Authors


REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


B. J. OLIPHANT – Death and the Delinquent. Shirley McClintock #4. Fawcett, paperback original, 1993.

   I like Sheri Tepper whatever name she writes under. At least I think I do; I haven’t read any of her A. J. Orde books, though I’ve got one waiting. I do like the Shirley McClintock series a lot and think they’re good enough for hard covers.

   Shirley and her foreman/companion vacationing in the mountains of New Mexico after the traumatic events in the last book with her daughter Allison and Allison’s schoolmate April. April isn’t working out too well. She’s nosy, neurotic, and thoroughly obnoxious, and Shirley has decided to send her home when a sharpshooter wounds Shirley’s mule and kills April. Accident? Hard to see how it could be.

   Some strange items are found in April’s belongings, and then a newborn is stolen from a hospital nursery. Of course it all fits together but Shirley-on-crutches is damned if she sees how.

   Tepper/Oliphant/Orde’s strength has always been her characters, whether they’re cat-like aliens or independent Colorado ranch ladies. Shirley McClintock is one of the stronger and more realistic, and an altogether appealing heroine. I haven’t found anything to dislike in this series. The writing is good, the characterization excellent, and the plots haven’t strained my credulity. All of the regulars have become real people, and I look forward to seeing more of them.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #7, May 1993.

       The Shirley McClintock series —

Dead in the Scrub. Gold Medal, 1990.

The Unexpected Corpse. Gold Medal, 1990.
Deservedly Dead. Gold Medal, 1992.
Death and the Delinquent. Gold Medal, 1993.
Death Served Up Cold. Gold Medal, 1994.
A Ceremonial Death. Gold Medal, 1996.
Here’s to the Newly Dead. Gold Medal.

   Sheri S. Tepper also wrote six mysteries as A. J. Orde, the leading character in these being Jason Lynx, an antiques dealer based in Denver CO. Under her own name, however, she was far better known as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, as you can see from her bibliography here. She died last month, on October 22, 2016, at the age of 87.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


W. ADOLPHE ROBERTS – The Haunting Hand. Macaulay, hardcover, 1926.

   Somewhat to her surprise, Margaret Anstruther has gotten a role in A Toreador’s Love, a silent picture produced by Superfilm Company. Her luck may be the result of the director’s lust for her physically, although he seems even more concerned about where she lives. And where she lives is interesting, since one night when she drops a match on the floor, a hand, with arm attached, comes out from under her bed and extinguishes the match.

   Later investigation proves that there could have been no one under the bed, but there is physical evidence that someone or something put out the flame. A policeman also sees the hand, but he’s Irish and you know about them.

   Our heroine investigates — she’s a science major, in addition to being a budding actress — and solves the problem with the help of another movie, The Masque of Life, directed by the same man who is in charge of A Toreador’s Love. Movies usually put Anstruther to sleep, but this one contains the clue that explains not all but a lot.

   W. Adolphe Roberts may have been the first black mystery writer. That I would contend, would be the only reason for reading this novel. The explanation for the hand doesn’t satisfy, and the writing is, to be kindly, second rate.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 7, No. 4, Winter 1991/2, “Murder on Screen.”


Bio-Bibliographical Notes:   For more on the author, who had quite an interesting life, check out this website, where he is said to have been a Jamaican journalist, novelist and travel writer. As the editor of Ainslee’s magazine, he published many of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s early poetry and not only that, fell in love with her. He wrote two other detective novels under his own name, plus two as Stephen Endicott, one listed as marginally criminous in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV.

FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   As I was beginning to think about how to open this month’s column, I opened the morning paper and found the answer handed to me. Ed Gorman had died. The date was Friday, October 14, a few weeks short of his 75th birthday. The cause was cancer, with which he’d first been diagnosed 14 years ago.

   He was something of a recluse among writers, leaving his home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa almost never, once reportedly turning down an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe, but managed to stay in touch with countless colleagues thanks to email and the telephone.

   Ed Gorman was one of the most prolific and compelling crime fiction writers of our generation, the author of dozens of novels and short stories under his own name and several others, plus Westerns and horror novels, plus anthologies, plus material for the Web on other writers, the list goes on and on. He was also one of the founders of Mystery Scene magazine, in whose latest issue there’s a moving tribute to him by editor Kate Stine. In so many ways, including his enthusiasm for everything he was involved in and the generosity with which he advised, mentored and supported writers younger than himself, he was the Anthony Boucher of our generation.

   Of course he never wrote science fiction as Boucher did, but then Boucher never wrote Westerns. I wish I were one of the tiny handful of writers who knew him well.

***

   Ever heard of The Digest Enthusiast? I hadn’t either, until one of its contributors, a man named Steve Carper, recently sent me a copy of the third issue (January 2016). It’s digest sized — what else would you expect? — and deals with all sorts of digest sized publications like magazines and paperback books and you-name-it.

   The subject of Carper’s contribution is the collections of short fiction by Dashiell Hammett that were assembled and edited by Ellery Queen — that is, by the Fred Dannay half of the Queen duo — mainly in the 1940s, and were published as digest-sized paperback originals under the Mercury, Bestseller and Jonathan Press imprints of Lawrence E. Spivak, the original publisher of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

   As veteran readers of this column are aware, now and then I’ve compared a few of Hammett’s stories as they originally appeared in Black Mask and other pulps with the versions published twenty or more years later in EQMM and those digest-sized collections. Fred told me many times that every story ever written was too long. True to that belief, he had a habit of changing — usually in the form of cutting — the stories he reprinted. Even Hammett’s.

   Now I learn from Carper’s article that a man named Terry Zobeck has been systematically comparing the Hammett stories as reprinted in EQMM with the versions published in Black Mask and elsewhere decades earlier. The article offers a few examples from Zobeck’s research. One sentence in the Continental Op tale “Who Killed Bob Teal?” (True Detective Stories, November 1924) reads: “Finally she shrugged, her face cleared, and she looked up at us.” Reprinting the story in EQMM (July 1947) and in the collection Dead Yellow Women (1947), Fred put a period after “cleared” and dropped the last six words.

   Another sentence as originally published reads: “Dean and I rode down in the elevator in silence, and walked out into Gough Street.” Under Fred’s editorial blue pencil the sentence ends with “elevator”. Anyone who wants to explore this subject in exhaustive detail needs to read the long series of Zobeck’s posts on Don Herron’s “Up and Down These Mean Streets” blog .

***

   “Who Killed Bob Teal?” is one of the lesser exploits of Hammett’s nameless Continental Op, but it’s of considerable historical interest, for reasons I can’t explain without [Warning] giving away the plot. Teal, a youthful detective for the Continental agency, had appeared in a few earlier tales in the series and in “Slippery Fingers” (Black Mask, 15 October 1923) was described by the Op as “a youngster who will be a world-beater some day.”

   According to the Op in the present story, he “had come to the agency fresh from college two years before; and if ever a man had the makings of a crack detective in him, this slender, broad-shouldered lad had….[W]ith his quick eye, cool nerve, balanced head, and whole-hearted interest in the work, [he] was already well along the way to expertness.” As the head of the San Francisco branch of the agency describes Teal’s murder to the Op:

   “He was shot with a .32, twice, through the heart. He was shot behind a row of signboards on the vacant lot on the northwest corner of Hyde and Eddy Streets, at about ten last night….I would say that there was no struggle, and that he was shot where he was found….He was lying behind the signboards, about thirty feet from the sidewalk, and his hands were empty. The gun was held close enough to him to singe the breast of his coat….”

   The case he’d been working on for the past few days had been brought to the agency by a farm-development engineer named Ogburn, who suspected that his business partner, Herbert Whitacre, had been embezzling money from the firm and was about to disappear. “I sent Teal out to shadow Whitacre,” the agency head tells the Op. It doesn’t take our sleuth long to conclude that the murderer of Bob Teal was Ogburn.

   “Bob wasn’t a boob! He might possibly have let a man he was trailing lure him behind a row of billboards on a dark night, but he would have gone prepared for trouble. He wouldn’t have died with empty hands, from a gun that was close enough to scorch his coat. The murderer had to be somebody Bob trusted, so it couldn’t be Whitacre…. There was only one man who could have persuaded him to drop Whitacre for a while, and that one man was the one he was working for — Ogburn.”

   Why this story is of historical importance should be clear to anyone who remembers how Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon immediately knew who had killed his partner Archer.

   “Miles hadn’t many brains, but, Christ! he had too many years’ experience as a detective to be caught like that by the man he was shadowing. Up a blind alley with his gun tucked away on his hip and his overcoat buttoned? Not a chance….But he’d’ve gone up there with you, angel….You were his client, so he would have had no reason for not dropping the shadow on your say-so….He’d’ve looked you up and down and licked his lips and gone grinning from ear to ear—and then you could’ve stood as close to him as you liked and put a hole through him….”

   There’s just one thing arguably wrong with the way Hammett handled the situation in the Bob Teal story. The plot requires that Teal must know and trust the client Ogburn, but little if anything in the story tells us that they even knew each other!

   “I sent Teal out to shadow Whitacre,” the Old Man tells the Op. We can’t infer from that that the two men had met. But, reviewing the two reports Teal had filed before his death, the Op tells us that “Ogburn had given Bob a description of Mrs. Whitacre….”

   This means that the two had met and had at least one conversation. It would have been easy for Hammett to be more specific about this matter, for example by having the Old Man tell the Op that he had introduced Teal to Ogburn and that the two had had lunch or a drink together, but for some reason he chose not to. The result, whether Hammett intended it or not, may well be one of the most subtly clued fair-play stories in the annals of short detective fiction.

***

   The fact that no one ranks “Who Killed Bob Teal?” among Hammett’s better tales probably explains why it wasn’t included in the Library of America volume of Hammett’s Crime Stories and Other Writings (2001). If we confine ourselves to material that has appeared in print, then we can read this and the other stories omitted from that volume only as Fred Dannay edited them for EQMM seventy or more years ago.

   Fortunately we live in the age of the Web, and thanks to Terry Zobeck’s Herculean labors we can read or at least reconstruct the original versions of most if not all of Hammett’s lesser stories. Thank you Mr. Zobeck!

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


NORMAN FORREST – Death Took a Greek God. Hillman-Curl, US, hardcover, 1938. Detective Novel Classic #16, US, digest-sized paperback, 1942. First published in the UK by Harrap, hardcover, 1937.

   It is time for the execution scene from The Case of the Flying Knife. Epoch Films, an English movie studio, is filming the hanging of actor Raoul Granger, the handsomest man in Europe. Someone makes it a real hanging when the lever of the trap is pushed by one of a group of people who had no great love for Granger.

   Inspector Grief is called in from Scotland Yard. Fortunately for him, he has the assistance of John Finnegan, the most brilliant medical jurist of the day. In a case with few real clues, Finnegan traps the murderer with cameras rolling in a reenactment of the hanging scene.

   Not fair play, and the writing leaves something to be desired, but the investigation is a good one and the outcome a surprise.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 7, No. 4, Winter 1991/2, “Murder on Screen.”


Bibliographic Notes:   Norman Forrest was the pen name of Nigel Morland (1905-1986), a prolific British mystery writer who wrote dozens if not hundreds of detective novels under his own name and several other pseudonyms. There was one earlier outing for John Finnegan, that being Death Took a Publisher (Harrap, 1936; Hillman-Curl, 1938).

A Giant in the Field Has Left Us:
ED GORMAN (1941-2016).


   I was away from the computer most of the day yesterday, and I’m only now catching up with the bad news. (Dan Stumpf’s movie review was scheduled for yesterday late on Saturday.) Ed Gorman’s death this past weekend was not unexpected, as his long battle with cancer was well known, and the last post on his blog was on way back on July 1st.

   Bill Crider talks about the man and his career on his blog more eloquently than I can, as does James Reasoner on his blog. Besides a long career in writing and editing, Ed Gorman was one of the friendliest and most helpful men I’ve ever corresponded with, and although I never met him, this hits me hard on a personal level.

   In the title of this post I said that Ed was a Giant in his field. He was actually a towering figure in four: Mystery, Western, Science Fiction, and Horror. From the Fantastic Fiction website, here’s a list of the books and stories he left behind:

      Series

   Jack Dwyer
1. Rough Cut (1986)
2. New, Improved Murder (1985)
3. Murder Straight Up (1986)
4. Murder in the Wings (1986)
5. The Autumn Dead (1987)
6. A Cry of Shadows (1990)
7. What the Dead Men Say (1990)
8. The Reason Why (1992)
The Dwyer Trilogy (omnibus) (1996)
The Jack Dwyer Mysteries (omnibus) (2016)

   Tobin
1. Murder on the Aisle (1987)
2. Several Deaths Later (1988)

   Leo Guild
1. Guild (1987)
2. Death Ground (1988)
3. Blood Game (1989)
4. Dark Trail (1991)

   Jack Walsh
1. The Night Remembers (1991)

   Robert Payne
1. Blood Moon (1994) aka Dead Cold
2. Hawk Moon (1995)
3. Harlot’s Moon (1997)
4. Voodoo Moon (2000)

   Sam McCain
1. The Day the Music Died (1998)
2. Wake Up Little Susie (1999)
3. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (2000)
4. Save the Last Dance for Me (2001)
5. Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool (2002)
6. Breaking Up Is Hard to Do (2004)
7. Fools Rush in (2007)
8. Ticket to Ride (2009)
9. Bad Moon Rising (2011)
10. Riders on the Storm (2014)

   Cavalry Man
1. The Killing Machine (2005)
2. Powder Keg (2006)
3. Doom Weapon (2007)

   Dev Mallory
1. Bad Money (2005)
2. Fast Track (2006)

   Collected Ed Gorman
1. Out There in the Darkness (2007)
2. Moving Coffin (2007)
Out There in the Darkness / Moving Coffin (2007)

   Dev Conrad
1. Sleeping Dogs (2008)
2. Stranglehold (2010)
3. Blindside (2011)
4. Flashpoint (2013)
5. Elimination (2015)

      Novels

Grave’s Retreat (1989)
The Black Moon (1989) (with Loren D Estleman, W R Philbrick, Robert J Randisi and L J Washburn)
Night of Shadows (1990)
Robin in I, Werewolf (1992) (with Angelo Torres)
Shadow Games (1993)
I, Werewolf (1993)
Wolf Moon (1993)
The Sharpshooter (1993)
Cold Blue Midnight (1995)
The Marilyn Tapes (1995)
Black River Falls (1996)
Cage of Night (1996)
Runner in the Dark (1996)
Gundown (1997)
The Poker Club (1997)
The Silver Scream (1998)
Trouble Man (1998)
Daughter of Darkness (1998)
I Know What the Night Knows (1999)
Senatorial Privelege (1999)
Ride into Yesterday (1999)
Storm Riders (1999)
Pirate’s Plea (2000)
What Dead Man Say (2000)
Lawless (2000)
Ghost Town (2001)
Vendetta (2002)
Rituals (2002)
Relentless (2003)
Lynched (2003)
Gun Truth (2003)
Branded (2004)
Two Guns to Yuma (2005)
Shoot First (2006)
A Knock at the Door (2007)
The Midnight Room (2009)
The Girl in the Attic (2012) (with Patricia Lee Macomber)
The Man From Nightshade Valley (2012) (with James Reasoner)
The Prodigal Gun (2012) (with James Reasoner)
Now You See Her (2014)
Run to Midnight (2016)

      Collections

Dark Whispers (1988)
Prisoners (1988)
Cages (1989)
Best Western Stories of Ed Gorman (1992)
Criminal Intent: 1 (1993) (with Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini)
Moonchasers (1995)
Legend (1999) (with Judy Alter, Jane Candia Coleman, Loren D Estleman, Elmer Kelton, Robert J Randisi and James Reasoner)
Famous Blue Raincoat (1999)
The Dark Fantastic (2001)
Crooks, Crimes, and Christmas (2003) (with Michael Jahn, Irene Marcuse and Susan Slater)
The Long Ride Back (2004)
Different Kinds Of Dead and Other Tales (2005)
The End of It All (2009)
The Phantom Chronicles Volume 2 (2010) (with Robin Wayne Bailey and Harlan Ellison)
Noir 13 (2010)
Scream Queen And Other Tales of Menace (2014)
The Autumn Dead / The Night Remembers (2014)
Dead Man’s Gun (2015)
A Disgrace to the Badge (2015)
Enemies (2015)
The Long Ride Back and Other Western Stories (2015)
Graves’ Retreat / Night of Shadows (2015)
Shadow Games and Other Sinister Stories of Show Business (2016)
Cemetery Dance Select (2016)

      Chapbooks

Out There in the Darkness (Novella) (1995)
Cast in Dark Waters (2002) (with Tom Piccirilli)

      Graphic Novels

Trapped (1993) (with Dean Koontz)

      Novellas

Survival (2012)
Dirty Coppers (2012) (with Richard T Chizmar)
Yesterday and the Day Before (2012)
Brothers (2015) (with Richard T Chizmar)

       Short Stories

The Broker (2006)
Deathman (2006)
Stalker (2006)

MICHAEL BUTTERWORTH – Remains to be Seen. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1976. No US paperback edition. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1976.

   Two minor bureaucrats in an obscure Washington office. to justify their salaries not to mention their jobs, start in motion a chain of unlikely events that brings the close attention of several world powers down upon the British descendants of a Russian prince who escaped the Bolsheviks two generations before.

   That two of Davydov’s sons, now named Davis, are undertakers is quite crucial to the Plot and to the success that the third son, a dreamer and a fourth-rate poet, has in finally finding himself and quite rightly rising to the occasion.

   With some quick shuffling of a dead body or two (you knew?) and a hi-de-do comic routine as minor everyday problems escalate out of control. Butterworth entertains without ever producing real in-the-aisle laughter, lacking the spark of truly insane genius that would set the affair out of the ordinary.

Rating: C plus.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 2, No. 4, July 1978.


Bibliographic Notes:   Michael Butterworth (1924-1986) has thirteen books listed in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, all non-series books such as this one. He also wrote two books as by William Dobson, three books as by Sarah Kemp (series character: Dr Tina May), seven as by Carola Salisbury, and one as by Anne-Marie Sheridan.

WILLARD E. HAWKINS – The Cowled Menace. Sears Publishing Co., hardcover, 1930. Wildside Press, softcover, 2008.

   If I were to guess, I’d say you’re thinking “Ku Klux Klan” right about now, but, no, instead of novel involving the white sheets of racial intolerance, the cowled menace of this early detective story is that of monkshood, the wild flower whose poisonous brew has become a traditional part of the legend of Theseus and Medea.

   Yes, a detective story, told in that glorious but supremely artificial style of the Golden Age of detective stories. Doing the sleuth-work is the famous Balmore O’Day. criminologist, investigator extraordinary, complete with a less brilliant assistant named Gillespie, who tells the story of how, in spite of three eye-witnesses, a man is cleared of murdering the husband of the woman he loves.

   The naive simplicity of this book is about as far from today’s ultra-gritty police procedurals as you can possibly imagine, taking place in a timeless world of never-was that yet could be yesterday. or 50 years ago. At times tinged with the purplish prose of Gothic terror, and utterly hopeless as a document of social significance, nevertheless this only mystery novel of Willard Hawkins still provides an evening’s worth of entertainment.

   It never promised more than that.

Rating: C minus.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 2, No. 4, July 1978 (slightly revised).


Bio-Bibliographic Note: Reprinted from the Tellers of Weird Tales website:

    “Willard E. Hawkins was born on September 27, 1887, in Fairplay, Colorado, and seems to have lived in Colorado all his life. He was a writer, editor, publisher, public speaker, and proprietor of World Press, Inc., all without benefit of a college degree. According to the [online] The FictionMags Index his first magazine credit was “The Human Factor” in The Blue Book Magazine, September 1912. Hawkins also contributed to Breezy Stories, The Cavalier, Chicago Ledger, The Green Book Magazine, The Red Book Magazine, Western Outlaws, Western Rangers, and Western Trails, among others.”

FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   Perhaps the first few items in this month’s column should have gone into the one for last month, which dealt with Georges Simenon, but that one was getting longish and I decided to save a few bits and pieces for a while. First I was going to say a few words about the careless proofreading, most unusual for a Crippen & Landru book, that I discovered in the recent Simenon collection The 13 Culprits. The funniest typo I found is when the name of the juge d’instruction Monsieur Froget is rendered as M. Forget.

***

   If you’re familiar with the original French titles of various Maigret novels, you probably noticed the similarity between a few of those titles and a few of the short stories about other characters that I discussed last month, and may have wondered whether the novels were expanded versions of those short stories.

   In one case I can answer with a definite No (or should I say Non?) because the short story in question has been translated into English. “Les Flamands” from Les 13 Coupables has no relation to the Maigret novel Chez Les Flamands (1932; first translated as The Flemish Shop) beyond the fact that they both deal with Flemish characters.

   The other title similarities come from collections not translated into English. Are there any connections beyond the titles between “L’écluse no. 14″ from Les 13 Mystéres and the novel L’écluse No. 1 (1933; first translated as The Lock at Charenton), or between “Le chien jaune” (“The Yellow Dog”) from Les 13 Enigmes and the Maigret novel of the same title (1931; first translated as A Face for a Clue)? It’s anyone’s guess but I suspect the answers here are also Non and Non. If any Simenonophile out there knows for sure, please say something.

***

   I had read A Face for a Clue years ago but happened to pick it up again recently and found that among other things it offers us a credibility sandwich (or should I say a credibility croissant?) that would daunt a Dagwood. The yellow dog of the original title belongs to a Frenchman who was tricked into smuggling dope into the U.S. on his boat and then betrayed to the authorities by his companions in crime and sentenced to a long term in Sing Sing. Would you believe that he got to keep the mutt throughout his time in the slammer? The dog is still with him when he’s released and comes back to France for revenge on his former partners. Yeah, right.

***

   And yet another “yeah, right” to, of all people, Fred Dannay. In an introduction to the Simenon story he ran in the August 1948 EQMM he tells us that Georges Simenon is a pseudonym and that the author’s real name is Georges Sim! How did Fred come to make this mistake?

   I suspect it dates back to his first meeting with Simenon, which took place in late 1945 or early ‘46, soon after the creator of Maigret left Europe for Montreal and later for the U.S., and is described briefly in the intro to another Simenon story (July 1946). Since Fred spoke very little French and Simenon very little English, the meeting was moderated, as it were, by Simenon’s then agent, who was apparently bilingual. “Your editor’s head swung back and forth between M. Simenon and the interpreter as if we were watching a tennis match at Forest Hills.” Under these conditions any kind of misunderstanding can happen. Remember the telephone game?

***

   During the years when Fred was first publishing Simenon in translation, he was also running a number of stories by Gerald Kersh (1911-1968), who claimed to have been born in Russia although his actual birthplace was Teddington-on-Thames.

   The protagonist of all the tales Fred ran during the Forties was Karmesin, a huge old East European with a thick Nietzsche mustache who, as Kersh never tires of telling us, is either the world’s greatest criminal or its greatest liar. In each story Karmesin tells Kersh about a super-masterful crime he brought off years before.

   Recently I re-read some of these for the first time in years and discovered that Karmesin often drops various contemptuous East European epithets. One of these is “Ptoo!” Another, which interested me more, is “Pfui!” That of course is also a favorite word of crime fiction’s premier character of East European descent: Nero Wolfe.

   I began wondering which of these two was first with the word and, checking my back issues of EQMM, discovered that Karmesin began using the P word in his very first exploit, published simply as “Karmesin” in the London Evening Standard for May 19, 1936 and reprinted in EQMM for April 1948 as “Karmesin, Bank Robber.”

   Did Nero Wolfe use the word earlier than 1936? Rex Stout wrote only two Wolfe novels that preceded Karmesin’s debut: Fer-de-Lance (1934) and The League of Frightened Men (1935). If anyone cares to go through those titles on a Pfui hunt, please let us know. Either way it’s most likely that neither author knew of the other at the time the Pfuis began pflying, but I’m still curious.

***

   Veteran readers of this column will remember my long-standing interest in that useful and sweet-singing little amphibian known to biologists as bufo bufo and to the rest of us as the toad. For no rational reason, the toad has long been the most hated animal in literature, and mystery writers have not been immune to anti-bufonism.

   In five separate and distinct novels written fairly close together, Robert B. Parker had his PI Spenser describe someone as looking like a — yeah, you guessed it. Re-reading Gerald Kersh’s Karmesin stories, I discovered that in one of them, first published as “Karmesin and the Big Flea” (Courier, Winter 1938-39) and reprinted in EQMM for July 1949 as “Karmesin, Blackmailer,” our master criminal’s adversary is a certain Captain Crapaud. Anyone know what crapaud means in English? You guessed it again. Pfui!

   In Chapter 14 of Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister (1949) Philip Marlowe encounters a character named Joseph P. Toad, who looks like Sydney Greenstreet but converses in toughguyspeak. Parker may hold the prize for insulting toads most often but Kersh and Chandler seem to be the only crime writers who actually gave that name to a character. Double Pfui! And a hearty Ptoo! for good measure.

THE CIPHER / ARABESQUE

ALEX GORDON – The Cipher. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1961. Pyramid X1483, paperback, 1966. Film: Arabesque, 1966 (with Gregory Peck & Sophia Loren).

   Some hero: a nervous, clumsy, asthmatic college history professor, unable to hold his own family`together, unable to finish his life-long dream of cracking the cuneiform hieroglyphics of the ancient civilization of a country unnamed. That country still survives today, with a newly-formed government now friendly to the United States. What connection is there with the business code that Philip Hoag is asked to decipher by the uncle of one of his students?

   There are undiscovered gems to be found in stacks of out-of-print mystery fiction, but this isn’t one of them. Still, in a strangely naive way, it generates enough excitement peripherally related to the field of espionage, plus the slightest amount of detection, to warrant not being forgotten completely.

Rating: C plus.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 2, No. 4, July 1978.



Comment: When I wrote this review, long before IMDb came along, I do not believe I knew that this book was the basis for the movie Arabesque, a movie that I found extremely enjoyable, to say the least. Wouldn’t I have said something if I had? For more (much more) on both the book and the movie, read Dan Stumpf’s excellent review of both, found here.

Bibliographic Notes: This is the only novel in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV that author Gordon Cotler (1923-2012) wrote as Alex Gordon. Under his own name he has five additional titles in CFIV, but he may be better remembered for his work in television, including (mystery genre-wise) being the co-screenwriter of three episodes of McMillan and Wife with Don Mankiewicz.

PATRICIA PONDER – Murder for Charity. Manor 15281, paperback original, 1977.

   Contradicting the ultra-macho image projected by the front cover, which shows the Cajun detective Louis Breaux being very protective of the cuddlesome Diana, this is in fact a detective story most reminiscent of the old-fashioned golden age of mystery fiction, complete with a country club overflowing with clues and suspects.

   When Diana Parnell’s aunt is murdered while she’s running an antique show for charity, it’s Diana who’s suspected. The mysterious behavior of a friend caused her to be alone at the very moment for which an alibi is needed, but to her rescue comes Louis Breaux, convinced of her innocence even though they’ve only just met, and together they set off on the killer’s trail.

   It must be remembered that most of the books of the golden age have been forgotten, with good reason. Only the Christie’s and the Queen’s still survive, and they’re the models that other writers of pure detective fiction must strive to equal. Here’s another that doesn’t measure up. When the clues are as falsely represented or slighted over as they are here, it may be playing fair with the reader in a technical sense, but the edges of an otherwise pleasing performance are curdled.

   Nevertheless, flaws and all, it was a nice surprise to find this. Mildly recommended for those who are nostalgic for this sort of thing.

Rating: C.

[Note to bibliographers: Besides the haphazard proofreading system employed by Manor throughout the book, on the title page the author’s name is given as Patricia Maxwell.]

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 2, No. 4, July 1978.


[UPDATE] Additional bibliographic notes: Patrica Ponder was indeed a pen name of Patricia Maxwell (1942- ). Under that name she also wrote Haven of Fear for Manor, 1977, but it is doubtful that Louis Breaux ever made another appearance.

   Under her own name, Patricia Maxwell has seven entries in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, all apparently gothics or novels of romantic suspense. (The line between them is often blurry.) There is also one entry for her there as Elizabeth Trehearne, another gothic. She is best known to readers of romance fiction, however, as Jennifer Blake, with 50 or 60 titles in that genre, and still counting.

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