Basil Copper – The Secret Files of Solar Pons (1979)


Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #135
Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge #14
TBR #147
Date Finished: December 26, 2018

This volume collects four Solar Pons novellas published after the death of creator August Derleth. The imitation of Sherlock Holmes is quite complete, with some criticizing these stories as just cut-and-paste jobs, with Copper selecting various settings and situations randomly to create his pastiche. These stories lack the clever endings and tantalizing clues of a true master storyteller, but nevertheless are rather enjoyable stories. Here Solar Pons solves mysteries at a mysterious house in the swamps, at a London theater where various parties have a grudge against the lead actor, against a mastermind plotting to rob a London museum of its valuable objects, and at a lonely house where the poor niece is being swindled by her evil uncle. Fun stuff that probably shouldn’t have waited so long on my shelf.

John Gardner – Icebreaker (1983)


Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge #13
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #133
TBR #141
Date Finished: December 23, 2018

James Bond is called in to participate in a joint mission against a renewed Nazi organization. Joining him are agents of the U.S., Israel, and the Soviet Union. Of course, nobody can be trusted, leaving Bond in a precarious position to destroy the Nazis.

The third in the John Gardner Bond series, this one turned out better than I expected, after it sat on my shelves for 30-plus years. The first two in the series were rather tight-laced, dreary 1980s Cold War stories, if I remember correctly, but this one a bit more fun with unusual villains. Bond tends to rely on the Finnish agents and Soviet military for most of the action, but he does endure some hardships in pursuit of his goals.

C.S. Lewis – Out of the Silent Planet (1938)


Vintage Science Fiction
Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge #12
TBR #140
Date Finished: December 21, 2018

A scientist is abducted by two others and taken on their secret rocket ship to a mysterious planet, where they plan to turn him over to aliens to be sacrificed. He escapes and learns about the various aliens as well as the universal force that all planets know about, other than earth.

A bit slow going at first, with much time spent on description of the aliens and environment, as is standard in much science fiction, to the detriment of the story. The more metaphysical aspects that are developed are more unusual and fit with Lewis’ interest in religion. Perhaps not the classic I expected, but still entertaining and thought provoking.

H.F. Heard – A Taste for Honey (1941)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #127
Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge #10
TBR #111
Date Finished: November 3, 2018

A very private man moves to a small English village and tries to avoid human contact. His only attempt at interaction is to buy honey from a local couple, the wife of which soon turns up dead of bee stings. Another local beekeeper, a somewhat familiar-seeming figure, begins an investigation into this new deadly bee species, with our private man acting as his Watson.

This Sherlock Holmes pastiche was not at all what I was expecting from this mystery, which has been on my TBR pile for many years. Mr. Mycroft, as he presents himself, has all the deductive abilities of his inspiration, while our narrator character is as thickheaded and annoying as Watson. This isn’t a whodunit, as the killer is clear to all, but the thrill is in the hunt, and the fun is in the Holmesian touches.

Owen Rountree – The Black Hills Duel (1983)


Vintage Western
Wild Wild West Reading Challenge #16
Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge #9
TBR #99
Date Finished: September 22, 2018

Cord and Chi are hired by a man in the Black Hills of Dakota Territory for some reason that isn’t all that important to the plot. Cord, a Texas gunfighter and bank robber, travels with Chi, a Mexican woman and bank robber. Here they are working on the legal side, but run into trouble with various types, including another gunfighter, a crazy preacher, and the preacher’s amorous wife. A dime novel writer is more interested in egging everyone on and making up stories than he is in the truth.

The third in the Cord series, written by William Kittredge and Steven M. Krauzer under the Rountree pseudonym, this one throws in a lot of backstory, but as with most series, not much happens to change the lead characters. Cord is supposedly the son of a German Lutheran minister, but the authors get the theology and culture wrong. Cord would likely have only spoken German for much of his youth, but he is not speaking here with an accent or anything other than TV/movie western cliches. The Black Hills setting, the reason I bought this book many years ago, is also incidental, with a fictional mining town as the main location and no real grounding in the actual characters present in the Black Hills at this time or in actual locations. Chi’s toughness and competence is the most interesting thing here, but the story is told through Cord’s eyes, so she remains at a distance, even as she is the only thing that departs from the standard story. The history of the dime novel is of more interest to the writers and an Afterword provides some of that. I just watched a 1959 episode of Tombstone Territory that covered the same issue more effectively.

Kenneth Robeson – The Flaming Falcons (1939)


Vintage Pulp Reprint
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #120
Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge #8
TBR #95
Date Finished: September 10, 2018

In the Arizona desert, an unusual tramp, Hobo Jones, meets a beautiful young woman, Fiesta Robertson, who is seeking information on her missing brother. The clues lead them to a number of thugs who employ strange birds that destroy by bursting into flame. This has something to do with strange inedible melons with the consistency of glue that originate in Southeast Asia, as does the curse of the flaming falcons, or as Fiesta calls them, “the witch’s chicken.” Fiesta calls in Doc Savage, who leads them to Southeast Asia in order to save the brother and find the secret to the fruit, the bird, and the plot.

This isn’t a bad Doc Savage story, with quirky enough characters in Hobo Jones and Fiesta Robertson to make the mystery strange enough. Unfortunately, as usually happens, the secret behind the flaming birds turns out to be relatively mundane, and the bad guys are fairly easily dispatched.

I’ve had this one for quite a while, probably from around 1983-1984, during a visit to Sioux Falls. I only remember visiting S&S Books once, but it looks like they are still operating there, originally opening in 1980.S&S Books Sioux Falls

Kenneth Robeson – Terror in the Navy (1937)


Vintage Pulp reprint
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #113
Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge #7 (alternate)
TBR #83
Date Finished: August 17, 2018

U.S. warships, planes, dirigibles are pulled into disaster as if by an invisible force. Some evil mastermind, acting for an enemy nation, is behind this destruction and Doc and his crew must find the culprit before the U.S. loses all of its military power.

This one starts off well, with various members of Doc’s crew featured as they are captured by the gang, including a strong appearance by Pat Savage. Unfortunately, the second half is not so strong, with Pat especially disappearing for most of the action, while the mysterious force turns out to be a rather mundane method of destruction. The writing seems better, though, and not so filled with redundant passages intended to increase the word count.