Friday, June 30, 2017

Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: MYSTERY IN THE CHANNEL (1931) by Freeman Wills Crofts

Thank you British Library Crime Classics and here in this country Poisoned Pen Press, for making lesser known writers of the Golden Age of Crime readily available. Not all the books are of equal quality of course, but the main idea gets an A+ for effort - especially for the trade paperback format featuring such gorgeous cover art and design.

Years ago I read many Freeman Wills Crofts books and then promptly forgot them. (Hey, I also forgot all my John Dickson Carr reading as well, so it's not a selective thing at all.) The only thing I do remember was loving Croft's railroad mysteries - especially all the arcane minutiae. I had more tolerance for written detail then than I do now. Though if the detail is intriguing in some quirky way or other, I can still be brought to attention.

This enjoyable book is strictly a police procedural (as are most of Croft's books involving the always dogged and reliable Inspector French) which many of us are fond of though some of us are not. When done well, I believe they are wonderful, I love 'em. There's just something soothing about reading this sort of thing while your mind takes a break from grappling with Big Ideas.

In MYSTERY IN THE CHANNEL, it's the English channel (as you might have guessed) and the details of boating/shipping/sea-faring take the place of railway minutiae. In fact the actual murders take place aboard a luxury yacht.

While crossing from Newhaven to Dieppe, an apparently dead body is spotted on the deck of a yacht by the captain of the Chichester, a passing steamer. When crew go aboard the yacht they discover a second dead man in the cabin below and no one else on board. Both victims have been shot. The weapon too is missing.

So begins this carefully detailed murder yarn by the acknowledged master of this sort of thing. If two murders on board an otherwise empty boat in the English channel don't intrigue you from the getgo, then go read another book. I was caught up instantly.

We soon learn that the two dead men are the chairman and vice-Chairman of Moxon General Securities, one of the largest and more important financial firms in Great Britain. Uh-oh. It is 1931 and the country is already reeling from economic woes - Moxon itself, unknown to its investors, has been in serious trouble for weeks. The once thriving firm will crash almost as the two bodies are being discovered in the channel. What's more, the chief accountant of Moxon's is missing as is another member of the firm. The financial ruin of thousands of investors (many of them small and dependent) is guaranteed as the firm has losses amounting to 8 million pounds and to make matters even worse, one and a half million pounds in cash is missing.

Scotland Yard, in the form of Inspector French, is almost immediately on the job.

Here the seemingly indefatigable Inspector travels back and forth between France and England - a bloodhound on the trail of the smallest lead, unwilling to rest until the culprit or culprits are caught. The author's talent for description is here finely tuned as he makes written images that plant us firmly in place. He's not much for character finesse and description but he makes sure we know where we are.

An aside: Mrs. French is mentioned once in passing, though French seemingly lives alone in an apartment in London and the missus is nowhere to be seen. (She shows up as background in some of the other books.) I took it as a slight mistake on Croft's part. If he'd had the missus hidden away in a house in the country don't you think French might have mentioned it?

At any rate, over at the foundering Moxon General Securities, the account books are being minutely looked over by what we would today call a forensic accountant, hoping to grasp how the current disaster came about. Turns out that the firm really was in grave cash flow difficulty and the defection of the key management team was apparently a desperate last ditch effort to save their own skins while leaving behind investors to face utter ruin.

With the help of the very accommodating French police, the Inspector runs himself ragged following several trails which eventually peter out. An arrest is made, but soon turns to nothing. After much keen-eyed concentration on time schedules and how many knots a boat can do in so many given minutes, French will eventually get to the bottom of things and catch (at great risk to himself) a cold-blooded and extremely clever killer hidden in plain sight.

This is a particularly engaging Croft book, possibly because of the various settings. It's made me want to read more tales with French in charge. Croft is too often overlooked when it comes to the Golden Agers and it's really a shame. He was an expert practitioner at a fairly specific sort of exercise, the likes of which I find rewarding and enjoyable.

Todd Mason is doing hosting duties this week at his blog, Sweet Freedom. Don't forget to check in and see what other forgotten (or overlooked) book other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book WAY STATION (1963) by Clifford D. Simak

I am a fan of science fiction super-wonder Connie Willis and I loved SLEEPING GIANTS (though not the second book in the trilogy which I found unreadable) by Sylvain Neuvel and THE FOLD by Peter Clines and THE LAST POLICEMAN trilogy which despite its starkly dystopian outlook is still mesmerizing and last but not least, I also enjoyed Stephen King's 11/22/63. I also like China Mieville's work though I think he is more a magical realism guy than a science fiction guy.

Despite this, I'm not much of a regular science fiction reader and know little about the stars of the genre and their bibliographies. I am not especially taken with plots filled with aliens and the inherent bizarre drama of other worlds except, actually, in movie form. But having said that, I'm not immune to a good book with an intriguing storyline either.

So when WAY STATION was recently made available on Kindle, I decided why not? I liked the overall plot idea and decided this would be my first Clifford D. Simak experience.

The book is an abundance of riches almost too much to take in at one reading. While the story is not difficult or full of exotic alien science too convoluted to follow or even imagine, there is still much to consider. The ambience of WAY STATION - despite some violence - has a certain gentleness while at the same time the plot dazzles with ideas.

Enoch Wallace is a modern day recluse. He is an American Civil War veteran who lives in a cabin in the woods which, unbeknownst to his mid-western neighbors, harbors alien teleportation machinery. He is immortal so long as he stays put in the impregnable cabin (and only goes outside for short periods of time) and continues his work which is that of earth's only caretaker of an intergalactic way station. As they planet hop from one deep space locality to another, alien travelers use earth as a sort of pit stop.

'Traveling' is a bit of a misnomer, since the creatures doing said 'traveling' don't actually make the journey - his or her outer shell dies at the point of origin and it is the 'travelers' data which is collected and teleported to the next destination then reassembled in original form.This isn't gone into in much detail, but it would seem a good way to disregard the actual logistics of light years long space travel. If you don't mind being dead and 'reborn' and being dead and 'reborn' as you move around space. Obviously one questions the very idea of the soul's purpose in these re-configured life forms - does it survive the teleportation or did it not exist in the first place?

It is a lonely existence as aliens move on from the way station never really staying long - occasionally one makes a connection with Enoch, but most don't. To them, he is just a caretaker, a necessary fixture. Once in a while, his old friend Ulysses drops by to chat and/or check on things and make sure everything is running smoothly. This is the alien who back in the 19th century chose Enoch to be the keeper of the way station. (Ulysses is the name Enoch gave him.)

Sometimes the alien travelers leave artifacts from their home worlds for the caretaker (with or without explanation as to what the artifact does). Though Enoch has made it his business to learn a few of the interstellar dialects, he can't be expected to know them all. Grateful for these 'souvenirs,' Enoch keeps his singular collection about him - items of wonder and intellectual surmise.

Earthlings are unaware of the way station and of Enoch's immortality, though his neighbors do notice that he never seems to age. Only the postman, Winslow, has an inkling. He's one of the very few humans Enoch interacts with.

Okay, so that's the basic set-up - I would have been happy just to read more and more about Enoch's duties and the aliens which he meets. But this book was first published in two parts in Galaxy Magazine in 1963 and maybe that's the reason for all the plot twists and turns - enough to fill up five volumes let alone two. It's almost as if the author couldn't decide what to leave out so he didn't.

A random sample of what goes on:

There are two invisible-to-everyone-but-himself 'friends' - a man and woman - who show up now and then when Enoch is especially worried or lonely - 'fairies or wraiths' he has conjured up with the help of an artifact. But to his chagrin, the lonely Enoch has fallen in love with the image of the woman and she with him, though their 'romance' is not to be - he cannot touch her and she cannot touch him. This plot line could have been left out of the book and none the wiser - it really doesn't add much to the story.

In addition there's a deaf young sprite of a girl who lives on the farm down the road with an abusive father and ignorant relations. She is known to keep to herself and Enoch has often seen her work small wonders - watched her heal a butterfly whose wing was crushed. For her 'other-wordliness' she is misunderstood and abused by her family. Enoch seems to be the only person she trusts instinctively.

Then there's the 'shooting rage' which Enoch goes to when he needs target practice - a hologram world which has been set up for him by the aliens who run the way station so that Enoch can practice his rifle skills by killing alien monsters on alien worlds.

Also there's a government agent who is lurking about in town at the moment, incognito. He is investigating Enoch and reporting back to Washington.

Then there's....see what I mean?

There is so much packed into this book that you can't figure out what's what until nearly the end when a large rat from outer space shows up at the way station and runs off into the night. Enoch has to go in pursuit since the rat has, in his hairy clutches, a mystical object which prevents war and benefits all lifeforms who are attuned to it. It is an object of reverence which has been lost for generations and for which Ulysses and his federation cohorts have been searching all over the galaxy for years.

And oh by the way, a few days before, Ulysses had dropped by to inform Enoch that he was in some danger of having the way station shut down because of an ancient alien custom which Enoch has unwittingly ignored and which he must now set to rights.

Not to mention, that the townspeople are being whipped into a frenzy by the deaf girl's father and plan to attack the cabin.

LOTS to think about in this story, lots to absorb, lots for the imagination to take in. As I said, more than enough for many books - possibly a trilogy. Well, still, WAY STATION won the Hugo Award in 1964. So I must be in the minority.

But in truth, I enjoyed the book for its old fashioned sense of right and wrong and the whole idea of morality and honor under pressure. I liked how several plot lines do resolve themselves in the end and most of all, I liked Enoch Wallace. Ulysses made a wise choice when he picked this earthling to man the way station.

Since this is Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tuesday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: THE SEVENTH VEIL (1945) starring James Mason and Ann Todd

THE SEVENTH VEIL is one of those films from my movie-crazed youth that, for whatever reason, has fascinated me over the years. The last time I can remember watching it on television I was likely an impressionable teen hooked on local TV. Channel 11's Million Dollar Movie was a favorite (they repeated the movie during the week so if you missed it the first time...) or maybe it was Channel 9 or CBS's evenings of movie magic back when N,Y. TV stations had hours of airtime to fill and did so as cheaply as possible with movies, movies, movies. (CBS even had a daily afternoon movie at 4:30!) All for just the price of a clunky black and white television set made in America and meant to last for years and years (no upgrade needed) and did.

Out of the blue, I was recently able to watch THE SEVENTH VEIL on youtube where it is currently (but who knows for how long) available.  I wish I could say that I was instantly transported back in time, but I wasn't. Admittedly, this was a very influential film for an imaginative girl growing up on the lower east side of Manhattan in the 1950's, but the thrill is gone. I'm too old and cynical now to fall under the spell of thwarted love. Sad.

The film stars James Mason, Ann Todd, Hugh McDermott and Herbert Lom, and is based on a screenplay by Muriel and Sydney Box (Oscar winners for Original Screenplay) and directed in histrionic 'woman's film' style by Compton Bennett,

In a nutshell: THE SEVENTH VEIL is a dark and laborious tale of destructive love and pathology, but with a happy ending. I kid you not.

Even if the tale does begin with a suicide attempt.

The poster's dramatic tag line: 'It dares to strip bare a woman's mind,' refers, I suppose, to the fact that most of the film is told in flashback as the beleaguered heroine is treated by a sympathetic psychiatrist (Herbert Lom). He believes strongly in hypnotism and the idea that once you remember everything bad you will come out the other end, cured and ready to tackle a new day.

It's obvious they made that chair too big to try and make Ann Todd look smaller/younger and vulnerable.

Okay so here we have Ann Todd who must play a fifteen year old near the beginning of the film (you sort of have to squint not to see she's too old) and then watch as she ages into an attractive woman in her twenties under the dark brow of her cousin, a controlling, chillingly censorious and very much given to brooding, guardian played by James Mason. Of course he's rich and lives in a large and charmless mansion. Typically: he has a cane and limps which romantically hints at some long ago secret hardship AND he always wears a suit and tie even when just sitting around petting his cat.

Come on in and let me take a look at you. (I'm too lazy to stand up.)

Piano prodigy Francesca Cunningham (Ann Todd) arrives on her guardian's doorstep while still a schoolgirl. James Mason can be menacing without hardly batting an eye when he wants to be which is usually all the time. Once he realizes how musically talented Francesca is, he becomes hell-bent on fashioning the introverted girl into a world-renown pianist and to that end forbids her to have any fun. Everyday it's practice, practice, practice amid lots of scowling intimidation.

Hugh McDermott, an actor with a light-hearted personal charm and the sort of look men in the 1950s had in real life. 

When Francesca does get a few moments on her own she naturally enough seeks out smiling young people. One night she meets a likable night club musician, Peter Gay, played by the usually-looks-older- than-he's-supposed-to-be-actor, Hugh McDermott. (He was unconvincing as a college 'boy' in PIMPERNEL SMITH mainly because he looked about the same age as his professor, Leslie Howard. But that's a story for another day.) Peter is smitten with Francesca and she with him and soon they plan to marry though she is still underage. Uh-oh.

Nicolas will not take this well.

Practice makes perfect.

I suppose we have Jane Eyre (and/or Harlequin Romances) to thank for our affection for these sorts of heroes and stories. Because of course we know all along that Nicholas, the dark and brooding villain of the piece is crushingly possessive of Francesca for one reason and one reason only - he is in love with her and has no other way to show it except to try and control her every breathing moment. I know, I know, how 19th century-ish, but this is the sort of thing that made me swoon back in the day.

As a teenager I saw James Mason as the poor misunderstood long-suffering hero. It hardly occurred to me that perhaps he could have behaved a little nicer. But aren't dark, soulful, brooding men supposed to behave this way? Hey, that's what I learned from books.

What do those darkly intense stares really mean?

But the truth is, Francesca is such a wimp that you almost don't feel sorry for her as the story progresses because she seems the sort to warrant intimidation. Do I still feel that way today? Well, to be honest, yeah. On re-watching this film it is perfectly obvious that Francesca should have stood up for herself more and not allowed herself to be so easily manipulated. Though naturally, Nicolas being her guardian, he had the law all on his side. Back then it was much easier to lord it over women.

Forget Peter, he's nothing but a two-bit musician - you are an artiste.

So as I mentioned, Francesca and Peter begin making marriage plans. But first she has to tell Nicholas. It doesn't go well. her guardian won't hear of it. He swoops up his ward and bundles her off on a Mediterranean sea voyage to soak up culture and atmosphere in between more bouts of practice, practice, practice. She doesn't even get a chance to say goodbye to Peter. (Though you'd think she could write a letter.)

Go out there and knock 'em dead - or words to that effect.

When as long last she makes her concert debut, Francesca performs brilliantly. But thanks to a long ago and rather vulgar schoolmate in the audience who reawakens memories of a violent school episode, Francesca faints after the concert right there in full view of the cheering audience. It's not easy being a sensitive soulful female. Genius, as we know, is often an unfair burden.

Once back at the house in London, Francesca goes to look up the man she abandoned, Peter Gay. But she finds to her dismay that he's since married. (A very moving scene - once they meet again for the first time - well handled with no dialogue.) Francesca flees in the night.

Couldn't they have fashioned a better portrait of their leading lady?

Later Nicholas hires artist Maxwell Leyden (Albert Lieven) to paint Francesca's portrait and of course the artist falls in love with his subject. Never mind that the eventual portrait looks nothing like Francesca. Once again, Francesca and Nicholas have it out over another man.  This time the man in question wants Francesca to come and live with him in typical bohemian artist fashion. Though Francesca assumes they'll be married at some point. Nicholas is so outraged that he slams his cane down on the piano keys just missing Francesca's hands by a millimeter.

The way to a woman's heart back in the day.

Traumatized, Francesca runs away into the night.  I think this is when she jumps off a bridge into the Thames river and is saved by a London bobby - or actually, I think that happens a little later after the automobile crash. There's so much turmoil, it's hard to remember the schedule of events, but I do know that the crash happens when she and the artist run away (poor Francesca can't even run away successfully).

The crash injures her hands and she wakes up convinced she will never play the piano again. At any rate, she winds up in a hospital or 'nursing home' as they used to call it in the care of a psychiatrist who is intrigued by her case. You see, she is sure she can no longer play and doesn't want to live and he is sure it is hysteria of a particular sort since her hands have completely healed.

Herbert Lom as the all-knowing psychiatrist, Dr. Larsen.

One thing leads to another and in the end, said psychiatrist conducts a very unorthodox experiment to determine which of three men (oh, alongside Max the smitten portrait painter, band-leader Peter Gay, newly divorced, turns up at the house at the bidding of Dr. Larsen) Francesca really and truly wants to be with. As if the solution to her woes must be in the hands of a male third party.

Well, in this instance, it is. Hokey, but that's the way they figured things back in the day.

At any rate, I promised you a happy ending and (depending on how you look at it), that's what we get. And oh by the way, Francesca is cured.

Big sigh.

Movies like this had such a seductive impact on me back when I was googly-eyed and thoroughly susceptible to stories of storm-tossed romance. I truly believe that certain books and films imprint indelibly on the imagination if watched or read at certain ultra-spongy times in our development. I have always liked tall dark men and it is true that my favorite romantic hero in fiction is Mr. Rochester. And what's more, the guardian/ward romance has always been a favorite of mine though as everyone knows, Rochester is Jane Eyre's employer, not her guardian. But the dynamic is the same. And believe me, I know that in real life, men like these would be extraordinarily difficult to live with, but tell that to my then impassioned teenage heart.

THE SEVENTH VEIL is a rather intriguing period piece and viewed from the perch of today, it is a silly sort of thing. (Though I note that online it is labeled a classic of suspense.) But it stayed with me over the years and I was pleased to have a chance to see it once again. And I still like the chilling way James Mason broods.

Tuesday is usually Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films and other Audio Visuals Day over at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, Todd will have the list of participating bloggers. If the links aren't there in the morning, they'll probably show up in the afternoon. Life can often gets in the way of blogging as we all know. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: A BLUNT INSTRUMENT (1938) by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer, as most of you know, is the anointed queen of Regency Romance (though several of her books take place a bit earlier towards the end of the Georgian period). I've talked about her often enough since I am a slavish fan-girl. Heyer's brilliance, elegance, wit and charm and her often laugh out loud humor just cannot be duplicated. She combines all that and more in her best Regency books which I am given to re-reading when I'm down in the dumps.

But Heyer also wrote a bunch of mysteries which rival the Golden Age distinction of Agatha Christie and the rest of the talented dames who glorified the country house murder genre I love so much.

While not as lavishly enhanced with wit, charm and humor as her Regencies, Heyer's mysteries are, nevertheless, worth finding and reading because at heart, they are excellent whodunits in the British Golden Age style. And if you love that very particular sort of writing and tomfoolery, you will love these.

A BLUNT INSTRUMENT begins typically:  a bludgeoned body slumped over a desk in a study. The local bobby, a bible quoting misery named Glass, is on the scene from the first page on (in fact he provides part of the timeline), and soon it's up to Superintendent Hannasyde and his henchman, Sgt. Hemingway. (Heyer, I note, has a thing for the letter H - see further evidence in her other whodunits.)

The dead man, of course, is more than at first appears and several convenient suspects are immediately in the running for head murderer. One is a devilishly waggish nephew, Neville Fletcher - the heir apparent -  and the other is Helen North, the loathe-to-tell-the-truth wife of a man who handily enough is away from home at the time of the murder. Or is he?

It seems that the aforementioned wife was terrified of having her hubby (they are currently estranged) finding out that the dead man, Ernest Fletcher, had in his wall safe, a clutch of I.O.U. gambling vouchers belonging to Mrs. North. Mr. North frowns on that sort of thing.

Then there is Mrs. North's pragmatically inclined sister Sally Drew, (she wears a monocle and chain smokes - well, I tell you, it's 1938 after all). Sally is a mystery writer and is naturally enough intrigued when a real murder lands, as it were, on her doorstep.

There are also a couple of  men (obviously fond of calling on potential murder victims late at night) of the lower sort who were apparently up to something or other with the dead man.

There are motives galore, much mis-direction (the whereabouts of the weapon for one) and a long ago suicide to be factored in, but I suspect that experienced readers of mysteries will figure out whodunit before the last page, but still continue reading just to see how Hannasyde and Hemingway finally get to the truth of the matter.

I've been re-reading Heyer's mysteries lately and enjoying them again and again. (Thanks to old lady memory, my re-readings are often almost the same as if I were reading the book for the first time.) I also have several in audio versions which are very well done and fun to listen to. (Most especially THE UNFINISHED CLUE read by Clifford Norgate, a narrator I wish had done more of Heyer's books. Though he did narrate Heyer's Regency tale, FREDERICA, quite fabulously.)

During these days of wretched political strife and horrendous doings around the world, I am so very grateful for my favorite books - how they help soothe my often frazzled nerves. There is just nothing like re-visiting the wonderful worlds created by certain authors. Thank goodness.

Link: a full list of Georgette Heyer books.

Since it's Friday, we once again turn to author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Friday (Not Exactly) Forgotten or Overlooked Book: JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte

Megan Wilson Design

It occurs to me that there have been lots and lots of JANE EYRE book covers over the years (the book was published in 1847) and why don't I post a few. True, this is not exactly a forgotten or overlooked book, but in the past I've posted about favorite not-overlooked and/or not-forgotten books and the world didn't come to an end.

JANE EYRE is one of my favorite books - let's get that over with up front - and if you need to know what the book is about, take a look at these covers - they will give you some idea. Hard to believe that Jane was the first feminist heroine (or so I viewed her then and now) from these romantically brooding covers, but the truth is there in the pages of this memorable novel. JANE EYRE is very definitely worth a read if you, by some wild chance, haven't read it already either in school or on your own. It is not, in any way shape or form, a 'difficult' book, though written in the style of the mid 19th century. It is a brilliant, brooding, deeply affecting classic for many reasons. One of which is the heroine's willingness to do what is right no matter the risk to herself.

Even with the first feminist heroine, Jane's creator had to first publish the manuscript under a male author's name. Better that than not published at all - Charlotte Bronte was no fool.

Her hero, Mr. Rochester was the first tall, dark and dangerous anti-hero, a protagonist so familiar today - he is to my mind, the perfect anti-hero, even better than Heathcliff, in the book written by Charlotte's sister.

At any rate, no more need be said about the book. It is available everywhere in every form imaginable.

Here's the artwork: (Where I can find the info, I'll name the publisher, the artist and/or designer.)

The New American Library - James Hill illustration - 1962 (This is one of the copies I had years ago.)

Anna and Elana Balbusso illustration

Murray's Abbey Classics - 1955

Julien Lacroix, Le Rameau D'Olivier - Grau Sala illustration - 1950

A.L. Burt Co. 1934

Thames Publishing - Regent Classics - 1952

Chatto and Windus Limited - The Zodiac Press - John Sergeant illustration

Scholastic Library Edition - illustrations by W.T. Maks - 1965

Blackie & Son Limited - The Kennett Library

Everyman's Library - detail from a painting byAugustus Egg 1862

Random House - The Modern Libary - Fritz Eichenberg illustration 1950

Claire Louise Milne illustration - 2011

Penguin Classics - Detail from a painting by John Everett Millais

Since it's Friday once again, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today. Author Patti Abbott, our regular long-time host, is still on hiatus. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Friday's Forgotten Books: THE BURNING OF BILLY TOOBER (1974) by Jonathan Ross

 Jonathan Ross is the pseudonym of prolific British writer and former Detective Chief Inspector John Rossiter born in 1916 and apparently still alive at the age of 101. I believe though, that his last book in this particular series was written in the late 90's. I happened across his books at my old local library when I lived in N.J. They were a happy surprise, for I'd almost run out of mystery and thriller writers to read (or so I'd thought) at the time. Little did I know then that thanks to my handy-dandy computer, I'd soon discover many other wonderful writers I'd never heard of, much less read.

THE BURNING OF BILLY TOOBER is a decidedly noir entry in a series that seems to have been overlooked or forgotten by nearly everyone. It is one of the grittier and grungier of Ross's engrossing police procedurals set in London (of the 1960's - 1990's) and its environs. The nattily dressed and perpetually randy Detective Superintendent George Rogers and his crew are back once again to solve the murder by incineration of Billy Toober, a police informant and small time crook.

The book has a terrific opening hook: His mother loved him. So did his brother. It was impossible to believe anybody else could.

Billy Toober had been hoping to evade the retribution of Roy Grattan, the crime boss he helped send to prison. But when Grattan's brother - a violent tough known as Dummy - a large, afflicted sort who can only communicate by grunting or garbling his words - is sent to teach Billy a lesson, Billy turns to Detective Superintendent George Rogers for help. Rogers, not the comforting type, tells him he can do nothing.

The next day a body is found in the park, burnt to a crisp.

This particularly grisly murder sets off several other killings which will keep Rogers and his minions busy as they try to untangle the plots and ploys of London's sleazier denizens. A job made all the more onerous by the actions of a mother bent on grim revenge.

In between, Rogers must contend with the sordid mess he's made of his own personal life. He is not, by his own words, "...a very practised adulterer." But that won't stop him trying. He is currently involved with  Dr. Bridget Hunter, the Medical Examiner. Rogers' wife - no fool she - suspects the worst.

While reading several of the books in this series, I've often wondered what it is that women see in Detective Superintendent Rogers. He's a good cop, but he is relentlessly unsparing, "...bloody-minded and destructive..." and inclined to occasional bouts of self-pity.  But there has to be something about Rogers that women like; he does get an awful lot of them to fall for his hidden charms.

"Bigger men that you, George, have told women they love them"

He tried to recollect some who had and couldn't. "I don't believe it," he said cynically...."I'm sorry...if it's any consolation, I've never thought of any woman in terms of being in love."

Although his infatuation for her was no perfunctory passion, neither was it deep-rooted. His stubborn honesty refused the easy solution of telling her he loved her; women did it as a matter of course, to whitewash promiscuity. And there was still the ridiculous stumbling block of picturing himself as a lover and an adulterer. Astronauts, rent collectors, gynaecologists, insurance salesmen and company directors; he could imagine them all in situ without loss of dignity. But not, somehow, his own grey-suited persona as a Detective Superintendent.

In a strange way, this is part of the draw of these books - to see who Rogers will chase after next - once his eventual divorce becomes final. Also, I suppose, to wonder if and when Rogers' will allow himself to feel anything but the bare basics for any woman. I mean, he can be such a slug. But still a hell of a cop and the mysteries are good ones and over the course of the books I grew fond of his second in command, Detective Chief Inspector Lingard who actually reminds me a bit of the second in command in Cynthia Harrod-Eagles' Bill Slider police procedurals. (Another often overlooked series worth searching for as well - but the Slider books must be read from the beginning which is just as well, because the early books in that long-running series are really the best.)

Of course, a man of George Rogers' blunt caliber will make enemies, and he has a couple down at the cop shop. Rogers must daily grit his teeth and hold his bile while waiting for his immediate boss to retire - one year to go! - not an easy thing when your inclination is not to suffer fools lightly.

Still and all, there's just something about Rogers that eventually gets under your skin. There's much to be said for the attractions of a competent cop. But I still shake my head at all the women.

THE BURNING OF BILLY TOOBER, the sixth entry in what was a long-running series, has an unexpected ending which is really a cynical fillip to motherly love.

This is another compelling police procedural in a long string of terrific books by Jonathan Ross and certainly worth looking for.

To see all the titles in Ross's series, please go here to his fantastic fiction page.

It's Friday and this week, Todd Mason is doing hosting duties at his blog, Sweet Freedom. Don't forget to check in to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

In the interest of fair disclosure, this post is a re-working of a review written several years ago. I thought it was about time to bring up Jonathan Ross again. I ran across his name recently and reminded myself that I still needed to read a couple more.