Reviews


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


LE CORBEAU (THE RAVEN). Continental Films, France, 1943. Pierre Fresnay, Ginette Leclerc, Micheline Francey, and Pierre Larquey. Written & directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot.

THE 13th LETTER. Fox, 1951. Linda Darnell, Charles Boyer, Michael Rennie, and Constance Smith. Screenplay adapted by Howard Koch. Directed by Otto Preminger.

   There’s always some interest in watching a foreign film and its American remake, and when the films in question are the work of two able cineastes like Clouzot and Preminger, the exercise is enjoyable as well.

   Clouzot made Le Corbeau under German occupation (he was later banned for two years from the French film industry for working with the Nazis) and it’s based on a true incident: a series of anonymous letters that tore apart a rural French village and led to riots and a suicide. The 13th Letter, on the other hand, is based on Le Corbeau .

   Thus Corbeau focuses broadly on the Community, while 13th concentrates on stars Michael Rennie and Linda Darnell. Preminger incorporates scenes from the earlier film, of course, but doesn’t slavishly copy them. He and Clouzot both give a few memorable moments to the bit players, allowing them to suggest some complexity, and both directors stand back and give Pierre Larquey/Charles Boyer lots of elbow room as a garrulous old doctor, with pleasing results.

   But perhaps the difference between the films is not so much focus as viewpoint. Preminger’s film is more subjective, urging us to identify with the romantic Hollywood leads, while Corbeau remains taciturn and objective, observing everything at a distance I find typical of Clouzot.

   The wonderful thing is that Preminger’s glossy superficial approach works as well as Clouzot’s hard-edged realism. Both films are easy to watch, and quite engrossing at times. I may have identified more easily with Michael Rennie and Linda Darnell because they spoke English, but both movies hooked me as only a strong story and a capable director can.


MIKE FREDMAN – Kisses Leave No Fingerprints. Willie Halliday #2. St. Martin’s Press, US, hardcover, 1980. Originally published in the UK by Paul Elek Publishers, hardcover, 1979. The Black Dahlia Company Limited, UK, softcover, 2013.

   This is a private eye story, but as such, while nothing very much out of the ordinary seems to happen, this definitely not your ordinary private eye sort of story. A great part of his is unquestionably due to the fact that Willie Halliday is a vegetarian, a non-drinker, and a student of Asiatic religions on the side — not exactly your standard sort of private eye.

   Nor does he take on divorce cases as a rule, but he does in this one, and then simply because he finds himself moonstruck in love with the woman who hires him, and thus is easily persuaded. That she cares zip about him is obvious to the reader, but not entirely to Willie, who tells the tale.

   Not many surprises follow, but even so, Fredman nevertheless seems to have neatly captured a haunting, dreamlike essence to the fictional world-wide brotherhood of knight-errants reincarnated in today’s world as private investigatory agents.

–Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 4, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1980.


BIBLIOGRAPHIC UPDATE :  There was one earlier adventure for Willie Halliday, that being You Can Always Blame the Rain (Elek, 1978; St.Martin’s, 1980). There was never a third.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


IAN FLEMING – Thunderball. James Bond #9. Jonathan Cape, UK, hardcover, 1961. Viking Press, UK, hardcover, 1961. Signet, US, paperback, 1962. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and paperback. Filmed as: Thunderball (1965). Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi Directed by Terence Young; and as Never Say Never Again (1983). Sean Connery, Kim Bassinger, Klaus Maria Brandauer. Directed by Jack Smight.

   “What’s the good of other people’s opinions? Animals don’t consult each other about other animals. They look and sniff and feel. In love and hate, and everything in between, those are the only tests that matter. But people are unsure of their own instincts. They want reassurance. So they ask someone else whether they should like a particular person or not. And as the world loves bad news, they nearly always get a bad answer – or at least a qualified one.”

   The speech above is in response to Domino Vitale, the mistress, or as Ian Fleming has Bond tell us, the “courtesan de marque,” of Emilio Largo, at this point in the novel a “person of interest” in the investigation James Bond and CIA friend Felix Leiter are making as part of a global search for a missing nuclear weapons stolen from NATO, and being used by SPECTRE, a criminal terrorist organization lead by Ernst Stavro Blofied, to extort money from the West’s governments.

   Domino’s brother was the pilot of the unfortunate missing NATO flight, enough for Bond and Leiter to be sent to the Bahamas on something of a wild goose chase well away from the hot spots where the real action is centered, and Largo, a wealthy and somewhat piratical figure has both the money and means of hiding the missing nukes.

   Of course by this point we, the reader already know Largo is an agent of SPECTRE and Blofield, but as yet Bond doesn’t.

   Thunderball was the eighth James Bond novel and followed a break after Goldfinger where the new James Bond had been a collection of short stories, For Your Eyes Only.

   In fact Thunderball was the result of the author’s dwindling enthusiasm for his creation after a series of bitter disappointments about Bond’s screen fortunes. A proposed Hitchcock film of From Russia With Love had fallen through (Hitchcock ended up doing North by Northwest instead), and while sales for the Bond novels had rocketed with Doctor No and Goldfinger, the television series pilot “Commander Jamaica” that fell through had become the plot of Doctor No, and a short story collection consisted of five stories Fleming wrote as scenarios for a proposed television series, James Bond, Secret Agent, that had fallen through and ended up the hit series Danger Man with Patrick McGoohan, who despised Bond, as secret agent John Drake. Even a Ben Hecht scripted adaptation of Casino Royale had fallen through.

   Thunderball itself might not even have seen print if a film director named Kevin McClory hadn’t approached Fleming about an idea for an original story and with screenwriter Jack Whittingham and Fleming written the screenplay that Fleming “novelized” as his James Bond novel for 1961. The legal mess the novels origin created would haunt the film franchise well into the 21rst Century before it was settled to everyone’s satisfaction.

   If you are still with me, try to ignore all that history for a minute though, and go back to that paragraph I opened with, because to some extent that paragraph is what I’m really discussing here, not the history of the Bond franchise, but why Ian Fleming deserves to be read still and why there has been both a revival and a reassessment of his work in England.

   Even if you hate Bond, despise the idea of a British hero (and I know American fans who never forgave Fleming and Bond for eclipsing the endless supply of American wanna-be Bond replacements who don’t cut it or don’t last), and loathe the film franchise, the fact is that Fleming, careless as he could be, sexist as he and his creation are, men of a different time and sensibility that both are, was actually a damn good writer whose instinct went well beyond what even he admitted.

   In the chapter at hand, Bond is already in the Bahamas, and he and Leiter have been aboard Largo’s yacht, the Disco Volante, with a geiger counter seeking signs of the missing nuclear weapons. Bond has decided to get closer to Largo through Domino, and to hopefully, through seduction, to turn her against Largo as his “inside man.”

   Domino, is a typical Fleming heroine, attractive, but not flawless. She may have the “fine firm breasts” even Bondphile Kingsley Amis made fun of in his James Bond Dossier, but like most of Fleming’s women she a “bird with one wing down,” physically marred by one leg shorter than the other, and emotionally tormented by her past and her present.

   In fact I’ve always thought that quite a few Bond women should have been played by either Gloria Grahame or Lizbeth Scott with their histories of wounds, and insecurities. Contrary to the image of the films they don’t just hop into bed with Bond, and in book after book he finds himself, reluctantly at first because he wants to get on with job and often is shown thinking so rather bluntly, playing psycho-therapist to a succession of abused and emotionally stunted women he rather surprisingly rescues not only from the dragon, but from their own self destructive course.

   Bond in the books doesn’t win them over by his dark good looks or his sexual techniques and gifts. Hhe wins them over by being their way of reconnecting to life and normality. His most romantic gift turns out to be treating women well.

   Along the way no few of them rescue Bond too, because, also despite the films, Bond usually begins or ends the book in need of physical and emotional rehabilitation. In fact that is where he starts Thunderball, drinking too much, drifting into too many messy affairs, losing his edge (It was one of those days when it seemed to James Bond that all life, as someone put it, was nothing but a heap of six to four against), and thanks to a fussy and newly enthused M (Was this the first sign of senile decay?) sent to a health spa, Shrublands, for a course of drying out (“I’d rather die of drink than thirst.”), wheat-germ (…foods he had never heard of, such as Potassium Broth, Nut Mince, and the mysteriously named Unmalted Slippery Elm.), and massage.

   Miss Moneypenny rather neatly skewers him when he threatens to spank her for her amused tone at his dilemma, “I don’t think you’ll be able to do much spanking after living on nuts and lemon juice for two weeks, James.”

   Being Bond, James Bond, 007, he stumbles onto an international plot by SPECTRE and is nearly killed, but not before a nasty turn with health food. He spots Count Lippe whose strange ring catches his eye before his first treatment. Yes, there is a sexy nurse and a mink glove, but this is wish fulfillment. I can’t imagine most readers would rather Nurse Ratchet give him a high colonic instead, at least not rather read about it.

   It’s the fact that Fleming doesn’t need to spend a chapter telling us Domino’s life history that makes his choice to do so interesting. He could draw a tough but broken woman with a few lines if he wanted, as most thriller writers would have done, but instead he has Domino bothered by what people think of her as Largo’s expensive sex toy and in need of reassurance from Bond by telling him her backstory, and the key thing is that Bond’s response isn’t some sexist tough guy bull dragged out of the testicular fantasy of some chair bound pretend tough guy but sensitive and even thoughtful.

   It really isn’t the response of a Lothario or Don Juan, it’s the thoughtful response of a man who for all his tough self talk likes women. Later there is a tender and sexy scene when he has to bite poisonous sea spines out of her wounded heel (symbolic of the one short leg that mars her beauty, something else Fleming didn’t have to include), and it leads to the first time they have sex and he turns her.

   She said, looking seriously up at him, ‘Do you know, you’re the first man who’s ever made me cry.’ She held up her arms and now there was complete surrender.

   It pays off as well, because Domino not only helps, she is key to Bond’s success and saves his life in the finale.

   And not once does Fleming or Bond speculate that women ought to be raped for wearing pants like a popular American spy novelist.

   That it also goes to plot and provides Bond with information he needs about Largo and her brother is where the art lies, but Fleming could have taken more familiar thriller tracks to that same destination. That he doesn’t shows he still had that ambition to write thrillers that could be read not as literature, but with some of the pleasures of literature.

   I recognize that last line is what many readers have against Ian Fleming and James Bond in the novels. How dare an entertainer slow down the bang bang and kiss kiss for write write and think think. It always amazes me when critics condemn Fleming, but praise the often prolix and dense le Carre as if being difficult and tiresome to read was a virtue in a thriller writer. I enjoy le Carre, but I’m damned if I can find much worth quoting in his work.

   Fleming, however much you hate him, is quotable. His turn of phrase is more than sufficient, it is often eye catching and memorable. Like Raymond Chandler, or Georges Simenon, both of whom he admired, there is often something more to Fleming and Bond than just a wild yarn full of action with a bit of sex thrown in. There are passages of fine writing and even well drawn characters who come to life.

   It was really quite disturbing. Was his personality changing? Was he losing his edge, his point, his identity? Was he losing the vices that were so much part of his ruthless, cruel, fundamentally tough character? Who was he in process of becoming? A soft, dreaming, kindly idealist who would naturally leave the Service and become instead a prison visitor, interest himself in youth clubs, march with the H-bomb marchers, eat nut cutlets, try and change the world for the better?

   Or:

   The jawline, going to the appropriate middle-aged fat of authority, showed decision and independence. Only the mouth, under a heavy, squat nose, marred what might have been the face of a philosopher or a scientist. Proud and thin, like a badly healed wound, the compressed, dark lips, capable only of false, ugly smiles, suggested contempt, tyranny, and cruelty. But to an almost Shakespearian degree. Nothing about Blofeld was small.

   Or:

   They swam on in the soft moonlit mist of the sea. At first there was nothing but a milky void below them, but then the coral shelf of the island showed up, climbing steeply towards the surface. Sea fans, like small shrouds in the moonlight, waved softly, beckoning, and the clumps and trees of coral were grey and enigmatic. It was because of these things, the harmless underwater mysteries that make the skin crawl on the inexperienced, that Largo had decided to lead the disposal teams himself.

   Or:

   In front of him Largo, Largo with a spear sticking horribly through his neck, lay kicking feebly on the sand. Behind him and looking down at the body, stood a small, pale figure fitting another spear into an underwater gun. The long hair flowed round her head like a veil in the luminous sea.

   If nothing else, his villains, often drawn from life (Largo here is almost a caricature of Aristotle Onassis) raise the stakes considerably. If a thriller is only as good as its villain, then Fleming is very good indeed.

   The truth is Thunderball is not Fleming at his best. Although the Fleming effect is in full swing and Largo, Domino, and Blofield lift the book well above the average level, it is a bit of disappointment after Doctor No and >Goldfinger, and with The Spy Who Loved Me the next book readers might have thought Fleming in permanent decline if the enthusiasm of the film series had not meant On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice, two of his best books would follow.

   If you still don’t like Bond, I have no argument or problem with that. This is about why I do still like Fleming and Bond, why I still reread them, and still find pleasure in them, and why no less literary lights than Kingsley Amis, William Boyd, and Sebastian Faulks were happy to write entries in the series.

   Much as I enjoy many of the films, and fine as some of the film Bond’s have been, my first love will always be the books, and it is to the books I will always return.

DANGEROUS ASSIGNMENT “The Knitting Needle Story.” Syndicated, though largely to NBC stations. 02 June 1952. (Season 1 Episode 30). Brian Donlevy (Steve Mitchell), Jim Flavin, Jan Arvan, Steve Roberts, Fay Baker, Frances Rafferty. Writers: Writers: Eddie Forman, Adrian Gendot, Robert Ryf. Directo: Bill Karn.

   Before its one and only one season on TV, Dangerous assignment had already been on the radio for several years, in a series also starring Brian Donlevy as a secret agent whose job took him on, well, dangerous assignments all over the world. When the series was passed upon up by all of the then current TV networks, Donlevy decided to pick up the tab himself for one season’s worth of 39 syndicated episodes.

   I did not choose to watch “The Knitting Needle Story” for any particular reason. Although the complete series is available on DVD, I just happened to come across this one on YouTube. Based on my memories of watching this when I was young, I can’t say this with certainty, but I think it’s about average for the series, better than some, but perhaps not as good as others.

   In this one Steve Mitchell is assigned to be the bodyguard of an Italian news reporter heading by plane back to his native country with a scoop about The Black Hand, important information with international implications. There are naturally those who do not wish him to make it home with the story he has to tell.

   Most of the action takes place on the plane, not that there’s a lot of action. There are several twists to the story, though, plus one huge red herring that sounds worth investigation but is dropped almost as quickly. There has to be a lot of skill involved in putting together a story as complete, complicated and still coherent as this one is, and in only 25 minutes.

   But as agent Steve Mitchell, Brian Donlevy tries his best to appear suave and debonair, but he comes off as only stolid and solid. James Bond hadn’t come on the scene yet: in book form, he was only a year later. Even if their careers had overlapped a little, Bond would still have had nothing to worry about, not in comparison with he rather dull Steve Mitchell. The latter was of an earlier time, and a different era.


L. C. TYLER – The Herring in the Library. Ethelred & Elsie #3. Macmillan; UK, hardcover, 2010. Pan Books, UK, trade paperback, 2011. Felony & Mayhem, US, trade paperback, 2011.

   Ethelred is Ethelred Tressider, a second-rate if not third-rate mystery writer, while Elsie Thirkettle is his literary agent, for better or worse. Their relationship is a rocky one, at least from looking at it from the outside. Elsie is always putting him and his ambitions down, for example, in hilarious fashion, but if there was any animosity between them, why would she stick with him, through thick and thin, as they say, if there were?

   And as a team of strictly amateur detectives, they may not be the best around, but they do seem to run into their fair share of mysteries to solve. In this one, it is the death of an old friend from university days, now an ex-banker who is found strangled to death in a locked room following a dinner party at his mansion of a home at Muntham Court. (Robert “Shagger” Muntham had done far better in life than Ethelred has.)

   The locked room aspect is taken care of rather quickly, but there are a huge number pf possible suspects in the case, all guests at the same party, all with possible motives, and all who must be interviewed with much care. This is accomplished very neatly by having the two detectives alternate the narration. When the scenes they describe overlap, we see that different perspective can produce wildly different results.

   Also part of the story is Ethelbert’s continuing work in progress for his latest mystery, a historical novel taking place in Chaucer’s time. This didn’t interest me personally as much as the one taking place in real time, but it did have much of the same kind tongue in cheekness to it. It isn’t easy telling a mystery story that keeps up a pretense of fun and games (Cluedo, anyone?) all the way through, but the barbed dialogue between the two protagonists and other zingers in this one come as closest as any I’ve read in a while:

   On page 16 Ethelbert has just been introduced to Sir Robert’s showcase wife:

    “…So what do you do, Alfred?” she asked.

    “Ethelred,” I said. “As for what I do, I am a writer.”

    “I thought you said ‘Ethelred,’ but then I thought I must have misheard. Do you write under your own name? No, surely not?”

    I told her the three names that I wrote under.

    “I don’t think I’ve read any of your books,” she said.


      The Elsie and Ethelred series —

1. The Herring Seller’s Apprentice (2007)
2. Ten Little Herrings (2009)
3. The Herring in the Library (2010)
4. The Herring on The Nile (2011)
5. Crooked Herring (2014)
6. Cat Among the Herrings (2016)
7. Herring in the Smoke (2017)
8. The Maltese Herring (2019)

   There seems to be pattern going on here.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


LIZ CODY – Monkey Wrench. Eva Wylie #2. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1995; paperback, 1996.

   I was never a fan of Cody’s Anna Lee stories, but Bucket Nut, the first of the Eva Wylie book struck me as fresh, very readable, and even a bit poignant.

   Eva Wylie, aka Bucket Nut and the London Assassin, hasn’t changed much. She’s still a wrestling villain, still guards a junk yard, still the occasional job for Anna Lee. And she’s still big, not too bright, a board or two shy of a stack at times, and independent as a greased pig on ice.

   Her latest troubles stat when an old mate from her younger street days comes to her for help after her sister, a prostitute, has been beaten to death. The mate wants Eva to teach a bunch of other prostitutes self-defense, and somewhere along the way help her find who killed her sister, and do for him. Eva doesn’t want any part of it, but life never has paid a lot of attention to what Eva wants. Nor does it now.

   Eva Wylie is one of the best-conceived and beautifully drawn characters n modern crime fiction. Cody does a marvelous job of sustaining a voice and view that can’t be easy, and are unique. Eva lives a gritty life in a dingy world, and fights through every day as if it were her own private war.

   These aren’t pretty stories, and they aren’t about pretty people. It would be easy to play the characters for laughs, perhaps as easy for tears, but Cody does neither. She simply lets Eva come to life for us, and lets you think what you will. What I think is that in a genre filled with look-and-sound-alikes, Eva Wylie stands out like a pearl in a dungheap. Cody should win awards for these. They aren’t stories everyone will like, but some will like them a lot.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #18, February-March 1995.


      The Eva Wylie series –

1. Bucket Nut (1992)
2. Monkey Wrench (1994)
3. Musclebound (1997)

Note: This series followed six in Cody’s Anna Lee series.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


RADIOLAND MURDERS. Universal, 1994. Brian Benben, Mary Stuart Masterson, Ned Beatty, Scott Michael Campbell, Jeffrey Tambor, Stephen Tobolowsky, Michael Lerner, Anita Morris, and too many comic supporting players to name. Check IMDb. Screenplay by Willard Huyck, from a story by George Lucas. Directed by Mel Smith.

   A Financial flop for Universal and Lucasfilms (but I kinda like it), this looks like His Girl Friday layered over Murder at the Vanities, transposed to a glittery world of Technicolor Art Deco.

   At the maiden broadcast of a new Radio Network, the owner (Ned Beatty) throws a lavish gala for prospective affiliates and sponsors while an unknown killer methodically murders various executives, announcing each killing in advance with a menacing bit of doggerel over the speakers. Meanwhile the staff hustles frantically to keep things running, scriptwriter Brian Benben struggles to keep his wife (Mary Stuart Masterson) from leaving him, and the various “talents” involved contend with scriptless dramas, dropped cues and a temperamental revolving stage.

    Radioland never achieves the bawdy gaudiness of Vanities or the cinematic chemistry of Friday, but what it lacks in charisma it makes up in chaos. Brian Benben spends the whole film dangling from ledges or racing down hallways, chased by cops and/or sponsors, and often in a variety of disguises keyed to whatever musical number is up next.

   These musical numbers are a treat in themselves as bandleader Michael McKean re-jiggers his troupe to look like a panoply of Big Bands, from Xavier Cugat to Spike Jones, with stops along the way for dead-on recreations of the Andrews Sisters, young Frank Sinatra, and even Cab Calloway, all done so well I wished we could have stayed with them longer.

   But it ain’t so. Radioland keeps moving too fast for more than summary scraps of classic hits—though it does pause a bit longer for the ersatz Spike Jones insanity. Less happily, the Writer’s Room at the studio bubbles over with brilliant comics, none of whom get to do anything funny. Disappointing and wasteful.

   So it’s a measure of the movie’s energy that I forgave this mortal sin. Indeed, I barely noticed it. In the scheme of things, Radioland Murders doesn’t amount to much and never will. But it’s definitely a worthwhile time-waster.


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


PROJECT GUTENBERG. Hong Kong/China. 2018. Originally released as Mo Seung [“unique”]; in Chinese: 無雙. Chow Yun-Fat, Aaron Kwok, Zhang Jingchu, Catherine Chow, Wenjuan Feng. Written and directed by Felix Chong.

   Lee Man (Aaron Kwok) is an artist suspected of being involved with the legendary counterfeiter The Painter (Chow Yun-Fat) in jail in Thailand. Transferred to Hong Kong to help in the investigation of Inspector Ho (Catherine Chow) into the Painter, the nervous and timid artist recalls his tumultuous history with the master counterfeiter.

   Told in a non-linear style, the film jumps back and forth showing how Lee failed in his career as an artist after going straight having started out as a counterfeiter, how he was estranged from his artist wife Yuen (Zhang Jingchu), and met the charismatic and brilliant Painter.

   Playing brilliantly on audience expectations of Chow Yun-Fat’s past films, the Painter is handsome, brilliant, a one-man army, and as Lee soon discovers to his distress, a ruthless, violent, and volatile criminal with international ties and a plan to counterfeit American dollars that is unprecedented in its ambition.

   Stylish set pieces, like a holdup of a special armored car carrying the inks used in printing dollars, shootouts in the style of John Woo, and an explosive gun battle with a greedy military leader wanting to buy the counterfeiting process Painter and Lee have created, punctuate the film, while the complex mix of characters and Chow Yun-Fat’s increasingly violent and inhuman behavior keep the viewer watching.

   And if all was going on was a story about the young artist being seduced by and eventually turning against the older smoother criminal who turns out to hide a monster beneath the cool exterior and about the cops closing in on them, this would be a well done action crime drama.

   But something more is going on with Project Gutenberg, and it becomes clear toward the end when almost everything you have seen before, an unreliable point of view character, and one shocking twist after another elevate this to something quite different than what you have been watching, or think you have been watching.

   Aaron Kwok and Zhang Jingchu are attractive leads, but the film works because of the viewers’ expectations and knowledge of Chow Yun-Fat’s film history as the charismatic gangster hero with the magic guns and charmed life. The whole movie turns on the viewer’s expectation that this is a different movie than it actually turns out to be, and that is what makes it work.

   It does drag a bit here and there, and some are going to hate the fact it has subtitles.

   But while this is no Usual Suspects (might as well mention it, everyone is thinking it), it does take a fairly standard story of a young man seduced into crime by an older more charismatic figure who proves to have feet of clay, and turn it on its head at every point while providing thrills and spills and then ripping the rug out from under the viewer repeatedly until he is beaten into admiring submission.

   Yes, unreliable point of view characters are kind of cheating, but only if the movie doesn’t deliver, and this one mostly does, right up to the shocking finale when the Painter gets his comeuppance.

   I warn you though, you may kick yourself a bit for having been taken in emotionally as well as by the clever plot twists or hate the movie for leaving you rugless on a cold bare floor when the credits roll.


  RICHARD NORTH PATTERSON – The Lasko Tangent. Christopher Paget #1. W. W. Norton, hardcover, 1979. Ballantine, paperbark, 1980.

   Yes, it sounds like a spy thriller, the paperback reprint is packaged as a spy thriller, but what this book precisely is not is — aw, you guessed it. It’s not a spy thriller.

   What it really is is a novel about the dirty business of laundering money. That is to say, it’s a detective story, and told in today’s most au courant Washington (DC) style.

   Lasko is the President’s favorite industrialist, but his background has more shade than Forest Lawn — not that anyone has ever proved anything. The President, who is unnamed, but — well, let’s just say that only the names have been changed.

   Christopher Kenyon Paget is a lawyer for the Prosecution Bureau of the United States Economic Crime Commission. (And I’ll wager you didn’t even know there was one.) He’s young, idealistic, very much a crusader for what he believes in. A chance tip about some possible stock manipulation takes him to Boston, where he watches in horror as his witness, who works for Lasko, is run down by a hit-and-run driver. Higher things are cooking.

   This is a cynical novel, Patterson’s first, and you don’t have to dig very far to discover it. According to inside the front cover, the author worked for the special prosecutor in the Watergate uncover-up, and his is the voice of authenticity. Paget continually has to fight pressure from higherups, without ever knowing who or where the enemy is. an he has a narrow escape or two before he does.

   On the other hand, none of this “real Washington” stuff is really new, and it’s all wrapped up in the end more tightly than real life ever seems to be.

–Reprinted in slightly revised form from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 4, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1980.


       The Christopher Paget series —

1. The Lasko Tangent (1979).    [Winner of Edgar award for Best First Novel, 1980.]
2. Degree of Guilt (1992)
3. Eyes of a Child (1994)
4. Conviction (2005)

GOLIATH “Of Mice and Men.” Amazon Prime, streaming. 14 October 2016 (Season 1, episode 1). Billy Bob Thornton, William Hurt, Maria Bello, Nina Arianda and a large additional ensemble cast. Creators: David E. Kelley & Jonathan Shapiro. Director: Lawrence Trilling.

   One of the unexpected benefits of obtaining my first Kindle and finding out how to use it was accidentally signing up for Amazon Prime. Since the first 30 days are free, I decided why not and started looking around to see what TV series might be available.

   I don’t know why I happened to pick this one, but I’ve just watched the first episode on my large screen computer monitor (I have an even large TV screen, but it’s a smart TV, and it’s way smarter than I am), and all in all it was a good choice. Good enough that I’m planning on finishing up the story, another seven episodes. I reserve the right to bail out, though, if the story line goes off in directions too funky for me to stay with it.

   Which, on the basis of one episode, I don’t think it will. There’s nothing basically new in what I’ve seen already. A burned out lawyer named Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton), and I mean down and out, is reduced to piddling jobs that he couldn’t care less about, but when he’s offered one that might give him a chance to get back at his old firm, he jumps at it.

   A death at sea has been chalked up to suicide — by a man blowing up both himself and the boat he’s borrowed in an explosive fireball of flame — may be the key to his revenge. The man’s wife has already settled with the insurance company, but his sister. now two years later, still thinks there’s something that needs explaining.

   Complicating matters is that Billy’s ex-wife is high in the hierarchy at the law firm involved, the same law firm that still has his name on the door. There are several other characters involved, including, in no particular order, Billy’s daughter; a lady co-partner in the lawsuit he initiates who is basically a real agent in the Valley; and a legal assistant who is basically a hooker who owes Billy Bob a favor; and so on.

   Enough threads, in other words, to keep the story going for the full season, and then some, but here are a couple of things that annoyed me. The prologue is poorly done. That there were two boats, not just one, out on the water when the explosion happened was not at all clear — one that blew up, the other with two witnesses.

   And while I’m no expert on what it is that women see in men, and while perhaps some women may succumb quickly to the attractive features of whoever Billy Bob Thornton may play, I found the possibility that Billy and his new client hop into bed together, no more than ten minutes of their first meeting, rather far-fetched.

   Otherwise, at this point of my viewing status, all is OK. The first episode ends with Billy is a local jail, imprisoned on trumped-up charges of some totally bogus driving protocol. That this happens on the first day he is to be in court does not seem to be coincidental. But from here, as they say, to be continued.


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