Reviews


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


FRANCIS BEEDING – The Seven Sleepers. Professor Kreutzemark #1. Hutchinson, UK, hardcover, 1925. Little Brown, US, hardcover, 1925.

    “I don’t like it, Tom,” she said. “All sorts of queer things are happening just now, and Geneva is always full of international agents of every kind.”

    “International agents!” I exclaimed. “But this is real life. I’ve got a British passport and I’m Thomas Preston of Jebbutt and Jebbutt.”

    “Don’t make any mistake,” said Beatrice. “My chief has told me a good deal about these things. He used to be in the French Intelligence Department.”

    “I don’t see how on earth it can possibly concern me,” I objected.

   Thomas Preston is a British traveling man in Post WWI Europe (a Europe that has just received the first awakening call of what is to come with Mussolini) who finds himself in Geneva, home of the League of Nations (which features prominently in most of Beeding’s thrillers since the two men who wrote under that name both worked there), when his luggage takes a side trip. Not that he is averse to visiting Geneva where the beautiful Beatrice Harvel is working for the League, and as it turns out, for Henri Laval who Preston knew from the war.

   Even before calling on Beatrice, Tom’s visit has been an interesting one, beginning with a strange little man approaching him as if he knew him, shoving a document in his hands, and then promptly being arrested, and then a letter from someone claiming to be Tom’s grandmother setting forth a meeting the next day. These are the things Beatrice doesn’t like and with good reason.

   But no Englishman in the fiction of the between-the-war period, and few since the days of Anthony Hope and the Play-Actor, ever manages to ignore such intriguing mysteries, and in the shadow of John Buchan and Richard Hannay, it would seem practically treasonous. Somehow even when the saner, less adventurous heroes of Eric Ambler and Graham Greene came along, they still somehow never quite managed to ignore that siren song no matter how hard they tried.

   Hero or feckless coward it seems impossible to avoid adventure in a British thriller.

   The Seven Sinners is the work of Francis Beeding (John Leslie Palmer and Hilary Aidan St. George Saunders), best remembered today for the novel The House of Dr. Edwardes, filmed as Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, and a fine mystery suspense serial killer novel Death Walks in Eastrepps.

   In their lifetime, though, they were known as one of the most popular and purveyors of the novel of adventure and international intrigue. Along with the likes of Valentine Williams, they were authors of many stand alone novels (The Norwich Victims, The 2 Undertakers, Eleven Were Brave, The Five Flamboys, The Six Walkers, The Twelve Disguises, The Three Fishers, Nine Waxed Faces — if you note a theme here …) as well as the Colonel Alistair Granby series.

   This is the first novel in the shorter Professor Kreutzemark series, and a good introduction to the pleasures of Beeding in thriller mode. Like their rival Valentine Williams, the team has some decided skills as a writers of this sort of thing, an eye for drama (keep in mind the plot devices that seem so familiar now were still pretty fresh then), and they probably knew the European scene as well as any British writers until Eric Ambler, especially Switzerland and the international environs around Geneva.

   In short order Tom finds himself calling on his ‘grandmother’ who proves to be a a German Professor (He had a fine silky beard, neatly trimmed and of a bright gold, a broad forehead and well-set eyes, a straight nose, and a complexion almost feminine in its delicacy. At the first view he suggested an intelligent and sensitive philanthropist, reclusive in temperament.), and two other Germans (Uncle Ulrich and Uncle Fritz), and has killed a man in self defense.

   It’s clear the three have mistaken Tom for someone else, and equally clear they are up to something shady involving German resurgence after the war and with the mysterious Seven Sleepers of the title financing their scheme.

   Escapes and hurried journeys, near run things, dual identities, trusted allies (a refreshingly international lot in this case), betrayal, sudden set-backs, and a plot to attack London and Paris with the Professor’s nasty X-3 gas that could “…destroy all forms of vegetable or animal life within a radius of 400 square kilometres” are all the elements expertly handled by Beeding.

   (As Richard Usborne points out in his study of popular fiction between the wars The Clubland Heroes, a good paper could be written on the use of deadly gas in the post War era, so great were the memories of its horrors, Bulldog Drummond and the Saint both encountering the nasty stuff along with just about every other hero.)

   Old fashioned, true (…that fate should have permitted me to assist in foiling the powers of malice and disorder which in every age must be encountered and freshly overcome if men are to keep and to increase their inheritance), but half the fun lies in the familiar elements in these books and the skills with which the writer deploys them.

   Though hardly in a class with Buchan or Yates, Beeding is still an entertaining read with a moment or two of the kind of ‘fine writing’ John Buchan’s literate thrillers instilled in the genre, with only an occasional need to wince at attitudes of another age, and superior plot spinning and settings. The boys knew their Europe both geographically and politically.    (*)

   Professor Kreutzemark, the silky bearded one, of course lives to scheme another day, and indeed Thomas Preston and he cross swords again in The Hidden Kingdom for the last time. No really good villain should be expected to give up the ghost that easy, and there isn’t much doubt that Beeding had a success as great as Valentine Williams Adolph Von Grundt, Clubfoot, in mind even if it eluded him for the Professor, only to find it with the clever and heroic Colonel Granby. Too bad, because Kreutzemark had his moments as mad German professors go, and a bit of style is appreciated in any field, perhaps especially villainy.


   (*) One has to wonder that any reader of popular British thriller fiction was at all taken by surprise by the rise of Hitler and the rebirth of a dangerous Germany. The fiction of the era barely let the poison gas clear from the trenches before imagining fellows in Prussian haircuts, mad doctors, armaments dealers, and shady fellows in high finance plotting the next war, certainly after the mid twenties when Mussolini raised his ugly shaved head.

Granted, most writers were more subtle with Germany never quite spelled out, and Russia and the Reds came in for no small amount of plotting themselves (Sapper was about evenly divided between Germans and Russians sometimes rather remarkably managing to have both working together, but then politics was not his strong point), but it does seem at times as if anyone who bothered to crack a book would have been well advised to invest in a bomb shelter or leave the continent.

  ROSS MACDONALD – The Goodbye Look. Lew Archer #15. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, April 1969. Bantam, paperback; 1st printing, June 1970. Reprinted many times since, in both hardcover and soft.

   Published toward the end of the Lew Archer series, The Goodbye Look had a strong feeling of weariness to it when I read it this past week, that and a sense of déjà vu, as if Macdonald were repeating in it many of the same themes he’d already gone through several times before.

   It begins when Archer is hired by a lawyer to find an old gold box that has just been stolen from the family of one of his long time clients. His family and theirs are close — so close, in fact, that not only do they live across the street from each other, but the lawyer’s daughter is engaged to be married to the son of the couple for whom he’s been working for so long.

   One strong suspect is the son, a college student who is a very emotionally disturbed young man, and one possibly important factor is that he has recently been taking up with an older woman. A private detective has also been seen in town looking for someone, and when Archer finds his dead body in a car on the beach, the case begins in earnest.

   And as is always true in Lew Archer’s cases, the problems that exist in the present have long-standing roots in the past. Lost loves and lost lives, intricately interlaced with relationships known and unknown between (in this case) three if not four families.

   I always get a pervasive feeling of melancholy, of dark clouds above, whenever I read one of Macdonald’s books, no matter how sunny the Southern California sky may be. The Goodbye Look is no exception. Archer may make his way from San Diego to Pasadena and back several times in this book, but the case itself he always has with him. It is part of him, and he won’t let go.

THE FRIGHTENED CITY. Anglo-Amalgamated Films, UK. 1961; Allied Artists, US, 1962. Herbert Lom, John Gregson, Sean Connery, Alfred Marks, Yvonne Romain, Olive McFarland. Director: John Lemont.

   A black-and-white British gangster film that the number three cast member takes over and makes his own. Sean Connery plays Paddy Damion in The Frightened City, a petty crook who is roped into the protection rackets covering all of London by the smooth-talking Harry Foulcher (Alfred Marks) who is secretly working for a malevolent crime boss by the name of Waldo Zhernikov (Herbert Lom).

   It is the latter’s idea to form an association of all the local mobsters in the same racket and make the entire city cry out for help. It is Paddy’s job to help keep everyone in line. Until, that is, one of the head gangsters objects to Zhernikov’s plans to escalate their criminous activities, and unknowingly to Paddy, he is the one who is chosen to help eliminate him.

   Even at this early stage of his career, and even though he’s on the wrong side of the law, Sean Connery is both cool and urbane, with a unmistakable eye for the ladies. He’s also the absolute focus of attention whenever whenever he’s on the screen. Solidly if not slickly produced, The Frightened City has the look of having had a bigger budget than usual for British crime films of the same era — no Hammer quickie this.


REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


ERIC AMBLER – Journey Into Fear. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1940. Alfred A. Knopf, US, hardcover, 1940. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and paperback. Movie: RKO, 1943. Also: New World, 1975. TV adaptation: Climax!. Season 3, Episode 2, 11 October 1956.

JOURNEY INTO FEAR. RKO, 1943. Joseph Cotten, Dolores Del Rio, Ruth Warrick, Agnes Moorehead, Jack Durant, Everett Sloane, Orson Welles. Screenplay: Joseph Cotten (and Orson Welles, Richard Collins & Ben Hecht uncredited), based on the novel by Eric Ambler. Directors: Directed by Norman Foster & Orson Welles (the latter uncredited).

   With a plot featuring a regular man caught up in a high stakes game of international espionage, Journey Into Fear remains a classic of the spy fiction genre. And for good reason. It gives the reader with a protagonist that most readers can sympathize with, a British naval engineer named Graham. It also provides a recognizable and formidable foe in Nazi Germany. Because Graham has been hired by the neutral Turks to bolster their naval forces, he has come to the attention of the leadership in Berlin.

   Not wanting Turkey to enter the war on the side of the Allies, the Nazis dispatch a pair of killers to neutralize Graham and to delay the possible Turkish entry into the Second World War. All Graham wants to do is return from his work in Istanbul back to his native England in safety.

   What makes Journey Into Fear work so extraordinarily well is that the novel in actuality features two stories, one external and one internal. The external story follows Graham as he descends into the seedy world of Istanbul nightlife, into a Turkish police station where he comes face to face with the head of the Turkish secret police, and aboard a freighter bound to Genoa. Much as in a locked door mystery, the coterie of strange characters along for the ride provides imaginative readers with plenty to grapple with intellectually. Who might be a Nazi agent? Who might be looking after Graham on behalf of the Turks who want to see him return to England in one piece?

   Graham’s internal journey, the one that takes him deep into his innermost fears is the more compelling one. Here’s one example of how Ambler’s utilization of close third person narration allows the reader to get a glimpse of Graham’s particular way of thinking. This is from the latter portion of the novel when he faces down the very real possibility that his death at the hands of Nazi agents is imminent:

   “He must not be frightened. Death, he told himself, would not be so bad. A moment of astonishment, and it would be over. He had to die sooner or later, and a bullet through the back of the skull now would be better than months of illness when he was old. Forty years was not a bad lifetime to have lived. There were many young men in Europe at that moment who would regard the attainment of such an age as an enviable achievement.”

   It is this aspect of Graham, the psychological one, that fails to make its way into the 1943 RKO cinematic adaptation. In the movie, Graham, rather than a Brit, is an American and he is portrayed as a rather cowardly and charmless doofus by Joseph Cotten. A far cry from his role as the complex, multilayered Eugene Morgan in Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Cotten plays Graham as a rather bland, one dimensional everyman.

   True, he is able to summon up the courage to face down his opponents when it becomes absolutely necessary. But Cotten’s Graham is hardly the stuff that the best spy films are made of. Neither a doomed protagonist in the film noir sense of the term, nor an average man forced to do extraordinary things to survive (think: Cary Grant in North by Northwest), the cinematic Graham is somewhere in the vast middle. This makes him a far less compelling character than the psychologically tormented Graham that the reader identifies with in the novel.

   The greatest pleasure in reading Ambler’s masterwork in espionage fiction may not necessarily found in the story, compelling though it may be. Rather, it is in Ambler’s sparse but descriptive prose that one can easily lose oneself. Ambler’s prose flows naturally, with each sentence logically progressing from the previous one.

   Perhaps it was his training as an engineer which allowed him to map out his paragraphs as if they were each small blueprints for a much larger project. This is not to imply that his language is mechanical in the pejorative sense of the term. Rather, it is to highlight how fine tuned his prose actually is. It neither meanders nor muddles. It just flows. Brilliantly.


MARGERY ALLINGHAM – Police at the Funeral. Albert Campion #4. William Heinemann, UK, hardcover, 1931. Doubleday, US, hardcover, 1932. Paperback reprints include Bantam, US, TV tie-in, 1989. TV adaptation: Mystery!: Campion “Police at the Funeral, Parts 1 and 2,” Season 1, Episodes 3 & 4, February 5 & 12, 1989.

   In the book immediately following The Gyrth Chalice Mystery (published in the UK as Look to the Lady), Mr. Campion has become, if not a full-fledged PI, at least in his own words, a “Deputy Adventurer.” Here he’s asked to help investigate a series of deaths befalling the Faraday family.

   All of whom are elderly and a bit more than eccentric in their behavior, and the murders are equally bizarre. If you completely ignore the role that coincidence plays in this one, you should have a good tie trying to match wits with Campion in this one.

       —

FOOTNOTE:   As a bit of warning, however, I think the book is starting to show both its age and its trans-Atlantic origins. There were a couple od short passages that were so determinedly British that I could have used a footnote or two to help with a translation.

   But have you seen the TV version of Albert Campion on public TV? I can’t help but think that Peter Davison is nothing but perfect in the role. His blend of blank vacuousness with obvious underlying intelligence is absolutely unnerving.

–Reprinted in slightly revised form from Mystery*File #16, October 1989.

ROBERT CRAIS – The Wanted. Elvis Cole #17 (*). G. P. Putman’s Sons, hardcover, December 2017; premium paperback, December 2018.

   It’s been a while since I read one of the Elvis Cole books, several years at least, but nothing seems to have changed in the interim. Cole is still the laid back kind of guy he’s always been. Maybe not quite as glib and quick with the quips as he was in the early books, and maybe (probably almost assuredly) I’ve missed some character growth along the way, but at least I didn’t see any big changes in this one.

   (*) The count may be off. I believe my number includes three Joe Pike books in which Elvis pops up as a secondary character. Pike is Elvis’s strong arm assistant whom he calls upon when he needs strong arm assistance. Elvis is tough enough too handle most most situations, but there almost always comes a point in any case he’s working on that Pike comes in awfully handy.

   For a book that’s almost 400 pages long in its tall paperbark version, the case is a simple one. He’s hired by an immature teen-aged boy’s mother to find out where all of the money he’s flashing around is coming from.

   It turns out that he’s been part of a gang of youthful burglars, two boys an a girl who’ve found that stealing things is an absolute lark. That is to say it’s been fun for a while. Now two literate hitmen are on their trail. It seems as though the youthful gang has stolen something that someone desperately wants back and is willing to kill to get it back.

   The book is very smoothly done, with a caveat I’ll get to in a minute. I did find the shifting points of view jarring at first, but slowly but surely Crais convinced me that he knew what he was doing, and he did.

   The caveat I mentioned, though. It’s frustrating that after 380 pages of methodical detective work on Cole’s part, the book ends with him making a rookie mistake, a decision so wrong-minded that I winced as soon as he made it. It does allow for Joe Pike to come riding in to the rescue, as well as help from another unexpected source, but what I was was disappointed.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


THE PREVENTERS. ITV, UK, 16 December 1996. One-off, 30 minutes. Absolutely Productions / Carlton Television. Cast: Morwenna Banks as Penelope Gold, Robert Harley as Craig Sturdy, Chris England as Mike Stallion, William Gaunt as The Controller, Ed Devereaux as Roger Stavro Mordik, and Simon William as Lord Timothy Belvoir St. Nash. Written by Morwenna Banks, Chris England and Robert Harley. Directed by Liddy Oldroyd. Executive Producer: Miles Bullough; Line Producer: Terry Bamber.

   THE PREVENTERS is a near perfect satire of my favorite form of television fiction – the “troubleshooters” of ITV (era: 1960-70s). In reaction to the stuffy BBC and a desire to break into the American market, ITV produced a variety of troubleshooter/spy series from the serious DANGER MAN to the surreal DEPARTMENT S to the adventure series of puppet master Gerry Anderson (THUNDERBIRDS). The lighter part of the ITV brand became very popular to the British audience and cult favorites over in America.

   Filmed in 1996, THE PREVENTERS could almost be considered a lovely tribute to the style of television that gave us THE AVENGERS, THE BARON, THE CHAMPIONS, THE CORRIDOR PEOPLE, THE PRISONER, THE PRESUADERS, THE PROTECTORS, THE SAINT, THE SENTIMENTAL AGENT, THE ZOO GANG and the many others that title did not begin with THE.


THE PREVENTERS “Hippy Daze”

   The villainous group The Consortium’s latest plan to take over the World is to use television to brainwash everyone to believe it is the 1960s again and turn hippies into assassins. Good guy organization The Movement calls for The Preventers. Only they – three ordinary citizens now trained top agents – can prevent the evil plan from succeeding.

   We open in typical ITV style – a car driving through the British countryside via horrible rear projection shots. The driver, the head of British Television believes he is alone but he shares his last ride with his killer. According to IMDb, the footage here is lifted from ITV’s RANDALL AND HOPKIRK (DECEASED) episode “Its Supposed to Be Thicker Than Water” (February 20,1970).

   The opening theme begins as we have our heroes stylishly posing in THE AVENGERS (and other series) style. The Preventers are introduced, banter and backstory is exchanged.

   After a clue and the first attempt to kill them, The Preventers decide to split up. Craig and Penelope rush off to Paris and then Monte Carlo via rear projected stock footage and interior studio action. Mike, “The Third One” (a joke anyone familiar with THE CHAMPIONS would appreciate) gets stuck with the dirty disgusting hippies and their Woodstock-like rock concert. Mike’s establishment attitude towards the hippie style and his taste in fashion reveals him to be a “square” and he barely escapes.

   At Monte Carlo, Mike joins Craig and Penelope as they search for the mastermind behind it all. Penelope meets Lord Tim whose last name Belvoir St. Nash – according to Lord Tim – is pronounced Beaver Snatch. The Consortium’s representative is there, an Australian media mogul who is dressed for the Outback and carries a small wallaby with him.

   What follows is typical ITV low budgeted action. Penelope seduces Lord Tim and goes with him to his country home. Craig and Mike rush to rescue her. The three are captured and Lord Tim attempts to brainwash Craig. The plot is defeated but the mansion is about to self-destruct. Our heroes get out in time and join The Controller to celebrate with toasts of champagne. But there is a final twist and we end with a cliffhanger.


   This episode succeeds on all levels. Not just the writing, acting, and direction, but from every phase of TV production. Beginning with the cheap grainy look of the film done by cinematographer John Walker, no element of the ITV style goes untouched. Constant stream of gags and shout-outs flow non-stop through the thirty minutes. ITV fans will enjoy the opening titles, the set designs (Chrysoula Sofitsi), costumes (Debbie Scott), and music (Peter Baikie).

   THE PREVENTERS’ writers played the three heroes with the same insight to the ITV style of protagonist that the entire production showed. It was also fun to see William Gault as The Controller. Gault was in THE CHAMPIONS and his character was represented here as Mike Stallion “The Third One.”

   The episode ends with a cliffhanger and a graphic telling us the story is “to be continued.” But it never was. Perhaps it was not supposed to continue. It certainly would have been difficult to continue to satirize a form of fiction that was virtually a spoof itself as ITV pushed against the old conservative but socially conscious BBC that had programs such as THE WEDNESDAY PLAY.

   It didn’t help that when THE PREVENTERS aired in 1996 the role of the spy had changed. With the British government spy scandals of the 70s and the end of the Cold War in the 80s by the 90s the TV spy had been reduced to sitcoms such as THE PIGLET FILES.

   I miss the style of the 60s ITV light dramas. Writers such as Brian Clemens (THE AVENGERS) and Dennis Spooner (THE CHAMPIONS) had the talent to create light drama with surreal plots and weird characters while maintaining believability with the audience. The style fit in with the real world of 60s sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The ITV troubleshooters may not have always approved of the changing world in fashion, music, and young people’s behavior, but many of those ITV shows existed best in such a world.

   For those who are not familiar with the ITV style here is a sample, the final episode of THE CHAMPIONS. (The occasional movement of the picture is a problem caused by downloading it on YouTube.)

“Autokill”. April 30, 1969. Written by Brian Clemens – Directed by Roy Ward Baker. Cast: Stuart Damon as Craig Stirling, Alexandra Basted as Sharron Macready. William Gaunt as Richard Barrett and Anthony Nicholls as Col. W.L. Tremayne. Guest Cast: Eric Pohlmann and Paul Eddington. *** Someone has found a way to brainwash Nemesis agents to become assassins. The latest to be brainwashed is Colonel Tremayne, the man who commands The Champions.


   THE CHAMPIONS is not one of my favorites ITV series, but it does have the ITV style. The plots range from strange to stupid. Why brainwash the boss Tremayne to kill the doctor? The bad guys had nothing more evilly productive to do to Tremayne?

   The characters are likable, simple but believable. The writing and direction adds the proper amount of humor and pace to entertain and prevent the audience from actually thinking about what was happening and why.

   The ITV light drama of the 60s and 70s worked because the audience was in on it. This was not some brilliant serious filmmaker such as Dennis Potter (STAND UP, NIGEL BARTON) or Ken Loach (CATHY COME HOME) examining the troubles of modern society, ITV shows were fun. THE PREVENTERS got that right too.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


THE CAT AND THE CANARY. Grenadier, 1978. Honor Blackman, Michael Callan, Edward Fox, Wendy Hiller, Olivia Hussey, Betrix Lehmann, Carol Lynley, Daniel Massey, Peter McEnery, AND Wilfrid Hyde-White. Produced by Richard Gordon. Written & directed by Radley Metzger.

   Apparently you can’t go wrong with this title. The original 1927 film is a classic of silent era style and wit; the 1938 version offers a great cast and a star-making turn by Bob Hope; and this version, made by soft-core maven Meztger, has wit, color, and a cast of mostly one-shots and has-beens, shining in the kind of parts they weren’t used to getting.

   TIME OUT: Let me emphasize that the cast is only MOSTLY moth-eaten. Actually, many of them distinguished themselves on the stage, some went on to do interesting work in and out of the movies, and lovable old Wilfrid Hyde-White was always in a world of his own. But the fact is that when this movie was made, there wasn’t enough Hollywood star power between them to light up an “EXIT” sign.

   Yet they are consistently excellent here. Honor Blackman does a perfect Queen Bitch, paired up with Olivia Hussey as her submissive partner. Daniel Massey and Peter McEnery play vigorously off each other as bickering relatives. As the Doctor from the local Insane Asylum, Edward Fox acts nasty enough to make one suspect that the sobriquet “head shrinker” might be literal in his case, while Wendy Hiller and Beatrix Lehmann skulk about in the background as Shady Lawyer and Sinister Housekeeper.

   All of whom are gracefully counterbalanced by Carol Lynley and Michael Callan as the Young Lovers of the piece: She a frightened but sensible heiress; he a hack song-writer, ruefully aware of his insignificance in the scheme of things, but ready to roll the dice with a hostile universe.

   And then there’s Wilfrid Hyde-White as dead Uncle Cyrus, whose presence in the story is a clever ploy, handed off to an actor who carries it charmingly.

   I can attribute the presence of all this talent to Producer/Old-Movie-Buff Richard Gordon, but credit for their classy playing in well-written parts must go to writer-director Radley Metzger, whose stylish porno movies and erotic films of the 60s and 70s are reflected in the elegance of this, his only PG-rated effort. And some day I’d like to hear how he got the job.

   Just in case anyone still wonders what The Cat and the Canary is all about, it has to do with greedy relatives gathered for the reading of the last will & testament of their rich uncle Cyrus. And what happens when they find only one of them will inherit. And what happens when they find out that the putative heiress may be “disqualified.” And what happens when a Homicidal Maniac escapes from a nearby Madhouse. And one damn thing after another.

   That’s what the story’s about. The film is about style, pace, polish and wit, and how they can burnish an old gem like this into a real delight.


ELLERY QUEEN – The Dutch Shoe Mystery. Ellery Queen #4. Stokes, hardcover, 1931. Paperback reprints include Pocket #202; 1st printing, December 1942.

   Subtitled “A Problem in Deduction” (*) and that is exactly correct. The wealthy benefactress of a New York City hospital is murdered just before undergoing an emergency operation on the same building, and the only clue is a pair of shoes with a mended shoelace.

   No one should read an Ellery Queen novel of this vintage for a study of the characters involved, but for the most part the prose is clean and uncluttered. The only exception being a tendency toward flowery language at the beginning of every section. The rest of the story is punctuated only occasionally by the presence of yet another footnote. The lack of action is made up for by a plot that, when unraveled, has no flaws, so far as I can see.

   (*) There is a ‘Challenge to the Reader’ on page 241 of the Pocket edition, and as usual, I flubbed it up. And yet, if I’d followed through on the thought that occurred to me on page 32, I’d have nailed the culprit in no tie flat. I kid you not.

–Reprinted in slightly revised form from Mystery*File #16, October 1989.

THE ROOKIE COP. RKO Radio Pictures, 1939. Tim Holt, Virginia Weidler, Janet Shaw, Frank M. Thomas, Ralf Harolde, Muriel Evans, Ace the Wonder Dog. Director: David Howard.

   Tim Holt, who came up for discussion as a B-western movie star following my review of Sagebrush Law a while back, was only 20 years old when he made this film, and as a rookie cop Clem Maitland, he’s really perfect for the part, since he’s young and eager and as wet behind the ears as they come.

   Although he’s billed first, this film is really built as a showcase for all the clever things Maitland’s dog Ace can do, which I didn’t find all that interesting, but back in 1939, audiences may have enjoyed his tricks a whole lot more. As for me, I was more impressed with the performance of even younger Virginia Weidler, 12 at the time playing a 9-year-old tomboy named Nicey who wants to become a cop herself, when she grows up — and she can hardly wait.

   It’s too bad that with all the screen time Nicey gets, they really didn’t have a lot for her to do. Part of the story has to do with Clem convincing the police chief that dogs can be of great help to a police force, but even though the police chief is the father of his girl friend, he stubbornly can’t see it Clem’s way.

   The other half of the story is nabbing a gang of crooks, which is a whole lot easier than convincing a stubborn police chief to see the light. The end result is competently done, but it’s certainly nothing special.


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