Bibliographies, Lists & Checklists

KIN PLATT – The Screwball King Murder. Random House, hardcover, 1978. No paperback edition.

   Private eye Max Roper’s latest sports-related caper involves the not-so-accidental drowning of a flaky left-hander who had just signed a million-dollar contract to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

   Murder follows Roper like a well-trained puppy, but baseball fans will be disappointed to learn that the motive for Hondo Kenyon’s death really lies in the totally antithetical world of skin flicks and acid rock.

   Slick, and superficial, detective work.

Rating:   C.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 2, No. 6, Nov-Dec 1978. This review also appeared earlier in the Hartford Courant.

      The Max Roper series –

The Pushbutton Butterfly (1970)

The Kissing Gourami (1973)
The Princess Stakes Murder (1973)
The Giant Kill (1974)
Match Point for Murder (1975)
The Body Beautiful Murder (1976)

The Screwball King Murder (1978)

JOHN LUTZ – Buyer Beware. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, 1976. Paperjacks, paperback, 1986. Carroll & Graf, paperback, 1992.

   Private eyes tend to specialize these days. Alo, Nudger, for example, comes highly recommended in child custody cases. That he’s not the hard-boiled type is well illustrated by his dependence on antacid tablets, but enough money can overcome many qualms.

   Murder is not in his line, but once persuaded, he takes his investigation into the efficient world of business and finance, which is faced with a deadly extension of the rules it plays by.

   Lutz has an eye for people and background that adds greatly to a tale that holds its own most of the way, yet I did wish the scheme were not ultimately so far-fetched, made all the more so by the rushed wrap-up.

Rating: C plus.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 1, No. 4, July 1977. This review also appeared earlier in the Hartford Courant.

      The Alo Nudger series –

1. Buyer Beware (1976)
2. Night Lines (1985)

3. The Right to Sing the Blues (1986)
4. Ride the Lightning (1987)
5. Dancer’s Debt (1988)

6. Time Exposure (1989)
7. Diamond Eyes (1990)
8. Thicker Than Blood (1993)

9. Death by Jury (1995)
10. Oops! (1998)
11. The Nudger Dilemmas (story collection, 2001)

An Author Profile by BARRY GARDNER:

   Ross Thomas to me succeeds on every level as a writer of fiction. His plots are intriguing, complex without being bewildering; his prose is smooth, seamless and unobtrusive; his dialogue fits his characters like a made-to-measure suit; but his strongest suite is characterization. I have yet to read a Thomas book without the feeling that here was a person, usually a group of people, that I would like to meet again.

   For better or worse, I have had that pleasure relatively seldom, for with the exception of eleven books featuring three different sets of characters (see list below), Thomas has chosen to eschew the series character. Eleven out of twenty-three might not seem all that much like eschewing, but except for two they were written over fourteen years ago. Perhaps he is wise; none of the sequels have quite measured up to the originals, in my eyes.

   Thomas has won two Edgars: for Best First Novel with The Cold War Swap in 1966, and nearly 20 years later for Best Novel with Briarpatch in 1984. Many people, though, consider Chinaman’s Chance his best novel; certainly it’s the book that finally began to gain him the major recognition he so richly deserved.

   My own favorite of Thomas’s books is The Fools in Town Are on Our Side. It is really two stories, the first of a man who doesn’t care about anything and how he came to that condition, the second the story of cleanup-by-further-corruption of a town. Comparisons to Hammett’s Red Harvest are inevitable, at least partially apt, and have been made; nevertheless the two books bear little resemblance but for that partially shared theme.

   He may have created his most numerous set of memorable characters here, and that is high praise indeed. To me, this is the quintessential Ross Thomas novel.

   My choice for second-best is The Seersucker Whipsaw. The character of Quentin Sharlene is unforgettable, and the story of an African coup is both entertaining and riveting from beginning to end. Almost every character is a major or minor masterpiece. The treatment of the African milieu was exceptional, I think, for 1967.

   His next, due out possibly by the time this sees print, is reported to be a third in the Durant-Wu series; but that’s immaterial — as long as there is a next.

– Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #3, September 1992.

       The Mac McCorkle-Michael Padillo series –

1. The Cold War Swap (1966)
2. Cast a Yellow Shadow (1967)

3. The Backup Men (1971)
4. Twilight at Mac’s Place (1990)

       The Philip St. Ives series (as by Oliver Bleeck)

1. The Brass Go-Between (1969)

2. The Procane Chronicle (1971)

3. Protocol for a Kidnapping (1971)
4. The Highbinders (1974)
5. No Questions Asked (1976)

       The Quincy Durant-Artie Wu series –

1. Chinaman’s Chance (1978)

2. Out On the Rim (1987)
3. Voodoo, Ltd. (1992)

       Other novels –

The Seersucker Whipsaw (1967)
The Singapore Wink (1969)

The Fools in Town Are On Our Side (1970)
The Porkchoppers (1972)
If You Can’t Be Good (1973)
The Money Harvest (1975)
Yellow Dog Contract (1976)
The Eighth Dwarf (1979)

The Mordida Man (1981)
Missionary Stew (1983)
Briarpatch (1984)
The Fourth Durango (1989)
Ah, Treachery! (1994)

Editorial Comment:   Voodoo, Ltd. was the book that Barry was referring in his last paragraph. Ah, Treachery! was Ross Thomas’s final book, and was also not included in the bibliography Barry prepared for this profile when it was first published.


C. J. HENDERSON – No Free Lunch. Jack Hagee #1. Diamond, paperback original, 1992.

   Jack Hagee had his genesis in Wayne Dundee’s Hardboiled, and the short stories were collcted by Gary Lovisi under the title What You Pay For (Gryphon Publications, 1990). I’ve seen them in neither form. Hagee is an ex-cop from Pittsburgh, and his home now is New York City. It’s a Big Apple decayed as that of Vachss and Solamita, and the first few pages are as grim, angst-ridden, and overwritten as anything you are likely to see.

   Hagee is visited by a singularly unappetizing fat man from Pennsylvania, whose fianceé has disappeared. The would-be client fears she has fallen with bad company at home and come with them to NYC, and wants Hagee to find her. Hagee, reluctant but broke, accepts the case.

   A trip to the Pennsylvania hometown reveals that the lady was a tramp and the client not as harmless as he appeared. Hagee returns to the city and begins hunting down the players. When he starts finding them people begin to die.

   This got some nice advance notices, including one by Richard Prather likening the thrill he got from it to the one he had upon reading Raymond Chandler. I’m not sure about Prather; maybe his memory failed him, or could be he mistook indigestion for a thrill. Something, anyway.

   Prose sample describing a woman’s red hair: “It jumped in long, fierce waves whenever she turned her head, crashing against her bare shoulders like the tide against white sand. It teased the blood with sparkling shocks — flaming crackles, the kind of look men kill their best friends over.” It all sounds painful.

   The writing gets in the way of the story. In some places it’s pretty good writing, in some places abysmally bad. but it gets in the way of the story. The whole thing was suggestive to me of an attempt by Mickey Spillane to imitate Raymond Chandler. There’s enough mindless violence and brutality to make up five modern PI novels. If you liked Spillane and Mike Hammer, you might like Henderson and Jack Hagee. I did (sort of), but I don’t.

– Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #4, November 1992.

      The Jack Hagee novels –

No Free Lunch (1992)
Something For Nothing (1993)

Nothing Lasts Forever (1994)

   Jack Hagee has also appeared in short stories and graphic novels. For more information, please consult the Thrilling Detective website.

GRET LANE – Death Prowls the Cove. Herbert Jenkins, UK, hardcover, no date stated but known to be 1942.

   Nothing much seems to be known about Gret Lane, author of 13 works of crime and detective published in England between 1925 and 1943, except that the name itself is a pseudonym. The first two are standalone tales, two others are cases tackled (and solved, one presumes) by a policeman by the name of Inspector Hook. All of the rest (nine in all) feature an amateur originally named Kate Clare, but once she is married, she is Kate Marsh, as she is in Death Prowls the Cove.

   And in eight of the nine, she is paired up with a police inspector named John Barrin, but by the time Cove was written, and perhaps for some time before, he had retired from Scotland Yard. Both families, Kate and her husband Tony Marsh (who writes adventure tales), and Barrin and his wife Jennie (a matron of 60 or so who knits a lot) now live in semi-detached cottages in the small town of White Owl Cove along the shore in South Devon.

   Between them they have two maids, Polly and Sarah, sisters who in turn are engaged to two former miscreants, now totally reformed, from earlier books, named Bill and Jo-Jo. Dead not too far into the book is Jo-Jo’s Uncle Pierre, a former smuggler who has come to live in England from France.

   Suspected are Uncle Pierre’s former colleagues in crime; Bob Daw, a loutish local poacher of a fellow who had an argument with the dead man in a local drinking establishment before his death; a coterie of neighbors high above the cove who act very suspiciously; and Bill or Jo-Jo themselves, separately or together.

   This is a very cozy affair, with lots of huddled plans and strategies on the part of the combined two households, along with a local police inspector who is more than willing to let both Kate and John Berrin have the way with the investigation.

   And any self-respecting criminal who begin to beware when Kate starts reflectively rubbing the side of her nose. I hope I haven’t made this as unexciting as it is not, but truthfully the killer(s) can easily discerned by the laziest of readers — the scale and scope of the tale being so narrowly restricted as it is.

   I wouldn’t mind reading another, if I could afford it. The least expensive copy offered for sale online is in the $60 range, and some of the earlier ones have even higher price tags, if they are offered for sale anywhere at all.

       The Kate Clare (Marsh) series –

The Cancelled Score Mystery. Jenkins 1929 [JB]
The Curlew Coombe Mystery. Jenkins 1930 [JB]
The Lantern House Affair. Jenkins 1931
The Hotel Cremona Mystery. Jenkins 1932 [JB]
The Unknown Enemy. Jenkins 1933 [JB]
Death Visits the Summer-House. Jenkins 1939 [JB]
Death in Mermaid Lane. Jenkins 1940 [JB]
Death Prowls the Cove. Jenkins 1942 [JB]
The Guest with the Scythe. Jenkins 1943 [JB]


J. ROBERT JANES – Sandman. Soho, US, hardcover, 1996; paperback, 1998. First published in the UK by Constable, hardcover, 1996.

   The sixth in a series of novels set in occupied Paris (1943) and featuring an unlikely pair of investigators who have become friends, Louis St. Cyr of the French Sûreté, and Hermann Kohler of the German Gestapo. They investigate what are thought of as “ordinary” crimes (not connected to the ongoing occupation), which in this case is the series of rapes and murders of schoolgirls by a serial killer called the “Sandman.”

   Within the confines of the unusual situation, the novel follows a fairly conventional path, with incompetent superiors who threaten to impede the investigation by the two dogged, competent detectives.

   The distinction of the book is in its setting, a cold winter in occupied Paris, where the weather and the occupation have settled into the bones and the soul, and the believable characterizations. This is definitely a series to which I will want to return.

       The St. Cyr and Kohler series —

1. Mayhem (1992)
2. Carousel (1992)
3. Kaleidoscope (1993)

4. Salamander (1994)
5. Mannequin (1994)
6. Sandman (1994)
7. Stonekiller (1995)
8. Dollmaker (1995)

9. Gypsy (1997)
10. Madrigal (1999)
11. Beekeeper (2001)
12. Flykiller (2002)

13. Bellringer (2012)
14. Tapestry (2013)
15. Carnival (2014)

16. Clandestine (2015)

William F. Deeck

FRANK GRUBER – Swing Low, Swing Dead. Belmont L92-586, paperback original, April 1964. Cover art: Victor Kalin. Reprinted several times, including Belmont B75-2039, 1970.

   Once again through no fault of their own, Johnny Fletcher, masterly and maybe masterful bookseller who specializes in one title, and Sam Cragg, the strongest man in the world, are living hazardously. Sam has won all rights to a rock-and-roll song called “Apple Taffy,” the first line of which is “I love apple taffy, sweet, sweet, sticky sticky apple taffy.”

   Johnny claims this song is better than most, and adds: “The whole point and purpose of rock and roll music is to see how childish, how infantile you can make it.”

   Several people are seeking the original manuscript, some for a consideration, others for nothing, except, perhaps, the lives of Johnny and Sam. After all, someone has poisoned the original composer, and that someone is not likely to let a few more lives stand in his or her way.

   Fletcher has street smarts and Cragg has no smarts. Both of them would like to be rich, but Fletcher knows such a change in fortune would take all the fun out of their lives, such as it is, though Cragg may have a different opinion since he likes to eat regularly. Gruber`s Fletcher and Cragg novels are great fun if not sampled too often.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1990, “Musical Mysteries.”

       The Johnny Fletcher & Sam Cragg series —

The French Key. Farrar 1940.

The Laughing Fox. Farrar 1940.
The Hungry Dog. Farrar 1941.
The Navy Colt. Farrar 1941.

The Talking Clock. Farrar 1941.
The Gift Horse. Farrar 1942.
The Mighty Blockhead. Farrar 1942.
The Silver Tombstone. Farrar 1945.

The Honest Dealer. Rinehart 1947.

The Whispering Master. Rinehart 1947.
The Scarlet Feather. Rinehart 1948.
The Leather Duke. Rinehart 1949.
The Limping Goose. Rinehart 1954.
Swing Low Swing Dead. Belmont 1964.

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