Avalanche Express by Colin Forbes

This is a review of Avalanche Express.

This is a cold war escape story of a high-ranking member of the Politburo of the Soviet Union who defects in Romania and is flown to Milan, just before the airport is closed by a severe snowstorm blanketing Northern Europe. He and his Western handlers have to catch the express train from Milan to Amsterdam as Schiphol airport is the only airport open.

The train goes via Lugano, the Gotthard Tunnel, Zurich, Basel, and Karlsruhe into Belgium. There are numerous attempts at assassination by the KGB and GRU all of which are unsuccessful due to the planning of the western intelligence services though there are some narrow escapes including from the avalanche set off on the Wasserhorn by Soviet agents.

Murder on the Mauretania by Edward Marston

This book is written by Edward Marston who writes the Railway Detective series. The style of writing is very similar, plenty of dialogue driving the plot strongly forwards like the engines of the Mauretania as it powers across the Atlantic Ocean in the November weather.

I enjoyed the book immensely and will read another in this series, probably the one set on the Lusitania

George Porter Dillman and Genevieve Masefield are the detectives on the Mauretania as it heads from Liverpool via Queenstown to New York. The ship is carrying gold bullion and quite a few would-be thieves of differing professionalism, including one who steals silver. Dillman spots this thief almost at once, however the thief disappears and has to be searched for. Two Welsh ex-miners decide to break into the strongroom where the gold is kept only to find some cleverer thieves got there ahead of them.

Bobo the ship’s black cat also plays a significant role in apprehending the bullion thieves and this is a pleasant distraction from the serious business of murder on the high seas. There are well developed characters including Genevieve’s circle of friends, a courtesan who is pretending to be a loving wife, and a investigative reporter determined to show that the Cunard company is exploiting the members of the crew of the Mauretania.

Because of the Cats by Nicolas Freeling

This Van der Walk book grew on me as the story progressed.

Initially, the story didn’t grab me as the police appeared to know who the culprits were very quickly, but it was the reasons why the culprits acted in the way they did that was the fascinating part of the story.

Van der Valk is an interesting character, not a conventional policeman who befriends whores and has the mother of one of the suspects throwing herself at him as she needs ‘consoling’.

The action all takes place in the town of Bloemendaal aan Zee a pleasant place of modern buildings, high incomes, and little crime. That is until some terrifying robberies occur where the victim’s homes are turned upside down in a frenzy of mindless violence. This is when Van der Valk is called in from nearby Amsterdam to solve the case.

The Island of Sheep by John Buchan

Written in 1936, this is a lovely story about rich males who seem able to drop their jobs / business dealings to support the son of a friend who is being threatened by unscrupulous types.

Richard Hannay and Sandy Clanroyden have both featured in other stories by John Buchan. Here they’re helping a friend called Lombard who is trying to ensure the son of a deceased friend called Haraldsen from Scandinavia stays out of the hands of some swindlers. These people want money from Haraldsen because of an ‘agreement’ Haraldsen’s father had with men called Barralty, Troth, and Albinus. These three aren’t really criminal types but they’re joined by D’Ingraville, Martel, and Carreras who definitely are.

The action zooms along from the Cotswolds, to the Scottish Borders, and eventually to the fictional Island of Sheep in the Norlands which seems to be part of Denmark. Here the denouement occurs and not all the characters survive.

There’s plenty of hunting, shooting, and especially fishing talk. Hannay’s son Peter John and Haraldsen’s daughter Anna are central to the plot and eventually become firm friends in a brother and sister type of relationship.

A Pocket Full of Rye

Rex Fortescue, Adele Fortescue, and Gladys Martin all die within a few hours. Rex was poisoned by Taxine, a poisonous constituent of yew plants, Adele was poisoned by potassium cyanide, and Gladys was strangled.

Whodunit?

Miss Marple arrives at Yewtree Lodge, the home of the Fortescues where Gladys was a maid, about 2/5ths of the way through the book. Miss Marple gave instruction to Gladys about how to become a servant and not unnaturally was distressed when she read of Gladys’s death.

Inspector Neele is already on the case from Scotland Yard and is well on his way to solving the case, but Miss Marple gives him a nudge in the right direction at the appropriate time.

Of course, very few of the characters are being completely honest and in order to solve this you have to think the worst of people.

Rex Fortescue has two sons and a daughter. The two sons are away, one called Percival is returning from a business trip to the north of England and the other is returning from East Africa with his wife. Percival lives with his wife at Yewtree Lodge. The daughter, Elaine, lives at Yewtree Lodge and her fiance is staying at a nearby hotel.

Adele Fortescue is Rex Fortescue’s second wife and is thirty years younger than him. She has a lover who is staying in a nearby hotel. The sister of Rex Fortescue’s first wife also lives at Yewtree Lodge.

There is also Mary Dove, the housekeeper, who appears too efficient to be true, plus Mr and Mrs Crump the buttler and cook.

Rex Fortescue is found to have a pocket full of rye, Adele Fortescue was eating bread and honey when she died, and Gladys was gathering in the washing, all of which is in keeping with the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence.

There is also the mysterious Blackbird Mine in Africa. Rex Fortescue allegedly murdered a business partner called MacKenzie in a dispute about the mine. Mrs MacKenzie is in a nursing home close by but all trace has been lost of her two children, one male and one female. Where could they be?

Whodunit?

Inspector Singh Investigates – Number 6

Book Number 6 in the Inspector Singh series is called A Calamitous Chinese Killing. It is an enjoyable tale of a Singaporean policeman investigating the murder of a Singapore student in Beijing. The student was the son of an eminent diplomat at the Singapore embassy in the Chinese capital. This diplomat asks for Singh to investigate and so the larger-than-life inspector is thrust into a world he’s not familiar with once again.

Luckily, Singh obtains a great local sidekick called Li Jun, a former policeman who is able to translate for Singh and explain the nuances of Chinese society.

No part of Chinese society remains untouched by this story, including the treatment of Falun Gong members who are re-educated and also become unwilling participants in the organ donor business. This part is described in quite graphic detail.

Most of the characters are either killed, arrested, or scarred for life by events in the book. But at least the bad guys get their comeuppance.

Inspector Singh is a good, well-written character, who has weaknesses as well as an iron determination to find out the truth and a fearless disregard for people in positions of power, even if those people can threaten him with an unsavoury end.

The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth


The Odessa File was the bestseller written after The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth.

In the book, Odessa are an organisation formed to protect ex-SS members and to try to implement a final solution of their own via a rocket attack on Israel. The book is set in late 1963 and 1964 and involves some real-life people including The Butcher of Riga Eduard Roschmann and the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.

The suicide of an elderly German Jew in Hamburg leads to a journalist, Peter Miller, being given a diary by a police contact. Miller reads the book and is determined to find Roschmann, although the real reason for his interest is only revealed late in the book. Miller has a voluptuous girlfriend and a sports car he adores, which is almost the downfall of him. Miller races around Germany, flies to London, and visits Vienna in pursuit of leads to discovering where Roschmann is. He succeeds in finding Roschmann, but the ending is a surprise.

Interestingly, Wiesenthal helped Forsyth with his research in order to force the real-life Roschmann out into the open. Sure enough, the publicity worked and Roschmann was eventually identified and denounced by a man who had just watched The Odessa File at the cinema.

The Fox by DH Lawrence

The DH Lawrence novella about two girls, Banford and March, whose existence is terminally interrupted by the arrival of a soldier, whose grandfather lived on the farm that the girls are working five years previously before WWI began.

Banford and March had taken the farm together intending to work it all by themselves. Banford is small, thin, and delicate but is the principal investor in the farm. March is stronger and more robust and has carpentry and joinery skills.

Prior to the soldier arriving, March has the chance to shoot a fox that’s eating their fowl, but she hasn’t the nerve to pull the trigger. When the soldier arrives, he has a powerful effect on March, provoking a stirring of dormant desire…

The Schirmer Inheritance by Eric Ambler

A book I didn’t want to end as for me there are many questions left unanswered about the characters, but I can’t say what those questions are otherwise I will give away the ending.

However, the ending is satisfying and does close the main story of this book, which leads from early 19th-Century Eastern Europe to the USA of the early post-WWII years and then back across to the European continent. George Carey, the lawyer, and Maria Kolin, the interpreter, head towards The Balkans in search of a man who may be entitled to inherit a lot of money, should he prove to be alive. This proof is very hard to find, but eventually leads to a conclusion in the rather wild and lawless country in the border between Greece and Yugoslavia.

The Schirmer Inheritance by Eric Ambler

A book I didn’t want to end as for me there are many questions left unanswered about the characters, but I can’t say what those questions are otherwise I will give away the ending.

However, the ending is satisfying and does close the main story of this book, which leads from early 19th-Century Eastern Europe to the USA of the early post-WWII years and then back across to the European continent. George Carey, the lawyer, and Maria Kolin, the interpreter, head towards The Balkans in search of a man who may be entitled to inherit a lot of money, should he prove to be alive. This proof is very hard to find, but eventually leads to a conclusion in the rather wild and lawless country in the border between Greece and Yugoslavia.