1001 Midnights

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Newell Dunlap

RICHARD BRAUTIGAN – Dreaming of Babylon. Delacorte, hardcover/softcover, 1977. Dell, paperback, 1980.

   The time is 1942, the place is San Francisco, and a private detective named C. Card is down on his luck. He already has sold everything of value he owns. He owes rent to his landlady, money to all his friends, and various domestic items to all his fellow tenants. Then, amazingly, his luck begins to change with two fortuitous events: (1) His landlady dies, and (2) he gets a client. The trouble is, he has no bullets for his gun and must find some before he meets his client. (What kind of detective goes around with an unloaded gun?)

   The search for bullets takes him to the Hall of Justice and to the city morgue, and many a mysterious stranger he meets along the way — a beautiful, crying blonde; a tough, smiling chauffeur; and a lovely, but dead, prostitute, to name but a few. Of course, the bullet search is not aided any by the fact that he keeps slipping into a daydream about ancient Babylon.

   This is Richard Brautigan’s only criminous novel and, to the average mystery aficionado, the story will seem rambling and plotless, having emerged as it did through the old, capricious byways of the author’s mind. It is a story not so much for fans of detective fiction but for fans of Brautigan fiction, for this is the popular poet/novelist who first came to us out of the hippie generation and is responsible for such works of gentle whimsy as Trout Fishing in America.

   Inexplicably, his later novels took on more violent themes. This would include Dreaming of Babylon, although, by the standards of modern detective fiction, the book is relatively nonviolent and the author’s fanciful comic inventiveness shines through.

   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:   Al Hubin includes two earlierr books by Richard Brautigan (1935-1984) in his Crime Fiction IV, those being The Hawkline Monster (1974) and Willard and His Bowling Trophies (1975).

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

H. C. BRANSON – The Pricking Thumb. John Bent #2. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1942. Bestseller Mystery B76, digest-sized paperback, 1946.

   During his Ann Arbor days, Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar) was a close friend of H.C. Branson and an admirer of his work. It is easy to see why. Branson wrote literate, meticulously plotted (but flawed) novels in which the emphasis is on deep-seated conflicts that have their roots in the dark past.

   Branson’s detective, John Bent, like Macdonald’s Lew Archer, is less a human being than a vehicle around which to build a narrative, a catalyst to mesh all the elements so that each novel’s final statement becomes clear.

   In The Pricking Thumb, Bent is hired by an acquaintance, Marina Holland, to investigate the disappearance of her stepson, Bob, and the odd behavior of her husband, Gouvion. But when Bent arrives in the small town of New Paget (in an unnamed state, probably Michigan; a sense of place is almost nonexistent), he finds Gouvion dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

   Also found dead this same night are Marina and Gouvion’s doctor, Brian Calvert, under circumstances that suggest the two might have been lovers. It appears to be a case of double homicide perpetrated by Gouvion, who then committed suicide. But there are too many inconsistencies, leading Bent to believe that it is instead a case of triple homicide. His search for the truth takes him along a tangled trail of relationships, old and new hatreds and jealousies, and not a little double-dealing.

   There is a good deal of passion among the characters; unfortunately, there is very little in John Bent or in the writing. Bent is a virtual cipher, about whom we know only that he once practiced medicine. “Someone was feeding one of my patients arsenic,” he says to Marina Holland in the first chapter. “The only way I could cure him was to find out who it was and make them stop, which was a little more difficult than it sounds. At any rate, I ended up with a new profession.” The writing, while well crafted, is so detached and emotionless that the reader tends to lose interest.

   Had Branson possessed more of Ross Macdonald’s talent, had he been able to make Bent more human and sympathetic, had he injected some passion and vividness into his work, he might have become an important figure in the mystery field. As it is, he is chiefly notable not for his work but for his relationship with Kenneth Millar.

   Among his other novels, all featuring John Bent, are I’ll Eat You Last (1941), Case of the Giant Killer (1944), and The Leaden Bubble (1949).

   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 complete John Bent series —

I’ll Eat You Last (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1941.
The Pricking Thumb (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1942.
Case of the Giant Killer (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1944.
The Fearful Passage (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1945.
Last Year’s Blood (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1947.
The Leaden Bubble (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1949.
Beggar’s Choice (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1953.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

CHRISTIANNA BRAND – Green for Danger. John Lane/The Bodley Head, UK, hardcover, 1945. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1944. US paperback reprints include: Bantam F2858, 1965; Perennial Library, 1981; Carroll & Graf, 1989. Film: General Film, UK, 1947 (with Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill).

   Christianna Brand has written mainstream novels, short stories, and juveniles, but she is best known for her detective novels featuring Inspector Cockrill of the Kent, England, County Police. Cockrill (known affectionately as Cockle) is a somewhat eccentric, curmudgeonly fellow — less a character than a catalyst in the cases he solves. He delights in setting up situations that force the murderer’s hand, and the murderer’s identity usually seems quite obvious to the reader, until Brand introduces a twist designed to delight.

   At the beginning of Green for Danger, an unlikely group of characters assemble at a military hospital during the blitz of World War II. Each has his reasons for escaping his previous environment; each has expectations of what this assignment will bring. What none of them suspects is that a patient — the postman who, incidentally, delivered their letters saying they were coming to Heron’s Park Hospital — will die mysteriously on the operating table, and that all of them will come under Inspector Cockrill’s scrutinizing eye as murder suspects.

   The characters are numerous, but Brand nonetheless manages to instill unique qualities that enlist the reader’s sympathy and create dismay at the revelation of the murderer. The solution is plausible, the motivation well foreshadowed, and the evocation of both the terror and fortitude of those who endured the German bombing is very real indeed.

   Inspector Cockrill has also solved such cases as Heads You Lose (1941), Death of Jezebel (1948), London Particular (1952), and The Three-Cornered Halo (1957).

   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 Marvin Lachman

ELISABETH SANXAY HOLDING – Net of Cobwebs. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1945. Bantam #26, paperback, 1946 (copies with jackets exist). Detective Book Club, hardcover, 3-in-1 edition. Ace Double G-530, paperback; published back-to-back with Unfinished Crime. Stark House Press, trade paperback, 2004; published with The Death Wish.

   The psychological mystery, along with its first cousin, the film noir, became extremely popular during the mid-1940s. Elizabeth Sanxay Holding had been writing this type of book since the early 1930s, and Anthony Boucher, one of her biggest boosters, was quick to point out her preeminence in this subgenre. Raymond Chandler paid her extravagant praise indeed, saying, “For my money she’s the top suspense writer of them all.” Net of Cobwebs is one of her best books.

   Most of the Holding mysteries involve close family relationships. This is perhaps a carry-over from her early writing days, prior to 1930, when she primarily wrote romantic fiction. Critics Barzun and Taylor disliked the “family wrangling” in her books, but they are in a distinct minority; most fans and critics thought otherwise. In Net of Cobwebs it is his family that is an apparent refuge for Malcolm Drake, a merchant seaman who is recovering from the effects of having had his ship torpedoed.

   He carries the additional burden of guilt regarding the death of one -member. Plagued with nightmares and inability remember, he suffers the further trauma of being the primary murder suspect when a relative who made him her heir is murdered with his medication.

   Though women were generally her protagonists, Holding shows in this book that she has no difficulty in being equally convincing when writing from a male viewpoint, even that of a war veteran. We can accept and identify with Drake as easily as we can with the heroine of another Holding novel using World War II as its background. In The Blank Wall (1947), Lucia Holley seems to to be a typical middle-aged housewife, concerned with writing to her husband overseas and coping with wartime shortages. When a married man “takes up” with her teenage daughter and then is found murdered, Lucia’s life becomes a nightmare. The book, one of her most popular. was filmed in 1949 by Max Ophuls, with Joan Bennett and James Mason, as The Reckless Moment.

   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

EDWARD D. HOCH – The Thefts of Nick Velvet. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1978. A limited edition of 250 copies was also published in slipcase, numbered and signed by the author, adding the story “The Theft of the Persian Slipper.”

   The best of Edward D. Hoch’s short stories are divided more or less equally among five outstanding series characters: Police Captain Leopold, whose cases are generally of the procedural variety; Rand, the retired spy, who is an expert at solving difficult codes and ciphers; Dr. Sam Hawthorne, a New England country doctor who solves “impossible” rural mysteries in the 1920s and 1930s; Simon Ark, a shadowy figure who claims to be a 2000 year-old Coptic priest and whose detections are tinged with elements of the occult; and Nick Velvet (born Velvetta, but he dropped the last two letters because the name sounded too much like a popular cheese), a master thief with a peculiar code of honor — he will risk his life and freedom to steal any object, no matter how impossible the challenge, so long as the item has no monetary value.

   This quirk alone makes Nick Velvet unique among crime-fiction protagonists, and also makes for some highly unusual, even bizarre, challenges to his professional expertise. “The Theft of the Clouded Tiger,” for instance, in which he is hired (he works by assignment only) to swipe a tiger from a zoo, Or “The Theft of the Silver Lake Serpent,” in which a hotel owner pays him to steal a sea serpent out of a small Canadian lake.

   Or “The Theft from the Empty Room,” in which Nick is evidently hired to steal nothing at all. Some of Nick’s adventures turn into fair-play whodunits in which he is forced to play detective; in others, it is the baffling motives behind the odd things he is asked to purloin that keep the reader guessing; and in still others it is the question “How in the world can Nick possibly accomplish that theft?”

   No matter what type of story it happens to be, it is certain to be wonderfully inventive and entertaining. Hoch’s mastery of the criminous short story is evident in every one of the thirteen entries in this collection.

   Nick Velvet shares one other collection (with Rand, the retired spy): The Spy and the Thief (1971), which has seven stories featuring each character. Simon Ark appears in three collections: The Judges of Hades and City of Brass, both published in 1971, and The Quests of Simon Ark (1985). Also published in 1985 was the first Captain Leopold collection, Leopold’s Way, which contains nineteen stories and a useful checklist.

   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 Thomas Baird

ERNEST BRAMAH – Max Carrados. Methuen, UK, hardcover, 1914. Hyperion Press, US, hardcover, 1975. Moran Press, softcover, December 2015. All 26 Max Carrados short stories are included in The Collected Max Carrados Investigations: The Cases of the Renowned Blind Edwardian Detective, Leonaur, hardcover/paperback, 2013.

   For some years it was thought that Ernest Bramah was the pseudonym of some other mystery writer who was doing double duty; or, alternatively, that the pen name represented a group trying its hands at a specialized type of story. Eventually, the author revealed himself (a little bit), and what he revealed was that the pseudonym stood for Ernest Bramah Smith.

   He was extremely self-effacing; however, details are plentiful about the life and adventures of his greatest creation, Max Carrados, the first and probably the best blind detective in fiction.

   Carrados was very much in the Great Detective mold. Even though blind, his personality dominates the stories. He is sophisticated, cynical, and whimsical, and he awes friends, clients, and enemies with feats of subtle brilliance, “seeing” what no blind man can see.

   Carrados lives at the Turrets in Richmond (just west of London), surrounded by his menage of secretary, young, brash Annesley Greatorex, and valet,the solemnly decorous Parkinson. He is interested in crimes of originality, and is called upon to solve cases of arson, madness, embezzlement, jewel burglary, a divorce murder, the theft of one of England’s greatest relics, a post-office robbery connected with Irish outrages, and to thwart German naval spies. A commentator has said that the setting of these stories is much closer to Raymond Chandler’s “mean streets” than to the unreal English country house of Agatha Christie.

   The Carrados stories are an Edwardian tour de force, and Ellery Queen called Max Carrados “one of the ten best volumes of detective shorts ever written.” The eight stories in this collection contain the inevitable meeting between Carrados and disbarred lawyer turned inquiry agent Louis Carlyle, who becomes his “Watson.”

   The tales range from a problem in numismatics (one of Bramah’s own little enthusiasms), to train-wrecking tinged with racism, to looting of safe deposits as a result of religious enthusiasm. The problems are logical, the characterizations are excellent, and the backgrounds are exceptional.

   In the much-anthologized “Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage,” a man proposes to remove his wife by the latest scientific methods. Of course, Carrados intervenes, using clues only a blind man can find, and brings the case to its ironic conclusion.

   Critics have praised the stories highly, and the two other collections — The Eyes of Max Carrados (1923) and Max Carrados Mysteries (1927) — are also well worth attention, although the later stories tend to get ponderous and are uneven in quality. The only Max Carrados novel, The Bravo of London (1934), proves conclusively that Bramah was a good short-story writer.

   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

EDWARD D. HOCH – The Shattered Raven. Lancer 74-525, paperback original; 1st printing, 1969. Dale Books, paperback, 1978.

   Edward D. Hoch is crime fiction’s premier short-story writer. (He is also that rara avis, a writer who makes his living entirely from short fiction.) He has published more than 600 stories since his first professional sale in 1955, and has appeared in every issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine for the past dozen years.

   He also has to his credit well over anthology appearances, including a score of selections for the prestigious annuals Best Detective Stories of the Year and Year’s Best Mystery & Suspense Stories (which he now edits).

   The Shattered Raven is Hoch’s first novel and one of only four published under his own name. It is also his only contemporary mystery — the other three books are detective stories with futuristic settings — and is something of a cult novel among aficionados, owing to the fact that it deals with murder most foul at the annual MWA Edgar Awards banquet in New York and makes use of several real writers in cameo roles.

   When TV commentator Ross Craigthorn is murdered on the dais while accepting MWA’s Mystery Reader of the Year Award (no small honor, past recipients having included Eleanor Roosevelt and Joey Adams), it is a particularly ingenious and nasty crime: He was shot in the face by means of a slender tube attached to the microphone, “an electrified, radio-controlled zip gun.”

   The task of s finding out who killed Craigthorn falls on the unwilling shoulders of MWA’s executive vice-president, Barney Hamet (no relation, of course, to the great Dashiell), and magazine writer Susan Veldt. Their search leads them to a dark secret in Craigthorn’s past, one that has its origins in the little town of June, Nebraska.

   Unlike Barney and Susan, the reader knows the identity of the murderer from the outset — one Victor Jones. But what the reader doesn’t know is just who Victor Jones is, for he is no longer using that name. Which of the suspects is really the deadly Mr. Jones should come as no surprise to most detective-story veterans, but that won’t spoil anyone’s enjoyment of this solid, well-clued, “insider’s” mystery.

   Hoch’s other three novels all feature the “Computer Cops,” a team of twenty-first century government investigators led by Carl Crader and Earl Jazine. The first, The Transvection Machine (1971), is probably the best — an expert blend of mystery, science fiction, and social commentary. The other two titles in the series are The Fellowship of the Hand (1973) and The Frankenstein Factory (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.

[UPDATE]   At the time of Edward Hoch’s death at the age of 77 in 2008, the total count of short stories he had written had increased to well over 900, and his string of over 34 years’ worth of consecutive appearances in EQMM continued for several months after his passing, both records that will never be surpassed.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Ed Gorman

MALCOLM BRALY – Shake Him Till He Rattles. Gold Medal k1311, paperback original; 1st printing, 1963. Pocket, paperback, 1976. Stark House Press, trade paperback 2006 (a two-in-one edition with It’s Cold Out There).

   When On the Yard, the novel Malcolm Braly based on his ears in prison, appeared in 1967, everyone said he was major. But for a major writer, Braly, who was killed in an automobile accident at age fifty-five, is virtually forgotten today.

   By any standard, however, Yard and the three novels he wrote for Gold Medal in the early Sixties are books worth reading, books in many respects as frenetic and confessional ional as the more literary novels of the era.

    Shake Him Till He Rattles concerns Lee Cabiness, a sax player whose only goal is to stay out of prison. Lieutenant Carver of the San Francisco narc squad has other ideas. Braly obviously based Carver on both personal experience and his reading of Dostoevski, for the cop here is almost mythic in his malice and darkness, his repudiation of all human values.

   Braly posits the jazz musicians of his book, however, as magic revelers in the human song: “Furg was a child, a vagabond child, a fey and travel-torn minstrel barely suffered in the halls of the minor barons. But, whether they knew it or not, Furg was necessary to them, to breathe into their lives the vital stuff of myth.”

   Later Braly describes the same world Jack Kerouac earlier set down as “beat.” Only Braly saw it differently: “People were coming in. Pink, clean examples of college and social Bohemia, mostly young, roughly thirty per cent gay. He saw Clair moving around. In her white dress with her pale hair she looked chilly. He caught her smile coming and going, like distant sunlight on ice.”

   The conflict between Cabiness and Carver grows, of course, as the narc makes frustrated moves on his prey, trying to demean and unman him as he closes in. The battle, again, is out of Dostoevski — the perversion of a legal system and its victim. The details, interestingly, remain “beat.”

   Braly’s fiction testifies to the indomitable human spirit of the intelligent loser. There is a wealth of sadness and humor alike in his pages and a kind of quirky defiance. His was the ultimate loneliness, it seemed, belonging as he did to neither world, criminal nor straight. He charted a type of experience seldom seen in crime fiction –the real world of the criminal.

   A rediscovery of this and Braly’s other fine novels Felony Tank (1961), It’s Cold Out There (1966), and The Protector (1979) — is long past due.

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

UPDATE:   The good news is that of the books Ed Gorman mentioned in this review, I believe that all but The Protector is currently in print. Stark House Press has reprinted this, It’s Cold Out There and in a separate edition, Felony Tank, while The New York Review of Books has recently published On the Yard.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by George Kelley

WILLIAM HJORTSBERG – Falling Angel. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, hardcover, 1978. Fawcett, paperback, 1982; Warner Books, paperback, 1986; St. Martin’s, paperback, 1996. Millipede Press, trade paperback, 2006. Film: Tri-Star, 1987, as Angel Heart (with Mickey Rourke as Harry Angel).

   William Hjortsberg is a highly unconventional writer who delights in mixing genres and breaking molds. His first novel, Alp (1969), blends pornography and mountain climbng; his science-fiction novel, Gray Matters (1971) features a Utopia run by incredible cybernetic machines dedicated to human transcendence while humans rebel against the perfect society. Other experimental works include Symbiography (1973) and Toro! Toro! Toro! (1975).

   In Falling Angel, Hjortsberg combines 1940s private-eye fiction with the occult. PI Harry Angel, a specialist in finding missing persons, is hired to track down a famous Forties singer, Johnny Favorite. The trail leads to Central Park, voodoo ceremonies, a black mass in an abandoned subway station, Coney Island fortune-tellers, and bizarre murders. Harry Angel finds he’s involved in a satanic plot, and he might not be able to escape alive.

   Fallen Angel is William Hjortsberg’s most successful book; descriptions of New York City in the post-World War II era are clever and accurate. A condensed version of Falling Angel was published in Playboy and proved very popular. In trying to describe Falling Angel, Stephen King said, “I’ve never read anything remotely like it. Trying to imagine what might have happened if Raymond Chandler had written The Exorcist is as close as I can come.”

   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.

WILLIAM HJORTSBERG, R. I. P.   Quoting from The Rap Sheet earlier this week:

    “The New York City-born Montana novelist who gave us private investigator Harry Angel (in 1978’s Falling Angel), the lively detective pairing of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini (in 1994’s Nevermore), and a drug-fueled nightmare excursion through 1960s Mexico (in 2015’s Mañana) passed away this last Saturday night of pancreatic cancer. Author William Hjortsberg, who was known to friends simply as ‘Gatz,’ was 76 years old.”

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

  LEIGH BRACKETT – The Tiger Among Us. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1957. Also published as 13 West Street: Bantam J2323, paperback, 1962. Reprinted in the UK as Fear No Evil (Corgi, paperback, 1960).

   This is Leigh Brackett’s best crime novel — a simple, straightforward, consistently gripping, and powerful story of one man’s nightmare encounter with random teenage violence. Walter Sherris, an average family man and a white-collar employee of a company in an Ohio mill town, takes a walk along a dark road one night and is brutally beaten by five young “tigers” out looking for thrills.

   But that is only the beginning of his ordeal. When Sherris is finally released from the hospital, he sets out to do what the police haven’t been able to: learn the identities of his attackers and see justice done. It isn’t long, however, before he is again the hunted — and his family along with him. For the five boys, continuing their random attacks, have gone too far with another of their victims: They are already murderers and stand ready to kill again. Even if Sherris learns to wear the stripes of the tiger himself, even if he survives this second assault, he knows his life will never be the same.

   Fine writing and some genuinely harrowing scenes make The Tiger Among Us one of the best of the spate of Fifties novels dealing with juvenile delinquency. In the forcefulness of its message, in fact, it is second only to Evan Hunter’s mainstream novel The Blackboard Jungle. An effective screen version appeared under the title 13 West Street in 1962, starring Alan Ladd and Rod Steiger.

   Brackett’s other crime novels are An Eye for an Eye (1957) and Silent Partner (1969). She also ghosted a mystery for actor George Sanders, Stranger at Home (1946).

   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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