Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: murder

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 offerings in mystery and suspense


Louisiana intrigue

River of Secrets: A Wallace Hartman Mystery
Roger Johns
Minotaur Books  304 pages
August 2018
Kindle $14.99    Hardback $27.99

Herbert Marioneaux, a Louisiana state legislator with a reputation for changing his mind on sensitive issues, has been murdered. DNA evidence points directly at Eddie Pitkin, a social justice activist who furthers his causes by using confrontation and social media to make powerful, wealthy people very uncomfortable with their past.

Based on a long, well-documented history of conflict between Marioneaux and Pitkin, many in the court of public opinion are quick to call for Pitkin’s conviction. Wallace Hartman, the homicide detective assigned to the investigation, is also the childhood best friend of Pitkin’s half-brother so, in the eyes of some, her objectivity is in question from the beginning.

Wallace discovers an iffy alibi witness along with evidence of a troubled relationship between Marioneaux and his son that puts a cloud of suspicion over the son. Questions about the source of the DNA evidence begin to surface, Pitkin’s supporters and enemies square off in the street, and what began as an open and shut case becomes murky and politicized, sparking waves of violence across Baton Rouge.

And, at her time of greatest need, the prospect of sabotage from an unknown leaker within the police department forces Wallace to go it alone as she digs deep into the dark heart of the political establishment to untangle a web of old, disturbing secrets.

Roger Johns is the 2018 Georgia Author of the Year (Detective ▪ Mystery Category) for his debut novel, Dark River Rising, which has also been nominated for a Killer Nashville Reader’s Choice Award.  Along with four other crime fiction writers, he co-authors the MurderBooks blog at  His website is

Book giveaway

Enter the 10-copy giveaway of River of Secrets on Goodreads at: The giveaway ends September 3.


Spine tinglers for middle schoolers

Scream and Scream Again
Mystery Writers of America
Harper Collins  416 pages
July 2018
Kindle $9.99  Hardback $12.59

A harrowing array of scary stories for middle-grade readers that all have one thing in common: each either begins or ends with a scream!

R.L. Stine, the godfather of Goosebumps, and some of the most popular authors today bring an unrivaled mastery of all things fearsome, frightening, and fantabulous to this terrifying anthology of all-new scary short stories.

Scream and Scream Again! is full of twists and turns, dark corners, and devilish revenge. Collected in conjunction with the Mystery Writers of America, this set includes works from New York Times bestselling authors telling tales of wicked ice-cream trucks, time-travelling heroes, witches and warlocks, and of course, haunted houses.

It includes twenty never-before-published scary stories from some of the most popular authors today—including Alison McMahan’s Kamikaze Iguanas.

Alison McMahan grew up in Spain.As an adult she trudged through the jungles of Honduras and Cambodia, through the favelas of Brazil and from race tracks to drag strips in the U.S. in search of footage for her documentaries. Her most recent film is Bare Hands and Wooden Limbs (2010) narrated by Sam Waterston.

Online book prices vary depending on the day you order and the bookstore or website.

Mystery flash fiction: 100-word crime story


Called flash fiction, quick fiction or nano fiction, literature in miniature has been around for decades.  Depending on the author or the editor, flash fiction can be 100 words, 250 words, 55 words, or even six words. Hemingway wrote flash fiction. Although she’s well known as a novelist, Margaret Atwood is also a flash fiction writer. I like the discipline of creating a complete story and finishing with precisely 100 words.


Here again is a crime drama in exactly 100 words.  Continue Reading →

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