Robert van Gulik – The Chinese Maze Murders (1957)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: When — Set pre-1800
TBR #135 (74e, 61p)
Date Finished: December 31, 2019

On his way to assume the magistrate position in a far northern border town, Judge Dee and entourage are set up by a band of thieves. Quickly dispensing with them, it turns out that the thieves have been driven from their homes by a strongman who controls the border town. Judge Dee soon defeats the strongman and deals with a criminal mastermind planning to sell out the town to a Uigur army, a locked room murder, an abducted young woman, and the secret to an inheritance hidden at the center of a maze.

The only difficulty is keeping some of the very similar names straight, but otherwise this is another engrossing, entertaining Judge Dee mystery.

And that completes the Just the Facts Golden Age Notebook.

Just the Facts Golden 2019-12-31

Robert Leslie Bellem – Roscoes in the Night (2003)


Vintage Mystery Pulp collection
TBR #134 (74e, 60p)
Monthly Key Word: Night
Date Finished: December 29
, 2019

This collection of Dan Turner pulp stories, originally published between 1934 and 1950, contains 13 adventures that follow a standard pattern: Dan meets a girl, she loses some clothing, he is hit on the head, someone (usually the girl) turns up dead, he is suspected by police but escapes to find real killer before the police get him. The early stories from Spicy Detective Stores are a bit spicier before pressure was put on the publisher to clean things up. Later stories from Hollywood Detective and Speed Detective are longer, but aren’t quite as lively. A good collection but perhaps reading them back-to-back isn’t the best approach.

2019 Monthly Key Words 2019-12-29

Richard Lockridge – Murder for Art’s Sake (1967)


Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Why — Read by a fellow challenger
TBR #133 (74e, 59p)
Date Finished: December 27, 2019

Sad sack police lieutenant Nathan Shapiro returns to investigate the apparent suicide of a modernistic painter. When it quickly becomes apparent that it was murder, Shapiro pokes around among the friends and business acquaintances of the painter, with the help of his boss’ wife Dorian Weigand.

The mystery here is okay for a late Lockridge, but Shapiro’s low self-esteem and self-doubt become quickly annoying. Dorian sticks herself into dangerous situations, stumbling upon the criminals in the formulaic manner of Pam North, rather than through any deductive reasoning. Shapiro shows up in time, just as Bill Weigand does in the North series. Still, a good setting in Greenwich Village and the art world that is now long gone with barn-like studio lofts available to rent for $85 per month.

Just the Facts Silver 2019-12-27

Michael Crichton – The Venom Business (1969)


Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: Who — In the Medical Field
TBR #132 (74e, 58p)
Date Finished: December 26, 2019

An exporter of snakes, Charles Raynaud, as well as a smuggler of Mayan artifacts, encounters an old friend/enemy in Paris. The friend’s life is in danger, just as he is about to inherit a fortune, so asks Charles to accompany him and protect him. A scheming stepmother, a scheming doctor uncle, and a scheming young woman interact with the scheming Raynaud and his scheming friend. There are several schemes in this story, as they each try and outwit each other.

Entertaining and fast moving, though I wouldn’t call any of these very admirable characters, other than perhaps the young woman, which may leave a bad aftertaste for some.

Just the Facts Silver 2019-12-26

Robert Van Gulik – The Haunted Monastery (1961)


Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: When — Set pre-1800
TBR #131 (73e, 58p)
Date Finished: December 24, 2019

Judge Dee and entourage, traveling through the mountains, take shelter from a severe storm in a old monastery. Three young women had mysteriously died earlier in the year and Judge Dee begins investigating them and other events during the time he is trapped there.

As usual three intertwining mysteries are investigated by Judge Dee within this story, which is shorter than most of the earlier ones in this series. Well written and surprisingly engrossing, as always.

Just the Facts Silver 2019-12-24

Loren D. Estleman – Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula (1978)


Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: When — Set in Victorian Era
TBR #130 (73e, 57p)
Date Finished: December 20, 2019

A dead man lashed to the wheel of an abandoned ship brings Sherlock Holmes into contact with Dracula, who is attempting to spread his evil to Britain and then to America. Holmes and Watson risk their lives, as well as that of Mrs. Watson, while dealing with the supernatural.

A well written story that captures the Watson narrative voice quite well, this one is exciting and full of action, even if the Dracula interactions are limited and his powers are not on full display. The story is more easily resolved than it should be based on the build-up, but still a fun read.

Just the Facts Silver 2019-12-20

Donald Westlake – Help, I Am Being Held Prisoner (1974)


Vintage Silver Age Mystery
Just the Facts Category: What — Includes letter/s or diary extracts
TBR #129 (73e, 56p)
Date Finished: December 18, 2019

A practical joker, Henry Künt, (with umlauts) is incarcerated for a joke gone wrong. Placed on gym duty, he discovers the gym crew has a tunnel out of the prison, which they use to visit family, have afternoons on the town, and eventually rob a bank. Henry uses his practical joking talents to try to abort the bank job, but things do not go as planned. He is also in trouble with the warden for several notes and messages sent, reading “Help, I Am Being Held Prisoner,” sent in license plates or communion wafers, but for which he is innocent. The other prisoners may not be pleased with him if it is revealed that he is the joker in their midst, however.

Another humorous Westlake novel that reads very quickly and is very entertaining. There is nothing terribly deep about it all, but humor is difficult to do well and Westlake succeeds here.

Just the Facts Silver 2019-12-18