Nearing Perfection
The Ken Holt Mystery Stories
Comments by R. Mark Johnson
Page 2
Book 10 - The Mystery of the Green Flame

This was one of my favorites as a kid and in some ways it still is. However I must admit that this time
around I spotted some flies in the ointment that slightly lower my opinion of Green Flame.

For starters it is hard to understand why Mr Green Flame would  mistakenly approach Ken as he did.
It is highly unlikely that shrewd criminals such as this gang, would use a car's color and body type as
the sole identifier. Furthermore, it is hard to swallow the idea that Baron would calmly drive all the way
from Miami to Laredo and attempt to make a legal crossing into Mexico. Baron robbed the bank when
he left at close of business Friday and the theft could expect to be discovered when the bank opened
Monday morning. That gave Baron just 64 hours (assuming 9-5 work days at the bank) before
presumably there would be a nationwide manhunt for him.

On 1955 roads in a 1955 car, that  would be a herculean task for one driver. My seat of the pants  
estimate is that it would take about 45 hours of actual driving to get from Miami to Laredo, allowing
for a little bad luck such as flat tires, as well as detours,  and slow traffic in and near cities (no nice 8
lane bypasses around every large city back then). Given that Baron was a bank teller and not Richard
Petty, I doubt he would be up to the task.
{My 2009 self thinks my 2001 self was wrong here. Even
granting my estimate of 45 driving hours, that seems more than do-able in a window of 64 hours.}

My next nit to pick is the very idea that Mort Phillips would hitch a ride with Ken and Sandy. It just
does not make sense. He was closely working with the Mexican police and so they could have easily
provided a car for him. Finally, I don't much like the fact that he so casually waved his gun around at
two young civilians.

This book is an oddity in that there is really no good reason for Ken and Sandy to be involved in this
case at all. Until they are taken captive on page 138 there are no compelling grounds for their actions.
There are several attempts to justify their continued involvement but none are very convincing.

Beginning with chapter 12 the pace picks up and the action is outstanding. Ken's struggle to keep the
convertible blocking the doors, the transmitter Sandy rigs up, and the bricks versus bullets battle, are
all nicely done and among the most memorable of the series. Gosset is perhaps the best villain of all
the books. More on that later. Green Flame may stand alone as being the only series book where the
heros turned their prison into a fortress.

For the odd file, on page 4 the word "stanch" is misused in place of "staunch" for at least the second
time in the series.

My complaints aside, Green Flame is a vast improvement over the previous book and as read by a 12
year old, it makes perfect sense and is quite an adventure. While it now ranks a bit lower then I
thought it would, it is still filled with many great scenes and memories.

01. Marked Claw
02. Stone Elephant
03. Hangman's Inn
04. Skeleton Island
05. Phantom Car
06. Coiled Cobra
07. Black Thumb
08. Green Flame
09. Iron Box
10. Galloping Horse

R. Mark  Johnson
April 25, 2001

Book 11 - The Mystery of the Grinning Tiger

Certain books "feel" different than others. I don't know if that is just because of your mood when you
read them (especially the first time) or if perhaps there is a deeper reason. I think it is possible for a
reader who is very familiar with a particular author, to pick up subtle differences in style. Authors
have moods and bad days like everyone else and thus it seems not unlikely that there is evidence of
same in their writing.

Ken Holt #11 is such a book for me. While the Holt series is what might be called "lit noir", Grinning
Tiger is even more so than usual. It has an edginess that flows through the entire book. A sense of
unease that never quite dissipates.

One obvious reason for this is that a young child's life is at stake. It is common in series books for
someone to be captured by the bad guys, but this usually only lasts a chapter or two, and generally is
either an adult or near-adult. Here, not only does the captivity last virtually the entire book, but a
young boy is the victim.

This title breaks some new ground as Ken and Sandy are given an assignment to cover an event for
Global News. Although they were chosen due to odd circumstances, it is still the first (and maybe
only?) time they worked directly for Global.

Richard Holt is almost unsufferable in Chapter 3 as he "refutes" Ken's theory. He actually didn't refute
squat, rather he constructed a competing theory that was even more unlikely than Ken's. This is an
aspect of the Holt series that I have always disliked. Ken and Sandy are routinely ridiculed and
patronized by people who should know better. In this case Richard Holt's response should have been
more along the lines of: "Okay you may be right but let's go slow until we have some more
corroborative evidence." Instead he treats his son as though Ken was an over-imaginative 8 year-old.

The scene with Timothy Crandall using a mirror to see Ken and Sandy is not very believable. You try it
some time. Take a small mirror, attach it to a stick (no you don't have to use chewing gum!), go stand
at a third story window that is well above your head, and then see how much detail you can make out
on the ground below. At night. Good luck.

The ending is fairly good, although in retrospect this really seems to be the gang that couldn't shoot
straight. They did great at pulling off the kidnapping but otherwise were long on clever and short on

This is one of the Winter Holts and so makes for good reading beside a fire-place. This book takes
place mainly in and around New York City and Long Island. Brentwood does not appear, nor do any of
the Allens except of course Sandy.

Some elements of this book are great but most are so-so. It goes into the lower tier of the series for

01. Marked Claw
02. Stone Elephant
03. Hangman's Inn
04. Skeleton Island
05. Phantom Car
06. Coiled Cobra
07. Black Thumb
08. Green Flame
09. Iron Box
10. Grinning Tiger
11. Galloping Horse

R. Mark Johnson
July 4, 2001