Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Cipher by Nick Slosser

CreateSpace, 422 pages, $14.99

When Nick Slosser and I worked together at Murder by the Book in Portland, his preferred reading material was very hard-boiled and noir. I was surprised to read a very early draft of this book and see that it was an old-fashioned mystery. Now that I have read the final work, I can say that there are no drug cartels, piles of dead bodies, swear words, or heavy violence. In fact, one of the two scenes of violence is funny and polite. The other scene is incredibly brief, no hanging of lurid description upon lurid description.

In 1955 Portland, Oregon, Professor Leland Truffault and his assistant, Jo Johnson, are minding their academic business in linguistics and mathematics when, in the best amateur detective fashion, their peculiar talents are required by the Portland police to solve a murder.

Della Van Croft, gossip maven and society wannabe, was poisoned at her own wine tasting party. Each of the five guests brought a bottle of wine, which was then disguised and assigned a color code for a blind tasting. Van Croft died from arsenic introduced into one of the wines. One of the puzzles for Leland and Jo to solve is which bottle had it and who brought it. Unfortunately, the efficient maid has cleaned up the evidence. Only logic can provide the answer now.

Initially, however, Leland was brought in to unravel a ciphered message found clutched in Van Croft’s hand. The captain of police is an old mentor from World War II, the colonel to Leland’s cryptologist at Bletchley. Because of Leland’s experiences during the war, he is hesitant to become involved in what may contribute to the punishment of a fellow human. The war had a profound effect on the people who lived through it, and Nick provides moving examples throughout his book.

During the investigation the academic duo meet a smarmy restauranteur, a society wild child, an heiress and her husband, and a nosy neighbor. And who was the mysterious man who crashed the wine tasting? All the known guests claimed not to have recognized him.

Nick has created a clever mystery, with a fair-play plot and charming main characters. I hope you believe me when I say that I’m not inflating this review for the sake of a friendship. Nick showed his talent in the short stories he wrote while he was at the bookstore, and it was a pleasure to receive his long-awaited novel and find out it was worthy of his talent.

You can purchase a copy of his book through one of these ways:

Nick is now a private investigator in Portland and, I hope, working on his next novel In the Leland/Jo series.

Of course, here’s an MBTB star!


  1. Barbara, I've been meaning to tell you how much I've enjoyed your book reviews -- keep them coming! Dave and I both miss you and it was such a wonderful surprise to see this review about Nick's book. We are so proud of him and have already ordered a copy through Amazon.
    Donna and David

  2. I miss the bookstore and seeing all the friends I made over the years. Best to you two!