This is a reprint of the 1977 British first edition, which differed in pagination but not content from the American edition, of Christie’s charming and informative though selective and sometimes reticent autobiography (see “What About Murder,” 1981, #129). It has been an important primary source for her biographers, though they have had to go elsewhere for any information about her mysterious 1926 disappearance. An added feature makes the new edition valuable even for holders of the original: a scratchy but listenable CD of some of Christie’s dictation for the book, totaling around an hour and 20 minutes and touching on all aspects of her writing life. Grandson Matthew Prichard’s three-page introduction describes how these tapes, made on a now-obsolete recording machine, were found and recovered. Twenty-four pages of illustrations include some not in the original American edition.
This first of two volumes, an Edgar nominee, explores the seemingly chaotic, undated, and sometimes barely legible notebooks in which Christie interspersed ideas, plot outlines, and casts of characters for her novels, plays, and stories with shopping lists, reading lists, and other ephemera. Curran, an Irish literary adviser to the Christie estate, organizes it all with admirable thoroughness, often bringing together material on a given title scattered among several notebooks. The arrangement is mainly topical, bringing together titles with a theme or type of background in common. Though the inclusion of two previously unpublished Poirot stories serves to attract a wide audience of fans, the real appeal of the book is to specialists and scholars. Solutions are routinely revealed, with warnings in the chapter headings. Curran’s critical differentiations add to the interest.
This second of two volumes, the first an Edgar nominee, explores the seemingly chaotic, undated, and sometimes barely legible notebooks in which Christie interspersed ideas, plot outlines, and casts of characters for her novels, plays, and stories with shopping lists, reading lists, and other ephemera. Curran, an Irish literary adviser to the Christie estate, organizes it all with admirable thoroughness, often bringing together material on a given title scattered among several notebooks. The first volume’s arrangement was mainly topical, bringing together titles with a theme or type of background in common; the second is chronological by decade from the 1920s to the 1970s. Though the inclusion of two previously unpublished Poirot stories in the first volume and an alternate version of a Miss Marple in the second serve to attract a wide audience of fans, the real appeal of the books is to specialists and scholars. Solutions are routinely revealed, with warnings in the chapter headings. Curran’s critical differentiations add to the interest. Special features of the newer volume relate Christie’s work to the detective-story rules of Van Dine and Knox, list her favorite novels and short stories with Curran’s comments, and offer an early denouement of The Mysterious Affair at Styles in which Poirot elucidates his solution from the witness stand.
Though members of the Detection Club swore allegiance to fairly clued classical puzzles, even founding members like Anthony Berkeley and Dorothy L. Sayers strayed from strict conformity to the rules. Evans draws on members’ correspondence in an engagingly written and impeccably documented history of the organization showing the gradual erosion of the fair-play concept. Apart from the still-famous names, the contributions of writers like Milward Kennedy and E.R. Punshon to the development of the form are given their due. Writers heretofore names on a page are brought to life as individual personalities. The title refers to an entertaining debate over the membership qualifications of Douglas G. Browne and the elaborate solution to a bathtub murder in his novel What Beckoning Ghost (1947). Illustrations include pictures of members and prospects plus a few dust jacket covers. Everyone interested in the history of the British detective novel should read this.
In an anthology intended as a textbook, the 20 entries are bolstered by a good introduction, extensive and accurate editorial notes on the authors and their contributions to the form, explanatory footnotes, occasional illustrations, and a four-page secondary bibliography. Sections are devoted to Poe (three stories), “Variations of Poe, Expansions to the Form” (Collins, Twain, Chesterton), Doyle (three Sherlock Holmes stories plus Bret Harte’s parody), “Gender, Sexuality, and Detection” (Mary Wilkins Freeman, Orczy, Green, Glaspell), the hardboiled (Daly, Hammett, Woolrich), and African-American writers (Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, Himes, Ralph Ellison), the latter an academic specialty of the editor.
There’s nothing wrong with what’s here but plenty with what’s left out. Apart from scattered references to Agatha Christie (whose Miss Marple I suspect the editor wanted to include), the whole Golden Age of Detection in Britain and America is ignored. Closest is Chesterton’s story published in 1911. Why not have a bit less Poe and Doyle, who are represented by very familiar material, to allow a wider representation of the detective story’s first century?
In the collection of Frederic Dannay’s papers at Columbia University are copies of the Ellery Queen team’s correspondence when Manfred B. Lee was living on the West Coast and they were developing three of their finest novels: Ten Days’ Wonder, Cat of Many Tails, and The Origin of Evil. Edgar-winning playwright Goodrich has done a superb job of editing and annotating the letters, which reveal the painful-to-contemplate combativeness and mutual recrimination of the Queens’ professional relationship. That they could work together for 40 years, creating America’s finest body of classical detective fiction, is nothing short of a miracle. Lee to Dannay in 1948: “You get sick after you open my letters. I get sick before I open yours. The mere sight of your handwriting on the envelope upsets me.” Fortunately, the letters also reflect enough of the cousins’ genuine concern for each other and empathy for their difficult family lives to balance the incredible level of bile, insult, and willful misunderstanding.
I worry about Milo Sturgis' eating habits.
It's not that I stay up nights fretting about Milo, the L.A. detective who is psychologist Alex Delaware's sidekick in Jonathan Kellerman's novels, the latest of which is Victims.
But Milo packs away a lot of food and I worry that his over mega meals.
It's also a chance to live vicariously as Milo goes through practically an entire buffet at an Indian restaurant, waxes poetic about a pizza, longs for a special breakfast. Leftovers are not a problem because Milo will make sure they are cleaned out.
I appreciate Milo's zest for food and I admit to a bit of vicarious living through the detective's eating habits.
After all, as described by Kellerman, Milo is a big guy—a "bear of a man" who is at least 6-foot-3, weighing 240 to 260 pounds.
Despite his love of food, Milo never comes across as a glutton.
Instead, he's a bit of a foodie, who embraces all kinds of food, from fine dining to fast food.
Even when he's downing a quart of orange juice and a quart of milk, it doesn't seem excessive.
At least not for Milo.
Next to Blanche, the adorable French bulldog, Milo is my favorite character in Kellerman's series.
In creating this big, insightful detective, Kellerman never stooped to clichés. Milo may have been one of the first openly gay detectives in a crime fiction novel written by a straight author. Milo's sexuality is weaved into every story as naturally as Alex's relationship with his girlfriend, Robin.
Milo has been in a 22-year relationship with Richard Silverman, the head ER surgeon at a hospital. Like Robin, Rick stays in the background, occasionally on the phone or at a restaurant when he and Milo double date with Alex and Robin.
Each Alex Delaware novel leaves me wanting more of Milo.
While the Alex and Milo team has been Kellerman's main series, the author took a mini break when he introduced half-brothers Aaron Fox and Moses Reed in intriguing True Detectives. Since that novel, Aaron and Moses make frequent appearances in the Alex Delaware series.
I think it's time that Kellerman focused a novel on Milo.
Wouldn't you love to know more about Milo, his family, his early life, how he and Rick met? I know I would.
Milo deserves no less.
In Raymond Benson’s The Black Stiletto, a 1950s rape victim becomes a vengeance-seeking superhero, skintight black costume and all. Just because a book’s plot sounds improbable doesn’t mean it isn’t a terrific read, and this stirring, action-packed book is a prime example of imagination triumphing over logic. At puberty, Judy Talbot develops unusually acute vision and hearing, along with an almost ESP-like ability to sense when someone’s lying. After fleeing from her abusive stepfather, she heads to Manhattan, where she takes boxing and martial arts lessons in order to protect herself in the future. Once fighting fit, she uses her physical prowess to wreak vengeance on the mobsters who murdered her lover, then patrols the mean streets to rescue New Yorkers in distress.
Given such an unlikely setup, this book shouldn’t work, but it does—we follow Judy “Black Stiletto” Talbot’s adventures with a mixture of delight and awe. Benson isn’t just a talented writer, he’s an experienced one, too. The author of several James Bond 007 books knows a thing or two about making extraordinary heroes come alive. Understanding that Judy’s exploits might stretch the limits of credulity, he tells his story through Judy’s journal, which has been discovered years later by her son Martin. As Martin begins to read, we share his disbelief when he initially dismisses his aged mother’s journal as the delusions of an Alzheimer’s patient. When he eventually finds yellowed newspaper clippings that back up Judy’s journal, along with her famous black costume, we rejoice with him. But even if those clippings hadn’t appeared, we’d believe Judy’s tale anyway because Benson has packed her exploits with so much heart that we want them to be true.
John C. Boland’s Hominid is a riveting scientific suspense novel on the order of the popular Preston and Child thrillers. Archeologist David Isaac and his crew are researching a 17th-century English colony on a secluded island off the Maryland Shore, when something goes terribly wrong. While excavating a deeply buried crypt on unhallowed ground, one of the archeologists is found with her throat cut. Luther, the villager who was working beside her, is the obvious suspect, but he has disappeared and the islanders—including the local lawman—appear reluctant to hunt him down. Luther’s motive is baffling, too, but Isaac suspects that it might be because Luther never wanted the crypt opened in the first place. The crypt is supposed to contain the remains of the Wakelyn family, victims of the cholera epidemic that swept the island in 1702, but when their three lead-lined coffins are opened, only the skeletons of a man and young child are found; both were tied up and beheaded. The third coffin, which should have contained the body of Elspeth Wakelyn, is empty.
Hominid could have been a novel only for the science-minded reader, but author Boland makes complicated theories about DNA and genetically linked illnesses easily understood. And in contrast to many science-heavy suspense novelists, Boland also has the ability to create three-dimensional characters. Isaac’s love life is a mess; Silas Merton, the island’s mayor and only clergyman, is also the town drunk; local artist Sydney Wood seems oddly comfortable with the bizarre behavior of her fellow villagers; and even brutish Luther turns out to be much, much more than your average killer. Hominid never fails to make for exciting reading, but its true value may lie in the question it poses: What happens to DNA in long-isolated populations?
We’re in big-time-adventure territory when we hit Ward Larsen’s Fly by Night. This time out (after Fly by Wire) Jammer Davis, a pilot and crash investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, finds himself in hot water in the African nation of Sudan. He’s ostensibly looking into the crash of a cargo plane owned by a Bahamian company whose planes are so substandard it’s referred to as “Fly by Night” airlines. Despite Jammer’s NTSB papers, he’s really there to find out if the Bahamian company has any connection to the local Muslim terrorists, and if so, to determine if the company caused the crash of an expensive US Air Force drone. It’s a dangerous posting, but Jammer, a modern-day Errol Flynn, is up to it. He can fly, he can box, he can scuba dive, and he can shoot very, very straight.
If Jammer has a weakness, it’s his tender heart. When he meets the beauteous Dr. Regina Antonelli, a United Nations doctor working at an isolated desert clinic, he’s swept off his feet. Smitten, he attempts to help her get food and medicine for her patients, but this turns out to be as dangerous as exposing terrorists. The scenes involving the clinic will tear at your heart, for we see fat, government-backed warlords stealing food meant for starving children, and the author uses easily checked data to prove that this is happening right now in real-life Sudan (and other war-torn countries).
Eye-openers aside, Larsen keeps his plot moving by giving us Rafiq Khoura, a shady imam who isn’t the pure-hearted cleric he pretends to be, and Fadi Jibril, an engineer whose brilliance is second only to his religious extremism. Okay, I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for Jammer. His chivalric combination of toughness and tenderness has gained him many women readers such as myself, but Jammer’s intimate knowledge of aircraft and other skills keeps his male readership strong. And giving him a rebellious teenage daughter to deal with while he’s dealing with corrupt governments, warlords and terrorists—well, that was a stroke of brilliance on Larsen’s part. If you’re ever in trouble in the Sudan, you’d want an all-around hero like him by your side.
Vickie Britton and Loretta Jackson’s The Curse of Senmut is set in Egypt. I’ve always loved good archeological mysteries, so when this landed on my desk I turned to it with relish. For those not in the know, Senmut was the architect and rumored lover of Pharaoh/Queen Hatshepsut (1508-1458 BC), the man responsible for building so many still-standing temples. When Egyptologist Jane Darvin dies from poisoning during the excavation of a tomb near Luxor, her friend Ardis Cole takes over the dig. After discovering that the tomb is truly that of the famed Senmut, Ardis is warned that the tomb carries a curse which might be responsible for Jane’s death. It soon becomes apparent that someone—or something—is determined to drive the excavators away, which leads to some nice thrills and chills.
The authors have obviously done their archeological homework, and in between all the mysterious goings-on, we learn fascinating details of Hatshepsut’s stormy reign, along with the nitty-gritty on Thutmose III, the stepson who hated the female pharaoh and possibly had her murdered so that he could ascend the throne. The Egyptology is all there, and it’s enjoyable. But the book is hurt by the dated, near-Victorian characterization of its protagonist. Although fully aware that someone is trying to kill her, Ardis continues to poke around in dark places by herself, take solitary trips into dangerous territory, and at one point she even gulps down a drink “made especially for her” although a tentative first sip reveals a strong chemical taste. Of course she becomes violently ill, but that doesn’t stop her reckless behavior. Ardis’ irritating lack of common sense mars what is otherwise an enjoyable book.
Morty Guggenmoose’s Speechless: A Life of the Mind University Mystery is a convoluted Canadian mystery, where overeducated academics divide their time between perusing the Greek and Latin classics, and perhaps plotting the murders of competing academics. Protagonist Morty Guggenmoose (yes, I know, he’s also the supposed author of this odd little book), a student at Life of the Mind University, has fallen for a gorgeous fellow student named Sunny Lee. Beside himself with lust and longing, Morty uses an ancient Greek incantation to make her return his affections, but it doesn’t appear to work. Also in trouble is Morty’s conference paper, “Horace: What’s with All the Ablatives?” (Note for non-philologists: an ablative is a grammatical case expressing the relation of separation and source, God help us.) Morty’s woes escalate when an old Greek coin disappears and Professor Elder Nooken, Director of the Pfumpfermeister Museum, gets murdered. Now it’s up to our befuddled hero and his equally befuddled friend, Wilber “Mashie” Micklechuck, to find out whodunit. A parody of sorts (did you notice those names?), Speechless is witty in its scholastic send-ups, and should thus have strong appeal for the wounded veterans of Academia. However, the average reader might want to approach its convoluted sentences and drawn-out Homeric and philological references with caution—or at least not without a big, fat dictionary.
Collections of good short stories just keep on coming. One of them is the huge (just over 500 pages) Forever Rumpole: The Best of the Rumpole Stories by John Mortimer. This volume contains 14 of what editor Ann Mallalieu calls “The Best of the Rumpole Series.” That tells you all you need to know right there, but I’ll go ahead and add that seven of the stories originally appeared in a 1993 collection titled The Best of Rumpole. Those stories were chosen by Mortimer himself, and to them Mallieu has added seven more to represent the best of Mortimer’s later work. There’s one other selection, too. When Mortimer died in 2009, he’d begun work on a Rumpole novel, and four pages from that work are included here. Add in Mortimer’s introduction to the 1993 collection and Mallalieu’s fine introduction to this one, and you have a book that any reader of short fiction would be glad to add to the bookshelves.
Ellery Queen called Vincent Cornier the author of “one of the great series of modern detective stories.” Of course he said that more than 60 years ago, so you can be forgiven if you didn’t know it. Mike Ashley brings back some the best of Cornier’s stories in The Duel of Shadows: The Extraordinary Cases of Barnabas Hildreth. Hildreth is an agent of the British Secret Service, and he deals with some wonderful problems, such as the one involving an ancient Egyptian curse. I find stories like this irresistible, and while some might find Cornier’s writing style a bit dated, I have no problem at all getting into the spirit of things to read about impossible crimes and incredible events. The first story in the book, “The Stone Ear,” is probably the best known, mainly because the mystery is not resolved until the final word. Ashley provides a comprehensive introduction to Cornier and the stories.
Laurie King has won just about every crime-writing award there is, and half her novels feature Mary Russell, the wife of Sherlock Holmes. Now King and Leslie S. Klinger have put together A Study in Sherlock, an anthology of stories “inspired by the Holmes canon.” The key word is “inspired,” as most of these stories aren’t pastiches but tales that are often only tangentially related to the canon. There’s a lot to enjoy, like Colin Cotterill’s “The Mysterious Case of the Unwritten Short Story,” presented in graphic novel form. Or Neil Gaiman’s “The Case of Death and Honey,” which will tell you why Holmes decided on beekeeping. There’s a lot more, all of it by Big Names, all of it thoroughly entertaining. An introduction and an afterword by King and Klinger add to the volume’s value. For Holmes fans this is a must-have. For everybody else, it’s highly recommended.
If you’re the kind of person who thinks impossible crimes and locked rooms are too old-fashioned and finds Holmes and Rumpole too civilized, have no fear: New Pulp Press is here with Crime Factory: The First Shift, an anthology of noir stories that are dark, bitter, and filled with criminals and con men, psychos and sinners. The table of contents reads like a Who’s Who of contemporary noir, with writers from all over the world. There’s Ken Bruen from Ireland, Roger Smith from South Africa, Leigh Redhead and Adrian McKinty from Australia. The US is well represented, too, with the likes of Patricia Abbott, Hilary Davidson, and way too many more to name. Editors Keith Rawson, Cameron Ashley, and Jimmy Callaway have put together as wild an anthology as you’re likely to find, and if you want to know what’s shaking the crime field right now, this is a book you need to read.
Max Allan Collins must maintain a separate shelf in his house for the Shamus awards he’s received for his Nate Heller short stories. Now Amazon Encore has brought all the stories together in a collection called Chicago Lightning: The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories with a fine introduction by Collins. It’s private-eye fiction as you like it, with wonderfully researched historical backgrounds, and it’s essential reading.
In keeping with the motif of towns sporting theme-oriented specialty shops, typified by Lorna Barrett in her Booktown Mysteries, Janet Bolin introduces Threadville, Pennsylvania, a crafter’s mecca for all things related to needlework arts. In Dire Threads, Bolin introduces Willow Vanderling, proud proprietor of a new embroidery shop, In Stitches. In the good company of her best friend Haylee, who has also opened a textile crafts boutique, Willow embraces the placid small-town lifestyle far removed from the frenzied pace of Manhattan, but it doesn’t take long for her to discover that peace is illusory.
When Willow resists pressure from Mike Krawbach, the zoning commissioner, to promote his petition to create an ATV trail through Willow’s own property, she makes enemies very quickly. When Mike’s body turns up in her yard, Willow must defend herself against accusations of murder.
Accompanied by Tally-Ho (Tally) and Sally Forth (Sally), quite possibly the cutest puppies in the world, Willow takes matters into her own hands, discovering, in the process, that apparently innocuous neighbors can be vicious, even on the shores of Lake Erie. Bolin weaves a tale that will keep readers guessing. It doesn’t hurt if said readers are also fans of embroidery, the featured craft in the fresh Threadville Mystery Series.
In Button Holed, veteran mystery writer Kylie Logan—better known as Miranda Bliss and/or Casey Daniels—introduces another new shop owner to the mystery scene. Josie Giancola, proprietor of Button Box, a Chicago shop specializing in buttons, has attracted a celebrity client, an actress who wishes to adorn her wedding dress with unique buttons. Unfortunately, though, the starlet arrives early for her consultation and is slain in Josie’s shop, with an unusual button—not from Josie’s inventory—the only clue remaining on the scene. As a preeminent expert on buttons, Josie uses her professional research skills to track down the provenance of the button and the identity of the murderer. Button Holed is a promising series debut, although I am still pondering a mystery unresolved by the book: How on earth can anyone earn a living by selling buttons? Maybe subsequent series entries will enlighten me on this score.
These days, it’s also hard to survive as a bookstore proprietor, although, in Double Booked for Death, protagonist Darla Pettistone is fortunate to have inherited her new bookstore, along with a small fortune—and giant black cat, Hamlet—from her great-aunt. This first entry in the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series is a harbinger of good books to follow, but that’s not surprising, considering that the author, Ali Brandon, is really seasoned writer Diane A.S. Stuckart.
In Double Booked for Death, Texas transplant Darla embraces her New York bookstore business by immediately hosting a book signing by Valerie Baylor, the leading author of the bestselling Haunted High series, a favorite among teenaged girls. The signing goes wildly awry when the author meets her untimely demise during intermission. Murder? You bet—but by whom? A religious fanatic? A wronged author from whom Baylor stole a manuscript? A jealous twin brother? A greedy agent? The possibilities are many, and it remains for Darla, her retired cop friend Jake, and Hamlet to identify the killer.
In case you are wondering, Hamlet fulfills his role as sleuth by knocking down books containing hints about the killer’s identity. Brandon/Stuckart does a fine job with the plot and execution here—and even incorporates an element of romance, as she introduces a potential love-interest in the form of a hunky cop named Reese, who will undoubtedly be making an encore appearance in the next Black Cat Bookshop Mystery.
This is one of the most entertaining, informative, and critically astute recent books on crime and mystery fiction, all from an Irish point of view and written in variants of that eloquent and melodic national prose style. The subtitle is a happy misnomer: Though most of the contributors are contemporary Irish crime writers, their consideration is not limited to the present century or even to Ireland. Ian Campbell Ross' introduction, a general history of the genre, mentions some well-known writers we may not even realize were Irish: L.T. Meade, Freeman Wills Crofts, Nicholas Blake. John Connolly’s excellent survey understates the American Golden Age but displays critical acumen (translation: he agrees with me) when he pronounces Henning Mankell overrated and ranks Ross Macdonald ahead of Hammett and Chandler, a view shared by Declan Hughes, who finds Macdonald, in his obsession with family secrets, in tune with the “traditional Irish experience”: “There have always been plenty of skeletons in the Irish closet, and for a long time, we didn’t even hear them rattle. Or at least, we said we didn’t.” (Though Macdonald’s stock has declined among contemporary American critics, Anthony Boucher would have agreed with Connolly and Hughes.)
With noir-side writers the strongest influence on contemporary Irish crime fiction, classical detection is generally undervalued here, though Cora Harrison’s article on her historical judge Mara, Brehon of the Burren, stands up for the traditional detective story. Ruth Dudley Edwards notes that Liam O’Flaherty intended The Informer as a thriller and was disappointed it wasn’t published as one. Adrian McKinty on Northern Irish crime fiction discusses a number of past writers who will be new to American readers. John Banville (aka Benjamin Black) is interviewed by editor Burke, Tana French by Claire Coughlan. Among other well-known contributors are Stuart Neville, Ken Bruen, and Paul Charles. A few contribute short stories or true crime pieces in lieu of literary essays. Gene Kerrigan’s otherwise good piece on hardboiled fiction makes two mistakes in one sentence: Agatha Christie’s novel was not called Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?, and Edmund Wilson doesn’t even discuss that book in his famous essay “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” Among continuing subjects are the reasons for Ireland’s lack of a strong tradition of indigenous crime fiction, the influence of the Troubles on Irish attitudes and literature, and the deceptive Irish stereotype in British and American fiction and drama. Cormac Millar notes that his mother Eilís Dillon was a militant Irish patriot but hewed to the cozy and comic tradition most palatable to outsiders in her mysteries.
The volume’s one serious defect is the lack of an index. How useful it would be to conveniently trace all the references to Brian Moore, whose name turns up in many of these essays.
For biographical details, the author relies primarily on Clark’s memoir Kitchen Privileges (2002), but she relates elements of the fiction to events in Clark’s life. All the novels are discussed from the outstanding 1975 debut Where Are the Children? through The Shadow of Your Smile (2010), and while De Roche is clearly an admirer of her subject, she is not reluctant to quote critical detractors or to give some guidance on which novels are best and which least. Some of the analysis belabors the obvious, but the novels are described in a way that will attract readers new and old. Interesting sidelights include the account of Clark’s working methods with editor Michael Korda and the history of the Adams Round Table, the writing group Clark and Thomas Chastain started in the early 1980s. (One rare error: Caribbean Blues (1978) is a group novel rather than a short-story collection, and I don’t believe it was advanced as an Adams Round Table book.)
In a clearly written scholarly trek over fresh critical ground, Emrys asserts that Wilkie Collins, inaccurately lumped with early writers of epistolary novels, should be credited with inventing a new form, the casebook or novel in testimony. The format is especially effective for a detective story, planting clues and effecting reader surprises while achieving depth of characterization. All of Collins’ novels and some of his short stories are touched on, with most attention to The Woman in White (1860), more truly a detective story than generally thought, and The Moonstone (1868).
Emrys, who edited the Vera Caspary collection The Murder in the Stork Club (Crippen & Landru, 2009), shows how Caspary consciously adapted Collins’ casebook method in the classic Laura (1943) and later novels. Many readers will be spurred to go beyond that one famous book to a large and distinguished body of work.
The discussion may seem forbiddingly technical and academic at times, but mystery fans and general readers will find enjoyable and useful the discussions of individual titles by the two main subjects and other writers, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Michael Innes’ Lament for a Maker, Dorothy L. Sayers and Robert Eustace’s The Documents in the Case, and Julian Symons’ The Immaterial Murder Case. Most surprising is the fairly laudatory discussion of Fergus Hume, a very prolific writer usually dismissed with passing reference to The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. Among contemporary writers touched on are Michael Gruber, Elizabeth Peters, and Michael Cox.
This is one of the year’s best books of mystery scholarship and deserves strong Edgar consideration.
Originally published in 1913, this was the first full-length book in English about mystery and detective fiction. Its value as an instruction manual is negligible after almost a century, but its historical interest is immense. By general consensus, Wells’ scores of mystery novels are much less important to the field than the wisdom and critical acumen she brought to this volume. Esenwein’s introduction is from the original edition. Mine was written this year and draws on my review in What About Murder? (1981, entry #99). The index is unfortunately absent, but everything else from the original edition is present.
In April Smith’s new and arguably best Ana Grey novel, the Southern California FBI agent is recuperating in Europe with her ex-Delta Force boyfriend, Sterling McCord, when the Bureau issues an unusually personal call to duty. Cecilia Nicosa, a half-sister she didn’t know existed, has been trying to reach out to her. Her bosses want Ana to visit the Nicosa compound in Siena, Italy, and find out whatever she can about Cecilia’s husband, Nicoli, a coffee magnate in bed with the mafia’s drug distributors. What she discovers is that Nicoli’s relationship with the mafia is a bit strained. His mistress is thought to be lupara bianca, white shotgun, the term used for a murder victim whose body is never found, and his son has been stabbed during a street festival. When Cecilia is kidnapped, Ana is forced to go off-duty and, with the help of McCord’s elite mercenaries, try to rescue her half-sister from a white shotgun fate. A plot this strong sometimes skimps on character or place. Not here. The author treats even the minor players to full-bodied and -blooded dimension. And her descriptions of the Southern Italy locations are more precise and knowledgeable than you’re likely to find in a full-length travelogue. Television and film actress Lovejoy (Law & Order, The Wire) not only has what sounds like a genuine Italian accent, something of a prerequisite, but her normal speaking voice is a smart match for Ana’s—firm but feminine, confident but with just a hint of vulnerability. This is one of the year’s top audios.