Dick Francis – Dead Cert (1962)


Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: When — During a performance of any sort
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #101
Date Finished: July 15, 2018

When he sees his friend aboard the favorite go down over a jump in the midst of a race, causing his friend’s death, amateur steeplechase rider Alan York thinks he spots foul play. Unable to prove it definitively to the police that there was a wire strung across the jump, causing the horse to fall, his investigations lead him into danger with a gambling ring, even as they try and end his investigations through intimidation and murder.

The first Dick Francis novel is very well done with well-drawn characters and strong suspense, including a final chase across British fields on his horse as the villains in radio taxi cabs attempt to head him off. For some reason, perhaps due to their popularity, I expect these Francis novels to be poorly done and repetitive, but so far they have all been very enjoyable.

We will count the “During a performance of any sort” category as including sports performances.

Just the Facts Silver Card 2018-07-15


Lawrence Block – The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes (2015)


Cloak and Dagger Challenge #99
Monthly Key Word: Blue
Date Finished: July 14, 2018

A retired cop, now a part-time private investigator, in a small Florida town is brought in by the local police to pose as a hitman for hire by the wife of a local wealthy businessman. The man quickly switches sides, as does the reader, and works with her to snuff the husband and get the dough.

A updated and twisted version of Double Indemnity and the Postman Always Rings Twice, both of which are referenced, this Block mystery is tough and seamy, with little moral value. I really liked it. It was very difficult to put down and moved along nicely. I’m not used to anything set after the 1980s, so the use of cell phones and Google searches was strange, but Block was able to show that a good, noir story can still be told.

2018 Monthly Key Words 2018-07-14

George Harmon Coxe – The Silent Witness (1973)


Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Who — Matriarch/Patriarch of family
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #99
TBR #69
Date Finished: July 13, 2018

Jack Fenner is brought in by a legal team to protect fellow heirs before a proxy fight, as the new head of the company and the family has threatened them. Those threatened include his newly discovered sister, his wife, and his wife’s ex-husband, who also manages the business. When the heir turns up dead, despite being under surveillance by Fenner’s team, and despite one of the main suspects being alibied by Fenner himself, he keeps digging, especially into the motives of a mobster with whose mistress the man is also having an affair with.

A disappointing finale to Coxe’s writing career, as Fenner again takes the main stage, with only a token appearance by Kent Murdock. The strange switch to Fenner to the last two mysteries is even stranger in that Fenner’s character isn’t that great of a focus here and the mystery doesn’t seem very different than if Murdock were investigating it. The alibi business is rather obvious and leads to an obvious solution. Much time is spent on the mobster and his thugs, ignoring the female characters. When Murdock does appear, it is so impersonal and perfunctory that it doesn’t even seem like him. It is too bad that he couldn’t have received the farewell that he deserved.

Just the Facts Silver Card 2018-07-13

Robert van Gulik – The Chinese Lake Murders (1960)


Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: When — A historical crime
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #98
TBR #68
Date Finished: July 7, 2018

Judge Dee arrives in the provincial town of Han-yuan in 666 A.D. and encounters several murders and crimes, beginning with the drowning of a well-known courtesan and dancer shortly after she had entertained the dinner held in the Judge’s honor aboard a boat on the lake. While investigating that case, he also becomes involved with the disappearance of a young bride, the suicide of her husband, the murder of their carpenter, and a huge plot to overthrow the Chinese emperor.

An interesting setting of time and place, exploring the various customs and events of Imperial China, all the while encountering scheming business leaders, criminal underclasses, and other humans that do not differ much in character or circumstance from modern types. The main difficulty for me was keeping the various names straight and motivating myself to read the sometimes dense prose. It became a rewarding read once I devoted myself to it.

Just the Facts Silver Card 2018-07-07

Agatha Christie – By the Pricking of My Thumbs (1968)


Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Who — Crime-Solving Duo
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #97
TBR #67
Date Finished: July 5, 2018

After the death of Tommy’s aunt, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford inherit a landscape painting of a canal-side house, which had been given to the aunt by another woman at the same nursing home. Tuppence is certain she has seen that house before, and when the woman is taken from the home and disappears, Tuppence goes in search of the house, getting herself involved in a village with a dark background of killings and robberies.

Tommy and Tuppence return here as “elderly” people, but seem to be in their early 60s, with old people in the nursing home being in their 70s. When I first put this on my shelf thirty-some years ago as a teenager, I probably thought these characters too old to be interesting, but my how the perspective on aging changes as I’m closer to Tommy and Tuppence’s ages than I am to where I was when I bought the book. Although this is a lesser and later Christie, I found it enjoyable enough, though it bogged down a bit in the middle when the focus switched to Tommy. The return of the couple is fun and it is too bad that they had so few adventures.

Just the Facts Silver Card 2018-07-05

Robert J. Hogan – The Case of the Suicide Tomb (1935)


Vintage Pulp
The Mysterious Wu Fang, December 1935 in High Adventure #42
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #96
TBR #66
Date Finished: July 4, 2018

Wu Fang is after a mysterious poison that drives people insane causing them to commit suicide to relieve the pressure on their brains. This poison is found in the venom of strange, white bats in a blocked off cave in Indian country. Archaeologist Rod Carson and reporter Jerry Hazard, along with professional Nayland Smith impersonator Val Kildare fight Wu Fang in San Francisco and Arizona to prevent him from taking over the world!

A fairly pedestrian and somewhat disappointing Yellow Peril pulp story based on a complete Fu Manchu imitation. I find the Fu Manchu stories dull enough, but this one doesn’t match up to those. Usually I find Hogan enjoyable enough with his G-8 or other aviation stories, but here it was difficult to keep reading.

“Shanghai Murder” by Steve Fisher, also from the December 1935 issue rounds out this reprint, with an American detective brought to Shanghai by a wealthy man to straighten out his wayward son. No deep thinking required.

Ellery Queen – The Campus Murders (1969)

Campus Murders

Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Who — An Academic
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #95
Date Finished: July 3, 2018

Mike McCall, troubleshooter for the governor is called to a university campus in turmoil, with rioting students, and more importantly, the missing daughter of a political bigwig, Mike must dig around among the students and faculty to find the reason for her disappearance. The dean of men turns up murdered shortly after his arrival, but he isn’t certain whether this is connected to the disappearance of the girl or the hippie revolt.

Written by Gil Brewer under the Ellery Queen pseudonym, this one starts a three book series that was continued by two other authors, which is a strange way to build a successful series. Loaning out your pen name to a wide variety of authors, with a wide variety in the quality of books is also a strange practice, but perhaps Manfred Lee was more interested in the pay than the legacy. This one only gets a “C-” as Mike McCall remains rather anonymous and the mystery is rather standard. Brewer walks the line between condemning all youth, but this is obviously written for an old, stodgy audience.

Just the Facts Silver Card 2018-07-03