1001 Midnights


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


LAWRENCE BLOCK – After the First Death. The Macmillan Co., hardcover, 1969. Paperback reprints include: Carroll & Graf, 1994; ibooks, 2002.

   Lawrence Block is a top-flight professional who has written numerous novels featuring extremely diverse characters and situations. His characterization ranges from the grim depths glimpsed in some of his non-series books and in his series about alcoholic ex-policeman Matthew Scudder, to the lightweight but amusing private eye/writer Chip Harrison, burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, and spy Evan Tanner. Whether Block is chronicling a deadly search or a playful romp, he is a consummate master of suspense and manages to keep his reader fearing for the safety of — and solidly rooting for — his protagonist until the last page is turned.

   The premise of this non-series novel is the real-life nightmare of awakening hung over and in a strange place, in the presence of a corpse. Alex Penn awakes to find himself in what obviously is a cheap Manhattan hotel room; there is the severely mutilated body of a hooker on the floor next to the bed, and Penn, an alcoholic coming out of a blackout, does not remember what has happened. At this point, however, Block adds a new twist to a shocking but stock situation: Penn has killed in this manner during a previous blackout, and has only recently been paroled from prison.

   Determined not to return to prison, Penn escapes from the hotel and hides out from the police. But as he sobers, an image appears to him: that of an arm wielding the murder knife — an arm that is not his. He realizes he isn’t guilty of the crime, has indeed been framed. And he concludes that he may very well also have been framed for the first murder.

   What follows is a cat-and-mouse investigation in which Penn slips from place to place in New York and environs, showing up to question old friends and enemies who he thinks may have wanted to see him convicted of murder. As he becomes more and more convinced of his innocence, he enlists the aid of a sympathetic hooker (and heroin addict) and begins to gather hard evidence.

   The outcome of this investigation hinges on a somewhat unlikely coincidence, but it forces a satisfyingly realistic resolution of Penn’s quandary. Likewise, his growing involvement with Jackie, the hooker who aids him, is believable and satisfying.

   Other Block non-series novels are Death Pulls a Double Cross (1961), The Girl with the Long Green Heart (1965), and The Specialists (1969).

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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


LAWRENCE G. BLOCHMAN – Diagnosis: Homicide. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1950. Pocket Book #793, paperback, 1951. Television: CBS, 1960, nine-episode summer replacement series, with Patrick O’Neal (Dr. Coffee), Phyllis Newman (Doris Hudson), Cal Bellini (Dr. Mookerji), Chester Morris (Max Ritter).

   Although most of his work is (regrettably) long out of print and he is little known among modern readers, Lawrence G. Blochman was an innovative and popular writer for more than four decades. His early novels and short stories had foreign settings, primarily India, where he spent several years in the 1920s as a newspaperman.

   Bombay Mail (1934), his first and probably most accomplished novel, is set on board an Indian train; features one of his many series characters, Inspector Leonidas Prike of the British CID; and is one of the best of that intriguing subgenre, the railway mystery. Two other Prike novels, Bengal Fire (1937) and Red Snow at Darjeeling (1938), are also good, as is Blow-Down (1939), a non-series suspense/adventure novel set in a sleepy Central American banana port.

   Blochman’s most notable creations, however, are his numerous short stories (for such magazines as Collier’s and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine) and one novel featuring Dr. Daniel Webster Coffee, pathologist of the Pasteur Hospital in mythical Northbank, New York. Coffee was the first pathologist detective in crime fiction, the forefather of TV’s Quincy, and his cases have a uniform sense of realism as a result of Blochman’s interest and research in forensic medicine. Diagnosis: Homicide, the first of two Dr. Coffee collections, is of sufficient import that Ellery Queen included it as the lO6th and final entry on his Queen’s Quorum list of most important volumes of detective short stories.

   The eight novelettes in this book are what might be called “forensic procedurals.” Coffee’s chief criminological weapons, as Ellery Queen has pointed out, are modern (circa 1950) laboratory procedures in pathology, chemistry, serology, microscopy, and toxicology.

   With these — and the help of his assistant, Dr. Motilal Mookerji, on scholarship from Calcutta Medical College, and police lieutenant Max Ritter — the good doctor solves such baffling cases as the death of a woman after an apparently simple appendectomy (“But the Patient Died”); the strange case of a woman who hears a baby crying in the night, even though there is no baby in her house (“The Phantom Cry-Baby”); and the murder of a doctor to cover up one of the oddest rackets in medical (and criminous) history (“Brood of Evil”).

   The second Dr. Coffee collection, Clues for Dr. Coffee (1964), is likewise excellent and worth seeking out. Somewhat less successful is the only novel featuring the pathologist and his sidekicks, Recipe for Homicide (1952); Coffee’s talents, as Blochman himself seems to have realized, are better suited to the short-story form.

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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 Susan Dunlap


SUZANNE BLANC – The Green Stone. Harper & Brothers, 1961. Detective Book Club, hardcover reprint, 3-in-1 edition. Lancer 73-533, paperback, 1966. Carroll & Graf, paperback, 1984.

   The green stone is an emerald worth $1200, a fortune in the Mexican town of San Luis. It draws three strangers inexorably together, and it changes the lives of all three. Inspector Menendes, viewed with suspicion both because he is an educated Indian and because he is a policeman (presumed to be brutal and corrupt), must find the stolen gem in order to validate himself.

   Jessie Prewitt, the little North American señora who accidentally comes into possession of the stone, must deal not only with increasing danger but also with refocusing her life after the sudden end of her marriage.

   And Luis Perez, who has lifted himself from poverty by creating a job as the town guide, sees the emerald as the means to security, the escape from the ever-present threat of poverty in a society where one misstep is a tumble into destitution, and where there is no second chance.

   The unfolding of the plot is simple. Three Indians from a village near San Luis murder a tourist couple to steal their money and, incidentally, the emerald ring. Clues vanish. Inspector Menendes is left with nothing to go on but his own intuition and his knowledge of the area where villagers scorn the Indians, Indians remain silent, both groups see the North Americans as legitimate sources of money, and everyone fears the police.

   Suzanne Blanc’s strength is her sharp depiction of life in San Luis and of her characters as each struggles and changes. The Green Stone is a hauntingly sensitive novel.

   Two of Blanc’s other novels are also set in Mexico: The Yellow Villa (1964) and The Rose Window (1967); a third, The Sea Troll (1969), takes place on board ship.

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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.

Additional Notes:   The Green Stone was nominated for two Edgars — one for Best First Novel, which it won, and Best Novel. Inspector Menendes appeared in all three of Blanc’s novels taking place in Mexico.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


ROBERT BLOCH – The King of Terrors. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1977. No paperback edition.

   Robert Bloch has long been recognized as the patriarch macabre fiction writers, having made his first professional sale half a century ago (to Weird Tales in 1934, at tender age of seventeen). But he has also written extensively in the criminous field, with several novels, hundreds of short stories. and five major collections.

   The King of Terrors, subtitled “Tales of Madness and Death,” collects the best of his many short works on the theme of psychopathology. “Throughout man’s history,” Bloch says in his introduction, “I suppose death was the King of Terrors. The ultimate threat to our egos is the thought of their extinction. Now we have recently come to learn that mental illness can also destroy the ego, rob s of our self-awareness and, thus, identity. In a word — living death, the King of Terrors’ tortured twin.”

   That tortured twin makes for some truly fearful and fear-filled tales. “The Real Bad Friend,” for instance, which covers some of the same psychopathological ground as Bloch’s classic novel Psycho and predates the book by two years; “Water’s Edge,” a deceptively simple story about an excon and a woman’s horrifying retribution against him; and a pair of beautifully understated shockers- “Home Away from Home,” about a young woman’s ill-advised visit to her psychiatrist uncle in a remote section England, and “Terror in the Night,” about a young man’s escape from an insane asylum. Not all the stories here are first-rate-Bloch — but all are enjoyable and the best ones are truly shuddersome.

   Bloch’s other criminous collections are also recommended. (It should be noted, however, that there is considerable duplication of stories among them.) They are Terror in the Night and Other Stories (1958), Blood Runs Cold (1961), Cold Chills (1977), and Out of the Mouths of Graves (1978).

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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 Newell Dunlap


  OLIVER BLEECK – The Brass Go-Between. William Morrow & Co., hardcover, 1969. Pocket, paperback, 1971. Perennial Library, paperback, 1983. Warner, paperback, 1993.

   Ross Thomas uses the pseudonym Oliver Bleeck for his entertaining Philip St. Ives books. These are fast-paced stories with first-person narration, reminiscent of many private-detective novels. But St. Ives is not a detective, he is a professional go-between — that is, he acts as an intermediary between such parties as kidnappers and the kidnap victim’s family, insurance companies and thieves, etc. He has built a reputation in this strange profession and people on both sides of the law seem to trust him.

   In The Brass Go-Between, the first book of the series, he is dealing with the Conker Museum in Washington, D.C., attempting to recover a huge brass shield that has been stolen from the museum’s Pan-African collection. But there is more to the shield than meets the eye. Not only is it historically priceless, it is also a magnificent work of art. Add to this the fact that at least two opposing African nations claim rightful ownership, and it becomes obvious many people would like to discover the whereabouts of the shield.

   Naturally, all this complicates St. Ives’s job as he encounters many of the interested parties along the way: Winfield Spencer, a rich and reclusive art collector; and Conception Mbwato, a giant emissary from the African nation of Komporeen, to name but two.

   This and the other Oliver Bleeck titles — Protocol for a Kidnapping (1971), The Procane Chronicle (1972), The Highbinders (1974), and No Questions Asked (1976) — are distinguished for their crisp dialogue, unusual background and understated sense of irony. Qualities, of course, that Thomas also infuses into his novels published under his own name.

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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


CHARITY BLACKSTOCK – Dewey Death. William Heinemann, UK, hardcover, 1956. London House & Maxwell, US, hardcover, 1958. Ballantine U2125, paperback, 1964.

   Charity (a.k.a. Lee) Blackstock’s first mystery remains one of the best library mysteries ever published. For London’s Inter-Libraries Despatch Association, the biggest scandal had always been the frequent and imaginative typos (e.g., “Law of Tarts”) by the typing pool on request forms. That is, until the evil-minded office busybody, Mrs. Warren, is found with her neck broken, spilling out of a book sack.

   Despite the investigation led by a Scotland Yard detective, and a second murder, Dewey Death cannot be classified as a classic detective story. It isn’t even a puzzling mystery. Readers, along with various characters, become increasingly aware of the murderer’s identity. This does not, however, lessen the suspense or interest of Blackstock’s novel, which is a masterful mixture of romantic fantasy and harsh realism.

   With a good deal of humor, the author weaves her suspense plot well through the interplay of day-to-day office life. The heroine (like Blackstock under another pseudonym) is an author of historical romances. When she becomes smitten with a dashing co-worker, she soon learns just how dangerous and disruptive a swashbuckling antihero can be in real life.

   Like traditional whodunit writers, Blackstock studies the effects of murder on a small, insular community. But her library locale and her unusual characters are portrayed with a depth unequaled by most of her contemporaries.

   Charity Blackstock created several other excellent suspense novels — The Woman in the Woods (1958) and The Foggy, Foggy Dew (1959) are good examples — before turning to romance fiction more than a decade ago.

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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


NICHOLAS BLAKE – The Beast Must Die. Harper, hardcover, 1938. US paperback editions include: Crestwood / Black Cat Detective Series #7, digest-sized, 1943; Dell D227, Great Mystery Library #15, 1958; Berkley F971, 1964; Perennial Library, 1978. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1938.

   British Poet Laureate (1968-72) and novelist Cecil Day Lewis, writing as Nicholas Blake, published a score of popular detective and suspense novels from 1935 to 1968, all but four of which feature an urbane amateur sleuth named Nigel Strangeways. For the most part, the Blake novels are fair-play deductive mysteries in the classic mold and are chock-full of literary references and involved digressions, which makes for rather slow pacing. But they are also full of well-drawn characters and unusual incidents, and offer a wide variety of settings and information on such diverse topics as sailing, academia, the British publishing industry, and the cold war.

   The Beast Must Die is considered by some to be Blake’s finest work and a crime-fiction classic. When the young son of mystery novelist Felix Cairnes (a.k.a. Felix Lane) is killed by a hit-and-run driver, Lane, who doted on the boy, vows to track down and kill the man responsible. A trail of clues leads him to a film star named Lena Lawson, who was a passenger in the death car, and finally to its driver, George Rafferty, the obnoxious part owner of a Gloucestershire garage.

   Lane insinuates himself into Rafferty’s household as Lena’s new lover, and makes preparations to exact his revenge via a sailing “accident.” But things don’t quite go as he (or the reader) anticipates. And when murder finally does strike, it does so in a wholly unexpected fashion.

   The plot is tricky and ingeniously constructed: the first third is told first-person in the form of Felix Lane’s diary; there is a brief middle section, called “Set Piece on a River,” which is done third-person from Lane’s point of view; and the last half is a straightforward, third-person narrative that introduces Nigel Strangeways (and his wife, Georgia, and Inspector Blount of Scotland Yard) and follows Strangeways as he unravels a tangled web of hatreds and unpleasantries. Blake builds the suspense nicely in the first half, makes good use of a subplot involving Lane’s affection for Rafferty’s own son, Phil, and even spices his narrative with a little sex — an unusual ingredient for mystery novels during the Golden Age.

   But The Beast Must Die also has its share of flaws. The manner in which Lane tracks down Rafferty — and the ease with which he is able to meet and seduce a popular actress seem both convenient and contrived; once Strangeways (who is something of a colorless and priggish sort, at least in this novel) arrives on the scene, the narrative becomes talky and slow, diluting suspense; a physical attack on Strangeways is poorly motivated; and the final revelations, intended as a stunning surprise, are neither stunning nor particularly surprising.

   This is a good novel, certainly, one worth reading — but it’s not a mystery classic.

   A film version of The Beast Must Die was produced in France in 1969 under the title This Man Must Die. Directed by Claude Chabrol, it is faithful to the novel except in one major (and curious) point: It excludes Nigel Strangeways completely and tells the tale as a straightforward thriller.

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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 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.

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