Authors


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


   Remember MGM-TV’s THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.? It was one of the most successful of the many quasi-spy series that flooded prime time in the wake of the early James Bond movies. The stars were Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin, with Leo G. Carroll as their boss, Alexander Waverly. The series ran for four seasons (1964-68), the first in black-and white and the remaining three in color.

   I began law school at around the time U.N.C.L.E. debuted but, despite a grueling study schedule, managed to catch most of the first season’s episodes, which were reasonably serious with lots of action. Once the series switched to color it also switched to spoofery and camp. I stopped watching.

   But millions stuck with Solo and Illya, and once the ratings showed that U.N.C.L.E. was a hit, MGM-TV commissioned a series of tie-in novels, 23 in all, the first of which was written by Michael Avallone (1924-1999). I had no interest in junk paperbacks but in 1970, when I moved to East Brunswick, New Jersey and was working as a Legal Aid attorney, I discovered that my apartment was only a few blocks from Avallone’s house and called him.

   That was the beginning of a weird off-and-on relationship that lasted till his death. Before becoming a neighbor of his I had known very little about him, but after we met I began to collect his books, of which there were dozens. Many of them were movie or TV tie-in novels for which he was paid around $2,000 apiece and which he ground out on his smoking typewriter in a few days or a week. I don’t recall reading any of these, but I did get him to sign them and squirreled them away.

   After my wife died and I moved into a condo, I segregated all the tie-in books and put them into a cabinet with sliding doors which were generally kept closed. A couple of months ago I happened to open one of those doors and, since the books were arranged alphabetically by author, discovered a bunch of Avallone that I’d never read, including that MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. novel and two tie-ins from the unsuccessful spin-off series THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. (1967-68), which starred Stefanie Powers as April Dancer and Noel Harrison as Mark Slate. I decided it was time to tackle the trio.

   Avallone’s great contribution to pop culture was the Avalloneism. You can’t pick up any of his 200-odd books without finding yourself awash in lines you’d swear couldn’t possibly have been published. But they were. Thousands of them. Small wonder that I soon began to think of Avallone as the Ed Wood of the written word. These three tie-in books offer further proof that my name for him was not off the mark.

   In THE THOUSAND COFFINS AFFAIR (Ace pb #G-553, 1965) Solo and Illya fly to a remote German village to find out what diabolical device killed an U.N.C.L.E. scientist while in his tub and why, just before dying, he put on his clothes backwards.

   It’s no surprise that the culprit is a minion of the evil agency THRUSH, a villain called Golgotha who comes straight out of the Weird Menace pulps of Avallone’s teens. Solo solves the puzzle when he remembers that the dead man was a mystery nut with a particular fondness for Ellery Queen—and that one of the best known Queen novels, THE CHINESE ORANGE MYSTERY (1934), had to do with a corpse who was also dressed backwards.

   Someone, quite possibly Avallone himself, called the book to the attention of Fred Dannay, who was half of the Ellery Queen collaboration and the closest to a grandfather I’ve ever known. A number of years after the incident Fred told me that he’d been furious with Avallone for having given away the raison d’être of the CHINESE ORANGE puzzle. But Avallone couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. Hadn’t he promoted Queen? In a paperback that sold a gazillion copies, hadn’t he plugged one of the most famous EQ titles?

   Whether the book really sold that well remains a mystery. In later years Avallone publicly accused the publisher of having cheated him out of huge royalties. The name in the copyright notice is MGM-TV, and most likely he wrote it as a work made for hire, earning a flat fee and no more. In any event Ace had nothing more to do with him. But a year later, when MGM-TV launched the GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. series and made a tie-in book deal with another publisher, it was Avallone who was tapped to write the first two entries, the only ones that appeared in the U.S. although three more came out in England.

   More than half a century has passed between the time Avallone’s contributions to the U.N.C.L.E. saga appeared and the time I pulled them out of my sliding-doored cabinet and read them. I was not disappointed.

   First let’s take THE THOUSAND COFFINS AFFAIR, which should have won an Edgar had there been such an award for largest number of words misspelled. In a mere 160 pages we encounter such gems as propellor, esconced, earthern (twice!), jodphurs and cemetary. We are also treated to butchered German locutions like dumbkopf, Vast ist?, Seig heil! and nicht yahr.

   Illya’s patronymic or middle name, never given in the TV series, is rendered as Nickovetch, which is gibberish. (The genuine Russian name closest to Avallone’s invention is Nicolaievitch, which I happen to know only because it was the patronymic or middle name of Tolstoy.) And there’s hardly a page without at least one juicy Avalloneism. I will show mercy and offer only a handful, complete with page references.

   There was something damnedably odd— (19)

   The mechanized bug shot over the road, whipping like the mechanical rabbit at a quinella. (41)

   Stewart Fromes’ ten stiff naked toes wore no shoes. (57)

   Jerry Terry said “Oh!” and that was all. For Napoleon Solo, it said it all. Oh, indeed. (82)

   Like a dead fish, Solo’s right arm fell to his side. (100)

   The unexpected was always likely to happen when you least expected it. (140)

   When we turn to the second and third of Avallone’s contributions to the saga we find more of the same. THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. #1: THE BIRDS OF A FEATHER AFFAIR (Signet pb #D3012, 1966) not only recycles some of the misspellings like propellor and esconced, it describes one of the bad guys as both a Hindu and a Sikh.

   On one page he’s killed by a bullet in the back of the neck and on the very next page we are told that “[b]lood from his blasted skull dripped to the floor.” As if those gaffes weren’t enough, Stefanie Powers’ first name is spelled wrong on the front cover. (That one we have to chalk up to Signet.)

   Storywise it’s typical Avallone, with first Slate and then Dancer kidnapped by THRUSH in a plot to swap them for a top enemy scientist, who claims to have discovered the secret of eternal life and is being held at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. It turns out that the scientist has an identical double who’s operating as a mole inside the good guys’ stronghold but no one in U.N.C.L.E. suspects they might be twin brothers as in fact they are.

   At one point while April Dancer is being held prisoner, a THRUSH man relieves her of “her handbag, personal effects, and even her bra (without having had to undress her).” Neat trick if you can pull it off!

   Of Avalloneisms the book has no shortage. This time I’ll limit myself to five.

   Noise echoed around the room, gobbling up echoes. (20)

   “You’re a fool,” the redhead hissed. (23)

   His kindly brown eyes were unaccustomably grim. (69)

   Her bra, taut from immersion, was strangling her breasts. (72)

   The whipsaw wore a long green velvet dress. (80)

   Tugs and seagoing freighters mooed like enormous cows in the harbor. (103)

   Whoops! Was that six? Just goes to show that quoting from Avallone is habit-forming.

   THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. #2: THE BLAZING AFFAIR (Signet pb #D3042, 1966), in which Stefanie Powers’ name is again misspelled on the front cover, pits our heroic agents against an organization calling itself TORCH and described on the back cover as “so fantastically evil it puts THRUSH to shame!”

   April begins by foiling an assassination plot in the Ruritanian kingdom of Ostarkia, then joins Slate in Budapest before the two of them go on to Johannesburg on the trail of a TORCH scheme to fund its plans for world domination with South African diamonds. There seem to be fewer Avalloneisms this time around, but those that survived the Signet editorial process, such as it was, are choice.

   Kurt’s beady eyes roved between them, not sure what they were talking about, not certain as to exactly what to do next. (59)

   The colt in the chair was straining at the leash now. (69)

   The man with the withered face frowned a frownless frown. (71)

   Like so many little men wanting to be bigger than they ever really were in the first place. (126)

   In case I’ve whetted your appetite and you’re determined to read more of these cubic zirconia without visiting your shelves or a secondhand bookstore, I’ve put together a much more extensive catalogue from the trilogy, again complete with page references, which I’ve provided because I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m making this stuff up. You’ll find the bonanza of boners by clicking HERE. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Hi Steve

   Martha Mott Kelley (sometimes misspelt Kelly) was an early co-author of Richard Webb Wilson writing as Q. Patrick, for Cottage Sinister (1931) and Murder at the Women’s City Club (1932; published in the UK as Death in the Dovecote). Searching on the internet, little seems to be known about her except she was born New York in 1906 (a date confirmed in records) while her date of death is often said to be 2005.

   I can now confirm that that date of death is incorrect. On Ancestry, there is a section for ‘US Consular reports of births 1910-1945’ which has a form dated London May 3 1937 for the birth of Sarah Mott Wilson, daughter of Martha Mott Wilson, nee Kelley, born 30 April 1906 in New York, and Stephen Shipley Wilson aged 32 who were married in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, April 26 1933. They were then living at Villas on the Heath, London.

   Unfortunately the GRO Death registration has made a typo of her middle name, though it would be found by searching for Martha Wilson and her date of birth, listing her as Martha Matt Wilson. And a search of the (UK) Probate Index finds a Martha Mott Wilson of 3 Willow Rd, London who died 17 November 1989.

   All this can be found by diligent searching on Ancestry etc. Most of the records with incorrect date of death of 2005 give no indication of her marriage. In fact very little seems to be known about her according to the Internet. So I hope this will help to at least fill a couple of gaps in our knowledge of her. Perhaps the lack of information about her marriage to Stephen Wilson has caused some guesswork about her death. Does anyone know the origins/source of her supposedly dying in 2005, or even 1998 as the odd website says?

   Incidentally, Stephen Shipley Wilson was born 4 August 1904 in Birkenhead, Cheshire and died 16 September 1989 (living 3 Willow Rd, London). He worked for the Public Record Office and Ministry of Transport, becoming Keeper of the PRO 1960-1966 when he retired.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


A. A. THOMSON & FALKLAND L. CARY – Murder at the Ministry. Herbert Jenkins, UK, hardcover, 1947. Published earlier as a play (French, 1942). No US edition.

   Clarendon House had once been a mental home, and to some it still appears that way because it now is inhabited by civil servants and scientists working on a top-secret project. The project’s leader, Sir James Reid, receives an anonymous note accusing his wife and fellow scientist Peter Faber of hanky-panky. He confronts the two and shortly thereafter is shot dead.

   There are several suspects besides Sir James’s wife and Faber. There is Captain Knowles-Parker, who is brighter than he appears to be, Lydia Grant, Sir James’s secretary, and Mr. Noote, the nearly perfect bureaucrat.

   Since Faber has the best, if not the only, motive, attention is focused on him. But Sir James’s doctor provides Faber with an alibi.

   Inspector Richardson of Scotland Yard is baffled. Captain Knowles-Parker, who helps in the investigation, is equally bewildered. Only through some hints that Mrs. McIntyre, one of Clarendon House’s charwomen, gives out when she has a mind to, is the villain brought to justice. How anyone understands her Scots accent, however, is beyond me. One can read what she has to say two or three times and extract the meaning, but hearing it once and grasping what she has said strikes me as bordering on the miraculous.

   Like Mrs. McIntyre, I spotted the murderer, although for slightly different reasons. I couldn’t figure out the motive, though, and don’t accept it now that I know it.

   Mrs. McIntyre is a forerunner to H.R.F. Keating’s Mrs. Craggs, though I think she drinks a bit more and certainly more steadily . She is well worth discovering.

— Reprinted from CADS 13, February 1990. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.


Bibliographic Notes:   The two authors collaborated on one other mystery novel, that being But Once a Year (Jenkins, 1951). Murder at the Ministry seems to have been Mrs. McIntyre’s only outing. Falkland Cary’s solo work in terms of crime fiction otherwise consisted only of plays. A. A. Thomson’s contributions to the field include no other novels, but he does have one published play to his credit as well as several short story collections, some of which are criminous.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


JONATHAN LETHEM – Gun, with Occasional Music.Harcourt Brace & Co., hardcover, 1994. Tor, paperback, 1995.

   Lethem was “born in the 60s, watched TV in the 70s, and started writing in the 80s.” This is his first novel, he’s at work on a second, and that’s all we know.

   Conrad Metcalf in a Private Inquisitor, which is the futuristic equivalent of a PI. (“PQ” doesn’t quite have the same ring to ot, somehow.) An ex-client of his is murdered, and the man the Inquisitors suspect of killing him comes to Metcalf protesting his innocence, and asking for help.

   Metcalf turns him down, but then for quixotic reasons of his own decides to become involved. This is sort of a PI story, after all. Problem is, nobody wants him poking around — not the dead man’s wife, not an enigmatic gangster, and most of all not the Inquisitors. It’s a brave new world, and it such creatures in it.

   This is a mystery/science fiction hybrid that won’t satisfy either camp. For SF fans there’s a potentially interesting culture set an unspecified number of years in the future, but there’s no background or rationale for it at all — it just is.

   For PI fans, Metcalf is almost a stereotypical mean streets kin of guy, but the futuristic trappings — evolved animals, a taboo against questions, musical news, “babyheads,” Karma cards (a debit balance means the freezer), and more — only prove distracting.

   Lethem is a moderately good writer in terms of prose and pacing, though there’s not a great deal of characterization aside from Metcalf himself. I was able to get through the book with some enjoyment (though not a great deal) because I’m an ardent fan of both hardboiled PI’s and science fiction. I can’t imagine any other kind of reader liking this much at all.

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


Editorial Update:   This book received more acclaim from SF fans than Barry expected. It was ranked Number One in that year’s Locus poll for Best First Novel, was nominated for a Nebula, and had considerable support for a Hugo. I don’t recall mystery fans taking much if any notice of it, but I may be wrong about that. If you’re interested in learning more about Lethem’s career, you can do no better than to check out his entry in the online SF Encyclopedia.

MARION BRAMHALL – Murder Is Contagious. Kit Acton #5. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1949. Unicorn Mystery Book Club, hardcover, 4-in-1 edition. No paperback edition.

   Life on the college campus was different after World War II both as it was before the war and as it is now. Veterans were coming home and going to school. They were often older, married, and they had kids. They also lived in makeshift housing. Quonset huts.

   And if one kid got the measles, there was an epidemic. What Kit Acton and her professor husband Dick also face is a pair of murders, born of love and hatred and the cramped housing conditions. Reading this book 40 years later, you know what this reflects, more than anything else, is an era of the past that will never appear in any high school history class.

   According to Hubin, this was the last of five mysteries written by Marion Branhall, all starring Kit (Marsden) Acton. He doesn’t mention husband Dick. I assume that Marsden was her maiden name, and that they met and got married sometime earlier in the series.

   Dick is the detective in the family, however. Issuing a small PLOT WARNING notice at this point, he discovers who the killer is long before Kit, but he doesn’t tell her (or the reader) until after the climactic finale, during which Kit has interestingly made the clues fit another suspect altogether.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990. (shortened and slightly revised).


[UPDATE.]   At the end of this review, I made some comments about the author, now deleted, not knowing much about her, I wondered if she might possibly be male, thinking that the name Marion is often masculine. On the other hand, “it’s Kit who tells the story, and it sure doesn’t sound like a man who’s putting words in her mouth.”

   I can now report that, as Al Hubin says in the latest CFIV, that Marion Bramhall (1904-1983) was indeed female, and in fact was the daughter of a minister and lived in Massachusetts.

      The Kit (Marsden) Acton series —

Murder Solves a Problem. Doubleday, 1944
Button, Button. Doubleday, 1944
Tragedy in Blue. Doubleday, 1945
Murder Is an Evil Business. Doubleday, 1948
Murder Is Contagious. Doubleday, 1949

Note:   A Kirkus review of Tragedy in Blue suggests the correct order of the first two books, both published in 1944, is as above. There is no mention of husband Dick in the review. Kit Acton’s partner in solving this third case is instead Lt. Gifford, apparently a Massachusetts state trooper In fact, the review calls it “[a]nother Kit Acton-Lieutenant Gifford story…”

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


HOWARD BROWNE – The Taste of Ashes. Paul Pine #4. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1957. Dennis McMillan, trade paperback, 1988. TV adaptatation: Pilot episode of Bourbon Street Beat (ABC, 5 October 1959).

   An early contributor to the Ziff-Davis line of pulps in the 1940s, Howard Browne later became managing editor of several of that Chicago-based publisher’s science-fiction and fantasy magazines. He also wrote extensively for radio and early TV, scripting more than 700 dramatic shows for the two media.

   In 1946 he published his first mystery novel, Halo in Blood, under the pseudonym John Evans, and followed it with two more, Halo for Satan (1948) and Halo in Brass (1949); all three feature Chicago private detective Paul Pine, one of the best of the plethora of tough-guy heroes from that era. Although the Pine novels are solidly in the tradition of Raymond Chandler, they have a complexity and character all their own and are too well crafted to be mere imitations.

   The Taste of Ashes is the fourth and (at least as of this writing) final Paul Pine adventure. Browne evidently chose to publish this one under his own name because it is longer, more tightly plotted, and more ambitious than the “Halo” books. Offbeat, violent, exciting, it is the story of Pine’s involvement with the lethal Delastone clan:

    “… the Colonel, who wore his hair like the late William Jennings Bryan and was more afraid of scandal than of sudden death; Martha, a member of the sensible-shoe set; the lovely Karen, who owned a temper and a burglar tool; Edwin, who had gone to Heaven, or some place, leaving a monument of horror behind; and Deborah Ellen Frances Thronetree, age seven, an authority on the Bible and Captain Midnight, who was plagued by nightmares.”

   A hood with the wonderful name of Arnie Algebra, a reporter called Ira Groat, and the haunted widow of another private eye are just three of the rich array of other characters Pine encounters on his violent professional (and personal) odyssey.

   All three of the John Evans titles are also first-rate. Both Halo in Blood and Halo for Satan have highly unusual opening situations: In the former, Pine joins twelve other persons in the burial of a nameless bum; and in the latter, a Chicago bishop is offered a chance to buy a manuscript purportedly in the handwriting of Christ for the staggering sum of $25 million.

   Browne is also the author, under his own name, of a nonseries novel, Thin Air (1954); the sudden, inexplicable disappearance of advertising executive Ames Coryell’s wife and his utilization of his ad agency and its methods to track her down form the basis for this tale of suspense. Thin Air has received considerable praise, but this reviewer finds it somewhat farfetched and Coryell a less than likable protagonist. Paul Pine is a much better character, and the private-eye novel the true showcase for Browne’s talents.

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

Bibliographic Update:   Published in 1985 by Dennis McMillan was the collection of Peter Pine stories entitled The Paper Gun, which included the unfinished and never before published title novel, plus the novelette “So Dark for April,” which previously appeared in Manhunt, February 1953, as by John Evans

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


GAVIN HOLT – Six Minutes Past Twelve. Prof. Luther Bastion #1. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1928. No US edition.

   Luther Bastion, O.B.E., D.Sc., F.R.S., F.A.S.L., and Major Kettering-Bevis, D.S.O. only, are holidaying in the country after strenuous travel abroad. The man from whom they are renting their cottage, Samuel Dubeyne, a chap who is the company promoter personified, is found one morning partly in the local creek, shot to death with the pistol by his side, a definite, according to the police, suicide. Professor Bastion, however, has other ideas.

   Well, of course, the Professor is correct. He and the Major, with the Major protesting occasionally, begin their own investigation, and they discover that Dubeyne was a thorough scoundrel, that he was murdered, and that many people had reasonable cause to do him in.

   For a time, the Professor and the Major work with the police, but then their ways part, somewhat against the Major’s wishes. The Professor knows, or is guessing, more than he is telling, and he wraps the case up to his own, though certainly not the police’s, satisfaction. He is also not above a spot of burglary and concealing evidence.

   This is not a fair-play novel. Much information is withheld from the reader. Several people who were not known about before are brought in at the end. But the enjoyment in the book should come through following the investigations and the machinations of the Professor, with the Major travelling along behind physically and mentally.

— Reprinted from CADS 13, February 1990. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   There were sixteen Professor Bastion novels to follow, the last appearing in 1936. Gavin Holt was the pseudonym of Charles Rodda, (1891-1976); he also wrote mysteries as by Gardner Low and Eliot Reed.

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


   Ever heard of Stanislas-André Steeman? Thought not. In Anglo-American crime fiction his name is all but unknown, but in Europe and especially France he’s considered one of the most important exponents of the roman policier. Like his far better known older contemporary Georges Simenon, he was Belgian by birth, born in Liège in 1908, five years after the creator of Maigret.

   Simenon launched the Maigret series early in life, but Steeman’s first books, written in collaboration with Hermann Sartini (whose nom de plume was Sintair) were published in 1928, a year before the first Maigrets and when Steeman was 20 years old at most, maybe even 19. After five novels the partnership broke up, and from then on Steeman was on his own, turning out more than 30 policiers before his death in 1970 at age 62.

   Only two of his novels made it across the Atlantic, with the 1931 SIX HOMMES MORTS translated (by the wife of poet Stephen Vincent Benét) as SIX DEAD MEN (Farrar & Rinehart, 1932) and 1932’s LA NUIT DU 12 AU 13 appearing in English as THE NIGHT OF THE 12th-13th (Lippincott, 1933). After that he became a nonentity in English but he was already a celebrity in France, having won the Grand Prix du Roman d’Aventures for SIX HOMMES MORTS.

   Steeman’s principal detective character was Inspector Wenceslas Vorobeitchik (the Russian word for sparrow), usually called Monsieur Wens, but on the basis of what I’ve found on the Web, it’s impossible to determine how many of Steeman’s novels he appeared in. Most of what we in the U.S. know about his work we owe to Xavier Lechard’s superlative “At the Villa Rose” website, which I highly recommend. Lechard calls Steeman “one of the greatest authors of the French Golden Age, and arguably one of the greatest mystery writers of all times….”

   Unlike Simenon, whose goal was to go beyond the conventions of classical detective fiction, Steeman loved them and loved even more to play with them. SIX DEAD MEN for example is a Tontine story of the sort we tend to associate with Ellery Queen. The fatal six agree that whoever outlives the others will inherit most of the men’s money, then the group starts dying off.

   A few years after its appearance in English translation, this novel was the basis of a low-budget “quota quickie” movie, THE RIVERSIDE MURDER (Fox British, 1935), directed by Albert Parker, with Basil Sydney starring as Inspector Philip Winton (obviously the Brit counterpart of Monsieur Wens) and, in one of his earliest film roles, Alastair Sim playing his sergeant. Featured in the cast are Ian Fleming (no, not that Ian Fleming) and Tom Helmore, who more than twenty years later played the Iago figure in Hitchcock’s VERTIGO.

   Thanks to my friend Tony Williams and his forthcoming essay on French film noir during the years of Nazi occupation, I know more about Steeman’s involvement with the movie industry of his adopted country than can be learned on the Web.

   The French version of the same Steeman novel, LE DERNIER DES SIX (1941) was directed by Georges Lacombe from a screenplay by Henri-Georges Clouzot (1907-1977), who went on to become a director himself and indeed to become celebrated as the Hitchcock of France. I don’t know whether the Monsieur Wens of Steeman’s novel or the Inspector Winton of the 1935 British film had a sex partner, but in this version as played by Pierre Fresnay he has a mistress, portrayed by Suzy Delair, who was Clouzot’s mistress at the time, and according to Tony Williams, the pair operate as a sort of Nick-and-Nora couple.

   The movie must have been a hit with French audiences of the Occupation era, for it was soon followed up by Clouzot’s first film as a director, L’ASSASSIN HABITE AU 21 (1942), again starring Fresnay and Delair and with a screenplay by Clouzot and Steeman, whose 1939 novel of the same name was never translated into English, but it takes place in London and involves a serial killer who murders his victims in the fog, leaving behind a calling card in the name of “Mr. Smith.”

   Since England in 1942 was at war with the Nazis, Clouzot inserted Fresnay and Delair from LE DERNIER DES SIX as Wens and his mistress Mila Malou and shifted the locale to France and the killer’s nom de guerre to Monsieur Durand. According to Tony Williams, the serial killer in the film turns out to be three men, former schoolmates each of whom believes himself to be a sort of Raskolnikov.

   At the end of the film, says Williams, “all three master criminals have their hands in the air when they are surrounded by the police.” Wens stands opposite the ringleader of the three and, in order to strike a match on his neck, has him lower his right hand, while his left remains in the air as if he’s giving the traditional Nazi salute. How could Hitler’s censors have missed this zinger? If L’ASSASSIN sounds like a serious film noir, Williams insists that this time Fresnay and Delair form “an even more excessive screwball comedic partnership” than in LE DERNIER DES SIX.

   The end of World War II did not end the connection between Steeman and Clouzot. The only new Steeman novel published during the war had been LEGITIME DEFENSE (1942). A few years after the liberation of France, Clouzot took this novel as the basis for his film QUAI DES ORFEVRES (1947), which Xavier Lechard describes as “arguably the best adaptation of Steeman’s work and one of the summits of French cinema.”

   Steeman wasn’t pleased with the result, principally because Clouzot “changed the guilty party….” Having worked on the screenplay, perhaps he was better satisfied with MYSTERE A SHANGHAI (1950), directed by Roger Blanc and based on the second and last Steeman novel to be translated into English, LA NUIT DE 12 AU 13.

   Steeman continued to write crime novels until his death but apparently they were far removed from his earlier books. Monsieur Wens returned in POKER D’ENFER (HELL’S POKER, 1955) and SIX HOMMES À TUER (SIX MEN TO KILL, 1956) but as a sort of shape-shifter, with the principal puzzle being which character in the story is he. Steeman’s final novel, AUTOPSIE D’UN VIOL (AUTOPSY OF A RAPE, 1971), is described by Lechard as “a courtroom mystery set in the United States” and displaying “a grim worldview with none of the author’s previous flippantness.”

   Although I’ve read a lot of Simenon and most of the Swedish team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö and some of Friedrich Duerrenmatt and a few others, most of the mysteries I’ve consumed in the 60-odd years since I discovered Sherlock Holmes and Charlie Chan have been written in English. I’ve never read Steeman but what I’ve learned about him while researching this column leads me to think I might have missed a bet. Perhaps we all have.

ANTHONY GAGLIANO – Straits of Fortune. Jack Vaughn #1. William Morrow, hardcover, June 2007. Harper, paperback, June 2008.

   Jack Vaughn is a former New York City cop (there’s a long story behind that) who’s now a personal trainer in Miami, and in Straits of Fortune he takes on a job that might qualify him for unlicensed PI status if it weren’t totally illegal, no matter how you look at it.

   The father of his former girl friend (there’s a long story behind that, also) hires him to dispose of a yacht on which the body of the man his daughter dumped Jack for (that’s the long story told briefly) is still lying. Jack hesitates for most of a day, but an offer of $100,000 (half up front) has a way of allowing a lot of qualms to be shushed up and tossed away.

   There is a catch, of course. There is a second body on the yacht. Jack scuttles it anyway, but before he gets to shore, he is… Well, gee, I’m telling you the whole story. Suffice to say that Jack is in a jam, no doubt about it, and it’s a damn good thing he’s in shape, or he wouldn’t get out of it with an entirely whole skin.

   So. There’s lots of action, but there’s also a lot of backstory to be filled in, which Jack tells us about himself. To action fans, this is the kind of thing that could make for an awful lot of down time. The overall result is therefore a bit uneven, as first novels sometimes are, but there is, I found, a certain poetic flow to Gagliano’s prose that propelled me along with a nice rhythm and beat. It doesn’t quite smooth over one medium-sized hole in the plot, but it’s one I found easy enough to ignore, and I kept on reading.

   Nor is this all I should tell you. The last chapter, after all of the shooting is done, and some certain ends are tied up, is well worth the price of admission in itself.

   Now for the bad news. Anthony Gagliano was only partway through Jack Vaughan’s second adventure when he died of a stroke in 2009, at the age of only 53. This first novel was based on his master’s thesis at Florida International University, and Les Standiford and Dan Wakefield, his instructors and mentors there, took it upon themselves to work on the manuscript and finish the book for him.

   The title of the second book is The Emperor’s Club, and was published in 2014. I’ve already ordered a copy.

JOSEPH LOUIS – Madelaine. Bantam, paperback original; 1st printing, March 1987.

   Billed as an “Evan Paris Mystery,” here’s a prime example of how detective work can be used as a means for personal therapy. Paris was once an investigator of sorts, but then became a best-author and was even nominated for an Oscar as a screenwriter.

   When his wife was kidnapped and murdered, however, his life went into a downward spiral and into a complete funk for over a year. Until, that is, he’s asked to find the father of a little old lady’s three-year-old granddaughter. Trudy’s mother Madelaine was also a murder victim, and it’s the mall similarity between the two cases that brings Evan Paris back to life again.

   Tracking down Madelaine’s past is like chasing down a ghost, however, a veritable will-o’-the-wisp. Lew Archer was never haunted as greatly as this by his own memories. But as in Ross Macdonald’s work, this is a case that depends a great deal on untangling the myriad threads in more than one family’s lives, and unraveling the secrets that most of them would prefer to keep concealed.

   This is a powerfully emotional book, there’s no denying it, but as a mystery, I think most readers will put the pieces together just a little faster than Evan Paris does.

— Reprinted from Nothing Accompliced #4, November 1993, considerably revised (mostly reorganizing and rearranging).


Bibliographic Update: This book was nominated for the Shamus Award for Best Original Private Eye Paperback by the Private Eye Writers of America, and for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel by the Crime Writers of Canada in 1988. A second and final book in the series was The Trouble with Stephanie (Bantam, 1988).

   Prior to this series, the author published five books under his own name, Joseph Mark Glazner, about a character named Billy Nevers (Warner, paperback originals, between 1979 and 1981). The New York Times described Nevers as “a wheeler‐dealer in the world of finance, the creation of Joseph Mark Glazner, a Toronto public relations man.”

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