1001 Midnights

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by George Kelley & Marcia Muller

DESMOND BAGLEY – Flyaway. Doubleday, hardcover, 1979. First published in the UK: Collins, hardcover, 1978. Detective Book Club, hardcover 3-in-1 edition [no date]. Fawcett, paperback, 1980. Also: HarperCollins, paperback, 2009, paired with Windfall, also by Bagley.

   Picking the best Desmond Bagley high-adventure novel is difficult because they are of uniformly high quality; most critics agree that in the past ten years, Bagley has surpassed the old masters such as Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean with such expert novels as The Vivero Letter (1968), set in the remote Mexican jungle; The Snow Tiger (1974), a tale of an avalanche in the mountains of New Zealand’s South Island; and The Enemy (1978), which deals with computer technology. Bagley’s novels mix carefully researched background detail with a great deal of action and momentum, involving his reader thoroughly in his adventurous plots.

   Flyaway may be Bagley’s finest work, a slight cut above the others. When Paul Billson disappears into the Sahara Desert,aircraft-industry security chief Max Stafford departs London for Africa to track Billson down. Max learns that Billson, whose father was a legendary there some decades ago, intends to clear the Billson name; the public still believes Billson’s father deliberately vanished over the Sahara so his wife could collect a fortune in insurance benefits. Max catches up with Billson — after much difficulty — but then both men find themselves hunted by forces intent on protecting the secret of Billson Sr.’s disappearance.

   This novel is superior high adventure; Bagley’s attention to technical detail and his evocation of the desert milieu are impeccable. Bagley drew upon personal experience in the aircraft industry for this novel, which gives it added substance and credibility.

   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

PHILIP ATLEE – The Green Wound. Gold Medal k1321, paperback original, 1963. Reprinted later as The Green Wound Contract, Gold Medal, paperback, 1967.

   Joseph Liam Gall’s first appearance in print was as a free-lance soldier of fortune embroiled in a Burmese civil war in Pagoda (1951), a hardcover adventure novel published under James Atlee Phillips’s full name. A dozen years later, writing as Philip Atlee, the author revived Gall, made him a disillusioned contract killer for the CIA, and put him through more than twenty paperback spy thrillers, of which the first and best was The Green Wound.

   The crime writer with whom Phillips seems to have the most in common is Raymond Chandler. Both men use a cinematically vivid first-person style (although Phillips avoids the profusions of metaphor and simile that make Chandler so easy to parody) and eschew careful plotting in favor of strong individual scenes and memorable moments.

   Almost all the Joe Gall novels suffer from near-chaotic structure, but Phillips’s finest scenes are so fresh and alive that, as Chandler said of Dashiell Hammett’s, they seem never to have been written before.

   Phillips’s treatment of his main character is a brilliant study in schizophrenia. On one level Gall is the stoic code hero of the Hemingway tradition, and on another he stems from Ian Fleming’s James Bond, the professional killer for his government, the larger-than-life secret agent forever besting villains of the mythological-monster sort.

   In the conventional patriotic thriller of this type, we are never allowed to doubt that whatever our side does is right because we are by definition the good guys. Phillips at his best subverts this nonsense and approaches the insight of John Le Carre that perhaps at bottom We and They are mirror images of each other.

   Witness,for instance, the story line of The Green Wound. Gall is paid a huge sum by his former bosses at the CIA to come out of idyllic semi-retirement in an Ozark castle, infiltrate a quiet Texas community, and frustrate a plot to ruin the politically connected millionaire who runs the city. From his vantage point as manager of the local country club, Gall dispassionately observes the viciousness of the ruling class and the institutionalized racism that keeps the blacks in a shantytown on the wrong side of the railroad tracks.

   In due course Gall learns that the blacks have secretly organized, with the help of federal civil-rights enforcers, to register to vote at the last possible minute and then oust the white politicians at the polls. On Election Day a bloody race war erupts, leaving the city in flames. Later Gall pursues the instigator of the revolt, a horribly disfigured black veteran who was used by army doctors as an experimental animal and is aching for revenge on the entire power structure.

   The action swings from Mexico to Texas to New Orleans to the Caribbean and back again, but Phillips never resolves the tension between Gall the good soldier and Gall the man who knows he’s on the wrong side. This tension, rather than its considerable virtues as an action thriller, is what makes The Green Wound one of the finest spy novels ever written by an American.

   In most of the later Galls, Phillips downplays or eliminates the structural schizophrenia, and the lesser exploits overstress local color and exotic settings — Sweden, Tahiti, Thailand, Haiti, British Columbia, Korea, and elsewhere — at the expense of story and action. But even the weaker Phillips novels are usually redeemed by several powerful individual scenes that stick in the memory long after the book as a whole is forgotten.

   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:   Posted earlier on this blog was a comprehensive overview of the Joe Gall series by George Kelley, including a complete checklist. Check it out here.

   Besides the large number of comments left in response to George’s article, additional replies by David Vineyard and Mark Lazenby appear in a later post of their own. You may find it here.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Francis M. Nevins

ISAAC ASIMOV – Tales of the Black Widowers. Doubleday, hardcover, June 1974. Fawcett Crest, paperback, August 1976.

   Until the early 1970s, Isaac Asimov was best known to whodunit devotees as the writer who virtually invented the science-fiction mystery. In his novels The Caves of Steel (1954) and The Naked Sun (1957) and in the short stories collected as Asimov’s Mysteries (1968), he masterfully bridged the gap between the two genres and proved that genuine detective fiction could be set in the future as well as In the present or past.

   Although he had previously written one contemporary mystery novel, The Death Dealers (1958), Asimov’s best-known crime fiction of the non-futuristic sort is the long series of Black Widowers tales that debuted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1972 and is still going strong today after four hardcover collections’ worth of stories.

   The Black Widowers are five middle-aged professional men — Avalon the patent lawyer, Trumbull the cryptographer, Rubin the writer, Drake the chemist, and Gonzalo the artist — who meet once a month for dinner at an exclusive New York club. Each month one member brings a guest and that guest brings a problem, sometimes but by no means always criminal in nature.

   The narration of the dilemma is interrupted frequently by cross-examination and highbrow cross-talk among the Widowers, who like Asimov himself are inordinately fond of puns. After each of the five club members has tried to solve the conundrum and failed, a solution — invariably on target — is proposed by Henry, the ancient and unobtrusive waiter who has been serving dinner and drinks throughout the dialogue. Everyone then goes home both intellectually and gastronomically satisfied.

   The Black Widowers stories stand or fall on the quality of the puzzles and their resolutions. Characterization and setting are minimal, and too many of the tales are either unfair to the reader or wildly incredible, but the occasional gems are clever indeed, and those who share Asimov’s fondness for oddball facts, logical probing, and the spectacle of cultivated men scoring intellectual points off one another will delight in even the weaker links in the chain.

   The four collections published to date are Tales of the Black Widowers (1974), More Tales of the Black Widowers (1976), Casebook of the Black Widowers (1980), and Banquets of the Black Widowers (1984). Asimovians might also look into the author’s book-fair whodunit, Murder at the ABA (1976), and his short-story collection The Union Club Mysteries (1983).

   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:   Since this review first appeared, there have been two additional collections of Black Widowers stories: Puzzles of the Black Widowers (1989) and The Return of the Black Widowers (2003), the latter posthumously.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Karol Kay Hope

  GORDON ASHE – A Nest of Traitors. Holt Rinehart & Winston, US, hardcover, 1971. Popular Library, US, paperback, no date. First published by John Long, UK, hardcover, 1970.

   Gordon Ashe is a pseudonym of John Creasey, an amazingly prolific British writer who had to his credit some 560 novels published under more than twenty names. A Nest of Traitors continues the adventures of Patrick Dawlish and “The Crime Haters,” one of his most popular series.

   A revered British war hero and onetime independent crime fighter, Dawlish is now deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, London, specializing in crimes of international significance. He is also the acknowledged leader of a loosely knit group of crime fighters, the membership representing every major police force in the world.

   In this case, Dawlish must alert various international investigative agencies to a widespread passport-fraud scheme that could wreak havoc on immigration and passport control throughout the world. As Dawlish’s investigation continues, passport control turns out to be the tip of the iceberg; a select group of the world’s most powerful men are on their way to seizing control over each government, major industry, banking system, and society on the planet.

   By the time Dawlish discovers this master plot, the organization — known as “the Authority” — has almost succeeded, and Dawlish is the one person standing between a
free world and its complete domination by this small but vicious group of immensely wealthy megalomaniacs.

   Unfortunately, Dawlish is just too perfect; and the Authority is too powerful to really be vulnerable to the heroic antics of what Ashe would have us believe is the last honorable man in the world. Farfetched, but a good book to read yourself to sleep with.

   Patrick Dawlish appears in all the Gordon Ashe novels except The Man Who Stayed Alive (1955) and No Need to Die (1956). Representative titles are Death on Demand (1939), Murder Too Late (1947), Elope to Death (1959), A Clutch of Coppers (1969), and A Blast of Trumpets (1975).

   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

MEL ARRIGHI – Alter Ego. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1983. No paperback edition. TV movie: CBS, 1987, as Murder by the Book (with Robert Hays as D.H. ‘Hank’ Mercer / Biff Deegan, and Catherine Mary Stewart).

   Hank Mercer is a New York mystery writer, author of such modest best sellers as Death Is My Bedmate and Kill Me Tender. Biff Deegen is Hank’s series sleuth, a hard-boiled private eye patterned after Mike Hammer. Hank is tired of Biff and Biff’s uncouth style; he wants to scrap him and begin a new series about an erudite, tasteful detective named Amos Frisby.

   His editor, Norman Wagstaff. is of course opposed to the idea vehemently. But to placate Hank, who after all is one of his top authors, he agrees over lunch to the following bargain: If Hank can solve a real-life mystery, using Frisby’s methods of deduction, then he trade Riff in for Amos.

   What precipitates this bargain — and what starts Hank off on his all-too-real mystery — is a matchbook dropped on their lunch table by a well-dressed woman, containing the scrawled words “Help me.”

   The mystery involves a valuable statue called The Etruscan Dancer, some urbane crooks, some not so urbane crooks, sexy Marisa Winfield, a poker game, a daring rescue accomplished by Hank using methods better suited to the Human Fly, a chase through the Lexington Avenue subway and, as it were, the piece de resistance: Biff Deegen.

   Biff, you see, steps out of the pages of his own books to become a character in Hank’s real-life mystery.He doesn’t really come to life, of course; he is merely an anthropomorphized figment of Hank’s overworked imagination, his creator’s alter ego. But that doesn’t stop him from becoming Hank’s detective “partner,” sneering at the likes of Amos Frisby and appearing at tense moments to advise Hank on the finer points of physical combat (“Kick him in the balls!”).

   This amusing and affectionate spoof of both genres seems to have been intended as the first of a series– it is billed on the dust jacket as “A Hank & Riff Mystery” — but so far no second book has appeared. Arrighi’s other criminous novels are much more serious in tone; these include such first-rate titles as Freak-Out (1968), The Hatchet Man (1975), Turkish White (1977), the Hitchcockian thriller Delphine (1981), and Manhattan Gothic (1985).

   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: Mel Arrighi died in 1986 at the relatively young age of only 53. If it so happened that he wrote another book in this series, it was never published before he died.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Ellen Nehr

MARGOT ARNOLD – Exit Actors, Dying. Playboy Press, paperback original, 1979. W. W. Norton / Countryman Press, softcover, 1988.

   This paperback original is the first of the adventures of Penelope Spring, American anthropologist, and Toby Glendower, Welsh archaeologist. We meet the pair in Turkey on sabbatical from Oxford. The action begins when Penny is seated in an amphitheater and sees a body lying on the grassy stage below. By the time she returns with the police, however, the body has disappeared.

   Next, a member of a film crew staying at the same hotel as the academicians turns up missing. Toby finds the man`s purloined body, and he and Penny decide to investigate. (Toby has a less-than-altruistic reason: He needs to be back in England in ten days, but the police won’t let him leave until the murder is solved.)

   Using talents developed over the years in their academic specialties, the two middle-aged professors become involved with the personnel of the motion-picture crew and their dependents, as well as study the Turkish countryside, to uncover the criminal and his. motives. This is a nice portrayal of two endearing characters and their warm, nonsexual relationship.

   Among Arnold’s other paperback originals are The Cape Cod Caper (1980), Zadok’s Treasure (1980), and Lament for a Lady Laird (1982). These allow the reader to explore the cranberry bogs of Massachusetts, an archaeological dig in Israel, and a Scottish estate.

   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 Penny Spring annd Sir Toby Glendower series –

1. Exit Actors, Dying (1979)

2. Zadok’s Treasure (1980)
3. The Cape Cod Caper (1982)
4. Death of a Voodoo Doll (1982)
5. Death on the Dragon’s Tongue (1982)
6. Lament for a Lady Laird (1982)

7. The Menehune Murders (1989)
8. Toby’s Folly (1990)
9. The Catacomb Conspiracy (1992)

10. The Cape Cod Conundrum (1992)
11. Dirge for a Dorset Druid (1994)
12. The Midas Murders (1995)

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Karol Kay Hope

CHARLOTTE ARMSTRONG – The Balloon Man. Coward McCann, hardcover, 1958. Fawcett Crest, paperback, 1969; Berkley, paperback, 1976; IPL Crime Classics, paperback, 1990.

       — The Gift Shop. Coward McCann, hardcover, 1967. Fawcett Crest, paperback, 1968. Zebra, paperback, 1990.

   In her twenty-six-year career, Charlotte Armstrong published dozens of novels and short stories as well as plays and screenplays. Her series detective, MacDougal Duff, appears in only the first three novels; Armstrong is better known for her later works, which combine suspenseful plots with a sensitive depiction of ordinary American people whose moral character is severely tested by extraordinary circumstances.

   Armstrong’s heroes and heroines are normal people with considerable inner resources upon which they can to extricate themselves from dangerous situations that they are in through no fault of their own. The author does not flinch from dealing with such thorny moral issues as the abuse of power by the wealthy, the failure of parents to take responsibility for their offspring, and man’s free will; and she has been known to stand firmly on the side of the underdog. These philosophical issues in no way detract from the suspense of her stories, which is always considerable.

   As shown by The Balloon Man, Armstrong likes young women with guts. The heroine, wife of a rich-boy-tumed-drug-addict, sees her husband throw their young son against the kitchen wall, breaking his leg in a fit of drug-induced hallucination. The down-to-earth young mother leaves quickly, with her son, never to return, knowing her husband’s drug problem is beyond her help. She figures his rich family will take care of him; they’ve always hated her anyway, low-class street girl that she is.

   The husband’s father, however, won’t let it go at that and displays an almost insane resentment of her. He’s determined to get custody of his grandson, and while the heroine waits in a boardinghouse near the hospital until her son is well enough to take back east, the father-in-law bribes an unsavory school pal of his son’s to take a room in the boardinghouse and do all that’s necessary to prove her an unfit mother.

   What follows is a delightful picture of the lives of the boarders and the inner workings of greed and evil that will stop at nothing to separate a child from its mother. A wonderful celebration of good old American grit. And, we might add, wit.

   The Gift Shop is a classic example of Armstrong’s talent and view of the world.Here we have an unassuming, lower-middle-class American girl who is putting herself through college by clerking in an airport gift shop. Her life is ruffled by little more than her boss’s occasional temper tantrum.

   Enter the rich, good-looking bachelor — the youngest of three professionally successful sons who are sources of pride and solace to the patriarch who fathered them. The almost unbelievable hero (are there really such soulful rich young men in the world today?) is hot on the trail of an old school chum who has disappeared under suspicious circumstances (last seen in the gift shop) while researching the whereabouts of the young man’s sister, whose existence has just been revealed to the family.

   And the circumstances of this revelation — a demand that the oldest son, governor of the state, stay the execution of an internationally known crime figure in exchange for the sister’s life — are sinister indeed.

   The adventure that the gift-shop clerk becomes embroiled in is refreshingly humane; and in the course of it, the bachelor overcomes the girl’s resistance to arrogant rich young men. The romance does not proceed without difficulty, however; like many of Armstrong’s heroines, she is the self-sufficient kind and not prone to stroking the male ego.

   This is high adventure, the stuff about which any righter-of-wrongs dreams. It is almost unbelievable, but the author has a way of making us feel it would happen to any one of us, any day now.

   Other excellent Charlotte Armstrong titles are Catch-as-Catch-Can (1952), The Better to Eat You (1954), A Dram of Poison (winner of the Edgar for Best Novel of 1956), The Turret Room (1965), and Protégé (1970). The best of her fine short stories can be found in the collections The Albatross (1957) and I See You (1966).

   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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