MIKE FREDMAN – Kisses Leave No Fingerprints. Willie Halliday #2. St. Martin’s Press, US, hardcover, 1980. Originally published in the UK by Paul Elek Publishers, hardcover, 1979. The Black Dahlia Company Limited, UK, softcover, 2013.

   This is a private eye story, but as such, while nothing very much out of the ordinary seems to happen, this definitely not your ordinary private eye sort of story. A great part of his is unquestionably due to the fact that Willie Halliday is a vegetarian, a non-drinker, and a student of Asiatic religions on the side — not exactly your standard sort of private eye.

   Nor does he take on divorce cases as a rule, but he does in this one, and then simply because he finds himself moonstruck in love with the woman who hires him, and thus is easily persuaded. That she cares zip about him is obvious to the reader, but not entirely to Willie, who tells the tale.

   Not many surprises follow, but even so, Fredman nevertheless seems to have neatly captured a haunting, dreamlike essence to the fictional world-wide brotherhood of knight-errants reincarnated in today’s world as private investigatory agents.

–Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 4, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1980.

BIBLIOGRAPHIC UPDATE: :  There was one earlier adventure for Willie Halliday, that being You Can Always Blame the Rain (Elek, 1978; St.Martin’s, 1980). There was never a third.


IAN FLEMING – Thunderball. James Bond #9. Jonathan Cape, UK, hardcover, 1961. Viking Press, UK, hardcover, 1961. Signet, US, paperback, 1962. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and paperback. Filmed as: Thunderball (1965). Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi Directed by Terence Young; and as Never Say Never Again (1983). Sean Connery, Kim Bassinger, Klaus Maria Brandauer. Directed by Jack Smight.

   “What’s the good of other people’s opinions? Animals don’t consult each other about other animals. They look and sniff and feel. In love and hate, and everything in between, those are the only tests that matter. But people are unsure of their own instincts. They want reassurance. So they ask someone else whether they should like a particular person or not. And as the world loves bad news, they nearly always get a bad answer – or at least a qualified one.”

   The speech above is in response to Domino Vitale, the mistress, or as Ian Fleming has Bond tell us, the “courtesan de marque,” of Emilio Largo, at this point in the novel a “person of interest” in the investigation James Bond and CIA friend Felix Leiter are making as part of a global search for a missing nuclear weapons stolen from NATO, and being used by SPECTRE, a criminal terrorist organization lead by Ernst Stavro Blofied, to extort money from the West’s governments.

   Domino’s brother was the pilot of the unfortunate missing NATO flight, enough for Bond and Leiter to be sent to the Bahamas on something of a wild goose chase well away from the hot spots where the real action is centered, and Largo, a wealthy and somewhat piratical figure has both the money and means of hiding the missing nukes.

   Of course by this point we, the reader already know Largo is an agent of SPECTRE and Blofield, but as yet Bond doesn’t.

   Thunderball was the eighth James Bond novel and followed a break after Goldfinger where the new James Bond had been a collection of short stories, For Your Eyes Only.

   In fact Thunderball was the result of the author’s dwindling enthusiasm for his creation after a series of bitter disappointments about Bond’s screen fortunes. A proposed Hitchcock film of From Russia With Love had fallen through (Hitchcock ended up doing North by Northwest instead), and while sales for the Bond novels had rocketed with Doctor No and Goldfinger, the television series pilot “Commander Jamaica” that fell through had become the plot of Doctor No, and a short story collection consisted of five stories Fleming wrote as scenarios for a proposed television series, James Bond, Secret Agent, that had fallen through and ended up the hit series Danger Man with Patrick McGoohan, who despised Bond, as secret agent John Drake. Even a Ben Hecht scripted adaptation of Casino Royale had fallen through.

   Thunderball itself might not even have seen print if a film director named Kevin McClory hadn’t approached Fleming about an idea for an original story and with screenwriter Jack Whittingham and Fleming written the screenplay that Fleming “novelized” as his James Bond novel for 1961. The legal mess the novels origin created would haunt the film franchise well into the 21rst Century before it was settled to everyone’s satisfaction.

   If you are still with me, try to ignore all that history for a minute though, and go back to that paragraph I opened with, because to some extent that paragraph is what I’m really discussing here, not the history of the Bond franchise, but why Ian Fleming deserves to be read still and why there has been both a revival and a reassessment of his work in England.

   Even if you hate Bond, despise the idea of a British hero (and I know American fans who never forgave Fleming and Bond for eclipsing the endless supply of American wanna-be Bond replacements who don’t cut it or don’t last), and loathe the film franchise, the fact is that Fleming, careless as he could be, sexist as he and his creation are, men of a different time and sensibility that both are, was actually a damn good writer whose instinct went well beyond what even he admitted.

   In the chapter at hand, Bond is already in the Bahamas, and he and Leiter have been aboard Largo’s yacht, the Disco Volante, with a geiger counter seeking signs of the missing nuclear weapons. Bond has decided to get closer to Largo through Domino, and to hopefully, through seduction, to turn her against Largo as his “inside man.”

   Domino, is a typical Fleming heroine, attractive, but not flawless. She may have the “fine firm breasts” even Bondphile Kingsley Amis made fun of in his James Bond Dossier, but like most of Fleming’s women she a “bird with one wing down,” physically marred by one leg shorter than the other, and emotionally tormented by her past and her present.

   In fact I’ve always thought that quite a few Bond women should have been played by either Gloria Grahame or Lizbeth Scott with their histories of wounds, and insecurities. Contrary to the image of the films they don’t just hop into bed with Bond, and in book after book he finds himself, reluctantly at first because he wants to get on with job and often is shown thinking so rather bluntly, playing psycho-therapist to a succession of abused and emotionally stunted women he rather surprisingly rescues not only from the dragon, but from their own self destructive course.

   Bond in the books doesn’t win them over by his dark good looks or his sexual techniques and gifts. Hhe wins them over by being their way of reconnecting to life and normality. His most romantic gift turns out to be treating women well.

   Along the way no few of them rescue Bond too, because, also despite the films, Bond usually begins or ends the book in need of physical and emotional rehabilitation. In fact that is where he starts Thunderball, drinking too much, drifting into too many messy affairs, losing his edge (It was one of those days when it seemed to James Bond that all life, as someone put it, was nothing but a heap of six to four against), and thanks to a fussy and newly enthused M (Was this the first sign of senile decay?) sent to a health spa, Shrublands, for a course of drying out (“I’d rather die of drink than thirst.”), wheat-germ (…foods he had never heard of, such as Potassium Broth, Nut Mince, and the mysteriously named Unmalted Slippery Elm.), and massage.

   Miss Moneypenny rather neatly skewers him when he threatens to spank her for her amused tone at his dilemma, “I don’t think you’ll be able to do much spanking after living on nuts and lemon juice for two weeks, James.”

   Being Bond, James Bond, 007, he stumbles onto an international plot by SPECTRE and is nearly killed, but not before a nasty turn with health food. He spots Count Lippe whose strange ring catches his eye before his first treatment. Yes, there is a sexy nurse and a mink glove, but this is wish fulfillment. I can’t imagine most readers would rather Nurse Ratchet give him a high colonic instead, at least not rather read about it.

   It’s the fact that Fleming doesn’t need to spend a chapter telling us Domino’s life history that makes his choice to do so interesting. He could draw a tough but broken woman with a few lines if he wanted, as most thriller writers would have done, but instead he has Domino bothered by what people think of her as Largo’s expensive sex toy and in need of reassurance from Bond by telling him her backstory, and the key thing is that Bond’s response isn’t some sexist tough guy bull dragged out of the testicular fantasy of some chair bound pretend tough guy but sensitive and even thoughtful.

   It really isn’t the response of a Lothario or Don Juan, it’s the thoughtful response of a man who for all his tough self talk likes women. Later there is a tender and sexy scene when he has to bite poisonous sea spines out of her wounded heel (symbolic of the one short leg that mars her beauty, something else Fleming didn’t have to include), and it leads to the first time they have sex and he turns her.

   She said, looking seriously up at him, ‘Do you know, you’re the first man who’s ever made me cry.’ She held up her arms and now there was complete surrender.

   It pays off as well, because Domino not only helps, she is key to Bond’s success and saves his life in the finale.

   And not once does Fleming or Bond speculate that women ought to be raped for wearing pants like a popular American spy novelist.

   That it also goes to plot and provides Bond with information he needs about Largo and her brother is where the art lies, but Fleming could have taken more familiar thriller tracks to that same destination. That he doesn’t shows he still had that ambition to write thrillers that could be read not as literature, but with some of the pleasures of literature.

   I recognize that last line is what many readers have against Ian Fleming and James Bond in the novels. How dare an entertainer slow down the bang bang and kiss kiss for write write and think think. It always amazes me when critics condemn Fleming, but praise the often prolix and dense le Carre as if being difficult and tiresome to read was a virtue in a thriller writer. I enjoy le Carre, but I’m damned if I can find much worth quoting in his work.

   Fleming, however much you hate him, is quotable. His turn of phrase is more than sufficient, it is often eye catching and memorable. Like Raymond Chandler, or Georges Simenon, both of whom he admired, there is often something more to Fleming and Bond than just a wild yarn full of action with a bit of sex thrown in. There are passages of fine writing and even well drawn characters who come to life.

   It was really quite disturbing. Was his personality changing? Was he losing his edge, his point, his identity? Was he losing the vices that were so much part of his ruthless, cruel, fundamentally tough character? Who was he in process of becoming? A soft, dreaming, kindly idealist who would naturally leave the Service and become instead a prison visitor, interest himself in youth clubs, march with the H-bomb marchers, eat nut cutlets, try and change the world for the better?


   The jawline, going to the appropriate middle-aged fat of authority, showed decision and independence. Only the mouth, under a heavy, squat nose, marred what might have been the face of a philosopher or a scientist. Proud and thin, like a badly healed wound, the compressed, dark lips, capable only of false, ugly smiles, suggested contempt, tyranny, and cruelty. But to an almost Shakespearian degree. Nothing about Blofeld was small.


   They swam on in the soft moonlit mist of the sea. At first there was nothing but a milky void below them, but then the coral shelf of the island showed up, climbing steeply towards the surface. Sea fans, like small shrouds in the moonlight, waved softly, beckoning, and the clumps and trees of coral were grey and enigmatic. It was because of these things, the harmless underwater mysteries that make the skin crawl on the inexperienced, that Largo had decided to lead the disposal teams himself.


   In front of him Largo, Largo with a spear sticking horribly through his neck, lay kicking feebly on the sand. Behind him and looking down at the body, stood a small, pale figure fitting another spear into an underwater gun. The long hair flowed round her head like a veil in the luminous sea.

   If nothing else, his villains, often drawn from life (Largo here is almost a caricature of Aristotle Onassis) raise the stakes considerably. If a thriller is only as good as its villain, then Fleming is very good indeed.

   The truth is Thunderball is not Fleming at his best. Although the Fleming effect is in full swing and Largo, Domino, and Blofield lift the book well above the average level, it is a bit of disappointment after Doctor No and >Goldfinger, and with The Spy Who Loved Me the next book readers might have thought Fleming in permanent decline if the enthusiasm of the film series had not meant On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice, two of his best books would follow.

   If you still don’t like Bond, I have no argument or problem with that. This is about why I do still like Fleming and Bond, why I still reread them, and still find pleasure in them, and why no less literary lights than Kingsley Amis, William Boyd, and Sebastian Faulks were happy to write entries in the series.

   Much as I enjoy many of the films, and fine as some of the film Bond’s have been, my first love will always be the books, and it is to the books I will always return.

    From the online SingOut website:

    “People Get Ready” continues to cross, or defy, genre in the 52 years since its creation. It remains both enormously popular and enormously accessible to a wide range of artists. Rolling Stone named it as the 24th greatest song of all time. The Rise Again songbook places “People Get Ready” in its “Gospel” section, but also footnotes it in the “Freedom” section. Along the way, it has fit into soul, gospel, jazz, reggae, country (gospel), blues, rock, and pop genres.

DANGEROUS ASSIGNMENT “The Knitting Needle Story.” Syndicated, though largely to NBC stations. 02 June 1952. (Season 1 Episode 30). Brian Donlevy (Steve Mitchell), Jim Flavin, Jan Arvan, Steve Roberts, Fay Baker, Frances Rafferty. Writers: Writers: Eddie Forman, Adrian Gendot, Robert Ryf. Directo: Bill Karn.

   Before its one and only one season on TV, Dangerous assignment had already been on the radio for several years, in a series also starring Brian Donlevy as a secret agent whose job took him on, well, dangerous assignments all over the world. When the series was passed upon up by all of the then current TV networks, Donlevy decided to pick up the tab himself for one season’s worth of 39 syndicated episodes.

   I did not choose to watch “The Knitting Needle Story” for any particular reason. Although the complete series is available on DVD, I just happened to come across this one on YouTube. Based on my memories of watching this when I was young, I can’t say this with certainty, but I think it’s about average for the series, better than some, but perhaps not as good as others.

   In this one Steve Mitchell is assigned to be the bodyguard of an Italian news reporter heading by plane back to his native country with a scoop about The Black Hand, important information with international implications. There are naturally those who do not wish him to make it home with the story he has to tell.

   Most of the action takes place on the plane, not that there’s a lot of action. There are several twists to the story, though, plus one huge red herring that sounds worth investigation but is dropped almost as quickly. There has to be a lot of skill involved in putting together a story as complete, complicated and still coherent as this one is, and in only 25 minutes.

   But as agent Steve Mitchell, Brian Donlevy tries his best to appear suave and debonair, but he comes off as only stolid and solid. James Bond hadn’t come on the scene yet: in book form, he was only a year later. Even if their careers had overlapped a little, Bond would still have had nothing to worry about, not in comparison with he rather dull Steve Mitchell. The latter was of an earlier time, and a different era.

GERALD TOMLINSON “Another Wandering Daughter Job.” Matt Coleridge #1. Published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March 1978. Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Anthology #52, 1985.

   The first job Gerald Tomlinson (1933-2006) had out out of college was as an English teacher, but he soon discovered that the world of publishing was a better fit for him, first at Harcourt Brace and then Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Between 1974 and 1999 he also wrote some three dozen short fiction crime stories, most of them for EQMM and AHMM.

   None of them seem to have used the same leading character more than once, though, including this one, and that’s a shame, since I for one think that Matt Coleridge deserved another outing. Colerdge is the sole proprietor of the World-Wide Detective Agency, based in Manhattan. His only employee is a 29-year-old secretary, who, in his own words, “thinks she loves me.”

   He’s hired in this case to find the wayward daughter (and ex-stripper) of a long-dead gangster and more recently his wife, who has just left her an estate worth eighty million dollars, if she can be found. Not surprisingly, the publicity brings several would-be Melva Dominic’s out from hiding, all of whom but one are quickly rubbed out or otherwise done away with — but why?

   The reason, once discovered, as sometimes happens, isn’t as interesting as the building up to it, but the story overall is nicely done and was certainly worth another. For whatever reason, Tomllnson never followed through. I wish he had.

L. C. TYLER – The Herring in the Library. Ethelred & Elsie #3. Macmillan; UK, hardcover, 2010. Pan Books, UK, trade paperback, 2011. Felony & Mayhem, US, trade paperback, 2011.

   Ethelred is Ethelred Tressider, a second-rate if not third-rate mystery writer, while Elsie Thirkettle is his literary agent, for better or worse. Their relationship is a rocky one, at least from looking at it from the outside. Elsie is always putting him and his ambitions down, for example, in hilarious fashion, but if there was any animosity between them, why would she stick with him, through thick and thin, as they say, if there were?

   And as a team of strictly amateur detectives, they may not be the best around, but they do seem to run into their fair share of mysteries to solve. In this one, it is the death of an old friend from university days, now an ex-banker who is found strangled to death in a locked room following a dinner party at his mansion of a home at Muntham Court. (Robert “Shagger” Muntham had done far better in life than Ethelred has.)

   The locked room aspect is taken care of rather quickly, but there are a huge number pf possible suspects in the case, all guests at the same party, all with possible motives, and all who must be interviewed with much care. This is accomplished very neatly by having the two detectives alternate the narration. When the scenes they describe overlap, we see that different perspective can produce wildly different results.

   Also part of the story is Ethelbert’s continuing work in progress for his latest mystery, a historical novel taking place in Chaucer’s time. This didn’t interest me personally as much as the one taking place in real time, but it did have much of the same kind tongue in cheekness to it. It isn’t easy telling a mystery story that keeps up a pretense of fun and games (Cluedo, anyone?) all the way through, but the barbed dialogue between the two protagonists and other zingers in this one come as closest as any I’ve read in a while:

   On page 16 Ethelbert has just been introduced to Sir Robert’s showcase wife:

    “…So what do you do, Alfred?” she asked.

    “Ethelred,” I said. “As for what I do, I am a writer.”

    “I thought you said ‘Ethelred,’ but then I thought I must have misheard. Do you write under your own name? No, surely not?”

    I told her the three names that I wrote under.

    “I don’t think I’ve read any of your books,” she said.

      The Elsie and Ethelred series —

1. The Herring Seller’s Apprentice (2007)
2. Ten Little Herrings (2009)
3. The Herring in the Library (2010)
4. The Herring on The Nile (2011)
5. Crooked Herring (2014)
6. Cat Among the Herrings (2016)
7. Herring in the Smoke (2017)
8. The Maltese Herring (2019)

   There seems to be pattern going on here.


LIZ CODY – Monkey Wrench. Eva Wylie #2. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1995; paperback, 1996.

   I was never a fan of Cody’s Anna Lee stories, but Bucket Nut, the first of the Eva Wylie book struck me as fresh, very readable, and even a bit poignant.

   Eva Wylie, aka Bucket Nut and the London Assassin, hasn’t changed much. She’s still a wrestling villain, still guards a junk yard, still the occasional job for Anna Lee. And she’s still big, not too bright, a board or two shy of a stack at times, and independent as a greased pig on ice.

   Her latest troubles stat when an old mate from her younger street days comes to her for help after her sister, a prostitute, has been beaten to death. The mate wants Eva to teach a bunch of other prostitutes self-defense, and somewhere along the way help her find who killed her sister, and do for him. Eva doesn’t want any part of it, but life never has paid a lot of attention to what Eva wants. Nor does it now.

   Eva Wylie is one of the best-conceived and beautifully drawn characters n modern crime fiction. Cody does a marvelous job of sustaining a voice and view that can’t be easy, and are unique. Eva lives a gritty life in a dingy world, and fights through every day as if it were her own private war.

   These aren’t pretty stories, and they aren’t about pretty people. It would be easy to play the characters for laughs, perhaps as easy for tears, but Cody does neither. She simply lets Eva come to life for us, and lets you think what you will. What I think is that in a genre filled with look-and-sound-alikes, Eva Wylie stands out like a pearl in a dungheap. Cody should win awards for these. They aren’t stories everyone will like, but some will like them a lot.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #18, February-March 1995.

      The Eva Wylie series –

1. Bucket Nut (1992)
2. Monkey Wrench (1994)
3. Musclebound (1997)

Note: This series followed six in Cody’s Anna Lee series.

From Wikipedia, “‘The Sheltering Sky’ is named after and partially inspired by the 1949 novel of the same name by Paul Bowles.”

ERIC TAYLOR “Kali.” Short story. First published in All Star Detective Stories, November 1929. No cover image available. Reprinted in The First Mystery Megapack (Wildside Press, ebook, April 2011).

   As a detective pulp, All Star Detective was not in top tier of those being published at the same time, but it did last for some 26 issues between October 1929 and June 1932. Most of the authors they published were unknowns even then, but the list does contain a few whose names are still recognizable today, such as Leslie Charteris, Erle Stanley Gardner, T. T. Flynn, and Johnston McCulley.

   You can let me know if you disagree, but Eric Taylor, is not likely to be one of them. He did write several dozen stories for the detective pulps between 1927 and 1937. Even before that, he began his career with a handful of stories in 1926 for Droll Stories and others in that particular category. Starting in 1937 or so, he switched gears and began writing for Hollywood, churning out scripts for many of the Ellery Queen movies, plus the Crime Doctor and The Whistler films, Universal’s monster movies and so on. He died in 1952.

   The story “Kali” is, however, does not add a lot of weight to his resumé. How the folks at Wildside Press happened to choose this one for one their many collections of old genre stories I do not know. It’s the story of a young guy named Roy who loves a girl named Margaret who is trapped into living in a well-fortified prison of a house with her guardian “aunt” and he new husband, a mysterious Bengali by the name of Ishan Dan Bahaji.

   Margaret will not receive her inheritance if she marries without her aunt’s permission before she is 23, and the Bengali’s influence over the aunt means that that will never happen. Worse, strange things are going on the house, and Roy’s attempts to break in and learn what they might be always end in fierce battles — and sudden deaths — with a small cadde of loyal servants.

   The writing is crude, true, but it also has a lot of momentum. Back in 1929, the secret that lives behind the barred door of the house would have been not only plausible but also something fearfully terrible. Not quite so much today — the title of the tale may give you a bit of a clue — but I have admit that the drive behind the tale is still there.

  RICHARD DEMING “The Art of Deduction.” Short story. Albert Shelton #1. First published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, June 1973. Reprinted in Alfred Hitchcock’s Tales to Make You Weak in the Knees (Dial Press, 1981) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Anthology #10, paperback, 1982. Collected in The Richard Deming Mystery Megapack (Wildside Press, ebook, 2015).

   Albert Shelton wouldn’t call himself a private eye, exactly. He’d rather say “confidential investigator,” and to prove his skills in a meaningful way, he tries out his detective abilities on the attractive girl sitting on the seat next to him on a plane from LA to Buffalo, where his first job is waiting for him.

   And she seems impressed. Encouraged by this, he sees two men sitting next to each other toward the back of the plane, each handcuffed to the other. When one slumps over, the victim of a medical emergency, he offers his help, which is gladly accepted.

   At which point, things begin to not go as well as he planned. I’ll let your imagination take over, and if I know you as well as I think I do, I have a feeling that you know where this going, but Deming may still have some tricks up his sleeve that you might not be expecting.

   It all works out well in the end, though, and if Albert Shelton never had a followup case, which I don’t believe he did, that’s OK, too. He’ll never forget this one.

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