Velda Johnston – The Silver Dolphin (1979)

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Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: A Hat
Date Finished: May 29, 2017
Follow the Clues step #32: from Swordfish to Dolphin

Well, this is often categorized as a Gothic romance, but it does revolve around a couple of deaths under mysterious circumstances. My version also appeared as a third of a Detective Book Club volume.

Set in a New England whaling community in the 1840s, a poor, young woman, daughter of a servant, marries a wealthy older man. He dies under mysterious circumstances and she has to manage her new wealth while a couple of dashing captains of whaling ships compete for her attention, including during a long voyage to the South Pacific. A second death eventually leads to the murderer’s revelation.

Well written enough, the subjugation of the mystery to the romance elements led me to avoid picking this up again for several days after starting it. Other than the 1840s setting, this novel fits in much more with the female romantic suspense mysteries of the 1940s-1960s than with the Gothic romance trend of the 1970s.

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Philip McCutchan – Bluebolt One (1965)

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Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: A Tree
Date Finished: May 17, 2017
TBR #35
Follow the Clues step #29: from Blue to Blue

A satellite super-weapon, presumably atomic, controlled by the U.S. and Great Britain, must be controlled by a ground station with a direct line of sight to the satellite. This places one ground station within the territory of a West African country undergoing a revolution. British super-spy Commander Shaw confronts the British revolutionaries first in London and then follows them to Africa. He must then prevent their takeover of the Bluebolt One control station.

The cover blurb compares it to James Bond, but I wonder what the full quote was. There is no sex or witty banter here. There is a somewhat super villain, but he isn’t all that impressive. A good book could have been written about the political turmoil in Africa in the 1960s, but this isn’t it. There are no African characters that are presented here as anything but evil or simpleminded. There is no attempt at fairness nor is there any questioning of British colonial rule. It is a foregone conclusion by this point that the British Empire is finished, but any subversive work against Britain is clearly presented as a Communist plot. A space super-weapon, with presumably atomic bombs being deliverable from satellite orbit, is jointly shared with the U.S. and Britain, as if the British would be allowed to participate, and security is way, way, way too lax. I wanted to like a spy series that wasn’t all comedy, as many later 1960s novels became, but there must be some questioning of the game, some weariness as in le Carre. Commander Shaw never pauses to question or think, just pursues. Voodoo, as the African native religion here is called, instantly incites all Africans to rebel against whites. None are shown as loyal to their own government. Self-government has already been achieved in this fictional government, but no differences or subtleties are observed. The writing is passable, with long, descriptive passages giving a feel for the setting. The passages are long, however, and it was a slow go to maintain interest and finish this.

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Lionel Davidson – The Chelsea Murders (1978)

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Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: Knife
Date Finished: February 25, 2017
TBR #15
Follow the Clues step #15: from London to London neighborhood (Chelsea).

A series of murders occur in the Chelsea district of London. The police begin investigating them as connected, and they soon seem to be as a series of poems begin arriving just prior to each murder. The poet’s initials match the initials of the murder victims. Somehow, and perhaps I missed this, the police figure out that the murderer must be one of three people working on a independent film being made in the area. Also investigating is a female reporter for the Chelsea weekly newspaper, who is also stringing from the London dailies.

Some people seem to love this mystery, but I struggled with it, especially the first half. It did win an award in 1978, but I think that says more about 1978’s competition than it does about this novel. Davidson started many chapters mid conversation, so that I had difficulty in figuring out who was who. One reviewer on LibraryThing described it well in stating that the principles get together and speak enigmatically for several chapters. Another has described it as clever, sharp, and witty, and I would say it is not any of those things. They are not terribly sympathetic characters, and I did have trouble remembering which was Steve and which was Frank until the solution was revealed. Somewhat frustratingly, the first three murders turn out not to be related to the poetry-series ones, and are not solved. Perhaps that is what makes this a “send up” of the classic English murder mystery, but I just think it makes this a mess.

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Margery Allingham – The Mind Readers (1965)

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Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: Policeman
Date Finished: January 27, 2017
TBR #8
Follow the Clues step #8: from Mind to Mind.

Albert Campion is back as he gets involved with foreign agents attempting to steal a secret British invention. An isolated research base is working on ESP or mind reading, but certain advanced developments seem to have been shared with a group of schoolboys, including Albert and Amanda’s nephew Edward and his cousin Sam. Sam’s dad is one of the scientist at the remote base, which is controlled by a corporation run by an overbearing executive. The executive manages his own team of operatives trying to recover the devices from the boys, while competing against the foreign powers. Campion, working as a government agent, inserts himself between both powers.

One of the last Campions, this one is in full thriller mode. There is a mystery involved with how this mind reading device fell in to the hands of the schoolboys, as well as the identity of a double agent in the research base, but it is definitely not a classic murder mystery. Campion ends up being involved with some of the physical action climax. I found this one much more involving than the Beckoning Lady or Hide My Eyes, but that was probably just me.

The cover above depicts the two boys talking to a policeman in a railroad station while the female spy who attempted to abduct them flees.

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Michael Gilbert – The Empty House (1978)

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Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: Broken Object
Date Finished: January 7, 2017
TBR #3
Follow the Clues step #3: from Empty to Empty.
Reporter Challenge: Set in England

A scientist’s car is thought to have crashed over a seaside cliff in Dover, leading to his death, but young and very persistent insurance adjuster Peter Manciple is assigned to investigate the death prior to payment of his somewhat oddly written policy. The scientist had written an ill-advised editorial against Israel, leading to complications in his career, and the involvement by various governments. Manciple becomes involved with various characters around Exeter and finds more to this insurance case than originally suspected.

Some have described this as a quiet thriller, and that is somewhat apt as, despite a few scenes of action, there are periods of meandering around the countryside. Gilbert’s writing is well done and the setting is well described. Unfortunately, the characters are somewhat disappointing. Almost all are hiding some secrets, but those are fairly easily guessed. The Manciple charachter, though somewhat milquetoast, has a tenaciousness that pulls him through this affair and is the most notable item of this mystery. He sadly does not seem to be a continuing character in Gilbert’s work. The mystery, however, dissolves into Israeli vs. Palestinian vs. English spies and loses its focus, with it being not very clear why all are after our scientist. Either fully spy or fully mystery would have served this premise better.

As for the cover scavenger hunt, we’ll go with broken object, while we continue the Empty theme from The Empty Trap.

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Donald Hamilton – The Menacers (1968)

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Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: A Door
Date Finished: January 2, 2017
TBR #1

Matt Helm is called to bring back from Mexico a witness to a UFO sighting without letting her fall into the hands of the opposition. Running into agents from a competing U.S. agency, as well as a well-known foreign female agent, Helm is prepared to kill the witness rather than let her be captured. Helm chooses not to follow through on his instructions, as no one is who they seem to be here.

This is another tight, fast-moving Helm thriller, though once again Helm is paired with a woman who is dismayed by Helm’s lack of feelings toward his killings. The book is also marred by the few opinions Helm shares regarding women’s roles and attire, as well as regarding gays and lesbians. This seems to be Hamilton’s asides in the same way that John D. MacDonald would insert his own into Travis McGee novels, but these are the few times when the novel seems dated for 1968, let alone 2017.

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