Reference works / Biographies


KAREN A. ROMANKO – Women of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television: An Encyclopedia of 400 Characters and 200 Shows, 1950-2016. McFarland, softcover, October 2019.

   Karen A. Romanko’s previous book, Television’s Female Spies and Crimefighters (McFarland, 2016) was noted here soon after it was published. As was the case for that book, the title should tell everyone at once what this one’s about, and I imagine the subject matter is of at least some interest to you all.

   As before, both the characters and the shows they were on are listed alphabetically, but interspersed one with the other. For example, the first profile entry is for Devon Adair, who appeared on the TV series Earth-2, followed by Bo Adams (of Believe), then by The Addams Family, with a lengthy overview of the series itself, which ran for two seasons on ABC, 1964-1966.

   The final two entries are for Young Blades, a series which ran for 13 episodes in 2005, and for Zaan, the blue-skinned alien priestess on Farscape.

   Following the main portion of the book is a listing of all the series which did not make the cut, but for which I for one could often make strong cases for inclusion. On the other hand, I did not write the book! An example of just one, however, is The Dead Zone, which lasted for five seasons, but since I do not recall any women in leading roles, I will concede the point.

   One character and series that is included, but which I question is Cinnamon Carter of Mission: Impossible fame. Many of team’s exploits were far-fetched, but that does not mean they were fantasy, either.

   Of special note is the historical overview at the front of book, putting into context many of the more important female heroes included in the book, beginning with Tonga and Carol Carlisle (of Space Patrol) and concluding with Peggy Carter, the starring character of her very own series, Agent Carter.

   And since the cutoff for inclusion this time around was 2016, perhaps it is not too early to ask for a revised and expanded edition in a few years or so. I’d buy it!

THOUGHTS ON CORNELL WOOLRICH
by Dan Stumpf


   Just finished re-reading Mike Nevins’ Woolrich bio: First You Dream, Then You Die, an excellent work and one I recommend highly.

   It was Nevins who reminded me, almost 50 years ago, how fine a writer Woolrich was. I had read and been very impressed by Rendezvous in Black, back in the 60s, but Nevin’s well-edited collection of Woolrich short stories, Nightwebs, got me seriously into collecting him, and turned me on to a lot of very fine tales.

   There’s one point, though, where I disagree with Nevins seriously, and I’m afraid it’s a point that he insists on over and over:

   The Police in Woolrich books are always out there. Everywhere. Vaguely menacing, impossibly vigilant, and unconscionably brutal. They do things in Woolrich stories that would make LAPD look like Quakers. Naturally, Attorney Nevins is appalled by all these shenanigans, and he says so. But he also implies that Woolrich himself condemns such tactics, and that he means for his readers to be horrified by them as well.

   But unfortunately for Woolrich’s reputation with those of a progressive nature, I have never seen any sign in any of his books that he regarded the Cops as anything Other than a Fact of Life, and their fantastically hard-nosed tactics as other than necessary. This, by the way, is not just a problem for Nevins; It’s a question that invariably confronts any fan of Woolrich — How can such a sensitive, romantic stylist condone such brutality and facism?

   The answer, I think, is in Woolrich himself. Woolrich was Homosexual, but he could hardly be called Gay; By all accounts he despised himself for his attraction to men, and there are several passages in his books where he seems to positively lavish self-hatred on characters who are in any way less than manly.

   It’s worth remembering, then, that homosexual conduct was against the law in Woolrich’s day, and that the Police were notoriously rough on Gays. There was a phrase still current in my childhood, “Smear the Queer,” whose frightening implications were not apparent to me until much later, but it pretty much describes the treatment a Gay could expect in those days at the hands of the Law.

   Think, then, of that tormented mind when Woolrich knew that at any time, he might be caught by the slimiest of dodges and subjected to legal torture — and probably thought he deserved it — writing of crime and necessarily of Police.

   For an apt contrast, look at the obsessive detective Ed Cornell in Steve Fisher’s I Wake Up Screaming. Visually based on Woolrich himself, the bent cop does all the things a Woolrich cop might do, and comes off as purely evil. But in the view of Woolrich himself, nothing the Police did was as corrosive to Society as evil the Evil they were trying (literally) to stamp out, and hence the most outrageous conduct on the part of Cops throughout his canon gets casually shrugged off, if not defended.

   This aside, First You Dream, Then You Die, is a model of what a Literary Biography should be: Informative, Analytical and compulsively readable. Go out and buy a copy. And tell ’em Stumpf sent ya.

REVIEWED BY WALKER MARTIN:


LAURIE POWERS – Queen of the Pulps: The Reign of Daisy Bacon and Love Story Magazine. McFarland, paperback, September 2019.

   Have you ever received a book in the mail and immediately stopped what you were reading, stopped whatever you were doing and sat down and read the book? This is what happened when I received Queen of the Pulps. I had seen Laurie Powers work and do research on it for several years and finally here it is! She must of gotten sick and tired of me nagging her about the book and asking for progress reports.

   This book breaks new ground and stresses original research on the love and romance magazines. Recently there have been some excellent books about the pulps such as John Campbell and Astounding Science Fiction, Joseph Shaw and Black Mask (forthcoming from Altus Press/Steeger Books this November), and in a few months, Michelle Nolan’s book on the sport pulps. Many collectors have been saying that we live in the Golden Age of Pulp Reprints, well it looks like there is a Golden Age of Pulp Studies also.

   It’s exciting to realize that these books are not just run of the mill academic studies. They cover three of the greatest pulp editors: John Campbell, the greatest of the SF editors in the forties, Joseph Shaw, the greatest of the hard boiled detective pulp editors, and Daisy Bacon, the greatest of the love and romance pulp editors. Now all we need are books on Arthur Sullivant Hoffman, the greatest of the adventure pulp editors and Farnsworth Wright, the greatest editor of the fantastic and supernatural pulps.

   The book is a real beauty and very impressive looking. Laurie spared no expense and gathered over 80 photographs which are reproduced on high quality book paper and thus show up very well. She also has five color photos of Love Story covers. I like the way the photos are spread throughout the book and not just squeezed in a few pages. In the back of the book are around 300 chapter notes and footnotes documenting the facts, also an extensive bibliography and index. It is very obvious that this is a labor of love for Laurie and the excellent final results make all her hard work worth it.

   But in addition to the above, there is another reason why I love this book. Starting in 1972 I attended the yearly Pulpcon conventions where just about all the conversations centered around the hero pulps. Titles like The Shadow, Doc Savage, G-8 and His Battle Aces, Operator 5, etc. There also was some interest in science fiction and many of the old timers(all these great old pals now gone), loved Max Brand and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

   You might think this must have been a great time but for me, it was not. Though I ended up collecting just about all the hero pulps, I hated them with a passion. I know many of my collector friends will gasp in horror at such sacrilege, but I couldn’t stand the heroes and every attempt to read them defeated me because of the childish plots and dialog. At least with a love pulp you are dealing with a subject that makes the world go round. Love! But I positively disliked the silly Monk and Ham characters in Doc Savage and Bull and Nippy in G-8.

   So, in the early days of pulp fandom there was very little interest in other genres like detective, western, adventure, and sport fiction. And certainly there was absolutely no interest in collecting the love and romance pulps. Sure there were a couple lost souls like me, Digges La Touche, and even Steve Lewis. We picked up issues here and there over the years and now I guess I have a couple hundred Love Story issues without even trying.

   However, as the years and decades marched on, things began to change and collectors started to collect the other genres, the pulps that adults read and not just the hero pulps which were aimed at the teen-age boy market. I even did an informal survey in the seventies and eighties where I asked many non-collectors if they remembered the pulps. Many of the women remembered the love and general interest pulps and many of the men remembered and read Black Mask, Argosy, Adventure, Western Story, etc. When I directly asked them about the hero titles, the usual response was did I mean the “kid pulps”, or as one of my old time friends said “the magazines with the unreadable crap” (Harry–Damn it you said you would get back to me about the afterlife!).

   Now finally we have a book that back in the 1970’s I never thought would be published. It is not about the hero pulps, rehashing old tired comments but about one of the most successful editors, Daisy Bacon. For 20 years, 1928–1947, she edited Love Story which had the highest circulation of all the pulps, estimated to reach 600,000 per issue.

   Queen of the Pulps is not only about Daisy Bacon and Love Story, but also about editing in general at Street & Smith. Daisy edited seven other titles in addition to Love Story and though the main thrust of this book is about that magazine, Laurie Powers also discusses Daisy’s time editing Detective Story for most of the decade in the forties. She also covers her time as editor of the final issues of The Shadow and Doc Savage.

   It sounds like she enjoyed the change of pace from love to murder. For 25 years Detective Story had published a sort of bland and sedate detective story, just about ignoring the hard boiled style sweeping through the other quality detective titles like Black Mask, Dime Detective, and Detective Fiction Weekly. During this period, 1915–1940, the magazine avoided the tough, hard boiled fiction except for an occasional story from Carroll John Daly, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Cornell Woolrich, etc.

   But when Daisy Bacon took over as editor in 1941, Detective Story took on new life and she encouraged many of the writers from Black Mask and Dime Detective to write for Detective Story. Raymond Chandler, Dale Clark, T.T. Flynn, G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Julius Long, D.L. Champion, Norbert Davis, John K. Butler, Day Keene, John D. MacDonald, and others all appeared once or twice.

   It’s obvious she wanted to make the stories tougher, and she got Carroll John Daly to write six novelets, Fred Brown to write nine shorts, William Campbell Gault to appear 14 times, and her best author during the forties, Roger Torrey. Torrey had 13 novelets, all starring Irish private eyes, and these stories are worth looking up because they represent his very best work. Torrey unfortunate had a severe drinking problem and drank himself to death around 1945. I read about his death in one of his short story collections and it’s a real sad story.

   Daisy Bacon’s reward for all this? She was fired in 1949 during the bloodiest day in pulp history as Street & Smith killed off all its pulp titles (the one exception for some reason being Astounding). Western Story, over 1250 issues—Gone! Detective Story, over a thousand issues–Gone! It seems that the president of Street & Smith hated the pulps and saw the future as slick women’s magazines. These slicks are so dated and worthless that just about no one collects them nowadays. But the Breakers love them because they cut out the slick ads and sell them to housewives and men to frame them in their basement bars or kitchens.

    What is this guy’s name? Allen Grammer, who was hired by the family to run Street & Smith, the first such outsider in almost a hundred years of publishing. When he came on board in 1938, he had no interest in the pulps and almost from the very beginning worked to get them out of circulation. Needless to say, he and Daisy did not get along and he got rid of her along with the pulp titles.

   On a more personal note, I became involved with the Grammer family. What’s the odds of a non-collector having two pulp cover paintings and moving right next door to a collector with a house full of pulp art? A billion to one? Will it happened to me. In the mid-1990’s an elderly retired music teacher moved next door and had an open house for the neighbors to get acquainted. As my wife and I walked through his house we were stunned to see two original cover paintings from Western Story hanging on the wall of the den.

   They both were from 1938 and painted by Walter Haskell Hinton. I immediately cornered my host and discovered that his name was Paul Grammer and he was the nephew of Allen Grammer. It seemed his uncle was the head executive at Street & Smith back decades ago and Paul Grammer’s father also had a high position. Eventually when Allen Grammer died, Paul inherited the pulp cover paintings. Several years later Paul gave in to my pleas and sold me the two paintings. Every time I look at the one I still have, I think of Paul and wish he still lived next door.

   Over the years I had several conversations with Paul about his infamous uncle and I sure wish Paul was still alive because I have even more questions now that this Daisy Bacon book is out. Paul once showed me a photograph of Allen Grammer sitting behind his desk at the Street & Smith offices. Behind him was a large pulp painting by N.C. Wyeth. I commented that the painting was now worth a million dollars and Paul said one day his uncle went into the office and the painting was gone. Someone had walked out with it. I wish I had talked Paul Grammer into letting me have the photo because I see that Laurie does not have one of Allen Grammer in the book. I suspect Laurie sympathized with Daisy and also dislikes him. Thus no photo! (Or maybe she could not get the rights to publish a photo.)

   So, for several years I watched Laurie got deeper and deeper into the life of Daisy Bacon. More than once Laurie traveled from California to New York and New Jersey. She discovered the old records, photographs, diaries, and various papers that Daisy had kept all her long life. On one trip she even discovered the love nest built by Daisy’s long time lover in the woods of New Jersey. Laurie even came across and now owns, the one painting that Daisy kept by Modest Stein. By the way, love pulp cover paintings are rare. I’ve only found two: one for Love Book and one for All Story Love.

   The book is full of fascinating details and stories about Daisy, her half sister, Esther Ford, her mother, and her lover. Laurie has told a suspenseful story worthy of being published in Love Story magazine. Of course the part about the secret lover would have to edited out of the story. It has all the pulp story ingredients: love, attempted suicide, secret lives, success, depression, and failure.

   If you read the pulps, buy the pulp reprints, or collect the old magazines, this book is a must buy. Price is $40 but it’s worth the cost. This gets my highest recommendation and can be bought on amazon.com or the McFarland Books website. If you attend Pulpadventurecon in Bordentown, NJ on November 2, 2019 Laurie will have copies for sale.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


MARTIN GREENBERG, Editor – The Tony Hillerman Companion. HarperCollins, hardcover, 1994; paperback, 1995.

   Well, the photo on the dust jacket finally provided confirmation from my wife — Tony Hillerman and I resemble each other. I think it’s the ears.

   The Companion contains several sections, the first two being a book-by-book synopsis of Hillerman’s detective novels by Jon Breen, and then a lengthy 1993 interview with Hillerman by Breen. Then there is an article chosen by Hillerman on the Navajos, a section on Navajo Clan names, and then the longest section of the book, 200 pages of character concordance.

   The book ends with several short non-fiction pieces by Hillerman, and three of his short stories. There are also several pages of photos, in which he manages to resemble me two or three times.

   For a real aficionado of Hillerman’s books this would be indispensable, and for anyone interested in them at all very enjoyable. Breen is an excellent interviewer, obviously thoroughly familiar with Hillerman’s work and with a great appreciation of it.

   The Navajo material was interesting, as were Hillerman’s non-fiction pieces — the part of the book most likely to be new to his fans. The Concordance was the least interesting to me, and I think likely to any but his most involved fans. At $25 a throw I’d say it’s best read from the library for all but his most enthusiastic followers, but for them it will be a treasure.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #14, August 1994.

   I’ve asked Ian Dickerson, the author of the following book to tell us more about it. He’s most graciously agreed:

IAN DICKERSON – Who Is The Falcon?: The Detective In Print, Movies, Radio and TV. Purview Press. softcover, December 2016.

   Back in the dim and distant past, when I was just a lad, I discovered the adventures of the Saint. (I know, I know, I’ve kept that quiet….) In those heady days I was a sucker for any new Saint-like adventure so when the BBC ran out of old black and white Saint films to show and moved onto something called ‘The Falcon.’ my place in front of the television was assured for a few more weeks.

   Those early Falcon films were remarkably Saintly, and although the later ones got a little more creative — The Falcon and the Co-Eds anyone? — they were still firmly in the gentleman detective genre and my teen -aged self was happy.

   Fast forward a few years — well, okay, quite a few years — and I discovered old time radio shows. But I soon had a problem, I had all the episodes of The Saint on tape and being greedy I wanted more. Then I discovered the Falcon had also appeared on radio! Aha, problem solved I thought! But when I listened to the tapes I discovered the Falcon — that radio Falcon — was a hard boiled 1940s PI and bore virtually no resemblance to the gentleman detective of the George Sanders and Tom Conway films. At a time when the Internet was only really just booting up, I had no way of establishing what had happened, but I rather enjoyed those hard-boiled PI adventures so quickly ordered some more.

   Fast forward a few more years and with the help of the now mature Internet, I discovered that not only had the Falcon also appeared in books, magazines and on TV, but that the radio show had run for over a decade and there had been over four hundred and eighty episodes.

   I wanted to learn things; to find out why there were two different characters and how they’d come to be changed, to find out more about the Falcon’s TV adventures and see if I could find copies of them, I also wanted to know more about his stint on radio — who played him? Who wrote the stories? What were they about? And for the geek in me … had I listened to all the ones that were available? (I certainly have now!)

   And I wanted to celebrate a character that had survived sixteen films, a handful of books, thirty-nine episodes of television and that long run on radio.

   So I wrote a book.

   Who is the Falcon? tells the story of all the Falcon’s adventures in print, on radio, in film and television. And there’s even a Falcon short story from the 1940s thrown in for good measure.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


BURL BARER – The Saint: A Complete History in Print, Radio, Television and Film. 1928-1992. McFarland, hardcover, 1993.

   Here’s the Edgar winner for 1994 [in the Best Critical/Biographical category]. The Saint was one of my earliest heroes among “grown-up” fictional characters, and I still retain more than a little fondness for him.

   This is truly everything you wanted to know about the Saint but didn’t know enough to ask. It’s not about Leslie Charteris in a biographical sense, except as his life relates to the Saint. The book proper is a 240+ page chronological account of the creation and perpetuation of the Saint in all forms — books, magazines, comic books, newspapers, radio, movies, and television — in an order as nearly chronological as possible. It’s followed by another 160 pages of appendices (plus an excellent index) that include movie, tv and radio synopses and players, and a chronology of the Saint writings.

   Leaving aside for the moment how well Barer did what he set out to do, how “good” a book this is depends entirely (as us the case will all specialized reference books) in how interested you are in the subject. That said, I thought he did a damned good job.

   His prose style isn’t scintillating, but it’s also far from turgid. I thought he made excellent use of very extensive quotes from Charteris and many of the media people he dealt with. I hadn’t really realized how ubiquitous the character had been. I had no way of knowing either how complete or how accurate the hard data is, but I’m comfortable in saying that it’s the best available.

   All told, I thought this was an excellent book and well worth the money for any true Saint fan.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #14, August 1994 (very slightly revised).

   I’ve asked Dick Etulain, the author of the following book to tell us more about it. He’s most graciously agreed:

RICHARD W. ETULAIN – Ernest Haycox and the Western. University of Oklahoma Press, hardcover, illustrated, 2017.

   This book attempts to resurrect writer Ernest Haycox as a major figure in the development of the fictional Western. It is not a biography; Haycox’s son, Ernest Haycox, Jr., does that in his smoothly written book On a Silver Desert: The Life of Ernest Haycox (2003). Nor is it primarily a work of literary criticism. That book is available in Stephen L. Tanner, Ernest Haycox (1996).

   Rather, my book is a work of literary history, tracing Haycox’s literary career from its origins in the early 1920s to his death in 1950.

   Born in 1899 and reared in Oregon, Haycox contributed to high school publications and then to college outlets at Reed College (1919-20) and the University of Oregon (1920-23). By graduation, Haycox had published several stories in pulp magazines. Hoping to establish strong links to fictional outlets in the East, Haycox traveled to New York City, where he met editors important to his career in the 1920s. Meeting Jill Marie Chord (also from Oregon) on the train east, they married in New York City but soon returned west to Portland, which would be the Haycox home for the remainder of his life.

   By the end of the 1920s, Haycox was a steady contributor to many pulp magazines, including such stalwarts as Adventure, Short Stories, and Western Story Magazine. In 1928, he published his first full-length serial, which appeared the next year as Free Grass, his first novel. In the opening 1930s, Haycox made his first appearance in Collier’s and remained a steady contributor for almost twenty years.

   Hoping to move to the top of writers of Westerns, Haycox experimented with several new wrinkles to chosen genre. He created reflective protagonists (“Hamlet heroes”) and dark and light heroines (passionate and reserved women).

   Even more important, he began to turn out historical Westerns, infusing his lively fiction with historical backgrounds such as building the transcontinental railroad, fighting Indians in the Southwest, and settling Oregon. His most notable historical Western was Bugles in the Afternoon (1944), a fictional recreation of Gen. George Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

   Immensely successful, Haycox was nonetheless dissatisfied with the restrictions of the Western and entered a period of revolt in the last half-dozen years (1944-50) of his career. Abandoning lucrative serial markets, he set out to write first-rate historical fiction. His best historical novel, The Earthbreakers (1952), appeared two years after his death.

   Talented, ambitious, and driven, Ernest Haycox became a major figure in popular fiction written about the American West. Haycox’s continuing growth, gradual but steady, amply demonstrates an author determined enough to defy popular demands and honest enough to write novels consistent with his changing literary beliefs.

RAH RAH RASPUTIN!
by Dan Stumpf


  RASPUTIN. (Dial Press, 1927) by Felix Yusupov.

  RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS MGM, 1932. John, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore, Ralph Morgan, Diana Wynyard and Edward Arnold. Written by Charles MacArthur. Directed by Richard Boleslavsky.

  THE NIGHT THEY KILLED RASPUTIN. Cino Del Duca, 1960. Also released as Nights of Rasputin. Edmond Purdom, Gianna Maria Canale and John Drew Barrymore. Written and directed by Pierre Chenal.

  RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK. Hammer, 1966. Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley and Richard Pascoe. Written by Anthony Hinds (as “John Elder”.) Directed by Don Sharp.

  RASPUTIN IN HOLLYWOOD (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1990) by Sir David Napley.

   Prince Felix Yusupov’s RASPUTIN (Dial Press, 1927) is something of a rarity: a biography written by the assassin of its subject. Indeed, the only antecedent I can recall is Pat Garrett’s AUTHENTIC LIFE OF BILLY THE KID, which was largely ghost-written. This may have been ghosted too, for all I know, but it reads with the self-serving simplicity of One Who Was There.

   Maybe some faint controversy still sputters over The Mad Monk, but there’s no denying his role as the 20th century equivalent of the Queen’s Necklace: the catalyst in the fall of a (tottering) monarchy that ushered in a whole new age — and did it with a tawdry stylishness that has all the elements (according to the old joke) of a great novel: Religion, Royalty, Sex and Mystery. No wonder he’s been the subject of a dozen books and movies.

   But this book, as I say, was written by the guy who killed him, and it has its moments. The background on Rasputin is sketchy and one-sided as one expects, but it’s interesting to read Prince Felix, writing ten years after the Russian Revolution, anticipating the imminent fall of the Communist government.

   His take on the Great War and the chaos of Imperial Russian politics is also fascinating, but the book really comes to life when Yusupov gets to his own encounters with Rasputin, and his growing resolve to kill him, then the bloody deed and its aftermath. These chapters have all the impact of a really fine crime story, and if it’s not told with quite the edgy panache of Charles Williams or Jim Thompson, it’s still a fine, riveting read and a fascinating reflection of an age gone by.

   The whole affair was done up with suitable splendor by MGM in 1932; RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS offers a stellar cast, crowds of extras, sumptuous sets and appropriate disregard for history. John Barrymore looks a bit ticked off at not getting to play Rasputin (his brother Lionel gets that plum part), but he puts commensurate enthusiasm into the scene where he poisons, shoots, clubs and drowns his sibling, and the rest of the cast handles things with equal enthusiasm.

   There is some interest in seeing Barrymore Jr in THE NIGHT THEY KILLED RASPUTIN essay the part his daddy had, but that’s the sole attraction of this effort, at least as released here in the US. It may have been more appealing in color, but it showed up here in badly-dubbed B&W. Hence. I cannot fairly judge the acting except to say it sounds like they had two or three voice-over artists doing all the parts, and it ends so abruptly I suspect someone just lost interest. I know I did.

   RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK is rather more spirited but somewhat misses the high-water mark set by Hammer Studios at their best. Blame the by-the-numbers direction by Don Sharp, a confirmed second-stringer, or the penurious production from Hammer, who did this back-to-back with DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, using the same sets and much of the cast. There’s a spirited performance from Christopher Lee, relishing a bravura speaking part for a change, but everyone else seems to act like they’re wasted in Nothing Parts — which they pretty much are.

   And then there’s the book RASPUTIN IN HOLLYWOOD, by noted British author/solicitor Sir David Napley, dealing primarily with the lawsuit Prince and Princess Yusupov brought in British courts against MGM for suggesting in their movie that the princess had an improper encounter with the mad monk.

   This is hardly the stuff of gripping drama, but Napley handles it (mostly) well. There’s some enjoyably concise background on the principals in the story: I never knew the Prince did a drag act in nightclubs, and he was about the least likely person to pick for the job of assassinating a bear of a man like Rasputin; in point of fact, the monk was finished off by others in the plot.

   Be that as it may, the Yusupovs escaped the Bolsheviks, spent all their money, and when the MGM film came out, either gasped in horror at seeing the princess’ name besmirched, or licked their chops seeing the chance for more lucre. Take your pick. Napley remains impartial as he goes on to describe the trial in detail, telling us about the opposing strategies, explaining the strengths and weaknesses and all the hits, runs and errors in a very expensive game.

   It ain’t exactly ANATOMY OF A MURDER, but he keeps it interesting and fun—which is more than I can say for some of those movies.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


MIKE RIPLEY – Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: The Boom in British Thrillers from Casino Royale to The Eagle Has Landed. HarperCollins, UK, hardcover, May 2017. US edition: September 2017. Foreword by Lee Child.

   Just as there are novels that appear that seemingly had to be written, and characters whose time has come to emerge, there are books about books, even in the genres, that appear and the proper reaction to them is why wasn’t this book always here?

   We can all name texts in the broad genre covered on this blog that were like that going back to ur-texts like Howard Haycraft’s Murder for Pleasure and Vincent Starrett’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Ellery Queen’s Queen’s Quorum; Richard Usborne’s The Clubland Heroes, about the between the war works of Buchan, Yates, Sapper McNeile; Julian Symons’ first critical study of the genre; Ron Goulart’s essays in the anthology The Hard-Boiled Dicks; Kingsley Amis’s A James Bond Dossier; Barzun and Taylor’s A Catalog of Crime; the oft quoted, in these pages, 1001 Midnights by Pronzini and Mueller et al — these are just a few examples.

   Now added to that list is Mike Ripley’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (the title taken from a dismissive remark by Ian Fleming about his own work) a work which wisely narrows its focus to the Golden Age of the modern British Men’s thriller, roughly 1950 to 1980.

   Though Ripley wisely chooses to mark his territory with two hallmarks of that era, 1953’s publication of Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel by Ian Fleming, and the 1970’s publication of prolific Jack Higgins first mega-hit The Eagle Has Landed, the book begins before Fleming and ends with the rise of the American spy novelists such as Robert Ludlum and Charles McCarry.

   Mike Ripley, for anyone who doesn’t know, is the leading historian of the British thriller — I wouldn’t limit him like that, but since that is the subject of this work I will– an astute critic who not only writes about the genre, but who went to the trouble in the recent past of hunting down many of these writers, often thought dead, and bringing some of their work back in print.

   Here he concentrates on writers who came of age as thriller writers in the era covered, so Eric Ambler, Graham Greene, Dennis Wheatley, and Peter Cheyney though active in the period, are assigned to an earlier pre-war era, but writers like Hammond Innes and Victor Canning who began writing, but reached their first great success in the 1950’s, are well within the self-imposed limits.

   Along the way Ripley regales the reader with personal anecdotes on writers as diverse as Fleming, Innes, Household, Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, Gavin Lyall, John Le Carré, Len Deighton, Dick Francis, and many lesser known figures.

   He also manages to discuss their important works, the traditions they arise from, and in some cases created or recreated, as did Fleming, Deighton, Le Carré, Wilbur Smith, and Dick Francis. He is frank in his assessment of their successes and their creative downturns, and the societal and political trends and events surrounding them.

   He is particularly good on writers like MacLean, who while a major figure had always remained a bit of a cypher to me as a person. He also briefly discusses the impact of film on the success of some writers for good and ill.

   At close to 500 pages there is still much that there simply isn’t time to discuss. There is nothing greatly original about the revelation that these writers represent a reaction against, and in some cases a celebration of, the fall of Imperial England and the post war mental rebellion by the British male against post war hardship and Little England mindset.

   What is original and invaluable here is Ripley’s encyclopedic knowledge of and critical evaluation of these writers and works, his style which is at once scholarly and colloquial, and a fine appendix that covers brief biographical and bibliographical material about most of the best-known names to come out of England’s thriller writing stables in that period.

   He even includes multiple covers of books and where needed discusses the importance they played in the books success. It is telling that both Ian Fleming and Len Deighton paid out of their own pocket to assure they got the covers they wanted for hardcover editions of their work.

   Aside from how well it is written and how accessible it is, there are a handful of ways to properly judge books such as this, A: Does the work in question give the informed reader information he did not previously know? B: Does the work lead the reader to discover new writers or old he has missed or rediscover older writers he has forgotten or neglected? C: Is the volume likely to become dogeared and worn from frequent reading and reference?

   Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang does all those things. It is the perfect gift for anyone interested in the too often underappreciated Thriller genre, it offers simple and easily definable definitions for the types of thrillers it discusses, and while there are one or two minor caveats on my part, personal hobby horses unridden, it is for the most part the book I always hoped would be written on the genre, by that rarity, a man who is fully qualified to write it both in terms of knowledge and literary gifts.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


ROSEMARY HERBERT – The Fatal Art of Entertainment: Interviews with Mystery Writers. G. K Hall, hardcover, 1994.

   These are some of the better interviews with authors I’ve seen. Herbert has obviously read the books of each of them and thought about what she read. While she has certain themes she tries to explore with each author, she does quite well when discussing their individual oeuvres. She fawns a bit at times, but that’s probably hard to avoid. Hey, I can fawn with the best of ’em myself.

   The authors included are a mixed bag, and it would be interesting to know how they were selected. They are: Catherine Aird, Robert Barnard, Patricia Cornwell, Jonathan Gash, Sue Grafton, Jeremiah Healy, Reginald Hill, Tony Hillerman, P. D. James, Jane Langton, John Mortimer, Barbara Neely, and Julian Symons.

   They all had interesting things to say, some of course more so than others. It’s a bit pricey ($35) for anyone not really into this sort of thing, but it’s meaty, too. I was impressed with the book, and I’m usually not with interviews.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #12, March 1994.

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