Tag: good review

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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Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: Too Many Targets

“Too Many Targets” in an adaptation of the Avengers novel of the same title. It brings together all the lead characters from the six seasons of the British classic TV series The Avengers in one giant case. It begins with Steed (Julia Wadham) being advised Mother (Christopher Benjamin) has gone over and become a double agent. At the same time, Mother is telling Tara King (Emily Woodward) the same thing about Steed.

The story is a lot of fun and does a good job giving each and every member of the Avengers something to do and their own individual entrance into the story. Eventually, they’re drawn into groups before coming together. The casting in this great particularly for roles not heard in Big Finish’s audio adaptations with the roles of Mother, Tara King, and Cathy Gale (Beth Chalmers). These characters were well-realized and fully brought to life, so  they each contributed to the story.

The biggest challenge with this release is the final quarter. There, so much of the story is spent explaining a convoluted and confusing plan. The villains are defeated in an odd way that’s a bit of a letdown.

Still, story problems aside, the release is a nice romp for fans of the Avengers with quite a few Easter eggs. It makes me want to hear more of these characters.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season 4

Season 4 of Black Jack Justice features six episodes of hard boiled adventures with Black Jack Justice and Trixie Dixon, Girl Detective.

The series continues on its steady course with six episodes that include a few solid mysteries and a lot of laughs. The series opener, “A Mid-Summer Night’s Noir” guest stars Mary Jo Pehl of Mystery Science Theater 3000 as the actress of an over-the-top female hard-boiled private eye franchise. Whenever Jack has to watch the movies with Trixie, he tunes out or goes to sleep. However, a newspaper article connects a real-life theft to the movies. Trixie goes on her own to collect the reward and Jack has to catch up.

My favorite episode of the season is, “The Do-Nothing Detective.” Trixie jumps at the chance to be paid not to investigate a case they were already not investigating. Jack’s instincts force them to go to work.

The weakest episode of the season is “The Problem of the Perplexing Pastiche.” Trixie has been on two straight days of surveillance duty and her mind is wandering off to a world where she’s a Sherlock Holmes with Jack as her sidekick and Lieutenant Sabian as a deferential Inspector Lestrade. The episode does have some nice moments and it’s also a different thing to hear an exhausted Trixie speaking as in every other episode. She delivers nothing but high-speed and energetic banter and narration. However, this one went on a while and it was tough to focus on the main mystery even though it tied to her Pastiche mystery.

In the season finale, “Now Who’s the Dummy,” Jack and Trixie take on a ventroliquist client who wants to get an old dummy back from another ventroliquist. By the end of the case, it’s clear both ventroliquists need a therapist more than a pair of detectives, but it’s a fun episode nonetheless.

Overall, Season 4 of Black Jack Justice is a fun listen. While earlier seasons would mix lighthearted romps with episodes that had a more serious tone, this season Black Jack Justice was an unabashed detective comedy. The comedy works well. If you’re looking for a lighthearted detective series, this is a great season to listen to.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audiobook Review: Black Mask 2: Murder is Bad Luck and Other Stories

This second audiobook of the Black Mask books features five stories from the legendary pulp detective magazine.

“Ten Carats of Lead” by Stewart Sterling

A cop on the pawnshop detail tries to solve the murder of a fellow officer in the same department while keeping things from the homicide boys. It gives the story an emotional angle. The story’s helped by Alan Sklar’s deep resonant narration. There are a couple plot twists that don’t quite work, but it’s an enjoyable ride.

“Murder is Bad Luck” by Wyatt Blassingame

An ex-Jockey turned race track cop is caught in the middle of a murder investigation. The story is set in New Orleans and has a good sense of atmosphere. The weird thing about this one is our hero’s obsession with the exact ingredients of any drink mentioned.

“Her Dagger Before Me” by Talmadge Powell

Private investigator Lloyd Carter stumbles into a murder in Tampa. The story is very well-told and moves at a solid pace with a surprising solution.

“One Shot” by Charles Booth

A man enters a house in search of a collectible he wanted to buy. Instead, he finds the seller dead. The only suspect is the man’s beautiful niece. This tale is a true short story as opposed to the others, which feel like Novella-length. The romance that develops between Booth’s hero and the female suspect is more abrupt than most musicals. However, he has to find out if she’s killer, and if not, how can they explain her uncle’s death.

“The Dancing Hats” by Richard Sale.

In this World War II story, the doctor of a Hawaiian leper colony is summoned to the military base by an officer. The officer warns they have 48 hours to save the island from a disaster that will wipe out most of the inhabitants. This great story combines espionage with a medical thriller wrapped in a typical detective story. Narrator Jeff Gurner does a great job bringing all the characters to life. The conclusion of the story was sad but well reflected the hard decisions people had to make during the war.

Before each story we get a short mini-bio of the writer, which adds value to a strong collection.

Overall, this audiobook is outstanding. We get five different stories with five different styles. Three of the stories are set outside of the main cities that dominated the Golden Age. This is a well-curated series that manages to offer samples of some talented, yet mostly forgotten writers of the era. The narrators are generally solid and two or three were superb. If you like mysteries from this era and want to discover a few new gems, this collection is for you.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

The twelve existing episodes of the Johnson’s Wax program are available for free online here.

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Audio Drama Review: Shilling and Sixpence Investigate

The Morlington Mysteries are a series of murder mysteries that have been produced for many years live onstage in Brighton in the UK. While each mystery stands alone, it also could be enjoyed as a series. Producer/Writer/Sound Designer Nigel Fairs brings the Morlington Mysteries to audio in Shillings and Sixpence Investigates which is part of Big Finish’s new “Originals” range.

The series title characters Miss Lavinia Sixpence (Celia Imrie) and Desmond Shilling (David Warner) are new characters for the audio dramas. Sixpence is in charge of a girls’ school with Shilling being the school’s new English teacher. The series also features Doctor Who alumni Lisa Bowerman, Louise Jameson, and Matthew Waterhouse, along with many members of the stage company.

The stories are set in the small town of Morlington Hills at the start of the Second World War. The first series features four separate stories, each split into two half-hour episodes:

1) The Missing Year/The Dark Shadow: The series opens with a standard plot where the Lord of the Manor is murdered. The story serves to introduce the main characters as well to have them joining forces to investigate a murder for the first time. The characters are fun, if a bit broadly written, and they have some nice bonding moments. The mystery features a solid supply of suspects and a fair enough solution. Overall, the first story is a strong start that left me eager for the next story.

2) In the Silent Dead of Night / A Very Messy Business: Sixpence, Shilling, and several characters from the previous story go to the home of the eccentric Baroness Pippin to visit a medium. Murder follows.

This story has a decent plot, though unoriginal with a big hole at the end where the Baroness misses something that was unbelievably obvious.

The performances were mostly solid with Lisa Bowerman doing a great job as the housekeeper. At the same time, Miss Sixpence comes off as particularly unlikable with a mix of arrogance and coldness. Add to that most of these characters aren’t that likable and you’ve got a so-so story.

3) An Appointment with God/The Dying Room: The story focuses on questions raised in the first story and has Miss Sixpence visiting the first murderer and subsequently being kidnapped. It’s up to Shilling and the police to find her before her disturbed kidnapper has his vengeance.

The story is quite a bit darker than the first two stories as the more disturbing elements of the story press the boundary of the cozy mystery feel the first two episodes generated. Where the episode really succeeds is by putting Miss Sixpence through her paces by putting her in danger and making her deal with a past mistake. This makes her a lot more human and relatable. Overall, this is well-acted and well-paced.

4) The Face of An Angel/The Black Widow: In the final mystery, the man set to play St. Bernard in the town’s festival dies in an apparent accident. At the time, Shilling tries to find the Black Widow whose evil deeds connect the crimes in the first three episodes. The story comes to a resounding if not entirely unexpected solution. The story features a few good character moments, particularly for Lady Penelope and Inspector Cribbage.

Nigel Fairs deserves credit for how he manages to tantalize listeners for another series. He doesn’t leave the key cases unsolved, but he drops hints of many intriguing goings on about the village with hints of other unknown underhanded dealings. Inspector Cribbage states he has a reason for being there and is making an inquiry. Some characters have secret pasts. On top of that, three characters end the series in sticky situations. Thus Series 1 sets the stage for more cases in a future box set.

The production values on this series are pretty high. Fairs is as good, if not better, at the sound design and music as he is the writing and the sound makes the story feel true to the era. Overall, this is as good or better than anything you’re likely to hear on the BBC.

This solid historical mystery combines the mystery with a dash of melodrama to make for an engaging listen.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (8/10 for Countries on the Metric System)

Shilling and Sixpence Investigate is currently exclusively available at BigFinish.com

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