Sunday, February 16, 2020

THE DECENT IN OF DEATH


THE DECENT INN OF DEATH
A John Madden Mystery
By Rennie Airth
Penguin Books
353 pgs

In a small village town, church organist Greta Hartman is found dead face down in a creek after having supposedly fallen off a slippery bridge. The problem is her best friend, Very Cruickshank doesn’t believe the fall was an accident. She fervently suspected her friend was murdered and manages to convey that suspicion to retired Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair who is staying nearby with the friends; John and Helen Madden. While they are abroad on vacation, Sinclair decides to do a little investigation on his own the result of which uncovers several anomalies with the facts of Mrs. Hartman’s death.

Like a bloodhound catching an elusive scent of something askew, Sinclair continues to pry into the matter until his inquiries lead him to suspect a very demented killer may be targeting a wealthy young and invalid widow named Julia Lesage. Even though clues are tenuous at best, the old copper travels to Oxford where Mrs. Lesage stately manor home is located. When a winter snow blizzard hits, Sinclair, Mrs. Lesage and her staff find themselves trapped without telephone service.

Meanwhile, having returned from his trip, John Madden is surprised his friend missing and begins his own hunt. Along the way, he steadily begins to gather information as to the reason for Sinclair’s absent and does his own search via his police contacts. All of which being to point to the truth at his friend may have stumbled onto a heinous crime and now find himself locked in a country estate with the killer.

The joy of this novel is the meticulous preciseness in which Airth lays out his tale. Described as a “police procedural” the story’s pace is deliberately set and the writer is in no apparent haste to tell it. Unlike the tensions we often find in American mysteries of this kind, Airth’s prose relishes the details, the dialog and the atmosphere beautifully. This skillful chapter by chapter unraveling builds to a truly suspenseful and highly dramatic climax we found perfectly realized. “The Decent Inn of Death” is a beautiful work of fiction as offered up by a writing master. We heartily recommend it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

VERSES FOR THE DEAD


VERSES FOR THE DEAD
A Pendergast Novel
By Preston & Child
Grand Central Publishing
365 pgs

The Pendergast thrillers have remained our favorite ongoing pulp series ever since one of dear friends sent us a copy of “The Cabinet of Curiosities” ages ago. Upon reading it, we were instantly mesmerized by the character of FBI Special Agent Pendergast and his most unique methods of solving mysteries. With each new book, of which this is the eighteenth, critics began echoing each other in labeling the character a modern American Sherlock Holmes. Though we don’t find any fault with that title, we on the other hand long ago compared the white haired Pendergast with the Shadow. He’s truly one of a kind individual, trained in dozens of arcane arts, master of hand-to-hand combat, and has a group of devoted skilled experts in various sciences willing to assist him the second he calls.

Thus when a new Pendergast paperback hits the racks, we are overjoyed and anxious to discover what new horrors he will encounter and combat. With “Verses for the Dead,” Pendergast his sent to Miami by his boss, FBI Director Pickett, to hunt down a bizarre serial killer who murders young women, cuts out their hearts and then leaves those grisly organs on the graves of other women; all who have died by suicide. If such a puzzle wasn’t enough for the austere detective, Pickett, knowing of our hero’s penchant for being unorthodox, saddles him with a partner; one whose second mission is to ascertain everything in the investigation is done by the book.

One of the real treats of any Pendergast adventure is the marvelous supporting characters Preston and Child introduce do us to along the way. This, as I alluded above, has led them to create truly memorable men and women who invariably become permanent additions to large cast that inhabits Pendergast’s world. In this particular assignment we meet two new such remarkable people. The first is “the partner” Pendergast must work with, an FBI agent of Lakota Sioux descent named Coldmoon who enjoys a rather peculiar beverage. We won’t spoil it for you. Coldmoon is a skilled agent and just as dedicated as Pendergast to finding the killer. The fun of how their different personalities clash at the offset is worth the price of admission. Then there is the beautiful African American Miami pathologist, Dr. Charlotte Fauchet, whose expertise become invaluable uncovering clues to the killer’s methods and history.

Like all such plots, our hero and his allies are racing a deadly clock hoping to unmask the killer and stop him (or her) before they can claim another victim. With each new chapter, the narrative drives forward like a speeding race car until it comes to its powerful and hair-raising climax. “Verses for the Dead” is by far one of the stellar gems in this thriller necklace and if you’re a Pendergast fan, you are in for a wild reading experience. If you aren’t, then it’s pretty much high time you became one.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

AND THE SUN GOETH DOWN


AND THE SUN GOETH DOWN
Book Two of The Vim Hood Chronicles
By Terry Mark
Self-Published-Available At Amazon
350 pgs

Last year writer Terry Mark wowed us with his debut novel, “Kill The Night.” It was the first of his ongoing series, The Vim Hood Chronicles. In that adventure, Thomas Edison and Nikla Tesla teamed up to defeat an immortal vampire gunslinger. The book was a riotous pulp romp unlike anything else we’d read in many, many years. Now, without any let up at all, Mark is back with another fast paced, rollicking adventure that will have most readers cheering from the very first page to the last.

It is 1917 and former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt is in New Mexico putting his veteran Rough Riders through their paces. This time they are carrying out their maneuvers on camels as they are more adaptable to desert terrain than horses. War in Europe seems eminent and as always the gung-ho President is busting at the seams to get into the fray once Washington announces a formal declaration. But the last thing the old Rough Rider and his troopers expect to encounter is an army of long dead Aztec Warriors on a killing rampage throughout the territory leaving decimated American and Mexican towns in their wake.

The more Roosevelt and his troops clash with the strange marauders, they discover them to be zombie-like adversaries who, when shot, merely rise to fight again. It is as if they are possessed by some unholy power and led by an immortal figure with a dark past. Along the way a young seventeen year old cub reporter from the Kansas City Star finds his way into Roosevelt’s camp. His name is Ernest Hemingway.

As the confrontations between the two armies increases in ferocity, Roosevelt looks to General Blackjack Pershing for aid. Among Pershing’s staff is a Lt. George Patton commanding a mobile armor unit. Oh, there’s also tribe of legendary Apache warriors led by a massive, yellow haired chief.

Mark’s ability to weave in authentic history with his outlandish imagination is evident throughout as his historical personages all act and speak as we believe they would have. Then there is his detailed military encounters sweeping across the pages as if plucked out of a time machine and laid before us in vivid, horrendous details.  “And The Sun Goeth Down” is a magnificent achievement by a remarkable new voice in pulp fiction. Pick this up one up fast!