Richard Sale – Passing Strange (1942)

Passing Strange cover 001

Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Where — In a hospital

Cloak and Dagger Challenge #27
Date Finished: February 26, 2018

Suburban New York obstetrician Peter Merritt, likable but stiff, is called to Hollywood to help with his sister-in-law who is having trouble during her pregnancy. Her agent husband is forcing her to use the studio obstetrician, who turns out to be a quack. The brother and sister-in-law head to New York, however, while Peter is on the way to Hollywood. He ends up meeting a number of wacky movie people, including one with whom he falls in love. While there he ends up performing a Cesarean section on a movie star, during which the quack doctor is shot to death by a medically gowned and masked figure, as pictured on the Ace cover. One of the quack’s botched deliveries has caught up to him as someone has sought revenge. Various other murder attempts follow against the witnesses as the entire cast ends up back in New York.

This is a very entertaining story that moves along very quickly and is difficult to put down, which is very different from the rather sedate three that I just finished. This is also set during WWII, though travel restrictions or military service don’t seem to be hindering the movie stars. The logic behind some of the killer’s motivations seems lacking, as does some of the conclusions the police detective draws, and the ending wraps everything up without requiring any deduction on our hero obstetrician’s part, but for some reason I still enjoyed it. Perhaps it is due to Sale’s pulp roots, but the story moves and the characters are well drawn, even without perfect logic. Plus murder in an operating room is unusual.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-02-26


Ione Sandberg Shriber – Pattern for Murder (1944)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Why — Out of your comfort zone

Cloak and Dagger Challenge #26
TBR #17
Date Finished: February 25, 2018

A young woman arrives in Cleveland to be the maid of honor at her old college roommate’s wedding. She is somewhat surprised by the groom turning out to be the roommate’s much older guardian rather than the sweetheart she was in love with all through college. That sweetheart is now married unhappily to the daughter of the guardian. Various other unhappy family members abound, so it is no surprise that the guardian turns up dead with his head bashed in. Our young woman helps the police by keeping various secrets until it is almost too late.

Shriber’s mysteries are compared to Mary Roberts Rinehart’s and Mignon Eberhart’s, so it is no surprise that it fit in the Had-I-But-Known school. The young woman character, Katy, even says to the detective at the end, “If I’d had any sense I’d have told you about that ____ days before.” Yes, that would have helped solve it immediately and we would have been spared much of this. The Cleveland setting, though they don’t leave the house much, helps a bit, and the writing isn’t terrible. The amazing amount of secrets everyone was keeping from everyone else, though, made this a frustrating experience. At least I didn’t have to read about Eberhart’s glorious Old South again, as was originally on my list for this category.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-02-25

Peter Cheyney – They Never Say When (1945)


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

Cloak and Dagger Challenge #25
TBR #16.66
Date Finished: February 23, 2018

Slim Callaghan is on vacation at a British countryside inn when a beautiful client arrives and asks for his help in retrieving some valuables from a crook. She seems to have hired the crook to steal them from her estranged husband’s safe, but now he wants more money before he’ll turn them over. Callaghan retrieves the jewels somewhat forcefully, but the woman disappears after he turns them over to her. It is soon revealed that she was only posing as the wife. Soon Callaghan tracks down the real wife, begins working for her in untwisting the mystery, or rather twisting it his own way so that the police arrive at the conclusion he wants them to. Complicating things is the murder of the thief by blunt instrument.

I would have liked this better if I hadn’t read about Cheyney’s standard plot outline on his Wikipedia page. This mystery fits that standard exactly with beautiful clients, immense alcohol consumption, and continual praise of Callaghan’s intelligence and charm. In the end it all feels like a cheap imitation of an American hardboiled thriller.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-02-23

Hilda Lawrence – Blood Upon the Snow (1944)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: When — During a weather event

Cloak and Dagger Challenge #24
TBR #16.33
Monthly Key Word: Snow
Date Finished: February 21, 2018

A young man is hired as the secretary to an elderly archaeologist who is staying with a strange family at a remote mansion during the winter. The young man, Mark East, who actually is a private detective, believes that he has been hired to investigate an attempted murder against the archaeologist, though the archaeologist denies it. Shortly thereafter, the cook, who is upset and leaving the household, is burned to death in her room. Her death is thought to have been accident until another servant is soon strangled. It seems likely that the murderer must be one of the household, which includes a hot tempered husband, a depressed and withdrawn wife, the archaeologist, and two young children, as well as the butler and another maid. Mark investigates with the help of several local characters.

It has been pointed out that the development of the characters in this mystery is never quite complete, so you always feel somewhat distant and uncertain about the individuals. Perhaps this was intentional due to the surprises of the ending, but I suspect not. Even though I credit this as happening during a weather event, the blizzard that is supposed to be occurring is only mentioned and never described, causing no real impairments. The snow plays a part in the mystery, but the far-fetched nature of the hiding of the final murder was too much to believe, with no real purpose, and a seeming lack of understanding of how footprints work in snow. I may have been too engrossed in watching the Olympics, but I found it difficult to motivate myself to read more than a chapter at a time.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-02-212018 Monthly Key Words 2018-02-21

Richard and Frances Lockridge – Hanged for a Sheep (1942)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: What — Means of Murder in title

Cloak and Dagger Challenge #23
Date Finished: February 17, 2018

While Jerry is in Texas on business, Pam is invited to stay with her aunt and various relations from the aunt’s long line of husbands in her New York townhouse. Some has slipped some arsenic in the aunt’s food and she wants Pam, known in the family for her mystery solving abilities, to find out who it was. The likely suspect, the latest estranged husband, had been kicked out of the house prior to this incident. He is soon found shot to death in the house, while the house handyman is hung in the stairwell, as pictured on the 1948 Bantam cover. The murderer is obviously one of her relatives, but will she figure it out before the murderer gets to her?

The introduction of Pam’s extended family is interesting, though I don’t believe we ever see them again in the series. Jerry has proved to be completely unimportant to the series by this point, and here only makes a late appearance. The partnership is really between Pam North and Lt. Bill Weigand, though the Lockridges had introduced another non-entity in Dorian Weigand prior to prevent any sort of triangle. Perhaps due to the absence of Jerry, Pam’s wackiness is toned down, allowing the wackiness of the rest of her family to take center stage. There is too much cat business, but otherwise it is an enjoyable mystery.

Just the Facts Golden Card 2018-02-17

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


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

Charles Williams – Gulf Coast Girl (1955)


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

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