1001 Midnights


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Kathleen L. Maio


RICK BOYER – Billingsgate Shoal. Doc Adams #1. Houghton Miff|in, hardcover, 1982. Warner Books, paperback, 1985; Fawcett, paperback, 1989.

   Rick Boyer won an Edgar for this, his first mystery novel — deserved recognition for a complex suspense novel set in coastal and suburban Massachusetts.

   Charles (“Doc”) Adams is a medical doctor turned oral surgeon. He is middle-aged, affluent, happily married, and intensely dissatisfied with his life. His depression and insomnia are symptoms of his mid-life crisis. The cure is worse than the disease, however, as Doc is thrown headlong into a very violent adventure. It starts with an early-morning sighting of a stranded fishing vessel on the title shoal, continues with the death of a young scuba diver who tries to check out the boat for Adams, and eventually escalates to a kill-or-die confrontation between Doc and the villains.

   Billingsgate Shoal has a little bit of everything for everybody. There is hidden treasure, political intrigue, and a murder mystery. There is even a good deal of gore for those who like their thrillers tough and bloody. But it is the believable and very personable voice of Boyer’s amateur sleuth that makes even the more outrageous elements of his plot come together in a way that seems realistic and truly suspenseful.

   Boyer’s second novel, The Penny Ferry (1984), a case focusing on present-day evidence of the guilt/innocence of Sacco and Vanzetti, is proof that Boyer’s talents are substantial and that Doc Adams has staying power as series sleuth.

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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 Doc Adams series —

Billingsgate Shoal (1982)
The Penny Ferry (1984)

The Daisy Ducks (1986)
Moscow Metal (1987)
The Whale’s Footprints (1988)

Gone to Earth (1990)
Yellow Bird (1991)
Pirate Trade (1994)
The Man Who Whispered (1998)

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


ANTHONY BOUCHER – Exeunt Murderers: The Best Mystery Stories of Anthony Boucher. Southern Illinois University Press, hardcover, 1983.

   Boucher published some sixty short stories during his thirty-year writing career, about equally divided between mystery/detective and science fiction/fantasy. The twenty-two stories in Exeunt Murderers clearly show that he had a fine hand with the form — a finer hand, perhaps, than he had with novels.

   Included here are all nine of the Nick Noble stories, Boucher’s best series and most inspired work. Noble is an ex-cop who was thrown off the force in disgrace for taking graft, something he resorted to in desperation to pay for an operation his wife needed — an operation that failed and left him a widower. The combination of tragedies turned him into a wino who spends most of his time at a cheap bar called the Chula Negra, drinking rotgut sherry and fending off an invisible fly that keeps pestering him.

   But even though he is “the lowest and soddenest kind of drunk that even the Skid Row of Los Angeles can exhibit,” he can still deduce with the best, as he proves whenever his friend, Lieutenant MacDonald, brings him cases no one in the department can solve. Dying messages and codes are Noble’s specialties. And among his best deductions are those that clear up the murder of a priest in “Screwball Division,” the murder of a librarian in “QL 696. C9,” and a football mystery in “The Punt and the Pass.”

   Also included are a pair of cases featuring Sister Ursula, the cloistered nun whom Boucher created for a pair of early novels published under the pseudonym of H. H. Holmes. ” The Stripper” is the grisly tale of a Jack the Ripper-style murderer on the loose in southern California. “Coffin Corner,” like the Nick Noble case mentioned above, has a college-football background.

   Boucher’s best nonseries stories are here as well: the wonderfully macabre “The Retired Hangman,” a much tougher story than was usual with him; “Mystery for Christmas,” a story-within-a-story that features Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse; “The Smoke-Filled Locked Room,” which combines deduction with some of Boucher’s political views; and “The Ultimate Clue,” a short-short (again about football) with the ultimate detective-story ending.

   An insightful introduction by Francis M Nevins, Jr. (who co-edited the volume with Martin H. Greenberg), rounds out what is surely one of the best and longest overdue collections to be published in the past several years.

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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 Ellen Nehr


FRANCIS BONNAMY – The King Is Dead on Queen Street. Duell, Sloan & Pearce, hardcover, 1945. Penguin #629, paperback, 1947.

   The combination of the Great Intellect and his Loyal Chronicler has been a mainstay of detective fiction since Watson first began keeping records. Academics with plenty of time on their hands to devote to travel and detection have also always been popular. Mix these elements with a colorful wartime setting in Alexandria, Virginia, and eclectic characters who are both native to the area and transient, and you have a perfect recipe for murder.

   Peter Shane, former professor and head of the Department of Criminology at the University of Chicago, and his assistant, Bonnamy, are now living in a third-floor apartment in Alexandria while on military assignment. Both are present at a neighborhood party when much-disliked Joe Long, a well-known photographer known as “The King,” is found dead — presumably from a fall down the steps of his home.

   When it is discovered that someone had tied a string across Long’s steps, Shane and Bonnamy must attempt to clear their friends and landlady from suspicion, and their investigation focuses on the interrelationships between the party guests, each of whom had an intense reason for wishing to see Long dead. Even the family dogs and the layout of the house do not escape the pair’s scrutiny as they study the past histories of this set of oddly associated people.

   Francis Bonnamy is a pseudonym for Audrey Boyers Waltz; she wrote seven Shane/Bonnamy novels, taking full advantage of local color and geography of Chicago, Maine, Arizona, and other interesting locales. All loose ends are convincingly tied up at the ends of these humorous books, and the treatment of Shane’s detective skills is particularly good.

   Other noteworthy titles are Death on a Dude Ranch (1937), which has a Wyoming setting, Dead Reckoning (1943), which deals with murder in Washington, D.C., and buried pirate treasure on Cape Fear; and Portrait of the Artist as a Dead Man (1947), which, like The King Is Dead on Queen Street, is set in Alexandria and involves interplay among a group of diverse people in the art world.

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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:   Other books in this series are: Death by Appointment (1931), A Rope of Sand (1944), Blood and Thirsty (1949) and The Man in the Mist (1951).

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Kathleen L. Maio


JOHN & EMERY BONETT – Dead Lion. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1949. Pocket #738, paperback, 1950. Perennial Library, paperback, 1982.

   John and Felicity Carter Coulson (who write under the names John and Emery Bonett) have collaborated in a fruitful mystery career as well as a marriage. Their official joint debut came with the publication of Dead Lion, a fine example of the post-World War II British mystery.

   Simon Crane comes to Britain to meet his famous uncle — critic, author, and BBC intellectual Cyprian Druse — for the first time. Instead, he finds Druse’s body, his head stuck out a window and his neck bloody and broken. It soon becomes clear that many people wished to break Druse’s neck: the many authors he destroyed with his vitriolic criticism, and the many women he seduced, humiliated, and abandoned.

   When Simon finds himself in love with one of his uncle’s embittered conquests, he no longer wishes to play sleuth. Unfortunately, Professor Mandrake does. Mandrake, an anthropologist by trade, had been a BBC colleague of Druse’s. More important, he is a natural-born busybody and student of humanity just waiting for a chance to try his hand at detecting. While Simon tries to shield the woman he loves, Mandrake continues to happily meddle, eventually triggering the novel’s tragic conclusion.

   Dead Lion is an exquisitely crafted classical mystery. But besides providing a satisfying puzzle, like its many Golden Age predecessors, this novel also features three-dimensional, modern characters with psychological quirks and motivations. With small touches, the authors also manage to convey what life was like in England after the war. Theirs is a classic puzzle with new depth and Professor Mandrake as a lovable series sleuth.

   The fat, homely professor appears in two other books — A Banner for Pegasus (1951) and No Grave for a Lady (1959). Later Bonett novels with a Spanish sleuth and Costa Brava locale are well constructed but lack the charm of the Mandrake mysteries.

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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


NICHOLAS BLAKE – End of Chapter. Harper & Brothers, 1957. Perennial Library, paperback, 1977, 1988. First published in the UK by Collins Crime Club, hardcover, 1957.

   The London publishing firm of Wenham & Geraldine has always been a conservative one, but now they are about to become embroiled in a scandal — a libel suit that could cost them both money and reputation. No one can prevent the suit from being filed, but something must be done to ensure that the unfortunate circumstances that prompted it will never happen again.

   Nigel Strangeways is summoned by the firm’s partners, who explain the problem of the memoirs of General Richard Thoresby: When the general’s manuscript was received, it contained passages that libeled Thoresby’s rival, Major General Sir Charles Blair-Chatterley. After some argument, the author agreed to delete them, and did so. However, before the manuscript was delivered to the printer,someone reinstated the passages. The book has been withdrawn, but the damage has already been done. Strangeways agrees to investigate, under the guise that he has been hired by the firm to do some specialized reading.

   The cast of characters Strangeways encounters includes Stephen Protheroe, the author of one great poem, who has withdrawn into the obscurity of his editorial office for twenty-five years; Millicent Miles, writer of torrid romances, who is currently using the office next to Stephen’s to write her steamy memoirs; Herbert Bates, the production manager, who has been forced into early retirement after many years with the firm; General Thoresby himself, and Cyprian Gleed,the ne’er-do-well son of Miss Miles.

   Any of these people — plus a number of less important employees — had the opportunity and motive to alter the proofs. But by the time Strangeways has delved deeper into the situation, murder has been done, and the motive turns out to be more complex than any he has imagined.

   This is a well-plotted novel and a good depiction of the publishing world, but it moves very slowly, and Nigel Strangeways fails to come alive in contrast to the other characters — some of whom are extremely memorable. Blake has an irritating habit of making cryptic forecasts such as “He could not know that one of the questions he had asked this morning would lead directly to a murder.” Without these, perhaps the suspense would be greater; as it is, End of Chapter contains few surprises.

   Strangeways’s other investigations include The Smiler with the Knife (1939); The Corpse in the Snowman (1941); Minute for Murder (1947), which Barzun and Taylor term Blake’s “masterpiece”; and The Worm of Death (1961). The best of Blake’s non-series crime novels is probably A Penknife in My Heart (1959).

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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


LAWRENCE BLOCK – Eight Million Ways to Die. Arbor House, hardcover, 1982. Paperback reprints include: Jove, 1983; Avon, 1991. Film:, 1985, with Jeff Bridges as Matt Scudder (also partly based on A Stab in the Dark).

   Ex-New York policeman Matthew Scudder is not a formally licensed private investigator; he says you could call what he does “hustling for a buck…. I do favors for friends.” As this novel opens, he is about to take on a favor for a friend of a friend, Kim Dakkinen, a call girl who wants to get out of the business. Kim is afraid to tell her pimp she is leaving, and Scudder’s job is to act as go-between.

   The job goes altogether too easily. The pimp is an unusual man named Chance, with a secret hideaway in Brooklyn (to which he has admitted no one, although he later takes Scudder there) and an easygoing manner that convinces Scudder he will let Kim go. When she is brutally murdered, Scudder, an alcoholic who has been attending AA for less than two weeks, begins to drink, suffers a blackout, and wakes up in the hospital.

   After his release, he is contacted by Chance, who insists he did not kill Kim — or have her killed — and asks that Scudder find out who did. Scudder’s quest takes him into the apartments of call girls and through the bars of Manhattan and Harlem. He periodically stops in at AA meetings- just listening, refusing to speak when his turn comes.

   Teetering on the edge of drunkenness, he crosses and recrosses the city in which there are 8 million ways to die — many of them cataloged from Scudder’s obsessive reading of the newspapers — in search of a killer with a motive that is almost impossible to discern.

   This novel was nominated for a Mystery Writers of America Edgar and won the Private Eye Writer sof America Shamus Award for Best Hardcover Private Eye Novel of 1982. It is grim and powerful and, along with the other Scudder novels — In the Midst of Death (1976), Sins of the Fathers (1977), Time to Murder and Create (1977), and A Stab in the Dark (1981) — contains some of Block’s finest writing to date.

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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


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.

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