Reviews


CRIME DOCTOR. Columbia, 1943. Warner Baxter, Margaret Lindsay, John Litel, Ray Collins, Harold Huber, Don Costello, Leon Ames. Based on the Crime Doctor radio series created by Max Marcin. Director: Michael Gordon.

THE CRIME DOCTOR’S COURAGE. Columbia, 1945. Warner Baxter, Hillary Brooke, Jerome Cowan, Robert Scott, Lloyd Corrigan, Emory Parnell, Stephen Crane, Anthony Caruso, Lupita Tovar. Director: George Sherman.

   Crime Doctor began as a radio program, running on Mutual from 1940 to 1947. Four of them are available online on the archive.org website. Listening to the first of them, “Eddie Brooklief’s Money,” I was not impressed.

   After twenty minutes of story in which the killer is completely identified to the listeners, Benjamin Ordway, the Crime Doctor, comes on to give the police the evidence they need to close the case, in only a couple of minutes of airtime. Frankly, I heard nothing in this episode to explain how the series managed to stay on the air for as long as it did.

   This may or may not have been the pattern of the other three shows, however, nor for that matter, all eight years the program was on the air. The original premise, as I understand it, was that before he became a prominent psychiatrist and a rehabilitator of criminals, Dr. Ordway was a criminal mastermind who somehow came down with amnesia and became a figure of good on the other side of the law.

   Crime Doctor was the first in a series of ten movies starring an aging (and ailing) Warner Baxter as Robert Ordway, and in retelling the basic premise as I outlined it above, once again I was less than impressed. In the film, Ordway’s former colleagues in crime had a falling out with him, and tried unsuccessfully to bump him off, without, however, knowing where their $200,000 in stolen money is.

   But, hence the amnesia, which the aforesaid former colleagues do not know whether to swallow or not, even after ten years have gone by and Ordway is head of the state parole board. It all sounds kind of silly, and it did even as I was watching it. Perhaps they tried to squeeze too much story in only 65 minutes of running time, as large gaps of story are sometimes skipped over between scenes.

   The Crime Doctor’s Courage, the fourth of the movies, has a serious case of split personality. In the first half the new wife of a man whose first two marriages ended in tragedy during their honeymoons asks Dr. Ordway for help. She would like to know if she should be worried.

   Compounding her concern is the brother of the first wife, who accuses Gordon Carson outright of murder. After a confrontation, Carson goes into his room, locks the door, and is shot to death. Suicide? The Crime Doctor proves it couldn’t have been.

   At which point the brother-in-law disappears (as far I could tell), and the focus of the story becomes the Braggas, a mysterious brother and sister, the highlight of whose dancing act consists of the sister vanishing into thin air during a portion of it.

   There are also hints that they may be vampires. They sleep in coffin-shaped beds, stay away from mirrors and are never seen in the daytime. After some confusing transition scenes and lot of action in an old dark mansion, the real killer is caught. How he manged to carry out the locked room gimmick, I’ll never know.

   Keep me in the Still Not Impressed column.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


INTRUDERS. BBC2 / BBC-America, 2014. John Simm, Mira Sorvino, James Frain, Millie Bobby Brown, Tory Kittles, Robert Forster, Alex Diakun. Series developed by Glen Morgan and written by Morgan, Kristin Cloke, and Darin Morgan, based on the novel by Michael Marshall Smith. Episodes directed by Daniel Stamm and Eduardo Sanchez.

         “In the beginning there was death.”

   Intruders is an eight episode television series from BBCA based on the works of novelist Michael Marshall Smith who also writes as Michael Marshall (The Straw Man). Smith pens horror as well as crime fiction, and his “Straw Man” series is perhaps the most innovative and best serial killer trilogy penned, far exceeding Thomas Harris post-Silence of the Lambs output in the genre.

   Intruders is horror, but it is also a puzzling mystery, fantasy, and an atmospheric and often disconcerting series mindful of something that might have run in John Campbell Jr.s classic pulp Unknown. This one owes as much to Jack Williamson’s Darker Than You Think or Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife as Stephen King.

   Jack Whelan (John Simm) is a former cop turned writer married to beautiful Amy (Mira Sorvino), an angel of sorts who saved him from the bottle. When an old friend from high school, Gary Fischer (Tory Kittles) shows up asking for help to solve the disappearance of a man called Bill Anderson whose family was murdered, Jack has little incentive to help, but his life begins to spin out of control shortly after when Amy disappears after curious behavior.

   Meanwhile nine year old Madison O’Donnell (Millie Bobby Brown) is a strange child living on the Washington coast with her mother in a summer home and is behaving strangely herself, especially after Richard Shepherd (James Frain) turns up and shows Madison a sand dollar, giving her his black business card bearing the number 9, then threatening to kill her. Like Amy, Madison runs away, and, like Amy, she shows surprising skill at doing it.

   Jack’s world spirals out of control as he begins to unravel his wife’s lies, leading him back to Gary Fischer and Bill Anderson who are tied to Amy in ways he could not suspect, and draws him into conflict with Richard Shepherd and his mentor Frank Shepherd (Robert Forster) and the people they work for, the mysterious Rose Gilchrist, and something called Qui Reverte, a mysterious group who hands people strange business cards with a 9 on them, and an even stranger manual to surviving death.

   I won’t be giving too much away to reveal the Qui Reverte claim that no one in their group dies They believe they have lived multiple lives over the centuries. Richard Shepherd is a just that, a shepherd, a figure who helps members cross over for their various rebirths — even killing them when they resist — or rather when the other soul in the body they are reborn in does.

   Amy is somehow tied to all this, as is Madison, who is apparently possessed by Marcus Fox (wonderfully creepy Alex Diakun: “What goes around comes around.”), a long lived monster the Qui Reverte condemned but who was saved by Richard whom he bribed to shepherd him back. Under his power Madison is a deadly killer in unsuspected form, and some to the most disturbing scenes in the series involve this nine year old killer (usually shown off camera, but still disturbing) under his influence.

   Jack is a reasonable and rational man who believes his wife has been taken over by a cult following her miscarriage, but it becomes increasingly hard to remain skeptical as he delves deeper into the Qui Reverte, and finds himself sometimes allied with the murderous Richard Shepherd who for some reason twice refuses to kill him.

   I watched this first when it was serialized on BBCA, but recently binge watched all eight episodes in two days where I appreciated even more the novelistic approach of the series and how well it adapts Smith’s novel (not without some changes).

   There is little gore here, it is much more about mystery and atmosphere and the almost Woolrichian fate of Jack Whelan as his world falls apart and everything he believed proves a lie or a half truth at best. At times you may be as confused as he is, but stick to the end and all, or at least most, will be revealed.

   The plot is resolved, but left open for more, as new doors open for Jack even as old ones shut, and his journey into Qui Reverte and its secrets just begins. Intruders will draw you in deeper as the mysteries are solved and deeper ones revealed. You may never look at anyone you know the same again after watching it, though.

   Like the best of this kind of horror fiction, it is the frisson and not the gore or the monster leaping out at you that you will recall. If you wonder where intelligent horror went, after all the big screen splatter fests, gimmicky hand-held cameras, and gore, this is one place to find it.

   In its own quiet way this tough smart little horror outing is ultimately more frightening than all the Jason’s, Freddie’s and vampires creeping about and it is presented as a genuine mystery, though, like Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, the solution may be more frightening than the mystery. This hits all too close to home for anyone who has ever wondered about the stranger they share their life with, or how well you know anyone, even yourself.

MURRAY SINCLAIR – Only in L.A. A&W Publishers, hardcover, 1982. Pinnacle, paperback, 1983. Black Lizard, paperback, 1988.

   If what you’re looking for in the detective fiction you read is mood and atmosphere, this is the book for you. It’s a broody melodrama that in a very strong way, is a modern-day paean to life in the sleazier sections of southern California, although from the outside, “paean” would hardly seem to be the right word to use.

   Neither pacing nor consistency of tone is a problem for Sinclair. He hits a single note on the very first page, and he holds it throughout the rest of the book, apparently without even straining. Both he and his hero, screenwriter Ben Crandel, view Los Angeles as the ultimate symbol of a dying culture at the end of its spiritual life-line.

   A citizens’ group central to the plot attempts to make Hollywood the adult entertainment capital of the US, and foolishly so, as if it weren’t already.

   Crandel’s first appearance was in Tough Luck L. A., a paperback original from Pinnacle, and to say that the mystery involved in that earlier book, and its solution, were totally incomprehensible would be an act of high charity. Sinclair has a much better hold on his story line this time around, but only if you consider massive unexplained coincidence as the ultimate in plotting devices.

   On the other hand, it occurs to me that perhaps we’re meant only to consider it an indispensable part of the delirious madness and seedy, sour-tasting pornography that Crandel finds himself swallowed up by, as he desperately tries to find his adopted son’s kidnappers.

   It’s a point of view, and I’m sure it’s a valid one. It’s like spinach, though. You can sit and admire all its fine qualities all you want, and still be awfully glad you don’t have to eat any.

Rating:   C plus.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 6, November-December 1982 (somewhat revised)


[UPDATE] 08-26-15.   The first book in the series, Tough Luck L. A. (Pinnacle, 1980) was nominated for an Edgar in the Best Paperback Original category. There was a third book in the series, Goodbye, L.A. (Black Lizard, 1988), which I have not read.

SANDRA WEST PROWELL – By Evil Means. Walker, hardcover, 1993. Bantam, paperback, April 1995.

   This is the first of three recorded adventures for perhaps the only fictional PI working out of Billings, Montana, a former FBI agent named Phoebe Siegel. The case seems simple enough, that of a woman who is afraid that there is something wrong at Whispering Pines, the psychiatric clinic on the outskirts of town where her daughter had recently sought help.

   Phoebe is about to turn her down, since (for many reasons) she always takes the month of March off. One of the reasons is that March is the month that her brother Ben, a cop in the local police force, committed suicide. She changes her mind, though, when the mother tells her there may have been an involvement between the girl and her brother Ben, even to the extent of a police complaint just before he died.

   Thus begins a long (over 350 pages) investigation into all kinds of secrets in her home town that Phoebe had never had an inkling of, many of them involving her family and friends, and she has many in both categories. The book is slow to start. It is not until page 130 or so, when Phoebe goes sneaks into Whispering Pines and convinces herself at last that Dr. Stroud is indeed up to no good, that the tale really starts to get into high gear.

   In some ways, this book reminded me of several of Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone stories, in which the friends and family seem to be a secondary but essential sidebar to the mystery. But in Phoebe Siegel’s case, the role they both take on simply grows and grows, insidiously so. The ending is as harrowing as any that I’ve read in a PI novel in quite a long time.

   I wasn’t so sure for a while, but this one’s a keeper.

      The Phoebe Siegel series –

By Evil Means (1993)
The Killing of Monday Brown (1994)

When Wallflowers Die (1996)
An Accepted Sorrow (unpublished)

   According to the Thrilling Detective website, By Evil Means was nominated for the Hammett Prize, and both that novel and The Killing of Monday Brown were nominated for a Shamus.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


MICHAEL Z. LEWIN – Called by a Panther. Albert Samson #8. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1991; paperback, June 1992.

   Albert Samson, it has been noted before, isn’t your typical hard-boiled, punchem inna nose, kickem inna crotch private eye. He’s middle-aged, low-key, laid-back, and not terribly successful; perilously close, actually, to being one of life’s losers. In this, his eighth appearance overall but first in eight years, he is trying to change his style. He is actually going to advertise on television; cable access, granted, but still —

   That’s just one of the threads running through the story. There’s a poet who wants to marry his rich benefactress, but needs Samson’s help in murdering his wife, first. Well, sort of, anyway. But the real problem is that terrorism has come to Indianapolis, yes, Indianapolis. The Scum Front, an environmentalist group, have planted several bombs recently, though taking great pains to not have them go off.

   Now the S. F. have had one of their bombs stolen after they planted it, and want Albert to find it for them. Given that the Indianapolis police are practically frothing at the mouth over the terrorists, he is naturally somewhat reluctant to become involved with the anonymous group. Does he? Well, of course.

   The ending, I think, will surprise you, as well as raise questions as to where the series goes from here. It’s an interesting if not too terribly believable story, and told in Lewin’s usual witty and enjoyable style. Samson’s exploits are a welcome change of pace from the typically gritty, angst-driven private detective story. I recommend them, and Panther, highly.

– Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #2, July 1992.

GEORGE DILNOT – The Crooks’ Game. Geoffrey Bles, UK, hardcover, 1927. Cherry Tree, UK, paperback, 1938/1945. Houghton, US, 1927. McKinlay, Stone & Mackenzie: “The Scotland Yard Library,” US, no date given. Also published in Detective Classics, May 1930.

   According to Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, George Dilnot was the author of 22 works of detective fiction, two of them collaborations with Frank Froest, and another three of them Sexton Blake paperbacks in the 1930s. All but a handful were never published in the US, so any that weren’t are going to be scarce. Based on reading this one, which I purchased at PulpFest, I may go looking, but if no cheap inexpensive copies turn up, I won’t go into a funk about it.

   Dilnot’s hero is a rather down-to-earth gentleman by the name of Detective-Inspector Strickland of Scotland Yard, no first name ever stated, so far I can recall. The case revolves around a millionaire from the US, one Buck Shang, and his daughter Shirley. Having been pardoned from the jail sentence he was serving back in Colorado, he now goes by the name of Earl Millard.

   Some former associates have followed father and daughter to England, and they are determined to get two million dollars from them, no matter how they get it or who gets in their way, and that includes Inspector Strickland.

   What follows in the story is a grand game of murder, capture, escape and recapture, boat trips up and down the Thames, and all around London town, good sections and bad, accomplices, assorted gang members, double-crosses and twists galore. It’s a lot of fun to read, and not until you’re finished do you realize that only a very routine lot of detective work ever went on.

   One really striking surprise occurs well before the end of the book, with the unfortunate result being that it also ends the case as well. What follows from here is a long recap, mostly unnecessary, and a short romantic interlude at the very end.

   Which also means that Strickland is about to chuck his job at Scotland Yard and head to the US with the Millards (if I’m telling you anything I shouldn’t, I apologize), and yet Strickland showed up in one of Dilnot’s novels two years later, in The Black Ace, his second and final appearance, but still in England. I’m curious enough to make this the first one I may go looking for.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


“Joaquin Murietta.” An episode of Stories of the Century.   Syndicated / Republic Pictures, 16 April 1954 (Season 1, Episode 13). Jim Davis, Mary Castle, with Rick Jason as Joaquin Murietta. Screenplay: Milton Raison. Director: William Witney.

   In this Stories of the Century episode, Matt Clark, Railroad Detective (Jim Davis) and his female partner, Frankie Adams (Mary Castle) take on legendary/quasi-fictional bandit Joaquin Murietta. Directed by William Witney, this episode plays like an extended serial or a very short B-Western. Unlike many other television Westerns from this era, the hero not only has a female partner, but a strong willed and independent one more than willing to speak her mind.

   The plot is adequate, but some details don’t make a whole lot of logical sense. The characters, such as they are, aren’t all that developed, although it should be noted that Murietta is portrayed as both as a ladies man and as a cruel bandit. Still, there’s action, gun-fighting, allusions to gold treasure a plenty. Most importantly, there’s a Whitneyesque drawn out, bare-knuckles fistfight at the very end. How could there not be?

   You can watch the entire episode on the YouTube videobelow:

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