1001 Midnights


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Newell Dunlap


GAVIN BLACK – A Time for Pirates. Harper & Row, hardcover, 1971. No US paperback edition. First published in the UK by Collins Crime Club, hardcover, 1971.

   There is a riot in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — young Malays demonstrating against the Chinese merchants — and Paul Harris is caught in the middle of it. His car is destroyed and he makes his escape on foot, in the process rescuing another stranded European, the young blond wife of a geologist. This geologist, as it turns out, works for an unscrupulous Chinese corporation that Harris suspects of secret oil exploration.

   Harris loves Malaysia, is concerned about the environment and all that, but figures someone is going to develop the oil, so he might as well have a hand in it. With backing from a Japanese firm, he sets about forming a company to beat out the Chinese.

   So begins a very readable and rather involved story of conflicting business and political interests, with money, power, and terrorism used to back the various interests. (Harris himself is subjected to a couple of physical attacks and attempted kidnappings, plus an attempt on his life.) The blonde? Well, she becomes an enigmatic figure, usually appearing whenever a kidnapping is in the offing. This is also a story of races — Malays, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, and Europeans — coming together, seldom in harmony.

   Gavin Black (a pseudonym of Oswald Wynd) was born in the Orient and most of his novels take place in the Far East — Malaysia and Singapore in particular. Other books featuring Paul Harris include Suddenly, at Singapore (1961), A Wind of Death (1967), and The Golden Cockatrice (1975).

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   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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


NORMAN BERROW – The Footprints of Satan. Ward Lock, UK, hardcover, 1950. Ramble House, US, softcover, April 2005.

   One morning the inhabitants of the English village of Winchingham awaken to find a single line of hoofprints that begin in the middle of the road, in a carpeting of virgin snow, and then lead through gardens, over walls and hedges, through a locked summerhouse and pavilion, across a steep roof inaccessible to humans, to finally end by an old tree from which a man is hanging by the neck.

   Superstitious terror grips the village: Many believe the devil is responsible. (There is actual historical precedent for such a belief: On the night of February 8, 1855, a similar trail of cloven hoofprints appeared in and around a number of towns in the south of Devon, and no earthly explanation for them was ever discovered.)

   The trail and the dead man are not the work of Satan, of course, but that of a very clever murderer. Berrow’s development and unraveling of the apparently inexplicable is likewise ingenious, and he builds considerable suspense before his series sleuth, Detective Inspector Lancelot Carolus Smith, finally solves the mystery.

   Only one of Berrow’s twenty novels — a revised and updated version of the 1940 book The Ghost House (1979) — was published in the United States, perhaps because of their numerous flaws: talkiness and overwriting, colorless characters, and some dubious use of English slang (Berrow was a New Zealander). The Footprints of Satan, however, his best and most baffling novel, deserves to have been reprinted here — and still should be for the amusement of contemporary readers.

   Other of his books worth reading include The Three Tiers of Fantasy (1947) and The Bishop’s Sword (1948), each of which contains no fewer than three neatly worked out “impossible crimes”; and It Howls at Night (1937), a non-series book set in Spain, which has a werewolf theme.

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   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.

UPDATE:   Here is some good news, at least for fans of “impossible crime” mysteries. All twenty of Berrow’s mysteries have been reprinted by Ramble House, including this one.

EARL DERR BIGGERS – The Black Camel. Bobbs Merrill, hardcover, 1929. Grosset & Dunlap, hardcover reprint; Photoplay edition. Paperback reprints include: Pocket #133, 1941; Paperback Library 52-312, 1964; Pyramid T-1947, 1969; Bantam N6315, 1975; Mysterious Press, 1987; Academy Chicago Publishers, 2009. Film: 20th Century Fox, 1931 (Warner Oland); remade as Charlie Chan in Rio, 1941 (Sidney Toler).

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck

   “Death is the black camel that kneels unbid at every gate.” Charlie Chan quotes this Eastern saying when Shelah Fane, silent-movie star, is stabbed to death in Honolulu. A famous but fading actress, Fane is in Hawaii to finish off the final shots of a South Sea film started in Tahiti. Apparently she also had witnessed a murder of another movie star in Hollywood some three years earlier and was planning at last to reveal the murderer’s identity.

   Chan has his work cut out for him in this investigation, particularly when the most likely suspect, a fortune teller, has an unbreakable alibi. Not a fair-play mystery, but Chan is always entertaining and interesting.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 7, No. 4, Winter 1991/2, “Murder on Screen.”


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

   Although Inspector Charlie Chan of the Honolulu Police Department is a household name throughout the world, he appears in only six novels. The great number of films, radio plays, and comic strips inspired by Chan are proof of the compelling quality of Earl Derr Biggers’s creation. However, these offshoots do not do credit to Chan’s character. In them, he becomes a stereotypical Chinese, mouthing ridiculous platitudes and doing more than his fair share of bowing and scraping.

   To anyone familiar with Chan only from the Thirties’ and Forties’ B-movies, Biggers’ novels will come as a refreshing surprise. In them, Chan is portrayed as an amiable, wise man, given to philosophic contemplation. He is an individual in whom the characteristics of the East and the West are delicately blended, and often Biggers uses this cultural mix in his plotting, allowing his detective to discern clues that either an Occidental or Oriental investigator would not.

   Chan’s character is one of considerable depth — a welcome period departure from sinister Orientals such as Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu. Unfortunately, Biggers’ secondary characters tend to be less interesting, especially his melodramatic and overly romantic young men and women.

   A sense of place is another aspect of fiction at which Biggers excelled. The Black Camel is set in the Honolulu of the Twenties — a city much different from the one we know today. Waikiki is a quiet beach community where trade winds “mumble at the curtains,” a place where flowers bloom unmolested, and the trip into the city itself is a long journey by streetcar.

   When movie queen Shelah Fane rents a house on the beach, she expects a restful sojourn, but complications in the form of an ardent shipboard suitor, a disturbing session with her trusted fortune-teller, and fear of a secret in her past arise to disrupt it. When Shelah is found murdered, Chan is called in.

   The star has left a letter for the fortune-teller, which could perhaps provide the vital key, but before Chan can read it, the lights in the house go out and it is snatched from him. Without this clue, the detective must sort through the conflicting stories of the murdered woman’s suitor, secretary, co-star, fortune-teller, tourist guide, butler, and a beachcomber — all of whom seem to have had ulterior motives where the film star was concerned.

   An entertaining novel, with suspects galore, and a surprise ending.

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   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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


ANTHONY BERKELEY – The Poisoned Chocolates Case. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1929. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1929. Paperback reprints include Pocket #814, US, 1951; Dell/Scene of the Crime #8, US, 1983.

   Anthony Berkeley (a pseudonym for A.B. Cox, who also wrote as Francis Iles) had an excellent ability to characterize, as is demonstrated in this novel in which the members of London’s Crime Club — a carefully chosen group of armchair detectives — match wits to solve the murder of Mrs. Graham Bendix. Mrs. Bendix died after eating poisoned chocolates that were apparently intended for Sir Eustace Pennefather, dissolute member of the aristocracy whom many had reason to kill.

   The police have found no solution to the problem of who sent the chocolates to Sir Eustace (who seems to have innocently passed them on to Mrs. Bendix), and Roger Sheringham, somewhat pompous founder of the Crime Club, has volunteered the assistance of his learned members. Although Detective Inspector Farrar of Scotland Yard appears to think this an idle amusement, nonetheless he agrees to brief the club on the case.

   The members — each characterized in all his or her eccentricities — agree to present their solutions on different nights. And it is no surprise when suspicion falls on one of their number. As theories and evidence pile up, the facts of the case unfold, and the cumulative work of the members — each of whom has his own particular sphere of knowledge, each of whom is certain of the correctness of his solution — leads to the logical but surprising conclusion.

   This is a talky novel, with little action or movement. But it should appeal to those who like the combination of good characterization and armchair detection.

   Other novels featuring the learned Roger Sheringham include The Layton Court Mystery (1929), The Second Shot (1931), Jumping Jenny (1933), and Panic Party (1934).

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   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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Kathleen L. Maio


JOSEPHINE BELL – Curtain Call for a Corpse. Macmillan, US, 1965. Perennial, US, paperback, 1988. First published in the UK by Longmans, hardcover, 1939, as Death at Half-Term.

   Josephine Bell (whose real name is Doris Bell Ball) has practiced two professions. She began her career as a physician in the 1920s, when it was an unusual field for a woman. Since 1937 she has practiced a trade more expected of British gentlewomen — the writing of mystery and suspense stories.

   In recent years, Bell has specialized in non-series suspense stories, but she started her writing career with a series of classic mysteries starring David Wintringham. Her amateur sleuth is, appropriately enough, a doctor. His police counterpart is Inspector Mitchell, who does not always appreciate Dr. Wintringham’s interference.

   Wintringham’s fifth case takes him to the Denbury (boys’ prep) School, where he is conveniently related to the headmaster and one of the students. Half-term weekend traditionally features both a father-son cricket match and a theatrical performance. This year’s performance of Twelfth Night by a third-rate touring company becomes highly memorable when an ill-tempered actor collapses with a bashed skull as the curtain falls.

   Wintringham, who attends the dying actor, becomes even more interested in the case when it is discovered that members of the school’s staff may also have had reasons for wanting the victim dead. There is plenty of detecting to go around. Mitchell, Wintringham, and an enthusiastic band of young students all have a share of collecting clues and interviewing suspects. The result is a nicely complex investigation, punctuated by a cricket match and climaxing in a classic gathering of the suspects and confrontation with the murderer.

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   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.

       The Dr. David Wintringham series —

* Death on the Borough Council. Longmans, 1937.
* Murder in Hospital. Longmans, 1937.
* Fall Over Cliff. Longmans, 1938.
* Death at Half-Term. Longmans, 1939.
From Natural Causes. Longmans, 1939.
All Is Vanity. Longmans, 1940.
Death at the Medical Board. Longmans, 1944.
* Death in Clairvoyance. Longmans, 1949.
* The Summer School Mystery. Methuen 1950.
* Bones in the Barrow. Methuen 1953.
* The China Roundabout. Hodder 1956.
* The Seeing Eye. Hodder 1958.

(*) Inspector Steven Mitchell also appears. The latter had one case to solve on his own, and three with barrister Claude Warrington-Reeve, who had no solo appearances.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini
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STEPHEN BECKER – The Chinese Bandit. Random House, hardcover, 1975. Berkley, paperback, 1977.

   Stephen Becker is one of the few Americans who can write the novel of suspense and high adventure as well as, if not better than, his counterparts in Great Britain. The Chinese Bandit is the first of an outstanding trilogy about the postwar years in the Far East (the other two titles are The Last Mandarin, 1979, and The Blue-Eyed Shan, 1982, and is so good that it earned Becker accolades as “a modern Dumas.”

   The bandit of the title is Jake Dodds, a brawling, wenching, semi-alcoholic marine sergeant, wartime hero, and peacetime bum who finds himself in Peking in 1947 and becomes involved with a wily Chinese black-marketeer named Kao. After Jake nearly kills an American brigadier general in a whorehouse fight, it is Kao who saves him from imprisonment by arranging to smuggle him out of Peking with a camel caravan. Working as a guard and camel-puller, Jake soon finds himself dealing with progression of traders, nomads, guerrillas, warlords, Japanese deserters, Chinese Communists, Chinese Nationalists, and women good and bad. Not to mention the Gobi Desert, the great snow-capped mountains of Central Asia, and even the legendary yeti or Abominable Snowman.

   Byzantine plot twists, well-drawn characters, and one of the most graphically detailed of all fictional portraits of postwar China, Mongolia, and Turkestan make this escapist entertainment of the finest sort. But it is even more than that, for Becker writes beautifully and incisively from firsthand knowledge of time and place, giving us keen social and political observations and a work of genuine literary distinction. This is a novel to be read slowly, to be savored, and then to be read again — as are the other two tities in his trilogy.

   Becker has also written two contemporary tales suspense and adventure: A Covenant with Death (1964) and Season of the Stranger (1966). Under the pseudonym of Steve Dodge, he produced a paperback original with a China setting, Shanghai Incident (1955), which was later reissued under his own name. All of these are good, but none is as rich or as memorable as the three later works.

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   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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Thomas Baird
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FRANCIS BEEDING – Death Walks in Eastrepps. Mystery League, US, hardcover, 1931. First published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton, hardcover, 1931. Dover, softcover, 1980. Arcturus Publishing, softcover, 2011.

   At one time Death Walks in Eastrepps was regarded as one of the ten greatest detective novels. Well, even mystery critics can make a slip once in a while. This book is quite competent, it rises above the humdrum, but the writing does not contain the verve to make it a classic.

   A serial murderer terrorizes the seaside resort village of Eastrepps in Norfolk. The local police, led by Inspector Protheroe and Sergeant Ruddock, search for a brutal homicidal maniac. As the bodies count up to six, Chief Inspector Wilkins of Scotland Yard is called in.

   The relationships between the East Anglian residents, the individual policemen, and the press are explored. The tangled motives and alibis are sorted out. Public pressure mounts, and results in a false arrest. Then strong police work brings a man unjustly to trial. The woman in his life endeavors to clear his name while the courtroom drama heats up. This is a complex story, full of surprises.

   Francis Beeding is the collaborative pseudonym of two English literary men, John Leslie Palmer and Hilary Adam St. George Saunders. Together they wrote thirty-one criminous novels, about half of them spy stories featuring Secret Service agent Colonel Alastair Granby; among the tales are The Six Proud Walkers (1928), Hell Let Loose (1937), and The Twelve Disguises (1942).

   They also wrote The House of Dr. Edwardes (1927), which Alfred Hitchcock transformed into his 1945 Gregory Peck/Ingrid Bergman film, Spellbound.

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   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:   There was only one later outing for Inspector Wilkins, that being Murder Intended (Hodder, UK, 1932; Little Brown, US, 1932).

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Karol Kay Hope
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GEORGE BAXT – The Affair at Royalties. Scribners, hardcover, 1972. Intl Polygonics Ltd., paperback, 1988. First published in the UK by Macmillan, hardcover, 1971.

   George Baxt is best known for his Pharaoh Love trilogy — a series of murder mysteries written in the late 1960s and set in the underground of homosexual New York. The books feature a bizarre homosexual black police detective, Pharaoh Love. Another Baxt series features the popular detective duo Sylvia Plotkin and Max Van Larsen, a pair of wacky lovers and sometime partners in crime detection who run across like-minded wackos in the melting pot of New York City.

   The Affair at Royalties is no less interesting than the above, although certainly more conservative. A good-looking and brilliant young Englishwoman regains consciousness in what they tell her is her very own bed. She has suffered a total memory loss, nerve-racking in itself, but to make matters worse, she is also the suspect in a brutal murder of which, of course, she has no memory.

   She can’t even remember which of the men at her bedside is her husband, much less if she loves him or not, so she makes eyes at one of them anyway. Unfortunately, he turns out to be the local homicide inspector, and the relationship begins on a rocky note.

   As she slowly regains her memory, she finds she is a notorious mystery-story writer. We watch her put her extraordinary analytic mind (and loud mouth) to work solving the mystery of her own amnesia, risking- — with true “liberated” woman chutzpah — the possibility that she will, in the process, indict herself for murder.

   Good characters, plot, movement, and a particularly nice rendition of what happens when the strong female meets the strong male: Will they destroy each other or fall in love?

   Other notable Baxt titles are A Queer Kind of Death (1966), with Pharaoh Love, and “I!” Said the Demon (1969), with Plotkin and Van Larsen.

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   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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini
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ROBERT LESLIE BELLEM – Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective. Bowling Green University Popular Press, softcover, 1983.

   Anyone whose sense of humor leans toward the ribald, the outrageous, the utterly absurd is liable to find himself convulsed by the antics and colloquialisms of Dan Turner, Robert Leslie Bellem’s immortal “private skulk,” who fought, shot, wenched, and wisecracked his way to the solutions of hundreds of pulp-magazine cases from 1934 to 1950.

   The list of Bellem admirers is long and distinguished and includes humorist S. J. Perelman, who in a New Yorker essay titled “Somewhere a Roscoe …” called Turner “the apotheosis of all private detectives” and said he was “out of Ma Barker by Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade.”

   Although Bellem wrote a handful of novels, none features Dan Turner. Turner, in fact, appeared only in a few scattered anthologies until the publication of this collection of seven of his vintage cases from Hollywood Detective, Spicy Detective, Speed Detective, and Private Detective Stories.

   All are set in Hollywood, most deal with the (highly romanticized and inaccurately portrayed) film community, and all are wild, woolly, quite terrible, and very funny. “Drunk, Disorderly and Dead,” for instance, contains such typical Bellem lines as “A hulking lug in chauffeur’s uniform … barged out of the limousine’s tonneau and planted his oversize brogan on my running board. He had an improvised handkerchief mask over the lower section of his pan and a blue-barreled automatic in his duke. He said: ‘Freeze, snoop, or I’ll perforate you like a canceled check.'”

   And from “Dump the Jackpot”: “A thunderous bellow flashed from Dave Donaldson’s service .38, full at the propman’s elly-bay. Welch gasped like a leaky flue, hugged his punctured tripes, and slowly doubled over, fell flat on his smeller.”

   This delightfully wacky collection also contains an introduction, headnotes, and a biographical sketch of Bellem by John Wooley.

   Bellem’s novels, for the most part, are forgettable. The only exception is his first, Blue Murder (1938), which features a Dan Turner-like private eye named Duke Pizzatello and contains some of the same slangy, campy mangling of the English language.

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   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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Karol Kay Hope
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LINDA BARNES – Bitter Finish. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1983. Fawcett, paperback, 1985. Dell, paperback, 1994.

   Michael Spraggue is falling down a flight of steps, the voice of his stunt instructor screaming at him to use his thighs and hips to break the impact of the sharp cement. As the star of Hollywood’s latest private-eye melodrama, shooting on location in Boston, Spraggue leaves the car chases to the pros, but the light stunts he likes to do himself.

   An independently wealthy ex-private investigator turned actor, he’s quit the business because he’s “mostly dug up dirt everybody would have been better off not knowing.” But an emergency phone call summons him back to California’s Napa Valley, where Kate Holloway, his not quite ex-lover and longtime business partner in the Holloway Hills Winery, is in jail as a material witness to murder.

   Kicking and screaming (he really does hate being a private eye), Michael flies to the rescue. The victim is Holloway Hills’ flamboyant Hungarian winemaker — the second in what the papers are calling the “car trunk murders.” Kate is notorious in the valley — she’s six feet tall, gorgeous, and makes as good a wine as many male vintners — and the not-so-bright deputy sheriff is certain she’s a killer as well. Michael seems to be the only person on the scene smart enough to figure out who stashed those cadavers in the trunks of cars, and the deputy sheriff, of course, won’t talk to him.

   The complicated love situation between Spraggue and Kate is probably the most interesting part of this story, although Barnes does give us a lovely picture of the Napa Valley at harvest time and lots of detail on the wine making industry. The action moves well, the clues are nicely hidden, and the reader isn’t bored — but neither is the reader glued to the edge of his seat.

   Spraggue ends up, predictably, all by his lonesome with a crazed killer in a deserted winery at the end of a rarely traveled road. The writing is light, entertaining, and stylistically sound; and hopefully as Linda Barnes matures as a writer, so will Spraggue and company.

   Michael Spraggue also appears in Dead Heat (1984).

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   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 Notes:   Spraggue’s first appearance was in Blood Will Have Blood (1982). A fourth and final book in the series was Cities Of The Dead, published in 1986. In 1987 Linda Barnes switched series characters and wrote A Trouble of Fools, the first of twelve novels featuring cab-driving PI Carlotta Carlyle, based in Boston.

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