Friday, November 16, 2018

They're Going to Kill Me (1955)


Major characters:

Lance Hardy, a Korean War veteran, the one "they" are going to kill
Susan Carey, bookshop owner, his reluctant girlfriend
Aunt Amelia "Amy" and Aunt Cecilia "Cissy", Lance's high society aunts
Bradford Howes, the family attorney
Channing Wills, Lance's business partner
Velma Larkin, a cheap little gold-digger
Harrison Turner, a bookshop patron

The other Korean War veterans:
  • John Cramer
  • Frank Fitzpatrick
  • Max Tully, the hatless one
  • Jerry Morgan, bar owner, who swore to kill Lance
  • Greyson "Grey" Fiske, the sympathetic one


Locale: Boston

Synopsis: It is the Christmas season and Lance Hardy has returned to his Boston Beacon Hill home from the Korean War. He lives with his two old-fashioned aunts, Amelia "Amy" and Cecilia "Cissy". He reunites with long time casual girlfriend Susan Carey, who is becoming increasingly disenchanted with him and his privileged airs.

Five of his war "buddies" meet in a bar. They are ganging up on Lance, who had abandoned them in Korea, leaving them to become prisoners of war. They are bent on revenge but disagree on specifics. Four are for killing him, with Greyson Fiske the holdout.

A couple of scare attacks are made on Lance as he and Susan stroll about Boston. Greyson Fiske takes on the role of protector.

A cheap Velma Larkin shows up and contacts Lance. They had a brief affair while he was in training. Velma claims they have a child and knowing of his wealthy background, asks for money - or marriage. Max Tully takes the first step of revenge and kidnaps Lance and holds him hostage. Susan and Grey search for Lance, and go to Velma's apartment, to find her dead.

Review:

An enjoyable pre-Christmas read, as it is set in familiar (to me) Boston; and in the Christmas season. The streets, parks, and subways are described with accuracy. The action starts off a bit slow and stretching believability a bit when the veterans engage on their petty revenge campaign by playing a certain song to scare Lance. It starts out looking like a Lance/Susan romance, but that quickly deteriorates.

However, it soon turns serious with the threatening appearance of Velma, and the abduction of Lance. When Velma is found dead, circumstances point at Lance as the killer. Action builds to a tense climax, with a surprising turn of events. This book does not disappoint, and a good read especially for those familiar with the streets of Boston.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Three of Diamonds (1953)

Fantastic Fiction

Major characters:
  • Jessamy Noyes - assistant to Dan Gilbert
  • Dan Gilbert - a potter
  • Coralie Gilbert, his wife
  • Miss Leah Crocker - an old maid, "frightening, ramrod-backed, and acid-tongued"
  • Miss Emmeline Crocker - her sister, a "fluttery, stupid little spinster"
  • Titus Crocker, their brother, seen as simple
  • John Bartlett, who rents a room to Jessamy Noyes
  • Mattie Bartlett, his wife
  • John Whitman, a wealthy Boston sportsman
  • Harry Hurst, another wealthy Boston sportsman
  • Tony Oliva, milkman
  • Elisha Macomber - the only authority on the island
  • Buck Edwards, chief of Medbury police
  • Harvey Minden, Boston reporter
Locale: Penberthy Island, off the Massachusetts coast

Synopsis:

At the isolated end of Penberthy Island lies the old Crocker place, run down, overgrown, penniless, and inhabited by the last of the Crocker line: three siblings ... Miss Leah Crocker (the boss), Miss Emmeline Crocker, and Titus Crocker (who is a little simple). To bring in some cash, they have rented a building to a potter Dan Gilbert and his wife Coralie. Dan has hired Jessamy Noyes as a summer assistant. The Crockers also made a deal with two flush Boston fishermen, John Whitman and Harry Hurst, to lease them exclusive fishing rights on their property. 

Jessamy, who rents a room from John Bartlett in town, walks to the Crocker place to work and feels someone watches her on the isolated road; but no one is found. Titus Crocker goes bird hunting and finds a dead man on a hill. He comes back to report it, and when the scene is reached, the body is gone. The only evidence Titus can offer is a playing card, the three of diamonds, which he said he found with the body. Meanwhile, news reports from the mainland bring updates of a jewel theft ring which may be connected to the murder. Suspicion points at off-islander John Whitman.

Complicating the plot is a love affair between John Whitman and Coralie Gilbert, 

Review:

The Elisha Macomber titles are always satisfying, and this one lives up to that standard. The island offers a closed environment for our suspect, and multiple red herrings. The periodic news reports from the mainland provide an intriguing parallel plot as the islanders keep their ears glued to their radios to follow progress. Of course, islanders always view off-islanders with suspicion anyway, so they will have to cope with that bias.

The three Crocker sibling provide a colorful element, with fully developed characters that seem so familiar to all of us.



Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Blue Horse of Taxco (1947)

dustjackets.com


Major characters:

  • Troy Bannister, buyer for Frobisher Department Stores
  • Jerome Blake a.k.a. Joe Blank
  • Dan Kinnaird. Mexican sales representative
  • Casimir Lazlo, jewelry maker
  • Dorka Lazlo, his daughter
  • Carmelo Ortiz, jewelry maker
  • Chucho Ortz, his son
  • Schuyler Ames, a sign painter from Brooklyn, and a blackmailer
  • Barney O'Toole, a US veteran with a limp, Jerome Blank's valet
  • Tomas Guerrero, a local Indian and guide
  • Bernhardt Schmidt, a German visitor
Locale: Mexico

Synopsis:

Troy Bannister heads to Mexico to select a jewelry maker for Frobisher Department Stores. She has organized a competition to select one to be their exclusive supplier in the US. She has a hidden agenda: she wants the winner to be old flame Jerome Blake, to get him back in her clutches and back to the US.

Upon arrival, two sinister things happen. First, she visits one of the jewelry makers, Casimir Lazlo - considered to be front runner in the competition. Minutes later, he is found stabbed to death and his prototype necklace missing. Second, she runs into old flame Jerome Blake, but he pretends to not recognize her, and is going under the alias of Joe Blank.

Soon after, Troy is leaving her room and comes across the body of Carmelo Ortiz, another jewelry designer. His son, Chucho Ortiz, tells how he saw her running away from the scene. All circumstantial evidence points to her.

Meanwhile, she finds that several residents jealously guard some small pieces of blue ceramic. They turn out to be legs broken off a ceramic horse, and they serve as a talisman for something important ... but what?

Review:

Troy Bannister starts out likable but soon is revealed to be a selfish, scheming woman who will stop at nothing to get her claws into her old flame, Jerome Blake - even going so far as creating a rigged competition and arranging for him to win for her own purposes. A very unusual casting of characters for a Knight novel, we are used to the falsely-accused woman protagonist as the heroine (much like the stories of Mignon Eberhart).

The descriptions of the Mexican village paint an amazing word picture and are worthy of standing alone as a travelogue, and remind me of the nonfiction writings of Erle Stanley Gardner.

The meaning of the blue ceramic horse legs is not revealed until the end, when the plot takes a surprising turn.



Monday, July 16, 2018

Invitation to Vengeance (1960)



Major characters:



Visitors from America:
  • Susan Torrenti, a.k.a. Susan Brooks, widow of Roberto Torrenti
  • Calvin Brooks, her infant son
  • Miss Flora Gentry, retired American schoolteacher
  • Hatcher Selby, very interested, but just who is he anyway?
The Sicilians:
  • Gino Torrenti, her father-in-law
  • Maria Torrenti, her sister-in-law
  • Carmelita Torrenti, her sister-in-law
  • Joanna, a nurse
  • Pietro Souza, a Mafiosi
  • Nick Minaros, a well-dressed Mafiosi
  • Carlo Monaco, recipient of a smuggled package
Deceased before the story occurs:
  • Roberto Tottenti, executed for murder

Locale: Sicily

Synopsis:

Susan Brooks (formerly Susan Torrenti) is the widow of Roberto Torrenti, who was executed for a double murder which occurred during a bank robbery. The proceeds were never recovered. Susan was pregnant at the time. After a son, Calvin, was born, she had both their surnames changed to Brooks to avoid notoriety.

Susan receives a letter from Roberto's father, Gino Torrenti, in Sicily, explaining he is dying and wishes to hold his grandson before he dies. Susan travels to Sicily to grant his last wish, taking Calvin along. While traveling, she meets and befriends Miss Flora Gentry, a retired teacher; and Hatcher Selby; both traveling to Sicily as well. On the train in Italy, a fellow traveler, Pietro Souza, is murdered and his bag stolen.

When she arrives at the Torrenti home, things are not as she expected. She gets a cold reception from Gino, who wants to keep the baby for himself. One sister-in-law, Maria Torrenti, is likewise cold and hostile to her. The other sister-in-law, Carmelita Torrenti, is friendly.

It becomes apparent Gino has been planning to keep the baby and send Susan back to the US. She tries to extricate herself from the family. She has conversations with Hatcher Selby, who seems to know everything about everybody.

She finds everyone suspects her of having the robbery proceeds, and bringing them to Sicily. Flora Gentry has meanwhile has been smuggling a package for Carlo Monaco. In the search for the stolen money, and Flora's package, Carlo is found dead.

Review:

This book will cause you to cancel any travel plans to Sicily. It portrays an island where the Mafia is in control, no one trusts anyone else, or especially the police. Despite that premise, this story is a James Bond type thriller where all the bad guys are after the loot with a lot of collateral damage. The characters do stretch believeability - the protagonist Susan is too na├»ve to sense the danger in accepting her father-in-law's strange request, especially after arriving to find his story of approaching death to be false. Teacher Flora Gentry is a two-dimensional stereotype of a schoolteacher, and how did she ever get duped into being smuggling a secret package into Italy? The strangest part of the book is the ending, where several of the Sicilians undergo a personality transplant; suggesting that the author was struggling on how to end the novel. This is the first book by this author that I wasn't satisfied with.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Acts of Black Night (1938)

dustjackets.com

Major characters:

Elisha Macomber, selectmen/detective
Frederick Stowe, the victim hated by everyone
Michael Stowe, their young son
Laban Beardsley, caretaker of Stowaway House

The Parnassus Pictures crew:
  • Llewellyn Sondor, director
  • Andrea Carstairs, ingenue actress, and Sondor's wife
  • Fergus Macrae, their pilot
Aboard The Amnestra:
  • Patricia Stowe, ex-wife of Frederick Stowe
  • Betty Winship, Patricia Stowe's sister
  • Harris Fellowes, owner of The Amnestra, and a lawyer
  • Dora Fellowes, his wife
  • Jed Hinckley, captain
  • Dr. Barry Boynton, the hotheaded admirer of Patricia Stowe
  • Laurence "Lon" Preston, the cool-headed admirer of Patricia Stowe


Locale: Stowaway Island, off the New England coast

Synopsis:

Wealthy Frederick Stowe pilots his plane to isolated Stowaway Island off the New England coast, where he has his summer home; inhabited only by caretaker Laban Beardsley.  He lands to find three people from his company, Parnassus Pictures, on the island to begin filming a feature: Llewellyn Sondor, director; Andrea Carstairs, actress; and Fergus Macrae, pilot. Stowe has been hoping for a relationship with Carstairs, which led to his purchasing the company. He finds that Sondor and Carstairs are now married, in a rage, orders them off the island.

Meanwhile, Stowe's ex-wife, Patricia, is aboard The Amnestra on a cruise nearby. A storm comes up and The Amnestra is shipwrecked on the island. The passengers come ashore to Patricia's former home, Stowaway House. While waiting for the storm to abate, Patricia discovers the murdered body of her ex-husband. 

Selectmen-Detective Elisha Macomber arrives from the mainland to investigate. Suspicion falls on each member of the boat's party in turn. Meanwhile, there is evidence that someone else is on the island as well. It then is found that their son, Michael Stowe, is being held by kidnappers - and that the purpose of Frederick's visit to the island was to pay the ransom.

Review:

Elisha Macomber, her series selectmen-detective, is such an enjoyable non-nonsense person. Speaking as a New Englander myself, he is a fully developed character with none of the stereotypical down-easter about him. He speech is rendered slightly phonetically - usually an annoyance - but the gentle treatment fits right in.

I had wound up in a perfect situation to enjoy this novel - a dark, windy, rainy night in a Maine campground; curled up in bed with the book as the rain beat on the roof of the camper. 

The plot moves along in the expected direction with the narrowing down of the possible suspects. Then when the kidnapping subplot is revealed, the story turns in an entirely new direction. Macomber finds the culprit by a careful observation - which I missed in the reading. I thought "Did that really happen?" and then a careful look back showed the event was indeed fairly presented to the reader.

One note for modern readers: one key element is the repeated sound of a lawn mower. It should be understood this refers to an old style manual non-powered reel mower, which makes a distinctive whirring sound whenever it is moved. It does not refer to a gasoline-powered mower with which we are more familiar.





Introduction and Title List

Kathleen Moore Knight also wrote under the name Alan Amos. Her two series detectives are Margot Blair and Elisha Macomber. Also see this page at the Golden Age of Detection web site.



Acts of Black Night (1938)
Akin to Murder 
Bait for Murder 
Bass Derby Murder 
Beauty is a Beast 
Bells for the Dead 
Birds of Ill Omen
Blue Horse of Taxco (1947)
Case of the Tainted Token  
Clue of the Poor Man's Shilling  
Cry in the Jungle
Death Blew Out The Match 
Death Came Dancing - short stories
Death Goes to a Reunion 
Design in Diamonds 
Dying Echo
Exit a Star
Footbridge to Death 
High Rendezvous 
Intrigue for Empire (a.p.a. Murder for Empire)
Invitation to Vengeance (1960)
Moon Over the Andes - short stories
Port of Seven Stranger
Rendezvous with the Past 
Robineau Look (a.p.a. The Robineau Murders) 
Seven Were Veiled 
Silent Partner 
Stream Sinister 
Tainted Token 
Terror by Twilight (Collier Crime Club)
They're Going to Kill Me (1955)
Three of Diamonds (1953)
Trademark of a Traitor (Collier Crime Club)
Trouble at Turkey Hill
Valse Macabre
Wheel That Turned

As Alan Amos:


Borderline Murder
Fatal Harvest
Panic in Paradise
Pray for a Miracle