Vultures in the Sky (1935) by Todd Downing

Vultures in the Sky by Todd Downing

8 Stars (8/10 stars)

“What began as a pleasure or business trip for most of us has turned unfortunately into an unpleasant and serious affair. I think the time has come for all of us to put aside our circumlocutions and acknowledge openly the fact that one of us in this car is a murderer.”

All of the passengers on the train to Mexico City are on edge. Maybe it’s the heat, or the vultures, or the railroad strike that has left their train the last one on the tracks. Treasury agent Hugh Rennert’s unease begins when he is approached by another traveler who overheard a strange conversation on the platform: “I’ll get off with you at Monterrey and you can get the money. If you don’t, I’ll blast the train on this trip […] Earrings and cuffs. Don’t forget the special edition.”

Then a tunnel plunges the train car into darkness. When they emerge into the light, one of the passengers lies dead. Continue reading “Vultures in the Sky (1935) by Todd Downing”

The Cat Screams (1934) by Todd Downing

Archie with The Cat Screams

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“There is something evil in too much beauty…”

Americans are dying in Taxco, Mexico. The expat community of this charming artists’ retreat has been rocked by a series of suicides and unexplained deaths. Tourism is down, thanks to a scaremongering article in “a smart New York weekly,” but Hugh Rennert sees no reason to avoid his favorite vacation spot.

On the trip down, he discusses the magazine article with a fellow train passenger, an agitated young man named Stephen Riddle. The article also speculates about Broadway actress Gwendolyn Noon, who abruptly retired from the stage to marry a wealthy man. Then, just as abruptly, she moved to Taxco—the engagement seems to be off. The author, Donald Shaul, hints darkly about Gwendolyn’s life in Mexico. No points for guessing that Riddle is Gwendolyn’s fiancé, journeying south to investigate her exile.

Madame Fournier’s pension is the best in Taxco, so it’s only natural that Rennert, Riddle, Shaul, and Gwendolyn are all among her guests. It’s also quite natural for Riddle and Shaul to argue over the muckraking article. Riddle punches the writer, knocking him out. Later that night, Shaul is found dead in bed, having never woken up. The doctor is surprised; the head injury did not seem serious enough to kill him (even though he was unconscious for hours!) Rennert is more than surprised: he’s suspicious.

Then a second death takes place at the pension, and Rennert find himself under quarantine with a killer.

Continue reading “The Cat Screams (1934) by Todd Downing”

Murder on Tour (1933) by Todd Downing

Todd Downing Murder on Tour Cover

5 Stars (5/10 stars)

Their last day in Mexico City. Day after tomorrow they would cross the border. Inspector Miles would be there waiting for them, with handcuffs. He must then point to one of these people with whom he had been associated for the past few days and say: ‘This person is guilty.’ There must be no doubt, no lack of proof.

And who was this person?

The life of a U.S. Customs agent can be hazardous, but John Payne never expected to be strangled to death with a silk stocking in his hotel room. Payne was on the trail of a smuggler believed to be traveling between Mexico and the United States as a member of an ordinary tour group. Now, Agent Hugh Rennert must join the tour undercover to solve the crime.

Continue reading “Murder on Tour (1933) by Todd Downing”