Bibliographies, Lists & Checklists


LAWRENCE BLOCK – The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza. Random House, hardcover, 1980. Pocket, paperback, 1982. Reprinted many times since, including Signet, paperback, December 1998.

   The copy I just read was the fairly recent Signet edition from the 1990s, so it took me by surprise the first time Bernie Rhodenbarr, the bookshop owner in Greenwich Villagewho does a little burglary on the side, needed to find a phone booth to make a telephone call in New York City.

   How many generations ago was 1980? Long before Google came along, that’s for sure. Think how much time Bernie could have saved making a whole series of long distance calls, trying to track down information about a rare coin called the 1913 V-Nickel.

   Today, you could look it up. According to web page on the other side of the link, the coin, were you to burgle a home in Manhattan and find one, would be worth three to four million dollars, perhaps more.

   And burgle a home in Manhattan and find one is exactly what Bernie and Carolyn Kaiser, his lesbian friend and oft-times confederate in crime, do. Soon ending up dead is Bernie’s good friend (and neighborhood fence), elderly Abel Crowe. Since the theft matches Bernie’s MO, the police suspect him for not only that killing, but also the death of the wife whose home was robbed. One problem: Bernie and Carolyn were the only the second of three sets of burglars that night.

   Which means there are a lot of characters to keep track of, even more than this brief outline of the story might suggest. But Bernie tells the story in such a light, humorous way, punctuated by witty observations about the city and its inhabitants, that the pages simply fly by in very enjoyable fashion.

   Until that is, page 223 of a 302 page novel, when the shark is jumped or the pooch is tipped or whatever the current vernacular may be. Now this is between only you and me, and it may be only me, but up until that time I got the idea that Bernie and I were buddies, and he was keeping me informed of everything he was seeing and doing.

   But on page 223 he suddenly cuts me out of the picture. He tells Carolyn who he thinks did it. Reluctantly, to be sure. It takes until page 224 before she convinces him to tell her everything. Me, nothing. And here I thought we were friends.

   Of course, I really didn’t want him to tell me, but why Carolyn? I was disappointed.

   It also put a strain on Bernie in the pages that follow. Doing this and that, going here and there, making those phone calls to who knows who, and not being able to tell me what it was that he was doing. It’s not until one of those “gather everybody together in one place” that Bernie reveals the truth and gets the killer (or killers) to confess.

   And of course a book by Spinoza takes its rightful place in the denouement, exactly as the title says it would.

       The Bernie Rhodenbarr novels —

Burglars Can’t Be Choosers (1977)

The Burglar in the Closet (1978)

The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling (1979)
The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza (1980)
The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian (1983)
The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams (1994)
The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart (1995)
The Burglar In The Library (1997).
The Burglar In The Rye (1999)
The Burglar on the Prowl (2004)
The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons (2013)

PostScript:   I do not know what kind of name Rhodenbarr is — Googling it turned up only six full pages of Bernie’s before I gave up. Perhaps Lawrence Block simply made it up. That plus the fact that Bernie tells the story himself makes it difficult to put a face to the character. I do not know who should play him in the TV series I have in mind.

    One thing for sure. It won’t be Whoopi Goldberg.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


SPENCER DEAN -Price Tag for Murder. Doubleday, hardcover, 1959. Pocket #6048, paperback, 1961.

   This is one more in the series of interminable — if this novel is any guide — adventures of Don Cadee, Chief of Store Protection at Ambletts Fifth Avenue. As information comes to Cadee’s attention that an entire warehouse of merchandise, a warehouse that should have had no existence, has disappeared, he is simultaneously faced with the suicide or murder of a key employee in the store’s purchasing department.

   Some minor problems for Cadee are the installation of a closed-circuit television to scan areas in the store and the perhaps imminent departure of a company executive to Mexico, possibly accompanied by some of the store’s funds and one of the store’s best buyers.

   For those who like action, or what seems like it, and dialogue, with very little description or writing style and not a whole lot of plot.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 6, November-December 1987.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   Spencer Dean was the pen name of (Nathaniel) Prentice Winchell (Jr.) (1895-1976). Other pen names he used were Jay De Bekker, Spencer Dean, Dexter St. Clair, Dexter St. Clare & Stewart Sterling. The latter is perhaps the most well-known. According to Al Hubin Crime Fiction IV, he was “born in Evanston, Illinois; died in Tallahassee, Florida; worked for an advertising agency, then newspaper man; editor of trade publications, journalism lecturer; wrote and produced over 500 radio mystery shows, wrote for films and TV; published some 400 magazine detective stories.”

   A long article by Richard Moore about Stewart Sterling and his various “specialty detectives” can be found here on the primary Mystery*File website.

      The Don Cadee mystery series –

The Frightened Fingers, Washburn, 1954.
The Scent of Fear. Washburn, 1954.
Marked Down for Murder. Doubleday, 1956.
Murder on Delivery. Doubleday, 1957.
Dishonor Among Thieves. Doubleday, 1958.
The Merchant of Murder. Doubleday, 1959.
Price Tag for Murder. Doubleday, 1959.
Murder After a Fashion. Doubleday, 1960.
Credit for a Murder. Doubleday, 1961.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


ZELDA POPKIN – Death Wears a White Gardenia. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1938. Red Arrow Books #5, digest-sized paperback. 1939. Dell #13, paperback, 1943.

   Mary Carner, department-store detective, appeared in five books, of which this is the first. At least in this novel, the store is Jeremiah Blankfort and Company in New York City, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an appearance by the Governor’s wife.

   Also adding to the festivities is the discovery of a corpse that turns out to have been Andrew McAndrew, credit manager of Blankfort’s and a chap, it would appear, given to blackmailing married customers who charge items for their girl friends. He also had his own girl friends, one of whom is carrying his child.

   The suspects are limited to those who were working in the store the previous evening before the anniversary celebration, but that is nonetheless a rather large number. McAndrew’s fed-up wife and brother-in-law and a junky but talented shoplifter add to the total.

   Mary Carner is convinced that the murder was committed by an employee of Blankfort’s. That part of the investigation is stymied since the store’s owner will not allow the employees to be questioned until the sale day is over. This is, after all, still in the depths of the Depression, and the department store’s finances are rather rocky.

   Better than Spencer Dean’s department-store mysteries, but not much better. One hopes that Popkin improved in her later novels.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1990.


       The Mary Carner (Whittaker) series –

Death Wears a White Gardenia. Lippincott, 1938.
Murder in the Mist. Lippincott, 1940.

Time Off for Murder. Lippincott, 1940.
Dead Man’s Gift. Lippincott, 1941.

No Crime for a Lady. Lippincott, 1942.

   Zelda Popkn wrote two other works of crime fiction, So Much Blood (Lippincott, 1944), and A Death of Innocence (Lippincott, 1971) which was the basis of a TV movie of the same title. (CBS, 1971 with Shelley Winters and Arthur Kennedy).

   For more on the author herself, here’s a link to her Wikipedia page.

WILLIAM HEUMAN – The Range Buster. Gold Medal 429. Paperback original; 1st printing, 1954; 2nd printing, Gold Medal 944, 1959.

   Sometimes it is difficult to find a hook with which to start a review, and this is one of those times. The Range Buster is a totally average western, but one that starts with a bang — Cole Faraday, fresh up from Texas to claim his dead brother’s ranch, is shot at from the house by someone inside with a rifle — and never really lets up until it’s over, with Cole having just prevailed over the bad guys — at great physical damage to himself — and getting the girl he never knew he was dreaming of all those years he was making a living alone.

   What he finds that he’s walking into is a situation that always seems to arise when two big ranchers are competing for a smaller piece of land that has steady source of water — his brother’s — and starting a feud that threatens all of the other smaller ranchers at their mercy down the valley.

   Cole Faraday, skilled with a gun as well as mightily laconic with words, could be played by Clint Eastwood. The owner of one of the big ranches could be played by Lee J. Cobb, while the boss of the Pine Tree, Thalia Mulvane — a tough-minded but outwardly honest woman — well, if Ava Gardner ever was a blonde, she’d fit the part perfectly.

   Playing the gunhand who seems to have a grudge against Cole from the start, none other than Lee Marvin. The other girl, young and wholesome, whom Cole is attracted to, perhaps Gloria Talbot, while Stub McKay, the only remaining cowboy on Cole’s brother’s ranch, well why not Stubby Kaye

   Besides a western, and a solid one at that, William Heuman’s story is also both a romance (see above) and a detective story. Who killed Cole’s brother, or rather, perhaps, who was he working for? The result is not spectacular in any sense, but as you can tell, it might make for a fairly good movie.

Bibliographic Notes:   William Heuman’s career in writing westerns began with the pulp magazines, circa 1944, but when the pulps began to die out and Gold Medal came along, offering writers a new option, the paperback original, Heuman jumped on board almost immediately.

   Here’s tentative list of his work for Gold Medal:

Guns at Broken Bow, 1950.
Hunt the Man Down, 1951.
Roll the Wagons, 1951.
Red Runs the River, 1951.
Secret of Death Valley, 1952.
Keelboats North, 1953.
On to Santa Fe, 1953.
The Range Buster, 1954.
Ride for Texas, 1954.
Wagon Train West, 1955.
Stagecoach West, 1957.
Violence Valley, 1957.
Heller from Texas, 1957.

   Soon after he started writing for Gold Medal, Heuman also began writing westerns for Ace and Avon. Eventually his westerns started coming out in hardcover for Avalon, with many of those ending up in paperback as well.

DOROTHY SIMPSON – The Night She Died. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1981. Bantam, paperback, 1985. Poisoned Pen Press, trade paperback, 1998, First published in the UK by Michael Joseph, hardcover, 1981.

   In the world of crime fiction, there seems to be an unwritten law that a new private eye has to have a gimmick, a little quirk of behavior, perhaps, that will help him (or her) stand out from all the others. There is a similar theory for policemen, and it holds that because of the nature of their job, they need humanizing: a loving family, perhaps. Teething babies. Bad backs.

   Inspector Thanet is lucky. He has all three.

   His current case involves a murdered woman. Who killed her? Her husband, with whom she was seeing a marriage counselor? Her thwarted, amorous boss? The determined ex-suitor?

   Thanet’s investigation also takes him back into the past, over his sergeant’s objections, to dig up an unsolved murder the victim may have witnessed as a child. The problem is that looking into this old case is as dry and uninteresting as poking around in a pile of dusty bones, and it’d be awfully easy to give the story up as routine right here.

   And this you shouldn’t do, as Simpson has a terrific surprise in store for the persevering reader who sticks it out to the end. I suspect there’ll be a good many people who’ll never reach it. Exquisitely plotted, and ploddingly told — a sad combination.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1981.


      The Inspector Thanet series –

1. The Night She Died (1981)
2. Six Feet Under (1982)
3. Puppet for a Corpse (1983)
4. Close Her Eyes (1984)
5. Last Seen Alive (1985)
6. Dead On Arrival (1986)

7. Element of Doubt (1987)
8. Suspicious Death (1988)
9. Dead By Morning (1989)
10. Doomed to Die (1991)

11. Wake the Dead (1992)
12. No Laughing Matter (1993)
13. A Day for Dying (1995)

14. Once Too Often (1998)
15. Dead and Gone (1999)

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


MERLDA MACE – Motto for Murder. Julian Messner, hardcover, 1943. Detective Book Club, hardcover reprint, 3-in-1 edition, November 1943. Black Cat Detective #17, digest-sized paperback, 1945, abridged.

   The classic situation — isolated old house, blizzard raging outside, nasty old lady hated by most of those in the house, and escalating murders.

   Maria Hammond, the nasty old lady, has complete control of the family fortune and need not turn over any money until she is convinced that her grandchildren can handle the money responsibly. Since one of her children is a drunk who has married a money-hungry shrew and who has stolen $10,000 from the firm for which he works to provide the shrew with a fur coat in the hope that she will treat him kindly — a failed scheme, needless to say — it appears that the old lady is not completely in the wrong in not turning over the money at least to him.

   Anyhow, she invites the three grandchildren to spend Christmas with her, and two of the spouses also show up. Her intention, violating the spirit of the season and maybe even the letter of the law, is to tell the grandchildren she is changing her will so that they will be totally disinherited. Her lawyer is murdered, she disappears, and others start being murdered.

   Tip O’Neil, who works with the ne’er-do-well grandson, goes along for the weekend to make sure that the grandson does not run off to Canada. Since O’Neil is the only one not concerned in the murders, he does the investigating. On page 148, he says to himself: “Maybe it would be healthier for me to play dumb … on this investigation.” Strange. I had the feeling that is what he had been doing from the beginning.

   One among many oddities appears to be a peculiar law of New York State in regard to wills. O’Neil is asked to witness “the will” of Maria Hammond. While watched by her lawyer, O’Neil signs a piece of paper folded back so he can’t see what is written on it. He can’t be sure it’s a will, and he certainly isn’t witnessing her signing it.

   Deeck’s Law No. 1 states: Beware of authors who use exclamation points frequently in narrative! Mace is a big violator!

   (A motto, by the way, is a piece of candy around which is wrapped a fortune, making it somewhat similar to a fortune cookie. It was apparently old-fashioned even in 1945.)

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1990.


Bibliographic Notes: This was the only novel that Timothy “Tip” O’Neil appeared in. His day job was as a special investigator for a Manhattan-based investment firm. The author’s other two mysteries featured a continuing series character named Christine Anderson. She may have been the blonde in Blondes Don’t Cry, but other than that, no other information is readily available.

MERLDA MACE. Pseudonym of Madeleine McCoy, 1910?-1990?

       Headlong for Murder. Messner, 1943. [Christine Anderson]
       Motto for Murder. Messner, 1943.
       Blondes Don’t Cry. Messner, 1945 [Christine Anderson]

JANICE LAW – Death Under Par. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1981. iUniverse, softcover, 2000.

   With the obvious exception of horse-racing, I think more mysteries have had to do with golf than with any other sport. Unless you can come up with another physical pastime I’m not thinking of, golf is the clear runner-up, which is what leads us to the latest Anna Peters thriller.

   She and long-time boy friend Harry have finally tied the knot, and for their honeymoon they travel to Scotland, for a working vacation during the British Open — he’s an artist on assignment for Sports Illustrated. There have been vandals at work, however, and threats have been made against one of the golfers. In case you haven’t been following Miss Peters’ adventures, she runs her own security business, and it quickly becomes a working honeymoon for her as well.

   She finds a common thread between the golfer and two of her leading suspects: they all attended the same small college in Hartford (Trinity College, recognizably incognito). As a result, there is a good deal of local Connecticut scenery involved as well, including a quickie tour through the offices of the same newspaper [the Hartford Courant] that prints most of my reviews.

   Which, of course, interested me much more than it will most of you. This is a straightforward crime story, making it more realistic than the puzzle artifices of a pure whodunit, perhaps, but in all truth, this case of Anna Peters presents no other challenge than that of sheer endurance.

   A twist was needed. This one comes straight.

Rating: C.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 3, May/June 1981 (slightly revised).


The Anna Peters series –

1. The Big Payoff (1975)
2. Gemini Trip (1977)
3. Under Orion (1978)
4. The Shadow of the Palms (1979)
5. Death Under Par (1981)
6. Time Lapse (1992)
7. A Safe Place to Die (1993)
8. Backfire (1994)
9. Cross-Check (1997)

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