Category Archives: Five Star review

GREEN FOR DANGER (1944) by Christianna Brand

Easily he best-known of Brand’s Inspector Cockrill mysteries, this clever and funny book was turned into a clever and funny film that is also one of the most atmospheric whodunits you will ever see. The setting is a secluded hospital now … Continue reading

Posted in 2017 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt, England, Five Star review, Kent, World War II | Tagged , | 45 Comments

TILL DEATH DO US PART (1944) by John Dickson Carr

This classic Golden Age detective story tends to get a little lost among the multitude and enthralling mysteries that John Dickson Carr was producing at such a prodigious rate at that time. It begins with a superb set piece in … Continue reading

Posted in 2017 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt, Audio Review, England, Five Star review, Gideon Fell, John Dickson Carr, Locked Room Mystery, London, Tuesday's Overlooked Film | 65 Comments

NINE-AND DEATH MAKES TEN (1941) by Carter Dickson

I fell in love with John Dickson Carr’s work via his  ‘Carter Dickson’ alter ego when I chanced across his classic The Reader is Warned back when I was 14. Nine and Death Makes Ten (aka Murder in the Submarine Zone) was … Continue reading

Posted in 2017 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt, Carter Dickson, Five Star review, Friday's Forgotten Book, Henry Merrivale, John Dickson Carr, Locked Room Mystery | 94 Comments

THE BURNING COURT (1937) by John Dickson Carr

There are oddly obscure mysteries from the Golden Age that are in fact still entertaining and clever and deserve to be rediscovered. Then there are novels that once were considered classics but now seem very tame indeed. And then there … Continue reading

Posted in 2017 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt, Five Star review, Gothic, John Dickson Carr, Locked Room Mystery, Pennsylvania | 78 Comments

SHE DIED A LADY (1943) by Carter Dickson

OK, let’s get this out of the way: Carter Dickson, aka John Dickson Carr, is my favourite Golden Age detective story writer. For me, he was better than Christie, Queen, Sayers and Stout, love them all though I do. And … Continue reading

Posted in 2017 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt, Carter Dickson, Five Star review, Friday's Forgotten Book, Henry Merrivale, John Dickson Carr, Locked Room Mystery | 89 Comments

THE SILENT WORLD OF NICHOLAS QUINN (1977) by Colin Dexter

This was the third book in the Inspector Morse series, and is perhaps my favourite of them all (well, it is either this one or Service of All the Dead, I always struggle a bit between the two). Not only is the … Continue reading

Posted in 2017 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt, Colin Dexter, Crime of the Century, England, Five Star review, Inspector Morse, Oxford, Tuesday's Overlooked Film | 38 Comments

MINISTRY OF FEAR (1943) by Graham Greene

A wartime story of espionage and guilt, this was the last and personal favourite of Graham Greene’s self-styled ‘entertainments,’ the term he used to differentiate his thrillers from his more mainstream novels, though several of his books fall into that category … Continue reading

Posted in 2017 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt, Espionage, Film Noir, Five Star review, Friday's Forgotten Book, Graham Greene, Spy movies, World War II | Tagged | 45 Comments

FROZEN CHARLOTTE by Alex Bell

This is one of a series of books published under the ‘Red Eye’ banner from Little Tiger/Stripes Publishing and aimed at young adults. I picked this one up for my amazing niece (youngest of the two by 12 minutes) while … Continue reading

Posted in Five Star review, Friday's Forgotten Book, Gothic, Scotland | Tagged | 52 Comments

CAKES AND ALE (1930) by W. Somerset Maugham

Late in life, Somerset Maugham claimed that this was the favourite among his novels and it is easy to see why, with its wit and provocative themes handled with consummate skill. It is certainly among his most autobiographical, resurrecting the … Continue reading

Posted in Five Star review, Kent, London, Somerset Maugham | 42 Comments

YOURS TRULY, JACK THE RIPPER by Robert Bloch

Before Robert Bloch (1917-1994) was made immortal by the success of Psycho, he was best-known for Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper, the classic 1943 short story that first appeared in Weird Tales. It was the first of many of Bloch’s efforts … Continue reading

Posted in 2015 Vintage Mystery Challenge, Chicago, England, Five Star review, Friday's Forgotten Book, Robert Bloch | 38 Comments

THE LITTLE SISTER (1949) by Raymond Chandler

This is one of my favourite Raymond Chandler novels but I’m probably in a minority on this. In fact, even the author professed to dislike it! I loved this book when I first read it as a kid but wondered … Continue reading

Posted in 2015 Vintage Mystery Challenge, Five Star review, Friday's Forgotten Book, Hollywood, Los Angeles, Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, Raymond Chandler, Scene of the crime | 76 Comments

THE QUIET AMERICAN (1955) by Graham Greene

Graham Greene differentiated his thrillers like A Gun For Sale (1934) from more mainstream efforts by labelling them ‘entertainments’ though the line often blurred, as with Brighton Rock (1938). After the War he stopped making the distinction, benefitting his work as a whole … Continue reading

Posted in 2015 Vintage Mystery Challenge, Five Star review, Graham Greene, Vietnam | Tagged , , | 38 Comments

HE WHO WHISPERS (1946) by John Dickson Carr

This classic Golden Age detective story features a seemingly impossible murder and came top of the 2014 John Dickson Carr poll, somewhat to my surprise. I hadn’t read it in a while (well, try 30 years actually, and only in … Continue reading

Posted in 2015 Vintage Mystery Challenge, Audio Review, England, Five Star review, France, Gideon Fell, John Dickson Carr, Locked Room Mystery, London | 65 Comments

THE THIRD MAN (1950) by Graham Greene

Published after the release of the popular film of the same name, this book by Graham Greene is slightly unusual – it is not a screenplay (and indeed it varies from the finished film in many ways) and it is … Continue reading

Posted in 2014 Book to Movie Challenge, 2014 Vintage Mystery Challenge Bingo, Film Noir, Five Star review, Graham Greene, Orson Welles, Vienna | 57 Comments

SADIE WHEN SHE DIED (1972) by Ed McBain

This is one of the most admired books in the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter) and was included in the Crime Writer’s Association top 100 mysteries list that Rich  has been looking at over at his … Continue reading

Posted in 2014 Vintage Mystery Challenge Bingo, 87th Precinct, Ed McBain, Five Star review, Friday's Forgotten Book, Georges Simenon, New York, Police procedural | 36 Comments

THE BIG CLOCK (1946) by Kenneth Fearing

Kenneth Fearing (1902-61), modernist novelist and proletariat poet, was driven by a strong social conscience. When subpoenaed in the 1950s and asked if he was a Communist, he replied, rather splendidly, “Not yet.” Of his seven crime novels, The Big Clock … Continue reading

Posted in 2013 Book to Movie Challenge, 2013 Vintage Mystery Challenge, Film Noir, Five Star review, Friday's Forgotten Book, John Farrow, Kenneth Fearing, New York | 31 Comments

THE HORIZONTAL MAN (1946) by Helen Eustis

Phew! By the skin of my teeth I’ve managed to complete the 2012 Vintage Mystery Readers Challenge. To celebrate, and as my last blog post until late January, here is my (short) review of Helen Eustis’ influential Edgar-winning debut. Set … Continue reading

Posted in 2012 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge, Amnesia, Campus Crime, Five Star review, Golden Age Girls, Margaret Millar, New York, Robert Bloch, Scene of the crime | 24 Comments

A CLOSED BOOK (1999) by Gilbert Adair

The novelist, screenwriter and critic Gilbert Adair  (who died last year) was above all a postmodernist, one whose work riffed and built self-consciously on pre-existing works. I’m a big fan of Adair and enjoy postmodern fiction too but an appreciation … Continue reading

Posted in Agatha Christie, Five Star review, Gilbert Adair, Paul Auster, Philip MacDonald, Postmodern | 20 Comments

Skyfall – five star movie review

Yes, the title of this post does rather give things away – I loved the new Bond movie. Have you been to see Skyfall yet? You really should. In the UK the new 007 adventure, the first in 4 years, came … Continue reading

Posted in Espionage, Five Star review, James Bond, London, Scene of the crime, Spy movies | Tagged | 40 Comments

Vertigo (1958) – Best film ever?

Is Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo the greatest film of all time? The 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll thinks so. And even if this is not true (some don’t even think it’s the best of the director’s thrillers), how well do people … Continue reading

Posted in 'Best of' lists, Alfred Hitchcock, Brian de Palma, Five Star review, San Francisco, Scene of the crime, Tuesday's Overlooked Film | 45 Comments

Hickey and Boggs (1972) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

A train arrives and a woman in sunglasses gets off and quickly walks away. She passes through LA’s Union Station, still looking largely as it did since it opened in 1939. We dissolve to a street scene – it is … Continue reading

Posted in Film Noir, Five Star review, Los Angeles, Noir on Tuesday, Private Eye, Robert Culp, Scene of the crime, Tuesday's Overlooked Film | 56 Comments

FLETCH (1974) by Gregory Mcdonald

This novel was the first in a long series of mystery novels featuring Fletch, or to give him his full name (which he hates), Irwin Maurice Fletcher. Eventually the original series would run to nine novels, published between 1974 and … Continue reading

Posted in Five Star review, Fletch, Gregory Mcdonald, Los Angeles, Scene of the crime | 9 Comments

THE MAHOGANY MURDERERS by Andy Lane

A few years ago I started commuting – but British trains being what they frequently are (late, over-crowded, expensive …) I found that trying to read a book was not easy, what with all the jostling amongst passengers and the … Continue reading

Posted in Andy Lane, Audio Review, Big Finish, Five Star review, Gothic, London, Scene of the crime, Steampunk | Leave a comment

Noir on Tuesday: HICKEY & BOGGS

A train pulls into a busy platform and a woman in sunglasses gets off and quickly walks away. She goes through LA’s Union Station, still looking largely as it did since it opened in 1939. We dissolve to a street … Continue reading

Posted in DVD Review, Film Noir, Five Star review, Noir on Tuesday, Private Eye, Robert Culp | 7 Comments

THE BISHOP MURDER CASE (1928) by S.S. Van Dine

“Philo Vance / Needs a kick in the pance” – Ogden Nash It is only with hindsight that we can properly discern the ebb and flow of patterns in crime fiction and separate the true trend setters, those destined to … Continue reading

Posted in Dorothy L. Sayers, Ellery Queen, Five Star review, Lord Peter Wimsey, Philo Vance, Raymond Chandler, SS Van Dine, Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2011 | 14 Comments

THE HUNTER (1962) by Richard Stark

The writer protagonist in Stephen King’s The Dark Half, having failed as a literary novelist, uses ‘Stark’ as the pen name for a series of crime books about a killer, which become hugely popular to his growing chagrin. He explains that he … Continue reading

Posted in Donald Westlake, Film Noir, Five Star review, Parker, Richard Stark | 11 Comments

X is for … X v. REX (1933) by Philip MacDonald

The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog is nearing its end as it reaches the letter X – and my nomination this week, also eligible under the guidelines of Bev’s 2011 Mystery Readers Challenge, … Continue reading

Posted in Crime Fiction Alphabet, Five Star review, London, Philip MacDonald, Scene of the crime | 18 Comments

THE RED RIGHT HAND (1945) by Joel Townsley Rogers

The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog has reached the letter R, and my second nomination this week, also eligible under the guidelines of Bev’s 2011 Mystery Readers Challenge, is …

THE RED RIGHT HAND by Joel Townsley Rogers

“… surely one of the dozen or so finest mystery novels of the 20th century.” – Jack Adrian

There are prolific mystery writers, of great and small acclaim, who become defined by just one work – I’m not thinking of Helen Eustis and her sole adult contribution to the genre, the groundbreaking The Horizontal Man (1946), nor of distinctive but only belatedly recognised authors such as John Franklin Bardin. Rather there are those who, for various reasons, despite producing a number of offerings over their careers, only became popularly known for a small or even single portion of it. In some cases this is just an indication of capitalising on commercial success, as in Robert ‘Psycho’ Bloch for instance, but there are others only known to cognoscenti except for one exceptional title – and Joel Townsley Rogers is certainly one of those authors. Continue reading

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A QUEER KIND OF DEATH (1966) by George Baxt

The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog has reached the letter Q, and my second nomination this week is …

A QUEER KIND OF DEATH by George Baxt

“I loved the boy,” she cackled, “but he did need murdering.”

Before making his accomplished debut as a novelist with this seductively unorthodox whodunit, George Baxt had already established himself as a scriptwriter of several modestly effective British thrillers and horror movies. The best of these include three notable collaborations with producer Julian Wintle and director Sidney Hayers: Circus of Horrors (1959), Payroll (1961), from the novel by Derek Bickerton, and Night of the Eagle (aka Burn, Witch, Burn) (1962), a fine adaptation of Fritz Leiber’s 1943 classic take of modern witchcraft ‘Conjure Wife’ and which Baxt was asked to rewrite following attempts by such noted authors as Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson (all three would ultimately share on-screen credit). Baxt’s background as a screenwriter, and as a supplier of gossip to Walter Winchell back in his days as an agent in New York in the 1950s, are well in evidence in A Queer Kind of Death, which made a considerable splash when it first appeared.

Probably the book’s best review, and the one emblazoned on many a reprints, was the one by Anthony Boucher in the New York Times where, inter alia, he said:

“This is a detective story, and unlike any other that you have read. No brief review can attempt to convey its quality. I merely note that it deals with a Manhattan subculture wholly devoid of ethics or morality, that staid readers may well find it “shocking”, that it is beautifully plotted and written with elegance and wit … and that you must under no circumstances miss it.”

Continue reading

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L is for … THE LEAGUE OF FRIGHTENED MEN (1935) by Rex Stout

The Alphabet of Crime community meme over at the Mysteries in Paradise blog this week reaches the letter L. My contribution this week is also eligible under the guidelines of Bev’s 2011 Mystery Readers Challenge. L is for …

THE LEAGUE OF FRIGHTENED MEN by Rex Stout

There are some books that in order to properly savour you have allow them time to properly ferment, books of such standing that to properly appreciate their vintage you must allow for expectation to build, perhaps even over a matter of years or perhaps decades before you metaphorically uncork them. To put it more prosaically, there are books that you know are probably really, really good and you are prepared to indulge in some serious deferred gratification so as to not to ruin them. I knew after my first Carter Dickson experience (the wonderfully titled, THE READER IS WARNED) that I would want to read all the author’s books – and the same went after my first encounters with Raymond Chandler (THE BIG SLEEP), Graham Greene (BRIGHTON ROCK), Ellery Queen (FACE TO FACE), Ross Macdonald (THE CHILL), Margaret Millar (THE SOFT TALKERS), John le Carre (CALL FOR THE DEAD) and so many other that, over thirty years later, I still read with undimmed pleasure. And I am glad to say that for most of these writers there are still a few examples of their work, in some cases major ones, that I have left deliberately untouched, saving them as small investment for my future, perhaps to stave off a time when I will no longer be able to contemplate one. That list has of course been getting shorter and shorter as the years have gone by, and THE LEAGUE OF FRIGHTENED MEN is one of the last of the unread Rex Stout books on my shelves – and I finished it today, having first made plans to read it overt twenty years ago. Was it worth the wait? Continue reading

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