by Steve Steinbock
Last issue, I lamented that by the time I was preparing my column for the annual Sherlock Holmes issue, I’d already exhausted nearly all the Sherlockian works of the previous year and there was nothing left to review. I vowed that this year I would hold off on any Holmes-related works until the January/February 2019 column. But no sooner had my words been committed to print than an important work of Sherlockiana that I’d somehow overlooked came to my attention, and the book is so significant that I’m compelled already to break my vow. So I begin this column with a new novel about a former member of the original Baker Street Irregulars, Sherlock Holmes’s young team of informant urchins. I’ll continue with reviews of a few of my perennial favorite series, as well as some strikingly original new mysteries.
**** H.B. Lyle, The Irregular, Quercus, $26.99. With the tagline “a different class of spy,” Lyle’s first novel is the story of a young veteran of the Boer War who as a child had been one of the street urchins who assisted Sherlock Holmes. Anarchists, Bolsheviks, and German agitators are sowing chaos and discontent in 1909 London. The British Secret Service enlists Wiggins to infiltrate a munitions factory looking for a leak. The storytelling is occasionally marred by jumps of the plot, frequent flashbacks, and a few too many coincidences. But the story itself is clever and the book is a worthy addition to the Sherlockian canon.
**** Felicia Yap, Yesterday, Mulholland Books, $27.00. When the body of a beautiful woman is found in a river near Cambridge, England, housewife Claire Evans begins to suspect that her husband was the killer. The premise is that of hundreds of novels of suspense, but what makes this story unique is the author’s biting style, and that the story takes place in a world where thirty percent of the population have short-term memories of only twenty-four hours, and the other seventy percent wake up each morning with no memory of the previous day. The Malaysian-born author tells the story from multiple points of view, and through diary entries, articles, and police reports. The story is well told and only reaches its conclusion after multiple surprising twists.
**** Michael Kardos, Bluff, Mysterious Press, $25.99. Magician Natalie Webb is hard up for rent money. She blew a corporate gig when she threw a card at a drunk heckler, sending him to the hospital with eye damage. When a magazine editor asks her to write a story on card cheating, her interview with an Atlantic City card sharp leads her to an exciting opportunity to get rich. The narrative is engaging and interesting, with enough lore about magicians and gambling to give the story veracity without weighing it down.
**** Joe Ide, Righteous, Mulholland Books, $26.00. In his second novel featuring Isaiah (“IQ”) Quintabe, the Southern California P.I. travels from Long Beach to Las Vegas to bail out a young woman with a gambling problem, and in the interim tries to solve the murder of his older brother from ten years earlier. His brother’s old girlfriend has asked him to track down her younger sister, a Vegas nightclub DJ who, along with her loser boyfriend, is in trouble with loan sharks. The story is full of action and twists as Isaiah goes toe-to-toe with Chinese gangsters, African tough guys, Latino hoods, and a pair of merciless loan sharks. The book reads like a Dashiell Hammett story seen through modern eyes of the likes of Gary Phillips or Robert Crais.
**** Christopher Fowler, Bryant and May: Wild Chamber, Bantam, $27.00. I enjoy Fowler’s series about London’s “Peculiar Crimes Unit” because of its quirky cast of characters, plotting which often employs impossible-crime elements, hilariously witty dialogue, and the curious tidbits of information about London’s history and geography which are always integral to the plot. In this fourteenth book in the series, the informative element is London’s parks and gardens. The gardener of the private Clement Crescent Gardens watches as a woman walking her dog disappears from view, only to find her strangled moments later. One could reasonably call this book a “locked-park” mystery. Bryant and May and their team explore the homeless community and an obscure film club, and they consult with haughty historians, a girl with uncanny knowledge of the city’s parks, and a witch in order to find the killer, but not before several more bodies pop up in several more parks.
**** Alan Bradley, The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place, Delecorte Press, $26.00. After the death of their father, the three de Luce sisters are taken on holiday by their faithful family servant. During a boat ride on the river, Flavia discovers a body floating beneath the water’s surface. Readers of the previous Flavia de Luce novels are already familiar with the morbid cleverness of the twelve-year-old narrator. In this volume, Flavia befriends an undertaker’s son, uses her extensive knowledge of poisons, finds herself trapped in a coffin, and upstages the local constabulary by solving several murders.
*** Russ Kick, The Graphic Canon of Crime and Mystery, Seven Stories Press, $29.95. Thirty stories of mystery and crime are interpreted by various artists and illustrators, done in such a remarkable way that the books itself is a work of art. But there were elements that made this book difficult to evaluate from the point of view of a mystery critic. It contained a few of the standard names in mystery fiction (Poe, Christie, Doyle), but primarily included less conventional works, which aren’t normally considered part of the genre, such as A Clockwork Orange, Marquis de Sade’s Justine, and Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. Some of the interpretations are reasonably faithful to their sources, but others, however visually compelling, have only the most tenuous connections to the stories they depict.
**** Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, Wildside Press, $12.00. Lastly, a special treat: a collection of sixteen Ellery Queen pastiches and parodies. The back story to this book is worth telling. In 1944, Frederic Dannay—under the pseudonym Ellery Queen—edited a collection of Sherlockian pastiches titled The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, which was promptly withdrawn from publication upon protest of the Conan Doyle estate. Josh Pachter, who has translated numerous stories and written many of his own for EQMM, met Ellery Queen expert Dale Andrews at the Ellery Queen Centenary Symposium in 2005, and the idea for this collection began to germinate. The sixteen stories include works by Lawrence Block, Edward D. Hoch, William Brittain, and Jon L. Breen. The stories, most of which originally appeared in EQMM, are varied but of consistently high quality. The book includes introductions by Richard Dannay and Rand Lee (sons of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee) as well as explanatory notes for each story. In some cases Fred Dannay’s original introductions from EQMM are provided.
Also of note, Penguin Classics has been reissuing the entire Maigret series by Georges Simenon, one title per month, giving them fresh new translations, each with a $13.00 cover price. The latest offerings are Maigret’s Revolver (translated by Sian Reynolds), Maigret and the Man on the Bench (translated by David Watson), Maigret’s Mistake (translated by Howard Curtis), and Maigret Is Afraid (translated by Ros Schwartz). Each translator renders Simenon’s prose slightly differently, but they are all faithful to the original while being accessible to contemporary readers.
Copyright © 2018 Steve Steinbock