Tag: Book Review

Book Review: The Sign of Four

A version of this review appeared in 2011.

The Sign of Four begins when a young woman comes to Sherlock Holmes with a problem. Her father disappeared from his hotel in London on returning on leave from India. She began receiving a pearl a year for the past six year from an anonymous benefactor. She wants Holmes and Watson to accompany her to the mysterious rendezvous. The benefactor informs the party of a fabulous treasure that the young woman is entitled to. However, the benefactor’s brother is found dead and Scotland Yard jumps to conclusions and charges the kindly gentleman as the murderer.

Holmes has to uncover what really happened, free the innocent man, and find the real killer.

The story is wonderfully paced with plenty of excitement, from chasing down the criminals through the use of a dog to another appearance by the Baker Street irregulars, and a thrilling boat chase for the climax of the story.

More than a century after it was first written, the novel shows little sign of its age.  The Sign of Four is well-paced, exciting, and even action-packed story.  It represents Doyle at his finest in many ways.

The puzzle has a touch of the bizarre with its use of exotic weapons and strange footprints, but not too bizarre as seemed to me to be the case in some later Holmes stories such as “The Creeping Man.”

While in Study in Scarlet, we learned about Holmes, in this book we begin to see Holmes’ personality: the genius driven to avoid a hum drum existence, who seeks out trouble to find some problem to keep his attention.

The novel is also noteworthy for its focus on Holmes’ use of cocaine.  Dr. Watson (and by extension Dr. Doyle) were concerned about the use of cocaine in the late 19th Century and its negative effects. However, Doyle wasn’t heavy handed in his approach, and so Watson’s concern sounds more like a modern doctor’s concern with eating too many trans fatty foods. And Holmes is blaise about it, leading to some interactions and statement that may seem surreal or humorous to the modern reader.

If you can get past that, Sign of Four is truly a classic that every fan of detective fiction should read.

Rating 5.0 stars out of 5.0

Note: You can download this book free for your Kindle here. It also should be available for free for other e-readers.

Book Review: Murder on the Links

Murder on the Links is the second Poirot novel by Agatha Christie and entered the public domain in the United States on January 1 of this year. Poirot is summoned to France by a wealthy man needing his urgent assistance. Poirot arrives to find the man murdered and sets out to solve the case.

There are some marked improvements from the first Poirot book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. For one thing, the action gets going far more quickly. We have the dead body at the end of Chapter One.

The plot itself is clever, with a nice collection of red herrings and misdirection for Poirot, Hastings, and the reader to sort through. In addition, there’s a mysterious woman who Hastings is smitten with and may have something to do with the murder.

In this book, Poirot is still developing into the man he’d become in the later books, but he does take several steps away from the more Holmesian feel of the first book as he indicates his focus is more than the psychological than physical evidence. Captain Hastings in love is also an interesting character, even though he complicates Poirot’s efforts because of his feelings for the young woman twice (though he only did it intentionally once.)

The one thing I think didn’t work awas the idea of giving Poirot a rival investigator to play off against. Though in the book it doesn’t bother me as much as it did in the TV and radio adaptations.

Overall, this was a well-crafted mystery with a clever solution. It’s nice to see Poirot’s development as a character, and this book holds up pretty well.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

If you’re in the United States You can download Murder on the Links for free from Project Gutenberg

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Book Review: Body Under the Bridge


Paul McCusker’s Father Gilbert was the lead character in a series of radio plays for Focus on the Family’s Radio Theater. McCusker brings the character back in the novel, “Body Under the Bridge.”

“Body Under the Bridge” has a stunning opening as Father Gilbert confronts a man who’s about to jump off the roof of Gilbert’s church. The man jumps, leaving an object behind. However, Gilbert finds out no one saw the man in the church, and he was committing suicide by another method somewhere else. However, Gilbert still has the object. At the same time, a long-dead body is found at the site of a contentious construction project.

Overall, McCusker’s written a strong mystery. He’s woven an intricate narrative going back hundreds of years, with a complicated web of dark secrets that’s ensnared many of the town’s  inhabitants. The story has a lot of well-done atmospheric moments that increase the tension.

We introduced to a slew of characters, most of whom are likely suspects, and we never quite know who to trust besides Gilbert. The story has several great twists and never drags for a moment. Gilbert is well-written and is believable both as an ex-cop and as a priest.

The reader should be aware this story leans more to the supernatural stories Father Gilbert appeared in such as, “Dead Air,” and does have some disturbing sequences. However, it does mostly steer clear of the melodrama around Gilbert’s family life that  hurt later episodes of the series.

For fans of the original series, this book is a much-welcomed addition to the Father Gilbert canon. If you like detective stories with a supernatural twist, you can also enjoy the book even if you’ve never heard the radio series.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Book Review: Tickets for Death


In Tickets for Death, Michael Shayne is called in to investigate counterfeit race track tickets at a small town outside of Miami. He and his wife Phyllis drive to a hotel. Before he can even get started investigating, he has to kill two thugs in self-defense.

This is a generally solid early Michael Shayne story. The story moves at a great pace, and we are given quite a bit of two-fisted action and a complex mystery with many clues as well as quite a few red herrings.

The only negative is that this novel continues his over-the-top playing fast and loose with the police and evidence. I  thought that writer Brett Halliday had reached the point of reigning in how irresponsible he wrote Shayne as being until the last couple chapters, where he does the most egregious thing I’ve ever read Shayne do.

Despite that, this is a fun read. By no means is it a great novel, but if you’re looking for a detective story from the 1940s with a hard-boiled bent, this one will certainly do the trick.

Rating:3.5 out of 5

 

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Book Review: The Rivers Run Dry


FBI Agent Raleigh Harmon has been re-assigned to the bureau’s Seattle office as punishment for almost getting herself killed while not following orders on the case she solved in Stones Cry Out.

She finds herself a constant target for work no one else wants, including performing the unpleasant task of informing the well-connected family of a missing woman that the FBI can do nothing about the disappearance of her daughter and that the case belongs in the hands of local police until it’s clear a kidnapping has occurred. As new evidence emerges, Raleigh begins an investigation to find the missing young woman and rescue her from the hands of a dangerous kidnapper.

After a strong story, in Stones Cry Out, Sibell Giorello’s second Raleigh Harmon book is if anything, stronger than the first. Sibella is effective at capturing the quirkiness of Seattle and the beauty of Eastern Washington in this story, as she was at conjuring up the rich history and atmosphere of Richmond.

The characters are well-written and believable. Raleigh’s personal life takes a turn as her mother follows her to Seattle, with Raleigh still trying to hide the fact she works for the FBI from her mom. Both move in with Raleigh’s new agey Aunt Charlotte who tries to help Raleigh keep her secret while creating complications like trying to enlist a psychic to help Raleigh with her case.

The mystery is solidly structured, with a realistic procedural feel to most of the story. Raleigh’s background in geology and soil analysis is used frequently without becoming dry. There’s a good suspense throughout and a lot of different suspects as well as a few red herrings. If I had any complaint, it was about how the identity of the kidnapper was uncovered as it’s a bit weak as Raleigh does not get to catch him.

Still, I enjoyed this second book and will definitely read the third.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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