Reviews


THREE BLONDES IN HIS LIFE. Cinema Associates, 1961. Jock Mahoney, Greta Thyssen, Jesse White, Elaine Edwards, Anthony Dexter, Valerie Porter. Director: Leon Chooluck.

   When an insurance investigator on the West Coast mysteriously disappears, the head of the firm on the East Coast sends Duke Wallace, Jock Mahoney’s character, across country to find out what happened.

   Turns out that the man in question was seriously attracted to blondes, and his wife has dyed her hair that color to keep him, to little avail. It also turns out that the man is dead, in what appears to be a love nest cabin up in the mountains. There are two other blondes in the story, both love-starved wives involved in cases that Collins (the dead man) had been working and closed.

   What this is is the kind of movie in which we see just how love-starved the three blondes are, as Duke makes his appointed rounds (in suit and tie) to each of the three ladies in question and in turn, but the funny thing is that he always manages to keep the suit and tie on, or at least he does while the cameras are rolling.

   There also is a lot of emphasis on bosoms and bottoms, including those of the secretary of the fellow who heads up the West Coast office, but since she’s a brunette, she doesn’t really count, but I’ll mention the actress who plays her, Darlene Hendricks, just for the record.

   I was reminded a lot of the second- or third-rank tier of fictional PI’s in the paperbacks of the 50s and 60s, guys like Johnny Liddell, Peter Chambers and Lou Largo. The budget was smaller than it might have been, though, and the story seems to end just as the money probably ran out.

   There is one fight scene that might make this movie worth watching, though, if you happen to watch long enough. It comes quite close to end, and it begins with Duke, or rather Jock Mahoney doing his own stunts (or so I’m told), crashing headlong through a closed door, clear across the room at full tilt, and ramming into the guy inside, uptilting him as well as himself against a stuffed chair and into the wall on the left side of the screen, upon which point they manage to smash up the rest of the room very thoroughly and badly.

   It nearly took my breath away, it did.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE DEADLY NECKLACE. Central Cinema Company Film, Germany, 1962. Original title: Sherlock Holmes und das Halsband des Todes. Christopher Lee (Sherlock Holmes), Thorley Walters (Dr. Watson), Hans Söhnker (Professor Moriarty), Hans Nielsen, Senta Berger, Ivan Desny, Wolfgang Lukschy, Leon Askin, Edith Schultze-Westrum (Mrs. Hudson). Screenplay: Curt Siodmak, based on the novel The Valley of Fear, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Co-)Director: Terence Fisher.

   In spite of some very good scenes, this film was largely a disappointment, the first reason being that all of the English-speaking actors, including Christopher Lee, were dubbed (or redubbed) back into English, by the voices of others. What a waste of talent, and only to save a few dollars in production costs (as I understand it).

   Perhaps even better than Lee in the leading role is the German actor who plays Moriarty, and very much Holmes’ equal in several tense scenes they share together. As Dr. Watson, British character actor Thorley Walters plays the part as one or two notches above the level of Nigel Bruce’s bumbling portrayal, but no more than that, nor is he nearly as charming.

   There is very little resemblance to the story in this film to Doyle’s Valley of Fear, but the one scene which appears in each is one of the better ones in the film. The “Deadly Necklace” of the title is one that belonged to Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, and Dr. Moriarty is determined to have it in his possession, at all costs. Sherlock Holmes demurs, and the game is on.

   The setting seems to be in the 1910s, based on the use of vintage autos of that era rather than hansom cabs, which clashes with a very nice jazzy and swinging film score much more appropriate to a jazzy and swinging movie from the 1960s.

   But the biggest problem is the presence of scenes that exist only for cinematic effect and otherwise do not go anywhere, such as an opening scene with Holmes (in disguise) watching Moriarty at the docks before we know who either player is, and which is not referred to later on except in the briefest of mentions.

   Or another in which Holmes (in disguise) calls for help in front of his apartment in Baker Street, is “rescued” by Watson, who finds him collapsed on the doorstep and does not recognize his friend. It is all a hoax played by Holmes on Watson, but why?

   And, oh, one other thing. Whenever I leave my car, whether I’m involved in an accident or not, I always take my keys with me.

   Give this one a pass, unless you’re a fan of Christopher Lee. Fans of Sherlock Holmes might otherwise want to stay away, or at least don’t go too far out of your way to obtain a copy, even though copies are easily (and quite inexpensively) found.

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts


CRAIG JOHNSON – Any Other Name. Viking, hardcover, May 2014. Police procedural: Sheriff Walt Longmire, 10th in series. Setting: Wyoming.

First Sentence:   Joseph Conrad said that if you wanted to know the age of the earth, look upon the sea in a storm; if you want to know the age of the Powder River country just be on the wrong side of a coal train.

   Sheriff Walt Longmire is about to be a grandfather —very soon. He has promised his daughter, Cady, that he will be in Philadelphia for the baby’s birth. His old friend and former boss, Lucian Connally, asks him for a favor of going with him to an adjacent county and visit a woman whose daughter is missing. One missing woman leads to secrets, corruption and possible death.

   Johnson is the epitome of a story teller. You are not a viewer; you are a participant. How does he do it? He starts by hooking you into the story from the very beginning by his strong voice and the ability to create a very visual sense of place. He makes you feel and see what he describes. His inclusion of spiritualism adds to the sense of place, the strength of the character and the story.

   Part of that voice is his humor. It’s not situational, but dry and natural. His dialogue is among the best being written. Most of it is his characters. Walt is such an engaging character. He is truly the “long arm of the law” and well-liked by his colleagues. But he’s not infallible nor is he superman.

   The supporting characters of Henry Standing Bear and Undersheriff Vic Moretti, Lucian and Dog are significant to the story. Best of all, even the secondary characters are well developed. None of Johnson’s characters are flat or stereotypes. They all have a part to play in the effectiveness of the story. Even the weather becomes a character within the story.

   Any Other Name is an excellent book. It’s filled with tension and breath-catching suspense, but the pacing is perfect with enough pauses in the action for balance. Johnson is an author who both entertains you and educates you. There’s not a single wrong step to be found.

Rating:  Excellent.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


CLARENCE H. NEW – The Unseen Hand: An Adventure of the Freelancers of Diplomacy. Doubleday Page & Co., hardcover, 1918. Wildside Press, softcover reprint. Illustrated by Clinton Pettee. Available in ebook form online here.

   The following appeared in the January 15. 1933, issue of the New York Times:

C.H. NEW, NOVELIST, ASKED THEM IN HIS WILL NOT TO “SCATTER” HIS EFFECTS

   The heirs of Clarence H. New, Brooklyn novelist, whose serial, the Freelancers of Diplomacy, ran for twenty three years in Blue Book, are enjoined in his will from “scattering about” his personal effects in foreign countries.

   The will goes on to explain his son and grandson were travelers and prone to leave items behind them, and concludes with a quote from the will:

   “As I do not believe anyone regains consciousness after death,” the will says. “I wish it distinctly understood there shall be no church or funeral ceremony.”

   That explains a bit about New, but not the Freelancers of Diplomacy, whose adventures ran in Blue Book for twenty three years with out a break, a saga Robert Sampson describes in Yesterday’s Heroes as unparalleled in American pulp history.

   Despite a history of adventure covering a few thousand pages and by my guesstimate at least one million words, there remains only one novel recounting the adventures of the Freelancers of Diplomacy, The Unseen Hand, what in science fiction used to be called a ‘fixup,’ a bit of new material tying together several shorter adventures from the magazine.

   We are given a brief history of said Freelancers from the point of view of the Germans who have recently learned the identity of the group and its leader from an American magazine — a surprisingly modern touch considering recent events in the real world of espionage and diplomacy.

   Cassells monthlies … devotes quite a lengthy article to the ‘Diplomatic Free Lance’ and his associates. This man will be remembered — by the most contemptible betrayal of confidence reposed in him by his former German hosts, who had entertained him and the woman masquerading as his wife, upon the supposition that they were people of breeding who belonged to the aristocracy — has been the solitary exception among the English to be really dangerous to us, and a rope is waiting for him as soon as he is caught. Various conjectures have been made by Wilhelmstrase as to his identity — but the truth is now kindly offered to us by the fools across the channel. It seems that he is — as we have been morally certain for sometime — a certain sports crazed English peer who has never been credited with the least political ability, Lord Trevor, of Dartmoor. In his nefarious and unprincipled schemes against us he has been assisted by the woman posing as his wife, Lady Nan Trevor; by a Sir Edward Lammerford, who was once dismissed by the English Foreign office for conduct unbecoming a diplomat and a gentleman; by a blackamoor servant calling himself an Afghan prince; by Sir Edward Wray, whose thinly veiled name is easily recognizable by every German who recalls the black treachery of August 1914; by an attache of the American Embassy in Paris; and by the old reprobate Cavaliere Scarpa, in Italy.

   Giving us our introduction to the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel — oh, sorry wrong century, the Freelancers of Diplomacy.

   Of course we know quite a bit more, for instance that Lord Trevor, the idle sportsman who is mastermind behind this group, is really American Cyrus K, Grisscome, alias Commander Cresspinge, who operated for President Roosevelt (Teddy) using his fast yacht as a mobile base.

   Of course the resemblance is only one of those coincidences of fiction … because there are no such people as Viscount Trevor of Dartmoor or Sir Edward Wray (hint, he may be the Prime Minister) in DeBrett’s. “It’s a legend, a joke, Baron Munchausen and Sherlock Holmes combined, gossip, hearsay, pure fiction …”

   If you think this is all terribly old-fashioned and out of date I refer you to bestselling writer Ted Bell’s half-American peer Alexander Hawke, Lord Hawke, who ‘freelances’ a bit himself from his heavily armed super fast yacht the Hawke. What goes around as they say.

   And it is only a coincidence that the Condessa de Montessa, her moorish servants, her titled Afghan friend, Baron W, and her husband the Earl occupy apartments so like those described in the stories published about the Diplomatic Freelance in Cassells.

   In short order we are filled in on the adventures of Cyrus Grisscome and how he ‘might’ have become Viscount Trevor, and how perhaps the Diplomatic Free Lance is something like the Mission Impossible team undertaking missions that the government can deny should they fail or be captured. About the only thing missing is the theme music and the self destructive instructions.

   Noticeably there is a good deal of back story to fill in for a series that runs twenty three years, but by chapter two we are off on the adventure, and chapter one has at least been intriguing. The ten chapters that follow are loosely connected adventures from Blue Book such as “The Aldershot Affair,” “Touching on the Honor of Islam,” “The Neutrality of Holland,” “A Machiavellian Coup in Roumania,” “The Mysterious Camp in the Pyrenees” … and the plot and action are almost non-stop and well told. For instance in that last one, Trevor and company have to foil a plot to invade France with sixty thousand men hidden in the Pyrenees wearing stolen American uniforms.

   Fantastic? Perhaps, but in WWI the Germans actually tried to smuggle anthrax-infected mules into France through the Pyrenees and in WW II specially trained SS donned American uniforms and penetrated the American lines at the Battle of the Bulge.

   Bulldog Drummond fans may appreciate a certain Madame Irma and her ‘supposed husband’ whose allegiances are in question. The Freelancers also barely avert a plot to kill Kitchener with the fleet at Skager Rock — not unlike his real death organized by the real German spy known as Fraulien Doktor. New at least knew how to read the newspapers and extrapolate.

   As with Oppenheim, Le Queux, and even Buchan and Sapper, at least some of the appeal of these was the feeling of being in on the back rooms of intrigue and espionage. Eric Ambler, Ian Fleming, and John le Carre would all mine the same territory one way or another. Whenever Bell’s Lord Hawke is in conference with the President of PM and the various Secretaries and Ministers he routinely rubs noses with it is a nod to the past and the beginnings of the genre.

   Treachery waits at every crossroads. Are there those in Spain who would aid the Kaiser to gain greater favor, can the Bulgarians be trusted (if you read Ian Fleming the answer is no but then the Bulgarians did most of the Soviet’s dirty work in the Cold War), will Holland’s neutrality be violated?

   Are people friend or foe, agents of the Boche or agents of the Entente Cordiale, fair or fowl, operating at cross purposes or for the same goal? Who can be trusted, and who should be silenced? Spy fiction hasn’t changed a lot in the century or so since its beginnings. (*)

   The Diplomatic Freelancers fall somewhere between E. Phillips Oppenheim and William LeQueux, a bit more active than the former, better written and less melodramatic than the latter. No one reading this is going to discover an early version of James Bond, the real world of Eric Ambler, or even the cut throat back alley secret wars of Peter Cheyney.

      Everyone has a title, everyone is a cliche, we are never all that far from the Scarlet Pimpernel; even the relative modernity of John Buchan, Sapper, Dornford Yates and the Clubland Heroes is some time ahead.

   But these adventures were written with conviction. As late as the pre-war years Max Brand’s Anthony Hamilton spy stories were still on this mode with spies in white tails and slinky women in black velvet, as, in many ways, were the adventures of Operator #5, and even the more realistic adventures of John P. Marquand’s Mr. Moto. And not unlike the heroes those, British agent he may be, Cyrus Grisscome is still an American and knows his own countries neutrality won’t stand against German aggression.

   “There are still a few of the old breed living in America, your Highness — And they’ll wipe the stains from our good old flag in a way that will mean annihilation to everything that Germany stands for, today!”

   Duck, you Huns, Uncle Sam wants you! And admit it, even today it’s effective.

   Like Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden, or the British Agent — which it resembles in no other way — it ends with the Russian Revolution and hints of a new secret war to come in which the Diplomatic Freelancers will be needed once again. Already in 1918 the writing on the wall was clear, and this time in bright red.

   These tales and the twenty-three years worth of saga from Blue Book are worth reading today for more than nostalgia. We may be as much in Ruritania or Graustark as the real Europe, and there may be a few deadly electronic eyes (even Oppenheim used that one in The Wrath to Come), exploding cigars and poisoned needles (Le Queux’s Duckworth Drew), femme fatales poured into elegant black satin and opera gloves (everyone save Buchan), untrustworthy ‘fureigners’, loyal Afghan princes and moorish servants, and all the trappings of an earlier age, but the writing is good, the stories are fun, and the musty scent of crumbling pulp paper intoxicating, even in electronic form.

   If Clarence New and the Diplomatic Freelancers are only a name faintly redolent of black velvet cloaks lined in red satin and crossed daggers, or even if they are completely unknown to you, they are worth the effort to become acquainted with.

   There are touches of modernity, good old fashioned swashbuckling, intrigue, adventure, and entertainment to be had, and the dust you have to blow away to get to it is nowhere near as deep as you might expect. Blue Book was one of the Cadillacs of the pulps, in a rank with Adventure, Top Notch, and the various incarnations of Argosy. Names like John Buchan and Agatha Christie graced Blue Book‘s pages, so New is in heady company.

   You won’t have to lower your standards to enjoy this book, and you may wish you knew someone with a complete collection of Blue Book so you could read more. That’s a high recommendation for any series out of the pulps, though managing twenty three years of consecutive issues may be a bit ambitious for most collectors. From this example it might well be worth the effort though aside from the countless other examples of well written fiction gracing those pages.

(*)   The first modern spy novel, by all critical opinion, is John Buchan’s The Power House from 1910, however Le Queux, Oppenheim, Fred White, the adventures of Norroy and others at least reach back to the late 1880‘s early 1890‘s into the turn of the century, and it could be argued as far back as the Trojan Horse and the two Israelite spies who enter Jericho.

   Sherlock Holmes and Martin Hewitt render services to England in the area of espionage and counter-espionage, and Sexton Blake was always encountering foreign agents. Certainly the doings at Zenda in Ruritania are secret service work, and as far back as Stevenson’s ‘Pavillion on the Links’ there is international skullduggery taking place in placid old England.

   For that matter Dumas Musketeers and Monte Cristo are the very definition of ‘cloak and dagger.’ The spies may change from the Tsar’s Secret Police to the lads at Wilhelmstrasse, to Reds under the covers, and back to the Gestapo, the Japanese, the Soviets, the Chinese, Islamic terrorists, all the way to Putin’s Russia to day, but the odds and the heroes are remarkably consistent interspersed of course with an overlay of Carl Petersons, Fu Manchus, and Blofields when ever international politics got a bit dull.

THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


CHARLOTTE MacLEOD – Vane Pursuit. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1989; paperback, 1990.

   Vane Pursuit is one of the better tales in Charlotte MacLeod’s series about Peter Shandy, professor of botany at Balaclava College in the nether regions of Massachusetts. Shandy’s wife Helen is here working on a book project involving the potentially famous weathervanes created by the nomenclaturally unforgettable Praxiteles Lumpkin.

   However, disaster seems to attend her photographic rounds: buildings burn and weathervanes are destroyed. Or mysteriously disappear. One of the casualties is the Lumpkin Soap Factory, the conflagration of which destroys the Lumpkinton employment base, returns one employee to his Maker, and signals the departure of a particularly stellar vane.

   These goings-on, plus the antics of a crew of rural survivalists and a fascinating cave dweller, fully engage the Shandys to the brinks of their lives. Vane Pursuit has a stronger plot than some in this series, with less reliance on the soon tiresome tactic of outrageous character names, and the dialog is sprightly.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


      The Professor Peter Shandy series –

Rest You Merry (1978)
The Luck Runs Out (1979)
Wrack and Rune (1981)
Something the Cat Dragged in (1983)
The Curse of the Giant Hogweed (1985)
The Corpse in Oozak’s Pond (1986)
Vane Pursuit (1989)
An Owl Too Many (1991)
Something in the Water (1994)
Exit the Milkman (1996)

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


BLACK LEGION. Warner Bros., 1937. Humphrey Bogart, Dick Foran, Erin O’Brien-Moore, Ann Sheridan, Helen Flint, Joe Sawyer. Director: Archie Mayo.

   Black Legion is a 1937 crime drama/proto-film noir directed by Archie Mayo and starring Humphrey Bogart. The movie is both a good suspense tale and a morality play, an attempt to categorize anti-immigrant vigilantism as distinctly anti-American. Overall, it’s a very good film, rich on atmospherics and with excellent acting by Bogart. Still, it comes across as just a bit too predictable, replete with a lumbering, albeit well-intentioned, political sermon at the very end.

   The plot follows factory worker and dedicated family man Frank Taylor (Bogart) as he spirals ever downward into a self-destructive morass of alcoholism, rage, and political violence.

   After being passed over for a promotion, with the position going instead to a man of Polish heritage, an aggrieved Taylor joins the Black Legion, a Midwest offshoot of the virulently racist Ku Klux Klan. (As an historical aside, it’s interesting to note that the studio considered, but ultimately rejected, the Romanian-Jewish born Edward G. Robinson to portray Taylor).

   For a time at least, Taylor (Bogart) ends up believing the nativist slop served up on the airwaves by the Black Legion. This shortsightedness will be his downfall. His political activities will end up costing him his marriage to his wife, Ruth, (Erin O’Brien Moore) and his friendship with neighbor and work colleague, Ed Jackson (Dick Foran). Ann Sheridan portrays Jackson’s girlfriend, Betty Grogan.

   Along for the ride is Joe Sawyer, portraying the oafish, brute Cliff Summers, a factory worker who introduces him to the Legion and their nefarious activities. While it is Cliff who is responsible for getting Taylor to attend a secret, subterranean Black Legion meeting, it is ultimately Taylor and Taylor alone who is responsible for nearly everything bad that happens next.

   Similar to how the KKK is portrayed in the excellent film, Storm Warning, also a Warner Brothers film which I reviewed here, Black Legion portrays the organization as much as a scam as a nativist organization. The film goes to great lengths to show the audience that the Black Legion’s leadership consists of con men primarily interested in money and profits. They’re selling nativism and a bunch of gullible fools are buying.

   Black Legion isn’t remotely a happy film. Indeed, there is something very noir about both the film and its protagonist. You don’t exactly feel sorry for Taylor at the end when he’s being carted off to prison for his role in the shockingly unnecessary death of his friend, Ed (Foran), who had threatened to expose the Legion’s activities to law enforcement.

   All told, Black Legion remains a very good movie, one that has a powerful, if clumsily delivered message. Unlike many other Bogart films which more than stand the test of time, it just comes across as somewhat dated.

IT’S ABOUT CRIME
by Marv Lachman

FRANK PARRISH – Death in the Rain. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1984. Perennial Library, paperback, 1986. First published in the UK as Face at the Window (Constable, hardcover, 1984).

   Fans of Dick Francis will enjoy that other master of the narrative, Frank Parrish, whose fifth book about Dan Mallett, Death in the Rain, is in paperback from Perennial Library. We identify with Francis’s heroes and feel every bit of pain inflicted by sadistic villains. With Parrish’s “professional” poacher, we observe nature as if we are also lying on the English ground, feeling the cold and dampness. He is marvelously knowledgeable about the Wessex countryside made famous by Thomas Hardy.

   Death in the Rain plays down the major weakness in prior Mallett books, his long-standing attempt to get money for the hip operation his mother won’t consider free, under British socialized medicine. Yet Mrs. Mallett plays a greater role in this book, and she is a delightful supporting character.

   She and Natasha Chapman, a very believable young actress, help compensate for a plot with some structural weaknesses. There are too many coincidences, too many blackmailers, and too many people simultaneously in (or watching) the murder flat.

   Those are the only flaws I can discuss without giving away too much plot, but suffice it to say that, warts and all, this is as much fun to read as Parrish’s prior novels about one of the more unusual series characters of the 1980s. The first four Mallett books are also available from Perennial and equally recommended.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bibliographic Notes: Frank Parrish was the pen name of Roger Longrigg. (1929-2000). Under his own name he has two marginal entries in Hubin. Other pseudonyms are: Laura Black (four novels), Ivor Drummond (nine adventures of Jennifer Norrington, Alessandro di Ganzarello & Coleridge Tucker III) and Domini Taylor (nine novels).

       The Dan Mallett series –

Fire in the Barley. Constable, 1977.

Sting of the Honeybee. Constable, 1978.
Snare in the Dark. Constable, 1982.
Bait on the Hook. Constable, 1983.
Face at the Window. Constable, 1984. US: Death in the Rain.
Fly in the Cobweb. Constable, 1986.
Caught in the Birdlime. Constable, 1987. US: Caught in the Net.

Voices from the Dark. Constable, 1993. No US edition.

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