#815: Gold Comes in Bricks (1940) by A.A. Fair

Gold Comes in Bricks

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I wasn’t expecting to get a review out today, but a sleepless night and the ice-cube-on-an-oil-slick-fast prose of Erle Stanley Gardner combined to make Gold Comes in Bricks (1940), the official third entry in the Bertha Cool and Donald Lam series, fly past in no time at all. No, you didn’t miss anything, I haven’t yet reviewed the official second entry Turn on the Heat (1940) — I still don’t own about half of this series, having disposed of my original copies yeeeeears ago — I’ll try to fill in the gaps in my collection and reintroduce chronology from now on. Did I mention my sleepless night? Distraction was needed, and Gardner always delivers in that regard.

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#812: The Forbidden House (1932) by Michel Herbert & Eugene Wyl [trans. John Pugmire 2021]

Forbidden House

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Nouveau-riche Napoléon Verdinage acquires Marchenoire Manor despite mysterious missives warning him against purchasing this “forbiddin [sic] house” and promising his untimely demise. Learning that the previous owners either died or took the letter writer’s warnings to heart and left, Verdinage becomes only more determined to stay. He only has himself to blame, then, when at the two month deadline given for his departure he is shot dead by a man who apparently vanished from the house…an outcome all the more baffling because the only exit was watched the entire time and multiple searches fail to discover the killer anywhere inside.

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#809: The Clock Strikes 13 (1952) by Herbert Brean

Clock Strikes Thirteen, The 2

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Just a few days ago it was my lot to be unimpressed by the concluding volume of one series, and so time is ripe for me to be slightly underwhelmed by the fourth and final novel to feature Herbert Brean’s photographer-sleuth Reynold Frame. This feels like the thousandth book I’ve read this year to which my response has been “Yeah, it was okaaaay…”, but it’s sort of pleasing to finally encounter something by Brean that fails on its own terms — though if you can’t help but go into this “ten people trapped on an island, then murder intrudes” story expecting an update of And Then There Were None (1939), you do so at your own damn peril.

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#806: The Red Thumb Mark (1907) by R. Austin Freeman

Red Thumb Mark

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As a firm proponent of reading an author’s work chronologically, I’m a terrible hypocrite. I initially encountered Dr. John Evelyn Thorndyke in his eighteenth published volume, and then read his third, fifth, fourteenth, seventeenth, fourth, and sixteenth before now getting to his debut, The Red Thumb Mark (1907). Those of you following along at home will know how much enjoyment I’ve taken from Freeman’s writing, and the simple truth is that, had I started here, I may still be working up the enthusiasm to read further. Not that this is a bad book, and in many ways it’s a fascinating one, but it’s difficult from here to see the heights RAF would scale later in his career.

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#803: Pick Your Victim (1946) by Pat McGerr [a.p.a. by Patricia McGerr]

Pick Your Victim

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The cover of this Dell mapback edition of Pick Your Victim (1946) by Pat/Patricia McGerr is one of the oddest I have ever encountered. Not only does the front imply a masked — or, y’know, deformed — serial killer disposing of their victims with the eponymous pick (in the book it is the verb and not the noun, and the sole victim is strangled), but the map on the back is…sorta useless, since the environs of the strangulation are completely irrelevant, making them ill-suited to illustration. The book has other problems besides these, but quite what Dell thought they were selling would probably take a book of its own to explain.

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#800: The Plague Court Murders (1934) by John Dickson Carr [a.p.a. by Carter Dickson]

Plague Court Murders AMC

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The Plague Court Murders (1934), the debut of John Dickson Carr’s sleuth Sir Henry ‘H.M.’ Merrivale and published under his Carter Dickson nom de plume, struck me when I first read it as among the ne plus ultra of locked room mysteries.  A decade on, having read much more of Carr’s output, I now see it differently.  Carr published five books in 1934, each one now feeling lilke an attempt to work some new wrinkle into his writing. For all the cleverness — and it is very clever — this is really an apprentice work from a man who would go on to do much, much better.

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