Tag: Book Review

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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Book Review: Except the Dying

Except the Dying is the first of Maureen Jennings’ novels featuring Detectives William Murdoch, a Victorian-era Toronto police detective. Three of Jennings’ novels would be adapted as made-for-TV movies and a TV series would be filmed based on characters from the book.

Except the Dying is quite different from the popular TV series. It’s a straightforward procedural mystery without the bells, whistles, and flaws that define the TV series such as guest appearances from historical personages, new (to the Victoria era) investigative techniques and gadgets being deployed to solve cases and characters with cultural attitudes that no one living at that time had.

Acting Detective William Murdoch is called to investigate the case of a woman found dead and stripped nude. The post-mortem examination reveals she was pregnant and died of exposure after taking a large amount of opium. Murdoch has to discover who killed her and why.

This is is a well-crafted procedural mystery. Murdoch is given lots of suspects and a few red herrings to sift through. Jennings does a great job capturing a sense of life in Toronto in the late Nineteenth Century. It captures all the religious and economic complexities that Toronto had to offer. The story has a grounded and realistic feel to it.

As a character, Murdoch is written in a three dimensional way. He’s intelligent, a Catholic, and learning to dance in hopes of getting an opportunity to meet women again after the recent death of his fiancée. He’s a good cop, but he’s no genius. The rest of the characters are not deep, but they do feel authentic and believable for the era.

Readers looking for a cozy mystery should not expect this book to have a family-friendly feeling. Crimes and vice are described realistically with some violent scenes and harsh words and the case leads Murdoch into contact with ladies of the night. However, while the book is realistic, it’s neither gory or salacious.

Overall, Except the Dying is a solid first novel, a good procedural, and a fine introduction to Jennings’ famous detective.

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Book Review: Three for the Chair

This review was originally published August 27, 2011.

While shopping in the thrift store, I found a 1968 Bantam Paperback copy of Three for the Chair, a 1957 compilation of three Nero Wolfe novellas. While the book was not my planned next Nero Wolfe read, I decided to grab it cheap and enjoy the book.

Each story in this book will be reviewed in its own right.

A Window for Death

A man left his family under a cloud of suspicion and then made a fortune in mining. He returns home and apparently dies of natural causes. Members of the family aren’t so sure, and are suspicious of the man’s partner who inherited the entire mining interest. Wolfe is hired to determine whether there is enough to call the police in.

This story is very workmanlike. There’s little action. The majority of the story involves Wolfe questioning witnesses in the Brownstone and the rest involves Archie doing so outside. No added deaths occur and there are no real plot twists. Inspector Cramer does not appear in the story. A Window for Death ends with Wolfe composing a note to him. Still, the actual solution is pretty clever.

Rating: Satisfactory

Immune to Murder

At the request of an Assistant Secretary of State, Wolfe leaves the comfort of the Brownstone for a rustic fishing resort to help with sensitive oil negotiations by cooking fish for the ambassador who had specifically requested Wolfe. Wolfe hates the locale and plans to leave after lunch. Wolfe’s plans are upset when Archie discovers the Assistant Secretary of State lying dead in stream.

The potential suspects include members of a diplomatic delegation who are immune to prosecution and two rich oil magnates. The District Attorney suggests absurdly that Archie was there as a hired assassin. The truth doesn’t come out until the murderer does something that insults Wolfe’s vanity.

This story was adapted for television on a Nero Wolfe Mystery as the last episode and was panned by fans. In my opinion, there was nothing wrong with either the episode or the story. It was, however unfortunate to make this the last episode. We had none of the familiar supporting characters that fans loved, plus in the context of a final episode, the solution was unsatisfying. However, in the context of a Nero Wolfe reading binge, the story represents a nice change of pace.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

Too Many Detectives

Thanks to Archie’s interest in learning about wiretapping, Wolfe agrees to help a man tap his own phone. Later, Wolfe learns he was duped and the man who hired him didn’t own the phone being tapped.

Wolfe’s embarrassment is deepened when he’s summoned to Albany and forced to endure a long car ride to discuss the matter. Wolfe and Archie find several other detectives waiting.

When it’s their turn to testify, they learn the man who fooled them claimed they knew the wiretap was illegal. When it was time for the phony client to testify, he’s found dead, and Wolfe and Archie are arrested as material witnesses.

While Archie and Wolfe are released on bail, they can’t leave the jurisdiction, a situation Wolfe can’t tolerate. The only way out is for Wolfe to find the killer.

Wolfe compares notes with the other detectives and finds all but one of them was taken in by the same scheme as Wolfe. Wolfe then gets all six detectives to share every available operative back in New York City to solve the case, leading to a surprising and satisfying solution.

This story is notable for featuring Dol Bonner. Ms. Bonner had appeared in her own novel in 1937 and also appeared in a Tecumseh Fox novel. She and Wolfe got along well which had Archie nervous. He figured Bonner was that rare woman Wolfe could actually fall for. Archie even imagines a situation where Archie, Wolfe, Bonner, and Bonner’s assistant Sally Colt are all in the Brownstone solving cases together. Thus, even great authors have intriguing ideas occur to them which, if tried, would wreck their franchise.

As an aside, the story makes me curious to read Stout’s Dol Bonner novel.

As for Too Many Detectives, it was truly a good use of an hour and deserving of a:

Rating: Very Satisfactory

Overall rating for the Collection: Very Satisfactory

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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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