Reviews


CONRAD ALLEN – Murder on the Mauretania. George Porter Dillman & Genevieve Masefield #2. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, December 2000; paperback, January 2002. Gerald Duckworth and Co Ltd, UK, softcover, 2002.

   If I can’t read a mystery taking place on a train, the next best thing is one that takes place on an ocean liner crossing either the Atlantic or the Pacific. It’s a happy combination of travel, limited access, and the proximity of new people to meet — and once a murder has been committed, a whole list of possible suspects.

   This second adventure in crime for the detective twosome of George Porter Dillman and Genevieve Masefield takes place in 1906 aboard the maiden voyage of the Mauretania, the pride of the Cunard Line — the biggest and the fastest at the time and for many years to come. They met in Murder on the Lusitania, the first book in the series and are now not only co-workers on board ship, but lovers as well.

   Conrad Allen certainly did his research before tackling this book, and it shows. Details of life aboard all three the ship’s passenger levels are described in detail, from the elegance of first class as compared to the cramped quarters of third.

   The book starts out leisurely enough, with the only crimes Dillman is required to investigate are some thefts of silver jewelry, and he very quickly has his eye on the most likely suspect. But after a hige afternoon squall, the man has disappeared. He’s nowhere to be found. Has it anything to due with a fortune in gold bullion the ship is also carrying?

   You bet it does.

   And lest you think Genevieve Masefield has nothing to with the story, her portion of the job is to mingle with the passengers in first class, and keep on eye on an elegant lady who seems to have nothing in common with the man who is masquerading as her husband.

   A long, nearly 300 pages of fine, sophisticated detective work. I think Dillman and Masefield could not help but love their jobs!

       The George Porter Dillman and Genevieve Masefield series —

1. Murder on the Lusitania (1999)

2. Murder On the Mauretania (2000)
3. Murder On the Minnesota (2002)
4. Murder on the Caronia (2003)
5. Murder on the Marmora (2004)

6. Murder on the Salsette (2005)
7. Murder on the Oceanic (2006)
8. Murder on the Celtic (2007)

NOTE:   Conrad Allen is but one of the pen names to have been used by British author Keith Miles, aka David Garland, Martin Inigo, Edward Marston, and Christopher T Mountjoy.

THEY CALL IT SIN. First National Pictures, 1932. Loretta Young, George Brent, Una Merkel, David Manners, Helen Vinson, Louis Calhern. Director: Thornton Freeland.

   The biggest attraction this small unprepossessing pre-Code film has is luminously beautiful Loretta Young, only 19 years old at the time and an actress you just knew was going somewhere, even in 1932.

   It’s kind of a silly film, but with themes I’m sure resonated with audiences at the time, in the depths of the Depression. When a traveling salesman of sorts (David Manners) hits a small town in Kansas, he’s already engaged to a girl back in Manhattan, and he has no idea he’ll find himself so completely smitten by the girl he finds playing the organ in church on Sunday morning.

   Her parents have small town values, but Marion Cullen doesn’t share them. There is a reason for that, which I won’t go into, and she sees in Jimmy a way to leave her particular small town behind, and she does, following him to New York, thinking that he loves her.

   Which he does, deeply, but as I mentioned up above, he already have a fiancée, and reluctantly he does the honorable thing. But what this does is leave Marian on her own in the big city, a theme of forbidden fruit, I imagine, to small-town audiences.

   She does all right, though, and I doubt that you will be surprised to have me tell you that. First she hooks up with another would-be Broadway starlet named Dixie Dare (Una Merkel), but then has to fend off the advances of a lecherous but well-known producer.

   Nor is he the only one. A doctor friend of Jimmy (George Brent) has his eyes on her, too. Beauty, it seems, is not to be denied.

   It is around this point of its running time that the film takes on a somewhat darker tone, but even though this film has been released on DVD as part of a box set of pre-Code movies, there are only hints of really dastardly stuff. We do get to see the charming Dixie Dark romping around in her room in her lingerie, though, which is a fact that seems well worth mentioning. Mostly, though, this is entertaining fun, a film that today would be hard-pressed to even make it into the PG category.

YOUNG FURY. Paramount Pictures, 1965. Rory Calhoun, Virginia Mayo, William Bendix, Lon Chaney [Jr.], Richard Arlen, John Agar, Preston Pierce, Jody McCrea, Merry Anders. Story & screenplay: Steve Fisher. Producer: A. C. Lyles. Director: Christian Nyby.

   An outlaw who’s turned against his former gang (Rory Calhoun) returns to his hometown to make a stand against them, but in the meantime his son (Preston Pierce), having grown up alone, has formed his own gang of hooligans, and his burning desire is to spit in his father’s face for deserting him.

   This mixture of the standard western with the juvenile delinquent saga of the 50’s misses on almost all cylinders, Richard Arlen, as the stalwart but luckless sheriff, might be pleased with his role in this movie, but except for William Bendix in a cameo part, nobody else.

PostScript:   William Bendix died in 1964, and this was his last movie role. He played both dim-witted villains and comedy roles with equal ease. I can’t think of anyone who did it better.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #24,, August 1990. (very slightly revised).


KEITH LAUMER – The Other Side of Time. Imperium agent Brion Bayard #2. Berkley F1129, paperback original; 1st printing, August 1965. Signet, paperback, November 1972. Collected in Beyond the Imperium (Tor, paperback, 1981) with Assignment in Nowhere (1968). Also collected in Imperium (Baen, paperback, 2005) by adding Worlds of the Imperium (1962) to the preceding volume. First hardcover edition: Walker, 1971. Originally serialized in Fantastic Stories, April-June 1965.

   From the title you might expect this to be a time-travel novel, and it is, but only in a way. What it really is is a novel of parallel universes, each separated from the other by the slimmest fabric of branched-off possibilities. What the world ruled by the Imperiumis is is an alternate Earth, one in which subtle differences between that world and ours are slowly but surely designed to be picked up on. (The time travel aspect comes in when it is discovered that in some parallel universes time travels at a different rate than it does in others.)

   It might be best to read Worlds of Imperium, the first in the series, before tackling this one. The Other Side of Time is a mapcap adventure in time and space that starts out in high gear and then notches the action up every two or three chapters along the way. What leading protagonist Bryon Bayard, based in Stockholm Zero-Zero, learns almost at once is that his world is being invaded by the orge-ish creatures called the Hagroon, and unless he does something about it, he will be the only one who survives. The rest of the books consists of him fighting a one-man resistance against the invaders, and as he does so, getting tossed this way and that in world after world, sometimes a captive and sometimes an utterly abandoned castaway.

   As a man of some endurance and ingenuity, Bayard is a MacGyver of his time times ten. It is a lot of fun seeing him juryrigging a shuttle based on a box and a few magnetic coils and setting off across a space-time continuum otherwise completely impossible to fathom — except in the imagination of an author like Keith Laumer.

   I cannot do better than to quote directly from page 152 of the Signet edition:

   The transparent helmet was in place, all the contacts tight. Dzok made a couple of quick checks, gave me the O sign with his fingers that meant all systems were go. I put my hand on the “activate” button and took my usual deep breath. If Dzok’s practice was as good as his theory, the rewired S-suit would twist the fabric of reality in a different manner than its designers had intended, stress the E-field of the normal continuum in a way that would expel me, like a watermelon seed squeezed in the fingers, into that curious non-temporal state of null entropy — the other side of time, as he poetically called it.

   If it worked, that was.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert J. Randisi


J. F. BURKE – Location Shots. New York: Harper & Row, hardcover, 1974. Charter, paperback, 1980.

   This is the first of three medium-hard-boiled detective novels featuring Sam Kelly, the resident house dick at the Hotel Castlereagh on Seventy-second Street in Manhattan. Kelly is black, bald, and forty — one of the more recent black series detectives in crime fiction. His girlfriend is Madam Bobbie, a voluptuous blonde who lives in the hotel across the square, the Charmain Towers — but her girls do most of their work out of the Castlereagh.

   As this book opens, Sam and Madam Bobbie are awakened in her apartment by police sirens. They discover that the street in front of both hotels is full of cops, and Sam goes down to investigate. As it turns out, a woman in room 8A of Kelly’s hotel, Anna Jensen, was murdered during the night. Kelly knows for a fact that a friend of his, David Christopher, who lived in 9A, was a “friend” of the dead woman’s, but when he goes to 9A, he finds his friend dead as well.

   At odds with Commander Fuseli, the cop in charge, Sam also finds himself involved with characters indigenous only to New York, as well as talking birds and a search for a manuscript and a tape recording that might lead to the killer.

   Burke uses the city of New York so well that it virtually becomes another character in this novel and in the subsequent books in the series. Sam Kelly is also featured in Death Trick (1975) and Kelly Among the Nightingales (1979).

         ———
   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.

Bibliographic Note:   Burke also wrote two books about a nightclub pianist named Joe Streeter: The Kama Sutra Tango (Harper, 1977) and Crazy Woman Blues (Dutton, 1978).

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


MAN WITHOUT A STAR. Universal International, 1955. Kirk Douglas, Jeanne Crain, Claire Trevor, William Campbell, Richard Boone, Jay C. Flippen, Screenplay by Borden Chase & D. D. Beauchamp, based on a novel by Dee Linford (1952). Director: King Vidol.

   It starts off promising enough. Frankie Lane’s title song plays while we see a black train belching billows of smoke into a blue Western sky as it traverses a long barren landscape. The theme soon becomes obvious, that of how fencing in grassland with barbed wire represents the beginning of the end for the Old West. All indications are that the primary story Man Without a Star is designed to tell is that of one man’s unfruitful quest to battle the forces of technological progress as it advances across the frontier.

   Problem is: the movie loses this central focus and, as it drifts further away from what could have been a unifying them, it ends up being more of a mixed-up muddled affair that doesn’t pack nearly the punch of the movie it should have.

   Kirk Douglas portrays Dempsey Rae, a cowboy from Texas who has made his way out to Wyoming to work as a cowhand. His reason for leaving Texas is simple: he doesn’t like barbed wire and the concomitant range wars that arise when greedy ranchers use it to claim grassland as their own. So, along with Jeff Jimson (William Campbell), his newfound green young friend that he takes under his wing, Dempsey goes to work for lady ranch owner Reed Bowman (Jeanne Crain). Soon enough Dempsey discovers that Reed’s rivals are using barbed wire to enclose their grassland. From then on, it’s game on. Dempsey is going to side with his new employer and lover.

   Soon enough, however, Dempsey realizes that the seductive Reed is just as much a scoundrel as any avaricious male rancher. Case in point is her hiring of gunslinger Steve Miles (Richard Boone) to put the squeeze on her rivals. Before long, Dempsey’s world is turned upside down. His new friend Jeff betrays him, Reed deserts him, and he’s working for the ranchers who are using barbed wire – the stuff he hates more than anything else in the world.

   Nothing in this movie ever gels. There are too many subplots and thematic elements that are raised but which are never fully explored, thus detracting from the movie’s would-be central theme, that a single man attempting to outrun the closing of the American frontier.

   For instance, there’s the introduction of Idonee (Claire Trevor), a local madam who seemingly has known Dempsey for many years. The film doesn’t exactly know what to do with her, so she appears, then disappears, then comes back again to play the role of Dempsey’s personal savior. Similarly, the father-son cycle of life relationship between Dempsey and Jeff seems artificial and forced.

   Then there’s the case of the murder that takes place in the opening minutes of the film, in which an itinerant traveler on the same train as Dempsey and Jeff kills a man. The murder, along with the introduction of the town’s sheriff to investigate the crime when the train comes to a halt, just happens and never comes up again.

   This is my main criticism of Man Without a Star. A lot of stuff just happens, making the movie, despite a solid performance by Douglas, a bit too formulaic for its own good.

KATHERINE HALL PAGE – Murder in the Belfry. Faith Fairchild #1. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1990. Avon, paperback, 1991.

   Finding the body is [the former] Faith Sibley, displaced New Yorker and now the wife of a minister in a small New England town. The dead girl has been president of the Young People’s Club, but she was also a blackmailer, and worse — and somebody probably wanted her stopped.

   At first this is a “let’s solve a murder — it’ll be such fun” type of book, but when the dead girl’s innocent boy friend is suspected, a real reason for finding the killer emerges. Unfortunately Faith stumbles onto the truth almost by accident, spoiling the ending more than a little.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990. (very slightly revised).


[UPDATE.] Faith Sibley’s married name is Faith Fairchild, and this is how she is known throughout the rest of series. If you has asked me in 1990 when I wrote this review how many books would end up being in the series, I’m sure I’d have said three or four. I believe that was the standard publishers contract at the time for a new series. Unless the books and the leading characters caught on, and for Katherine Hall Page, I’m happy to say that they did. See for yourself:

      The Faith Fairchild series —

1. The Body in the Belfry (1990)
2. The Body in the Kelp (1990)
3. The Body in the Bouillon (1991)
4. The Body in the Vestibule (1992)
5. The Body in the Cast (1993)
6. The Body in the Basement (1994)
7. The Body in the Bog (1996; aka The Body in the Marsh)
8. The Body in the Fjord (1997)
9. The Body in the Bookcase (1998)
10. The Body in the Big Apple (1999)
11. The Body in the Moonlight (2001)
12. The Body In The Bonfire (2002)
13. The Body in the Lighthouse (2003)
14. The Body in the Attic (2004)
15. The Body in the Snowdrift (2005)
16. The Body in the Ivy (2006)
17. The Body in the Gallery (2008)
18. The Body in the Sleigh (2009)
19. The Body in the Gazebo (2011)
20. The Body in the Boudoir (2012)
21. The Body in the Piazza (2013)
22. The Body in the Birches (2015)
23. The Body in the Wardrobe (2016)
24. The Body in the Casket (2017)

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


KRISTEN LEPIONKA – The Last Place You Look. Roxane Weary #1. Minotair Books, hardcover, June 2017.

First Sentence: “Matt said you find things. For a living,” the woman said on the phone.

   Roxane — one ‘n’ — has a reputation for being good at finding things. Danielle Stockton’s brother, Bradford, is two months away from his execution date after being convicted for murdering the parents of a girl no one has seen since the crime. Danielle believes she saw her recently, and she wants Roxane to find her and prove her brother’s innocence.

   What a pleasure to have a book whose story starts at the beginning and goes straight through to the end. What a pleasure to have a book you definitely don’t want to put down until the last page is done.

   Lepioinka has created a fascinating character in Roxane. She is a wonderful study in contrasts with a complicated personal life. A fair amount of time is spent focusing on her family and relationships which lays the foundation for our getting to know this well-drawn, fully-developed character. It creates a strong enough interest that one really wants to know what will happen to her, both in this book , and in the future. Yet, while Roxane takes center stage, those around her hold their own as well.

   With every setting, a strong sense of place is created— “The previous tenant had painted spirited colors in every room: a dark, shiny teal in the office, burnt orange in the bathroom, chocolate-brown walls and red cabinets in the kitchen, cornflower blue in the long hallway that ran the length of the apartment.” —which orients one to the character.

   Even better is the author’s well-done, unforced dialogue— “He slid one of the shot glasses to me and held his up. ‘Friends don’t let friends order cocktails invented by social-media interns.'”

   The suspense starts quietly, subtly, and builds at a good pace with red herrings along with way. The body count also increases and includes a good twist. The author is very good at having you follow the character down a path only to discover it’s the wrong path.

   The Last Place You Look has an excellent protagonist, and a breath-catching climax. It’s a book one wants to read in one sitting, and an author one may wish to follow.

— For more of LJ’s reviews, check out her blog at : https://booksaremagic.blogspot.com/.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


ROBERT B. PARKER – Walking Shadow. Spenser #21. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, 1994. Berkley, paperback, 1995.

   What in the world is left for me or anyone to say about Parker, Spenser. Hawk, Susan and the whole menagerie? At his best Parker writes some of the smoothest prose the field has seen, and at his worst is so pretentious he’s embarrassing and devises plots you wouldn’t wish on Mack Bolan. I guess the suspense is in seeing which one you get this time out.

   Spenser is drawn into the world of theater when Susan, on the theater’s board, drags him to a small Massachusetts town to see an avant-garde play. It develops that the producer is being followed by a person unknown, feels threatened, and wants Spenser to find out why. For Susan’s sake he agrees, but before he can find out anything, a cast member is murdered.

   The town has a large Chinese population, and Spenser is visited by one of them and two Vietnamese gang members who encourage him to stay away. This is a signal to bring in Hawk and get serious about things.

   This could be sub-titled “Three Against the Tong,” and that should tell you all you need to know about what kind of story it is. Parker has created a fantasy-land here, his own little Oz, with a manly hero who knows T. S. Eliot and has not only stone killers (two of them this time) but every sort of cop at this beck and call when he needs aid, and an oh-so-understanding lady with a precious dog to boot.

   He’s only going through the motions now, though granted, they’re smooth motions. He writes effortless prose still, but it’s all moves and no punch. It’s slick, it’s superficial, it’s kind of silly, really, and it’s the literary equivalent of week-old stew. If this were a paperback original from a new author, I might be a little more tolerant — but it isn’t. I’m afraid Parker’s just about played out his string.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #14, May 1994.

MAX ALLAN COLLINS – The Baby Blue Rip-Off. Mallory #1. Walker, hardcover, 1983. Tor, paperback, November 1987.

   It takes a while in this, Mallory’s first appearance, for details of who he is to be filled in. But as the story goes on, we learn that is is an ex-Viet Name vet as well as a former cop, and is now beginning a career as a mystery writer. He’s also just moved back to the small home town of Port City, Iowa. (By the end of the book, though, his first name is still not known, at least by me.)

   The book begins as he describes how he’s been inveigled by a girl friend (who then almost immediately splits on him) into volunteering as a Meals on Wheels delivery person for the elderly. This may be a first (and only?) as an occupation for the leading character in a mystery novel.

   But what this does is to serve as a means for Mallory to get involved in his first case of actual murder. When he arrives at the home of one of the elderly women on his route, he finds a gang of thieves ransacking the place, and worse, he discovers the woman herself tied to a chair and very much dead.

   Besides taking her death as personal affront and deciding to find the ones responsible on his own, he also gets involved with an old flame from high school who now needs his help. One thing leads to another in that regard as well.

   Collins tells the story in a nice breezy tone that’s as comfortable as an old pair of shoes, with more than a bit of nostalgia mixed in. It’s also very well plotted — three solid reasons why I’m hooked and will go on to read the rest of series as soon as I can. There were four more. See below:

       The Mallory series —

1. The Baby Blue Rip-Off (1982)
2. No Cure for Death (1983)
3. Kill Your Darlings (1984)
4. A Shroud for Aquarius (1985)
5. Nice Weekend for a Murder (1986)

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