John Creasey – The Toff and the Deadly Parson (1944)

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Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Who — An amateur detective

Cloak and Dagger Challenge #22
TBR #16
Monthly Key Word: And
Date Finished: February 15, 2018

The Toff, Richard Rollison, is asked by the new, young, East End curate (associate pastor) to help out with a parishioner who has been arrested by the police for a murder which occurred during a mob fight. The whole neighborhood is against his reforming tactics, until he beats a tough guy in a boxing exhibition. Meanwhile, the Toff’s investigations lead him to an illegal alcohol distribution racket, as normal alcohol distribution is curtailed during wartime. Various dockside thugs and characters appear, and some try and frame the curate as the mastermind, but the Toff eventually discovers the truth.

Augh, this was a difficult one to get through. Perhaps I just don’t like the social reforming, social delinquency (juvenile or adult), crusading mysteries, or perhaps I just don’t like East End cockney settings. The caricatures of what those East End cockneys are, as opposed to actual developed characters, may be a part of that. Whereas in a Gideon novel, the lack of individual characters is explained by Gideon’s remote management of the entire detective squad, here there is no adequate explanation. Here the Toff is involved with the entire neighborhood, yet everyone is somewhat distant and undefined, other than through standard cliches. Perhaps this type of murder and setting is more realistic, but I prefer my English mysteries to be in some country house or village with a logical and eccentric genius detective. Meant somewhat as an imitation of the Saint, the Toff lacks the wonderful humor that the Saint and Charteris have. I found reading this to be a dreadful chore.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-02-152018 Monthly Key Words 2018-02-15

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Charles Williams – Gulf Coast Girl (1955)

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Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: What — Book published under more than one title

Cloak and Dagger Challenge #21
Date Finished: February 11, 2018

Also
Deal Me In Challenge 2018
Q♦️ “Flight to Nowhere,” from Manhunt, September 1955 and The Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction.

A deep sea diver is hired for obviously fake purposes by a beautiful blonde woman. She is testing him out to see if he’ll take her and her husband across the Gulf of Mexico to find a submerged plane, which happens to have a cache of diamonds aboard. Oh, and the mob is after them. Locating the husband, the mob kills him, believing that the wife can take them to the plane’s location. Two mobsters, the wife, and the diver, who is now in love with the wife, take a sailboat across the Gulf, with the diver looking for a way to escape or survive this journey.

Originally published in 1955 as Scorpion Reef, this novel was cut down to novella-size for manhunt-1955septthe September 1955 issue of Manhunt, which was then reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction. Cheating a bit in my short story challenge, I read the full-length version, while comparing it with the shorter version. Much of the later action and dialogue is the same, but most of the earlier dialogue is only summarized, rather than related in full. A later failed attempt to escape the sailboat and swim for shore, prior to the final climax, is also condensed and abbreviated in the novella, ending somewhat abruptly. Both contain excellent writing by Williams and a very suspenseful plot, but reading only the shortened version would have been a disservice to Williams’ craft and narrative pacing.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-02-11

Owen Dudley – Murder for Charity (1957)

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Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Who — A Journalist/Writer

Cloak and Dagger Challenge #20
TBR #15
Date Finished: February 10, 2018

A newspaper sports editor has arranged a big charity football game to raise funds for the local hospital. The night before he is slugged, the safe containing the money is robbed, the nightwatchman is stabbed, and he wakes up in Mexico. Uh oh. There is an estranged wife, a wealthy father-in-law, a pretty secretary, a private eye romantic rival, a prostitute with a heart-of-gold, a couple of thugs, and a kindly old editor to help him out. Since he can’t remember the night, he has to sort it all out while keeping away from the police and the killer.

The other half of the Ace Double with the Edward Ronns Point of Peril mystery, this one is a bit more entertaining, moving along quickly. Of course, the murderer is the one you least expect it to be, but he turns out to have a dark, dirty secret past. The estranged wife has some character, while the others tend to be somewhat standard. Not awful.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-02-10

Edward Ronns – Point of Peril (1956)

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Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: How — Death by shooting

Cloak and Dagger Challenge #19
TBR #14.5
Monthly Key Word: Point
Date Finished: February 9, 2018

A newspaper man’s brother breaks jail, steals the cannery payroll, shoots a guard, and hides out somewhere in the swampy Chesapeake Bay back country. The newspaper man tries to find his brother before the police do, but everyone assumes that the escaped prisoner will try to revenge himself against the rival newspaper publisher. When that publisher turns up dead, shot in the face, everyone assumes the prisoner did it, though many others, including the newspaper man, had a motive.

Published under his Edward Ronns pseudonym, this Edward S. Aarons novel is a fairly straight forward race-against-time thriller, with enough of a twist ending to be satisfying. The plot and characters are not terribly distinctive, unfortunately, so it isn’t quite as entertaining as some of his other works.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-02-092018 Monthly Key Words 2018-02-09

Agatha Christie – Evil Under the Sun (1941)

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Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Where — On an Island

Cloak and Dagger Challenge #18
TBR #14
Date Finished: February 7, 2018

While on vacation at a hotel on an island off the Devon coast, Hercule Poirot encounters a murder. The ex-actress wife of a stoic British man play around with other men, including the husband of another couple at the hotel, and is profoundly disliked by the other women present. The wife is found strangled on the beach of a hidden cove and Poirot must investigate their alibis and find the explanation for some puzzling clues.

Another excellent Christie mystery seems fairly standard to begin with, partially because I’m sure I’ve one, of not both, of the 1982 movie or 2001 TV versions. Nevertheless, the solution is surprising and very well done, as the various items of misdirection lead the reader to focus on other possibilities than Poirot does. Perhaps this one focuses less on Poirot’s quirks, and he has no Hastings here to point them out, but his cleverness is unmatched. After the incredible stupidity of a couple of recent reads (ahem, David Alexander) this is a joy.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-02-07

Georges Simenon – Maigret Meets a Milord (1931)

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Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Why — Reviewed by a fellow challenger

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

Maigret is called to investigate the murder of a woman whose body has been found in the stable next to an inn serving those traveling on the Marne Canal. The woman, who has been strangled, turns out to be the wife of an English yachtsman, an ex-military man, who is leading a dissolute life on board his yacht with various women and staff. The woman had disappeared days before, but was someone from the yacht responsible or was it someone from the various barges who were traveling the same route? Maigret investigates life on the canal, as well as the various suspects from very different walks of life.

Also known as the Crime at Lock 14, or variations thereof, this is the second in the Maigret series, and Simenon quickly hit his stride with this excellent story. Much simpler than the overly complicated plot of Peter the Lett, this one lets Maigret dig around in his manner, watching and waiting, as he studies the people, and then showing mercy and understanding once he arrives at the solution. Excellent.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-02-05

Miriam Borgenicht – Don’t Look Back (1956)

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Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Who — In the Medical Field
TBR #13
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #16
Date Finished: February 4, 2018

The brother of the town boss has killed a man in a bar fight. Pressure is put upon the new medical examiner, Dr. Hart, to conduct the autopsy and declare that the man died of natural causes. Knowing that the boss had previously kidnapped another man’s children in a scheme to pressure him, the medical examiner’s secretary, who secretly loves her divorced boss, races across town, gets the kid and then faces a perilous journey across town avoiding thugs and policemen. Meanwhile, Dr. Hart, not knowing that the kidnapping has failed, waits in his office with the town boss until the appointed time in the morning to conduct the autopsy.

Although this is supposed to be tense and suspenseful, there isn’t all that much action involved, other than the secretary running into various individuals, some threatening and some not, during her journey across town. The vast majority of the book is comprised of inner dialogues of various characters as they second guess almost everything. For every two words of spoken dialogue, there are two paragraphs of inner dialogue, most of it fairly inane. Everyone is filled with doubt about every single thing they do. They also don’t tell the other person exactly what they are doing, or they interrupt the other person so much or don’t listen to them, that they have no idea what is happening. A very frustrating and disappointing read.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-02-04