1001 Midnights


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

   

FRANCIS CLIFFORD – Amigo, Amigo. Coward Mccann, US, hardcover, 1973. Pocket, US, paperback, 1975. Academy Chicago, US, paperback. First published in the UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1973.

   Few writers of suspense/adventure novels, British or American, can match Francis Clifford for sheer elemental tension, depth of characterization, and prose of rare smoothness and creative imagery. Clifford’s novels are edge-of-the-chair thrillers with global settings – Mexico. Guatemala, England, Ireland, the Eastern Bloc states — and up-to-the-minute plots involving the IRA, espionage activities, the cold war, and random terrorism.

   But more than that, they are psychological studies of considerable power that adhere to a common theme, as stated by Clifford himself in an interview: “Only during strain – a moral, a physical, or a psychological strain – do you get to know your own character … it is only under such circumstances that the right character of a man emerges.”

   The personal trial by fire of Anthony Lorrimer, a cynical, self-involved, “cold fish” British journalist. begins in Mexico City. About to return to England, he is approached by a man with something to sell – a manuscript purportedly written by Peter Riemeck, a former high-ranking Nazi who was once Heydrich’ s deputy. This manuscript, according to the salesman, tells not only what happened to those Nazis who fled to South America after the collapse of the Third Reich, but which of them are still alive, their cover identities, and their present whereabouts.

   Lorrimer isn’t about to buy a pig in a poke; he demands proof – and gets it: one name, SS-Oberführer Lutz Kröhl, a former Auschwitz administrator now calling himself Karl Stemmle and living the purgatorial existence of a curandero – a dentist and healer –in an isolated village on the rim of a Guatemalan volcano.

   Lorrimcr goes to Guatemala to meet Kröhl/Stemmle face to-face: the final proof, After an exhaustive trip by plane, bus, and on- foot he arrives in the. village of Navalosa, where he finds Sternmle gone for the day and the German’s young, bored, and promiscuous native woman, Mercedes, a willing sexual partner. All along Lorrirner has been wondering: What kind of man is Sternmle? Why would he choose to lead the kind of life he does? When he finally meets the ex-Nazi, he realizes there are no easy answers. It isn’t until he and Stemmle and Mercedes find themselves captives of mountain bandits that Lorrimer begins asking those same questions of himself and learns who the real Anthony Lorrimer is.

   Clifford makes the reader feel the heat, the thin air, the frightening desolation of the Guatemalan wilderness; he also makes the reader care about his characters, even the most incidental of them. The Chicago Tribune said that Amigo, Amigo “takes all superlatives,” and that it “will keep you mesmerized.” Indeed it will. If you enjoy literate thrillers that really are thrillers, don’t miss this one.

   And don’t miss any of Clifford’s other suspense novels, especially The Naked Runner (1966), a tale of intrigue behind the Iron Curtain that was made into a rather poor 1967 film with Frank Sinatra; A Wild Justice (1972), a tale of strife in Ireland told against the backdrop of a bleak Irish winter; and Goodbye and Amen (1974), which Ross Macdonald lauded as “an extraordinary thriller about several people of importance who are sequestered with an armed killer in a room of a first-class London hotel. It is intricately and brilliantly constructed, and written with tremendous drive and flair. Not only the ending surprises. There are surprises on nearly every page.”

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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 & Marcia Muller

   

AGATHA CHRISTIE – The ABC Murders. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1936. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1936. Reprinted many many times, in both hardcover and soft, including an edition published by Pocket in paperback entitled The Alphabet Murders in 1966. Film: MGM, 1966, also as The Alphabet Murders, with Tony Randall as Poirot. TV adaptions: (1) An episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, ITV, UK, 5 January 1992., with David Suchet as Poirot (2) A three part mini-series on BBC One, UK, 2018, as The ABC Murders with John Malkovich as Poirot.

   Agatha Christie has long been acknowledged as the grande dame of the Golden Age detective-story writers, Beginning with her moderately successful The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), Christie built a huge following both in her native England and abroad, and eventually became a household name throughout the literate world. When a reader – be he in London or Buenos Aires – picks up a Christie novel, he knows exactly what he is getting and has full confidence that he is sitting down to a tricky, entertaining, and satisfying mystery.

   This enormous reader confidence stems from an effective combination of intricate, ingenious plots and typical, familiar characters and settings. Christie’s plots always follow the rules of detective fiction; she plays completely fair with the reader. But Christie was a master al planting clues in unlikely places, dragging red herrings thither and yon, and, like a magician, misdirecting the reader’s attention at the exact crucial moment. Her murderers – for all the Christie novels deal with nothing less important than this cardinal sin – are the Least Likely Suspect, the Second Least Likely Suspect, the Person with the Perfect Alibi. the Person with No Apparent Motive. And they are unmasked in marvelous gathering-of-all-suspects scenes where each clue is explained, all loose ends are tied up.

   As a counterpoint to these plots, Christie’s style is simple (even undistinguished). She relies heavily upon dialogue, and has a good ear for it when dealing with the “upstairs” people who are generally the main characters in her stories: the “downstairs” people fare less well a1 her hands, and their speech is often stilted or stereotyped.

   Christie, however, seldom ventures into the “downstairs” world. Her milieu is the drawing room, the country manor house, the book-lined study, the cozy parlor with a log blazing on the hearth. Like these settings, her characters arc refined and tame, comfortable as the slippers in front of the fire – until violent passion rears its ugly head. Not that violence is ever messy or repugnant. though; when murder intrudes, it does so in as bloodless a manner as possible, and its investigation is always conducted as coolly and rationally as circumstances permit. One reason that Christie’s works are so immensely satisfying is that we know we will be confronted by nothing really disturbing, frightening, or grim. In short, her books arc the ultimate escape reading with a guaranteed surprise at the end.

   Christie’s best-known sleuths are Hercule Poirot. the Belgian detective who relies on his “little grey cells” to solve the most intricate of crimes; and Miss .lane Marple, the old lady who receives her greatest inspiration while knitting. However, she created a number of other notable characters, among them Tuppence and Tommy Beresford, an amusing pair of detective-agency owners, who appear in such titles as The Secret Adversary ( 1922) and Postern of Fate (1973); Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard, who is featured in The Secret of Chimneys ( 1925), The Seven Dials Murder ( 1929), and others; and the mysterious Harley Quin.

   The member of this distinguished cast who stars in The ABC Murders is Hercule Poirot. Poirot is considered by many to be Christie’s most versatile and appealing detective. The dapper Belgian confesses gleefully to dying his hair, but sees no humor in banter about his prized “pair of moustaches.” And yet he has the ability to see himself as others see him and use their misconceptions to make them reveal themselves and their crimes.

   A series of alphabetically linked letters are sent to Poirot, taunting him with information about where and when murders will be committed unless he is clever enough to stop them. The aging detective comes out of retirement, he admits, “like a prima donna who makes positively the farewell performance … an infinite number of times.” Is the murderer a madman who randomly chooses the victim’s town by the letter of the alphabet, or is he an extremely clever killer with a master plan? And why has he chosen to force Poirot out of retirement?

   These questions plague Poirot’s “little grey cells” as the plot thrusts forward and then winds back on itself time and time again. Well into the novel, Christie teases the horrified reader by introducing a coincidence that looks as if it will solve the cases, then snatches it back, dangles another possibility, snatches that one back, too. And so on, until the innovative and surprising conclusion is reached. Poirot is at his most appealing here, and Christie’s plotting is at its finest.

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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

   

CLYDE B. CLASON – Blind Drifts. Theocritus Lucius Westborough #3 or 4 (two book appearances in 1937). Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1937. Rue Morgue Press, trade paperback, 2012.

   Mild-mannered Professor Theocritus Lucius Westborough, an expert on the Roman emperor Heliogabalus, is an amateur sleuth in the classic mold of the Twenties and Thirties: He solves convoluted puzzles through the time-tested Sherlockian methods of keen observation, a storehouse of esoteric knowledge, and deductive reasoning. Westborough – and his creator specializes in locked-room “miracle problems.” Even the best of these offers no challenge to John Dickson Carr, but for the most pan they are cleverly constructed and well clued. The one in Blind Drifts offers a particularly neat and satisfying variation on the theme.

   Westborough’s home base is Chicago, but here he travels to Colorado to visit a gold mine in which he has inherited 70,000 shares. Not long after his arrival, he finds himself investigating, first, the disappearance or one of the mine’s directors, and then the murder of its owner, Mrs. Coranlue Edmonds, known far and wide as a “bearcat on wheels” – a murder by shooting that takes place in front of seven witnesses, in a “blind drift” deep inside the Virgin Queen mine. by a seemingly nonexistent gun.

   The plot is twisty and complex, the clues numerous and fairly presented, the motive for Mrs. Edrnonds’ murder plausible, and the method likewise. The Colorado setting is well depicted, as are the details of the operation and physical makeup of a large gold mine. It is Clason’s attention to such detail, more than anything else, that lifts his work above the average puzzle story or the period; you can’t read a Westborough novel without learning something, and something interesting at that.

   The one drawback to this and the eight other entries in the series is Clason’s sometimes florid, often prolix style. Blind Drifts is the only book of his that would not benefit greatly from the excision of ten or fifteen thousand words, and at that it could stand to lose five or six thousand here and there.

   The most appealing of Wcstborough ‘s other cases are The Death Angel ( 1936), set on a Wisconsin country estate called Rumpelstiltskin, where a murder happens in spite of 1542-to-l odds against it. and a murderer is twice guilty of killing the same man; The Man from Tibet (1939), which features a locked-room murder and contains some fascinating background material on the strange customs and rites of Tibet; and Green Shiver (1941), which has a Los Angeles setting and another “impossible” plot, the solution to which depends on Westborough’s knowledge of Chinese jade.

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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 John Lutz

   

JOHN GARDNER – License Renewed. Rochard Marek, US, hardcover, 1981. Berkley, US, paperback, 1982. Published first in the UK by Jonathan Cape, hardcover, 1981.

   After the death of Ian Fleming, the holders of the James Bond copyright bestowed upon John Gardner the honor and responsibility of moving the British master spy, along with his galaxy of gadgets and arch-villains, into the 1980s. This established thriller writer has responded admirably.

   Here Bond is assigned to infiltrate the castle of the Laird of Murcaldy, a renowned nuclear scientist who has had meetings with an international terrorist known as Franco. Bond manages to deftly extract an invitation to Gold Cup Day at Ascot. Very English. He is off to the castle in the highlands, where he meets people with names like Mary Jane Mashkins and Lavender Peacock and affects the courses of nations with names like England, France, and America.

   If this novel isn’t a Fleming original, it is still great fun. Everything Bond fans would expect is here: the eccentric, larger-than-life villain with his sexy and thoroughly evil female companion and preternaturally tough henchman; the seductive and seduced beautiful woman of questionable allegiance; the slyly sexual double entendre; the infusion of ultramodern technology; and the name-dropping of expensive quality brands of everything from perfume to handguns.

   So artfully has Gardner penetrated and captured Fleming’s style that one can only wonder if Bond’s old nemesis, SPECTER, might somehow be involved. No doubt Bond’s boss, the enigmatic M, could tell us; but. as usual, he is tight-lipped.

   Another recommended title in the new Bond series by Gardner is Role of Honor (1984).

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Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by George Kelley & Bill Pronzini
   

JOHN GARDNER – The Garden of Weapons. McGraw-Hill, US. hardcover, 1981. Mysterious Press, US, paperback, 1984. Published earlier in the UK by Hodder, hardcover, 1980.

   John Gardner is one of the most versatile British writers in the espionage genre. He gained early recognition for his Boysie Oakes series – The Liquidators (1964), Amber Nine (1966), and five others which he created in the hope they would be an “amusing counterirritant to the excesses” of James Bond; these were written in the black-humor style characteristic of the Sixties. In the Seventies, Gardner scored additional critical and sales triumphs with a much different type of series – one featuring Sherlock Holmes’s archenemy, Professor Moriarity, in The Retum of Moriarity (1974) and The Revenge of Moriarity (1975). And in the Eighties, Gardner returned to the frantic world of Bondian spies — literally — when he began a series of new 007 adventures.

   But Gardner’s best book to date is not one featuring a series character; it is the realistic espionage thriller The Garden of Weapons, which begins when a KGB defector walks into the British Consulate in West Berlin and demands to speak with Big Herbie Kruger, a legendary figure in intelligence circles. Kruger’s interrogation of the defector reveals that the greatest of Kruger’s intelligence coups — a group of six informants known as the Telegraph Boys — has been penetrated by a Soviet spy. Kruger decides to go undercover and eliminate the double agent himself. without the knowledge or consent of British Intelligence.

   Posing as an American tourist, Kruger enters East Berlin to carry out his deadly self-appointed miss1on. But the task is hardly a simple one; and Gardner’s plot is full of Byzantine twists and turns involving the East Germans, the KGB, and British Intelligence. Any reader who enjoys espionage fiction will find The Garden of Weapons a small masterpiece of its type.

   Another non-series Gardner thriller in the same vein is The Werewolf Trace (1977), which has been called “a compulsively readable thriller with delicately handled paranormal undertones and a bitter 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.

   

Bibliographic Update: As it so happens, The Garden of Weapons was not a standalone. There were seven in all, all but one published after this one:

      The Herbie Kruger series —

The Nostradamus Traitor (n.) Hodder 1979.
The Garden of Weapons (n.) Hodder 1980.
The Quiet Dogs (n.) Hodder 1982.
The Secret Houses (n.) Bantam 1988.
The Secret Families (n.) Bantam 1989.
Maestro (n.) Bantam 1993.
Confessor (n.) Bantam 1995.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

   

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Case of the Sleepwalker’s Niece. Morrow, hardcover, 1936. Pocket #277, paperback, 1944. Reprinted many times since. TV Adaptation: Perry Mason, 28 September 1957 (Season 1 Episode 2), with Raymond Burr as Perry Mason.

   Perry Mason is approached by a “peculiar” client – Edna Hammer. who seeks help for her uncle, Peter Kent. Kent has a bad habit of sleepwalking. and when he does, he heads for (he carving knives and curls up in bed with one. Edna is afraid Uncle Peter will kill someone, and she wants Mason to prevent this.

   Kent has other troubles: a wife who instituted divorce proceedings on account of the sleepwalking but now wishes to reconcile; a fiancee whom he wishes to marry but can’t unless the divorce goes through: a complicated business arrangement with a “cracked-brained inventor”; a hypochondriac half brother; and a woman tailing him in a green Packard roadster. Mason spends a night at the Kent home, and by the next morning there is a bloodstained knife under Peter Kent’s pillow, a corpse in the guest room, and a client in very hot water.

   The writing in this early novel is taut and lean — reflective of Gardner’s hard-boiled work for such pulp magazines as Black Mask. The dialogue is terse and packs a good impact. and there are none of the long-winded conversations and introspections that characterize the later Perry Masons. A first-rate example of Gardner’s work in the Thirties and early Forties.

   Some other notable titles in the series are The Case of the Black-Eyed Blond (l944), The Case of the Lazy Lover (1947), The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister (1953), and The Case of1he Daring Decoy (1957). After the late Fifties, the novels seem to lose something, possibly as a result of Gardner’s work on the Perry Mason TV series. Mason is less flamboyant. and the plots are not as intricate or well tied off as in the earlier novels.

   Gardner created other series characters, writing under both his own name and the pseudonym A. A. Fair. The best of these under the Gardner name arc small-1own prosecutor Doug Selhy (The D.A. Calls It Murder, 1937; The D.A. Cooks a Goose, 1942). whose role as a hero is a reverse of Hamilton Burger’s; and Gramps Wiggins (The Case of the Turning Tide, 1941; The Case of he Smoking Chimney, 1943), an iconoclastic old prospector whose experiences reflect Gardner’s childhood travels with his mining-engineer father.

   In addition to his novels, Gardner wrote hundreds of mystery and western stories under various names for such magazines as Argosy, Black Mask, SunsetWest, and Outdoor Stories.

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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 Edward D. Hoch

   

G. K. CHESTERTON. The Innocence of Father Brown. Cassell, UK, hardcover, 1911. Lane, US, hardcover, 1911. Many reprint editions exist.

   A cornerstone volume, Chesterton’s Innocence of Father Brown can lay claim to greatness on two counts: It introduced the priest detective whose adventures are still popular three-quarters of a century later, and it contains more classic short stories than almost any other mystery collection before or since.

   All twelve of its stories deserve special mention. The opening story, “The Blue Cross,” long an anthology and textbook favorite, tells of the first meeting of Father Brown and the master thief Flambeau, who would later become his friend and associate on many cases. “The Secret Garden” has a dual impossibility – the appearance of a beheaded corpse inside a locked and guarded garden, and the disappearance of another man from the same garden. “The Queer Feet” turns upon a brilliant bit of psychology and is a favorite of several critics.

   “The Flying Star” involves a diamond theft at a Christmas party, and is Flambcau’s last crime. “The Invisible Man” is probably the most famous Father Brown story of all — so famous, in fact, that its solution is known to people who have never read it. Whether Smythe really could have been murdered in his guarded apartment building without anyone seeing the killer is a matter of some dispute, but the story is memorable nonetheless.

   “The Honour of Israel Gow” presents Father Brown with a number of bizarre objects, seemingly unrelated, The solution, simple yet startling, reveals a strange sort of honesty rather than a crime. In “The Wrong Shape” a man is stabbed to death with a curved dagger in a locked room. leaving an oddly shaped suicide note. “The Sins of Prince Saradine” is about a murder plot and a duel with rapiers. “The Hammer of God,” one of the three or four best Father Brown stories, combines a seemingly superhuman murder beside a great Gothic church with a solution that is simple and sa1isfying.

   “The Eye of Apollo” deals with a cult of sun worshipers and a unique murder method. “The Sign of the Broken Sword,” perhaps the cleverest and most enjoyable story in the volume, full of paradox and allowing Father Brown to practice some pseudo-historical detection, offers Chesterton’s dazzling answer to the question “Where would a wise man hide a body?” The final story, “The Three Tools of Death,” is about an apparently brutal murder.

   All twelve. offer a nice feeling of life in Edwardian England, and if Father Brown lacks the colorful eccentricities of Sherlock Holmes, if his solutions are often more intuition than deduction, this book is still a masterpiece, the single volume by which G .K. Chesterton is most likely to be remembered.

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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: Ed Hoch’s review of The Incredulity of Father Brown was posted here earlier this month.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Edward D. Hoch

   

G. K. CHESTERTON – The Incredulity of Father Brown. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1926. First published in the UK by Cassell, hardcover, 1926,. Many reprint editions exist.

   As several critics have observed, the Father Brown stories are small gems to be relished sparingly. If too many are read at one time, the effect is lessened and one might even begin to pick holes in their logic. But as detective stories, they are still masterpieces, and the most lasting of all the writing Chesterton produced in his prolific career. Their influence upon later mystery writers — especially John Dickson Carr – was enormous, and Carr’s major detective character, Dr. Gideon Fell, was patterned after Chesterton himself.

   The Incredulity of Father Brown is not the best of the five Brown collections, but it is unique in that seven of its eight stories contain locked rooms or impossible crimes as a part of their plot. One of these, “The Oracle of the Dog,” is perhaps the best of all Father Brown stories, and one of the best detective short stories ever written. The stabbing death of Colonel Druce while alone in .a summerhouse whose only entrance is under constant observation, together with a dog that seems to howl at the moment of the colonel’s death, sets up a classic situation in which the impossibility of the crime is linked to a seemingly supernatural event. It was a situation to be explored often by Carr and other writers that followed, but their solutions have rarely been us ingenious as the one Chesterton offers here.

   The other six impossible-crime stories in the book are “The Arrow of Heaven,” in which an American millionaire is killed by an arrow inside a guarded room; “The Miracle of Moon Crescent,” featuring the disappearance of a man from a guarded apartment; “The Curse of the Golden Cross,” about a curse on defilers of an ancient tomb; “The Dagger with Wings,” in which a strange cloaked figure is found dead in unmarked snow; “The Doom of the Darnaways,” involving a locked-room poisoning: and “The Ghost of Gideon Wise,” wherein Father Brown is confronted with a ghostly appearance. In all, the atmosphere of the inexplicable is brilliantly realized.

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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 Francis M. Nevins

   
PETER CHEYNEY – This Man Is Dangerous. Lemmy Caution #1. Collins, UK, hardcover, 1936. Coward McCann, US, hardcover, 1938. Reprinted many times. Film: Sonofilm, France, 1954, as Cet Homme Est Dangeureux.

   Peter Cheyney (1896-1951) never visited the United States in his life and knew next to nothing about Americans, but in the late 1930s he became an instant success in his native England and in Europe, especially France, a writer or fake-American hard-boiled novels. In This Man Is Dangerous and ten subsequent titles, he chronicled the adventures of rootin’-tootin’-two-gun-shootin’ Lemmy Caution, an indestructible FBI agent who downs liquor by the quart, laughs at bullets flying his way, romances every dame in sight, and blasts away at greasy ethnic-named racketeers and (in thelater novels) Nazi spies.

   Americans, of course, saw these ridiculous exercises for what they were, and only the first few were ever published here.

   Certainly no one would read Lemmy Cautions for their plots, which are uniform from book to book — all 1hc nasties double-crossing each other over the McGuffin — nor for their characterizations, which are pure comic strip. But mystery fans with a taste for lunacy may be attracted by Cheyney’s self-created idiom. Lemmy narrates his cases in first person and present tense, a wild-and-crazy stylistic smorgasbord concocted from Grade Z western films, the stories of Ring Lardner and Damon Runyon, eyeball-poppers apparently of Cheyney’s own inventor (like “He blew the bczuzu” for “He spilled the beans”), and a steady stream of British spellings and locutions.

   Nothing but quotation can convey the Cheyney flavor. From This Man ls Dangerous:

   I says good night, and I nods lo the boys. I take my hat from the hall and walk down the stairs to the street. I’m .feeling pretty good because I reckon that muscling in on this racket of Siegella’s is going to be a good thing for me, and maybe if I use my brains and keep my eyes skinned, I can still find some means of double-crossing this wop.

   From Don’t Get Me Wrong (1939):

   Me — l am prejudiced. I would rather stick around with a bad-tempered tiger than get on the wrong bias of one of these knife-thrown’ palookas. I would rather four-flush a team of wild alligators outa their lunch pail than try an’ tell a Mexican momma that I was tired of her geography an’ did not wish to play any more.

   From Your Deal, My Lovely (1941):

   Some mug by the name. of Confucius – who was a guy who was supposed to know his vegetables – once issued an edict that any time he saw a sap sittin’ around bein’ impervious to the weather an’ anything else that was goin’, an’ lookin’ like he had been hit in the kisser with a flat-iron, the said sap was suffering from woman trouble.

   Lemmy Caution became. so popular on the Continent that Eddie Constantine, an American. actor, portrayed him in a series of French films. These films were so successful that Jean Luc Godard used Constantine as Caution in his New Wave film Alphaville.

   Eventually Cheyney launched a second wave of novels, written in a spare ersatz-Hammett style and featuring Slim Callaghan, London’s toughest PI. But for those who love pure absurdity, and appreciate the wild stylistic flights of Robert Leslie Bellem and Henry Kane and Richard S. Prather, a treat of compatible dimensions is in store when they tackle the adventures of Lemmy Caution.

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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 John Lutz

   

GEORGE CHESBRO – Shadow of a Broken Man. Mongo #1. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1977. Signet, paperback, 1978.

   This is the first Chesbro novel featuring Dr. Robert Fredrickson – a professor of criminology who doubles as a private detective, is a dwarf, and is known to his friends as Mongo. A onetime top circus performer, Mongo possesses some very useful skills for tight situations, among them tumbling and gymnastic ability and a black belt in karate.

   While preparing to leave for vacation in Acapulco, Mongo is approached by Mike Foster, who married the widow of’ famous architect Victor Rafferty. Foster’s wife. Elizabeth, happened to see a photograph of a new museum in an architectural magazine, and is convinced that the design is the work of her husband. But Victor died five years ago, and the museum’s design is listed as the work of a man named Richard Patera. Victor Rafferty died from a fall into an open melting furnace, so there was essentially no body to be recovered, and Elizabeth is haunted by the conviction that Rafferty is still alive. Mike Foster’s marriage is suffering; he wants Mon to clear up this matter so he and Elizabeth can get on with their lives.

   Mongo assumes there won’t be too much complication here, so he postpones his vacation and accepts the case. His first move is to consult professor of design Franklin Manning, resident architectural genius, who flatly tells Mongo that the museum is Rafferty’s design, without question. And suddenly Mongo is involved in something much more complex and dangerous than he imagined. Russian and French agents are part of the package, as are U.N. Secretary Rolfe Thaag and more than one victim of Communist brutality.

   The writing here is literate and fast-paced, the plot is intricate, the concept is bizarre yet entirely plausible. This is a well-spiced recipe that results in haute cuisine.

   Chesbro is also the author of City of Whispering Stone (1978), An Affair of Sorcerers (1979), and The Beasts of Valhalla (1985), which likewise feature Mongo.

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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: By the time his career in books was over, Mongo had appeared in a total of 13 novels and one story collection, most of which had previously been published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine or Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

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