Driven to Destruction

"We meet people on the worst day of their lives."
- Gil Grissom (CSI
M.P.O. Books' Cruise Control (2014) is the eighth in a series of police procedurals, blending the characterization of the contemporary crime-and thriller novels with the plot-awareness of a classic whodunit, which began with the publication of Bij verstek veroordeeld (Sentenced in Absentia, 2004). And that was than a decade ago.

District Heuvelrug series has evolved quite a lot over that time period. The first couple of books had Bram Petersen, a veteran police inspector, and his younger assistant, Ronald Bloem, as the main protagonists, but Bloem transferred to another district in De laatse kans (The Last Chance, 2011) due to personal issues and Petersen resided into the background after his wife suffered a stroke in De dood van Callista de Vries (The Death of Callista de Vries, 2012) – giving room for other characters to shine and develop.

There was a hiatus of four years between the publications of Gedragen haat (Hatred Borne, 2006) and De blikvanger (The Eye-Catcher, 2010), during which Books was shopping around for a new publisher and (obviously) improving his craft. The plots from 2010 onwards are delightfully complex, interlaced with clues, and graciously unraveled by a team of professional police men-and women in the spirit of Ed McBain 87th Precinct series. The Eye-Catcher and Een afgesloten huis (A Sealed House, 2013) were sporting impossible crimes, but The Last Chance, even without a locked room mystery, remains a personal favorite – which says something about the quality of the story and plot!

Cruise Control can be characterized as a third shift in direction for the series and this might explain one of two things: the length of the story, almost twice as long as normal, and why the opening chapters felt as an introduction to a completely new series.

Gisella Markus is introduced to the reader as a police woman in her early forties, who found herself, surprisingly, ascending to the rank of Chief-Inspector, with an invalid, embittered and nagging husband at home – who insists on being a drag on her life. Niels Hanse is the one who usually assists Markus on cases and a column of support for her to lean against, but their present assignment impacts Hanse, who's gay, personally.

The body of a half naked man was found in the vicinity of a recreational area, De Treekerpunt, known as a rendezvous spot for cruising gays and was shot, execution style, between the eyes. Hanse is sure the shooting was the work of someone with a grudge against homosexuals, but Markus thinks the murderer could very well have been one of the cruising men. After all, Felix van Leeuwen dealt in narcotics and had caused trouble before. Van Leeuwen's behavior gave even the forest ranger a motive and this provided the first leads for the assembled task force to sift through, which includes Inge Veenstra from District Heuvelrug and her former colleage, Ronald Bloem.

A vile-worded bloedtekst (blood text), written in chicken blood, fuels Hanse's theory, but colliding opinion and personal circumstances continue to bug the investigation. Than, exactly six weeks later, the shooter strikes again and, before long, another blood text is found: "IK PROBEER EEN PROBLEEM OP TE LOSSEN” (“I'M TRYING TO SOLVE A PROBLEM"). The team recognizes this as a possible indicator that they might be dealing with a serial killer, who's warming up, and they receive more manpower. Actually, A Sealed House ended with John van Keeken, who replaced Bloem, hearing the news of the second murder and was to go there to strengthen the team.

Eventually, they even drag Bram Petersen from special leave to give his opinion on the case, but mounting media attention and internal division plague the investigation relentlessly. There's an anonymous "whistleblower" that accuses the conservative-minded, but always respectable, Petersen of homophobia, while the murderer delivers a personal blow to the investigators in the next hail of bullets. As well as blowing my already fragmented theories to a thousand tiny little pieces.

M.P.O. Books with Een afgesloten huis (A Sealed House, 2013)
I found it interesting how Books rendered an otherwise well-oiled and experienced team of professional police investigators useless by pouring gallons of raw emotions into the machine, which made me overlook a majority of the clues and the identity of the well-hidden murderer caught me by surprise. I openly admit that. But I loved how Petersen functioned from the sideline, as an old-fashioned armchair detective, connecting the dots based on footprints, gun knowledge and Jack the Ripper-lore to reveal the killer.

However, the ending clearly shows Books has one foot as firmly planted in the modern school of crime fiction as in the one honoring the traditional art of murder, because, character-wise, his novels have the penchant to end on a dark note. I even felt sympathy for Bloem and I was glad when Van Keeken took his place, but now I would welcome him back into the fold out of sheer pity. Poor guy.

Nevertheless, I'm quite proud of our homegrown, neo-orthodox crime/mystery author and his methods has its desired effect: I'm very curious about the aftermath of Cruise Control, but I have a suspicion the answer won't be given in the next book. I suspect that the following book will be about the, briefly mentioned, investigation of the kidnapped-and murdered shop owner in Utrecht that Bloem was a part of and probably involved Inspector Arthur van der Camp – which would explain Bloem's behavior in this story. Well, hopefully, the shop owner was conscientious enough to have allowed himself to be snuffed out under impossible circumstances inside a sealed or guarded room.

To summarize: Cruise Control is a high strung, character-driven police thriller with detective interruptions and the story is packaged in a deluxe paperback edition with diagrams of the crime scenes. What's there not to like, if you enjoy crime fiction in general?


Bits and Pieces

"So, with that display of general incompetence, we reach the end of recorded history. All that remains to see is who has learned its lessons, and who's condemned to repeat their mistakes endlessly…
- Stephen Fry (QI)
It has become a pattern of expectation for this blog to promise a resurgence in activity, during a rambling post or stuck at the end of a review, only to be followed up by another prolonged radio silence. And, this being December, I would be foolish to renew that promise for this month, but I do foresee a hike in blog activity for the holiday season.

Cameo appearance by John Dickson Carr
Firstly, I'll be composing the annual list of best-and worst mystery novels read in 2014, however, they probably won't be as comprehensive as in previous years – 'cause it was a slow year. You know the excuses by now.

Secondly, Dutch crime-and detective writer extraordinaire, M.P.O. Books, published his latest entry in the District Heuvelrug series, Cruise Control (2014), which I want to have read and reviewed before Christmas rolls around. It's not an impossible crime story such as the previous one, Een afgesloten huis (A Sealed House, 2013), but a hunt for a possible serial killer and I have spotted a map of the crime scene! Books has consistently written splendid crime fiction since his return, after a four year hiatus, with De blikvanger (The Eye-Catcher, 2010) and De laatste kans (The Last Chance, 2011) remains a high note in the series – deserving of a wider audience nationally and internationally. So you can expect a review of Cruise Control before 2015.

I'm afraid reviews of newer works and recent publication will be dominating the blog for the next month or two. There are five or six volumes of Case Closed (a.k.a. Detective Conan) on the itinerary and want to knock at least two of the list before the New Year.

Meanwhile, translator and publisher John Pugmire, from Locked Room International, never took a break from ferrying impossible crime stories from across the globe to a very appreciative, English-speaking reading audience – like a true purveyor of spirits! And, yes, I have some serious catching up to do in 2015 with the Locked Room Int. publications. Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller's The Body Snatchers Affair (2015) will be published in January and still have a few mysteries by Keigo Higashino and Louise Penny to go through.

And, no, I have not forgotten about Otto Penzler's 900-page juggernaut, The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries (2014), which I don't find intimidating at all. It's what I have trained and prepared for all my life under the mentorship of John Dickson Carr's ghost. Hey, I got halfway through the unabridged, four-volumes of five hundred and odd pages each epic known as Journey to the West (c. 1592) by Wu Cheng'en. I use the boxed set now as a book end.

So, yeah, 2015 is basically going to be more of the same: enthusiastically babbling about locked room mysteries, reviewing the classics, traversing the trail of obscurity and looking down contemptuously at the contemporary school of crime novels and their champions. 

The reader has been warned.  


Rogue's Alley

"He who digs a hole for someone else, falls in it himself."
- Dutch proverb
Well, we're more than a week into the last month of the year and 2014 can be safely summarized as a slow, unproductive year to read and review mysteries on this side of the screen – not to mention the steadily increased backlog of new releases. It's great and all to be smack in the middle of the genre's Renaissance Era, but the pace is nearly impossible to keep up with at this point.

Oh, well, enough complaining for one paragraph and let's take down one of these new releases, before the end of the year. That'll cut one book from my backlog for 2015. Yay, progress!

Een kuil voor een ander (A Hole for Someone Else, 2014) is the eleventh entry in the Bureau Raampoort series by Simon de Waal and the late A.C. Baantjer, who co-created/wrote the series until he passed away in 2010. I have said before how Bureau Raampoort has become my placebo for Baantjer's original politieromans about Inspector DeKok, as he's known in the English translations, which were my gateway into detective stories, but this series tends to be more Simenonean than Baantjer ever was – i.e. stories about detectives rather than detective stories. Een licht in de duisternis (A Light in the Darkness, 2012) was a notable exception to this rule and A Hole for Someone Else can compete with it.

Winter has come to Amsterdam and Peter van Opperdoes, the old, seasoned veteran policeman of Bureau Raampoort, is enjoying what would've been his day off, observing futile attempts of car drivers at mounting a slippery bridge, but the discovery of a body puts an end to that day. A construction worker noticed a peculiar hole in a wall, inside a building that was being renovated, and inside that hole was another hole dug in the ground – containing the body of a man with strangulations marks around his throat. But the hole in the wall has more secrets to reveal: there's a hidden door giving entrance to a hidden room, stairs and the house above, which, according to rumors, have been used as a passage way for criminals. The crime scene was basically a Matryoshka doll.

The hidden cubbyhole for criminals in combination with the wintry landscape gave a charming and classical touch to the familiar elements of the series and characters. Van Opperdoes is reprimanded for having closed the open, starring eyes of the victim, out of old-school piety for the dead, before the forensic team could do their work or the scene of three Amsterdam detectives digging in the half-frozen grounds in the provinces for a second body. De Waal also acknowledged Jacob never uses his surname and Van Opperdoes still talks with the disembodied voice of his late wife, which seems to become dimmer with each passing book. The plot itself is pleasantly busy and moves along multiple lines, which includes the double identity of the first victim, an unknown man who fled from the crime scene, a big criminal from the province of Brabant, a corrupt policewoman, a shady Officer van Justitie (prosecutor) and a third body drenched in bullets. There are even a few clues, but, in the end, it still wasn't, what you'd call, a proper whodunit. However, I did appreciate how the unburied body in the wall, and how the body ended up there, brought everything else to the surface. Gotta appreciate those plot patterns.

In summation: A Hole for Someone Else is a fine, bustling police procedural in the Dutch (Amsterdam) style with all the familiar earmarks of an ongoing series that continues to draw readers back to tag along on a case with Van Opperdoes, Jacob and the cast of semi-regulars hovering in-and out of the stories.

Finally, last Wednesday, SBS6 broadcasted the first of a two-part episode of Bureau Raampoort, written by Simon de Waal (of course!), and it appears that the first (?) adaptation merged several books into a new story. The actors will probably take some time getting used to, because I imagine Van Opperdoes and Jacob as Baantjer and De Waal, but I'm looking forward to part two. Here's the promo, if anyone's interested: 

I'll probably return to the classics and writing good reviews in my next post.


With Malicious Intent

"Either there was no motive at all like in those crazy kind of murders that you read about in the newspaper. Or there was a very good motive, one that makes terrific sense. And that's what keeps going around in my mind--motive."
- Lt. Columbo (Make Me a Perfect Murder, 1978)
I've noticed something inexplicable about the reviews I tagged over the years with the "Foreign Mysteries" label in that, logically, only the blog posts reviewing Dutch-language detective stories should've escaped being labeled as such, but they're categorized as foreign mysteries as well! I seem to have tagged everything that wasn't written and published in England or the United States as being from abroad. Hobby deformation, it seriously alters the mind.

Well, there's no ambiguity on whether or not the label belongs on the work of Keigo Higashino, who made his debut with a Western reading audience in 2011 with a translation of the award-winning Yogisha X no kenshin (The Devotion of Suspect X, 2005), which got a positive reception. The success was followed up with a translation of Seijo no kyusai (Salvation of a Saint, 2008) in 2012 and an English edition of Akui (Malice, 1996) was released this year.

I wanted to read Salvation of a Saint before Malice, but the synopsis of the later captured my attention: "...body is found in his office, a locked room, within his locked house, by his wife and best friend, both of whom have rock solid alibis. Or so it seems." Unfortunately, Malice is not an impossible crime story, but therefore not any less ingenious and enjoyable as it toys around with narratives and the readers' expectations – in what even the respectable looking book cover describes as "A Mystery" instead of "A Novel."

The Devotion of Suspect X and Salvation of a Saint both featured, by now, Keigo Higashino's best known series character, a professor of physics with the nickname "Detective Galileo," but Malice is from the much older Police Detective Kaga series – which began with the for now untranslated Sutsogyo (Graduation, 1986). Malice is split up in "notes" and "accounts," from Kyoichiro Kaga and Osamu Nonoguchi, regarding the violent death of a popular novelist, Kunihiko Hidaka.

Hidaka recently remarried, after being widowed, with the much younger Rie and they're about to move to Vancouver, Canada, but on the evening before their departure, while working on the conclusion of his latest story, Hidaka is murdered in his home office – rendered indefensible with a paperweight and finished off with a phone cord. The front door and door to the office were locked, however, there was an unfastened window. So, yeah, it's not a locked room mystery. Moving on: Hidaka was discovered by Rie and Nonoguichi, who was best friends with the deceased, writer of children's fiction and a former colleague of Kaga. They were briefly teachers at the same high school, before Kaga left to become a policeman and Nonoguichi began a career as a writer. The events leading up to the murder, its discovery and the meeting with Kaga were recorded by Nonoguichi, but the next chapter gives Kaga's view of the events and it puts Nonoguichi's account in a completely different light.

It's the second chapter where the fun of Malice really begins, because Kaga has grabbed the tail end of the truth, while the lion's share of it remains elusive, but, for an inverted whydunit, the story was grounded in the proper detective work of a whodunit. Essentially, Detective Kaga and Nonoguichi are locked in a cat-and-mouse game, but the narratives were meticulous picked apart by demolishing an alibi, correctly interpreting the meaning of a bright computer screen in a dark room, a single cigarette butt in the ashtray of a chain smoker and a stack of handwritten, spiral-bound manuscripts – among other such clues.

I was (somehow) reminded (perhaps by the sober policework) of a short story, entitled "The Shoe," by Chinese Golden Age mystery writer Cheng Xiaoqing, collected in Sherlock in Shanghai: Stories of Crime and Detection (2006), but with the same effect of indecisiveness on the reader as Paul Halter created in La Septième Hypothèse (The Seventh Hypothesis, 1991) by pitting two narratives against each other. What I really appreciated is how Higashino, effortlessly, can present his stories as modern crime novels with a classic bend, without compromising either, as well as exploring the new avenues offered to good plotters by modern science and technology. The Devotion of Suspect X is a particular good counter argument against the slanderous claim that contemporary police work killed the necessity for clever plots (Pfui!). What's more, I think Malice is one of a handful of whydunits I actually like. The only other I can think of is De dertien katten (The Thirteen Cats, 1963) by A.C. Baantjer. So, yes, I enjoyed Malice.

What's even more amazing is that I read a Japanese mystery novel that Ho-Ling hasn't already read in Japanese. That means we're catching up, right? 


Ghouls on Wheels

"Everything's just a game to you, something to make a story out of."
 - Sgt. Beef (Leo Bruce's Case with Four Clowns, 1939)
Last year, I read and reviewed the two sole "Jay Omega" mysteries, Bimbos of the Death Sun (1987) and Zombies of the Gene Pool (1992), written by award winning novelist Sharyn McCrumb. They are detectives stories steeped in science-fiction lore and very much off the beaten track. Fortunately, McCrumb's bibliography extends pass those two mysteries and I recently dug up one of her Elizabeth MacPherson novels – a humorous, inverted crime story by the title of Missing Susan (1991).

Rowan Rover is the bored, waspish guide of a Jack the Ripper tour and an amateur "criminologist extraordinaire," who tries to summon the ghosts of that long-gone East End London of the late 1880s for a few quid per person, but it's not enough to keep the wolves from the door. There are several ex-wives, tuition fees for his son and a smoking habit to sustain. So how could Rowan have turned down Aaron Kosminski's offer to subtly murder his cousin, Susan Cohen, during a three week murder tour in the south of England – in exchange for a nice fee, of course. Susan came into the family money and decided to retire at the age of thirty-six, which didn't garner much sympathy from either the family or Rover.

After this set-up, Missing Susan becomes a strange, but enjoyable, travelogue filled with the chatter of crime lore, detective fiction and the blood-soaked history of the English countryside.

The references to mystery-and crime fiction is perhaps what you'd expect from detective readers and amateur criminologists from the early 1990s: Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael, Jeremy Brett's interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie's disappearance and mentions of Dorothy L. Sayers, Colin Dexter and there's one tour-member who wants to buy a Reginald Hill novel that hasn’t been published in the U.S. yet. They also visit the area in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) is set and the disappointing Agatha Christie exhibit in Torre Abbey, among other historical sights, but the snippets of "True Crime" were equally interesting. The murder of William II in 1100 is discussed, Dr. Crippen receives an obligatory mention and the Constance Kent case, known best today from The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher (2008) by Kate Summerscale, function as a story-within-a-story – as MacPherson and the tour members try to piece together an alternative solution.

Meanwhile, Susan Cohen isn't making herself popular and beloved among the group, especially with her would-be-assassin, as she's an easy person to dislike: a self-absorbed, draining personality without a glimmer of self-reflection. However, it took nearly two/thirds of the book before Rover began to make serious attempts at earning his fee. The result is a comedy of errors only Rover is aware of and only the reader can appreciate.

Sharyn McCrumb
Missing Susan may come across like a snail-paced, overly chatty and fictionalized travel guide posing as a cozy mystery novel, which is a suspicion I began to harbor halfway through the story, but the ending is worth the grand tour of south England. I have read a lot of detective stories with takes on the supposedly "perfect crime," but McCrumb may very well have the best one I've yet encountered. It's delightfully ironic, beautifully understated and simply tucked away in the final pages of the book, which also has an interesting part to play for Elizabeth MacPherson – who manages to be both right and wrong about the solution at the same time.

Hell, it was infinitely better than the solution I pieced together based on Susan's expensive makeover and the outdated photograph in her passport, which gave her trouble at the airport. I assumed Susan had been "disappeared" before Kosminski approached Rover with his offer. The Susan on the murder tour had to be Kosminski’s accomplish in the murder of the real Susan, but had been convinced to take the tour in England to make it look as if Susan had disappeared abroad – while they (i.e. he) has an unshakable alibi. That would (at least) freeze the money until she was declared dead, but Kosminski wanted to kill two birds with one stone: if "Susan" dies in an unfortunate accident abroad, nobody will be looking for her body back home and he has silenced a potential danger. Rover could never put the squeeze on Kosminski, because it would be his word against his (and a confession to being a murderer).

Well, I was wrong. And my reason for jotting down my failure as an armchair detective is because this is the second mystery novel in a row that I liked, but doesn't give any room to discuss plot. It's a very talky, but fun, mystery with lots of sight seeing and crime discussions, but the ending is worth it.

P.S. the post-title is a reference from the book refering the tour group as "ghouls on wheels." They sure love their bloody history and murder stories.


Not a Case for the Police

 "The past is the father of the present."
- Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie's Hallowe'en Party, 1969)
There is something familiar about the story of a body in the proverbial library of a dreary, Victorian-era mansion and an ornamental, bloodstained dagger covered with incriminating fingerprints. It's a premise so familiar it borders on cliché, but Rupert Croft-Cooke wouldn't have been "Leo Bruce," if he hadn't found a way to sidestep the trite and tropes of the Roaring Twenties – while spoofing them at the same time, of course!

Leo Bruce's penchant for tongue-in-cheek mysteries was cemented in his debut novel, Case for Three Detectives (1936), in which caricatures of Hercule Poirot, Father Brown and Lord Peter Wimsey try to unravel a locked room murder mirroring the plotting techniques of their creators. It was, however, a village policeman, by the name of Sgt. Beef, who solved the case with dull, routine police work as opposed to the intricate, fanciful theories erupting from the amateur reasoners.

Case with No Conclusion (1939) opens with a note from the former police sergeant to his longsuffering chronicler, Mr. Lionel Townsend, announcing he's now a private investigator with quarters near Baker Street – the "Harley Street of Detection." Townsend struggles with the concept of Beef as a discreet, private-investigator, but Beef suspects Townsend's portrayal of him as a blundering, speech impaired buffoon in uniform is to blame for the lack of clients. They've zero respect for the fourth wall as commentary from Milward Kennedy and Raymond Postgate are cited, while throwing about allusions to other detectives and their famous biographers. I especially liked the part when Beef began to complain about the stiff competition: "There was that nice little case the other day, for instance, that would just have suited me. Body found in a brewer's vat. And who got the job? Nigel Strangeways, of course, Nicholas Blake's detective." Bruce will let you know you're reading a detective story!

However, there are still more than enough cases and one of them soon finds its way to Beef and Townsend: Mr. Peter Ferrers is the co-editor of a small, leftist newspaper and his brother is to stand trial for the murder of an old family friend, Dr. Benson. The doctor was found on the morning after a small party in the library, stabbed in the throat, when it was presumed he had left the previous evening. A blood smeared, ornamental dagger lays in its usual spot on the desk and the handle has Stewart's fingerprints on it like a signed confession. There was, as to be expected, a violent quarrel between both men, before the party broke up, and Stewart may've been fooling around with Benson's wife – giving the police a nice, clean-cut case to hand over to the prosecution.

Beef and Townsend come in a fortnight after the facts, and the later is immediately annoyed at the unusual methods of the former, because being forced to steal liquor from your client to test it for poison is far off the beaten track in a stabbing case. Evidently, Bruce had a lot of fun writing about Beef and his Boswellian narrator, while poking fun at the genre, but Bruce was besides a good humorist also a very decent plotter. There are clues and hints placed, here and there, while Beef seemingly blunders to a premature end of his career, but I can't delve much deeper in that – because ethics of the mystery reviewer.

I'll say this, though, the story takes dark turn when Peter Ferrers has to stand trial for the murder of Dr. Benson, but the way Bruce handled the newspaper angle and public reactions is what made Case with No Conclusion one to remember. Even the parodies from Case for Three Detectives responded to the outcome of the trial. Of course, there's final revelation, but, again, ethics. Detective stories. Reviewer. You know the story. And that is just my luck. Finally dug up a detective story that I fully enjoyed and I can't tell too much about the plot, which, of course, translates in a badly written and shaky review.  

Oh, well, I'll dig up another unapologetic, traditionally plotted mystery for the next review.


War of Shadows

"The "war to end all wars" was over, but a new one was just beginning-on the streets of America."
- The FBI and the American Gangster, 1924-38 (The FBI: A Centennial History, 1908-2008). 
During the last quarter of 2012, I reviewed the splendid Commissioner Daan Vissering trilogy by the "Crown Prince of the Lending Libraries," Cor Docter, but the incontestable "Emperor of the Neighborhood Library" in the Netherlands was the prolific Herman Nicholaas van der Voort – producing roughly twelve to sixteen novels a year. Under as many pseudonyms and publishers!

There have been approximately four hundred books and about two hundred appeared under Van der Voort's most well known and celebrated penname, "Edward Multon," which includes stories from the F.B.I.-series. So, yes, it's pretty much low-grade pulp, produced in high volume, but I couldn't help getting curious about one particular title from the series for self-explanatory reasons.

The Invisible Slayer (1963)
De onzichtbare doder (The Invisible Slayer, 1963) begins on a crowded, New York street in the early 1950s when 22-year-old Charles Booth opens fire on Inspector Alexander Haynes from Detroit. Haynes is mortally wounded, but manages to return the favor with a single shot! The last, gurgling words of Haynes' murderer are "bevel... van... mister... Lee..." ("orders of Mr. Lee"). Haynes was in New York to make inquiries in the death of a bar owner, back in Detroit, which may involve espionage and already attracted the attention of J. Edgar Hoover – who assigned his trump card to the case three days before the shooting.

Peter Finch has the personal appearance of a wise wolfhound with a wolfish grin and the Feds' trump card, but before the investigation is off the ground for the reader, there's another victim waiting in the wings of the third chapter. Mr. Howard Payne is one of the wealthiest and most influential man in the United States, but the best protection money could buy wasn't able to save Payne from an assassins' bullet – even when he was behind metal doors and steel shutters. A policeman attempting to enter Payne's upper floor office, through the window, triggers the alarm system and a steel shutter hermitically seals off the room completely. After peeling away the steel, they find Payne with a bullet hole in the chest and a note underneath him reading, "bevel van Mr. Lee."  

The murders of the Detroit homicide detective and Mr. Payne gives the public Cold War tremors, fueled by Yellow Fear, as Mr. Lee is portrayed as a sinister Chinaman leading a first wave of attacks on the West for Communist China – accompanied by illustrations evoking the image of Sax Rohmer's villainous Fu-Manchu. One illustrator even challengers Mr. Lee, by adding his own name to the list of victims, and is shot and wounded not much later. However, Finch doesn't believe Mr. Lee is Chinese and spreads counter images to see what happens. 

H.N. van der Voort (1900-1982)
It was actually one of the few clever bits in the story, but, unfortunately, everything remotely interesting evaporated within a few pages. Payne was a better fleshed out character in the two, three pages before being written off in a steel vice gripped room than some of the characters who made it to the end of the book. The locked room device itself was abandoned, having served its purpose to justify the title, and the slapdash explanation, casually tossed into a conversation, was a letdown – to say the least. Finch's handling of the Yellow Peril trope with the cartoons didn't last long either and the commentary on the pulps felt more like sniping at the readers. As if Multon was knocking his own readers for enjoying the kind of fiction he was churning out himself. The remainder of the story consists of piling up the bodies by shooting, gassing and curare poisoning in a very mundane, run-of-the-mill gangster thriller.

Sorry I tried and brought up this one. I'll be returning to the green pastures of the proper detective story for my next read and review.