Reviews


HOLD THAT WOMAN! PRC, 1940. James Dunn (skiptracer Jimmy Parker), Frances Gifford, George Douglas, Rita La Roy. Director: Sam Newfield. Currently available on YouTube.

   Yes, I know that skiptracers (guys who track down people who have not kept up payments on their purchases) are not exactly private investigators, but it does take a certain amount of detective work on their part combined with enough finesse to get the unpaid for goods out of the non-payers’ hands without causing a major incident.

   This is exactly where Jimmy Parker slips up. Trying to repossess a radio set from a woman’s apartment, she defies him and calls in the cops, who (straining credulity) take her side of it. It turns out, though, that she has a very good reason for wanting to hold onto the radio, and it has to do with a small cache of jewels stolen from a famous movie star.

   Or in other words, the two cases are connected. The movie is only just over an hour long, and not a minute of it is wasted. It’s non-stop action mixed with a strong swallop of comedy from beginning to end, as you’d probably guess from the presence of James Dunn, his usual jovial unruffled self, as the aforementioned skiptracer. He was married at the time to Frances Gifford, who is both beautiful and exceptionally efficient as his fiancee and (eventually) his wife, that latter event totally against the wishes of her father, a crusty old cop who sees Jimmy as a good-for-nothing lightweight.

   If you’ve read this review all the way down to here, lots of fun awaits you with this one.
   

REVIEWED BY MIKE TOONEY:

   

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE “Wheels.” CBS, 29 October 1966 (Season 1, Episode 7 (of 171)). Cast: Mark Lenard (Mora), Percy Rodriguez (police captain), Martin Landau (Rollin Hand/Miguel Cordova), Peter Lupus (Willy Armitage), Greg Morris (Barney Collier), Barbara Bain (Cinnamon Carter), Steven Hill (Dan Briggs), Perry Lopez (the priest, uncredited), Bob Johnson (voice on tape, uncredited), and Jonathan Kidd (registrar). Producers: Barry Crane, Joseph Gantman, and Bruce Geller, executive producer and series creator. Writer: Laurence Heath. Director: Tom Gries. Series available on DVD and is currently streaming on CBS All Access.

   Things are really rotten in Valeria, a small Latin American country on the verge of becoming, as the voice on the tape informs Dan Briggs, “a terrorist dictatorship” thanks to the jefe’s rigged voting machines. Briggs and his dauntless Impossible Missions Force are tasked by “the Secretary” (of State? Defense? Who knows?) with unfixing the election in a way that “will honestly reflect the vote of the people.” As always, cautions the voice, “should you or any of your IM Force be caught or killed, he will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” Piece of cake.

   The plan Briggs comes up with is going along smoothly until their electronics expert, Barney Collier, is badly wounded in a jailbreak, creating grave doubt as to whether or not the mission can be completed. Leave it to the plucky Barney, however, to come through in the end . . . .

   The first season of any show is usually a bumpy ride and this one was no exception (e.g., Cinnamon breaking into unwarranted tears), but this episode of Mission: Impossible pretty much follows the format the series adhered to in all seven of its seasons. (The thing about “format” is that it can and often does degenerate into “formula.”)

   In this particular series the easiest way to create suspense is to have some problem arise that threatens to blow the team’s cover; here it’s Barney’s wound and the unwanted interest by the secret police that force the team members to “improvise.”

   Overcoming unexpected setbacks poses a real challenge to screenwriters and not all of them are up to it. Two writers who were very good at it were William Read Woodfield teamed with Allan Balter, the Levinson and Link of the series; together they were responsible for the most engaging stories in Mission: Impossible, but not this one.

   “Wheels” was writer Laurence Heath’s first script for Mission: Impossible; he would be responsible for twenty-three altogether.

   You’ve probably seen director Tom Gries’s name on TV or movie productions; he did good work on Breakheart Pass (1975), the film adaptation of Alistair Maclean’s novel and screenplay. This was his only Mission: Impossible story.

   Several years ago Jonathan Lewis contributed a Mystery*File article about producer/creator Bruce Geller’s directorial involvement with Harry in Your Pocket (1973), an offbeat crime film, and you can read that here.

   

THE BROKER’S MAN. BBC One, 17 June 1997 (Series 1, Episodes 1 and 2). Kevin Whately as James ‘Jimmy’ Griffin, ex-detective now a PI working cases of fraud for insurance companies; Annette Ekblom as Sally Griffin, his ex-wife, Danny Worters as Dominic Griffin, his son, Holly Davidson as Jodie Griffin, his daughter, Al Hunter Ashton as Vinnie Stanley, his assistant; Sarah-Jane Potts/Charlotte Bellamy as Harriet Potter, his secretary; Michelle Fairley as Gabby Rodwell, his one-time lover (and maybe still). Written by Al Hunter Ashton & Tim O’Mara. Director: Bob Blagden. Available on DVD and streaming on Amazon Prime.

   Nearly as much time is spent in these first two episodes with PI Jimmy Griffin’s domestic problems as it is in solving the case he’s hired to solve, that of a huge batch of digital tapes that have been stolen straight from the shipping company’s warehouse. Ordinarily that would be a huge problem, but not in this case, nearly coming in as an afterthought in terms of what Griffin is up against.

   He’s separated now from his wife, who is hounding him for months’ worth of back child support, and he’s able to see his two children only on specified days and times. The problem with this, of course, is that his investigative work takes him to both France and the Netherlands, and if he doesn’t crack the case, he won’t earn the money for what his wife is on his back for. The continual business-oriented presence of the woman that caused the breakup between Jimmy and his wife in the first place does not help either.

   Getting back to the case itself, I did not find it particularly interesting. The financial dealing and wheeling I found largely over my head (you may or may not have this same problem), and the identity of the gang and their inside enablers are not at all hidden from the viewer, nor does Griffin have much difficulty sussing them out himself.

   No, it’s the character of Jimmy Griffin and his rough and tumble ways that will have you coming back for more, or not. There were only two seasons, the first consisting of three double-part stories, and the second of six individual episodes. I’m planning on watching the next two-part story of season one, and then see where I might go from there.
   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

ED LACY – The Woman Aroused. Avon #324, paperback original, 1951. Black Curtain Press, hardcover/paperback, 2013.

   This one left me with a creepy feeling.

   Ed Lacy remains one of the lesser-sung masters of two-bit prose, but he’s ripe for more attention, and this paperback original shows him at the top of his form.

   George Jackson starts the book as a comfortable executive in an on-again-off-again relationship with his ex-wife, and before the tale is finished, he’s lost most of his friends and living in cheap rooming houses. That’s not how he ends up, but I don’t give away endings.

   Lacy builds the story masterfully, using his familiarity with New York City and especially Harlem to good effect. After a bit of first-person exposition, detailing his life and establishing his character without getting bogged down in it, the story proper kicks off: George is visited by an old friend, just out of the Army, who asks him to hold seven thousand in cash money for him. It seems his old friend is planning to split from his wife, Lee — evil incarnate and then some, he says — and needs to keep this where she can’t get her hands on it. After hemming, hawing and insisting on giving him an IOU for it, George agrees. And a few pages later his buddy is dead under suspicious circumstances.

   A fine hook for a story, that, and Lacy works it well. Of course George lets his curiosity get he better of him, and looks up the newly-widowed lady in question, and I have to say the character of the predatory Lee is completely unlike any femme fatale I’ve ever read before — another surprise I won’t spoil for you. But it won’t ruin the story if I tell you George quickly and predictably gets ensnared, and the IOU he insisted on starts looking like his ticket to Death Row.

   But this is much more than a thriller; it’s a chiller, mainly because Lacy takes the time to develop his supporting players. Lee gets a moving back story, George’s ex-wife moves into the thing very effectively, his quiet upstairs neighbor, paranoid brother-in-law, loud-mouth buddy, and even his cat, all come alive and play very real parts in a story that packs a real surprise ending.

   Maybe it was Lacy’s deft handling of all this that made The Woman Aroused so creepy for me. I just know that when I read THE END I felt as if he had dragged me through Hell right along with him.

DAY KEENE – Dead Man’s Tide. Stark House Crime Classic, softcover, January 2021. Three-in-one volume with The Dangling Carrot and The Big Kiss-Off. First published as by Williams Richards (Graphic #60, paperback original, 1953). Expanded and revised from “Wait for the Dead Man’s Tide,” by Day Keene, published in the August 1949 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine. Also published as It’s a Sin to Kill, as by Day Keene (Avon T-814, paperback, 1958).

   After a short prologue consisting of following a woman’s nude body as it floats along with the tide in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast, Dead Man’s Tide starts with a bang and never lets up until 120 pages later (in the soon-to-be-released Stark House edition). It opens for real with Charlie Ames, a fishing excursion boat captain waking up alone in a strange bed, on another boat with a woman’s clothing scattered about, a liquor bottle rolling back and forth on the floor, and $5000 in his pants pocket.

   Whose boat, whose clothes, and most importantly, whose $5000? And where is she? No one knows, including the police, who most definitely do not believe Charlie’s story of having a cup of coffee with a prospective client on his own boat, but everything going black and he not knowing what happened until he woke up the following morning.

   What’s worse is that he doesn’t think that his wife Mary Lou, a singer and hostess at a local night club, believes his story, either. That’s what pains him the worst. But when the woman’s nude body is finally found (see above), it’s the local police force who he finally realizes really is his greater concern.

   Fellow blogger Cullen Gallagher, who wrote the introduction to the Stark House Press edition, calls this a “man on the run” novel, a trademark theme of author Day Keene, and it’s a good one. There are lots of twists and turns in store for Charlie Ames in this one. Every time he thinks he’s reached a point of safety, fate extends him another finger. Eventually, in a final move of sheer desperation, he decides to take his destiny into his own hands, until at last comes the biggest twist of them all.

   Highly recommended.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

THE CARIBBEAN MYSTERY. 20th Century Fox, 1945. James Dunn, Sheila Ryan, Linda Lane, Reed Hadley, Roy Roberts, Edward Ryan. Screenplay by Jack Andrews, Leonard Praskin, W. Scott Darling & Nicholas Ray (dialogue; not credited), based on Murder in Trinidad by John W. Vandercook. Directed by Robert Webb. Currently available on YouTube here.

   This was the third film adaptation (*) of famed newscaster John W. Vandercook’s first novel featuring his Cockney sleuth Bertram Lynch who previously appeared in Murder in Trinidad with Nigel Bruce in the role, as a Mr. Moto entry, Mr. Moto on Danger Island, and finally here with James Dunn (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) as Brooklyn born ex-cop turned private eye Mr. Smith.

   Vandercook, who penned four adventures of Lynch between 1934 and 1959, had a solid formula mixing classic detection, adventure, exotic locales, and his unprepossessing Cockney detective Lynch, who seemed neither too bright or particularly tough, but who was in fact all of those things and more. It didn’t hurt Vandrcook had a lively writing style and a way with a plot.

   The plot is simple enough. Two scientists have disappeared in the jungle on a Caribbean island and the police are no where near finding them or why they disappeared. Enter Smith, a private detective who seems like nothing more than a Flatbush Flatfoot, but who is smart, tough, and hard to kill.

   The local police are not impressed, and indeed suspect, especially the head of the police whose daughter, Linda Lane, is enamored of young Edward Ryan.

   When Sheila Ryan’s character is murdered at the hotel where Smith is staying after suggesting she has something to tell him, it becomes obvious that whatever happened to the missing men is tied to someone in the city too, so Smith has to play his cards close to his vest, only taking Edward Ryan into his confidence when Lane and her father disappear into the jungle as well.

   Moving into the swamp’s inland, Smith uncovers a slave camp run by Roy Roberts where the girl and her father are held hostage and the two dead scientists are buried. After Roberts plans the same fate for Smith and his helper Smith manages to escape, turn the tables on Roberts, and take him prisoner.

   But Roberts is shot before he can reveal who the man back in the city is behind the whole business — did the girl’s father really have to shoot him or was he silencing him? — and Smith’s only chance is to lay a trap for the killer.

   As low budget mysteries go, the stronger than usual story-line and a decent cast help this one, though it has nothing on the first version (rightfully praised in William K. Everson’s The Detective in Film) or the Peter Lorre Mr. Moto outing.

   Dunn’s mugging is less annoying than in some films (at his best he was a fine character actor, but he did rely on the Irishness a bit heavily in some parts), and his Smith is a decent take on Lynch. Given a decent cast, better than average script and story, and decent mystery this one deserves a look.

   It’s worth a look, but if you have to make the call, stick with the Nigel Bruce or Peter Lorre version.

(*) I wouldn’t be the least surprised to discover there had been another adaptation of this on television or elsewhere, IMDb doesn’t seem to recognize there were two previous versions of the same book though, so there is not easy way to tell.

THE SUSPICIONS OF MR. WHICHER: THE MURDER AT ROAD HILL HOUSE. 90+ minutes. ITV, UK, 25 April 2011. Paddy Considine (Detective Jack Whicher), Tom Georgeson (Superintendent Foley), Peter Capaldi (Samuel Kent), Alexandra Roach (Constance Kent) and many others. Based on the real-life Constance Kent murder case of 1860, as interpreted by Kate Summerscale in her 2008 book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House. Director: James Hawes. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

   This historical based crime film takes place in 1860, and Inspector Jack Whicher is sent from Scotland Yard to give assistance to the local police in finding the killer of a young boy whose body is found in the privy of a large manor house. His presence is resented by the superintendent previously in charge of the case, claiming as an outsider does not know the people in the area as well as he does.

   Whicher is supremely confident, however, and is sure that a proper investigation is bound to bring out the truth. His hubris takes a severe beating, though, when after a long series of questioning and logical deductions comes to a complete halt when he cannot produce the evidence he needs to convict the person he is convinced is the killer.

   Need be he returns to London in disgrace, his career in shambles. (I am giving very little away. This is shown in the prologue to the story in the first five minutes.) I don’t know how closely the teleplay sticks to the actual story, but whether or not, it’s a fascinating one. I did not know any of the players, but between the direction, photography and the actors, the 90 minutes plus running time went by very quickly.

   The remaining three episodes in the series are purely fictional as they follow Mr. Whicher’s career as a private enquiry agent:

      The Mr. Whicher series –

1. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: The Murder at Road Hill House
2. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: The Murder In Angel Lane
3. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: Beyond the Pale
4. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: The Ties That Bind

   

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Susan Dunlap

   

AGATHA CHRISTIE – A Caribbean Mystery. Miss Marple #9. Collins Crime Club, UK, hardcover, 1964. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1965. Pocket Book #50449, US, paperback, 1966. Reprinted many times in both hardcover and paperback. TV adaptations: (1) A Caribbean Mystery, US, TV movie, 1983 with Helen Hayes as Miss Marple. (2) Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. BBC (Series 1, Episode 10), 1989 starring Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. (3) Agatha Christie’s Marple, BBC (Series 6, Episode 1) with Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple.

   The appeal of Christie’s Miss Jane Marple books is their deceptive simplicity. They are quiet, full of thought and conversation. which is seldom interrupted by action. Miss Marple, elderly maiden lady of the village of St. Mary’s Mead, is considered an “old dear” or “old pussy” by the other characters. But in her many years of village life she has observed character, and pondered over the failings of her fellow villagers. “So many interesting human problems-giving rise to endless pleasurable speculation.” St. Mary’s Mead is a microcosm of the larger world outside; and her years of watching events there have honed Miss Marple’s perceptive faculties to a fine point.

   This novel proves Miss Marple to be as acute while on holiday in the Caribbean as on her own turf. The manager of the Golden Palm Hotel where she is staying resembles a headwaiter from St. Mary’s Mead; another guest reminds her of a village barmaid; yet another is like Lady Caroline Wolfe, a local who committed suicide. Thus Miss Marple is able to relate the principles she has evolved in her native village to these new acquaintances.

   In this tropical setting, Major Palgrave (you can cell by his name he’s not long for this world) chatters to Miss Marple, retelling his repertoire of tedious tales, including one of a man who killed two wives and escaped. “Do you want to see the picture of a murderer’?” he asks.

   But as he is extracting it from his wallet, he sees someone over Miss Marple’s shoulder, turns purple, stuffs the picture back in his wallet – and is dead before the day is over. Only Miss Marple suspects murder. Far from St. Mary’s Mead, unaided by her usual friends, but armed with the discovery of similarities to her own villagers and their own – albeit simpler – intrigues, Miss Marple must unearth the truth.

   Miss Marple sees her fellow characters as stereotypes – which indeed they are. Christie is as up front about that as she is in laying her clues, reminding her readers they are there, and daring them to outguess her which, after all, is the fun of a Christie novel.

———
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

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

   

SHELDON SIEGEL – The Dreamer. Mike Daley/Rosie Fernandez #11. Sheldon M. Siegel, Inc., hardcover/softcover, March 2020. Setting: Contemporary San Francisco.

First Sentence: The Honorable Elizabeth McDaniel glanced at her watch, rested her chin in her palm, and spoke to me in a world-weary tone still bearing a trace of her native Alabama.

   Mercedes “Mercy” Tejada is a Dreamer who was brought to the United States as a baby. Now she’s accused of murdering her boss, celebrity chef and James Beard Award recipient, Carlos Cruz. Carlos was known for sexually harassing his female staff, particularly Mercy. Now, he is dead in an alley, Mercy kneeling over him, and her prints on the knife next to him. San Francisco Public Defenders Rosie and Mike are against the clock to prove Mercy innocent, and to keep her, and her family, from being deported.

   Siegel begins with an amusing vignette that pleases and establishes Mike Daley as a sharp, clever, and well-established lawyer. The way in which we meet the others in Mike’s life, especially his ex-wife and boss, Rosie Fernandez, is handled succinctly, but with clarity.

   A murder case is always the perfect base for a legal mystery. Add the element of a Dreamer with an undocumented mother, and the level of suspense immediately escalates. The decision of Rose to be the lead attorney, with Mike as second chair, makes one smile.

   Siegel excels at throwing back the cover on the legal system. He shows just how unjust justice can be, especially if one is a woman, a person of color, and undocumented. Siegel takes on the issue of undocumented workers. What is nice is that the story addresses the issue from a moral perspective, rather than a political one.

   Reading about a city one knows well always adds a personal touch. However, even when it is a city unknown to the reader, some things have become sadly universal in urban areas— “A homeless man asked me for change. A man in a Warriors jersey offered me a fentanyl. A woman in a halter top asked me if I was looking for a date.”

   There is an excellent twist and good questions raised during the investigation. One doesn’t normally think of the initial, information-gathering phase of a case as being suspenseful. Under Siegel’s deft hand, it is.

   It may be a classic trope, but it is always interesting to have a victim everyone wants to kill. But watching Rosie and Mike prepare a case with no other suspects, and no witnesses, based on a defense of SODDI (“some other dude did it”), and with the prosecution not meeting the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt makes things all the more engrossing.

   The Dreamer has a major plot twist and a very satisfying affirmation at the end. Siegel is an under-appreciated author who writes excellent legal procedurals.

Rating: Very Good.

LONE STAR. “Pilot.” Fox, 20 September 2010 (Season 1, Episode 1). James Wolk as Robert “Bob” Allen, a Texas con man married to Cat, the daughter of one of his marks in Houston, while simultaneously maintaining a relationship with Lindsay in Midland, Texas. He is in love with both women and begins to wish for a normal life; Adrianne Palicki as Cat Thatcher, Clint’s daughter; Eloise Mumford as Lindsay, Robert Allen’s unsuspecting girlfriend in Midland; David Keith as John Allen, Robert Allen’s father, who raised his son to be a con man; Jon Voight as Clint Thatcher, a Texas oil tycoon and father of Cat and her two brothers. Written by Kyle Killen. Director: Marc Webb. Currently available on YouTube here.

   Thanks again to Wikipedia for the scorecard of players and their roles, somewhat condensed. If you were one of people who watched this show back in 2010, you are one of a very few, relatively speaking. An estimated 4.06 million watched this first episode, and only 3.2 the following week. Six episodes were filmed but only two were actually aired.

   This sort of TV drama with just a tinge of crooked activity at heart isn’t my usual watching fare, but I enjoyed this. The players are all personable, especially James Wolk (Mad Men, Zoo), the leading man, and that always helps. You can easily believe him as a smooth-talking con man who can separate investors in Texas-based oil wells from their life savings as slick and easily as an eel in a fresh water pond. You can also easily believe him as a man with both a wife and a girl friend, neither of which knows anything about the other. And when offered a chance at a honest life, and he tells his father he’s going to take it, you can easily believe that too.

   I don’t know why this didn’t catch on. It was heavily promoted ahead of time, but obviously no one paid any attention. Perhaps the shows it was on opposite had something to do with that. I’d surely like to know where the story was going to go from here, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the chances I ever will are very, very slim, if not outright none.

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