Category Archives: Traditional Detective Mystery

Trouble Is My Business – Raymond Chandler

Chandler, Raymond. Trouble Is My Business . Distributed Proofreaders Canada. Kindle Edition.

This is a collection of four Philip Marlow classic short stories ripped from the pages of Black Mask magazine.

In the first story… a case of extortion, blackmail, revenge and murder, Philip Marlow is subcontracted to rescue an infatuated young man from the clutches of a vicious vixen, after a prior detective on the case turns up deceased things take a turn for the sinister as nefarious types get the drop on our hero. Through bold fisticuffs and intrepid determination, Marlow makes it through to bagging the bag guys.

In the second one Philip Marlow due to testify against a corrupt political boss takes a bodyguard side job for a friend,  when  the friend gets bumped off on the way back from winning a bundle at a wheel rigged roulette wheel… Philip feels a frame… and the tomato playing the numbers at the wheel is telling too many stories to keep it straight.

The third story, Goldfish – Philip Marlow is on the trail of a pair of pearls in a pretty pricy caper… and a determined dame with a flair for violence, is no deterrent. Seems a pair of pearls earnings went missing from a robbery a couple of years ago. The insurance men will pay twenty five thousand for them and a former police woman turned boarding house madam has a clue to there whereabouts. .. twenty five thousand split two ways is a lot of dough. But the bird who gave her the tip have chipped to another, more ruthless chickadee who may just have a head start on Marlow.

The forth, a case of purloined pearls, Marlow falls into a case of cheating spouses and cheating chiselers. The hot Santa Ana winds feature through this story. Marlow steps into a new bar opening across the street from his apartment building. Only one other guy is sitting there, when a man walks in looking for a dame. A rather specific dame, and he describes what she’s wearing. Neither Marlow nor the bartender have seen her, and adds the man goes to leave, the other patron at the bar shoots him and flees, jumping into the guy’s car still running outside. And as fate would have it… the Dame as described just happens to be walking through the hallway in the apartment building across the street.

   The door opened with a jerk and Finlayson and Sebold came in. Sebold looked as spruce and nasty as ever, but Finlayson looked older, more worn, mousier. He held a sheaf of papers in his hand. He sat down across the desk from me and gave me a hard bleak stare.
   “Guys like you get in a lot of trouble,” Finlayson said sourly. Sebold sat down against the wall and tilted his hat over his eyes and yawned and looked at his new stainless-steel wrist watch.
   “Trouble is my business,” I said. “How else would I make a nickel?”

Murder On The Left Bank – Cara Black

Murder On The Left Bank – Cara Black published by Soho Press 2018 – 276 pages… I checked this out of the library. It appears to be the eighteenth book in this Aimee Leduc Investigation series. A location mystery set in the city of lights, Paris.

How much detail is too much detail? It’s a personal question that can only be answered personally.  And since I am here to off my own opinionated review… I think this has too much detail. In just a couple of quick paragraphs (see quoted below) where a suspect, Danlin, is being tailed by our detective Aimee, our attention is drawn to four landmarks. Each gets its own quick tourist blurb. Now don’t get me wrong, I love location mysteries. But i like to really feel a part of the setting I like to take it in on a tactile level. .. the sights, the smells, the tastes, an immersion. .. but I feel that this book is more of a whirlwind group tour rather than a slower self-directed excursion.

There is an such an abundance of unconnected landmarks… this local flavor of detail is like a seasoning… meant to add a bit to the story, but here, it’s used almost to the point that of being the main ingredient!  Like, with you touch up a piece with a little glitter.. it serves as a highlight, but then you get these objects that are so encrusted with glitter you can hardly tell what the hell object is.

Well, as far as the plot goes, an attorney Bisson, whose a relation of a friend of Aimee’s seeks her help to locate a notebook that his nephew, who has been murdered, was suppose to deliver. It’s just another ball to juggle in the multitasking universe that is her life. Between working with her agency’s partner Rene on a proposal for a security system for the Bibliotheque Francois-Mitterrand Library and spending time with her bebe Chloé she agrees to look into the matter, low key.

As she starts probing around, she finds that a notorious shadow group called The Hand is also looking for this notebook behind. Where agents of the Hand responsible for the murder, or was it drug related as the police would have us believe?

It seems that this organization has been present in prior books in this series.

Aimee needs to track down a girlfriend of Bisson’s nephew to help she’d light on the notebooks hiding place. In tracking this girl down we accompany Aimee as she treks about Paris. Will she find this mysterious Katrine before the Hand can strike? Once you can weave your way around the landmarks littering your path, you have a real mystery to follow.

I think that I will try to read the first in this series and see if I can get the satisfaction I seek in it.

   He followed the steep rue Renault in the direction of Maison-Blanch. Nearby lay the decrepit Panhard and Levassor car engine factory, commandeered by the Germans during the war to manufacture airplane engines for the luftwaffe.  On the other side, the cavernous la Petite Ceinture, the abandoned nineteenth century rail line that had once belted Paris.  Now overgrown, a deserted place where disoriented  cataphiles emerge from the catacombs to find themselves with junkies and foxes. Parts of the Left Bank were wilderness,  green where nature had rooted in the cracked stones. She loved the wild flowers sprouting on the tracks and the neighborhood groups that planted allotments of vegetables and kept rabbits.

   Danlin woven through the small tress to Jardin du Moulin de la Pointe, a park where mills once harnessed the power of la Bievre. Here the Petit Ceinture tracks led into a tunnel. He got off his bike. She parked, grabbed her jacket, and picked her way down to the tracks in her ballet flats along the winding path lined by bushes and trees.

Neon Rain – James Lee Burke

Neon Rain – James Lee Burke – I read the Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster) paperback version.

Right off the bat we get poignant social commentary and we meet New Orleans homicide detective Lieutenant Dave Robicheaux who may just be the target of a hitman… seems he’s investigating the suspicious drowning of a prostitute in a parish in south Louisiana that ties back to the New Orleans mob. But its deeper than just the mob… soon South American gun runners are setting him up to take a fall for a federal agent’s death. Then, suspended from the force he continues his own investigation following it wherever it leads stepping over bodies as he goes.

From a Calloused parish sheriff and a pair of his corrupt deputies, to biased and apathetic Internal Affairs investigators, the mantle of Noir fiction rest well on this first Robicheaux novel. His life, from serving in Viet Nam to facing down crime in the underworld of New Orleans while battling the bottle and other demons from his past make for a character that is surprisingly introspective and takes the time to see the beauty around him. Burke takes the time to paint a visually lush and fertile environment throughout the novel. It’s a treat for the senses and an immersive experience.

This is the third novel of Burke’s that I’ve read…. I suppose its about time that I got to read the book that started the whole series. This came out in 1987; over ten years from the first Spenser novel and five years before the first Bosch story… which is now on my list to read. There’s something about the narration of the Robicheaux stories that jumps to life… I just wish that they came out with scratch and sniff pages!

   She sat beside me, wiped ointment on my cuts with a piece of cotton, snipped adhesive tape into strips with the scissors, and taped down two big, folded squares of gauze on top of the ointment. Then she rubbed her hands over my skin, down my shoulders and back, across my chest, her eyes looking over my body without embarrassment, as though she were discovering me for the first time. I leaned her back on the bed and kissed her mouth, her neck, unbuttoned her flower-print blouse and placed my head against the red birthmark on her breast. I felt her body stretch out against mine, felt the confidence, the surrender that a woman gives in that moment when she no longer hides her hunger and instead blesses you with a caress that is always unexpected and heart-rushing and humbling in its generosity.

This time I wanted to give her more than she gave me, but I wasn’t able. In seconds I was lost inside her, her hands right against my back, her legs in mine in almost a material way, and when I tried to tense and stop because it was too soon, she held my face close to hers, kissed my cheek, ran her fingers through the back of my hair, saying, “It’s alright Dave. Go ahead. It’s alright.” Then I felt all the anger, the fear, and the heat of the last two days rise inside me like a dark bubble from a well, pause in its own gathered energy and momentum, and burst away into light, into the joy of her thighs, the squeeze of her arms, the blue tenderness of her eyes.

Rising Sun – Michael Crichton

Rising Sun – Michael Crichton

How often is it that I read a great ‘who-dunnit’ and it comes with quite an extensive bibliography at the end. I’m sure plenty of people are familiar with the wonderful movie version of this with Wesley Snipes and Sean Connery. If you haven’t seen it… do so! It’s a great cop movie. The book is a bit more rounded, and it focuses more on the threat that the ‘Japanese model’ poses to America. Now, this was written in 1992 and back then it did seem that the Japanese ‘threat’ was real. The 80’s were a time of technological revolution, especially in tangible consular products. The case Crichton makes for caution is well reasoned and, for the most part, compliments the story being told and is presented, mainly through the discourses of Captain Connor.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Initially, a murder has taken place in a conference room above a grand opening ceremony for a Japanese corporation. Since this is a sensitive situation, the building’s representative requests a special liaison officer from the LAPD be present. The story is told from the perspective of this officer, Lieutenant Smith… and right from the start, where Officer Smith is directed to pick up retired Captain Connor as a consultant, things are not what they appear. Someone is manipulating events, and people from behind the scene and as Connor points out repeatedly “their way of seeing things is not our way of seeing things”.

As the investigators continue through the obfuscation put in their path, powerful interests put their media agents to work. There is a newspaper reporter in their employ who works to dig up dirt or manufacture negative press, and potential character smears to threaten the investigators. Crichton really paints a compelling picture of how these tactics are actually being used in the current media.

Despite this, with the clock ticking and time running out, solid detective work wins the day. Buy not taking anything for granted, by questioning the underlying assumptions, and mostly by looking a gift horse directly in its mouth… the novel ends with a very Japanese display of ‘justice’.

After reading this, I want to read a couple of Crichton’s earlier novels. He wrote four novels between 1960 and 1970 under the name John Lange. These books have been republished as part of the Hard Crimes line, so I’ll get myself a couple of them…

   Every homicide crime scene has the same energy, and that finality at the center. When you look at the dead person, there is a kind of obviousness, and at the same time there is an impossible mystery. Even in the simplest domestic brawl, where the woman finally decided to shoot the guy, you’d look at her, all covered in scars and cigarette burns, and you had to ask, why tonight? What was it about tonight? It’s always clear what you are seeing, and there’s always something that doesn’t add up. Both things at once.

And at a homicide you have the sense of being right down to the basic truths of existence, the smells and the defecation and the bloating. Usually somebody crying, so you’re listening to that. And the usual bullshit stops; somebody died, and it’s an unavoidable fact, like a rock in the road that makes all the traffic go around it. And in that grim and real setting, this camaraderie springs up, because you’re working late with people you know, and actually know very well because you see them all the time. L.A. has four homicides a day; there’s another one every six hours. And every detective at the crime scene already has ten homicides dragging in his backlog, which makes this new one an intolerable burden, so ho and everybody else is hoping to solve it on the spot, to get it out of the way. There is that kind of finality and tension and energy all mixed together.

And after you do it for a few years, you get so you like it. And to my surprise, as I entered the conference room, I realized that I missed it.

Foreign Deceit – Jeff Carson

Foreign Deceit: A David Wolf Mystery – Jeff Carson, Cross Atlantic Publishing 2013. I read the Kindle Edition from Amazon

This is a first novel from what I can tell by author Jeff Carson. It’s a mystery of the thriller variety. While awaiting a potential promotion to Sheriff, Deputy Sargent David Wolf gets notified of his brothers suicide in a small city in northern Italy. Circumstances surrounding his brothers death have details that do not ring true, so he goes there to look into it and bring the body home. While investigating with the help of an attractive, young police woman Lia Parente he uncovers more than just the local charms. The book ends with his return to Colorado and a nice hook into volume two. The e-book edition I read, the first two chapters of the second book in this series are provided.

After letting this sit and digest with me, nothing there really stands out that I can recall with good texture. Perhaps the thing sticking out to me the most is Lia’s ability to drive an Alfa Romero very well, and that she may be ‘vivacious’ but I would have like to have spent more time at the post-climax of the novel exploring that in better detail.

Between Colorado and northern Italy Carson does a decent job in describing the landscapes and settings, but nothing really grabs me with any detail, or texture. I’m not expecting James Lee Burke pastoral here. But given two opportunities to bring a place to life I see an opportunity wasted I suppose. The language used is… standard, no, flat. Yeah, I would describe the descriptions as flat.

“Wolf had been studying the foliage of the area, and could only come to the conclusion that nature looked confused. There were palm trees, pine trees with long drooping limbs, stiff spiked trees with red flowers that looked like fruit, large-leaved prehistoric looking bushes, pine trees you might see in Colorado, and a variety of exotic-looking foliage he’d never seen. The lawn was lush green, full of grasses and thick-stemmed wild flowers with tiny yellow and blue blossoms, and at least a foot tall. One thing was certain—this area got a lot of rain.”

The area is well described, yet… nothing really has a texture. And this marks the description of, well, everything. Its there, but not that we ‘feel’ it. Even the Italian dinner scene at Detective Rossi’s house lacks texture…and if anything is ripe for pulling all our senses in, its an Italian dinner… I WANT to taste that spaghetti! And experience Office Parente… now THAT would be a sensation to textualize!

Bitter End – Rex Stout

Bitter End: The First Nero Wolfe Novella – Rex Stout . I read the Kindle Edition of the original story published in 1940. A classic who-dunit mystery. The clues are there to follow for the observant.

The story starts out where someone has evidently tampered with a jar of pate at the residence of one Nero Wolfe. Poison is suspected and an outraged Wolfe vows to find the dastardly culprit behind this assault on his palate. As fate would have it, Miss Duncan, niece to My Tingley of Tingley’s Tidbits who makes the pate, arrives to engage Wolfe to investigate the product tampering. Among the close knit circle of suspects is: Miss Yates, in charge of production; Mr Cliff, a VP of a competing firm; Philip, Mr Tingley’s adopted son; Mr Judd, a mysterious banker who is also looking to buy Tingley’s Tidbits; and Miss Murphy, assistant to Miss Yates.

The investigation takes a turn for the worse when Mr Tingley is found murdered in his office and Miss Duncan apparently struck unconscious at the scene. The homicide brings Wolfe’s foil Inspector Cramer into the story. With the looting of papers at Tingley’s office, the murder may not be related to the product tampering, but rather the curious birth and adoption of Philip who may be set to inherit the business.

But in the end, deductive reasoning and a careful examination of the facts presented soon turns up the guilty party. And the description, the narrative… its first rate!

It sure was a ramshackle joint. From a dingy hall a dilapidated stair went up. I mounted to the floor above, heard noises, including machinery humming, off somewhere, and through a rickety door penetrated a partition and was in an anteroom. From behind a grilled window somebody’s grandpa peered out at me, and by shouting I managed to convey to him that I wanted to see Mr. Arthur Tingley. After a wait I was told that Mr. Tingley was busy, and would be indefinitely. On a leaf of my notebook I wrote, “Quinine urgent,” and sent it in. That did it. After another wait a cross-eyed young man came and guided me through a labyrinth of partitions and down a hall into a room.

Seated at an old, battered roll-top desk was a man talking into a phone, and in a chair facing him was a woman older than him with the physique and facial equipment of a top sergeant. Since the phone conversation was none of my business, I stood and listened to it, and gathered that someone named Philip had better put in an appearance by five o’clock or else. Meanwhile I surveyed the room, which had apparently been thrown in by the Indians when they sold the island. By the door, partly concealed by a screen, was an old, veteran marble-topped washstand. A massive, old-fashioned safe was against the wall across from Tingley’s desk. Wooden cupboards, and shelves loaded down with the accumulation of centuries, occupied most of the remaining wall space.

“Who the hell are you?”

Murder House – James Patterson

Murder House – James Patterson A Thriller Mystery published by Grand Central running 451 pages

A house with a history meets a cop with a past. Number 7 Ocean Dr in a quiet community of Long Island’s famous Hamptons has seen its fair share of murders. So what makes the deaths of a Hollywood talent scout and an attractive local young lady cause Detective Jenna Murphy to doubt the obvious.

This was a good book to read,.. I liked the split point of view, at times Patterson’s writing with Jenna’s first person narration, which is used for most of the book… but the timeline is broken up and Patterson uses the ‘Holden’ character, the antagonist as the first person narrator. He’s done this before as I recall him doing this in his novel Murder Games… the first person protagonist point of view and the first person antagonist narration. It’s a way of bringing the reader closer to the story.

The story starts off with a bang, literally, telling the tale of an incident some years prior to the ‘present time’. The characters here will be pivotal players as the main story commences. It seems that the evil that inhabits number 7 Ocean Dr is not necessarily confined to the house itself.

In the immediate ‘present time’ a new tenant leasing number 7, and his companion, are found murdered and suspicion falls immediately to a local handyman. But there is something not quite solid about the evidence and Detective Jenna Murphy starts expressing her concerns. She’s a hot shot detective recently dismissed from the New York City Police under scandal. Now she’s here in the Hamptons working for her uncle, and fighting the reverse snobbery of men in her uncle’s police force.

As she works to uncover the truth, the bodies start piling up. But soon the house’s past catches up to its present and in the twists as the climax approaches Jenna needs to expose the evil, or be added to the pile of corpses.

Aiden pushes himself off the wall, straightens himself.

Looks at me, just for a single moment, those darting eyes making contact with minne.

Come with me

Then he walks toward me. No sudden movement, just slowly approaching me.

Come with me

The boy with the scarecrow hair

Aiden places a hand over my gun hand, then carefully removes the revolver from it.

I look up at him, on my knees, helpless.

Trouble In Nuala – Harriet Steel

Trouble In Nuala – Published August 10th 2016 by Stane Street Press Kindle Edition, 200 pages

I really can’t recall encountering a more complacent and reluctant protagonist in a mystery novel.

This is a mystery of a cozy variety. The setting is colonial Ceylon in the 1930 and I thought that was very nicely set and laid out. The descriptions of the lush garden are a delight for several senses, as well as the author’s treatment of the variety of foods consumed. She paints the picture very deftly.

But for most of the first half of the novel the only thing missing… was a mystery. When we finally got to the discovery of the body, the inspector’s lack of initiative, or even much interest beyond the perfunctory procedural motions had me taking a step back and wondering if rather than the Inspector, Shanti de Silva bein the ”detective’ of this story… perhaps his wife Jane is. She seems to be the more inquisitive of the two, and even enjoys her detective novels from the local library.

“His brow furrowed. Why wasn’t he as angry as Jane about this Renshaw business? It was too easy to dismiss her views as womanly emotion. If a snail was important, wasn’t a man even more so?”

He even dissuades her from speculation…

“‘Anyway,’ he mumbled through a mouthful. ‘I know you too well. You’re just curious to find out how they know each other and it’s really none of our business.’ “

She is the one pointing out to him…

“‘Don’t you think it’s odd he didn’t mention knowing Madeleine Renshaw? “

Even upon finding the body.. The corpus maximus he has this lovely line:

“Where will going round asking a lot of questions get us?”

At this point I practically spoke to the book saying “A Clue! Perhaps asking some questions might get you a clue or two..”
Eventually he does take on the mantle of ‘detective’ and set about questioning suspects and pointing out the clues in the story… but up to this point I seriously had my bets on Jane as the detective.
But all’s well that ends well. I do like him as a character, and the scenes where he has interactions with his wife are warm and cozy, like a mystery of this stripe should… and despite the slow start, I will be reading the second in this series shortly.