Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mr. Monk On Deck

It’s a jungle out there, you know?


Image result for mr monk gets on boardMonk was a TV series on the USA Network that stared Adrian Monk, a consultant for the San Francisco Police Department, who used to be part of them until his wife got blown up, which most people agree can derail your career something fierce. The show, which ran for eight seasons, featured Monk's quest to find his wife's killer, as well as get involved in many murders. More the latter than the former, to be honest. One of the more common plot devices on the show was to have someone who could not have committed the murder commit the murder, in a modern version of Christie Logic.* Monk's other main gimmick was that Monk suffered from Hollywood OCD**, which both made him insufferable (as someone with mild OCD tendencies himself, I can confirm this is true) as well as gave him an awareness of everything around him, useful for solving crimes (this is not true).

The spin-off novels by Lee Goldberg are, on the whole, are quite good. The ones written after the series ended felt weaker in the mystery plotting, but were still good on the whole. Theeeen Hy Conrad took over. The first book under his name, Mr. Monk Helps Himself was a horrid book that managed to not only bungle an interesting mystery plot, but also managed, in my opinion, to butcher the character of both Monk and his assistant/narrator of the books, Natalie. It’s hard to explain how, especially since I read the book about a year or so ago, but Monk came off as far more of a malicious jerk, and Natalie seemed far too...weak, I guess is the word, falling to pieces over the victim of the week. I dunno, again, it’s been awhile since I’ve read it, and I was a Goldberg fan.

But that was then, and this is now, and I decided to suck it up and pick up the next in the series, Mr. Monk Gets on Board. In his introduction, Conrad refers to this as a “lost episode” of the TV show, one he and the rest of the writers always wanted to do, but never had a chance/got permission to do. While I was never a regular watcher of the show, this introduction interested me, and raised my hopes for the novel. Hopes that, I’m glad to say, were not entirely unfounded.

The plot of the book goes down on the docks of a semi-fancy cruse ship where Natalie intends to attend a business seminar, in the hopes of making something of the PI agency she and Monk (mostly her) have set up. However, it doesn’t take long for problems to arise. For one, the ship is also hosting ordinary guests since the business seminar part has been losing money. For another, Monk manages to make it onboard the ship, immediately clashing with his roommate. Natalie finds a bastion of sanity in the ship’s cruise director, Mariah, but this is Monk, where no one can make friends without said friends dying. Or being a murderer.

An overheard conversation at a stop tips Natalie off that Mariah and the captain of the ship are having an affair. Natalie (not unreasonably, since Monk is around, and when Monk is around, people die) decides that the captain intends to off her. Monk agrees, and the two watch him. Of course, this being Monk, murder happens anyway.

The man overboard alarm sounds, resulting in the discovery of Mariah’s body floating in the water. An injury on her head leads to the conclusion that she simply slipped and fell in the water, but Monk and Natalie (as well as the reader) are well aware that the captain bashed her over the head, but in Monk tradition, he has an alibi. He was in full sight of multiple passengers, including Monk and Natalie for some time before the alarm went off, making it impossible for him to have dumped Mariah's body overboard. The trick here is split into two parts, and shouldn’t pose a challenge to the experienced mystery reader. Still, the second part of the trick is clever, and well-hinted. But there’s more to the book than this, including a problem brought up by the captain himself.

A rash of vandalism has struck the ship, and not the fun kind of vandalism, the not-fun kind, such as screws being removed from balcony railings. While no one has died yet, the captain (or to be more accurate, his wife) decides to hire Monk and Natalie to look into the incidents. This sub-plot is also handled surprisingly well, though it needed a tad more cluing to push it into “fair play.” Still, I was oddly satisfied.


There’s another subplot running through the novel, involving the opening of the book, which involves the murder of an old man and the theft of Shakespeare's First Folio. The result, which incidentally kicks off the book’s plot, results in Natalie meeting the obligatory cute guy, who promises to continue helping the police in their investigation, only to keep blowing them off at every turn. This thread finally culminates in a hit-and-run at one of the ship’s stops, and I’m sad to say that not much comes of it. Ultimately, it just serves to draw out the climax.

All in all, this was actually a good book, which I wasn’t expecting. It was so good, that I actually sucked it up and got the next Monk book Conrad did, which I thought I never would. Recommended.
Next time, Christie! Probably.








* "This person could not have committed the murder, therefore he did."

** See also: "Hollywood DID, Hollywood Kleptomania, and Hollywood Insanity"

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

That Was...Objectionable!

EDIT: Welp, note to self, don't copy/paste directly from Google Docs without killing the formatting.


Do I have to explain to anyone who Agatha Christie is?
Image result for the witness for the prosecution
The Queen of Crime (a well-deserved title!) put out many different works showing off how to kill people. She created two of the most famous detectives of all time: Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She also wrote quite a few non-series things that no one cares about, so I decided to read them myself. The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories contains eleven stories, including one Poirot because the publishers ran out of material (Disclaimer: This is probably not the reason.) The rest are all non-series. Let’s go!

“The Witness for the Prosecution” has a timeless set-up. A man is accused of killing an old woman for money. He tells his lawyer that his wife can give him an alibi. The lawyer is doubtful, because he’s read enough mystery stories to know that wives lie. Sadly for him, not only is she testifying, she’s testifying for, well, guess. This is more of a legal thriller with a tweeeeeest at the end, and the main mystery is it’s baffling popularity.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid story, but I’m honestly wondering who looked at this relatively short story and thought, “We should make a play/movie about this.” Ahh well.

“The Red Signal” is about, er, well, ahah...I’m not sure. There’s a séance, some girl the protagonist likes who might be crazy, something about “red signals” as a sign for danger, and the obligatory murder, but the story kinda lurches getting from one topic to another. There is neat bit where Christie misdirects both the narrator and the reader about the topic of a conversation, which I thought was neat.

After that, Christie put that story away, got out the hard drugs, and did “The Fourth Man,” Stephen King style. Three men, one representing the church, one science, and one the law, end up in a train car and discuss a woman who claimed to have split personalities. Of course, there’s a fourth man in the car, and he has a far more bizarre-and disturbing-truth to tell. It’s a truth that’s very...different from the normal Agatha fair. I liked it, though it’s definitely the oddball here.

Also, was this based on a real thing? Because I swear I recall reading about a woman similar to the one mentioned here.

After coming off of the high, Christie turned her attention to this next story, “S.O.S” It’s the stuff of good thrillers. A motorist is forced to take shelter in an isolated house, and while the family treats him warmly, the “S.O.S” written in the dust of his room tells him that things are afoot. What things? Danged if I know, I've read this story many times, and I still don’t understand the conclusion at all. I get the gist of it, but the protagonist seems to pull it out of him bum, saying that he figured it out from what a person told him. But this person didn’t tell him that, they told him the exact opposite. And the reason for the S.O.S is decidedly meh.

Still nursing a headache, Christie next gives us “Wireless”. A woman gets a wireless radio from her nephew, which is all well and good, until her dead husband starts using it, to go all, “Yeah, I’m gonna pay a visit.” It’s a standard story, and the reveal of who was phone isn’t going to shock anyone. Twist at the end is a little understated.

Next on the list is the story “The Mystery of the Blue Jar.” A young man trying (and failing) to master his golf swing hears a cry of “Murder!” No matter how hard he tries, he can only find a young woman who denies making the cry or hearing it. Needless to say, this causes some good old fashioned paranoia, and it all seems to have something to do with a blue jar. A decent story, with a good twist.

“Sing a Song of Sixpence” is one of the more classical stories in this collection. A lawyer is called upon by an old lover of his to look into the murder of her aunt, who got whacked on the head a few times. In normal Christie tradition, suspicion is flying around between family members, and it’s up to an outsider to resolve it. It’s actually a borderline locked room, as the maid of the house heard no one moving around the house. The solution nudges the fairness boundary slightly, but not much.

“Mr. Eastwood’s Adventure” is a bit of light comedy. The titular Mr. Eastwood, a struggling author, is fighting for a plot to his newest novel “The Adventure of the Second Cucumber” when he gets a Mysterious Phone Call (™) from a Mysterious Lady (™) provoking him to set off for adventure in the grand manner. Though really, it’s a funny story with a kick in the end, though it’s a kick that’s already been used once in this collection.

Next up, we have “Philomel Cottage” which is more domestic suspense, written for ladies who think that they’re husband is bad enough, at least he isn’t planning on killing them. (Disclaimer: If your husband is planning on killing you, I sincerely apologize for the offense. You should also stop reading a sub-par blog and call the police.) Christie’s take on the legend of Bluebeard, it’s a well-done story, though predictable in almost all respects. The way the protagonist deals with her husband is clever though.

“Accident” is about a former inspector who sees a woman who he knows was involved in a certain “accident” with her previous husband. And her step-father. And probably this new sap too. A decent reverse whodunit with a tweeeeest.

The last story here, “The Second Gong” brings out Poirot, mustache and all, to the estate of one Hubert Lytcham Roche. Poirot is supposed to look into some financial irregularities, but ends up arriving just as his client locks himself in his office and shoots himself. Of course, Poirot goes and shows murder, in this shorter version of Dead Man’s Mirror. Which is slightly worse than this story, with a far too large cast. This is a simpler mystery, but it works much better.

All in all, a decentish collection of short suspense and mystery stories. Sadly, this is more a collection of interesting hooks than full stories, and one often ends up thinking that they could have been fleshed out a bit. At least, I did anyway, and since I’m writing the review, that’s the opinion that gets known.

Next time, either a look even further back into the history of the mystery, or a novel, for once. And one written in the last fifty years too.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

I Object!

So I love the Ace Attorney series and want an excuse to ramble about it for months on end.



For those of you poor souls who have no idea what I'm talking about, the Ace Attorney series (Gyakuten Saiban in Japan) is a long-running visual novel/adventure game series about attorneys. Better than it sounds, I promise. With five main series games (and a sixth due to come out at the time of this post) a spin-off series, a crossover with the Professor Layton games, and another spin-off taking place in Victorian England, there's a lot to cover.

For backstory: According to the translation of the games, the series takes place in a future where the criminal justice system has been completely overhauled. Trials now take three days max, juries are abolished, the prosecution has far more leeway in what counts as  "proof", "Guilty until proven innocent" is the norm, and really it resembles the Japanese legal system, minus the three days part. This makes sense when you consider that the series was originally intended as a satire of said system.

The series mainly revolves around the life and times of Phoenix Wright and his associates. Phoenix himself is one the more abused lawyers in mystery fiction, regularly subjected to whips, thrown coffee, thrown toupees,, thrown knives, and witnesses who lie. A lot. And perjury doesn't exist in the wonderful world of Japanifornia. (Japanifornia is a word which here means: A nation that results when you claim your game is set in Los Angeles, but then the creators start tossing in more and more Japanese locals.)

I honestly do love this series, in all it's madness. The writing is funny, the translation is top-notch (mostly, "The miracle never happen." is a meme for a reason.), the music is amazing, the characters are varied, and the mysteries are solid. And so, I've decided to go through it. All of it.

Yes, this is the beginning of the Ace Attorney Retrospective (or AAR). I intend to go through all of the Ace Attorney games (even the Layton crossover) and review the cases, one by one. This, obviously. will take a loooong while for me, especially considering I now have about 100-150 hours worth of text to watch on YouTube. Not sure if I intend to hit the manga, depends on if I can find cheap copies. Anything else is debatable.

Yes, this boils down to an advertisement for a project that I haven't even started on, but I'm getting back into shoving my opinions in your face and mocking the idea that I could ever be wrong blogging, and I need that hype.

And for the record, the fat man was due for the last act, but was sadly found dead in a locked room, shot in the head. Maybe. Bullet in the brain, no actual visible injuries. The killer is suspected to be a dashing man in red who was seen running into a room with no other exits, but vanished. It's a Thursday, what do you expect?

Next time: Actual content, and I finish the title with help from the Queen of Crime.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Loopy-Garou

Image result for the night of the wolfWere I more pretentious/educated, I would throw in some French phrase here to seem intelligent. As it is, you get a summary.

Paul Halter is claimed by many to be the next John Dickson Carr, who has come to purge all inferior mystery novels and replace them with holy locked rooms.* Having read most his translated novels, I will say that this is...semi-accurate. His books are rather good, but there always seems to be something holding them back. And I, sadly, have not read enough Carr to give an accurate comparison. Thankfully, I'm just reviewing a short story collection.

The Night of the Wolf contains ten of Halter's short stories. They either feature Dr. Alan Twist (Dr . Fell after his weight loss program), Owen Burns (a jerk), and Irving Farrell (the most interesting one, so of course he doesn't have his own novels). Personally, I feel that the short story format plays up Halter's strengths, and limits his weaknesses. But that's for the summary, let's get to the dead people.

The collection opens with the Farrell story, "The Abominable Snowman". While wandering a cookie-cutter town on his way to a party, Farrell runs into a mysterious man who offers to tell him about a murder committed some years ago. You know the story, two brothers love the same girl, one dies in war, other one marries girl, second brother possesses snowman to beat his brother to death, and the village fool get strung up for it. I don't know about you, but I think we need more Christmas stories like this. The story itself is rather complex (or so it seemed to me when I read it) but the clues are there, it's quite clever.

Next up is Dr. Twist in "The Dead Dance At Night". Stranded in a mansion, Twist recalls a story about dancing corpses in a sealed tomb, and what do you know, his hosts were the people in that story. Twist pretty quickly unravels this one, and even solves a murder in the process. It's another good story, though it's hampered by family exposition. (And an error, as I'm pretty sure Halter has a dead character giving advice).

The good doctor shows up again for "The Call of the Lorelei" A ship ride down the Rhine brings him into contact with a man who offers to tell him of a real death caused by the Lorelei. A German man was lured out onto a frozen lake, and only his foot prints were found. Obviously, there's a human hand behind it all, using a simple, if clever trick. Fun Fact: I actually narrated this story for a speech class once. Abridged, yes, but still.

"The Golden Ghost" is up next and, well...it's a thing. The story stars a modern Scrooge who's more than I tad disturbed by the match girl that shows up on his doorstep, especially when she explains that she's been chased by a flickering, golden ghost. The lack of footprints in the snow behind her seem to disprove it, but when a friend confirms the story, our "hero" is plunged into a nightmare. Which this story is. I'm dead serious, that ending left me cold when I first read it. Kinda like Carr when  he was feeling dark.

We now move on to another non-series story, "The Tunnel of Death". A drifter talks with a police officer (it's at this point that I feel I should mention that this is the format of just about every one of Halter's short stories. Person talks to Great Detective(TM) about something, Great Detective(TM) solves it. Not so much complaining as musing.)  about a series of bizarre murders in a tunnel under the influence of one of the most ridiculous gypsy curses in mystery fiction. People have been shot by an unknown and invisible assailant, with the most recent death being the obligatory evil businessman who was shot even though he was surrounded on all sides. It's a bit of a weak story, honestly, the main trick borders on cheating. But hey, one of the suspects in it is named Picard, so you can sing the Picard Song while reading.

Owen Burns, lover of the fine arts and the fine art of murder, realizes that this collection doesn't have enough of him yet, and sets out to rectify that with "The Cleaver". While indulging in that great British pastime of complaining about America, Burns meets an American diplomat who offers a true American ghost story. A bank teller has a dream about a gruesome murder, and is so shaken that he goes to try and confirm it...and runs right into the "killer". He insists on checking on the "victim" and, surprise surprise, he's gotten a cleaver to the throat. Another good story, though hampered by the lack of possible false solutions.

The next story once again features Burns, though the pain is soothed by what is this collection's highlight, "The Flower Girl". Some botched flirting lets Burns and Achilles Stock (his Watson, much too unimportant to mention before now) hear about a rich family who were witness to a young flower girl's Santa visit, a claim made all the more convincing by the bizarre tracks in the snow: The prints of reindeer and a sleigh can be clearly seen in the snow outside...but they seem to start and stop in the middle of the street. The local Scrooge objects to this "joy and happiness" crap, which may have led to Santa going full Black Christmas on him...and dropping him from his sleigh! The solution to this story is neat and simple and oh so fitting for the puppet master(s) behind St. Nicholas. It also led me to a kindred spirit in Achilles, who gets just as annoyed with Burns as me.

The next story, "Rippermaina" is sadly the point where the collection stumbles a bit. Halter indulges one of his favorite topics, Jack the Ripper, via a man who claims to be dreaming of Victorian London, with some murders tossed in for good measure. A dull thriller with an obvious TWEEEEEST.

Dr. Twist (I swear I didn't intend that pun) has another showing with "Murder in Cognac" Don't know what that is? Neither do I. And I still don't know. All I know is that a man is poisoned in his locked tower after being threatened by Philippe Faux (marvel at that name, marvel more if I managed to spell it right), only managing to get out, "The cat brought a tin." This story is hard to review, because, thinking about it, I may have accidentally hit on Halter's game when I first read this, making it too obvious. (Le Spoiler: I think that Halter intended to trick the reader into think  that it was a reverse whodunit. The killer is obvious, so it's just a matter of how. I never hit on that idea, so I hit on the actual killer, and therefore ended up not liking the story.) The solution/main clue are both a tad blah.

The collection wraps up with "The Night of the Wolf." Farrell once again takes the stage, this time looking into the death of the town's skirt chaser, apparently killed by a werewolf that not only claws you, but stabs you. For reasons. At least it was kind enough to leave only its footprints in the snow leading up to house,  It doesn't take a lot of effort on Farrell's part to unravel the facts, though the backstory is a tad vague, and the solution might raise an eyebrow or two.

All in all, I liked it. Halter is at his best in short stories, I feel. His characters tend to be a tad flat which isn't as much of a problem as it would be in a full novel, and the limited page counts makes him focus on one problem instead of jumping between numerous problems, some of which aren't explained well. This, however, is a very solid short story collection, and good, I think, for getting someone new to mysteries into them.

*As found in Carr 12:8, which may or may not exist.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

It Ain't Over Till The Fat Man Sings

More Crippen and Landru, more locked rooms. Such fun.

This is not, has not been, and hopefully never will be a political blog, aside from the jabs that I feel is every person's noble responsibility. But that's neither here nor there. What is both here and there is the subject of this review: Banner Deadlines: The Impossible Files of Senator Brooks U. Banner, written by one of the most underappreciated mystery authors out there, Joseph Commings.

The book stars the titular Senator Banner, who seems to be Dr. Gideon Fell after his attempt at a weight-loss program. He seems to do very little politicking, focusing more on getting involved in bizarre impossible crimes (not that I object). But he does not merely look at locked and bolted doors, oh no! Too mundane. Why not a sword wielded by a giant? Or a delivered gun that kills without even damaging the envelope? ...Yes, it's obvious that I like this collection already....

Murder Under Glass

Despite my earlier rant, this story does indeed begins with a murder committed behind a locked door...to a room made of glass. A famous glass manufacturer is stabbed in his greatest creation, and only Banner can uncover the truth...even if said truth is semi-flawed. (SPOLIERS Wouldn't the witnesses have heard two crashes and not one? And looking back, the one who mentions this...is the killer. Why? And could a jack really lift the room up that high? END SPOLERS) The concept is very good, but the execution...yeah.

Fingerprint Ghost

A séance is held to uncover the truth in a past death. To the surprise of no one, it's organizer is stabbed to death. While everyone is straightjacketed. And they're linked by touching feet. Just for fun. the story is far better than the previous, with the best kind of "Well, duh." solution. The kind that makes you feel a little dumb for not catching it immediately. Though I do have wonder both at the killer's motivations, and Banner's actions at the end. It's not like he was short of evidence...

The Specter on the Lake

There's a legend on Mad Moon Lake.  Two lovers drowned themselves because forbidden love, and now the tragedy receives a new spin when two parts of a love triangle are shot to death on the lake...even though no one approached. I'm actually a little reluctant to critique...mainly because I don't know how much of this me or Commings. I think that he reversed (SPOLIERS the victims' positions) which completely changes the story. I don't know for sure, but the story is broken if he did.

The Black Friar Murders

Eric Bayne is on the prowl. No one knows his face, but he seems to have wormed his way into a group stranded in a cloister. Oh, and there's a ghostly friar stabbing people in barred cells before running through the wall. The story is well told, with a fairly hinted at killer, but the solution to the impossible crime isn't hinted at all. Also, Banner's plan is.. odd, to say the least. Why would the killer decide that something a petty as that was somehow going to expose everything?

Ghost in the Gallery

Linda Carewe poisoned her husband with five grams of arsenic. It what will go down as one of history's greatest murder fails, not only does he live, but he also gains the superpower of vanishing from an observed room after stabbing a woman to death. Kinda useless all thing considered, unless you're a serial killer. The actual solution is well done, and the story itself moves at a nice pace.

Death by Black Magic

Fifteen years ago, Simmonds, playing Othello, actually strangled his wife, playing Desdemona, before vanishing from the stge. The theater that it all went down in seems like a great place to test a magic trick, so thinks the magician who will be strangled in his own cabinet in full view of his daughter and Banner. The murderer is fairly hinted at, but the solution is nearly impossible to figure out. The past crime is interesting though.

Murderer's Progress

A bunch of smart people with nothing better to do all decide to come up with some ingenious ways to make Banner look dumb. It'd be a doomed plan from the start, but then one comes up with the idea to arrange a nice impossible vanishing....that ends with both participant dead. A nice, multi-layered story, who's only real flaw is a slight lack of cluing about the solution.

Castanets, Canaries, and Murder

Kean Smith has some problems. He seems to have won the affections of a woman who's kinda crazy to him. Oh, and she has a problem with some dead canaires. Thankfully, Banner's happy to look into it...and he uncovers blackmail, and a murder almost committed almost in front of a running camera. And no, the killer wasn't seen. How silly would that be! The problem is that you will either instantly see the trick, or miss it with no in between. The clueing for the killer is at least semi-fair. The leading lady is a tad on the over-the-top side though.

The X Street Murders

Already done. Twice.  Large And In Charge

Hangman's House

During a storm, Banner finds himself stranded with a bunch of people in a mansion cut off by a flood. They all survive and go home happy. The end.

Hah. The original owner is found hanging by an insanely high chandelier over a floor of almost unbroken dust. It's a well-done and grand solution, that's marred by the fact that there are only two clues to the killer's identity. One is small and without context, the other is slammed in your face. Also, why does the killer need to do all of this? Just dump the body in the raging flood surrounding the house. Also, the motivation is...very weak at best. At worst, you'd think that the victim and killer would be reversed. Fremantle did threaten them...

The Giant's Sword

Estelle Whitelake is not happy. That nice painting that she bought? A forgery. The dealer that she bought it from? Dead, impaled on an overly large sword better suited for a giant. Probably the most creative of the stories, and another with a perfect, "Well, duh." solution. The killer is a little obvious though.

Stairway to Nowhere (co-written by Edward D. Hoch)

Jim Newman is not having the best day. His girlfriend vanished about halfway up a staircase. She might have been running around with a valuable diamond.  Nope. Not a good day. Good thing that Banner is around to offer insight! This is one of two stories that follow a different character, and it's done well here, with Banner being inscrutable. The solution is well-done, and the story itself is also very good.

The Vampire in the Iron Mask

Colonel Hope Seven is trying to give Guy St. Hilaire a medal for his work in Nazi killing, but he's being a stubborn old jerk. Throw in a beautiful woman, and you have nice tension going.  And this is before the iron-masked vampire starts strangling kids and writing names in a locked tomb. Because those are the things you see at creepy French boarding schools. All joking aside, the story is quite good, with a nice solution and motive for the locked room. Though I do have to wonder how the reader is supposed to know that (SPOLIERS the first death was accidental. No really, how? END SPOLIERS) The story also could've done with more suspects.

The Whispering Gallery

An evil magician. An upside-down killer. A man vanishing from his house. Stolen Egyptian papyrus. All of these are interesting plot elements...individually. Unfortunately, it feels like Commings wrote a few lines for each idea, then crammed then together into a story. It's a mess. What was the point of that tarot lady, for example? Even the solution manages to be underwhelming, mainly because there was no reason for the killer to do that!

All in all, a very good collection. The stories, while flawed in places, are well-told. Banner himself is also entertaining to watch in action, which is good because the stories would be a little bland otherwise. I still think that some of the solutions are near-impossible to figure out without specialized knowledge, they're at least interesting. Out of fourteen stories, I only didn't care for two. That's good, right?

I'm giving this a recommendation. If just so we can get more of these stories.

Next time, the French John Dickson Carr. And werewolves.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Dynamic Duo

Let's face it, I need to read more Bill Pronzini.

For the uninitiated, Bill Pronzini is one of the few authors who can combine hard-boiled noir with the best elements of the Golden Age. I admit that I haven't read too much of Pronizini, but that will change soon. Like almost every author I read, I got started on his short stories.

John Quincannon and Sabina Carpenter have both gotten a revival recently, but they were mainly confined to two novels and some short stories at the time that Carpenter and Quincannon: Professional Detective Services was released by the obvious suspect, Crippen and Landru. John Quincannon was Secret Service agent, until he accidently killed a woman. Sabrina Carpenter, was the wife of a Pinkerton detective, until he got killed. Together, they fight crime. This is a collection of stories staring the two of them, with a nice mixture of stories, including locked rooms! But can they overcome my nitpickiness about clueing?

No Room at the Inn

Quincannon would really like to be relaxing on Christmas Eve, not hunting a crook thorugh the wilderness. But his paycheck carries him on, and when he sees that the owners of a inn have been dragged in, he needs to call upon his detective skills....

Not really a mystery, but this is still a very competent story. The main mystery part is...semi-clued. It's hinted at, but I'm not sure of how fair it is.

Burgade's Crossing

Noah Rideout has a slight problem: Someone is trying to kill him, and they probably have a very good reason for it, he being the stereotypical jerk who's normally killed in mysteries. If he dies, however, Quincannon isn't getting paid, so he's stuck protecting the man, and maybe even figuring out who wants him dead and is willing to act on it...

A decent story. Well-paced, funny, and fairly clued, this story's main problem is that nothing really stands out. It's very good, it just pales in comparison to most of the others. But most of the others are locked rooms, so I admit a bias.

The Cloud Cracker

Leonide Zachs is a cloud cracker, someone who can supposedly use chemicals to make it rain. Needless to say, he's a scam artist, and Quincannon has been sent in to bring him in. In what will become a recurring theme here, Zachs meets his end before that, and in a locked room to boot...

This is good. The locked room is nice, and the ending is perfect, but I have two major complaints.
(SPOLIERS 1. The timing. I can buy that they could time the shot with the rocket, it wouldn't have to be absolutely perfect...but how could Collard time the fake shot so perfectly? Especially when Quincannon could just yank him away form the door? 2. How are we supposed to know that Collard knows ventriloquism? Yes, the rest is fair, but still...I admit that I might just be picky. END SPOLIERS)

Lady One-Eye

At the Palace, Lady One-Eye is the best of the best...and she might be an ingenious card shark. Quincannon and Carpenter have been hired not only to prove it one way or the other, but also find out who threatened the Lady and her husband. A task made harder when said husband is shot, and no one sees who fired....

Another good story. Not much more to say, other than that the method isn't clued very well. (If it all...)

Coney Game

Quincannon arrested Long Nick Darrow eighteen years ago, and put an end to his coney game. (Which, despite making me think of some carnival scam, actually involves counterfeiting.) Now that he's been released, and got his old work going, he's aiming right at Quincannon..

This is a thriller rather than a mystery, but it's fun. Not much to say other than generic, "The writing was good, it was funny, etc."

The Desert Limited

A chance encounter gives Carpenter and Quincannon a shot at fugitive Evan Gaunt. He's being watched, he's on a train, he'll be arrested when he gets off...He's cornered. Then he walks into the bathroom, and vanishes..

This story had potential. A lot of potential. But the cluing is under par, and there's no way you can figure it out. The last twist is funny, but again, no way of you solving it.

The Horseshoe Nail

Quincannon goes undercover at a logging camp to find the loot of a thief, and bring said thief in. In keeping with his record throughout the collection, something goes wrong. This time, the thief is found dead in his cabin, the door barred on the inside...

Er....Good? Once again, I have no real complaints, other than that the method really isn't clued...but I fully admit that that's just me, and the killer's identity is fairly clued.

Medium Rare

Professor Vargas of the Unified College of the Attuned Impulses has gathered together a small group to show off his spiritual prowess, and make money off it. Unfortunatly for him, the husband of one of his followers has hired our heroes to expose him. Even more unfortunately, after showing off what looks like unambiguous supernatural activity, someone stabs him in the back...And not only was the door locked, but everyone was holding hands...

First, that pun is awful. Second, this is a pretty good story, especially with how it explains all of the tricks during the séance....but it almost seemed as if the story was more focused on those, and the actual murder suffered as a result. The cluing was just barely there, and the solution was very simple. The humor was good though.

The Highbinders

Quincannon makes a late night visit to an opium den. His target: a lawyer who might know something about the missing body of a Chinese gang leader. Problem: The lawyer is shot, and now Quincannon must hit the streets of Chinatown with only the words "Fowler's Alley" and "blue shadow" to go on...

Once again, more not really a full mystery, but entertaining nonetheless. There's a light mystery element, but it's easy. (SPOLIERS It also falls into the trap of "This person was a jerk to the detective THEREFORE THEY ARE EVIL! END SPOLIERS)

I have to say, this was better than I thought it would be. I recalled finding the stories underclued, but, aside from a few, they were done well. The stories are entertaining to read as well, with some nice humor. Although, the "will-they-won't-they" stuff does get a little vexing.

I give this collection a 7 out of 10. Next time, the only politician I would vote for without hesitation.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Night My Friend

Yes, I said I would do Pronzini. I also said that I would be faster with these....

Halloween is considered our creepy holiday. Probably originating as a pagan festival, it ended up getting turned into a fun time for small children, and an excuse to pig out on assorted sugary things.
Thankfully, some great writers are happy to remind us of the horror that lurks around us.

In the spirit of the holiday, I decided to take a look at yet another anthology. This time, it's Murder For Halloween. Which, surprise, surprise, has stories that focus on Halloween, or All Hallows Eve if you want to be pretentious about it. I admit that I picked this up not because I wanted to celebrate the holiday, but because Hoch and Queen were in it. Still, can the rest hold up?

Monsters by Ed McBain

If there's one part of Halloween that everyone thinks about, it's trick-or-treating. Generally, it doesn't involve knives and robbery, not a revenge that perfectly fits the Halloween theme...

Not much to say here. A nice start to the collection, but otherwise, nothing stand out.

The Lemures by Steven Saylor

In ancient Rome, a man seemingly jumps off of his balcony upon seeing the ghost of a former friend. Meanwhile,  a retired soldier spends his days in fear of ghosts from his past. Both are seemingly being tormented by creatures know as Lemures....

Well. This is strange. This is really two separate stories. One is dull and cheats horrible with its solution on multiple levels, while the other plays somewhat fair, and is actually good. I'll leave it in the air, but know that I only enjoyed the story because of said part. The other half cheats.

The Adventure of the Dead Cat by Ellery Queen

Ellery hates surprise parties, and when this surprise Halloween party has a murder game, he hates it even more. Thankfully for him and the reader, someone has the decency to make the game real, and they were even kind enough to make an impossible crime out of it! Just how did they go though a cluttered room in complete darkness...?

Ah. Quality. A fine showing from Ellery Queen with fair cluing, some decent humor, and a nice problem. Although (SPOLIERS how did Lucy know all of this in advance? The summation implies that she planned this, but everything seemed to be pretty random. The game, the choice of victim...END SPOILERS) But hey, maybe I misread it.

The Odstock Curse by Peter Lovesey

In fiction, Gypsy curses are a thing. They also tend to be very effective things, especially when skeptics are involved, a one man finds out...

Good. That's really all I can say. No real detection. Just a good Halloween story.

The Theft of the Halloween Pumpkin by His Excellence Edward D. Hoch

Nick Velvet is a bizarre thief. Most steal money, artifacts, paintings, and other valuable things. Nick steals only the  worthless, like a jack-o-lantern. He also has a habit of crime solving, like rumors of bet fixing...

For once, I don't have complete mindless praise. This is still a good story, but the clueing is weaker than normal. Other than that, good.

Halowe'en for Mr. Faulkner by August Derleth

Guy Fawkes had a plan to blow up Parliament. Like all good plans, it was foiled by stupidity, and now he is celebrated in England, Alan Moore's head, and 4chan. None of this is important to our Mr. Faulkener, until he's suddenly thrown back in time...

Er...Good? I mean, there's nothing really offensive here. It's...good?

Deceptions by Marcia Muller

A young woman leaves a suicide note and her car behind. The implication is obvious. But did she really throw herself off of the Golden Gate Bridge...?

Another "good, not great" story. The opening is good, but the rest is pretty standard. The solution is also pretty obvious. Also....what does this have to do with Halloween? I mean, there's a Halloween party mentioned, but other than that...

The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe

A man adopts a black cat, a cat that witnesses its master's slow decent into debauchery. The end result of this is one dead wife and the perfect crime, but cats have a habit of messing with their owners, especially when it comes to the important things in life....

Once again, good, with a nice ending. The build-up is nice, and aside from the older writing style, a very nice read.

OMJAGOD by James Brady

The usual tale of children against the forces of adults. This time, it's not just the jerk up the road, but some gangsters too...

Can I just say that this is the best title in the collection? Say it out loud, OMJAGOD. It sounds awe-inspiring, intimidating. I would think of , like, a struggle through the swamps of Louisiana, or something. Unfortunately, I probably enjoyed this story the least. It's not because of the plot; though said plot is an utter mess, but because of the writing style. It's..awful. It's trying too hard to be different, and it's just hard to read.

The Cloak by Robert Bloch

All Henderson really wants is a scary Halloween costume to shake up the fancy party he's going to. He gets one alright. The authentic article...

Just a Halloween story. Good? Nothing really spectacular... (SPOLIERS By the way, ignore that opening, This isn't a sad or depressing story at all. END SPOLIERS)

What a Woman Wants by Michal Z. Lewin

A tale of a writer, a policeman, and a very specific car thief. And the perils or love, just to make it worse...

This...really isn't that good. There's no real mystery, the seeming main premise goes nowhere, and the story itself is a let down.

Yesterday's Witch by Gahan Wilson

This is a short enough story that I'll skip a summary. All I'll say is that it involves dares and witches, always a pleasant combination. It's good, but to be honest, I felt like it could have played up some childhood fears more. Knocking on the door of what you think is a witch, not sure what will happen...There could have been more, I think. (SPOLIERS Also, this lady is a terrible witch. All she really does is mess with the kids... END SPOLIERS)

Walpurgis Night by Bram Stoker

On Walpurgisnacht, an Englishman travelling through the countryside stumbles upon a path that leads to a village where the dead walked. Ignoring his guide as well as his common sense, he sets out...

Yes. That Bram Stoker. The same Bram Stoker who wrote Dracula. This was apparently meant to be some sort of opening, and it does it's job well. The atmosphere is good, though Dracula's actions at the end seem to make no sense.

Trick or Treat by Judith Gardner

Once again, too short for a summary. Just a story that's meant to creepy you out, and it does a decent job of it. I just wish that the narrator wasn't such a jerk though..

One Night at a Time by Dorothy Cannell

He's vampire in recovery with a talent for deduction. He's a warlock chronicling his patient's adventures. And their first client? A ghost....

This had the best premise in the entire collection. A supernatural Holmes and Watson? A world with said supernatural running around? Yes! I want that!...And then the mystery falls flat due to a lack of clueing. It's a shame, as I liked the solution, you just had no chance to figure it out.

Night of the Goblin by Talmage Powell

Once again, too short to summarize. It involves a kid's diabolical plan...that really doesn't seem justified. I'm sorry, but the victim isn't fleshed out enough for this to feel like some great victory. Though I did learn how to put razor blades in candy so that's something...?

Trick-or-Treat by Anthony Boucher

Ben Flaxner is a man on the run. Still, he's managed to find a safe haven, and he might be able to resolve things. Then a small trick-or-treater shoots him. Could it really be a ghost that shot him...?

Yes, this has almost the exact same title as earlier story. I didn't make edit the thing. Thankfully, this story is far better than the last few, with a good mystery with a nice dose of humor. It's my first Boucher too...

Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub

He's called Hat. He's a jazzman, a good one, and one who no one knows much about. A college student sets out to change that, and gets a tale of a Halloween night, and a night in the bad psrt of town...

I admit, I have a weakness for these types of stories. Both the story within a story, and the small child seeing things that he shouldn't. Thankfully, the story mostly lives up to its premise, with a good atmosphere and storytelling. Sure it's not a mystery, but for once, I'll let my elitism slide.

Well...This really isn't filling me with a desire to keep reading anthologies. Once again, while it has it's highs, for the most part, it never really gets above average. This may be because I'm here solely for the mystery aspect, while this anthology is more focused on horror for the most part. Can you really say that Yesterday's Witch or Walpurgis Night or The Cloak are mysteries? Or crime stories for that matter. This is primarily a Halloween anthology, and it falls short as a mystery one.

Yet, the Halloween aspect isn't all that good either. I'm no expert on horror, but these stories really aren't scary. A little disturbing in places yes, but Trick or Treat was the only one that I finished with a sense of horror. It just isn't scary.

I give this anthology a 5.5 out of 10.

Next up, Pronzini! For real this time!