"Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn

Suspenseful and full of surprises


Gone Girl is going to be made into a movie. What this means is that if you haven't read the book yet, you had better get on it. Because I can guarantee you that once the movie comes out, the trailers you see on television will spoil everything for you. EVERYTHING. You can take that to the bank.
Gone Girl begins on the fifth wedding anniversary of a troubled couple. They met and married and lived in New York City until they both lost their jobs in the media, and had to move back to the husband's small town in Missouri. Things went downhill from there, with financial and emotional strains threatening to tear the marriage apart.
And then the husband comes home to find his wife missing, the front door of their home thrown open, and the living room in disarray. As the story unfolds we learn more about the characters, delving deep into their lives while watching the husband say all the wrong things at all the wrong times. And then the surprises begin.
This is one of the most spoiler-worthy books I have read in a long time. Everything that's great about the book is great partly because it's a surprise. Which makes this a difficult review to write. I would say that if you want to avoid spoilers - and in the case of Gone Girl you really do - then don't read any reviews other than this one. In fact, just go get the book right now. Trust me, it's good!
I don't usually read mass market fiction, crime novels, or books about failing marriages. But everything that bothered me about the first third of the book was instantly revealed to be deliberate in the middle portion. And the final portion of the book was gripping, as we watch the characters slowly spiral in on each other in a life-or-death game of chicken.
I also took great satisfaction from the way that everything the characters try to prevent, they forced into being. (Isn't that always the way?)
As a final note, I listened to the audiobook version, and it was outstanding. Both of the performances were perfect, for a text that must have been extremely demanding at times. And the choice to have a man voice Nick's portion while a woman voiced Amy's portion really added a lot to the overall experience.

Black Orchids by Rex Stout

A Nero Wolfe twosome.

In this two-story Nero Wolfe adventure, we first find his man about town assistant Archie Goodwin doing some serious legwork visiting the Flower Show at Grand Central Palace day in and day out.  The reason: a unique set of hybrid black orchids grown by Wolfe’s orchid-loving friend Lewis Hewitt on display on the fourth floor. They are not out and out black in color, Archie reports, more like the color of coal, and no, he can detect no sign of withering on any of them.


Wolfe is both nettled by envy and full of curiosity over Hewitt’s “freaks” as he calls them. So much so he does the unthinkable: actually leave his brownstone and brave being driven by Archie to the show to see for himself.

Archie meanwhile is more intrigued by the display for Rucker & Dill Nurseries, or rather, the main attraction of their mock woodland glade complete with a brook and pond: a woman named Anne Tracy who, along with fellow Rucker & Dill employee Harry Gould, are playing a couple out having a picnic. The highlight of the act is at 4 p.m. each day when Harry puts a newspaper over his face and pretends to nap while Anne removes her shoes and stockings, hikes up her skirt, and washes her feet in the pond. As Archie points out to Wolfe, this is when they “crowd the ropes.”    

Archie is so smitten with Anne he even claims to Wolfe he is going to marry her. Little does he know his first meeting with her will take place inside the Rucker & Dill exhibit when he notices Gould’s legs are in an odd position nor is he responsive to the playful splash of water Anne always throws on him to complete her feet washing act. Turns out he is dead, shot in the back of the head by a small caliber pistol hidden in a rock pile his head was resting on. 

Turns out someone had made off with Lewis Hewitt’s walking stick while he and Wolfe were haggling over his black orchids (which Wolfe wants very badly), set it up against the back door leading into the Rucker & Dill exhibit, and attached a green string connected to the hidden pistol. It also turns out that as Wolfe, Goodwin, and Hewitt were passing by in the corridor while taking a short cut to the third floor. Goodwin saw the stick, picked it up … and inadvertently shot Gould. Who put it there and why is something only Nero Wolfe can unravel, but it is going to cost Hewitt his black orchids.

In the second adventure, Wolfe is approached by socialite Bess Huddleston who is receiving anonymous letters and hires him to find out who is sending them.  But before Wolfe can collect his fee on the matter, she is poisoned by a bottle of mock iodine which actually is chock full of tetanus that gets into her bloodstream via an tiny cut in her toe.

Which member of her inner circle did it is a good question, especially since they are a kooky bunch who could have been the cousins of many of the characters from The Thin Man. Wolfe claims he is not interested in finding out whodunit, but Archie isn’t so easily convinced, especially when Wolfe sends some black orchids to Bess’ funeral.

If you are looking for a couple murder mysteries narrated in a lively first-person style, you can’t go wrong with this Nero Wolfe twosome.  


Curse of the Jade Lily by David Housewright

The latest Rushmore McKenzie mystery

Once upon a time in Rushmore McKenzie’s life, the Midwest Farmers Insurance Group paid a reward of $3,128,584.50 for catching an embezzler giving Midwest a hard time. On a cold winter’s morning six years later, the man who gave McKenzie the check, Vincent Donatucci, arrives at Mac’s Falcon Heights home with an offer to pay him $125,000.00 more to act as go-between in a matter involving the theft of the Jade Lily. 

An artifact known as the Jade Lily -insured by Midwest for $3.8 million bucks- was stolen from the City of Lakes Art Museum the night before. The ransom demanded by the “artnappers” (as Donatucci calls them) is a third of its insured value. The fee Donatucci offers McKenzie is ten percent of that ransom, but Mac just laughs it off at first. Why risk his life for money when he already is set for life with it? 


Then Donatucci lets McKenzie in on something else: the thieves have specifically requested McKenzie to be the go-between. Astonished, McKenzie nibbles at the bait Donatucci has dangled before him, but Donatucci abruptly feigns indifference to the whole affair knowing all the while he has McKenzie hooked. McKenzie finally agrees to take the job for the offered fee plus expenses.

The board of the City of Lakes Art Museum tells McKenzie they want the theft kept hush-hush; they have not informed the police out of fear of adverse publicity that might affect the museum, especially when it comes to displaying items on loan from their owners.   The Jade Lily is their latest one, on loan from a wealthy collector from Chicago.   They also give him a possible suspect: Patrick Tarpley, the head of security at the museum whom they suspect pulled an inside job on them.   Then a phone call from the thieves arrives during the board meeting.

McKenzie then finds himself on a walk around Minneapolis’ famed Lake Calhoun with a red rose in hand as a bitter cold wind sweeps the lake and its surrounding walking and biking trails.   The rose is to identify him to the thieves, but nothing cordial takes place when two thugs jump him on the west side of Calhoun, slap handcuffs on him, and spirit him away in a van to a place where they are met by the lovely Heavenly Elizabeth Petryk, a woman McKenzie last saw during a search around Saint Paul for a stash of gold left behind by Depression-era bank robber Frank “Jelly” Nash.  

But Heavenly freely reveals that she is not the thief, but before she explains what her angle is involving the Lily, she can’t resist telling McKenzie all about the Jade Lily, especially how death and other misfortunes have befallen practically all who have owned it. Finally, Heavenly explains she represents a woman who once owned the Jade who wants it back and would like Mac to give it to her, not the museum, when he buys it back. Nothing doing, McKenzie tells her, and he is released. Just in time to get a call from the thieves demanding to know what that was all about.  

Without tipping his hand to as to who it was, Mac curtly tells them someone else is interested in the Lily. The call ends in a Mexican standoff with Mac not blinking at the thieves demanding he not try anything.   After that Mac drops in on his girlfriend Nina at her jazz club and then gets takeout to eat while he watches a Minnesota Wild game at home. They have just pulled ahead when a Minneapolis police officer rings his bell and asks Mac to come with. They wind up over in Theodore Wirth Park, and Mac is shown to a body bag containing the vic: Patrick Tarpley, who had a note written in pen found on his body that simply said “McKenzie.”

From that point on McKenzie finds himself involved in a case with so many twists, turns (and U-turns)it finally makes Mac comment to Nina that everybody and his brother seems to be either after the Lily or want him to give it to them. Curse or no curse, it will take all Mac McKenzie has to solve this one, and then some; which is just the thing to keep the pages turning for readers of this latest whodunit by David Housewright.

The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout

Nero Wolfe vs. the FBI

What on earth would compel Rex Stout’s legendary sleuth Nero Wolfe to confer with his assistant Archie Goodwin while the radio in the office is going full blast?   Why is Archie sleeping there instead of up in his room? And why did Wolfe smuggle into his home via boxes supposedly containing plants his usual trio of operatives (Saul panzer, Fred Durkin, and Orrie Cather) as well as two actors named Jarvis and Hewitt?  It is well-known that the portly gourmet and orchid-loving Wolfe is an eccentric sleuth, but even this is pushing things.  Unless, that is, your home is under surveillance by the FBI.

It began when Rachel Bruner, widow of the wealthy Lloyd Bruner, came to Wolfe with a request: get the FBI off her back.   They have put tails on her car wherever she goes, employees at the Bruner Corporation have been questioned, and she suspects her phones have been tapped.   All in response to her sending out hundreds of copies of a book entitled The FBI Nobody Knows to everybody from members of the Supreme Court to network executives and broadcasters and many more people in high places.

Bruner offers Wolfe a $100,000 retainer plus not only expenses but whatever fee he cares to name when he’s done.  After some initial reluctance, Wolfe finally agrees to take the case after Archie verifies that the FBI is indeed following her.

In their search for a way to compel the G-men to back off Bruner, Inspector Cramer of the New York Police department -the head of Homicide South who frequently is an antagonist of Nero and Archie- uncharacteristically turns ally when he first warns Archie of an attempt by the FBI to have his and Wolfe’s licenses revoked as well as something else: FBI agents may have murdered a writer named Morris Althaus who had been working on a unflattering article about the Bureau whose manuscript pages were found missing when police searched Althaus’ apartment after his death.  

Wolfe encourages the FBI to assume he thinks they killed the journalist so he can set an elaborate trap for them.  Archie meanwhile discovers Althaus also had connections to Bruner, the most compelling of which was via Bruner’s secretary, the lovely Sarah Dacos, so was it the G-men, Bruner, or Dacos that done him in?

The answer to this question (and others) lies within the pages of The Doorbell Rang.  A Nero Wolfe mystery whose denouement, as always, is a corker.


Highway 61, by David Housewright

The eighth in the absorbing Rushmore McKenzie series

The eighth book of David Housewright's mystery series featuring cop turned unlicensed PI Rushmore McKenzie finds Mac being asked for help by a man he'd rather not help: Jason Truhler, the ex-husband of Mac's girlfriend, Saint Paul jazz club owner Nina Truhler.  

At first Mac does not look at Jason when he asks what he wants.  Instead, he looks out the window at Jason and Nina’s daughter Erica feeding the ducks which live in the backyard pond of Mac’s Falcon Heights home.   Jason tells Mac he wants his help, but McKenzie does not turn from the window for the longest time even though it was Erica (whom McKenzie likes) that told her dad he might be able to help him with a problem he has been having lately.   Finally, McKenzie relents and lets Jason tell him what the problem is.   Turns out it is blackmail to the tune of nine thousand, nine hundred and eighty dollars, a jam Jason says he got into during a trip to a jazz festival up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, where he wound up getting accused of murdering a young woman he says he met at the festival, something Jason insists he did not do.   When he is done with his story, McKenzie smells foul play but not necessarily murder.   In fact, it smells like a scam, and when Mac reluctantly looks into it at first that is what it seems like: a fake murder for means of extortion.  

But if that is all there is to it, who put cocaine inside the spare tire of McKenzie’s Jeep Cherokee during his snooping around Thunder Bay, and who are the perps who later break into his garage back in Falcon Heights who frisk where the coke was stored not knowing McKenzie had flushed it away in a Thunder Bay car wash?  And just where do the vicious pair of drug smuggling brothers known as “the Joes” fit into the whole picture, especially when they confront Mac in the parking lot of Nina’s club and leave swearing they will get Mac after he turns the tables on the duo and thrashes them both?   And why did Jason lie to him about making reservations for two prior to his trip to the jazz fest?  And who are the perps who ambush McKenzie while he is tailing a Metro Transit bus through Saint Paul that has a kid carrying Jason’s latest ransom payment aboard wrecking Mac’s prize Audi in the process?  Finally, where does a wealthy Twin City power broker fit in with all of this, especially when he is trying to protect a local madam whose operation Mac has stumbled upon all thanks to Jason being a client of her girls?

Questions like these (plus many more) will keep the pages turning if you read this second to latest entry in David Housewright’s Rushmore McKenzie mystery series.

Madman on a Drum by David Housewright

The fifth in the absorbing Rushmore McKenzie series

I really, really like David Housewright’s whodunits focusing on St. Paul cop-turned unlicensed private eye Rushmore McKenzie. The character is a likeable mix of charm, guile and toughness seasoned with a dry wit and keen perception whose first-person narratives of his cases are so addictive Housewright makes me come back for more each time.

In this, the fifth book in a series that began with A Hard Ticket Home, big trouble strikes the family of McKenzie's lifelong friend Bobby Dunston when Bobbys daughter Victoria is kidnapped. And apparently, the kidnapper knows both Bobby and Mac from somewhere in the past. He also knows that Mac is rich after capturing a millionaire embezzler years before, and that McKenzie is the one who has to pay the million dollar ransom the kidnapper demands for Victoria’s return.

Mac antes up the ransom readily, but not before he, Bobby, and the FBI find out just who the kidnapper is. He even says goodbye to the perp by name as he spirits Victoria away upon her release. That very afternoon, however, the suspect is found dead in the very spot Mac made the trade for Victoria. And that night, the first of many attempts on Mac's life begin as if it were open season, and Mac is the game.

Housewright, a native Twin Citian, knows his town in and out, and gives this knowledge to Mac. Who explains to the reader just what, say, Block E in Minneapolis is and why it is there when Mac goes to meet an informer of his named Chopper at a club located there. It is downright cool to read something so noir-ish set in the Twin Cities, a place one normally would not associate with such fiction.

In short, Madman on a Drum is as impossible to put down as all the McKenzie novels that came before and after it.


Sherlock Holmes Lives on for Mystery Fans

New Authors Continue the Tradition of Doyle’s Canon

There are few literary characters so well known that they are instantly recognized. Sherlock Holmes, the Victorian detective, created by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887 is one of them. Through the course of four novels and 56 short stories from Dr. Watson’s journal Sherlock Holmes became the modern precursor to today’s crime fiction. His stories of the detective are so popular that “Baker St. Societies” exist all over the world where readers continue to enjoy and discuss the stories. The name comes from Holmes lodging at 221B Baker St.

    In December of 1893 wishing to dedicate more time to his historical novels A. Conan Doyle killed off the famous detective in the well known “The Final Problem “. Here Holmes and his arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty, plunge to their deaths over the Reichenback Falls. So great was the public outcry that Doyle was forced to resurrect the Detective in 1901.

    The demand for Sherlock Holmes stories remains unabated, and today numerous authors continue to publish Sherlock Holmes mysteries in the tradition of Doyle.
Anthony Horowitz, a Sherlock Homes expert, has written one of the few novels that is sanctioned by the estate of A.C. Doyle. “ The House of Silk” continues the tradition and atmosphere of Victorian London as the famous sleuth unravels another knotty mystery.
    In “The improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” 28 tales of mystery are assembled from some celebrated authors such as Stephen King, Anne Perry, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock and man more. Edited by John Joseph Adams the collection takes Holmes into realms that Doyle never imagined but is fun reading for fans.
    One  of the best small collections of additional stories is “The Lost Stories of Sherlock Holmes” by Tony Reynolds. Purported to be recently discovered unpublished stories from the estate of Dr. Watson these short stories remain very close to the original in tone.
    One of the most recent series that has attracted followers is the series by Laurie King. Not only has she resurrected the great detective but she has given him a wife! Her novels of the travels and adventures of Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, continue to provide a great sense of adventure and fresh stories for fans of all ages.


Loren D. Estleman Releases New Amos Walker Mystery

One of America's Most Prolific Mystery Writers

Loren D. Estleman is one of Americas most prolific and acclaimed mystery writers. He is the author of more than 65 books and has been awarded more than 17 national writing awards. Many of these awards have been for his mystery series, but surprising, he has also won numerous awards for his series of Westerns, one of the few authors who are able to write top quality fiction in more than one genre. He is perhaps most well known for the 20 books he has written featuring hard boiled Detroit detective Amos Walker. The recently released “The Left Handed Dollar” is the latest installment in the Amos Walker series.

Hired by a well known Detroit defense attorney Lucille Lettermore, (“Lefty Lucy’), Walker begins his search into the case of Joey Ballista (aka "Joey Ballistic"), a Detroit gang lord now facing a terminal illness. Joey Ballistic was convicted in the car bombing of Walkers oldest friend Barry Stackpole, an investigative journalist. In spite of the resentment this engenders between the two old friends Walker begins to uncover the truth behind the bombing by searching for the source of the anonymous tip that sent police looking for Joey and led to the conviction that sent him away to prison. When a series of murders complicates his search, it’s apparent that someone doesn’t want the truth to be found and sets Walker on a collision course with the real killer. The story moves seamlessly from the seedy underbelly of Detroit to the manicured manses of Detroit’s wealthy suburban communities.

Filled with the gritty dialogue and descriptive settings Estleman is known for, the stories fast paced action keeps Walker dodging bullets, the police, and a host of criminals as he searches to raise questions about a past that many would just as soon forget. The story rockets along right to the last page when the perpetrator surprises even Walker and he must use all his acerbic wit and skill to survive to reveal the truth.

Mary Higgins Clark is America's most prolific mystery writer

Mary Higgins Clark is the Agatha Christie of our day.  Clark is an extremely prolific mystery novelist; she has written more than 24 suspense novels in her long career and those books have sold over 80 million copies. She’s the number 1 selling fiction writer in France. Needless to say, she has a knack for creating lives full of mystery.

Her own life also took surprising turns. Originally a stewardess and a secretary, Higgins Clark began writing radio scripts and, on a whim, decided to start penning books. She sold her first short story to Extension Magazine in 1956 for $100.  Higgins Clark has never rested on her mystery writing laurels, however, inking collections of short stories, romance novels and several books with her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark.

Donald Thomas, "The Execution of Sherlock Holmes"

The perfect detective spends his final hours in the perfect prison


Come on, the title was just too good to resist. I'm not quite the Holmesian I once was, but the adventures of the Baker Street detective and the good doctor have long stayed with me, as they have millions upon millions of readers around the world. The Execution of Sherlock Holmes: New Adventures of the Great Detective  is a collection of five Holmes adventures, and the third such anthology by Donald Thomas. The first short story starts off with a (literal) bang - the execution of Sherlock Holmes.






Based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1904 story "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", Donald relates a story of revenge and ingenuity through the bewildered eyes of Dr. John Watson, who hears his friend leave their 221B Baker Street residence one morning, only to vanish for the next three weeks. Told alternately from Watson's and Holmes' point of view, "The Execution of Sherlock Holmes" sees the detective captured by a cabal of individuals who hold a sizeable grudge against him - men who had apparently died as a result of his investigations, and the ringleader, the brother of Charles Augustus Milverton. They stage a kangaroo court where they find Holmes guilty of Milverton's murder. The punishment is death, and Holmes must spend his final hours in a perfect prison.


What primarily makes "The Execution of Sherlock Holmes" interesting is the solidity of Holmes' confinement. His every waking and sleeping moment is watched. His guards are meticulously careful not to come within arms' reach of him. His food is cut before it is served to him, depriving him of any utensils he might use to escape. The table and chair in his cell is removed every night, merely as a precaution. He is drugged every evening, to rob his strength and dull his memory.


I'm not spoiling anything when I say that Holmes still manages to escape and have the last laugh over his captors.


Donald Thomas will be the first person to tell you that he's no Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, yet his take on the great detective (the only one I've read, anyway) makes for entertaining, if exhausting, reading. His prose is more contemporary than that of Doyle; yet, when the story switches to Holmes, there are paragraphs and paragraphs of nothing but text and background, with no dialog to break the flow. It's necessary, of course, but at times tedious. Describing (in minute detail) the layout and dimensions of Holmes' cell, and Holmes' extensive, polymath background makes for a satisfying conclusion. The problem is navigating and negotiating your way through what feels like hundreds of details.


Then again, this is detective fiction.


Once the details are dispensed with, the pace picks up a bit. Anybody remotely familiar with the many adventures of Sherlock Holmes will lose no sleep knowing Holmes the musician, Holmes the chemist, Holmes the human library, Holmes the escapologist (more than once, Watson calls him a "machine"). Holmes the passive murderer was slightly more of a surprise, but he's rarely been one to play by the rules. Suspension of disbelief comes easily enough, but more satisfying was that Holmes' brilliance worked perfectly with the extreme measures taken by his adversaries. There is a bit of luck involved in his escape, but there's no rabbit-out-of-a-hat stuff here; Thomas has his baddies set up a perfect prison. The perfect detective breaks out, and it makes absolute sense.


Thomas, for some reason, reveals Holmes' full name to be "William Sherlock Scott Holmes". As best as I know, Doyle was satisfied with "Sherlock", so why Thomas would go against such sacred canon is a mystery that maybe even Holmes himself couldn't solve.


4.0/5.0: "The Execution of Sherlock Holmes" is an interesting and entertaining entry in the world of Holmesian fiction.