Litchfield Reviews Solemn Graves by James R. Benn

LEP.CO.UK - Solemn Graves by James R. Benn

Solemn Graves is another must-read entry in the outstanding Billy Boyle Second World War mysteries, offering fascinating details about the unique, thousand-man military unit known as the Ghost Army whose courageous acts of tactical deception are estimated to have saved tens of thousands of soldier’s lives.”

Set in the summer of 1944, this is the thirteenth adventure for Boyle, the Boston detective turned U.S. Army investigator assigned sensitive WWII military investigations by his ‘uncle’ General Eisenhower.

Here, he travels to a farmhouse near the town of Trévières in Normandy to investigate the murder of Major David Jerome, commanding officer of the Signals Company, Second Armored Division, who has been found with his throat cut in a chateau.

Unfortunately, the crime scene offers up few clues and few witnesses, except for the ‘haunted, fragile, ethereal beauty’ Yvonne Virot, who discovered the dead body. Yvonne, whose dress is stained with Jerome’s blood, is a houseguest of wealthy widow Madame Regine Janvier, owner of the property and a former French Resistance agent.

The trauma Yvonne has suffered at the hands of the Germans has resulted in her becoming mute, and so she can offer little to help Boyle’s investigation.

Other figures in the small community are suspiciously tight-lipped and equally unhelpful, and by far the most dubious character of all is Claude Legrand, a liaison with the Resistance who is actively involved in killing and torturing suspected German collaborators.

Feeling like he’s getting nowhere with his investigation, Boyle and his regular buddies, Staff Sergeant ‘Big Mike’ Miecznikowski and Lieutenant Piotr ‘Kaz’ Kazimierz, head out in search of the Second Armored Division and come across the uniquely gifted Ghost Army.

As usual, Benn crafts a highly entertaining murder mystery, as well as eloquently reflecting on the horrors of war and bringing to light less discussed wartime incidents, such as the brutal punishment inflicted on women during the épuration légale (wild purge).

My review of Solemn Graves is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.

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Litchfield Reviews Poughkeepsie Shuffle by Dietrich Kalteis

LEP.CO.UK - Poughkeepsie Shuffle by Dietrich Kalteis

“Full of jaw-smacking fistfights, rip-roaring car chases, and gun-blazing gang battles, Poughkeepsie Shuffle delivers a mighty thump of thrills and spills, and carloads of mean-tempered sons of bitches.”

Dietrich Kalteis, the author of the notable books Triggerfish and Zero Avenue, is fast becoming one of Canada’s top crime writers. Prior to writing novels, he was a short story writer, contributing fifty or so tales to literary magazines. You can find a couple of good ones in the archives of the Lowestoft Chronicle.

Dietrich’s debut novel, Ride the Lightning, won a bronze medal at the 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards for best regional fiction, and since then he’s gone on to publish five books with the big Canadian publisher ECW Press.
His books have garnered a number of fine reviews from publications like Kirkus Reviews, The Globe and Mail, and Publishers Weekly.

I was lucky enough to review his previous novel, Zero Avenue, for the Lancashire Post. You can read that review here.

His latest work, another standalone novel, is a crime caper set in Toronto in the mid-1980s. It features a pack of fierce lowlifes all shooting for the high life and is centered on a somewhat likable fifty-year-old ex-con named Jeff Nichols.

Soon after Jeff is release from Don Jail, having served an 18-month stretch for stealing cars, he is persuaded by a former prison inmate to work for Ted Bracey, the no-good owner of a used car lot in Toronto. What Jeff doesn’t tell his long-time girlfriend, Ann – who has stayed with him while he served his prison sentence in the hope that they will one day have kids and own a home – is that the company is a front for a criminal operation covertly transporting automatic weapons over the Canadian border.

Ignoring Ann’s pleas for him to get a regular job and adjust to suburban life, Jeff buys into Ted’s promise of easy money and rapid promotion and convinces himself that his ‘days of bum deals and scratching a living’ are over. His high-risk job offers no salary except a twenty-five percent commission on sales, the threat of getting shot or dismembered, and the excellent potential for a return to prison.

Ted’s operation involves buying cars at auctions in upstate New York and employing a crew in Poughkeepsie to hide pistols in sealed bags in the gas tanks, and weld cells under the chassis of the cars, packing them with Uzis. They then put the cars on a trailer and ship them north.

Given a $2500 cash gift, his own office, an automatic pistol, tailored suits, and allowed to steer the boss’s 36-footer yacht, for Jeff there is no turning back. Flush with cash and on the rise, he becomes firmly rooted in Ted’s organization and powerless to escape an inevitable decline into violence, bloodshed, savagery, and a perpetual life of crime.

My review of Poughkeepsie Shuffle is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.

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Litchfield Reviews French Exit by Patrick deWitt

LEP.CO.UK - French Exit by Patrick deWitt

Gentler and more tender than a Patrick deWitt reader might anticipate, French Exit is a skilfully told tale that is brimming with humour and pathos, insightful conversations, and featuring eccentric people that intrigue and entertain.

It begins at a party on the Upper East Side with the strikingly attractive, revered, upper-cruster Frances Price indulging in ‘a night of implied insults and needling insinuations.’ Cold, snobbish and mean-spirited toward the host, a woman of high social standing, Frances leaves the party, gives a passing beggar twenty dollars, rebukes a policeman, and commends her socially awkward adult son, Malcolm, on having stolen a jade-framed photograph from the host’s bedroom.

The abnormal mother and son relationship is at the core of the novel, with both dysfunctional characters distracted by ‘personal unhappiness.’ Frances, despite her popularity, is largely friendless and was neglected as a child by her unaffectionate ‘demon’ mother. Similarly, Malcolm’s insensitive father, a famous litigator whose death is clouded by controversy, snubbed his son.

Now 32, Malcolm still lives with his mother and is unwilling to cut the apron strings and move out of their grand, multi-level apartment which resembles a museum. He strives to learn more about his parents and their rocky relationship and recently he is in a particularly melancholic mood following the recent breakdown of his engagement to Susan.

Frances, ‘meddlesome’ and ‘difficult,’ has always disapproved of Malcolm’s choice of fiancée and has been antagonistic toward the girl, ‘actively trying to dismantle their relationship.’ It’s Malcolm’s unhealthily close relationship with his mother that has caused the rift between them.

But revelations of Frances’ dire financial situation force a necessary change to their living situation.

My review of French Exit is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.

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Litchfield Reviews You’ll Get Yours by William Ard

LEP.CO.UK - Youll Get Yours by William Ard

Mysteriously lured by thieves into taking part in a ransom delivery, an honest Manhattan private-eye becomes involved in a perilous blackmail plot and the prime suspect in the murder of a stripper.

First published in 1952 by paperback publisher Lion Books under the pseudonym Thomas Wills, You’ll Get Yours is a hardboiled Fifties tale of theft, blackmail, murder and frame-up by the popular but long-forgotten novelist William Ard.

Before becoming a prolific writer of more than thirty novels, Ard worked briefly for a local detective agency, as a copywriter for an advertising agency, and as a publicity writer for Warner Brothers Pictures.

He penned his first novel in 1951 and went on to create several distinctive series detectives published under four pseudonyms as well as his real name.

Considered one of the best writers of private-eye detective fiction during his lifetime, he frequently received glowing reviews from the New York Times book critic Anthony Boucher who praised him for his technical skill, complexity of plot and counterplot, vigour and originality, and for the warmth and tenderness of his hardboiled detectives.

This new reprint of Ard’s second novel marks a welcome return to print for the first-rate writer of crime, mystery and Westerns who died aged 37 from cancer while at the height of his career.

Swift and dramatic, You’ll Get Yours is a worthy, quick read that is helped by a lean plot, terse writing, and a likeable, upright, hardboiled protagonist.

My review of You’ll Get Yours is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.

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Litchfield Reviews Hostage for a Hood and The Merriweather File for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - Hostage for a Hood and The Merriweather File by Lionel White

“Influential American crime writer Lionel White is often described as the master of the big caper. His 1955 novel Clean Break was adapted by Stanley Kubrick as the basis for the film noir classic The Killing and a number of White’s other 35 novels have been made into films.

His twelfth novel, Hostage for a Hood, originally published by Gold Medal Books in 1957, is a high-suspense, heist-gone-wrong tale that is finally back in print in this newly released double-novel from Stark House Press.”

The second novel, The Merriweather File, is a startling tale of bloodshed, murder and violence that was first published by Dutton in 1959 and filmed as an episode of the TV series Thriller two years later. It is narrated by New York City attorney-at-law Howard Means Yates, a neighbour and friend of Charles Merriweather and his wife Ann who unwittingly becomes ‘a major actor’ in a complicated murder investigation.”

My review of Hostage for a Hood and The Merriweather File , is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.

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Litchfield Reviews Fugitive from the Grave for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - Fugitive from the Grave by Edward Marston

“Identical-twin detectives Peter and Paul Skillen are called on to investigate the strange fate of a missing beggar, a band of shadowy highwaymen, body snatchers, a stalker and a wily thief in the fourth thrilling tale in the Bow Street Rivals mystery series.

Set in London in 1817, with the city ‘awash with beggars,’ and numerous reported incidences of plundered graves and highway robberies, Fugitive from the Grave is the latest novel from Edward Marston, the pseudonym of prolific British author Keith Miles.

Best known for his popular Railway Detective series, set in 1850s England, Marston is also responsible for well over one hundred novels, including numerous critically acclaimed Elizabethan and medieval mysteries and a series set in the Great War.

As with previous books in the series, Fugitive from the Grave is a rollicking adventure that expertly stitches together multiple intriguing storylines, carefully draws its core mystery to the surface, and delivers some dramatic, satisfying surprises along the way.”

My review of Fugitive from the Grave, the newest in the Bow Street Rivals mystery series, is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.

Lancashire Post Reviews Bill S. Ballinger’s Portrait in Smoke and The Longest Second

LEP.CO.UK - Portrait in Smoke and The Longest Second by Bill S. Ballinger

“[Bill S.] Ballinger, who died in 1980 at the age of 68, wrote scripts for eight feature films, more than 150 teleplays, 30 books, and in 1961, he won an Edgar Award for one of his teleplays for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. His novels, several of which were made into films, have sold more than ten million copies in the States and been reprinted in 30 countries and translated into more than 13 languages. A book critic for The New York Times called him ‘a major virtuoso of the mystery technique,’ and yet Ballinger remains an overlooked writer, with much of his work long out of print.

Fortunately, the gap has now been plugged by the publication of a two-in-one volume from Stark House Press featuring two of the author’s personal favourites, Portrait in Smoke, and the Edgar-nominated The Longest Second, two unique mystery classics that shocked the literary world when they first came out in the 1950s.

In his introduction to this new volume, Nicholas Litchfield, editor of the Lowestoft Chronicle, a quarterly online literary magazine, revels in the republication of these two noir masterpieces, writing: ‘These two powerful, provocative tales from the Fifties are as fresh and impressive today as when they first startled and enthralled the world and earned their place as mystery classics.’

The Longest Second, says Litchfield, is ‘neither gimmicky nor contrived’ but ‘a cunningly deceptive work that is full of twists and shocks, and has a storyline intended to continually keep you guessing about the past and the present.’

Abnormal and packed full of surprises because of the two seemingly unconnected storylines, an unreliable narrator, and the author’s wily weaving between first-person and third-person narration, The Longest Second is ingenious, suspenseful, and memorably intriguing.

Perfectly paired with Portrait in Smoke, these two exceptional novels are as fascinating and entertaining today as they were 60 years ago.”

Pam Norfolk’s review of this new reprint of Bill S. Ballinger’s novels is published today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK.

Read the full, in-depth book review here.

Litchfield Reviews Carter Brown Mysteries in the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - No Harp for My Angel, Booty for a Babe, and Eve, Its Extortion by Carter Brown

“Wise-cracking, lecherous homicide detective Lieutenant Al Wheeler investigates the disappearances of pretty ‘dames,’ a complex hit-and-run case, and murders at a science fiction convention in three entertaining entries in the phenomenally successful Carter Brown mystery series. Written in the 1950s and long since out-of-print, No Harp for My Angel, Booty for a Babe, and Eve, It’s Extortion are a trio of swift-paced, tongue-in-cheek stories by the incredibly prolific Alan Geoffrey Yates, writing under the house name Carter Brown.

The playful humour, fast-paced action and lean, uncomplicated plots help make these Carter Brown mysteries quick, pleasurable reads. These three in particular highlight Yates’ ability to add a fresh spin to a familiar story and inject a heavy dose of fun into American ‘gangster’ fiction.”

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Litchfield Reviews Matthew P. Mayo’s Timberline for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - Timberline by Matthew P. Mayo

“In keeping with other Roamer adventures, Timberline is a nimbly told tale of rough justice and frontier survival with fierce action, intense danger, and high-grade excitement. A rousing, first-rate read!”

My review of Timberline, another action-packed Roamer western adventure by the always-excellent Matthew P. Mayo, is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 25 regional newspapers across England.

A past winner of the Western Writers of America’s Spur Award for Best Western Novel, Mayo is a dab hand at carving out enthralling stories set in the American Old West, and this third installment in the Roamer series in one of the author’s best novels.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been fortunate to review three of Mayo’s books for British newspapers, and I was tickled pink when I discovered that a snippet of my review of this splendid novel was featured on the front cover of this fine hardback edition from Five Star. Long may the series continue!

Read the full, in-depth book review here.

Lancashire Post Review of Floyd Mahannah’s ‘The Broken Angel and Backfire and Other Stories’ by Lowestoft Chronicle Editor

LEP.CO.UK - The Broken Angel and Backfire and Other Stories by Floyd Mahannah

Floyd Mahannah was a talented but overlooked 1950s writer of hardboiled tales. Although his novels received strong critical reviews and he managed to place his shorter work in numerous popular magazines, Mahannah didn’t achieve the success he was striving for and his writing career fizzled out early.

This week, Stark House Press publishes a collection of his work, including some mighty fine stories that were published in leading magazines of the day.

You can read my review of Mahannah’s work today in the Lancashire Post, and syndicated to twenty-five newspapers in the UK.

“Treachery, revenge, blackmail, theft and murder are rife in The Broken Angel and Backfire and Other Stories, a memorable collection of hardboiled tales by the talented but overlooked 1950s crime writer Floyd Mahannah.

In a literary career that spanned a mere eight years, Mahannah, who died in 1976, produced five reasonably successful novels and eleven short, gritty stories that were published in popular magazines like Argosy, Adventure, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Manhunt.

This new story collection from Stark House Press includes the author’s most accomplished novel and six of his best shorter works, as well as an enlightening introduction by Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Bill Pronzini, who believes Floyd Mahannah’s ‘hard-edged’ work ‘stands the test of time better than many of his peers.’

The Broken Angel, described by New York Times book critic Anthony Boucher as a surprisingly good novel that ‘has much of the appeal of Charles Williams’ studies in temptation,’ is about Roy Holgren, a provincial newspaper editor in Nevada, who is lured into a highly dangerous situation involving blackmail, grand theft and murder.”

Read the full article here.