TALMAGE POWELL – With a Madman Behind Me. Permabook M-4233, paperback original, 1961.

   Whenever I see a nice-looking paperback original mystery under 50 cents I pick it up whether I know anything about the author or not, and Talmage Powell’s With a Madman Behind Me turned out to be a readable blend of the preposterous and the pretentious. No classic, maybe, but I didn’t throw it across the room, either.

   It opens with PI Ed Rivers looking out his window one hot Tampa night to see a woman in an apartment across the way waving for help. He gets to her place just in time to:

    a) See her killed

    b) Learn the identity of her killer

    c) Get a clue that will bust open a devious plot to flood America with (gasp!) pornography

    d) Get knocked out, tied up and dumped in Tampa Bay.

   That’s the Preposterous part. The Pretentious comes right on the heels of this, when everyone starts talking like freshman sociology students: as when a Homicide cop describes a dead hooker:

    “She was the product of a slum birth and a hungry life. She grew up without coming into contact with the values most folks like us take for granted. The legal rules in the statute books simply had no meaning for her.”

   And a few pages later Ed Rivers confronts a witness and describes her:

   She wasn’t afraid but there was a guarded look in her eyes. An accustomed look. An old, old look the years had developed even though she couldn’t have been more than nineteen or twenty. The look was the bequest of the world where her claws were never fully sheathed.

   It turns out even the bad guys talk this way, as a Porn kingpin tells Ed:

    “You’re a sucker, a fool with ingrained ideals you’ve never been able to master. But you’re a nerveless bull ’gator who acts his own way no matter what the rest of the creatures in the swamp do.”

   Now I ain’t narrow-thinking, but a man gets tired of that kind of talk all the time. And there’s plenty more of it here. It’s as if author Talmage Powell read a Travis McGee book and never got over it.

   On the plus side, however, Powell handles the action scenes well enough, moves the predictable plot along swiftly, and does not — as some authors do — deplore the art of pornography, then proceed to fill his book with sex. There’s even a sort-of pay-off for all the over-analyzing, as the book wraps up with a thoughtful twist on an old plot.

   It’s not enough to save Madman from utter forgetabilty, but it does provide a readable time-waster for those who miss the old days of paperback crime.

      The Ed Rivers series –

The Killer Is Mine (1959)

The Girl’s Number Doesn’t Answer (1960)

With a Madman Behind Me (1961)
Start Screaming Murder (1962)
Corpus Delectable (1964)


MARGARET MARON – Bootlegger’s Daughter. Deborah Knott #1, Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1992; paperback, June 1993.

   Margaret Maron is the author of seven novels featuring Sigrid Harald, as well as one non-series mystery. I understand that we’ve seen the last of Harald for a while, and that Maron will concentrate on Deborah Knott.

   Fine with me; I liked the Harald stories well enough to read and acquire them, but I think Bootlegger’s Daughter clearly represents a move up in the craft.

   Deborah Knott is a 34 year old attorney who has entered the Democratic Primary for the position of District Judge. Her father is (was?) the best known bootlegger in that part of North Carolina, and they are currently somewhat estranged due to his opposition to her political ambitions.

   Just prior to election day, an old (unrequited) love comes to her for help The story of course deals with her journey into the past in search of answers, but it is much more than just a mystery to be solved. It is the story of a woman trying to enter a man’s world in the old south, and indeed an evocative depiction of the people and culture of a piece of that part of our country.

   I know North Carolina only slightly, but know the rural south well, and found the milieu to be finely and accurately drawn. Deborah herself is an appealing character, a strong and determined woman who I believe will find favor with most readers. I look forward to meeting her again. A very good book, recommended highly.

   A final note: on the back of the dust jacket are no less than seven favorable and well deserved advance comments by fellow mystery writers, and I was struck by the fact that they were all by female authors. Hmmm. One isn’t quite sure what to infer. Do Maron/Mysterious Press consider this primarily a “woman’s” book? Surely not, though that’s the most obvious implication. I would think it almost has to be a marketing decision of some kind. Oh, well.

– Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #3, September 1992.

      The Deborah Knott Series

Bootlegger’s Daughter, 1992
Southern Discomfort, 1993

Shooting at Loons, 1994
Up Jumps the Devil, 1996

Killer Market, 1997
Home Fires, 1998
Storm Track, 2000
Uncommon Clay, 2001
Slow Dollar, 2002
High Country Fall, 2004
Rituals of the Season, 2005
Winter’s Child, 2006

Hard Row, 2007
Death’s Half-Acre, 2008
Sand Sharks, 2009

Christmas Mourning, 2010
Three-Day Town, 2011 (cross-over with Sigrid Harald)
The Buzzard Table, 2012

Designated Daughters, 2014
Long Upon the Land, 2015

Note: Sigrid Harald made two additional appearances after the Deborak Knott series began: Fugitive Colors (1995) and the crossover novel noted above. Bootlegger’s Daughter won the 1992 Agatha and the Anthony, Edgar and Macavity awards for “Best Novel” the following year.

JAMES DARK – Hong Kong Incident. Signet D2935, paperback original; 1st US printing, August 1966. First published in Australia as Assignment: Hong Kong by Horwitz Publications Inc., Australia, paperback, 1966.

   There were in all 16 recorded adventures of undercover spy Mark Hood, of which this is one of the earliest. The author of all but one of the Hood books, ostensibly James Dark, was J. E. Macdonell, who according to his Wikipedia page, “wrote over 200 novels, in at least 7 different series under several versions of his own name and several pseudonyms.” In Australia, where Horwitz was based, the Mark Hood books were published under Macdonnell’s own name.

   The gimmick for Mark Hood was that he worked undercover as an international playboy, as as such, according to the Spy Guys and Gals website, he was an expert in “Auto racing at Le Mans, karate competitions in Tokyo, sail fishing in the Bahamas, and, most famously of all, one of the greatest living cricket players in England.”

   This was the first one I’ve read, and in Hong Kong Incident, of the skills above, he shows off only auto racing (in Chapter One), plus karate or some other Asiatic fighting ability. I’ll have to take the other website’s word for it about any of the other talents.

   The reason he’s in Hong Kong is to be there where a Chinese dissident crosses the border and get him safely to Geneva. The first he does; the mission goes wrong when it comes to the second. Otherwise, of course, there wouldn’t be a story, which when it finally gets around to it, is about keeping a Chinese submarine from blowing up part of the American fleet. Before that the story takes place in a rice paddy, an ancient Chinese cemetery and a couple of exotic bars, with ladies in them to match.

   Dark is OK with short action scenes and quick descriptions of local countrysides. He’s not so good in placing the action in a grander scale: Dark seems to know Macao, Hong Kong, and Kowloon in particular, with China looming somewhere across the border, but to me, the setting was all one big jumble. His characters? One-dimensional at best.

   On the other hand, Dark’s other books, many written under Macdonnell’s real name, are naval adventures, and here he really seems to know what he’s talking about. The last third of this book would be grand stuff, I think, for fans of naval fiction, naval personnel, naval armament and the like. I don’t happen to be one, but I got by. Overall, I’m glad this one was only 128 pages long. I don’t imagine I’ll read another.

      The Mark Hood series —

Spy from the Grave, 1964. [No US edition; written by R. Wilkes-Hunter]
The Bamboo Bomb, 1965.

Come Die with Me. 1965.
Hong Kong Incident. 1966.
Assignment Tokyo. 1966.
Spy from the Deep. 1966, No US edition.

The Throne of Satan. 1967.
Operation Scuba. 1967.
Operation Jackal. 1967. No US edition.
Spying Blind. 1968.
The Sword of Genghis Khan. 1967.

The Invisibles. 1969.

Operation Ice Cap. 1969.
Operation Octopus. 1968
The Reluctant Assassin. 1970. No US edition.
Sea Scrape. 1971.

   Except where there was no US edition, all were published by Signet as paperback originals in this country. Dates are those of the US editions. (In some cases the US edition came before the Australian one.) Books published the same year are listed alphabetically, so this list may not be completely correct chronologically.

William F. Deeck

BRANDON BIRD – Downbeat for a Dirge. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1952. Detective Book Club, hardcover reprint, 3-in-1 edition. Also published as: Dead and Gone: Dell 857, paperback, 1955.

   While the sublettor of the apartment under Hampton Hume’s is with Hume and his wife, the woman rehearsing a song is murdered in a room below. During the wait for the police, the woman’s body is removed, presumably by the murderer, and an attempt is made to clean up the room.

   The murdered singer was a chanteuse, if there can be such a thing with a band playing Music Out of Dixie. A magazine illustrator and a former musician, Hume, who had appeared in two earlier novels, joins the band at police request when the band’s saxophonist disappears.

   If I relate my problems with the plot, it will give away essential information. So I’ll just say there were no more Hamp Hume mysteries after this one, no loss to the world of fiction.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1990, “Musical Mysteries.”

      The Hampton Hume series --

Death in Four Colors. Dodd Mead, 1950.

Never Wake a Dead Man. Dodd Mead, 1950.
Downbeat for a Dirge. Dodd Mead, 1952.

Note:   A fourth book by Brandon Bird, Hawk Watch (Dodd Mead, 1954), not in the Hume series, was reviewed earlier on this blog by Walter Albert. You can read his comments here, along with considerable biographical information about the authors: George Bird Evans, (1906-1998) & Kay Harris Evans, (1906-2007). Some discussion of a fifth book they wrote, The Pink Carrera (Dodd Mead, 1960), as by Harris Evans, is also included in Walter’s post.

THOMAS B. DEWEY – Nude in Nevada. Dell 6508, paperback original; 1st printing, April 1965.

   I’ve read one or two of Dewey’s PI Pete Schofield novels, but I don’t remember it (or both) being as lackluster as this one is. It starts out poorly, as far as I was concerned, and never gets any better as it goes along. It does have some good moments, though, enough to keep me hoping, and I ended up finishing it. With another author, less known to me, I probably wouldn’t have.

   Pete Schofield is one of the few tough PI’s of the 50s and 60s era who happened to be married, and happily so. It did cut down on his womanizing, though that never seemed to stop him from looking. In any case, as the books begins, Pete and Jeannie are driving somewhere through the Nevadan desert when their car breaks down, miles from anywhere.

   Or so he thinks at first. Then he remembers that by pure chance an old friend, Strangler Martin, just happens to own a small garage and poor man’s resort a few miles back and off the road a way. He and Jeannie hoof it there, only to find Martin and his wife being held prisoner of a gang of foreigners whose language Pete doesn’t recognize. Perfect timing. What are the odds?

   The gang has killed the cook, so obviously they mean business. Also a prisoner is a young lady who is completely naked but covered with tattoos, and when Pete and Strangler Martin manage scare off the bad guys (this really puzzled me, how they managed to pull this off) the lady is happy to have them take a closer look.

   Then adding to the absolute weirdness of the evening, a horde of soldiers from a nearby army base stops by, and a party breaks out. A case might be made that this was meant to be a screwball mystery, but to me, it doesn’t make any more sense now when I’m telling you this than when I was reading it. As I said earlier, I was hoping Dewey could go somewhere with this wacky beginning, but other than morphing into a long and uninteresting story of international espionage, as far as I am concerned, he never did.

   Otherwise all ends well, but since this is last recorded adventure of the Schofields, I’m afraid we’ll never know where Jeannie wants to get a tattoo, or in fact if she ever did.

      The Pete Schofield series —

And Where She Stops. Popular Library, 1957.
Go to Sleep, Jeannie. Popular Library, 1959.
Too Hot for Hawaii. Popular Library 1960.

The Golden Hooligan. Dell, 1961.
Go, Honeylou. Dell, 1962.

The Girl with the Sweet Plump Knees. Dell, 1963.
The Girl in the Punchbowl. Dell, 1964.

Only on Tuesdays. Dell, 1964.
Nude in Nevada. Dell, 1965.


  A. E. MAXWELL – The King of Nothing. Fiddler & Fiora #7. Villard, hardcover, 1992. Harper, paperback, 1994.

   The “A. E.” stands for Ann and Evan, who are the husband and wife who together write the Fiddler books, and have written several others besides. Their characters are no longer husband and wife, but lovers still. Fiddler is wealthy, by somewhat shady means detailed in the first book in the series; Fiora is wealthier, by virtue of being a financial wheeler-dealer and entrepreneur. You might, without stretching things too far, look at them as a West Coast McGee and Meyer with a little sex and a lot of money thrown in.

   Which is not to say that the Maxwells together are another John D. MacDonald, because they aren’t. They do combine to write very good prose, however, and I have thought highly of the series to date.

   In the latest episode, Fiddler is fishing with an old friend at his place on the coast of Washington. One day the friend makes Fiddler aware that he is to be the executor of his estate, and the recipient of an old Samurai sword, a souvenir of war experiences. The next day the friend is found dead, apparently the victim of a break-in and robbery. The local police do not inspire Fiddler with confidence. Concurrently, Fiora has been in Seattle negotiating with a Japanese conglomerate to sell her financial firm.

   Aha, Samurai sword, Japanese firm — can there be a connection? Well, maybe. Several gory deaths later you find out.

   This wasn’t my favorite of the series, and I’m really not sure why. The plot was a tad far-fetched in places, but most books of this type suffer from that. The writing was competent as usual, and Fiddler and Fiora continue to be engaging characters. At one time I was afraid they were headed toward some of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser-Susan kind of foolishness, but the Maxwells seem to have drawn back in time.

   Oh well, some you like more than others, some less. Still recommended, as are the first six in the series.

– Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #3, September 1992.

      The Fiddler and Fiora series

1. Just Another Day in Paradise (1985)

2. The Frog and the Scorpion (1986)

3. Gatsby’s Vinyard (1987)

4. Just Enough Light to Kill (1988)
5. The Art of Survival (1989)
6. Money Burns (1991)
7. The King of Nothing (1992)
8. Murder Hurts (1993)

William F. Deeck

BART SPICER – Blues for the Prince. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1950. Detective Book Club, hardcover reprint, 3-in-1 edition. Bantam #934, paperback, 1951.

   This is apparently the second case for private-eye Carney Wilde. When The Prince — Harold Morton Prince — jazz pianist, about sixth best in the country, and composer apparently without peer, is murdered, Wilde is called in to investigate the claim of The Prince’s accused murderer that he, not Prince, had composed most of the music Prince took credit for, particularly “Red Devil Blue,” and the folk operetta Sunset in Harlem.

   An admirer of The Prince and also a jazz enthusiast, Wilde takes a personal interest in the case since he doesn’t want The Prince’s reputation besmirched. Too much of an interest, it turns out, as he proves that the accused couldn’t have committed the murder.

   A good but not a particularly great case. Still, it has an interesting background. The Prince, his family, Wilde’s client, and other characters are black. Philadelphia in the late ’40s, as was true of most other places, was not a pleasant city if you were black. With music, though, there was no race barrier, nor apparently any race recognition.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1990, “Musical Mysteries.”

       The Carney Wilde series —

The Dark Light. Dodd, 1949.
Blues for the Prince. Dodd, 1950.
Black Sheep, Run. Dodd, 1951.

The Golden Door. Dodd, 1951.
The Long Green. Dodd, 1952.
The Taming of Carney Wilde. Dodd, 1954.

Exit, Running. Dodd, 1959.

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