Category: Book Review

Book Review: Dividend on Death


Dividend on Death is the first Michael Shayne novel by Brett Halliday. In it, eighteen-year-old rich girl Phyllis Brighton tries to hire Shayne to protect her mother by watching Phyllis to ensure she doesn’t kill her. A psychologist wants Shayne to work for him for a similar reason. However, the mother is dead by the time Shayne arrives, and he takes on the task of sorting things out.

Having read many of the later Shayne books from the 1950s, I have to admit  this book surprised me. The professional detective who is assisted by a loyal secretary and a reporter friend is nowhere to be seen in this book. Rather, he comes off as a bit of a poor man’s Sam Spade mixed with the roughneck redhead private eye that inspired Halliday to write Shayne. You don’t see much of the charm that made the best Lloyd Nolan Michael Shayne films so enjoyable. This book does explain what might have inspired the worst Nolan film, Dressed to Kill. In, Dividend on Death, Shayne is the uncharming, evidence-destroying oaf of that picture. There’s a sense that Halliday is trying too hard to be hard-boiled in his first detective novel.

That’s not to say it’s all bad. The plot is quite intricate and the solution is clever. The story has some good moments that foreshadow the type of Shayne stories that would come in the future, but it’s not quite there yet. If you’ve read Shayne books before, it’s an interesting curiosity as to how the character began, but if you’re new to the character, I don’t recommend this as it may give a distorted view of what the series will be like.

Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

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Audiobook Review: Terror Town


Terror Town finds a small town New England librarian wondering what happened to a bright farm boy who frequented the library. The teenager turns up dead under mysterious circumstances and he’s the only the first to die as the town is gripped by panic as the body count rises.

Originally released in 1956 and re-released as a standalone Novella, Terror Town is a very good time capsule. It captures the feeling and mood of its era. The idea of a peaceful town suddenly beset by homicides with no great detective around to sort things out, but rather local police doing the best they can, is different for the era.

Yet, at the end of the day, the story only goes so deep. The librarian’s unrequited love for the town deputy who can’t seem to get it in his head that the girl next door has grown into a woman to be taken seriously takes up too much energy and isn’t really resolved. The solution is decent, but a little bit predictable.

It’s an okay audiobook, but not the best example of Ellery Queen’s work.

Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

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Book Review: The Campus Murders

Released in 1969, the Campus Murders by Ellery Queen introduced Micah McCall. The premise is an intriguing one. McCall is a Special Assistant to the Governor of an unnamed state who is called in to act as a troubleshooter.

In this case, he’s looking into the disappearance of the daughter of one of the Governor’s intra-party political rivals on a small campus, troubled by unrest. His status is a nice feature. He’s not a policeman, but his standing as “the Governor’s Man,” gets grudging cooperation from the police.

McCall finds himself not particularly trusted by the police and being over thirty, he is not welcomed and not fully trusted by most of the radical college students attending the college.

On the positive side, the mystery isn’t bad, and if you want a taste of the 1960s and how the problems on campus were viewed, this book certainly gives a perspective and captures the spirit of the time. There’s nothing more 1960s in the book than Nature’s Children, a group of college students who demonstrate while wearing grotesque masks in the buff and haze McCall.

On the negative side, the book drags at times, particularly before the first murder in the book. It is so focused on the campus issues and getting all these various student perspectives that it really has troubling remembering that it’s a mystery. And when it comes to the big issues of the day, it offers a simple pat solution that minimizes the complexity of the issues it’s addressing. McCall’s characterization doesn’t age well, particularly when it comes to women, but even by the standards of the time, it’s hard to see his behavior as anything but boorish and shallow.

Otherwise, it’s not horrendous but neither is it compelling. It’s a fairly competent book, but it left me completely uninterested in further installments in the series.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0

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Graphic Novel Review: A Secret History of Space

This graphic novel collects Issues 4-7 of Boom Studios’ Steed and Peel series based on the 1960s TV show, The Avengers. 

The four issues cover three separate story lines but there is a sense of them being tied together. The art is superb and really fits with the imaginative, often larger than life world of the Avengers as beautiful concepts are explored.

The first Issue features Steed and Mrs. Peal attending a masquerade ball with some dangerous intruders. It’s probably the simplest story in the book, but the art is very good, even though black and white are the predominant colors.

The middle issues are probably most speculative in the book in a plot that involves blackmail of high government officials, secrets from space, and time travel.

The final issue is typical of many actual episodes of the Avengers as Steed and Peal investigate a series of unexplained unwarranted suicides in a small Welsh town. The ending is a little quick, but the concept is well-realized.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable book for fans of the 1960s series. While being single issue stories does make the first and last issue slightly less complex than you’d otherwise expect, writer Caleb Monroe does a marvelous job capturing the spirit and feel of this classic series.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Graphic Novel Review: Steed and Mrs Peel: A Very Civil Armageddon

This trade paperback collects Issues 0-3 of the ongoing Steed and Mrs. Peel comic book series from Boom Studios.

These issues are written by an Eisner award winning comic writer and Mark Waid and get off to a strong start in Issue 0 with several people with high security clearances apparently doing Rip Van Winkle acts and waking up to find its the future and people from the future want their now “out of date” knowledge for “historical purposes.” The solution to this is clever and it feels like something that could have been expanded and broadcast in the 1960s.

The problem becomes that the next three are a single story arc where Steed and Mrs. Peel witness the seaming end of the world and end up in an underground bunker surviving thanks to the villains of the last piece. What’s going on is painfully obvious based on the first story and disappointingly the writing falls a little short of capturing the fun of the original TV series.

The book isn’t bad. The art is fairly good throughout and the first issue is enjoyable, however the three-part story arc in Issues 1-3 makes this a bit harder to get into.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0