DANTE. “Dante in the Dark.” NBC, Four Star Producions. 30m 13 Mar 1961 (Season 1, Episode 22.) Howard Duff (Willie Dante), Alan Mowbray, Tom D’Andrea, Bert Freed. Guest Cast: Marion Ross, Troy Melton. Created by Blake Edwards. Director: Richard Kinon.

   This late in the season – it lasted only for one and 26 episodes – there was no attempt by the screenwriter or director to fill in any of the general background for the series, but starting with this one, as I did, it was easy to fill in some of the gaps. Howard Duff plays Willie Dante, owner of a nightclub called Dante’s Inferno, and while he and Det. Sgt. Rickard (Bert Freed) obviously know each other well, the relationship is very much a rocky one.

   Which comes into play as a major theme in “Dante in the Dark.” When a customer is gunned down in front of his club, the police are very reluctant to tell either him or the dead man’s fiancée  anything about the case, or even to let the young woman (a most definitely not very matronly Marion Ross) see the body. Even more strange is that the police allow a previously unknown cousin take the body for disposal to a crematorium without telling her.

   All is eventually explained, and it’s a torturous and interesting path getting there, but the good old boys joking around at the end seems even more forced than usual. No matter. It is always good to see Howard Duff in action. I only have to close my eyes and here the sound and cadence of Sam Spade’s voice on the radio with no difficulty at all.


NOTE: For much more background on the series, including a mention of this particular episode, see Michael Shonk’s in depth overview of the show posted here much earlier on this blog.

by Francis M. Nevins


   Let’s begin with the unfinished business from last month, in other words with the final four uncollected Cornell Woolrich stories from 1936. During that year the steadiest publisher of his tales was Detective Fiction Weekly but the second steadiest was Argosy with six contributions in twelve months, three of them never reprinted in hardcover or paperback collections.

   “Gun for a Gringo” from the September 5 issue is the earliest of several Woolrich stories about various macho Americans in one or another banana republic. The local color obviously stems from his memories of growing up in Mexico, and more likely than not the adventurous protagonists are based however loosely on his father Genaro Hopley-Woolrich. In “Gun for a Gringo” the narrator-hero is Steve Willoughby, a former Chicago gangster now residing in the land of Costamala and bodyguarding the country’s dictator, one- armed Presidente Savinas.

   A band of scruffy revolutionaries approach Steve and offer mucho dinero if he’ll assassinate Savinas during an official banquet. Steve goes along in order to catch the conspirators red-handed but is caught playing double agent and railroaded into the state insane asylum. After enough time in the madhouse for Woolrich to take full advantage of the place’s noir potential, Willoughby escapes and, in a blaze of action, tears back to the capital trying to save El Presidente’s life.

   The story works well on a simple cliffhanger level except that Woolrich gives us no reason to care whether or not the one set of corrupt politicos is ousted by the other. As usual in these Gallant Yank Abroad sagas, the racism is thicker than the heat and stronger than the plot.

   “Public Toothache Number One” from the November 7 issue is a semi-hardboiled comedy about a bill collector, obviously modeled on Jimmy Cagney, who makes a dunning call on a certain dentist just in time to be mistaken for that fellow by henchmen of the country’s most wanted criminal, who’s in hiding and suffering from a ferocious ulcerated tooth.    These gangsters are so stupid they let our hero fill their hideout with carbon monoxide fumes from an auto on the pretext that it’s a form of anesthesia. Enough said.

   Woolrich closed out his sales to Argosy that year with the kind of exotic adventure yarn with which the magazine was identified. “Holocaust” from the December 12 number takes place on the island of Santo Domingo during the French Revolution and deals with a bloody slave revolt.

   The female lead is 18-year old Aurelie Blanchard, daughter of a plantation owner, a girl who admires Voltaire and opposes the whipping of slaves and says of blacks, echoing Shylock’s words in The Merchant of Venice about Jews, “Do they not laugh as we do, weep as we do, bleed when cut, draw breath as we do?”

   In this story the answer is No. They are a savage tide, a horde of repulsive brutes in loincloths and Jacobin caps, screaming for victims to torture, shouting Robespierre slogans and war cries and voodoo chants all in the same breath, all except Aurelie’s faithful old nurse Marthe who saves her life.

   In the first and most vividly conjured-up sequences, Mon Repos is besieged. Aurelie’s mother kills herself, Aurelie herself is buried alive, and her fiancé Robert Lemaitre and the sadistic but cowardly plantation overseer Picard are taken prisoner and tortured until Aurelie turns the tables by rising from her open grave and masquerading as a zombie.

   She and the two Frenchmen boil the rebel leader in a vat of wax and escape into the jungle where more terror awaits them. It’s a long and ultra-lurid tale, worthy of appearance in Thrilling Mystery alongside “Baal’s Daughter” which we dissected last month, but nowhere near as vividly written as the noir classics Woolrich set on his home turf.

   One of the least popular of the Popular Publications pulps was Ace-High Detective, which lasted just seven issues, from August 1936 through February-March 1937. Its November 1936 number included “Evil Eye,” the earliest of several stories Woolrich was to write about the encounters of various plucky and mischievous young boys with death and terror, but this one unlike its successors is played almost entirely for comedy.

   Bronx plainclothesman Dan Kieran takes his 8-year-old son Danny to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see a newly unearthed mummy with a priceless emerald eye. The orb is supposedly protected by an ancient curse that whoever tries to steal it will be blinded by the god Osiris. Danny slips away from his dad at closing time and is locked in the museum, as are two dimwits nicknamed Jojo and Donkey Mouth who plan to steal the eye during the night.

   Woolrich tells almost none of this story from the viewpoint of the boy as he would in later tales of this sort. Instead he concentrates first on making us laugh as we watch the thieves’ comic interplay (which may remind sufficiently aged readers of the scenes between Jackie Gleason and Art Carney on TV’s The Honeymoners) and the bungling efforts of Danny’s father and a helpful traffic cop to break into the museum and rescue the brat, and then on making us shudder as the gory curse is fulfilled. The setting shows that Woolrich intended “Evil Eye” to be included in his book of New York Landmarks stories- — a book that for unknown reasons never came into being.


   For the rest of this column let’s delve into a topic as far removed from Woolrich as possible, a trio of traditional detective novels from the Golden Age of that noble genre in England between World Wars. The authors I usually discuss when I’m on that subject are John Rhode and Christopher Bush, whom I’ve been reading intermittently since my teens. I don’t believe I’ve ever written a word about this month’s author. Isn’t it about time I did?

   Cyril Hare was the writing byline of Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark, who was born in the county of Surrey on 4 September 1900 and, in the interstices of a legal career, produced nine highly regarded novels and more than forty short stories. His earliest novel, Tenant for Death  (1937), written while he was still practicing law and before he migrated to the judicial side of the system, introduced Scotland Yard’s Inspector Mallett, a tall stout man with a taste for sumptuous lunches, not as memorable a protagonist as, say, Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse who debuted almost forty years later but far more vivid than the all but characterless sleuths who were commonplace in British detective fiction of the Golden Age.

   Lionel Ballantine, a crooked financier on the brink of exposure and arrest, is found strangled to death with a Venetian blind cord in a house in Kensington, recently rented by a paunchy full-bearded man calling himself Colin James who seems to have vanished. The murder took place shortly after the release from prison of a banker who had been innocently caught up in Ballantine’s crimes and had sworn revenge in open court after his conviction but was still behind bars when the mysterious Mr. James made his first appearance.

   The banker however is hardly the sole suspect. Mallett also has to consider Ballantine’s equally corrupt secretary (who today would probably have a title like Executive Administrative Assistant), the bigamous husband of Ballantine’s mistress, a dotty nobleman who served on the crooked company’s board of directors, and several more. The traditional clues are few and far between — notably the riddles of why Ballantine was found wearing a sloppily tied green bow tie with an elegant gray suit and what happened to the umbrella with which he was last seen — but Mallett connects the dots with rare ingenuity and Hare succeeds in keeping us puzzled while playing fair all the way.

   Barzun and Taylor in A Catalogue of Crime  (2nd ed. 1989) called this book “a very engaging debut,” distinguished by “sound yet uncommon philosophizing….” Readers who aren’t interested in legal issues or jargon may rest assured that Tenant for Death  is free of both.



   Except for a brief colloquy in Chapter 1 on whether fishing rights are a covenant running with the land or an easement — terms which for attorneys will evoke fond or bitter memories of their Property course as first-year law students — legalisms are also absent in Hare’s second book.

   I’m sure there are other detective novels in which anglers and angling are central to the plot but I can’t recall any in which the pursuit of fish figures so prominently as in Death Is No Sportsman (1938). An elaborate map of a three-mile stretch of the river Didder and its surroundings, which most readers will have to consult again and again as various characters traipse through the area, portrays footpaths, a ford, a cart track, a bridge across the river, and assorted copses and trout pools, with stately Didford Manor at the map’s northern edge and the village of Didford Magna (which is dwarfed by its companion village Didford Parva) at its southern end.

   Each summer weekend the village’s only pub is taken over by four Londoners, the members of a fishing syndicate which owns the exclusive right to cast reels along this stretch of the river. All four have reasons to despise Sir Peter Packer, the wealthy owner of Didford Manor, who late one hot Saturday afternoon in June is found on a tiny piece of solid ground known as the Tump with a bullet through his eye that took most of his brains with it when it exited. Suspects besides the four fishermen include the young wife of the syndicate’s senior member, the even younger wife of odious Sir Peter, a young man from the village whose fiancée Sir Peter had (as we used to say) knocked up, and — perhaps — the rector’s unspeakable wife and the local doctor.

   Almost halfway through the novel Scotland Yard in the person of Inspector Mallett is called into the case, which is labyrinthine to the max and brim-full of fishing lore. Dare I venture to suggest that most if not all of the dramatis personae must be Anglicans?

   Whether Hare plays completely fair with the reader is uncertain. At the denouement Mallett offers several reconstructions of what happened, each positing a different killer, but it’s all a charade to pressure the real murderer into a confession without which, as Mallett freely admits to his local colleagues, there’s no real evidence against the culprit.

   The authors of A Catalogue of Crime couldn’t agree on a    verdict, with Wendell Hertig Taylor calling it the second best of the nine Hare novels while Jacques Barzun disliked it “because of the long windup and fumbling detection.” One can see his point: without real evidence how could Mallett reasonably identify the guilty party? But I remain uncertain about my own verdict. Who can decide when doctors disagree?


   In Hare’s third book, the last he completed before the outbreak of World War II, Mallett appears only in the early and final chapters, but for my money it’s the finest detective novel of the trio. Suicide Exceptted (1939) opens on the last evening of the Inspector’s holiday, which he’s spending in a stately Georgian house turned mediocre country hotel, 42 miles from London.

   That evening in the hotel lounge, after an indigestible meal, Mallett is approached by a fellow guest, a rather eccentric old bloke named Leonard Dickinson, who hints that he may take his own life before morning. As any whodunit devotee might have guessed, he’s found dead in his bed by the maid bringing him his breakfast. The physical evidence plus Mallett’s statement convinces the coroner’s jury that Dickinson deliberately took a fatal overdose of a sleeping potion called Medinal (which I gather Hare invented out of whole cloth), and a verdict of suicide is reached.

   Shortly thereafter it develops that less than a year before his death the old man had put most of his money into a life insurance policy on himself — a policy which offers a huge payout but becomes null and void if he should kill himself within a year of its inception. Faced with the prospect of destitution, Dickinson’s son Stephen and his daughter Mary, assisted by Mary’s fiancé Martin Johnson, set out to prove to the insurance company that the old gentleman was murdered by one of his fellow guests at the country hotel.

   A rum assortment of guests indeed! An antiquarian parson and his wife, a young couple spending an illicit night, a mystery man who stayed confined to his room, a Lincolnshire dowager and her mentally challenged son, a gas company executive rendezvousing with a blackmailer, and of course Mallett himself and the decedent.

   Most of the novel follows various combinations of the three amateur detectives, whose sleuthing soon establishes that an incredible number of the hotel’s guests that night had motives for killing the old man. Mallett comes back into the picture and exposes the murderer, whose identity is a stunning surprise (at least to me), although later I discovered that Hare had planted all sorts of subtle pointers to the truth which aren’t apparent except on a second reading.

   For some reason Barzun and Taylor weren’t impressed by this novel, calling it “one-third good, two-thirds fumbling.” Long after the end of the war, when it was first published in the U.S., Anthony Boucher in the New York Times Book Review (7 November 1954) found it “more conventional and less witty” than Hare’s postwar novels but “adroit in its manipulation of [the] three amateur detectives” and “distinguished by a plot-twist” worthy of Agatha Christie. With the last point I agree completely.


   Hare spent the WWII years first as a judge’s marshal (somebody who sits with and performs various chores for a judicial officer), then with the Department of Public Prosecutions and finally with the Ministry of Economic Warfare. Apparently he was kept quite busy, so much so that during the war he published only one novel, Tragedy at Law  (1942), which many consider his masterpiece.

   With the defeat of Hitler he resumed writing a book every few years. In 1950 he was appointed a County Court judge for his native Surrey, a position he held until he died, at the all too early age of 57, on 25 August 1958. Whether he chose the title himself or his publisher came up with it when he was no longer with us, it’s equally fitting that his last novel is called Untimely Death.

MARTHA GRIMES – The Old Silent. Richard Jury #10. Little Brown, hardcover, 1989. Dell, paperback, 1990.

   A major push is on, publicity-wise, to get Martha Grimes onto the bestseller list. I wish her and her leading character Supt. Richard Jury all the best, but frankly she’s just not good enough as a writer to write a 425 page detective novel, and make it interesting.

   Jury is all right, although suffering from malaise at the beginning of the book. It’s all his insufferable friends and acquaintances and the people he meets that drag the book down. For example, nothing at all happens between pages 51 and 66 [of the hardcover edition].

   But don’t mind me. Here’s what the story’s about. Jury is witness to a woman shooting her husband in a pub, the one in the title. There’s no question as to her guilt, of course, but what Jury begins to wonder about is her motive, and how it might be connected to the kidnapping of her stepson and a small friend eight years earlier. (And of course, it is.)

   But in case you’re interested, here’s a comparison. As a book, this one doesn’t require the same amount of effort to read as the one by Elizabeth George, reviewed here a little earlier. Grimes’ characters seem to have their good days as well as bad. They’re still generally rather badly warped examples of humanity, but adding some humor seems to dispel some of the overall miasma of the affair.

   No matter. I’ve had enough, This is it. I mean it. I wrote a diatribe like this to my review of George’s book, and I deleted it. No more of this kind of British detective fiction for me, whether written by Americans with a fetish for the stuff, or it’s the real thing, I think it’s decadent and derivative, or in other words, it’s just no fun to read.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #13, June 1989 (slightly revised).



THE BURGLARS. Columbia Films, France, 1971. Columbia Pictures, US, 1972. Original title: Le casse. Jean-Paul Belmondo, Omar Sharif, Dyan Cannon. Based on the novel The Burglar, by David Goodis. Director: Henri Verneuil.

   Speaking of Perversity, I wanted to say a word or two about a French film called The Burglars, directed by Henri Verneuil and, based on David Goodis’s melancholy novel The Burglar. Never — not once in many many years of watching Trashy Movies — have I seen a film so utterly unfaithful o its source material.

   And never have I watched a film so lightly enjoyable anyway. From start to Finish, the Burglars is a romp, with spectacular scenery, mind-boggling stuntwork by its star,Jean-Paul Belmondo, colorful backgrounds, fights, chases, leaps, bounds, double-crosses, Op Art, gimmicks, and every thing else that made the thrillers of the late 60s/early 70s such fun to watch.

   The plot, about a gang of jewel thieves picked off by a cop who’s gone into business for himself, serves mainly as a pretext for Belmondo to strut his klutzy machismo while Cannon and Sharif look seductive, and is a complete betrayal of Goodis’s haunting thriller. But it’s all done with so much panache as to be immediately forgivable. And totally entertaining. Catch it!




THE MOONLIGHTER. Warner Brothers, 1953. Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Ward Bond, William Ching, John Dierkes, Morris Ankrum, Jack Elam. Writer: Niven Busch. Director: Roy Rowland.

   In Warner Brothers’ The Moonlighter, Fred MacMurray portrays a cattle thief who finds himself at odds with not only the law, but also with his brother (William Ching). He also comes into conflict with his own true love (Barbara Stanwyck), who gets fed up with his reckless criminal ways. Typical Western fare, for sure.

   Although the plot may be fairly standard, The Moonlighter is nevertheless an odd film. Not because it’s quirky or because it’s offbeat. No. It’s because of two factors, none of which seem to make much sense. First of all, the film’s running time is a mere 78 minutes, yet it has an intermission! Second, it was released in 3-D, but there’s really nothing in the movie that makes it remotely worthy of that format.

   The cast also makes it an odd film. Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck were undoubtedly far too talented for this uneven film. Admittedly, the reunited Double Indemnity (1944) actors do the best they can with the sometimes downright atrocious low-tech dialogue that plagues what could have, with some tweaking, been a much better film. Too much of the dialogue is on the nose, with characters telling each other how much they either love or hate one another. It’s just cringeworthy to listen to these two actors who, it’s clear, deserved a much better script than the one offered here.

   And yet, despite these factors, there are some rather good moments in the film. These include when Fred MacMurray’s character works outside of the law to avenge the death of an innocent man or when Barbara Stanwyck’s character becomes a deputized lawman (or woman!) and rides out on horseback, rifle in tow, to seek justice. In how many movies, can you say that a female law officer shoots and kills a villain portrayed by Ward Bond? Not many, I suppose. That too makes The Moonlighter unique. Whether it’s worth your time depends, however, on how much you like the actors. (This includes the always enjoyable Jack Elam.) Without them, this would have been a completely turgid and forgettable production.



E. R. PUNSHON – Mystery Villa. Detective Sergeant Bobby Owen #4. Gollancz, UK, hardcover, 1934. Penguin, UK, paperback, 1950. Dean Street Press, UK, trade paperback, 2015. No US edition.

   Written in the days when Sergeant Bobby Owen, Punshon’s long-running series character, was young and throbbing with ambition and energy, this small puzzle of the mysterious lady of Tudor Lodge is a tiny little mystery that grows and grows and grows.

   But slowly! It is fifty pages before Bobby finds reason enough to investigate within, and in doing so he widens the case forty or fifty years into the past – to a happy event that never took place, and to a murder that did.

   (Sorry to be so ambiguous. Pat of the soporific pleasure of reading this novel is just just being able to relax and let events flow over you, and I hope I haven’t already said too much and deprived you of that particular enjoyment.)

   The characters are nicely done – save Bobby – who has no personal life to speak of, and otherwise is described completely by the first sentence o this review. Outdated, but drawn with precision and care.

   It is the detective work that fails to hold up, beginning with a sloppy search of the house by the police themselves, and continuing on as Bobby completely forgets about one of the characters involved. And of course that person turns out to by the, um, well, yes, I shouldn’t even say that , should I?

   Overall, the worst crime a detective story can perpetrate is that of being unconvincing. What with faulty premises, unlikely motivations, and sheer, devout strongheadedness, well – it’s not really that bad, but …

–Very slightly revsed from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 6, Nov/Dec 1981.



THE LINEUP. Columbia Pictures, 1958. Eli Wallach, Robert Keith, Richard Jaeckel, Mary LaRoche, William Leslie, Emile Meyer, Marshall Reed, Raymond Bailey, Vaughn Taylor, Cheryl Callaway, Robert Bailey, Warner Anderson. Screenplay: Stirling Silliphant. Director: Don Siegel.

   The Lineup is a film of contradictions, managing somehow to be both intriguing and dull, subversive and complacent – not at the same time, but close enough together to make one wonder how it ever got made at all. No one who has ever seen it forgets the killing at the skating rink or the wild car chase and shoot-out that climax he movie; on the other hand, one is hard-pressed to remember anything much happening in the whole first twenty minutes of the thing. Memorable and forgettable: that’s The Lineup.

   The reasons for this strange duality are readily apparent now, but at the time it must have seemed .like a good idea, to the producers at Columbia to make a low-budget feature film based on a popular TV series. And Don Siegel probably looked — on the surface, at least — like the best man to direct it, having done the pilot for the television series four years earlier . He must have seemed like a natural.

   But Don Siegel had changed a lot in the years since The Lineup was first televised; he had entered the most anarchic and most personals age of his career, using low-budget action films as vehicles to say something meaningful about individuals trying to attain identity in an Anonymous Society: films like Riot in Cell Block11, Baby Face Nelson, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, his clearest and mos deliberately paranoid statement on the dangers of Unity. And it was this middle-aged rebel, not the fair-haired boy of four years earlier, who brought his feelings to bear on The Lineup, which mus have turned out to be a lot different from what the producers had in mind.

   For one thing, he scenes built around the police/heroes of the piece, are thoroughly, almost painstakingly, dull. Siegel shoots he Police Procedure parts in an obviously disinterested style, routine set-up following routine set-up as the story meanders towards no place in particular with no noticeable sense of pace. The Police are sympathetic enough, to be sure, but they’re also boring and banal in this movie, which makes for a pretty soporific first twenty minutes or so … Until the killers come on.

   With the introduction of Eli Wallach and Robert Keith, we get a look at last at he film Siegel wanted to make, and an impressive job it is, too. The flatness of the photography suddenly looks impressive, with the characters struggling in long shot against a landscape of towering ships and crowded streets, standing in sharp contrast against anonymous hotel rooms and deserted docks as they march resolutely towards some predestined end.

   Wallach and Keith are quickly established as enforcers for some anonymous but highly structured criminal organization. They, and everyone they meet, have a small and well-defined part to play in some complex and mysteriously important scheme; the nondescript man who gives them their assignment, the nameless figure who pronounces their death sentences, and everyone else they encounter, all either conform to the rigid norm of their social order or die for departing from them.

   It’s a daring message for a film supposedly designed to celebrate the glories of Police Routine, but Siegel states his theme clearly and repeatedly, from the siren-blast time signal that begins and ends his characters assignment, to the way Keith keeps correcting Wallach’s stammer, right down to the infringement of The Rules that dooms both men: Siegel demonstrates the peril of acing Human in a world of Pod People, and, intriguingly, he makes his point around a deliberately unsympathetic character.

   As the killer (ironically called Dancer) Eli Wallach’s ripe features and beady eyes seem constantly cocked and ready, about to explode into some socially unsanctioned violence as he moves skittishly about the San Francisco landscape. He plays this perfectly against Keith, as his mysterious supervisor, who comes on like a voice-over announcer in a commercial, constantly reminding his subordinate about how well they are doing their job as he methodically jots down the last words of their victims in a little notebook.

   The last half of The Lineup is heady stuff indeed, with well-staged bursts of violence built around a rapidly accelerating plot, culminating in one of the most chilling performances ever committed to film, by a perfect unknown named Vaughan Taylor, and a car-chase across a half-completed freeway system — done mostly with back-projection — that completely outclasses the more expensive and highly-touted car-chase scenes that became a staple of the Movies in the 1970s.

   So catch this movie the next time it comes along. Have a good book to read or something to occupy your mind for the first twenty minutes, then sit back o enjoy one of the most surprisingly perverse movies ever.


ROBERT PORTNER KOEHLER – Sing a Song of Murder. Pecos Appleby #1. Phoenix Press, hardcover, 1941. No paperback edition.

   According to Al Hubin’s monumental bibliography Crime Fiction IV, Robert Portner Koehler was the author of fifteen mysteries between 1933 and 1948, all but the first for Phoenix Press. The latter was in my opinion the best of the lending library publishers over that period, but they put out many an absolute clunker too. Over the years, there are quite a few I have given up on after only a chapter or two, and once in while it’s taken one or two pages to tell me I’d be better off spending my time reading something else.

   I’m happy to say, though, that Sing a Song of Murder is one of Phoenix’s better ones. It’s best, though, if you take that statement in the proper perspective.  Koehler’s name is hardly one that more than a handful of mystery readers have ever heard of, either now  especially, or quite possibly even then.

   The detective on the case is one Pecos Appleby, who even though this is his first recorded adventure, comes with a sense that he’s been around for a while. As a weather-beaten man in his forties, he introduces himself to the owner of a trading post and tourist lodge in the middle of a Navajo reservation as a special investigator for the New Mexico police.

   It seems he is on the trail of a woman who abandoned her car along a lonely stretch of desert highway. She in her turn seems to have turned up at the lodge without a care in the world. Or, perhaps not, for she is soon found dead, the victim of a killer who can only be one of the several people who are staying there.

   This is obviously a very common setup for a Golden Age detective story, and until the end, when the explanations get a little muddled, Koehler does a better than average job of it. He in fact takes one of the oldest tropes in detective fiction and turns it around to good advantage. When asked if he knows who did it, Appleby says yes, but I can’t prove it. When pressed, however, instead of demurring, as is the usual in situations such as this, he decides to go ahead and explain the case as he sees it to his superior, and in detail.

   Problem is, this comes some sixty pages before the end of the book. What he right or wrong? Well, I can’t tell you, but I liked what the author was doing here, and you can use your imagination, I think. As for the title, it comes from the fact the local Navajo tribe doing a sing, a healing ceremony, near the post all the while Appleby’s investigation is going on.

      The Pecos Appleby series —

Sing a Song of Murder (n.) Phoenix 1941
Here Come the Dead (n.) Phoenix 1942
Some Try Murder (n.) Phoenix 1943

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


RAYMOND CHANDLER – The Simple Art of Murder. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1950. Pocket #916, paperback, 1953. Reprinted many times since, in both hardcover and paperback.

   Eleven of the twelve stories in is collection are those that Chandler considered the best of his output for the pulps; the other story, “I’ll Be Waiting” was first published in the Saturday Evening Post (although Chandler admittedly felt uncomfortable and restricted writing for the slick-magazine medium). Also included here is Chandler’s famous and controversial essay on detective fiction, first published in the Atlantic Monthly, in which he lauds Hammett and the realistic school of crime writing, and takes a number of shots (some fair, some cheap) at such Golden Age luminaries as Christie, Sayers, and A. A. Milne.

   The stories here, as the dust jacket blurb says with typical publishers’ overstatement bur accurately nonetheless “hit you as hard as if [Chandler] were driving the last spike on the first continental railroad.” “Red Wind,” for instance, begins with one of the finest opening paragraphs in the history of the genre:

   There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of the hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edges of carving knives and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

   In the original appearance of that story, the private-eye narrator was Johnny Dalmas; here he becomes Philip Marlowe. Similarly, the unnamed narrator in “Finger Man,“ Carmady in “Goldfish,” and Dalmas again in “Trouble 1s My Business” are also changed to Marlowe. Johnny Dalmas does get to keep his own name in “Smart-Aleck Kill,” no doubt because that novelette is told third-person.

   And the same is true of Carmady in “Guns at Cyrano’s.” The only other first person story in the collection, the lighter-toned and somewhat wacky “Pearls Are a Nuisance,” features a much more refined dick named Walter Gage whose antics in search of a string of forty-nine matched pink pearls provide chuckles as well as thrills. Also included arc the tough Black Mask novelettes “Nevada Gas” and “Spanish Blood,” “The King in Yellow” from Dime Detective and “‘Pick-Up on Noon Street” from Detective Fiction Weekly.

   All of these stories appear in several other collections, such the paperback originals Five Murderers (1944) and Finger Man and Other Stories (1946) and the Tower Books hardcover originals Red Wind (1946) and Spanish Blood (1946). Next to The Simple Art of Murder, the most interesting and important Chandler collection is Killer in the Rain (1964), which gathers the eight “cannibalized” stories that were used as the bases for The Big Sleep, Farewell. My Lovely, and The Lady in the Lake.

   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.

WIR£D “The Beginning.” ITV, UK, 13 October 2008. 60m. Part one of a three-part mini-series. Jodie Whittaker, Laurence Fox, Toby Stephens. Screenplay: Kate Brooke. Director: Kenny Gleenan.

   A single mother (Louise Evans, played to perfection by Jodie Whittaker) who has just been promoted at the bank where she works is surprised to learn that her new position was not earned on her own resume and what’s worse, it comes with some very nasty strings attached. It seems that she has a back story involving criminal activity she doesn’t want known now, but it engenders a little blackmail and a threat to her young girl, either of which on their own are enough incentive for her to comply when she’s asked to do a “favor” to he crummy boy friend (Laurence Fox) of a lady “friend” she has at work.

   The favor seems minor, but what do I know about banking? Enough to know that she’s up to her ears in deep stuff. There is already an undercover police officer (Toby Stephens) snooping around, threatening audits. Episode one is just the set up. Yet to come are two more episodes: “The Middle” and “The End.”

   As is often the case these days, it is the heroine of the tale that receives the most attention, but Jody Whitaker, the future Doctor Who, is more than up to the task. Which is not to suggest that the rest of the cast, most of whom I’ve left uncredited above, is not doing their job too. Somehow the British seem to do short series such as this a quantum level higher than most of those in the US. This is one series I know I’ll finish.


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