Richard Wilson – And Then the Town Took Off (1960)

AndThenTheTownTookOff\

Vintage Science Fiction
Date Finished: January 17, 2018

A small town in Ohio suddenly departs the earth. Could the scientist at the local unaccredited college be responsible, or are there other mysterious beings around. A young military man on a secret mission investigates with help from some of the locals.

A funny, strange, short novel that doesn’t necessarily look at grand themes, but is a fun read. The writing style almost feels as a cross between Vonnegut and Fredric Brown, though not quite up to those standards.

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A.A. Fair – Spill the Jackpot (1941)

SpilltheJackpot

Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Who — Crime-Solving Duo

Cloak and Dagger Challenge #5
Date Finished: January 15, 2018

Bertha Cool and Donald Lam stop off in Las Vegas after being hired by a business man to find the missing fiance of his son. The businessman’s attempt to find the woman is clearly faked, so Donald becomes creative in working toward his own purposes. Bertha, meanwhile, starts falling for the businessman and his insincere compliments. Donald’s search puts him in company with various gamblers, blackmailers, and ex-boxers.

An interesting setting in pre-war Las Vegas and Reno also gives some low-down on slot machine rackets. The resolution is not quite as clever as others in this series, but Donald does not mind pinning crimes, such as murder, on innocent types if they are guilty of other crimes, such as embezzlement. Perry Mason was tricky, but never in quite this way. The odd dialog stylings of Erle Stanley Gardner are present here, but not overwhelmingly so. It is awfully tough not to enjoy any mystery by Gardner, and he did not fail here.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-01-15

Carter Brown – A Good Year for Dwarfs? (1970)

GoodYearforDwarfs

Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: How — Death by knife/dagger/etc.

TBR #6
Monthly Key Word: Year
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #4
Date Finished: January 14, 2018

Rick Holman, generic private detective character, investigates the missing fiance of a Hollywood actor, who is also a dwarf. The missing fiance is close to six feet tall and has an almost identical younger sister who gets involved in the search and with Holman. The search takes them to a sleazy movie maker and to a movie distribution center that is doubling as a drug distribution center. All the murderers are discovered in the end.

The best thing to be said about this, and most Carter Brown books, is that they are short. The mysteries are fairly adequate as mysteries, the humor is usually forced and unfunny, and you always get a fairly creepy feeling about reading them. Only the names are changed here. The actor character is hardly present and serves mostly to justify the title, which likely came first.

Just the Facts Silver Card 2018-01-142018 Monthly Key Words 2018-01-14

Clayton Rawson – Death from a Top Hat (1938)

DeathFromaTopHat

Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: When — During a performance of any sort

TBR #5
Monthly Key Word: Hat
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #3
Date Finished: January 13, 2018

I’ll quote from the back cover: “Dr. Cesare Sabbat, his face contorted in death, lay spread-eagled on his own living-room floor, in the exact center of a weird, crudely chalked star. Inspector Homer Gavigan soon saw that weirdness was the keynote to this crime, for Dr. Sabbat, a witchcraft expert, had been murdered with a sealed apartment, all doors and windows of which were securely locked from the inside! Further, two of the prime suspects were Tarot, a magician and sleight-of-hand king, and Duvallo, the greatest escape-artist since Houdini. In self-defense Gavigan imported as technical advisor The Great Merlini, an amiable conjurer with a nose for crime. Even as Merlini appeared on the scene, one of the suspects, Tarot, pulled the coup of his career in another part of the city — he stepped from a taxi into thin air before the eyes of a startled detective. But while the suspects vanished, the bodies kept coming…”

The locked-room aspect of the mystery is set up well, but then dismissed rather easily, while the disappearance and timing of the alibis is tightly examined. I read an abridged version, but it did not seem to be lacking in any areas or feel unduly abrupt with any endings. The setting is very interesting and having a whole cast of magicians as your suspects in a locked room mystery is very smart, as is the resolution of the mystery. This is the first in the short Great Merlini series, but I would read more, even though the second doesn’t seem to be as highly regarded. The writing style was not the fastest to get through, and I did have to make notes to remember which magician was which at first, but otherwise enjoyed it.

I considered selecting the “in a locked room” option or “timing of the crime is crucial” on the Detective Notebook card but went with during a performance. Only the final attempted murder is during a performance, while the two earlier successful ones were not, but that seemed to qualify as enough of a crime for this detective.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-01-132018 Monthly Key Words 2018-01-13

Lewis B. Patten – Top Man With a Gun (1959)

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Wild Wild West Reading Challenge #1
TBR #4
Monthly Key Word: Top
Date Finished: January 10, 2018

A teenager survives the massacre at Lawrence, Kansas in 1863, losing his father and sister to one of Quantrill’s Raiders. Fleeing with a Union Army deserter, he swears revenge upon that raider, but first must go through various experiences that help him grow into a man.

Lewis B. Patten is one of my favorite writers and this one is another exciting story that I did not want to put down. Patten has been mentioned in discussions online about Western Noir. I don’t think this novel has the necessary cynicism or fatalism, but it is a hard, action-packed story, written in a lean style, fitting well in the Fawcett Gold Medal line.

2018 Monthly Key Words 2018-01-10

Ross Laurence – The Fast Buck (1953)

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Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Why – An author you’ve never tried
TBR #3
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #2
Date Finished: January 9, 2018

A Chicago boxer and thug named Joe Chicago, looking for a quick buck as always, gets involved with some sort of package delivery scheme where he first has to come up with $10,000 to prove himself. Of course, it all goes wrong, murders happen, he gets blamed, valuable sapphires disappear, the mob comes after his family, a beautiful woman is more than she seems, and so on.

I think we’ve been here before. The plotting gets awfully convoluted and there wasn’t an adequate explanation for all the various killings and reasons for this jewel robbery. This seems to be the author’s only work, if there weren’t others under some unknown pseudonym, and some of these problems in plotting could probably have been worked out with more practice. There are good sections and the writing isn’t terrible, so he coulda been a contender!

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-01-09

Fletcher Flora – Killing Cousins (1960)

Ace Double F-115 Killing Cousins

Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Why – It won an award of any sort
TBR #2
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #1
Date Finished: January 6, 2018

A wife in the country club set, coming from a rather low-class background, shoots her husband as he is packing to leave her just because she’s been sleeping around. To help cover her tracks, she enlists the aid of her husband’s cousin, a brainy, lazy sort, who also happens to be sleeping with the wife. But the best laid plays of mice and men go astray.

A humorous slant on this story told from the criminal’s perspective, in which the reader is encouraged to root against justice being done. As the cover claims, the hardcover version of this story won the 1960 Cock Robin Mystery Award, which seems to have been awarded by Macmillan for two of their own publications in 1959 and 1960. I guess that qualifies as an award of any sort. Double Trouble: A Bibliographic Chronicle of Ace Mystery Doubles states that this is Flora’s most successful novel. Though it seemed somewhat slight, the wife, Willie, certain is a character and you do root for her throughout the book.

Just the Facts Silver Card 2018-01-06