I’ve leaving this morning for Michigan to visit my sister and her husband in Cadillac (100 miles north of Grand Rapids, 50 miles south of Traverse City). My brother and his wife will be driving over from London, Ontario, and we’ll all spend the weekend together. I haven’t checked the forecast, but while I have my fingers crossed, I’m prepared for anything. If we have to dodge raindrops, or even snowflakes, then so be it. It won’t matter at all.

I’ve decided to take a break from blogging at the same time. Look for me in this chair in front of my computer again on Tuesday. See you then.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          

THE EIGER SANCTION. Universal Pictures, 1975. Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy, Vonetta McKee, Thayer David, Jack Cassidy, Heidi Brul. Screenplay by Hal Dresher, Warren B. Murphy, and Rod Whitkaker based on the latter’s novel as Trevanian. Directed by Clint Eastwood.

   On paper this sounds like a dream project; in reality it is a total mishmash, devoid of suspense or much in the way of humanity, and famously hated by its own writer, University of Texas professor Rod Whitaker writing as Trevanian who actually worked on the screenplay, to the point he wrote a footnote complaining about it in his bestselling novel Shibumi. To add insult to injury, it was a critical and box office failure that pleased no one watching it or involved in making it, and cost a man his life.

   Ironically the film is almost slavishly faithful to the plot of the novel it is based on, about art professor Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood), a freelance government assassin who kills to pay for additions to his art collection under the aegis of a loathsome albino government functionary called Dragon (Thayer David). In Sanction he is given the commission to kill a traitor who will be one of the members on an attempt to climb the notorious north face of the Eiger in Switzerland, a job Hemlock as a world class Alpinist is ideally suited for, having been the only survivor of an earlier unsuccessful attempt to reach the summit.

   Although it comes late in the 60s and 70s spy craze, it was based on a huge bestseller, had a popular star and gifted director, and the screenwriters included the author as well as Destroyer co-creator and suspense novelist Warren B. Murphy (who died only recently). There is even a score by John Williams.

   None of that mattered.

   The film falls flat on Clint Eastwood’s deadpan face.

   First there is the matter of casting, and it is a major problem. Whatever his gifts, George Kennedy was not subtle on screen and even though his role as Hemlock’s friend and trainer would seem ideal for him, he plays it so heavy-handedly that he kills every word of dialogue he speaks. Then add Jack Cassidy as a murderous homosexual played just to the right of outright camp, and Vonetta McKee and Heidi Brul as the least attractive and appealing female leads you can imagine — in a film where their roles could have been written out entirely without harming the plot — and you have a huge chunk of the problem.

   Then there is Clint Eastwood himself.

   Eastwood is a man of rare talent and taste, but the role of Jonathan Hemlock was created with Paul Newman in mind, and at this point in his career Eastwood’s skills as a director and an actor simply were not up to the role of an existentialist Nietzschean with a nihilist streak who kills so he can possess art he feels is too good to be viewed by an unappreciative public. The role desperately needs an actor whose face could give humanity to the cold and unappealing character, not Eastwood whose youthful face made Rushmore look expressive. No one was willing to accept him in that role, and he himself seems deeply uncomfortable playing it.

   He may have seen Hemlock as another of his cool headed killers like the man with no name and Harry Callahan, but that isn’t who the character was, and Eastwood’s wrongheaded casting of himself is made worse by his own direction, which lacks any real suspense, with the mountain climbing sequences the only moments the film even vaguely breathes.

   There is also a bit of irony, that which was chillingly bitter in the novel just seems callous and psychotic on the screen.

   My sympathy is with Professor Whitaker on this one and that footnote I mentioned earlier in Shibumi on this one. It is a flat film that never engages the viewer, marred by not one but five major bits of miscasting and weak direction, and a diffuse script that never becomes cohesive on film. It may well be the worst film of Eastwood’s distinguished career. It is somehow galling if not intolerable that someone actually died to get this film made. I suppose it would not really be more meaningful if it had been a better movie or a good movie, but that the film is this bad and cost a man’s life is somehow even worse.

BRETT HALLIDAY – Marked for Murder. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1945. Paperback reprints include: Dell 222, mapback; Dell 503, mapback; Dell D291, June 1959; Dell 5386, Jan 1963 (cover art: McGinnis); Dell 5386, new printing, June 1968.

   The copy I just read is the one from January 1963 with the cover art done by Robert McGinnis, seen here to the right. He may have done covers for the other printings, but if so my records do not currently show it.

   As for the book itself, it’s a good one, and I will tell you this much up front and right away. When you read this book, you won’t be able to tell the blondes apart without a scorecard. Marked for Murder takes place in Miami — private eye Mike Shayne comes in from New Orleans where he has been living and working after the death of his wife Phyllis, but once he hears that his good friend Tim Rourke, beat reporter for the Miami Courier, has been shot, almost fatally, you can’t keep him away.

   But to get back to the point I was making, Miami has to have a higher quota of blondes than any other part of the country, if this book is to be believed. Rourke was writing an expose about the blonde woman who has been seen hanging out with winners at gambling joints around town, said winners later showing up dead, their winnings not to be found.

   The wife of the current editor of the Courier is also a blonde. Rourke doesn’t get along with the editor, but he has been making time with the wife. He is also visited by a couple of blondes (one the editor’s wife) just after a pair of thugs working for the guy that owns the aforementioned casinos take Rourke for a ride.

   Even though this is a PI novel, it is also a good old-fashioned detective puzzler. Halliday’s writing (or that is to say, Davis Dresser’s) reminded me this time around of Erle Stanley Gardner’s, of all people, with enough clues and suspects to keep Shayne scratching his red-haired head all the way through the book.

   There is no final courtroom scene, à la Perry Mason, but à la the latter, Shayne does play loose and easy with the evidence and all of the possible suspects he encounters along the way. This one was fun to read, in a timeless sort of fashion, and I am embarrassed to say that I did not figure out who done it long before Shayne did, and I should have.


An Austrian band, founded in 2008 noted for playing psychobilly, pop punk and horror punk.


MAURICE SANDOZ – The Maze. Doubleday Doran, hardcover, 1945. No paperback edition.

THE MAZE. Allied Artists, 1953. Richard Carlson, Veronica Hurst, Katherine Emery, Michael Pate. Screenplay by Daniel Ullman. Directed by William Cameron Menzies.

   I love it when learning one thing leads to learning another.

   When I mentioned to Ray that I was reading /watching this, he mentioned right back that it was based on a true story. This prompted a bit of research that led me to the story of Glamis.

   Glamis Castle in Scotland is a place of legend, the setting of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, reputedly the scene of a card game between the laird of the manor and Satan himself, and the seat of an impenetrable mystery involving a secret room and an unseen denizen half-haunting the manse. This was the basic material that Maurice Sandoz took for his short novel, The Maze.

   Like a classic ghost story, Maze is set in a frame, as an unnamed narrator tells of a chance meeting with Edith Murray, the kind of spirited old lady familiar to readers of this sort of thing. It seems that some years ago, Edith’s niece Kitty was engaged to marry Gerald MacTeam, who, as we get into the story, is related to the MacTeams of Craven Castle, which has a mysterious history and odd ways with its guests, who are forbidden to enter parts of the house and grounds and are locked in their rooms at night.

   Sandoz throws in a few more teasers like this and promptly moves the plot along as an uncle dies, Gerald inherits the estate, goes to the castle to settle things, then abruptly breaks off the engagement with a letter that (fittingly for this sort of thing) foreshadows a grim tale to come and throws Kitty into tearful confusion.

   But not for long. Aunt Edith isn’t the kind of lady to see young love go unrequited, and not many pages have turned before she’s a guest in the castle and busied with the usual night-time perambulations through twisty corridors and sinister paths, to a conclusion in the mysterious maze of the title.

   I have to say though that I closed this book with a sense of mild disappointment. It’s smoothly written, suspenseful, and the illustrations (by Salvador Dali) are just dandy, but overall it lacked any real drama, and the resolution seemed just a bit too pat and convenient. Worth reading, but hardly memorable.

   The film, on the other hand, is definitely worth your time. Directed by William Cameron Menzies (Things to Come, Invaders from Mars, etc.) in his best off-kilter style, it fairly drips with menace and gives real, visceral feeling to the creepiest elements of Sandoz’s book: the sound of something unworldly moving through the castle halls, the thing half-seen in the shadows which sanity must reject, and the palpable sensation of persons keeping a secret they wish they didn’t know.

   Writer Daniel Ullman, who did his best work in B-Westerns, rings in the changes one would expect from Hollywood; here it’s young and attractive fiancée (Veronica Hurst) who instigates the investigation and heads it up when Aunt Edith (Katherine Emery) wants to back off. And when the end comes, it’s with a fine flurry of activity and jump-in-your-seat scares.

   Richard Carlson, that reliable stand-up guy of 1950s sci-fi puts in his usual earnest performance, and Michael Pate, the vampire gunslinger of Curse of the Undead (1959) adds a bit of depth to his sinister butler part, but the film really belongs to Menzies, whose striking visuals and sense of pace keep things going wonderfully.

STEPHEN GREENLEAF – State’s Evidence. Dial Press, hardcover, 1982. Ballantine, paperback, 1983. Bantam Crimeline, paperback, 1991.

   A few [posts] back, as you may recall, I had some misgivingsabout Death Bed, Stephen Greenleaf’s tale of private eye John Marshall Tanner that immediately preceded this one.

   You can forget all that. If you’re a fan of PI fiction, whatever you do, don’t let this one pass you by! Toned down, but thankfully never quite eliminated, is some of the overbearing narrative that has marked Greenleaf’s two earlier books. The dialogue now carries a greater share of the story, and the plot-line is far less reliant on the flowery but not always appropriate series of metaphors that Greenleaf seemed to put so much stake in before.

   It all begins when Tanner is hired by a deputy district attorney in the town of El Gordo to find a missing witness, a woman who claims to have seen a fatal hit-and-run accident.

   But do you remember ever watching the TV series The Outsider? El Gordo is one of those typically Californian towns that private eyes keep stumbling across, bright and sunny on the surface, but simply riddled with hostility, crime, and corruption just underneath. It doesn’t take Tanner long to start digging, nor for the foul matter to start making itself known.

   Naturally, not all is what it seems. Some of the missing woman’s friends believe that she’s been kidnapped, murdered, or worse. Others feel she has merely fled her husband, a quietly arrogant tyrant with a fetish for things Oriental.

   Surprisingly, everyone who has known the woman reveals to Tanner a completely different side to her personality. Not surprisingly, little by little, Tanner is forced to realize that D. A. Tolson has not told him all he needs to know about the case. Even the federal government, it seems, is vitally interested in its outcome.

   Rampant coincidence seems to abound, but in each instance there is a substantive reason behind each of the bombshells Tanner soon begins to uncover. And bombshells they are. An added plus, at least as far as I was concerned, was the touch of courtroom theatrics a la Perry Mason that highlights a central portion of the cases he’s in. Tanner is also an ex-lawyer, and it’s about time we saw that fact become a more essential part of one of his cases.

   It may not happen, but Greenleaf should begin to start getting the recognition he deserves with this book. It’s certainly fine enough to suggest that he’s beginning to nudge his way out from behind the shadows of Chandler and Macdonald — his predecessors down these same dark alleys of Californian hypocrisy and despair.

Rating:   A.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 6, November-December 1982 (slightly revised).

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