George Harmon Coxe – The Reluctant Heiress (1965)

ReluctantHeiress

Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Who — An Artist/Photographer
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #62
TBR #40
Date Finished: May 20, 2018

Newspaper photographer Kent Murdock is asked to hold a mysterious suitcase by his friend, an older invalid lawyer. Soon thugs show up to steal that suitcase, leading Kent on an investigation, while trying not to reveal the existence of the suitcase to the police. When the thugs individually turn up dead in turn, keeping things from the police gets harder, especially after one has Kent’s name and address on a slip of paper in his pocket. The thugs are somehow connected with the mysterious past of the lawyer’s long-lost granddaughter and Kent dreads the conclusion he is fast reaching.

An involving and competent Kent Murdock mystery, the 20th in the series, does not fail to satisfy. Kent may not be the most edgy of detectives, but he does bring his photography work into the story, as well as his many newspaper connections. A comfortable series to return to, even if the plot isn’t the most complicated or unexpected.

Just the Facts Silver Card 2018-05-20

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Louis Trimble – Love Me and Die (1960)

LoveMeAndDie

Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #61
Date Finished: May 19, 2018

In search of his missing partner, private detective Joe Coyle heads from Tucson to a small border town, where various members of a family-owned trucking company are involved in first insurance fraud and then murder.

A short novel that first appeared as part of an Ace Double, this one moves along even if the motivation for the whole thing is a bit weak. The characters are well drawn enough for such a short work, as is the setting and plot. Very enjoyable palate cleanser after Richard Prather.

Richard S. Prather – The Trojan Hearse (1964)

TrojanHearse

Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: When — During a special event
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #60
TBR #39
Date Finished: May 19, 2018

Shell Scott is called in by the sister of a man who supposedly committed suicide to prove that he did not. The brother was the right-hand man to a successful singer, who now cannot perform without him. Various hangers-on, psychologists, agents, and mobsters are investigated by Shell as everything ties turns out to be related to a candidate running for President of the United States. Despite being written in 1964, this mystery is set in the election of 1968, with everything tied into the liberal candidate, including various communist plots.

A few slapstick comedy sequences are overwhelmed by Prather’s conservative claptrap, as he has Shell rant against liberalism in all forms, as well as rants against taxes, fluoride, modern art, Freud, and much more. The “mystery” only serves as an excuse to run around and spout baloney. This is the second in the series after the switch from Fawcett to Pocket Books, and Prather, I believe, blamed Pocket for the decline in sales and popularity. It is clearly Prather’s own fault, however, as his rants are more important to him than telling a good story. He also was unable or unwilling to change his outdated formula or do anything creatively different, even as most other hardboiled private eye series were in decline amid the mid-1960s secret agent fad.

Just the Facts Silver Card 2018-05-19

Stewart Sterling – Five-Alarm Funeral (1942)

FiveAlarmFuneral

Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: How — Crime involved fire/arson
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #59
Date Finished: May 18, 2018

Fire Marshall Pedley investigates a series of arsons and associated deaths by a couple of hired arsonists. Somehow the fires are tied to a society girl and her father who runs a charity organization, as well as to a strange, black railroad lantern, holding a fire that won’t go out. Pedley fights fires and races against time before there are more murders.

The first in the Fire Marshall Pedley series, this one has a much tougher Pedley character than I remember from reading the second in the series, Where There’s Smoke. Here he isn’t terribly sympathetic, especially when encountering a gay character. The action and prose very clearly show Sterling’s pulp background, with logic taking a backseat to action. It is rather exciting, though.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-05-18

Leonard Holton – Flowers By Request (1964)

FlowersByRequest

Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Where — At a school
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #58
Key Word: Flower
Date Finished: May 18, 2018

Father Joseph Bredder, serving the girls convent school, agrees to help find men for the new choir, and also fund the repair of the organ, leading him to encounter various reformed characters on Main Street in Los Angeles. His request to his police friend, Lieutenant Minardi, gets him involved with a murder investigation, which is tied in with an older murder by bow and arrow, mobsters, a boxing match, and the flower business.

A slower-paced mystery that is much more concerned with the characters than creating a difficult puzzle, this proved interesting if not terribly exciting. Apparently there were 11 books in this series, though this fifth one is the first I’ve ever seen. The most interesting character was Minardi’s daughter Barbara, who runs the Holy Innocents Investigating Agency, a group of the school girls who provide a security detail for Father Bredder. Unfortunately, her appearance is limited.

Just the Facts Silver Card 2018-05-18

2018 Monthly Key Words 2018-05-18

Agatha Christie – Cat Among Pigeons (1959)

CatAmongPigeons

Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Where — At a school
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #58
TBR #38
Date Finished: May 17, 2018

When the games mistress is found shot to death in the sports pavilion, the English girls boarding school is all upset. Some of the intrigue is related to missing jewels belonging to the deposed and now deceased young ruler of a Middle Eastern country, though there are perhaps other motives among the various staff and students at the school. Hercule Poirot makes a late appearance after a second murder to straighten things out.

There are some surprises here and some very good Christie characters, though it really improves when Poirot finally arrives in chapter 17. Perhaps Christie was tiring of Poirot, but he really is the most original and interesting of the characters here, even after all of his appearances. The work itself is comfortably entertaining, but not one of her best.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-05-17

William Campbell Gault – The Bad Samaritan (1980)

BadSamaritan

Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Why — It’s by an author you’ve read & loved before
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #57
Date Finished: May 13, 2018

Brock Callahan, for Los Angeles Ram, back after a 17-year break, is still a struggling private eye in Los Angeles until his former uncle-by-marriage dies in an auto accident and leaves Brock half of his fortune. Brock and his long-time girlfriend Jan quickly get married, move to suburbia and join the upper crust crowd that first appeared in a previous novel in this series. Bored with his retirement, he soon starts investigating matters for friends, including the supposed suicide of the mother of one of his new friends. That woman was known as a social activist, helping out various poor residents and living in a trailer park. Brock works with the local police force, with whom he has clashed in the past.

I was very disappointed with this underwhelming return of Brock Callahan after his long break. Being suddenly wealthy seems to take some of Brock’s sadness and motivation away, though the constant criticism of Jan toward his poverty and profession was getting old. Here it seems large portions of the book were missing, as the murdered woman’s character was never fully developed, nor is the plotting developed as Brock just seems to wander around talking to people until he finds an obvious clue, with very little suspense or ingenuity. After seven mysteries between 1955 and 1963, perhaps the Callahan character had run its course, but Gault returned to him for seven more between 1980 and 1992. I’ve been very impressed with Gault’s work in the 1950s-1960s. Hopefully the remaining books in this series will be closer to his potential.

Just the Facts Silver Card 2018-05-13