Neil MacNeil – The Death Ride (1960)


Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: What — Means of Murder in title
Monthly Key Word: Ride (August)
TBR #98 (60e, 38p)
Date Finished: September 1
, 2019

High-priced private detectives Costaine and McCall are called to California at the request of their old Army commander who is now running an amusement park on a pier. The owner’s sister is fronting a land development project backed by the mob and they want the cheap amusement park gone so it won’t drive down the land values. A number of deaths and accidents have occurred at the pier and the duo have to find the culprits in a hurry.

The death ride refers to a roller coaster accident that kills a number of innocent people, thus being the means of murder. Surprisingly the amusement park keeps operating and people keep coming to it, despite all the death. Costaine and McCall are still cartoon characters, but not nearly as bad as the previous book in the series, Hot Dam. Still, Todhunter Ballard, the author behind the Neil MacNeil pseudonym, wrote so many better books than this series that this one is a disappointment, though a somewhat enjoyable disappointment.

Just the Facts Silver 2019-09-012019 Monthly Key Words 2019-09-01


Clair Huffaker – Rider from Thunder Mountain (1957)

Huffaker Rider From Thunder Mountain Crest 193

Vintage Western
Monthly Key Word: Mountain
TBR #56 (37e, 19p)
Date Finished: May 5, 2019

A man raised by Apaches is hired by a gold hunting crew to get them through Indian territory to a mountain held sacred by the Kiowa, where there also seems to be an semi-abandoned gold strike. They come across a man and a woman in the desert, which leads to even more trouble after they join the crew. Greed, cruelty, cowardice all play into the tensions among the crew as they try to avoid detection by the Kiowas and get as much gold as they can.

This story moves along quite well. The story is almost cinematic, which fits in appropriately with Huffaker’s career, with the characters drawn as to fit typical 1950s western character actors. Imagine Clint Walker or George Montgomery as Larimer, Gene Evans or Leo Gordon as Tronco, Jack Lord or Henry Silva as Henry Coffin, Myron Healey as Jud, Mona Freeman as Lorna, Perhaps that makes some if it cliched, depending on your reaction to the many, many movies that fit this bill. Ok, it is cliched, but still fun.

2019 Monthly Key Words 2019-05-05

Nelson Nye – Gun-Hunt for the Sundance Kid (1946)

Nye - Gun-Hunt for the Sundance Kid Belmont 91-251

Vintage Western
Monthly Key Word: Hunt
TBR #54 (36e, 18p)
Date Finished: April 30, 2019

A lawman is sent in undercover to the newly opened up Cherokee Strip of Oklahoma to capture the Sundance Kid, a notorious hold-up man whose identity is unknown. Hooking up with another outlaw band that is being out-maneuvered by the Sundance Kid, the lawman has to prevent his identity from being known while also trying to discover the Kid’s identity.

This is certainly not the Robert Redford version of the Sundance Kid, as he largely remains at a far distance from this story, appearing only once while wearing a hooded mask. The story largely concerns the lawman’s work within the other outlaw band, which has two main factions and several individuals who may themselves be the Sundance Kid. Much of the story is internal dialogues of the lawman as he examines various scenarios, with very little action. Nye also uses various dialects, accents, and poor grammar for the various characters, making smooth reading very difficult. I don’t remember being this disappointed with other works by Nye, but this one was a big letdown.

2019 Monthly Key Words 2019-04-30

Lee Floren – Gun Luck (1954)

GunLuck 50-278

Vintage Western
Monthly Key Word: Luck
TBR #35 (22e, 13p)
Date Finished: March 14, 2019

A gambler finds a burning ranch and a dead man on his ride into a small northern Montana town. Attempts to get him to ride on lead him to stay, investigating the murder and other crimes at the request of an invalid rancher with a large spread and two difficult daughters. Someone is leading the ranchers against the encroaching farmers, with rustling and murder mixed in.

Essentially a mystery novel, this one brings in some of the criminals at a very late stage in the story, leading to a unsatisfactory conclusion. The writing style is also oddly stilted, interrupting the story flow. Despite several female characters, they don’t receive much attention. Disappointing.

2019 Monthly Key Words 2019-03-14

John Dickson Carr – He Who Whispers (1946)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Where — In a locked room
Monthly Key Word: Who
TBR #25 (16e, 9p)
Date Finished: February 22, 2019

When the Murder Club finally reunites after the war, most members are missing, but a French professor tells a story to two younger visitors about an impossible murder that occurred on the top of an isolated French chateau tower several years before. A young woman, Fay Seton, is blamed, even though there was no way for her to be present at the murder. Supernatural powers are ascribed to her for this event and others. When the young man hires her to be the librarian at his own English home, other mysterious events follow and Dr. Gideon Fell attempts to clear up the mystery.

The mystery elements become secondary to the psychological thriller aspects of this story, even though they confound with typical Carr tricks. The dialogue is overwrought at times, with many exclamations and interruptions, as well as much physical action as the story races toward its conclusion. Archons of Athens! The nymphomania theme that gives this novel its historical significance is much more veiled than any modern treatment would be. The typical Carr romantic subplot happy ending is tempered by this issue.

Just the Facts Golden 2019-02-22

2019 Monthly Key Words 2019-02-22

Eric Knight – You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up (1938)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: What — Color in the title
Monthly Key Word: Red
TBR #23 (15e, 8p)
Date Finished: February 16, 2019

An Okie follows his estranged wife out to California via boxcar, but is unable to reconcile with her. Getting involved with what he thinks is a hoax robbery, he ends up as a murder suspect on the run. Hiding him out is a blowsy woman, who through a fake marriage becomes another wife to him, as well as a blackmailer. He meets other mad Californians, and also falls in love with a sad, lonely girl, but nothing works out right for him.

It is tough to describe the plot of this one, but it follows his encounters with odd Californians and his eventual downfall. It is called hardboiled, but the main character is not really mean or tough, but rather a fatalistic victim of currents he can’t overcome. Very interesting and unusual.

Just the Facts Golden 2019-02-162019 Monthly Key Words 2019-02-16

Helen Reilly – Mr. Smith’s Hat (1936)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: What — Includes diary extracts
Calendar of Crime: August #3 – Primary action takes place
Monthly Key Word: Hat
TBR #8 (4e, 4p)
Date Finished: January 9, 2019

A writer, who has worked his way down to writing pulp westerns, is found dead in his apartment, apparently from an accidental fall and resulting head injury. A small clump of mud, which contains a small seed, leads Inspector McKee and his team to suspect murder. In order to identify the seed, they plant it, which leads to a rare Zinnia, which leads them to the writer’s wife’s Connecticut country home and the colony of friends and relatives who are staying there. That leads to more murder, including the stabbing of a baroness in a room full of monkeys. Of course it does.

Why there is a roomful of monkeys is never explained, nor are half the deductions or clues. The police are able to associate the baroness’ young companion in Atlantic City with fiance of the writer’s daughter in Connecticut. How they make this connection is not explained. The police are able to track down the baroness’ small portable writing desk, purchased 29 years before in 1906, despite the factory being gone and no records surviving. How? Not explained. The shop owner who remembers selling the desk in 1906 happens to have a ledger listing the name of everyone who bought a beer at her husband’s pub that same day. Why would anyone have this? Not explained. Why can an inspector at a New York City precinct take over a Connecticut murder investigation? Not explained.

A frustrating combination of illogical actions, improbabilities, and dull writing. I wanted to like this but it was very difficult to keep my attention focused.

I’ll check this off as the diary or letter extracts, though that is a very small portion of this book. An entry in the murdered man’s diary, referring to meeting “G.W.W.” of course refers to the “Great White Whale,” Moby Dick, and refers to the baroness, because how else would a writer think, and thus proves to McKee that the writer and baroness knew each other and met on the street in New York.

just the facts golden 2019-01-12

calendar of crime checkoff sheet 2019-01-12

2019 monthly key words 2019-01-12