The Secret Of Terror Castle ( The Three Investigators #1) by Robert Arthur

First published in the mid 1960’s, this mystery/adventure series of approximately forty books were written for 8-15 years olds and would be hard to beat if you want to find thrilling and original tales that don’t talk down to kids. Some of the plots pertain to ghosts, whispering mummies, talking skulls and other spooky or eerie themes although the stories always climax in some scheme in which a band of thieves, rustlers, con men or other non-supernatural element are attempting to snatch a lost or hidden treasure. I loved reading them as a child, and find that after all these years, they are still entertaining and packed with adventure.  [Read more…]

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Playback (Raymond Chandler)

‘Playback’, Chandler’s final completed novel, this is a haunting follow-up to ‘The Long Goodbye’. The prose sweeps me away with its speed and economy, and in this novel, more than any of Chandler’s others, I feel Marlowe’s humanity. In this last time around, Marlowe gets railroaded into a job tailing a well–endowed redhead, which quickly turns into a muddled mystery involving blackmail, murder, gangsters, and a crappy tourist-trap town. [Read more…]

White Rabbit (Caleb Roehig)

Taking place within about a twelve hour period or so, this is a fast-paced thriller with a high body count. Featuring a queer main character and a romance, it’s a fun read. Don’t expect excellent character development (in fact, there’s little beyond Rufus’s own stereotyping of these rich jerks) but it’s refreshing to have a bloody thrill ride with those who seem to deserve their ends getting it…and not have suicide or mental health be the root cause of the story. [Read more…]

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (Joan Aiken)

 

Set in an alternative 1832 where the monarch is James III (implying that the House of Hanover never came to the throne) and wolves have entered England during a bad winter by crossing the Channel Tunnel (not opened in our reality until 1994). Unlike the children’s books of today – this was first published in the early 1960s – the whole thing proceeds at a rip-roaring pace with very little build-up. There are a number of other books in the series, all set in the same alternate history but I don’t know if all the characters are the same in each. [Read more…]

Salems Lot (Stephen King)

This novel brought up my lapsed Catholicism. About one third of the way in I had taken to wearing a crucifix. I was so absorbed that I only put the paperback down to sprinkle drops of holy water around my bedroom. Hell, why stop there. I even asked the dog and cat to help me out with a few Hail Marys. Back to the book: this is a busy tour de force of how evil small towns can be. Of course that’s total BS but it works for a fictional setting. There is a wonderful intimacy on display with so many characters we can relate to. From the paranoid bus driver aghast at how unpatriotic kids are in 1975… to a Peeping Tom old bag, Mabel Werts, and her binoculars… to the slut-shaming of a teenage girl because she has big boobies. Magic stuff.
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Our Man In Havana (Graham Greene)

Havana, frozen as it is in time since 1959, is a special, exciting and fascinating place to be. The Havana described by Greene from this 1950s slice of fiction is still very much there to see, albeit in its 21st Century version. Anyway, this light hearted novel is uncannily reminiscent of The Tailor of Panama. A spymaster and an expat on the ground in Cuba manage to concoct between them, but entirely without each other’s knowledge, a fantasy international plot, which allows the “source” to receive generous ex-gratis payments, and the spy to convince his masters in the UK that he is doing something useful, thus worthy of a generous budget. The joke wears off when people start to get killed; but they’ve started so they have to finish.
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Nightmare In Pink (John D MacDonald)

Nightmare in Pink is the second book in John D. MacDonald’s 21- novel Travis McGee series. Although McGee gets involved in mysteries, he is not a police officer or a private investigator. Instead, he is a “salvage consultant” who lives on a houseboat (“The Busted Flush”) in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He prefers to be a beach bum, get a tan, reel in some fish, drink some beer, etc and seems a little uncomfortable in the big city. He is also a ladies’ man. [Read more…]

The Light of Day (Eric Ambler)

Winner of the 1963 Edgar Award for best novel this is an enjoyable crime/espionage vehicle typical of the era: crooks with scruples, the beautiful but unobtainable beauty & the luckless hero in the wrong place at the wrong time. The second half, with its collection of various misfits planning a heist, I found overlong and the stakes not high enough. Its hard to feel that Arthur, our hero, is in any genuine danger either (obviously because the first-person narrative guaranteed that he lived beyond the outcome of the plot) and everything was a little too languorous to be compelling. But the book has aged well even if Arthur’s character hasn’t.  [Read more…]

Phantoms (Dean Koontz)

At the beginning of this novel, the author has added an apology for writing it and I understand why. Phantoms is scary! There is something so extraordinarily powerful, capable of wiping out a whole town, capable of being everywhere at once, something omnipresent and omnipotent…and yet I had no clue what it was for a good chunk of the book. But I was aware that everyone in that town pretty much got their asses kicked (and worse), and I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t there with them. But I won’t give away any major plot spoilers. [Read more…]

The Hour Of The Oxrun Dead (Charles L Grant)

Those staples of horror–the rundown graveyard, the sinister shape in the fog, the strange noises in the night–they’re all here in spades, but rather than feeling clichéd, the late Charles L. Grant (who wrote under 5 other names as well) has fashioned them into an engaging little novel of 1970s paranoia. And his style is very moody and languid. He makes you wait, and if you enjoy the journey, that seemed to be his goal. Grant was a leading proponent of the quiet horror movement. Other than the odd quirk that might annoy the reader, like his heroine repeatedly fainting, if you like misdirection and mystery this just might be your cup of tea.
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