1001 Midnights

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Francis M. Nevins

WILLIAM ARDEN – A Dark Power. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1968. Berkley, paperback, 1970.

   During the same years he was writing the Dan Fortune private-eye novels under his Michael Collins by-line, Dennis Lynds took on the pseudonym William Arden and launched another series, this one dealing with industrial spy and PI-in-spite-of-himself Kane Jackson.

   The five Jackson novels are written in a spare, unadorned third-person style reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett’s, and their protagonist is very much the hard-bitten operative, without the leavening of compassion one finds in other Lynds detectives, like Dan Fortune or Paul Shaw.

   Most of the Jackson exploits are distinguished by their setting in the jungle of high-level capitalism, principally in the chemical, metallurgical, and pharmaceutical industries where Lynds worked as a trade-publications editor before turning to fiction.

   In A Dark Power, first and freshest of the series, Jackson is hired by a New Jersey pharmaceutical combine to recover a missing sample of a drug potentially worth millions. The trail leads through the mazes of interoffice love affairs and power struggles, and several corpses are strewn along the path.

   Although Lynds tends to get lost in his own plot labyrinths, this time he keeps the story line under firm control, meshing counterplots with fine precision, skillfully portraying people trapped by their own drives, and capping the action with a double surprise climax. Jackson reaches the truth by clever guesswork rather than reasoning, but this is the only weakness in one of the best PI novels of the Sixties.

   Of the four later Jackson exploits, the most interesting is Die to a Distant Drum (1972), which, like Lynds’s novels as by Mark Sadler, takes as background the turmoil of the Vietnam era. Jackson poses as a revolutionary bomb-maker and joins a Weatherman faction in order to infiltrate a chemical plant and bring out certain evidence of industrial piracy. The result, as usual with Lynds under whatever by-line, is a fine and thoughtful thriller.

   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 Kane Jackson series –

A Dark Power. Dodd, 1968.
Deal in Violence. Dodd, 1969.
The Goliath Scheme. Dodd, 1970.

Die to a Distant Drum. Dodd, 1972.
Deadly Legacy. Dodd, 1973.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Francis M. Nevins

  WILLIAM ARD – Hell Is a City. Rinehart, hardcover, 1955. Popular Library #756, paperback, 1956. Ramble House, softcover, 2012.

   In the early 1950s, when our political and cultural life was dominated by Senator Joe McCarthy and HUAC, and our crime fiction by the bloody exploits of Mike Hammer, a young man named William Ard joined the handful of hard-boiled writers — among them Ross Macdonald, Thomas B. Dewey, and William Campbell Gault — who carried on the legitimate private-eye tradition of Hammett and Chandler.

   In Ard’s world the PI stands for personal and political decency, a clear line is drawn between dramatically justified violence and gratuitous brutality, and sex is seen as a restoration of oneself and caring for another. Anthony Boucher, the dean of mystery critics, praised Ard over and over for his “deft blend of hardness with human warmth and quiet humor,” for turning out “masterpiece(s) of compressed narration … backed with action and vigor, written with style and individuality.”

   Hell Is a City, seventh of Ard’s nine novels about private eye Timothy Dane, is the most powerful and exciting of his novels. Dane is pitted against the corrupt forces of law and order in a nightmare New York where the mayor, the police commissioner, and most of the officials are allied with the mobs and determined to hang on to their power in the coming mayoral election.

   When a young Latino shoots a Brooklyn vice cop who was about to rape the boy’s sister, the municipal bosses use their puppets in the news media to portray the case as the cold-blooded murder of a heroic officer, and put out word to shoot on sight whoever might contradict the party line.

   Brought into the picture by a crusading newspaper editor, Dane finds himself in the classic roman noir situation: knowing the truth no one else will believe; threatened on all sides by killers with badges and without; hounded through city streets dark with something more than night.

   With its sharply drawn characters, pulsating pace, and terrifying premise, this book could easily have been masterpiece, were it not for its grotesquely bad denouement, perhaps the first televised criminal trial scene in fiction, where all is set to rights in record time and in an impossibly silly manner. In a later Dane-less novel, As Bad As I Am (1959), aka Wanted: Danny Fontaine, Ard reworked the same story line to a better effect, but without the raw, nightmarish tension of Hell Is a City.

   Ard was far from a model of all the literary virtues. He wrote quickly and revised too little, and his style, though readable and efficient, lacks the hauntingly quotable quality of Chandler and Ross Macdonald. His plots tend to fall part under scrutiny and he recycled certain names again and again so that his novels contain small armies of characters named Stix Larsen and Barney Glines.

   But his best books — among which are The Diary (1952), .38 (1952), Cry Scandal (1956), and the paperback original Club 17 (1957), published under his pseudonym, Ben Kerr — are miracles of storytelling economy in which Ard’s special brand of tenderness is integrated with the standard elements of mean-streets fiction.

   His death from cancer in 1960 at age thirty-seven silenced one of the most distinctive voices in the history of the private-eye 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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

EVELYN ANTHONY – The Tamarind Seed. Coward McCann & Geoghegan, hardcover, 1971. Dell, paperback, 1979. First published in the UK: Hutchinson, hardcover, 1971. Film: AVCO Embassy Pictures, 1974.

   Evelyn Anthony’s novels are a cross between romantic suspense, espionage, and thriller. Romance is the most important element; her main characters are drawn together by immense physical and emotional attraction, often under circumstances of danger and stress. Exotic locales, international events, and political intrigue round out her successful formula.

   The Tamarind Seed (made into a film in 1974 with Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif) opens with the arrival of Judith Farrow at Seaways Airport in Barbados. Judith, a young widow who is assistant to the director of the International Secretariat at the United Nations, is getting away from it all — mostly from the memory of a shattered love affair with a high-placed and very married British diplomat.

   Within days she forms a friendship with a man staying at her hotel, but this time Judith resists romantic involvement: The man is Feodor Sverdlov, a Russian diplomat, most likely a spy, and also married, to a physician who has remained in the USSR.

   Upon their return to New York, Judith and Sverdlov continue to see each other, but things are not simple for them. Judith, a British subject, is visited by members of her country’s intelligence establishment, warning her to steer clear of Sverdlov. And Sverdlov returns to find his male secretary mysteriously absent; his wife’s petition for divorce follows.

   When Judith delivers a frightening message from one of his colleagues, he fears for his life, and he defects to the British. But doing that means involving Judith in a desperate and dangerous scheme.

   This could be standard romance fare, except for Anthony’s strong characterization and skillful use of multiple viewpoint. Her backgrounds are well researched, and her grasp of international affairs keeps an otherwise typical love story moving along at a fast pace.

   Other noteworthy novels by Anthony are The Rendezvous (1983), which deals with Nazi war criminals; The Assassin (1970), concerning a Russian assassination plot during an American election; The Malaspiga Exit (1974), about international art thievery; and The Defector (1981), another novel about tom loyalties to one’s country.

   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

DAVID ANTHONY – The Midnight Lady and the Mourning Man. Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1969. Warner, paperback, 1973. Filmed as The Midnight Man (1974).

   The greatest strength of David Anthony’s (William Dale Smith’s) first novel is the prtagonist, Morgan Butler, a Korean War veteran who suffered a breakdown. Upon recovering, he worked briefly for a San Francisco detective agency. At the opening of this story, he is half-owner of an Ohio farm, and because he occasionally feels the need for some action, he keeps his hand in the detective business, taking jobs that are a little outside the law.

   Often the jobs aren’t as lucrative or successful as his clients might wish them to be, since Butler is a man of sensitivity and conscience — good at what he does, but incapable of betraying a well-developed moral code.

   In this novel he helps a former marine buddy who saved his life — Quartz Willinger, constable in the small college town of Jordan City, Ohio, who is laid up with an on-the-job injury and trusts no one but Butler to hold down the fort during his convalescence.

   Tapes that three local college students under psychological counseling made and left with their therapist have been stolen. Butler narrows the focus of the thief down to the tapes of one student, Natalie Claybourne, but before he can find the reason the tape was taken, she is murdered in her dormitory room.

   Butler must contend with numerous men who may or may not have been her lovers; her wealthy father, who gives phony-sounding stories about why he seems more interested in recovering the tape than in his daughter’s killing; and a lady who begins to awaken feelings in Butler that he had considered gone for good.

   Anthony’s portrayal of a college town and its bohemian denizens is excellent; there is a section in which Butler relates how he copes with campus “spring madness” that any student or former student will immediately recognize.

   Although the solution is a little predictable and the story somewhat drawn out, this is nonetheless a novel you won’t want to put down. (A film version, The Midnight Man, starring Burt Lancaster was made in 1974. In it, Butler is transformed into a paroled murderer and night watchman turned detective.)

   David Anthony’s other books featuring Morgan Butler are Blood on a Harvest Moon (1972) and The Long Hard Cure (1979). He has also written The Organization (1970) and Stud Game (1978).

   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.

Editorial Comments:   The books mentioned in the last paragraph above comprise the complete criminous output of David Anthony, who died in 1986. The Long Hard Cure, surprisingly enough, has been published only in England. For a review of The Organization on this blog by Bill Crider, go here, and for my review of Stud Game, go here.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

ERIC AMBLER The Light of Day

ERIC AMBLER – The Light of Day. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1963. Reprint paperback editions include: Bantam, 1964; Signet, 1968; Ballantine, 1978; Berkley, 1985; Carroll & Graf, 1992.

   This Edgar-winning novel is the story of Arthur Simpson, a roguish con man, petty thief, and sometime pornographer who, as the novel opens, is driving a car-for-hire in Athens. He makes his first mistake when he attempts to rob his client of some traveler’s checks and is caught; the man is no ordinary tourist, but an accomplished criminal, and he quickly blackmails Simpson into driving a Lincoln Continental to Istanbul.

   Simpson’s second and third mistakes are not searching the car thoroughly and not having a valid passport. (He is half English, half Egyptian, and the problem of his citizenship is a thread that runs through the narrative.)

ERIC AMBLER The Light of Day

   The border authorities search the Lincoln and discover weapons inside the doors. When Simpson finally admits how he was coerced into driving the car into Turkey, the Turkish police in turn coerce him into getting at the source of the weapons smuggling. Simpson delivers the car, finagles himself a job as guide for the three men and one woman to whom it seems to belong, then spends several tense days trying to find out what they have planned.

   As it turns out, all plans go awry — Simpson’s, the authorities’, and the smugglers’. Soon Simpson finds himself enlisted on both sides, in an even worse predicament than he could ever have imagined.

   This novel is Ambler at his best, full as it is of double-dealings and harrowing scenes. Arthur Simpson is a likable rogue and a finely drawn character. The reader can get a second glimpse of him in Dirt Story (1967).

ERIC AMBLER The Light of Day

   A film of this novel, called Topkapi, was made in 1964; starring Melina Mercouri, Maximilian Schell, and Peter Ustinov, it is colorful and entertaining and contains riveting scenes during which viewers who are afraid of heights would be well advised to keep their eyes shut. A paperback edition of the novel, also published that year, bears the same title as the film.

   Ambler carries out his theme of an innocent man caught up in a web of deceit and intrigue in other novels, notably Background to Danger (1937), Cause for Alarm (1939), and Epitaph for a Spy (1952).

   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 Robert J. Randisi


JONATHAN VALIN – Natural Causes. Congdon & Weed, hardcover, 1983. Avon, paperback, 1984. Dell, paperback, 1994.

   Since the appearance of his Harry Stoner novel, The Lime Pit (1980), Jonathan Valin has been hailed as among the best of the present-day private-eye writers. Of the first Stoner adventure, Publishers Weekly said, “Wow! One of the roughest, toughest and most completely convincing private eye novels in a long time.”

   Other critics have praised Valin as the second coming of Chandler. That may not be fair, since Valin is a good writer and storyteller in his own right, and Stoner, a PI who works out of Cincinnati is a fully individuated character.

   In this, the fifth Stoner novel, the PI is hired by American Productions to go to California and find out who killed the head writer of their biggest soap opera, on Quentin Dover. In describing Stoner’s investigation. Valin also vividly depicts the world of a big-time soap opera — of which he knows much. He spent a year as a story consultant on a popular daytime soap.

   Stoner runs the gamut of Hollywood personae: directors, actors, agents, not to mention the victim’s beautiful alcoholic wife. Add drugs and murder and a jaunt south of the border, and you’ve got the story of how and why a man with a half-a-million-dollar-a-year job would get himself involved with something that could — and did — get him killed.

   Valin may indeed be one of the best of the present PI writers, but to compare him to Chandler is to do a disservice — one that critics all too frequently perform.

   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.

Editorial Comment: My review of The Lime Pit, Valin’s first Stoner novel, can be found here. I also reviewed Final Notice, the second book in the series here, a post that also includes some comments about the author and a complete bibliography.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Julie Smith

ROBERT UPTON – Fade Out. Viking, hardcover, 1984. Penguin, reprint paperback, 1986.


   You could love private eye Amos McGuffin for his name alone — but he also has a wry way about him. After McGuffin crashes two cars, Ronald Worthy, the president of Executive Rent-A-Car, denies him any more vehicles. “Isn’t that just like Ron,” says our hero to the clerk. “As if I were the only guy sleeping with his wife.”

   McGuffin lives in San Francisco, where he hangs out at Goody’s bar, putting away Paddy’s when he isn’t on a case — which is just about all the time of late. In fact, he’s just bending an elbow when Nat Volpersky tracks him down at Goody’s. It seems Volpersky’s son, Ben Volper, a Hollywood producer, is thought to have committed suicide by wading out into the Pacific Ocean after leaving an unsigned note on his typewriter.

   But Volpersky doesn’t believe it; and Izzy Schwartz the deli man, his only friend in California, has recommended McGuffin to find his son. That means McGuffin has to go to Los Angeles, where he encounters the Bronx Social Club- a group of Ben’s childhood friends who’ve made it big in show biz. “Who else can you trust?” Volpersky asks.

   But McGuffin isn’t so sure the old neighborhood pals are trustworthy. He’s even less inclined to put his faith in Aha Ben Mahoud, a wealthy Arab who financed Ben’s last picture. And he has serious doubts about Pedro Chan, the six-foot-six cop assigned to the case.

   After pursuing a single-minded inquiry throughout most of the book, he suddenly sees the light and pulls the solution out of a hat. Upton didn’t really play fair on this one, McGuffin’s latest case. (He made his debut in 1977 in Who’d Want to Kill Old George?) But no matter. Even though we can’t see it coming, the denouement is ingenious. And McGuffin is a delight.

   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 Amos McGuffin series —

Who’d Want to Kill Old George? (n.) Putnam 1977.
Fade Out (n.) Viking 1984.
Dead on the Stick (n.) Viking 1986.
The Farberge Egg (n.) Dutton 1988.
A Killing in Real Estate (n.) Dutton 1990.

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