Reviews by Leah A. Zeldes

The Red Symbol

by John Ironside

An exciting novel that catches you up in its action at the outset and keeps you there till the end. Set amid the Russian revolution of 1905, the story covers the experiences of Maurice Wynn, an American journalist who goes to St. Petersburg as a correspondent for a London journal after his predecessor was murdered. Just before leaving London, he gets a visit from a mysterious old Russian, who tells him that the woman he loves is in danger. Then he finds his upstairs neighbor stabbed to death, and discovers the man was mixed up in a secret Russian radical society.

After arrival in Russia, he hears a panicked call for help from a passing carriage, and realizes it's his English girlfriend, Anne, whom he had thought was in Berlin. She's been kidnapped by the revolutionaries, who say she is Anna Petrovna, an avid revolutionary, who was one of their leaders. They now believe her for a traitor who has betrayed their secrets, and they plan to kill her. Thus Wynn moves from disinterested journalist to an active participant in the fomenting terrors and violent uprisings of 19th-century Russia.

This is the sort of book you want to never end. The ending is anticlimactic and less believable than the rest, but until then it's all breathless action, with a little Russian history thrown in.

Reviewed on 2015.07.21

The Hampstead Mystery

by John R. Watson

A notable judge is found shot to death in his deserted Hampstead home when he was supposed to be vacationing in Scotland. Neither the two Scotland Yard detectives nor the private investigator hired by the victim's daughter can make much headway amid all the red herrings strewn in their paths, not least of which is their desire to outdo each other.

There's nothing really wrong with this book, but it didn't appeal to me. I thought the clues afforded the reader were too slight, and some of the writing a bit turgid.

Reviewed on 2015.07.15

On the Iron at Big Cloud

by Frank L. Packard

This book surprised me. Its subject normally doesn't interest me, but I really enjoyed these stories, because the writing is so good. I love the way Packard uses words! He writes in a colorful, conversational style that pulls you right in, and his action scenes make exciting reading.

On the strength of it, this is a collection of linked railroading stories, set in the Rockies in the days when trains were the foremost means of cross-country travel and freight, uhsteam engines ran on hand-shoveled coal, the tracks were single and precarious, washouts common, and a lantern signal might be the only means of stopping speeding locomotives from a perilous crash ... if it did.

There's a lot of historic train jargon that will no doubt mean more to rail fans than it did to me, but you don't need to understand those references to enjoy the stories. These aren't really tales about trains but about men (only a handful of women appear, and that briefly), their foibles, their relationships with each other, their work, and their heroism. Mostly these railroaders are rough and ready, strong and tough, yet extremely human, and the tales range from heartwarming to heartrending.

My favorite stories are “Spitzer” and “The Builder,” about not so tough men who find hidden strength when it's needed.

Note: Some stories include terms and stereotypes now considered ethnic slurs, but no doubt commonly used in the historic context.


List of stories:
I. “RAFFERTY'S RULE”
II. “THE LITTLE SUPER”
III. “IF A MAN DIE”
IV. “SPITZER”
V. “SHANLEY’S LUCK”
VI. “THE BUILDER”
VII. “THE GUARDIAN OF THE DEVIL’S SLIDE”
VIII. “THE BLOOD OF KINGS”
IX. “MARLEY”
X. “THE MAN WHO DIDN’T COUNT”
XI. “WHERE’S HAGGERTY?”
XII. “McQUEEN’S HOBBY”
XIII. “THE REBATE”
XIV. “SPECKLES”
XV. “MUNFORD”

Reviewed on 2015.07.07

Sanders of the River

by Edgar Wallace

A series of stories about Sanders, a British commissioner in Africa. Edgar Wallace served in Africa and he gets the background right. However, his attitudes are definitely those of his times, and while he accords the African people a much more individual and human status than many pulp writers of the era, his vision is a decidedly paternalistic one.

If you can overlook that, the stories are thoroughly enjoyable and amusing. Fans of Alexander McCall Smith should enjoy them.

Books in the series, not all available here, include:

Sanders of the River, 1911
The People of the River, 1912
Bosambo of the River, 1914
Bones, 1915
The Keepers of the King's Peace, 1917
Lieutenant Bones, 1918
Bones in London, 1921
Sandi, the King Maker, 1922
Bones of the River, 1923

Reviewed on 2015.07.07

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