#906: Vultures in the Sky (1935) by Todd Downing

Vultures in the Sky

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Of the multitudinous ways that Vultures in the Sky (1935) by Todd Downing is boring, perhaps the most irritating is the incessant padding between plot points that drags out discoveries or turn the Lantern of Suspicion upon someone so palpably innocent of any blame that you have to wonder if the author thought anyone would be paying attention. Eight people on the last train through Mexico before a workers’ strike hits should be a real cauldron of a setting, full of slow-building tension and — if clever misdirection among the tiny cast cannot be achieved — at least some doubt as to who the killer might be. It’s almost impressive how Downing fails on both counts.

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#878: Minor Felonies – Kidnap on the California Comet (2020) by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman [ill. Elisa Paganelli]

Following my recent podcast chat with M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, and the nomination of this very title for an Edgar award, let’s catch up with the Adventures on Trains series. “It’s unlikely we’ll encounter another adventure quite like the last one,” Nathaniel Bradshaw tells his nephew Harrison ‘Hal’ Beck as they take their seats on the California Comet. But we readers, aware that the title of this book is Kidnap on the California Comet (2020), know better…

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In GAD We Trust – Episode 28: Writing Mysteries for Younger Readers [w’ M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman]

There is a Golden Age of detective fiction going on at the very moment, but because most of what’s being written is aimed at 8-to-12 year-olds, it gets overlooked by, like, grown-ups. I’m trying to raise awareness of this with my frequent Minor Felonies posts, and it’s partly in pursuit of this aim that I’m delighted to welcome M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman — authors of the excellent Adventures on Trains series — to my nerdy detective fiction podcast, In GAD We Trust.

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#865: There Is Nothing Either Good or Bad, But Thinking Makes It So – Examining the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstones List

If you’ve met me, firstly I apologise, and secondly it’ll come as no surprise that I have a tendency to ruminate on that which many others pass over without so much as a backward glance. Previously this resulted in me writing something in the region of 25,000 words on the Knox Decalogue, and today I’m going to turn my eye upon the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstones list. Prepare thyself…

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#833: Murder on the Way! (1935) by Theodore Roscoe

Murder on the Way

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Approximately five years ago, powered by a combination of ego and ignorance, I set about trying get Murder on the Way! (1935) by Theodore Roscoe reprinted, based on its reputation as a cracker and its infuriating unavailability. To my frank surprise I succeeded, and it — and Roscoe’s Second World War-predicting I’ll Grind Their Bones (1936) — was republished by Bold Venture Press in 2017. Rereading it recently, it seemed due a reappraisal — well, an appraisal, really — since I edited the book without any notion of whether it was any good, and was too fixated on matters typographical to focus all that intently on, like, the plot and stuff.

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#709: The African Poison Murders, a.k.a. Death of an Aryan (1939) by Elspeth Huxley

African Poison Murders

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Elspeth Huxley’s Murder on Safari (1938) used its uncommon milieu and the author’s own experiences of life in Kenya as a young girl to enrich what might have otherwise been a ham-handed attempt to introduce some ‘variety’ into the annals of detective fiction. Its reliance on the trappings of safari life, and on the general ignorance of her policeman Superintendent Vachell to introduce the unfamiliar aspects to the reader, worked well with some unusual clues to mark it out as a very accomplished piece of detective fiction…right up until the reveal of the killer, when it all sort of fell apart. And lightning, it seems, has struck twice…

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