Reviewed by MIKE TOONEY:

(Give Me That) OLD-TIME DETECTION. Spring 2019. Issue #50. Editor: Arthur Vidro. Old-Time Detection Special Interest Group of American Mensa, Ltd. 41 pages (including covers). Cover image: Christianna Brand.

THE LATEST ISSUE of Old-Time Detection focuses primarily on an icon of Golden Age detective fiction, Christianna Brand (1907-88), whose work, with its emphasis on plot, seems emblematic of the era. As many mystery fans know, Brand was responsible for one of the best mystery novels of all time, Green for Danger (1944), which was made into one of the most highly regarded detective movies; not many mystery fans know, however, the extent of her involvement in the film’s production, but they’ll find it in this edition of OTD. Fans will also find out more about the origin of Brand’s series character, Inspector Cockrill, and why he appeared in only a limited number of her mysteries.

   A bonus is the first publication of one of her short stories in its unabridged form, “Cyanide in the Sun” (1958), an ingenious whodunit solved by the most amateurish amateur detective we’ve yet encountered.

   Knowledgable introductions to Christianna Brand by Francis M. Nevins and to her story by Tony Medawar are nicely supplemented by both the transcript of a 1978 taped interview she gave to Allen J. Hubin, and Arthur Vidro’s reproductions of letters Brand wrote to an American fan.

   Toss in Dr. John Curran’s “Christie Corner” (“I am not going to waste words discussing this abomination . . .”); Michael Dirda’s incisive review of Conan Doyle for the Defense; Charles Shibuk’s evaluation of Golden Age of Detection (GAD) paperback reprints; Trudi Harrov’s concise reviews of several GAD classics; and you’ve got another winner by our estimable publisher/editor Arthur Vidro.

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Arthur Vidro, editor
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  DONALD WOLLHEIM, Editor, with Arthur W. Saha – The 1989 Annual World’s Best SF. Daw #783, paperback original; 1st printing, June 1989. Cover art by Jim Burns.

#9. B. W. CLOUGH “Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog.” Short story. First appeared in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, June 1988.

   This was Brenda Clough’s first published story, and it’s a good one. Most of her work since then has been fantasy, but even though it’s told in the style of an rural fantasy, this one’s definitely science fiction.

   It’s about the owner of a comic book store — one who also carries other popular culture memorabilia, as most owners of comic book stores have to do in order to survive — and he’s realizes that he’s found a pot of gold when he begins to get repeat orders, many times over, for the aforementioned memorabilia.

   Not comic books, but X-Men bumper stickers, fuzzy dice, lawn trolls, iron-on decals of Disney characters, commemorative liquor bottles, Deely-Bobbers, and anything at all associated with Elvis, including plush floppy-eared dogs that you could wind up to play … you guessed it.

   Thinking that his new patron– who pays only in cash, brand new twenty-dollar bills — must be a reclusive millionaire, and having never met a reclusive millionaire before — makes the trek out to the wildest part of West Virginia mountain country to pay him a visit.

   What he finds there is the crux of the story, and obviously I dare not tell you. I think I’d react differently than does the teller of this story, but on the other hand, maybe just maybe he’s on to something.


Previously from the Wollheim anthology: FREDERIK POHL “Waiting for the Olympians.”

The Time Jumpers are a western swing band that’s been around for over 20 years now, and I’ve just caught up with them. They’ve gotten several Grammy nominations and one win. This song was one that was nominated but didn’t win. Nonetheless, I thought it a perfect song for a late Saturday night.


DOUGLAS PRESTON & LINCOLN CHILD – The Last Island. Gideon Crew #3. Grand Central, hardcover, August 2014; paperback, March 2015.

   Preston and Child are the mega-selling authors of the popular Pendergast series about an eccentric Sherlockian FBI agent in wildly over the top thrillers (ironically the only film based on a Pendergast novel, Relic, left him out) who have a legion of fans including me. They have also written numerous standalone novels together and separately, thrillers with more than a touch of horror and/or science fiction, and more recently ventured out into yet another series featuring former master thief and nuclear physicist Gideon Crew who, as the series opens, has been presented with a death sentence, a rare deformity in his brain that will kill him in two years.

   Approached by Eli Glinn, the wheelchair bound CEO of Effective Engineering Solutions (EES) (who debuted in The Ice Limit, a standalone novel in which Glinn was crippled after recovering a strange meteorite that turned out to be something else entirely), Crew is offered a rare chance for adventure and for reasons of his own, teams up with Glinn and Glinn’s number top operations man Manuel Garza.

   The first two books in the series sold well, but didn’t light any fires, but with The Lost Island, the third book in the five book series, the boys found their voice with their new protagonist, who even with this criminal history and fatal brain deformity is far more normal than Pendergast or his Watson NYC cop Lt. Vincent D’Acosta.

   Lost Island opens with Crew summoned by Glinn almost as soon as the last adventure ends to a rare tour featuring the Book of Kells, and with an assignment to steal a page from that rare book, a particular page know as the Chi Ro page. About the first third of the book is taken up with Crew’s plan to steal the almost impossible to access page from the Morgan Library (Preston worked at the Museum of Natural History and has more than a passing understanding of museum’s in general), where Ireland’s national treasure is on display.

   The details of the heist are interesting, if not particularly riveting, but things get considerably more so when Glinn, once in possession of the page, proceeds to bleach the intricate and priceless designs from the vellum.

   Under the vellum (which plays more of a role later in the book when we discover what it is made from) is an ancient Greek map once found in an Irish monastery where the monks lived to unusual age and were healed of terrible injuries and deformities, apparently by something brought back by the ancient Greeks and rediscovered by the monks that can heal.

   Glinn hopes to heal himself, and offers the same hope to Crew, as well as a promise to use the healing element to help mankind.

   Using experts and EES powerful computers and testing facilities, they determine the island where the healing power comes from is somewhere in the Caribbean and dispatch Crew in a state of the art yacht along with Amy (Amiko) a half Japanese licensed ship’s captain with doctorates in sociology and language.

   Of course Crew and Amy can’t stand each other but have to pretend to be husband and wife to avoid being spotted as treasure hunters, and of course right off the bat they are nailed as treasure hunters by a sadistic pair of the same and involved in a running battle that leaves them shipwrecked near one of the map’s markers.

   And it is here where the book takes off into Clive Cussler/James Rollins country as Amy makes a wild, but correct, leap of logic as to the origin of the map, and they find themselves mixing with dangerous natives on an unexplored island and prisoner of a virtually immortal and tragic hominid straight out of Greek mythology.

   To be fair, I found almost all a bit too slick and simple, as if it was being tossed off rather than truly integrated as in the best of these books. I didn’t buy into it even for the brief length of the novel, and I never felt Preston and Child did either, a problem I noted with the first two Crew books.

   The finale finds Gideon and Amy trying to save the hominid from an obsessed Glinn as the entire island goes up in flames.

   The Gideon Crew series recently ended with book five, The Pharaoh Key (2018), leaving Crew with only a few weeks to live and his fate up in the air, and truthfully I’m not surprised. While the books are entertaining, and like the Pendergast books weave in and out of the various worlds created by the pair in their other books in a shared universe, the central character Gideon Crew just never really clicks. He’s not as eccentric, brilliant, or driven as Pendergast, and since the five books take place in a two year period there isn’t much time for him to be much of a romantic brooder.

   His history is far more interesting than the man himself.

   He doesn’t seem particularly bothered by his doom, and it bothers him physically even less than Ben Gazzara’s similar disease impaired his adventures in the days of Run For Your Life. He references his condition at the beginning and end of every book and once or twice along the way, but honestly he might as well be suffering a bad sinus infection.

   The books are slickly written, well researched, and entertaining, but no real competition for Pendergast much less Cussler and Rollins, despite the fact Preston and Child have written some of the best adventure thrillers of the last couple of decades.

   Of note though for any fans of the team’s standalone novel The Ice Limit (2000), which ended with an unintended cliffhanger, the boys finally tie the loose ends they didn’t think they left up in the fourth Gideon Crew adventure Beyond the Ice Limit (2016), which is a rarity, a series book tying up the plot line of a non-series book that wasn’t supposed to have needed a sequel in the first place, a bit as if Conan Doyle had chosen for Holmes or Challenger to tie up events in Sir Nigel.

   Fans of The Ice Limit, of which I am one, will always appreciate Gideon Crew if only for that.

ROBERT KYLE – Some Like It Cool. Ben Gates #4. Dell First Edition 8100, paperback original; 1st printing, August 1962. Cover art by Robert McGinnis.

   Ben Gates is your one of your typical hard-drinking 1960s PIs with an eye both eyes open for a good-looking woman, even those who might be considered a suspect in whatever case he might be working on at the time. Robert Kyle, the author of the five books he appeared in (Robert Terrall, in the real world) does a nice turn of phrase every once in a while, but this particular case is no more than extraordinarily ordinary.

   That’s probably the fault of the plot, which has to do with a bill pending before the New York State legislature designed to create Off Track Betting. The anti-gambling crowd is against it and so, of course, are the bookies whose jobs would largely be eliminated if the bill were to go through.

   An author of the likes of a Hammett or Chandler might have been able to make this interesting, but Kyle/Terrall was never of those two gentlemen’s caliber, not even with millions of dollars being offered around to make this legislator or that switch sides — not to mention blackmail and then murder.

   But the story is short and sweet enough to keep you reading anyway, and Kyle/Terrall does have a sense of humor about the whole thing, which makes it go down a whole lot more easily. Example: All of the suspects are gathered together a couple of chapters toward the end to help close up the case. Nothing new about that, you say, and you’d be right, but have you ever read about one that takes place in a public ladies’ room? With an unfortunate woman unfortunately trapped in one the stalls the whole time, with Ben Gates asking how often whether or not he’s making everything clear to her.

   Neither have I, until now.

Some days you need a song like this just to get you up and going in the morning:

  LOU SAHADI, Editor – An Argosy Special: Science Fiction. One-shot reprint magazine. Popular Publications, 1977.

#3. LEIGH BRACKETT “Child of the Green Light.” Short story. First published in Super Science Stories<, February 1942; reprinted in the April 1951 issue. Reprinted in Classic Science Fiction: The First Golden Age, edited by Terry Carr (Harper & Row, hardcover, 1978). First collected in Martian Quest: The Early Brackett (Haffner Press, hardcover, 2002).

   There are science fiction stories so vast in scale it is next to impossible for the human mind to comprehend them, and even though this tale takes place within the orbit of Mercury in our own solar system, this is one of them.

   Son is a living creature — a mutation, perhaps — capable of existing in space without protection, the only living being in a junkyard of wrecked ships that his own space craft is part of. Nearby and at the center of this story is the Light, burning green in color, and the Veil, on the other side of which is Aona, a creature such as himself but obviously female.

   Coming to investigate the Light is, for the first time in a place where time and aging have no meaning, is a ship of seven humans and other intelligent aliens. It seems that a Cloud has passed through the solar system, changing the metabolism of all the creatures it touched. Destroying the Light is the only means of survival for billions of people.

   What has happened to Son to make him the being that he is? Is there any way for him to cross through the Veil to become part of the parallel universe where Aona is? And what about the one of the seven who sees Son as someone with powers that, if had them and the Light were destroyed, could rule the solar system?

   Whew! One thing you can say about this story is that has a cosmic Sense of Wonder, the secret ingredient of stories such as this one, and is the absolute epitome of Super Science.


Previously from this Lou Sahadi anthology: CHAD OLIVER “The Land of Lost Content.”

         Friday, February 6.

NERO WOLFE. “Wolfe at the Door.” NBC, 60m. Season 1, Episode 4. Cast: William Conrad as Nero Wolfe, Lee Horsley as Archie Goodwin, George Voskovec as Fritz Brenner, Robert Coote as Theodore Horstmann, George Wyner as Saul Panzer, Allan Miller as Inspector Cramer. Guest Cast: Richard Schaal, Mary Frann, Eugene Peterson. Based on characters created by Rex Stout. Teleplay: Lee Sheldon. Director: Herbert Hirschman.

   I’m a little surprised to find myself saying this, but the people chosen to play Rex Stout’s famous characters are starting to grow on me, miscast as much as some of them are. Archie is too young, Wolfe too short, Panzer too silly-looking, and Cramer??

   But Archie has the smirks, Wolfe has the orchids and the yellow pajamas, Panzer is not the wimp he was in the first episode, and Cramer???

   Obviously the show will never appeal to Wolfian purists, nor to those who have never heard of Nero Wolfe, but — there is a lot of middle ground in between, and maybe, just maybe, the show will catch on.

   Last week I thought the third episode [“Before I Die”] had been the best, the most enjoyable so far, and after tonight, I have no reason to change my mind. I don’t recall the story, entitled “Wolfe at the Door,” as being one of Stout’s, but then, I’m not the expert in the crowd [I was right. It wasn’t.]

   It seems that both Archie and Wolfe are being impersonated in order to fool some prospective clients, the purpose being to obtain possession of a certain green lacquer box. Right now I don’t think that any of the rest of the plot made any sense, but it did make for good television, if that makes any sense. (All right, I’ll explain. Don’t ask questions, turn your mind off, and sit back and relax.)

[UPDATE]   There were only 14 episodes in the run, the last being shown on June 2, 1981. About half of them were based on Rex Stout’s novels and short stories. The series is available on DVD. Released as Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe: The Complete Series, it includes all 14 episodes and the 1977 pilot starring Thayer David.


LES MAUDITS. Ciné Sélection, France, 1947. Released in the US as The Damned (DisCina International ,1948). Marcel Dalio, Henri Vidal, Florence Marley, Fosco Giachetti, Jo Dest and Michel Auclair. Written by Victor Alexander and René Clément. Directed by René Clément.

   You probably don’t know about this film unless you caught it on TCM a year or so ago, and more’s the pity, because it’s what cineastes call A Real Grabber: a story of suspense and survival right up there with Wages of Fear.

   The Damned of the title are a group of high-ranking Nazis, well-connected sympathizers and their bed-warmers, slipping out of Germany via U-boat — ostensibly to carry on the fight from South America, but some have plans that have nothing to do with the Reich.

   When the General’s mistress is injured, Henri Vidal gets into the mix as a doctor kidnapped from a French port and carried off with the rest. Quickly realizing they plan to kill him, Vidal diagnoses a sore throat as a contagious illness to make himself less dispensable, and the result is a claustrophobic drama of manners as the Nazis and their sycophants quarrel and murder, and Vidal schemes to stay alive.

   Writer-Director René Clément paces the whole thing skillfully, alternating the cramped U-Boat conflicts with scenes above decks and on shore before it can get too confining. And he takes time to let his characters develop as he rings in plot devices like the fall of Berlin and the reactions to it. Like:

    “If the Fuhrer were really dead, they’d never let them announce it on the Radio.”

    “So he must be alive because they say he’s dead?”

   In fact, a great deal of the interest here comes from the collapse of Germany and the efforts of the Nazis to dodge falling rubble. In South America they find their bought-and-paid-for friends hard to locate and unwilling to help. When they find a German Tanker ship and refuel, word of the armistice causes a mass desertion. And yet – this is the gripping part — they react with the steely viciousness that got them where they are, leading to some unsettlingly visceral moments. And at the same time, Vidal’s captive Doctor Guilbert keeps plotting his own escape, giving the film a sense of progress and anchoring us to a character we can identify with.

   The result is a film of complexity and tension, with unexpected twists and depth of writing that keeps one watching. Early on I likened this to Wages of Fear for its suspense and sensitivity, and the comparison is apt. This is a classic to watch and remember.

RICHARD ROSEN – Saturday Night Dead. Harvey Blisssberg #3. Viking, hardcover, 1988. Signet, paperback, June 1989.

   In this third adventure of PI (and former major league baseball player) Harvey Blissberg, the death of the producer of a late-night comedy show is designed to give him a smooth transition from sports-related mysteries to the world of show business. It doesn’t work. Compared to earlier entries in the series, it’s definitely not a step up.

   There are a lot of suspects, many of whom Harvey quickly eliminates. In fact, most of the clues point one way, but it still comes as a surprise when Harvey decides who the killer is with nearly 80 pages to go. On page 233 Harvey admits his reasoning was all guesswork.

   Neither exceptionally well told, nor more than merely bland. On the basis of this one, I think Harvey had better go back to playing the outfield.

–Reprinted with some mild revisions from Mystery*File #14, July 1989.

       The Harvey Blissberg series —

Strike Three You’re Dead (1984)
Fadeaway (1986)
Saturday Night Dead (1988)
World Of Hurt (1994)
Dead Ball (2001) .

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