Samuel M. Kootz was a New York City art dealer and the author of two mysteries: Puzzle in Paint (1943) and Puzzle in Petticoats (1944). Both star JasoSamuel M. Kootz was a New York City art dealer and the author of two mysteries: Puzzle in Paint (1943) and Puzzle in Petticoats (1944). Both star Jason Emory, a smaller-than-average private detective with an appreciation for the ladies and a roving eye. And this case provides him with more ladies than even he knows what to do with--his luscious but possessive secretary, Elsie; his sometime mistress, the "Duchess"; and the beautiful and rich Mary (who is determined to use the action version of her name to snage him into matrimony)--plus three gorgeous models at the Abe Lewin, Inc. Dress Manufacturer showroom. The models are most originally nicknamed--Red, Blackie, and Blondie (bet you can't guess why...). And all the ladies have an eye for Jason.
But Jason needs to keep his mind on his work, hard as that may be when his work requires contact with the models. Abe Lewin is in trouble. Last season, six lower-priced design houses came out with outfits from his line two days before his designs hit the market. Someone managed to either leak or steal the designs and Abe wants Jason to find out who before his Spring fashion line-up is ready for buyers. It quickly becomes obvious that there must be a traitor on board the Lewin payroll--but Abe refuses to believe it. He swears his employees--from his top-notch designer to his shop foreman to his models to his salesmen--are all true blue, but Jason knows that just can't be. Those designs got stolen somehow.
He has quite a job on his hands--juggling his lady friends while tracking down the leak in the company. And, of course, that requires questioning the models repeatedly and in-depth. But when Lewin's designer is killed in Jason's very own apartment his friend Captain Thomas of the police force gets involved and there will be another murder before Jason and the boys in blue track down the villain who's willing to kill to cover his corporate piracy.
This really is quite good. Snappy dialogue, witty comebacks, good natured ribbing between Emory and Thomas, and Jason's girl troubles all add spice to the proceedings. The mystery is well done up to a point. Koontz provides a major tip-off in the second half of the book that, if caught, points right to the culprit. But even knowing who did it well before the reveal did not spoil my enjoyment. This is a fun, fast-paced, breezy mystery from an author with an original voice. It's a pity that he wrote only two. I'll definitely have my eyes peeled for his first novel. ★★★ and a half.
I picked up Parnell Hall's Safari on my latest trip to the library. It grabbed my interest because it takes place on a safari set in Zambia (and ZimbaI picked up Parnell Hall's Safari on my latest trip to the library. It grabbed my interest because it takes place on a safari set in Zambia (and Zimbabwe) and I'm always on the look-out for stories set in different countries to help me with the Travel the World Challenge. It also had an interesting concept--a safari where the prey isn't wild game, but the travelers themselves.
Stanley Hastings, part-time actor, part-time writer and most-of-the-time private investigator, and his wife Alice are off on their first-ever vacation, thanks to a small inheritance from Alice's great uncle. Alice has always wanted to go on a safari and she's determined that she and Stanley will have a great time taking photos of all the wild animals. This is strictly a no-kill trip to the wild. At least, that's what all the brochures say. But it isn't long before guides and guests are dropping faster than tsetse flies. And when Alice leaks the fact that Stanley is a private investigator (never mind that his primary investigations have to do with negligence claims), he finds himself thrust into the position of making an investigation. But some of his fellow travelers resent his questions and others don't think he's asking enough and start playing detective themselves. The only trouble is--those who ask the most questions wind up starring as next victim. Maybe being a detective on a murderous safari isn't the healthiest occupation...
I'll keep my comments short and to the point. The details about the actual safari--very good and interesting. The characters beyond Stanley and his wife--fair. Not the most interesting bunch ever, but not just a bunch of stereotypes either. Stanley and his wife? I have zero interest in them whatsoever. I have no idea why they stay married. The entire relationship appears to consist of Stanley being held on a very short leash--she's always monitoring what he's eating, assuming he's flirting with every woman in sight, and treating him like a child. She even tells him how to pack his gear, for crying out loud. Her main occupation seems to be insulting him in every way possible and she doesn't care if it's in front of total strangers or not. He spends his time ogling all the women and telling himself he's too old to do anything about it. And his investigative skills? Laughable at best. Of course, we're repeatedly told that he has no real experience investigating murder (really? I suppose the other 18 books are all about negligence claims--must make for exciting reading)--so we're not supposed to expect him to be Sherlock Holmes. Trust me, he's not.
The blurbs on the back of the book led me to believe that this was a humorous romp with a "wholly charming hero." The wisecracks aren't funny, the hero isn't particularly charming, and the mystery is no romp. Stanley doesn't really solve it through actual detective work--he just happens to have a sudden inspiration in the wrap-up scene that proves right and the killer falls into his not-so-cunning trap. ★★ purely for the descriptions of the safari itself and the scene-setting (which was rather good).
A member of San Francisco's upper class comes to the offices of the Cool & Lam Private Detective Agency. John Carver Billings II hands them a retaA member of San Francisco's upper class comes to the offices of the Cool & Lam Private Detective Agency. John Carver Billings II hands them a retainer and a bonus of five hundred dollars if they can track down a couple of women who can provide him with a nice alibi. It seems he walked out of a restaurant with a redhead who belonged to a local gangster and the redhead walked out on him. So, he decided to find another date and wound up with a pair--one blonde and one brunette. His problem? The redhead didn't just walk out on him. She has disappeared entirely and he doesn't want to be blamed for her vanishing act. The lovelies that he spent the night with could prove that he was otherwise occupied...if they could be found.
Bertha Cool, head of the agency, is eager to let Donald Lam earn the money. But Donald smells something fishy. When earning the bonus proves to be just a little too easy (Donald knows he's good...but not that good), he knows he was right. And when he decides to dig deeper to find out just why Billings wanted Cool & Lam to "discover" an alibi that has obviously been pre-arranged, he finds himself on the wrong side of law, on the wrong side of the powerful Billings family, and on the wrong side of Bertha Cool. One murder, one hit-and-run accident, one run-in with the mob, and one gold mine later, Lam has put the pieces together and is able to present Bertha with a bonus that even she could never have dreamed of....
Top of the Heap is the thirteenth entry in the series by A. A. Fair (aka Erle Stanley Gardner, better known for his Perry Mason books). In many ways it follows what seems to be the typical Cool and Lam pattern--Bertha wants money and lots of it; client offers said money; Donald gets to do all the work; Bertha waits to scoop up the cash and share it out. I don't think these are books that I would want to read too close together. The one bonus here is that Donald really gets to show Bertha what he can do. When she decides that he has screwed up the case and cost them their retainer, he sets off on his own to get to the bottom of things and does so in style. It's absolutely worth it to see him stroll into the office (through a door where Bertha has scraped his name off the glass) and present her with the bountiful fruits of his labor. It's amazing how fast her fire-breathing changes to honey-toned appreciation. Enough dollar signs will do that, I guess.
Overall, a decent read in the pulpy private eye world. I particularly like Donald--he's quick on feet, quick-witted, and quick with a snappy come-back.
John Steele is just your average private eye. He's got a run-down office and a secretary who often threatens to walk out, but who is loyal to a faultJohn Steele is just your average private eye. He's got a run-down office and a secretary who often threatens to walk out, but who is loyal to a fault and can't help thinking that this time he'll actually earn a fee (and she'll finally get paid). In The Mirabilis Diamond (1945 by Jerome Odlum) he's got a mysterious client with two tough-guy body guards who doesn't want Steele to know where he lives, but does want him to track down an archaeologist who has just dug up a diamond worth a million bucks. There will be several attacks on his life. He will be framed for a couple of murders. And a gorgeous little dame will cling to him, call him "Johnny" (which he hates), and insist that all she wants is to find her father (the archaeologist) and doesn't have any interest in any silly old diamond (insert eyelash-batting here).
When Steele arrives in Baja California, the last known locale of the archaeologist and his diamond, he finds that he's not the only one looking for the man and the gem. In fact, people hot on the trail keep popping in and out like regular little jacks-in-the-boxes. Or like something I've seen before...maybe...The Maltese Falcon. Yeah. Like that. Only not as good.
That's the verdict I'm left with on this one. It strikes me as a knock-off of Hammett's terrific novel. You've got your fabulous, legendary treasure, your tough good guy, your not-so-on-the-level clients, your itchy-trigger-finger sidekick to the chief treasure hunter (or in this case, itchy-knife-throwing-hand), and the dubious gorgeous dame making eyes at our hero. Does the story play out exactly like Falcon? Well, no. But it's definitely crafted in that pattern and unfortunately it pales in comparison. It's got a decent plot line and Steele is actually a little more three-dimensional than a lot of hard-boiled private eyes. This brings it in at a solid ★★★, which--had the plot line not been so well-worn--might have ranked higher. I'd definitely be interested in giving Odlum another try--particularly if any of his other novels feature John Steele.
The Cavalier in White is the first book in a trilogy by Marcia Muller (1986). The short series features art security expert Joanna Stark and revolvesThe Cavalier in White is the first book in a trilogy by Marcia Muller (1986). The short series features art security expert Joanna Stark and revolves around her efforts to track down Anthony Parducci, a brilliant art thief who has managed to elude the authorities for years. In Cavalier, Joanna is brought out of retirement--a self-imposed seclusion really--by her partner when the eponymous work of art, a painting by Frans Hals, is stolen from a San Francisco gallery. A gallery that was wired for security by their company. And the son of her long-time friends, the Wheatleys, is trying to cut a deal with the insurance company for the safe return of the painting. A security guard from the gallery, a man who also has connections to the Wheatleys, disappears and the investigators have to wonder if he's involved. Joanna spots clues that make her think Parducci might be involved--but why is he interested in a group of people who might possibly have an adopted son? And why did Mike Wheatley (the aforementioned son) give Parducci the address of Joanna's apartment? She will have to find all the missing links before she will retrieve the painting--but not before murder is done and she is forced to confront her past.
This was a strong opening to the series. Joanna has some issues that she needs to work through and it was enjoyable watching her on that journey. The mystery elements were fairly played and fairly intriguing. While it is fairly obvious fairly early that some of Joanna's suspicions about the the theft are correct, there is a surprise in store that gives the wrap-up a good twist. It was, however, frustrating to watch Joanna repeatedly get herself into a situation that she knows she shouldn't be in, then get out of it, and turn around in time to plunge into another one. It wouldn't be quite so bad if she did it without thinking. But she tells us that she knows she shouldn't and then does it anyway. It was interesting to see her make some progress with her issues by the end of the story. But it is obvious she has a long way to go. Good solid beginning.
Death, in a silk suit, had just passed and the music of the wheel and the merry-go-round now sounded strictly like a dirge. p. 64
Private Eye Johnny ChDeath, in a silk suit, had just passed and the music of the wheel and the merry-go-round now sounded strictly like a dirge. p. 64
Private Eye Johnny Church is in Mexico--hired by Mrs. O'Dell in San Francisco to find out who killed her son with a .32 bullet in the forehead. There were three lovely ladies sharing his bed who might have had reason to kill him. A young, luscious blonde, a fiery redhead, and a smouldering brunette. Questioning those three closely is a hard job--requiring the personal touch--but Johnny is definitely up for the job. If you know what I mean. There is also O'Dell's ex-wife and his lawyer. She inherits everything upon his death and the lawyer may have had his hand in the till beforehand. There are whiffs of blackmail and a missing ex-convict. And there is someone taking potshots at Johnny as he makes his investigative rounds. There's also the little matter of the shadow who follows him wherever he goes. Johnny will hop in and out of a few beds, run through several theories, and find another dead body or two before he finally gets to the bottom of the case.
I'm afraid that this medium-boiled private eye story just isn't my particular cup of tea. I don't run to hard-boiled detective stories in general, but there have been a few that I've enjoyed. This one didn't go down quite as well. There isn't much detecting going on. And quite frankly I didn't see many clues hanging about for Johnny to pick up. When he talks about his various theories, he seems to be making them up out of thin air---an accusation thrown at him by one of the suspects. Most of the action involves Johnny's interactions with the various females in the story. And while the sex isn't graphic, it certainly is plentiful. ★★ --primarily for getting the book off the TBR pile and counting it for several challenges. But I will also give Howard credit for excellent descriptions and some apt turns of phrases.