Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: Reviews of mystery/suspense books

Have you read Lawrence Sanders’ McNally books?


Review: McNally’s Caper  

Mystery and PI novels often feature clever, sympathetic detectives, people you like or at least respect. McNally’s Caper doesn’t. Unless Inspector Clouseau is your idea of a stylish sleuth.

These are harsh words from someone who has never read any other books by this Edgar-winning, million-selling, near-legendary author. Sanders became famous in 1970 with The Anderson Tapes, a crime novel quickly adapted to film. Before his death in 1998 he’d written more than two dozen crime and mystery novels including The First Deadly Sin.

Published in 1994, McNally’s Caper is one of seven books in the McNally series written by Sanders. Another author continued the series after Sanders’ death. The book stars Archy McNally, son of a wealthy Palm Beach, Fla., attorney. Archy dabbles in detection while he pampers himself with the good life in the Florida sun. There’s nothing wrong with dabbling. Many accomplished amateur detectives were dabblers. Jane Marple dabbled. Archy, however, is a different sort.

The book is written in first person so Archy runs the show, and show off he does. Okay, maybe the comparison to Inspector Clouseau is unfair. Archy is not a bumbling fool but a spoiled, smug, part-time PI. He spends an inordinate amount of time describing items in his colorful wardrobe—such as a peony-patterned sport jacket—and the gourmet meals his father’s chef serves up. (Thirtyish Archy lives at home with his parents.)

Archy suffers no inferiority complex, something he demonstrates repeatedly, and his personality so dominates the narrative that the mystery becomes secondary to the protagonist’s preening and his dashing about South Florida from his club to the crime scene and back again, dressed in an ever-changing palette. 

Archy’s style is difficult to separate from the author’s. Halfway through the book I realized exactly what bothered me. I was reminded of an admonition by Strunk and White in the classic writing manual, The Elements of Style.  Reminder #9 Do Not Affect a Breezy Manner:

The breezy style is often the work of an egocentric, the person who imagines that everything that comes to mind is of general interest and that uninhibited prose creates high spirits and carries the day.

That’s a description of Archy’s chronicle. I could only see him as a self-indulgent, foppish ne’er-do-well. Now possibly Sanders was having us on, and he intentionally created a self-indulgent, foppish ne’er-do-well. If so, McNally is a coherent character.  But he’s also insufferable.

Occasionally speaking directly to the reader is a part of Archy’s persona. 

To refresh your muzzy memory [Fern Bancroft] was the twitchy maid who had discovered the half-strangled Sylvia Forsythe…. Do try to pay attention; I hope no more reminders will be necessary.

Inexplicably, women can’t seem to stay away from him.  He beds a few attractive young ladies (one of whom was a suspect in the murder case) while making grandiose pledges of fidelity to his girlfriend Connie.

The plot of this McNally adventure is competently, if predictably, constructed. Archy is summoned by Griswold Forsythe II, a client of Archy’s father, to investigate the disappearance of various valuables from the Forsythe castle-like mansion. Forsythe II suspects someone in the household, servant or family member. The fun-house Forsythes are appropriately dysfunctional as are some of the staff.  When Forsythe II is murdered, his son, Forsythe III, the housekeeper, and a suspicious stable hand are among the suspects.

The denouement is logical and more or less satisfying but hardly worth the journey.

If you have a different opinion of Archy and his hijinks-laden exploits, please let me know.

New in mystery and suspense; holiday gift suggestions


Books are thoughtful holiday gifts.  Click on the book covers for buying options.   Prices on books in all formats are subject to change at the discretion of the store or website where they are purchased.

Martini Shot (An Eddie Collins Mystery Book 4)
Clive Rosengren
Coffeetown Press  November 2018
204 pages
Kindle $2.99   Trade paperback $13.99

Eddie Collins, private eye and part-time Hollywood actor, is hired by ageing actor, Sam Roth, to locate his disowned son, Jack Callahan. Roth hopes to reconcile their relationship before his “Martini Shot” last scene of the day, as he is in his 90s.

While working the Roth case, Eddie receives a letter from his daughter’s adoptive parents, that she would like to meet him and find out more about her mom. In spite of his uncertainty, Eddie agrees to meet her. What will this relationship lead to in the future and what will all parties make of it? Only time will tell.

Eddie locates Callahan, leading to a father and son meeting. However, he later gets a call from Roth, informing him that his son has been found, bludgeoned to death. Sam asks Eddie to find out what has happened to Jack. Eddie investigates Jack’s life, hoping to find clues to the murder. Little does he know that upon discovering the murderer, his own life will hang in the balance.

This is the fourth in the Eddie Collins series.  It is preceded by Murder Unscripted, Red Desert and Velvet on a Tuesday Afternoon.

* * *

Clive Rosengren is a recovering actor. His career spanned more than forty years, eighteen of them pounding many of the same streets as his fictional sleuth Eddie Collins. He appeared on stages at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, the Guthrie Theater, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, among others. Movie credits include Ed Wood, Soapdish, Cobb, and Bugsy. Among numerous television credits are Seinfeld, Home Improvement, and Cheers, where he played the only person to throw Sam Malone out of his own bar. He lives in southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley, safe and secure from the hurly-burly of Hollywood.  The first two books in the series were finalists for the Shamus Awards, sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America.


The Reversible Mask, an Elizabethan Spy Novel
Loretta Goldberg
Made Global Publishing   December 2018

449 pages
Kindle $4.99   Trade paperback $19.84

Summer 1566. A glittering royal progress approaches Oxford. A golden age of prosperity, scientific advances, exploration and artistic magnificence. Elizabeth I’s Protestant government has much to celebrate.

But one young Catholic courtier isn’t cheering.

Conflicting passions—patriotism and religion—wage war in his heart. On this day, religion wins. Sir Edward Latham throws away his title, kin, and country to serve Catholic monarchs abroad.

But his wandering doesn’t quiet his soul, and when Europe’s religious wars threaten his beloved England and his family, patriotism prevails. Latham switches sides and becomes a double agent for Queen Elizabeth. Life turns complicated and dangerous as he balances protecting country and queen, while entreating both sides for peace.

Intrigue, lust, and war combine in this debut historical novel.

* * *

An Australian-American, Loretta Goldberg earned a BA in English literature, musicology and history at the University of Melbourne. After teaching English for a year, she came to the US on a Fulbright scholarship to study piano. She earned an MA in music performance at Hunter College, New York.  She built a financial services practice, which she sold recently to focus on writing. She’s written articles on financial planning, arts reviews and political satire.


The Blue
Nancy Bilyeau
Endeavour Quill
430 pages
Kindle $3.99    Trade paperback  $15.58

In eighteenth century London, porcelain is the most seductive of commodities. Fortunes are made and lost upon it. Kings do battle with knights and knaves for possession of the finest pieces and the secrets of their manufacture.

For Genevieve Planché, an English-born descendant of Huguenot refugees, porcelain holds far less allure; she wants to be an artist, a painter of international repute, but nobody takes the idea of a female artist seriously in London. If only she could reach Venice.

When Genevieve meets the charming Sir Gabriel Courtenay, he offers her an opportunity she can’t refuse; if she learns the secrets of porcelain manufacture, he will send her to Venice. But in particular, she must learn the secrets of the colour blue.

The ensuing events take Genevieve deep into England’s emerging industrial heartlands, where not only does she learn about porcelain, but also about the art of industrial espionage.

She also learns much about love.

With the heart and spirit of her Huguenot ancestors, Genevieve faces her challenges head on, but how much is she willing to suffer in pursuit and protection of the colour blue?

* * *

Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyleDuJourRolling StoneEntertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. She is currently the deputy editor of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at City University of New York and a regular contributor to Town & CountryPurist, and The Vintage News.

She earned a BA at the University of Michigan. The Crown, her  first novel and an Oprah pick, was published in 2012; the sequel, The Chalice, followed in 2013 and the third in the trilogy, The Tapestry, was published in 2015. This is her fourth novel.


Avoid the shadows when night falls

David Goodis
170 pages
Black Curtain Press  1947
$8.49 paperback    Kindle $  .99

James Vanning is lonely, depressed, afraid and plagued by insomnia.  In other words he’s a classic protagonist in a noir novel.

The commercial artist and World War II vet is on the run from the police and a gang of bank robbers.  He’s holed up in a small New York City apartment selling his work to ad agencies to get by and feeling sorry for himself.  As an average guy entangled in a seemingly unexplainable criminal morass, he could be a character in a Cornell Woolrich novel.  Instead he’s the creation of another respected noir author, David Goodis, noted for his mystery, Dark Passage, that became a Bogart and Bacall movie.

In Nightfall, published in 1947, Goodis imperils Vanning without letting the reader know too many details.  Except for one thing: he’s killed someone, or is convinced he did. And, he’s scared.

 “He wanted to go out.  He was afraid to go out.  And he realized that.  The realization brought on more fright.”

A few sentences later a Woolrich-style premonition: “…something was going to happen tonight.”

Vanning knows that the story of the killing, as he remembers it, is so preposterous no cop or DA would believe him. We learn bits and pieces: A Seattle bank was robbed of $300,000.  One of the gang responsible for the robbery was murdered. The money disappeared.

The story unfolds through chapters of alternating points of view, that of Vanning and of Fraser, the NYC police detective following him.  Married with three children, Fraser (we never learn his first name) has been shadowing Vanning for months and thinks he knows nearly all aspects of the artist’s solitary life.  But he worries the case may be his undoing.  His superiors are calling for an arrest and return of the money.  And Fraser has doubts.

Despite overwhelming evidence against Vanning, Fraser thinks he might be innocent.  “With what they have on him already,” Fraser tells his wife, “they can put him on trial and it’s a hundred to one he’d get a death sentence.

“They’ve got witnesses, they’ve got fingerprints,” Fraser says, “they’ve got a ton of logical deduction that puts him dead center.  And what I’ve got is a mental block.”

Vanning’s faring no better.  His memory is full of holes.  He knows Continue Reading →

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