awfully familiar. March believes that the killer staged the scene of a dead one in a pool based on pictures from the book on the first big murder he ever solved, the Kingwood Killings. While higher ups dismiss the idea, some people think there's a pattern to the book: that a serial killer was behind the latest killing, as well as several others, including March's signature case. Worst of all, the writer who lionized March becomes an adversary who believes that he and March blew the original case.

This book succeeded in upping the ante from the first book with March having to deal with the potential of his entire career being reduced to rubble by this new allegation. He has to struggle to find out who is friends are really. March is all too human character who makes enemies who are willing or even anxious to see him taken down a peg, and he struggles to find someone who he can rely on as an ally. March's big problem is that in the midst of a case, little niceties like gratitude are overlooked which only builds more resentment.

One of the more interesting character bits in this story was March's interaction with a New Orleans police officer who had officially gone dirty and begun to coerce confessions. It's scary for readers to realize that March is often just a step or two away from crossing the line, though March seems to think he's a little bit further away than he is. We also get some good back story on what had put him on the outs at the start of the previous book.

The mystery is better than in the previous book. No breaks seemed overly convenient, and Bertrand was very skilled with throwing suspect after suspect at the readers, leading to a realistic but explosive conclusion.

The only negatives I can find is that the inclusion of the Teresa, a major character from the first book felt pointless in this one and she didn't really do anything. Also, while the book description makes a point of describing March's marriage as troubled, there's very few hints of this in the actual story.

Still, a fascinating and engaging read for mystery fans that I wholeheartedly recommend.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

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21Dec/130

Book Review: The Doorbell Rang

In The Doorbell Rang, Nero Wolfe is hired by a wealthy woman to get the FBI to stop annoying her. She apparently gained the attention of the FBI after purchasing and distributing 10,000 copies of Fred Cook’s expose of the FBI called, “The FBI Nobody Knows.”

Wolfe is reluctant to take on the case, and Archie is too. But Wolfe’s pride won’t allow him to refuse to take on a case for fear of the FBI. Wolfe’s decision leads to them coming under surveillance, and Archie learns from their nemesis Inspector Cramer that the FBI is trying to get their licenses lifted. However, Cramer resents the attempt and actually saves their licenses and tips Archie off to a murder where the FBI may be covering up.

Archie and Wolfe seek to solve convuluted murder and find how the FBI is involved.

The book is pretty solid and includes one of Wolfe’s greatest schemes and one of the most memorable moments when Wolfe refuses to speak to the unnamed but implied visitor at the door at the end of the book.

The Doorbell Rang  does drag a bit in the middle, with all of Wolfe and Archie’s efforts to dodge potential FBI surveillance of the house by not speaking or speaking in certain ways despite. The problem is that while I could understand how the FBI could tap their phones, I have no clue how they could get in the Brownstone to actually bug anything. For me, their paranoia goes quickly from being slightly humorous to somewhat tedious.

This does further the book’s propaganda ends with a clear message: Our (mostly) law abiding pals Wolfe and Archie shouldn’t have to live like they’re in a police state and neither should any other American as many did thanks to the FBI. It works as far as it goes, but I think the degree to which Stout played this hurt the narrative a bit.

Still, I give this a:

Rating: Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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7Dec/130

Book Review: Stranger in Town

Brett Halliday knew how to catch a reader's attention from the get-go. The book begins with Michael Shayne stopping for a drink in a small Florida town. A beautiful young woman walks out to him and then two hoods drag him out of the bar, beat up and nearly run him down with their car.

Shayne gets thrown in jail after blowing his top in a confrontation with the local police force but hangs around town determined to find out who the woman was that fingered him and why she did it. Along the way, Shayne discovers that she was an amnesiac who stumbled into town and was supposed to have been taken back to her father in Orlando. Shayne discovers the story was a lie and to find the truth he has to untangle a web of crime and corruption.

The book buzzes along and is a fast paced story filled with plenty of suspense and great plot twists and action throughout most of it. The only flaw in the pacing is that the book does slow down about 3/4 of the way through before wrapping up strong with the last chapter and a half.

The book also gives some keen insights into social attitudes of the mid-1950s and deals with a hot topic of today. Even though Shayne is no huge moralist, he reflected the values of his time in a way that's intriguing or sad depending on your point of view.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

The copy I read plus another Michael Shayne mystery are available on request with the first donation received of $50 or more for listeners in the US or Canada.  See details here.

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16Nov/131

Book Review: The High Window

Philip Marlowe is hired to recover a lost coin for a crotchety widow. She suspects her daughter-in-law and wants Marlowe to arrange for her daughter-in-law to divorce her son.

Marlowe, of course, encounters a ton of obstacles and a mounting body count. In addition, to the official side of the business, he suspects something is really wrong with the old woman's secretary, who is being mistreated.

The case is somewhat average fare. It's by no means a bad story but it's also not The Big Sleep and it's not Farewell, My Lovely. It has its moments such as when Marlowe is justifying non-cooperation with the police on the basis of a case they mishandled through corruption, and then later he admits the story was made up and later on, says maybe it wasn't. However, the characters aren't as good and the dialogue isn't either. In addition to this, there are few less threads that are left hanging and there are a few more, we really don't care about.

On the positive side Marlowe's noble actions towards the secretary and the purity of his motives really live up to his Knight in Tarnished Armor Rep. In the end, it's a great story but not a classic.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5.0

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2Nov/130

Book Review: The Golden Spiders

The Golden Spiders finds Wolfe and Archie in ill-temper. Archie decides to admit a neighborhood boy who comes to Wolfe because of Wolfe’s antipathy to police and the fact that he saw a woman in a car apparently in trouble. Wolfe handles the boy well and agrees to help by tracing the plate of the car.

However, the boy is murdered the next day and the case goes to another level. The boy’s mother asks Wolfe to find out why he was killed and offers her son’s savings which amounts to $4.30 to find the killer. They begin the process by placing an ad, and get a response that’s followed by another murder.

This sets Archie and the teers on an investigation that leads them to the high and low end of society and on to the trail of an extortion ring that’s the key to the whole plot.

This is really a mixed bag in terms of quality. It has more action than any other Wolfe story, including a torture scene that’s somewhat uncomfortable. To be fair about that, the bad guys started it by torturing Orrie Cather before Archie and friends turned the tables on them.

There’s also a very strong scene with Inspector Cramer that’s probably his best scene as a detective in any of the books he’s featured in. There are some good bits between Wolfe and Archie, and a pretty good final denouement.

The book’s weak point comes with Wolfe proposing a ruse for Archie that’s so transparent, it doesn’t fool anyone. It’s really pathetic and beneath the standard of fun ruses that characterize the Wolfe books.

The Golden Spiders was the basis of the pilot movie for A Nero Wolfe Mystery, and I have to say this is one case where the movie beat the book. And the biggest difference was emotional impact. The book deals with the death of a child, but it doesn't seem to impact the characters correctly. Stout could do this and often did with tragic adult deaths which Archie or Wolfe inadvertently played a role in books like in Prisoner’s Base, but just doesn't seem to deliver here. It’s worth noting that Pete Drossos is the only child to play a major role in any of the Wolfe stories, so writing children may not have been Stout’s forte.

There’s enough good stuff to keep this interesting, but overall I can only give the book a:

Rating: Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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19Oct/132

Book Review: Back on Murder

For Roland March, it's pretty simple, either he's going back (to being homicide detective) or he's going out (as in completely out of the Houston PD) March made headlines seven years before when he solved a sensational murder, but the high expectations caused by the publicity of the case combined with a personal tragedy led to a decline in his work where he's on one dead end assignment after another, most regularly working a sting where police capture stupid wanted felons lured into the open with the promise of winning a free car contest.

March makes some keen observations at scene of the murder of an inner city drug dealer. March believes that the murder is tied into a nationally covered disappearance of a teenage girl. He goes against orders to look into the angle and gets yanked off the case and on to the task force looking into the disappearance, another dead end. Can March somehow parlay his hunches, uncover the secrets of a group of crooked cops, and stay alive so that the get his career and life back on track.

The book is remarkably well-written and has high quality throughout most of it. March is a fantastic character with his own set of inner demons. March's narration varies from hard boiled wry cop sarcasm to poignancy, to vivid and powerful word images that paint as clear a picture of 21st Century Houston as Raymond Chandler's Marlowe's stories did of 1940s Los Angeles. The character does change as the story goes on. He becomes more of a team player. At the beginning of the book, his focus is really on him: The quest to get back into Homicide. As his focus shifts to the case at hand, actually getting his man leads to real cooperation.

The mystery is a clever tangled web of intrigue that intersects with crooked cops, with honest efforts to help other, and an old rival of March's that won't go away. Really, everything ties together in the end and the clues are solidly laid out.

The last quarter, and the last sixth of the book in particular do suffer a bit of a slowdown with more fizzle than sizzle. Bertrand made the dubious decision to fill in a bunch of back story details towards the end of the book as we were closing in on the killers and a hurricane kills not one by two birds for our hero. These are minor issues given how good the rest of the book was.

The book is from a Christian company, but has little Christian material. March is a moral man but not a believer. The best Christians get from the book is a murder mystery that doesn't make a Christian look like a psycho. The book is a clean read as far as profanity goes and doesn't go for overly graphic

Overall, I enjoyed the book immensely and will be watching for the next book in the series.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

Note: The Kindle version of this book is available for free.

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