1001 Midnights


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

   

RAYMOND CHANDLER – The Simple Art of Murder. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1950. Pocket #916, paperback, 1953. Reprinted many times since, in both hardcover and paperback.

   Eleven of the twelve stories in is collection are those that Chandler considered the best of his output for the pulps; the other story, “I’ll Be Waiting” was first published in the Saturday Evening Post (although Chandler admittedly felt uncomfortable and restricted writing for the slick-magazine medium). Also included here is Chandler’s famous and controversial essay on detective fiction, first published in the Atlantic Monthly, in which he lauds Hammett and the realistic school of crime writing, and takes a number of shots (some fair, some cheap) at such Golden Age luminaries as Christie, Sayers, and A. A. Milne.

   The stories here, as the dust jacket blurb says with typical publishers’ overstatement bur accurately nonetheless “hit you as hard as if [Chandler] were driving the last spike on the first continental railroad.” “Red Wind,” for instance, begins with one of the finest opening paragraphs in the history of the genre:

   There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of the hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edges of carving knives and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

   In the original appearance of that story, the private-eye narrator was Johnny Dalmas; here he becomes Philip Marlowe. Similarly, the unnamed narrator in “Finger Man,“ Carmady in “Goldfish,” and Dalmas again in “Trouble 1s My Business” are also changed to Marlowe. Johnny Dalmas does get to keep his own name in “Smart-Aleck Kill,” no doubt because that novelette is told third-person.

   And the same is true of Carmady in “Guns at Cyrano’s.” The only other first person story in the collection, the lighter-toned and somewhat wacky “Pearls Are a Nuisance,” features a much more refined dick named Walter Gage whose antics in search of a string of forty-nine matched pink pearls provide chuckles as well as thrills. Also included arc the tough Black Mask novelettes “Nevada Gas” and “Spanish Blood,” “The King in Yellow” from Dime Detective and “‘Pick-Up on Noon Street” from Detective Fiction Weekly.

   All of these stories appear in several other collections, such the paperback originals Five Murderers (1944) and Finger Man and Other Stories (1946) and the Tower Books hardcover originals Red Wind (1946) and Spanish Blood (1946). Next to The Simple Art of Murder, the most interesting and important Chandler collection is Killer in the Rain (1964), which gathers the eight “cannibalized” stories that were used as the bases for The Big Sleep, Farewell. My Lovely, and The Lady in the Lake.

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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

   

RAYMOND CHANDLER – The Long Goodbye. Philip Marlowe #6. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1954. Pocket #1044, paperback, 1955. Reprinted many time, both in paperback and hardcover. TV adaptation: “The Long Goodbye” on Climax, 07 Oct 1954. with Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe. Film: United Artists, 1973, with Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe.

   The title of this novel is apt. It is a long book and a complex one, and its detractors say they wish Chandler had said goodbye two-thirds of the way through. What these critics fail to understand is that the novel is one of the most realistic looks into the day-to-day life of a private investigator, and the central plot element, that of Philip Marlowe’s friendship for the mostly undeserving Terry Lennox, is a compelling unifying element. In it we also see a different side of Marlowe than in Chandler’s other novels: the man who is as honorable in his personal relationships as he is in his professional ones.

   The story begins when Marlowe first sees Terry Lennox, dissolute man-about-town: he is “drunk in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith outside the terrace of the Dancers,” a ritzy L.A. nightspot, with a redheaded girl beside him whose blue mink “almost made the Rolls Royce look like just another automobile.” The girl leaves Terry, Good Samaritan Marlowe takes over, and a friendship begins.

   It is a friendship that Marlowe himself questions, but it persists nonetheless. Marlowe tells Lennox he has a feeling Terry will end up in worse trouble than Marlowe will be able to extricate him from. and in due course this proves true. The redhead, Terry’s ex-wife, whom he admittedly married for her money, is murdered in the guesthouse at their Encino spread and the trouble that Marlowe sensed begins.

   Lennox runs to Mexico, and it is reported that he made a written confession and shot himself in his hotel room. But something feels wrong: The Lennox case is being hushed up, and Marlowe begins to wonder if his friend really did kill his ex-wife. A letter that arrives with a “portrait of Madison” – a $5000 bill that Terry had once promised Marlowe – convinces him his suspicions are justified.

   He tells himself it is over and done with, but he isn’t able to forget. The matter plagues him while he is working a case involving an alcoholic writer of best sellers in wealthy Idle Valley (where, he says, “I belonged … like a pearl onion on a banana split”). It begins to plague him even more when Sylvia Lennox’s sister, Linda Loring, appears and plants additional suspicions in his mind. The suspicions spur him onward, and finally his current case and the Lennox case come together in a shattering climax.

   At the end Chandler neatly ties off all the strands of this complicated story, and provides more than a few surprises. An excellent novel with a moving 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 Bill Pronzini

   

RAYMOND CHANDLER – The Lady in the Lake. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1943. Pocket #389, paperback; 1st printing, September 1946.  Film: MGM, 1946, as Lady in the Lake (with Robert Montgomery as Philip Marlowe).

   Even though The Lady in the Lake is not Chandler’s best novel. it is this reviewer’s favorite. It too was “cannibalized” from three pulp novelettes: “Bay City Blues·” (Dime Detective, November 1937), “The Lady in the Lake” (Dime Detective, January 1939), “No Crime in the Mountains” (Detective Story, September 1941), but it is not as seamless as The Big Sleep or Farewell, My Lovely, nor as wholly credible. Nevertheless. there is an intangible quality about it, a kind of terrible and perfect inevitability that combines with such tangibles as Chandler’s usual fascinating assortment of characters and some unforgettable moments to make it extra satisfying.

   The novel opens with Marlowe hired by Derace Kjngsley, a foppish perfume company executive, to find his missing wife. Crystal (who he admits he hates and who may or may not have run off with one of his “friends,” Chris Lavery). Marlowe follows a tortuous and deadly trail that leads him from L.A. to the beach community of Bay City, to Little Fawn Lake high in the San Bernardino Mountains, to the towns of Puma Point and San Bernardino, and back to to L.A. and Bay City. And it involves him with a doctor named Almore, a tough cop named Degarmo, a half-crippled mountain caretaker, Bill Chess, whose wife is also missing, Kingsley’s secretary, Miss Adrienne Fromsett and the lady in the lake, among other victims.

   As the dust jacket or the original edition puts it, it is “a most extraordinary case, because … Marlowe understands that what is important is not a clue – not the neatly stacked dishes, not the strange telegram … but rather the character of [Crystal Kingsley]. When he began to find out what she was like, he took his initial steps into a world of evil, and only then did the idea of what she might have done and what might have been done to her take shape. So it was that not one crime but several were revealed, and a whole series of doors that hid cruel things were suddenly opened.

   “Again Chandler proves that he is one of the most brilliant craftsmen in the field, and that his Marlowe is one of the great detectives in fiction.”

   Amen.

   The Lady in the Lake was filmed in 1946. with Robert Montgomery (who also directed) as Marlowe. For its time, it was a radical experiment in film-making, in that it is entirely photographed as if through the eyes of Marlowe — a sort of cinematic version of the first-person narrator, with Montgomery himself never seen except in an occasional mirror reflection. The technique doesn’t quite work – it, not the story, becomes the focus of attention – but the film is an oddity worth seeing.

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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


RAYMOND CHANDLER – Farewell My Lovely. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1940. Pocket Book #212, paperback, 1943. Reprinted many times.

   Many critics consider The Long Goodbye to be Chandler’s finest novel. This one disagrees. That distinction should probably go to Farewell, My Lovely – a more tightly plotted, less self-indulgent and overblown book, with characters, scenes, and prose of such artistry that it ranks as not only a cornerstone private-eye novel but a cornerstone work in the genre. Its near-flawless construction is all the more awesome when you consider that like The Big Sleep, it is a product of “canniballzation”: It makes extensive use of “The Man Who Liked Dogs” (Black Mask, March 1936); “Try the Girl” (Black Mask, January 1937); and “Mandarin’s Jade” (Dime Detective, November 1937).

   Marlowe’s client in this case is Moose Malloy, a giant ex-con with a one-track mind: All that matters to him is finding his former girlfriend, Velma, a redhead “cute as lace pants,” who disappeared after he was sent to prison. Marlowe is a reluctant detective, his first encounter with Malloy having ended in the wreckage of a bar, Florian’s, where Velma once worked and a black bouncer suffering a broken neck; but Malloy won’t take no for an answer.

   As Marlowe’s search for Velma develops, “the atmosphere becomes increasingly malevolent and charged with evil.” Among the characters he meets are a foppish blackmailer named Lindsay Marriott; a gin-drinking old lady with secrets and a fine new radio; a beautiful blonde with no morals and a rich husband who doesn’t give a damn; a Hollywood Indian named Second Planting who has “the shoulders of a blacksmith and the … legs of a chimpanzee”; a phony psychic, Jules Amthor: Dr. Sonderborg, who runs a private psychiatric clinic staffed with thugs; Laird Brunelle, the tough operator of a gambling ship called the Royal Crown; and L.A. and Bay City cops, some of whom are as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.

   The climax, in which Marlowe and Moose Malloy both come face-to-face with the elusive Velma, is a stunner. Like a number of other scenes — especially Marlowe’s drugged imprisonment in Sonderberg’s clinic, in a room “full of smoke [that] hung straight up in the air, in thin lines, straight up and down like a curtain of small clear beads”-it remains sharp in one’s memory long after reading.

    Farewell. My Lovely was filmed twice, once in 1944 as Murder, My Sweet, With Dick Powell as Marlowe, and once in 1975 under its original title, with Robert Mitchum in the starring role. The Powell version is the better of the two, even though Mitchum, aging and slightly seedy, better captures the essence of Marlowe. (Powell isn’t bad, though-a surprisingly gritty performance for an actor who began his career as a crooner in Busby Berkley musicals.) Mike Mazurki’s portrayal of Moose Malloy in Murder My Sweet is more memorable (and credible) than Jack O’Halloran’ s in Farewell. And the noir style of the earlier film better captures the flavor of Chandler’s work than the arty, full-color remake.

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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


RAYMOND CHANDLER – The Big Sleep. Philip Marlowe #1. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1939. Avon Murder Mystery Monthly #7, digest paperback, 1942; New Avon Library [#38], paperback, 1943. Movie photoplay edition: World, hardcover, 1946. Reprinted many times since. Film: Warner Bros., 1946 (screenwriters William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman; director Howard Hawks; Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe). Also: United Artists, 1978 (screenwriter-director: Michael Winner; Robert Mitchum as Marlowe).

   It is difficult to imagine what the modern private eye story would be like if a forty-five-old ex-oil company executive named Raymond Chandler had not begun writing fiction for Black Mask in 1933. In his short stories and definitely in his novels, Chandler took the hardboiled prototype established by Dashiell Hammett, reshaped it to fit his own particular vision and the exigencies of life in southern California, smoothed off its rough edges, and made of it something more than a tale of realism and violence; he broadened it into a vehicle for social commentary, refined it with prose at once cynical and poetic, and elevated the character of the private eye to a mythical status — “down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

   Chandler’s lean, tough, wisecracking style set the tone for all subsequent private-eye fiction, good and bad. He is certainly the most imitated writer in the genre, and next to Hemingway, perhaps the most imitated writer in the English language. (Howard Browne, the creator of PI Paul Pine, once made Chandler laugh at a New York publishing party by introducing himself and saying, “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Chandler. I’ve been making a living off your work for years.”

   Even Ross Macdonald, for all his literary intentions, was at the core a Chandler imitator: Lew Archer would not be Lew Archer, indeed might not have been born at all, if Chandler had not created Philip Marlowe.

   The Big Sleep , Chandler’s first novel, is a blending and expansion of two of his Black Mask novelettes, “Killer in the Rain” (January 1935) and “The Curtain” (September 1936) — a process Chandler used twice more, in creating Farewell, My Lovely and The Lady in the Lake, and which he candidly referred to as “cannibalizing.”

   It is Philip Marlowe’s first bow. Marlowe does not appear in any of Chandler’s pulp stories, at least not by name: the first person narrators of “Killer in the Rain” (unnamed) and “The Curtain” (Carmody) are embryonic Marlowes, with many of his attributes. The Big Sleep is also Chandler’s best-known title, by virtue of the well-made 1944 film version directed by Howard Hawks and starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Elisha Cook, Jr.

   On one level, this is a complex murder mystery with its fair share of clues and corpses. On another level, it is a serious novel concerned (as is much of Chandler’s work) with the corrupting influences of money and power. Marlowe is hired by General Sternwood, an old paralyzed ex-soldier who made a fortune in oil, to find out why a rare-book dealer named Arthur Gwynn Giger is holding his IOU signed by Sternwood’s youngest daughter, the wild and immoral Carmen, and where a blackmailing abler named Joe Brody fits into the picture.

   Marlowe’s investigation embroils him with Sternwood’s other daughter, Vivian, and her strangely missing husband, Rusty, a former bootlegger; a thriving pornography racket; a gaggle of gangsters, not the least of which is a nasty piece of work named Eddie Mars; hidden vices and family scandals; and several murders. The novel’s climax is more ambiguous and satisfying than the film’s rather pat one.

    The Big Sleep is not Chandler’s best work; its plot is convoluted and tends to be confusing, and there are loose ends that are never explained or tied off. Nevertheless, it is still a powerful and riveting novel, packed with fascinating characters and evocatively told. Just one small sample of Chandler’s marvelous prose:

   The air was thick, wet, steamy and larded with the cloying smell of tropical orchids in bloom. The glass walls and roof were heavily misted and big drops of moisture splashed down on the plants. The light had a unreal greenish color, like light filtered through an aquarium. The plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men. They smelled as overpowering as boiling alcohol under a blanket.

   That passage is quintessential Chandler; if it doesn’t stir your blood and make you crave more, as it always does for this reviewer, he probably isn’t your cup of bourbon.

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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 Crider


M. E. CHABER – The Splintered Man. Rinehart & Co., hardcover, 1955. Perma Book M-3080, paperback, 1957. Paperback Library 63-308, paperback, 1970.

   Kendall Foster Crossen published more than twenty novels as M. E. Chaber. All but one of these featured Milo March as the first-person narrator and protagonist. At times March functioned in his usual capacity as an insurance investigator, but he often had occasion to work for the State Department or the CIA.

   There is a certain similarity in many of March’s adventures, but Crossen is a writer who perfected his craft, and the Chaber books are fast, smooth, funny in spots, and always entertaining. The Splintered Man stands out among them because long before the Beatles were singing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” Crossen introduced lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) as a major [;pt device in an espionage story.

   Milo March is called back into the army and sent into East Berlin to find Herman Gruss, the head of the counterespionage police in West Berlin, who is believed to have defected to the East. Getting into East Berlin is not too hard for March in those days before the wall. Getting out is something else again, especially when March is caught and given a hefty dose of LSD by a doctor who is experimenting with the drug at a large Russian hospital.

   The description of the drug’s effects on March, while perhaps not clinically accurate by today’s standards, is nevertheless convincingly carried off. It is not revealing too much to say that March;s inevitable escape from the hospital is accomplished by a little fudging of scientific facts, but the result us still satisfactory.

   The cover of the first paperback edition of The Splintered Man (Perma Books, 1957), is a collector’s dream. March, in his undershorts, cowers in the background while held by two men in uniform. In the foreground are two large red hands, one holding a test tube, the other holding a sizable red hypodermic needle. (In the story, March’s dose of LSD is administered in a glass of water.)

   Milo March’s other adventures include The Gallows Garden (1958), Softly in the Night (1963), The Flaming Man (1969), and Born to Be Hanged (1973). Crossen also published numerous mystery novels under his own name and such pseudonyms at Christopher Monig, Clay Richards, and Richard Foster.

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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


BRIAN GARFIELD – Death Wish. McKay, hardcover, 1972. Fawcett Crest, paperback, August 1974. Mysterious Press, paperback, 1985. Other reprint editions exist. Film: Paramount Pictures, 1974.

   Brian Garfield is a highly versatile writer at any number of story types and forms. He began his career in the western field,where he published dozens of novels, including at least five of outstanding quality. In 1970 he shifted his sights to the contemporary novels with criminous themes that have earned him wide acclaim in this country ans best0seller status in England.

   These, published under his own name and the pseudonym John Ives, cover most of the criminous spectrum: action/adventure, political intrigue, comic farce, historical suspense, espionage, and urban crime. More recently, he has published a nonfiction book on western films, written screenplays, and formed his own Hollywood production company.

   Death Wish is probably Garfield’s most famous (some might say infamous) novel, not so much by its own virtue but as a result of the 1974 film version with Charles Bronson. It is certainly the work that catapulted him into national prominence, at least in part of his violent reaction to the film.

   The plot is simple and gut-wrenching. Paul Benjamin, a happily married cliff dweller on New York’s Upper West Side, receives a call from his son-in-law one hot, ordinary summer afternoon. Three young hoodlums have broken into his apartment (the building was supposedly secure) and brutally beaten his wife and daughter — attacks of such violence that neither woman survives.

   The police are helpless: they have no clear description of the youths, no way to track them down. Paul’s grief, frustration, and rage finally lead him to take action himself — to buy a gun and go hunting the three kids in their world: the deserted alleys and streets and byways of the city after dark. But his mission of vengeance soon assumes a much larger scope: It becomes a vendetta against all the criminals who prey on helpless victims, a one-man vigilante committee bent on destroying as many of the enemy as possible before he himself is caught.

   As the jacket blurb says, this “is the story of a society having a nervous breakdown. It is about something that causes a a secret uneasiness far back in the conscious minds of many people. What would happen to a man who is unable to keep to the narrow line that stands between being a victim or executioner?”

   Garfield does not glorify or advocate vigilantism: his is the story of Paul Benjamin’s descent into hell. The film version, however, does glorify Paul’s actions. Its makers misinterpreted the novel’s ambiguous ending and produced a paean to violence, an ultra-right-wing fantasy that ends with Bronson winking at the camera and silently promising more carnage to come.

   Garfield was so appalled at the film’s distortion of his novel that he ought — unsuccessfully, foe thr most part — to keep t from being shown on national television.

   In a sequel, Death Sentence (1975), Garfield completes Paul’s story, reaffirms the original intent of Death Wish, and makes a strong anti-violence statement. This novel, however, did not have the commercial success of Death Wish ad unfortunately seems to be one of Garfield’s least-known works. This reviewer, at least, accords it considerable respect.

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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


SARAH CAUDWELL – Thus Was Adonis Murdered. Hilary Tamar #1. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1981. Penguin, paperback, 1982. First published in the UK: Collins, hardcover, 1981.

   In her first mystery novel, Sarah Caudwell provides proof that a Victorian epistolary novel, a mystery in the manner of the Golden Age, and a late-twentieth-century sex farce can all be harmoniously combined in one exceptional novel. But then, no less was expected from the child of British author Claud Cockburn and actress Jean Ross (who was Christopher Isherwood’s model for Sally Bowles).

   Caudwell is a barrister, so it is not surprising that the legal profession features prominently in her story. The central character is Julia Larwood, a gifted barrister who is hopeless with the simple details of daily life. She goes on an art lover’s tour of Venice to forget the dunning of the Inland Revenue (her archenemy) and to seduce a beautiful young man or two. Her sexual success (with a taxman, of course!) is quickly followed by disaster: Soon after Julia rises from the bed of her young swain, he is found stabbed to death. Julia, not surprisingly, is arrested.

   It is up to her colleagues back at Lincoln’s Inn, notably law professor Hillary Tamar, to find the real killer. Narrative and clues are provided by Tamar and supplemented by various letters, especially those of Julia to her barrister friend Selena. The tone is quasi-Victorian, very British, and highly amusing. The plot is improbable but skillfully handled. The characters are a delight. All in all, Thus Was Adonis Murdered marks a highly impressive debut.

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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 Hilary Tamar series —

1. Thus Was Adonis Murdered (1981)
2. The Shortest Way To Hades (1984)

        

3. The Sirens Sang Of Murder (1989)
4. The Sibyl In Her Grave (2000)

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert E. Briney


JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Third Bullet and Other Stories. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1954. Bantam #1447, paperback, 1956.

   The virtues of Carr’s detective novels are present in his short fiction as well. He gets about his work with more directness, and there are fewer atmospheric side trips, but the ingenuity of plot, the sprightly dialogue, and the smooth misdirection are all in evidence. The seven stories in this collection are the cream of his detective short stories.

   The title story is actually a long novelette, originally published in England in 1937 and later reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, where all the other stories in the book first appeared. (The book is dedicated to Frederic Dannay, EQMM‘s founder and editor,” who inspired so many of these stories.” )

   “”The Third Bullet” is a fully developed locked-room story, complete with floor plan, false alibis, and a thoroughly detestable villain. In “The Clue of the Red Wig,” CID inspector Adam Bell and a delightful interfering reporter, Jacqueline Dubois, investigate the murder of health-and-exercise columnist Hazel Loring, found beaten to death, “half-dressed, in a public garden on a bitter December night.”

   Three of the stories are locked-room crimes investigated by Dr. Gideon Fell: “The Wrong Problem,” “The Proverbial Murder,” and “The Locked Room.” “The Gentleman from Paris” is an EQMM prize-winning story set in Paris in 1849, in which the identity of the detective is of as much interest as the solution to the crime. The remaining story, “The House in Goblin Wood,” originally appeared under Carr’s pseudonym, Carter Dickson, and features Dickson’s series detective Sir Henry Merrivale. A girl disappears from a country cottage, all of whose exits are locked or under observation. The story is one of Carr’s most ingenious, and also one of his grimmest, in spite of the classic pratfall with which it opens.

   This collection is a perfect accompaniment to “The Locked Room Lecture” [from The Three Coffins], offering cleverly wrought demonstrations of all of Dr. Fell’s analytical points. It also demonstrates the diversity that can exist within one seemingly restrictive category of detective story. And the stories are, above all, immensely readable.

   Among the more than fifty books published under the Carr by-line, many are worth special attention. The Blind Barber (1934) is a notably smooth blending of grisly murder and all-out farce, as a slasher-type killer is loose on an ocean liner. Dr. Fell is not on board, but acts as an armchair detective in the later chapters. Another of Dr. Fell’s cases, The Crooked Hinge (1938), has what is probably the most audacious of Carr’s plots.

   He Who Whispers (1946) and Below Suspicion (1950) expertly mix eerie atmosphere with baffing murders. The latter book features one of Carr’s most interesting secondary characters, the barrister Patrick Butler. Among the non-series books, The Burning Court (1937) is the most praiseworthy.

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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.


Note:   Earlier reviews of the novels of John Dickson Carr by Bob Briney taken from 1001 Midnights are:

     The Arabian Night Murder.
     Castle Skull.
     The Devil in Velvet.
     The Three Coffins.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert E. Briney


JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Devil in Velvet. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1951. Bantam F2052, paperback, 1960. Carroll & Graf, paperback, 1987.

   Carr’s lifelong fascination with history, specifically that of England, shows up in many ways in his books, from casual excursions to important plot elements. His first completed novel, never published and now lost, was a historical romance “with lots of Gadzookses and swordplay.” In 1934, using the pseudonym Roger Fairbairn, he published Devil Kinsmere, a novel set in the time of Charles II; many years later the book was rewritten and published as Most Secret (1964) under Carr’s own name. Carr’s first novel to merge the detective puzzle with historical construction was The Bride of Newgate (1950), well received by both critic and readers.

   The second of Carr’s historical mysteries, The Devil in Velvet, sold better than any of his other novels. Here the detective and historical elements were joined by a third ingredient: the strain of overt fantasy that had cropped up from time to time in his earlier work.

   Nicholas Fenton, history professor at Cambridge in the year 1925, makes a deal with the devil to be transported back to the year 1675 in order to solve, and possibly prevent, the murder by poisoning of Lydia, Lady Fenton, the wife of an earlier namesake. Transported back into the body of the Carlie Nicholas Fenton, the protagonist finds himself immediatel3 enmeshed in political intrigue: the efforts of Lord Shaftesbury to subvert the monarchy and solidify the power of Parliament.

   Fenton must also juggle the attentions of two lovely women, Lydia and the mysterious and temperamental Meg York. Eventually he comes to realize that he must do something much more difficult than solving a murder: He must outwit the devil himself in order to save his own life and that of the woman he loves.

   Bawdy, turbulent Restoration London is re-created with verve and meticulous attention to historical detail, and the events of the story are viewed with a beguiling combination of twentieth- and seventeenth-century sensibilities.

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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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