Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Grifters & Swindlers: edited by Cynthia Manson

Grifters & Swindlers is a collection of 17 short stories taken from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. The stories all center on tricksters and con artists who are plotting to cheat someone of their money or valuables. Like most short story collections, there were several stories I liked a lot, some stories that seemed predictable, and the rest were in between.

All of the stories were well worth reading. My favorites in the collection:

The selection by William Campbell Gault, "The Cackle Bladder", was very close to the final con in the movie The Sting, except it had a different twist. Of course, Gault wrote his story in 1950, years before The Sting was produced.

This is what Publisher's Weekly had to say about this story:
William Campbell Gault's 1950 "The Cackle Bladder'" will appeal to readers who relished the central setup of the 1973 movie, The Sting , except that Gault's description of the phony betting parlor, the characters and the scam are even more vivid.
David Morrell's story, "The Partnership", concerns two partners in a contracting firm who can't get along and scheme to get rid of each other. I liked this one because the ending was truly surprising and entertaining.

My absolute favorite story in the book was by Robert Halsted. As "Hostile Takeover" opens, the con artist narrator and Joy Sue have recently escaped from her home town. She is a country girl with little formal education; they form a partnership of sorts. I liked that the story kept me off balance; I could not figure out where it was going or who was up to what. I loved the way the story unfolds and the ending.

A few of the stories in the book were between 20 and 30 pages. Donald Westlake's story,  "Just the Lady We're Looking For", was a very short one at less than 7 pages. It was different and had a nice twist.

The other stories in the collection are:

  • "The Frightening Frammis" by Jim Thompson 
  • "Passing for Love" by Bill Crenshaw 
  • "One of the Oldest Con Games" by Robert L. Fish 
  • "How to Trap a Crook'' by Julian Symons 
  • "The Man Who Flim-flammed Hiwassee County" by William M. Stephens
  • "The Big Bunco" by William Bankier 
  • "Playing it Cool" by Simon Brett 
  • "Thieves' Bazaar'' by W. L. Heath
  • "T'ang of the Suffering Dragon" by James Holding 
  • "The Western Film Scam" by Francis M. Nevins, Jr. 
  • "A Left-handed Profession" by Al Nussbaum
  • "The Messenger" by Jacklyn Butler

The only problem I had with this anthology was reading a lot of stories on the same theme in a relatively short period of time. I think I might have enjoyed some of them more if they had been in a mixed bag of stories with no theme, so that I was not expecting the con (or the twist on the con).


Publisher:   Carroll & Graf, 1993
Length:       287 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Genre:        Mystery, Short Stories
Source:      I purchased this book.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Planned Parenthood Book Sale 2016 (part 2)

Thursday afternoon we returned to the Planned Parenthood Book Sale for our third visit. We were partly motivated by a request from my sister-in-law to look for books by Kathy Reichs and Tess Gerritsen. And partly just because we wanted to look for ourselves. We all found a few books, and I found some I am particularly happy with. So, it was a good visit.

Today I feature a few of my son's choices. He leans more towards fantasy and science fiction.

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack

This is the first in a series of six books by Mark Hodder. From the back of the book...
London, 1861.
Sir Richard Francis Burton—explorer, linguist, scholar, and swordsman; his reputation tarnished; his career in tatters; his former partner missing and probably dead. 
Algernon Charles Swinburne—unsuccessful poet and follower of de Sade; for whom pain is pleasure, and brandy is ruin! 
They stand at a crossroads in their lives and are caught in the epicenter of an empire torn by conflicting forces: Engineers transform the landscape with bigger, faster, noisier, and dirtier technological wonders; Eugenicists develop specialist animals to provide unpaid labor; Libertines oppose repressive laws and demand a society based on beauty and creativity; while the Rakes push the boundaries of human behavior to the limits with magic, drugs, and anarchy.

Out of Time by Mario Diana

From the author's website:
First book of the Synchrony trilogy, Out of Time’s adventure start when an American tourist (Aurelia) and her friends find an old (or is it?) watch in Venice, Italy. It is this watch that becomes the connecting thread between times and places across Italy as an operative (Jay) on a recovery mission from the future is entangled in their story. 

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle 

Description on the back of the book:
The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone… …so she ventured out from the safety of the enchanted forest on a quest for others of her kind. Joined along the way by the bumbling magician Schmendrick and the indomitable Molly Grue, the unicorn learns all about the joys and the sorrows of life and love before meeting her destiny in the castle of a despondent monarch – and confronting the creature that would drive her kind to extinction.

Orconomics: A Satire by J. Zachary Pike

From the author's website
The adventuring industry drives the economy of Arth, a world much like our own but with more magic and fewer vowels. On Arth, professional heroes are hired to slay fantastic creatures with magic weapons. The beasts’ treasure is hauled back to town and divided among investors. 
Since his career as a professional hero ended in failure decades ago, Gorm Ingerson’s life has been a cycle of petty crime, heavy drinking and avoiding the Heroes’ Guild. But when the Dwarf helps a Goblin secure its NPC documents, he quickly finds himself in the clutches of the guild’s enforcers.

by M. John Harrison

From the review at The Complete Review
       The first word of Light is "1999:", the second chapter heading is: "Gold Diggers of 2400 AD". There's almost reassurance in this specificity, localizing events, letting readers know at least when (and then also where) they are situated. But in fact, soon enough, uncertainty prevails -- appropriate, perhaps, for a novel that fully embraces the quantum world and offers technology (and more) based largely on it. ...
       The book alternates chapters, focussing on three different characters. First there is Michael Kearney, a contemporary scientist involved in a privately-funded project that is beginning to show some inexplicable results. Kearney also has some personal demons to deal with -- as well as some trouble with women .....
       Some four hundred years in the future there's Ed Chianese, who suddenly finds that there are lot of people after him. Down on his luck in New Venusport, he continues to manage to get by, somehow, without understanding much of the world he is facing.
       Finally, there is Seria Mau Genlicher, spaceship captain of the White Cat. She has quite remarkable abilities, as she essentially is her ship, connected directly to the mathematics and able to do incredible things. She too is on the run -- and, like the others, less successfully so than she would like. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Diamond Feather: Helen Reilly

Roger Cram was visited by Godfrey Thorne right before he died, and Roger was left with a piece of jewelry called the diamond feather. It is a family heirloom, designed in the shape of a peacock feather, which Godfrey had taken to pawn only to discover that it was a fake. Later Roger visits Thorne's family to return the diamond feather to Godfrey's mother. While Roger is at Greystone, the family estate in New York, a family member is murdered.

The story is told mainly from  Roger's viewpoint; he stays on at the Thorne mansion after the death not because he is an old  friend of the family, but because Inspector McKee, the policeman in charge of the investigation, asks him to. McKee wants a source of information on the family and their actions. Roger's only connection to the family was Godfrey, and thus he is an outsider, not necessarily resented, but not welcomed either. He does get very involved with the investigation in a amateur role, so he and Inspector McKee share center stage in the activities. There is a small circle of suspects, but the plot is exceedingly complex, and lots of red herrings.

Of the four mysteries by Helen Reilly that I have read, this is my favorite. The story had me under a spell and I would gladly have stayed up all night to finish the book. That might be because this was closer to a police procedural and had much less of the "damsel in distress" element than I noticed in previous books. And less romance.

From what I have read, the first books in the Inspector McKee series were more straightforward police procedurals, as this one is. Police procedurals vary quite a bit as to how much detail of police work is included, and this seems to be true in this series. Later on the books entered the "had I but known" territory, and all the others I have read were much more centered on romantic involvements. This is discussed in some detail in an extensive article at Mystery*File written by Mike Grost and at a post on The Doll's Trunk Murder at Killer Covers of the Week.

This book is not easy to find at an affordable price. When I reviewed Mourned on Sunday, a commenter noted that The Diamond Feather was the first book in the series. I had never heard of that one. I found a hardback with no dust jacket for $25 at, and decided that was acceptable under the circumstances. Right now at that site there are two copies available, both with dust jackets, one for $100, the other for $300. I am now very glad I purchased the book because I enjoyed it so much. It doesn't always work out so well with first books in a series.

This book is my selection for a book published in 1930 for the Crimes of the Century meme, hosted by Rich at Past Offences. It is also my second book read for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI event. That event celebrates reading of books of mystery, suspense, dark fantasy, and horror, and continues through the end of October.


Publisher:  Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1930.
Length:      309 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Inspector McKee, #11
Setting:      New York
Genre:       Police Procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Planned Parenthood Book Sale 2016 (part 1)

The first day of the Planned Parenthood Book Sale was Friday, September 16th, and we spent the afternoon perusing, selecting, weeding, and buying books. We returned Saturday morning. I had a goal to purchase less books this year, and after two visits to the book sale I have failed miserably. I was lured by many many books and found a treasure trove of vintage paperbacks with lovely covers.

My husband and son are much more controlled in their buying. Today I feature a few of my husband's choices. He has provided comments on each book.

The Togakushi Legend Murders

Know nothing about it but can't resist Japanese police/detection/mystery dramas. Have had great luck with the genre: The Devotion of Suspect X, All She Was Worth, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders are among the most memorable.

Richard Armour humor

When I was young, Richard Armour's humorous history books were popular and plentiful. They now seem to be forgotten and very hard to find. Surprised to have found two at the book sale and am looking forward to revisiting and, hopefully, finding them still pleasurable.

A Spy Among Friends

Ben Macintyre writes spy/double agent histories and the one I've read - Operation Mincemeat - was excellent. I now have three of his unread - don't usually buy so many of an author due to often being burned but for this author it seems safe to have them all stacked up and waiting.


A collection of vintage sci-fi short stories compiled by Forrest J.Ackerman, I don't usually gravitate to science fiction but Ackerman is (was) such an appealing person (Famous Monster of Film Land and his home, the Ackermansion) that I couldn't resist.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

She Shall Have Murder: Delano Ames

This light mystery was fun and another look at a sleuthing couple. (Last week's post was on Fast Company with a husband and wife sleuthing team who are rare book dealers.) In this book, Dagobert Brown is encouraging his fiancé, Jane Hamish, to write a mystery novel using the lawyer's office she works in as background. This is his new passion. As Jane says,
It has not occurred to Dagobert to write this himself--his style is to conceive great works rather than execute them. He will inspire me, and correct my spelling. In any case his latest hobby is my writing a thriller. 
Unfortunately, after they have spent some time in research for the book, someone connected to the office actually dies. Only Dagobert suspects that it is murder, not an accident.

At first I found Dagobert very annoying, too eccentric, too flip,  a man who was always looking for a job but never finding one. Yet he grew on me as the book moved along and Jane and Dagobert quickly became candidates for my favorite detecting couple in Golden Age fiction. This is the first in a series of 12 books about the pair, and it will be interesting to see how they continue falling into situations with murders to solve. I should note that I read several of the series when I was much younger, and I remember enjoying them. But tastes change, so we shall see.

She Shall Have Murder also provides a very interesting look at post-war life in London with its privations, for example rationing and feeding gas meters with shillings. The characters in the law office are interesting and the plot has enough complexity to keep it interesting. Romances abound in this story but they contribute to the plot and do not take it over.

My husband is from Ohio so I was interested to see that the author, Delano Ames, was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio in 1906. Per the Knox County Historical Society site, Ames "left the United States about 1935 and spent most of the rest of his life in Europe."

There are several other good reviews and overviews of this book:


Publisher:   Dell, 1949. Orig. pub. 1948.
Length:      224 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Jane and Dagobert Brown
Setting:      London
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copies.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Death Warmed Over: Kevin J. Anderson

From the description at Goodreads:
Ever since the Big Uneasy unleashed vampires, werewolves, and other undead denizens on the world, it's been hell being a detective—especially for zombie P.I. Dan Chambeaux. Taking on the creepiest of cases in the Unnatural Quarter with a human lawyer for a partner and a ghost for a girlfriend, Chambeaux redefines "dead on arrival." But just because he was murdered doesn't mean he'd leave his clients in the lurch. Besides, zombies are so good at lurching.  
Now he's back from the dead and back in business—with a caseload that's downright unnatural. A resurrected mummy is suing the museum that put him on display. Two witches, victims of a curse gone terribly wrong, seek restitution from a publisher for not using "spell check" on its magical tomes. And he's got to figure out a very personal question—Who killed him?
Praise from other authors:
"The Dan Shamble books are great fun. The dead detective is an ex-sleuth, but he has not ceased to be, or ceased to care. In a world full of monsters, an honorable man is still important, dead or alive or in between. Dan Shamble: dead fun and deadly serious."
— Simon R. Green 
“Down these mean streets a man must lurch. . . . With his Big Sleep interrupted, Chambeaux the zombie private eye goes back to sleuthing, in Death Warmed Over, Kevin J. Anderson’s wry and inventive take on the Noir paradigm.  The bad guys are werewolves, the clients are already deceased, and the readers are in for a funny, action-packed adventure, following that dead man walking. . . ”
— Sharyn McCrumb

Lest you get confused, I need to point out that the hero and narrator of this book (and series) is named Dan Chambeaux, but the books as a group are called the Dan Shamble series. Since this novel focuses on the humorous aspects of Dan's situation, it is inevitable that his name is  often bastardized by many of the characters. Dan even has a Best Human Friend, conveniently a cop working in the Unnatural Quarter, who spends a great deal of his time telling Dan insensitive zombie jokes.

In some ways this story is a hodgepodge of cases. That is not all bad, because sometimes when a mystery gets bogged down in one case that goes on and on, the story feels never-ending. But, the hero and zombie Dan Chambeaux has a primary goal of finding the person who killed him, which has a unifying effect. Thus there is an overarching story line with a lot of smaller cases going at the same time, which is fairly realistic for a private eye in the real world.

Death Warmed Over is a fun read, a chance to relax. In general, I don't like humor in mystery fiction, but maybe the humor in this novel made it more palatable to read about zombies, ghouls, and vampires as victims of crimes. This is a satire, not intended to be believable, but of course you do have to get into the world and accept it to have any involvement at all in the story.

Anderson is praised by many reviewers for his world building and I would agree. He has created a world where monsters and "normal" humans have to get along, and they have actually found a way that works, for the most part. The way that society has adapted and is continuing to adapt with new laws to handle the big change in society is interesting and handled very well.

I liked the social commentary in the story, and appreciated that it is delivered as an organic part of the story. The Unnaturals are hated by some people in society, and accepted by others. They have naturally drifted to their own area of the city, where they can find restaurants and other places of business that cater to their needs.

My only complaint would be that the writing is repetitive. This is a personal source of irritation for me; I get impatient with writers that keep reminding you of the main goal of the protagonist, etc. Some characters are introduced more than once with explanations of who they are, but in this case that may be good, because we have a huge number of characters and it is hard to keep track.

I was introduced to this series by my son, who purchased some novels in the series at the 2014 Planned Parenthood Book Sale. He has the four novels in the series, and I will continue reading the series. This book is my first submission for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI event. That event celebrates reading of books of mystery, suspense, dark fantasy, and horror.

Some other resources:

Dan "Shamble" Chambeaux at The Thrilling Detective Web Site

A great overview at RA for All: Horror

Positive review at Kirkus


Publisher:  Kensington, 2012.
Length:      309 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Dan Shamble #1
Genre:       Urban Fantasy
Source:      Borrowed from my son.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Fast Company: Marco Page

Description of the book from the back of my paperback edition:
Joel Glass was a book dealer. When the bottom dropped out of the market, and the big shots stopped buying rare books, he turned his agile mind to sleuthing on the side. It was harmless enough at first -- a book here and a rare print there, missing from a Public Library or a high-toned store. 
But when Abe Selig got his, and the papers began to yell for blood, it became serious. Joel was on the inside and things were getting hot . . . They got hotter and a lot happened that will stand your hair on end before a certain bright idea dawned on Joel Glass. 
Fast Company is a real find -- a mystery that is fast and tough and full of wise-cracks; that reads like lightning; whose characters area as vivid and sharp as its excitement.
Marco Page was the pseudonym of Harry Kurnitz (1908-68), an American author, screenwriter, and playwright. The book was made into a film of the same name, with Kurnitz writing the screenplay. Later two other films based on the same premise were made (also with Kurnitz as screenwriter). When Warner Archives made the three movies available as a set, I was eager to read the book first, then watch the movies.

My thoughts:

The story starts out well, with an interesting premise. Reading about people who know and love books is always a plus. Joel's wife, Garda, is a strong character (but of course, due to the times, she doesn't get to do much). There is sexy repartee between the married couple, which I would not have expected in a book of this vintage.  The last few chapters also kept me involved, tying up the story in an ending that I found surprising.

However, the story slowed down in the middle, and I had a hard time sustaining interest for a portion of the book. At one point, Joel is abducted by one of the bad guys; that part of the book dragged on too long.

I did not like the disparity in the roles of Joel and Garda. Garda is clearly just as capable as Joel, yet she gets left out of most of the action. To her credit, she complains about it. I know it fits the times, yet I don't have to like it.

The films:

First up is Fast Company, released in 1938, starring Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice as Joel and Garda.  In the movies, their last name is Sloane. It doesn't often happen, but in this case I found the movie better than the book. The story is basically the same in book and movie, but the dialog and action were more palatable on the screen than in the book. I also enjoyed seeing Claire Dodd, Louie Calhern, and Nat Pendleton in this movie.

Others like the book as much or better than the movie. See this post at Strange Scribblings from South Texas.

All three films feature the same couple, Joel and Garda Sloane, as bookseller and secretary. However each film has a different pair of stars playing the couple. According to just about every source I read, MGM was looking for other films starring sleuthing couples, due to the popularity of the The Thin Man movies.

We have also watched the 2nd movie, Fast and Loose (1939), starring Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. This film revolves around the selling of an original piece of a Shakespeare manuscript, and forgeries, and greed and murder. I like both of the stars, but Rosalind Russell was surprisingly demure and in the background in this one. The movie was still fun.

See a review of the film at Apocalypse Later.

We have not yet watched the third movie, Fast and Furious (1939), which stars Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern. I don't know much about Franchot Tone, but from the stills I have seen, he actually seems physically more like how I imagined Joel to look. I have always liked Ann Sothern, so I look forward to this entry in the series. This film was directed by Busby Berkeley, which should be interesting.

Randy Johnson reviewed this at Not the Baseball Pitcher.

Regardless of my problems with the book, I do recommend reading the book and watching the films. The three films are available via Warner Archives.


Publisher:  Pocket Books edition, 1943. Orig. pub. 1938.
Length:     204 pages
Format:     Paperback
Setting:     New York City
Genre:       Bibliomystery
Source:     I purchased this book.

Monday, September 5, 2016

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI

In many parts of the US, the beginning of September signals a return to cooler weather. Even when I lived in Alabama, the first part of September could be very hot, but by the end of the month, it could be very, very cool in the evenings. But here in Santa Barbara, September is often very warm, and October may be the hottest month of the year. So it is not the cool weather that tells me Fall is here and Halloween is near, it is the Halloween costumes (and Christmas decorations even) in Costco at this time of year. And school starting, since my husband and I both work for institutions of higher learning. Nevertheless, this is a nice time of year and the days will shorten and the evenings will be a bit cooler.

And Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings is again hosting the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event, for the eleventh year. Five years ago at this time of year I joined in the R.I.P. festivities for the first time, and this will be my fifth year participating.

                       (Art by Hugo Award winning artist Abigail Larson)

As Carl describes it, this is a quest to bring a community of readers together to enjoy the literature most associated with the darkening days and cooling temperatures of Autumn:

Dark Fantasy

There are only two expectations if you want to participate:
1. Have fun reading (and watching).
2. Share that fun with others.

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI takes place from September 1st, 2016 through October 31st, 2016. There are various goals: reading books, short stories, watching movies or TV shows, and even playing games.

Although reviews are optional, the other staple of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event is the Review Site, where participants share links to any reviews related to this event.

See Carl's explanatory post if you have interest in participating in this event.

My goal, as usual, will be the First Peril.

Read four books, of any length, from the very broad categories earlier defined as perilous. They could all be by the same author, a series of books, a random mix of classic and contemporary or whatever you like.

Each year I have included a list of books I hope to read during the two months of R.I.P and usually I actually read entirely different books. But I will be optimistic and continue in the tradition. So here is a tentative list:

These are books I listed last year and never got to...

Fender Benders by Bill Fitzhugh
The Last Enemy by Grace Brophy
The Coffin Dancer by Jeffery Deaver  (on the list for the 5th year!)
All the Lonely People by Martin Edwards
The Iron Gates by Margaret Millar

New for this year...

Flowers for the Judge by Marjorie Allingham (a reread)
The Diamond Feather by Helen Reilly
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers (a reread)
Quoth the Raven by Jane Haddam (a reread) 
Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson
Thirty-Three Teeth by Colin Cotterill

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Reading in August

August was the first month in a while that I strayed from reading crime fiction. This month I read one book from my Classics List, Passing by Nella Larsen, and a military fantasy, The Black Company by Glen Cook. I have already reviewed The Black Company. With its emphasis on war and violence (although not much graphic description of such), I was surprised to have liked it so much.

Passing by Nella Larsen was published in 1929 and was one of only two books by this American author. It is the story of two childhood friends who meet up again by chance in Chicago. Both are light-skinned African-American women who can pass for white. Clare Kendry continues to live in Chicago and has married a white man who does not know that she has Negro blood. The couple have a daughter. Irene Redfield is married to a black doctor; they live in Harlem with their two young boys. Later, Clare wants to continue her friendship with Irene, and Irene resists.

Both women are interesting people, but the novel focuses on Irene's life, her reactions to Clare, and how the continuation of their friendship affects both of their lives. The story was different and for me it was an eye-opening picture of the black community in Harlem in the 1920's.

The crime fiction novels I read were:

August was a lovely month of reading. There was not a bad (or even mediocre) book in the bunch. There were two crime fiction books I rated my favorites for the month...

I absolutely loved From Russia With Love. The movie has always been a favorite and the book is a lot like the movie, but even better.

See Also Deception was the 2nd book in a great series by Sweazy.  It has two big pluses for me: a strong woman in the lead role and an interesting setting in time and place (1960's North Dakota).

On this 3rd day of September, I am in the middle of a short story anthology, Grifters & Swindlers edited by Cynthia Manson. And also reading another book from my Classics List, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham.