Characters


THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


ZELDA POPKIN – Death Wears a White Gardenia. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1938. Red Arrow Books #5, digest-sized paperback. 1939. Dell #13, paperback, 1943.

   Mary Carner, department-store detective, appeared in five books, of which this is the first. At least in this novel, the store is Jeremiah Blankfort and Company in New York City, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an appearance by the Governor’s wife.

   Also adding to the festivities is the discovery of a corpse that turns out to have been Andrew McAndrew, credit manager of Blankfort’s and a chap, it would appear, given to blackmailing married customers who charge items for their girl friends. He also had his own girl friends, one of whom is carrying his child.

   The suspects are limited to those who were working in the store the previous evening before the anniversary celebration, but that is nonetheless a rather large number. McAndrew’s fed-up wife and brother-in-law and a junky but talented shoplifter add to the total.

   Mary Carner is convinced that the murder was committed by an employee of Blankfort’s. That part of the investigation is stymied since the store’s owner will not allow the employees to be questioned until the sale day is over. This is, after all, still in the depths of the Depression, and the department store’s finances are rather rocky.

   Better than Spencer Dean’s department-store mysteries, but not much better. One hopes that Popkin improved in her later novels.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1990.


       The Mary Carner (Whittaker) series –

Death Wears a White Gardenia. Lippincott, 1938.
Murder in the Mist. Lippincott, 1940.

Time Off for Murder. Lippincott, 1940.
Dead Man’s Gift. Lippincott, 1941.

No Crime for a Lady. Lippincott, 1942.

   Zelda Popkn wrote two other works of crime fiction, So Much Blood (Lippincott, 1944), and A Death of Innocence (Lippincott, 1971) which was the basis of a TV movie of the same title. (CBS, 1971 with Shelley Winters and Arthur Kennedy).

   For more on the author herself, here’s a link to her Wikipedia page.

RICHARD HIMMEL – The Rich and the Damned. Gold Medal s735, paperback original; 1st printing, January 1958.

   Of the eight novels Richard Himmel wrote for Gold Medal, five of them recounted the adventures of Johnny Maguire, a hard-nosed Chicago-based lawyer who grew up in a working class, blue collar neighborhood. If we can take The Rich and the Damned as being representative of the earlier books, none of which I’ve read at any time less than 40 years ago, he’s still touchy about his background if anyone brings it up.

   I’m not sure how representative this book is, though. It’s the last of the five, and even though the blurb on the front cover says, “Johnny Maguire is back, and once again mixed up with molls, and murder,” there are no molls in this, not a one, and no murder, either. In fact, there not even a crime in this book, even though (from the titles) all of the earlier books had him tackling crime of all kinds and all corners.

   The closest that anything that resembles a crime in The Rich and the Dammed takes place is when a hoodlum from Maguire’s youth has him beaten up in a futile attempt to make him reveal the terms of a industrial mogul’s will after he dies.

   In therein lies the story. Maguire has been a sometimes bedmate with the dead man’s daughter, but she’s not the only person set to inherit. One son (or stepson) is of the prodigal variety, and has been disowned. The other is a scholarly wimp (my word) who suddenly finds some legs to stand on, thanks to a new lady friend, whose eyes are probably more on the father’s fortune. The other daughter has been sheltered from the world, particularly men and it takes all of Maguire’s will power to resist when she begs him to show her what she has been missing.

   The mobster is working on behalf of a competitor trying to take over the company, and the conditions of the will are important. Surprisingly to everyone, the will leaves equal portions of the stock to each of the four, even though it is Rourke, Maguire’s red-headed girl friend, who has ever shown any interest in the company, and in fact it is she who has been running the firm in recent years, having learned the ropes by starting at the bottom.

   And Maguire, respected by all four of the beneficiaries of the will, is the one caught in the middle, and it is his working class background that formulates his philosophies toward the problems of the wealthy and well-heeled. Does he take advantage of the situation and make himself one of them, one of the rich and powerful? Or does he stick to his basic roots and let them go on squabbling and their not-so-merry way?

   Believe it or not, Richard Himmel was a writer good enough to make all of this interesting, very much so. Johnny Maguire makes a decision, and the book ends. What happens from there, we’ll never know. This is the last anyone has heard anything about Johnny Maguire.

Bio-Bibliographic Notes:

    The Johnny Maguire series –

I’ll Find You. Gold Medal, 1950.
The Chinese Keyhole. Gold Medal, 1951.
I Have Gloria Kirby. Gold Medal, 1951.
Two Deaths Must Die. Gold Medal, 1954,
The Rich and the Damned. Gold Medal, 1958.

   There is little to be learned about Johnny Maguire on the Internet. I found a review of I’ll Find You on Bill Crider’s blog, and not much else. I don’t think Bill will mind if I quote from his comments, one line only: “Gangsters are involved, and there’s a murder, but this isn’t really a crime novel. In its own twisted way, it’s a love story in the Gold Medal vein, with the emphasis on speed, with lots of raw emotion, with plenty of melodrama.” Given that statement, maybe I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was at the lack of criminal activity in this book also.

   As for the author himself, I found an online obituary for Richard Himmel to be very interesting. Besides being a writer, Himmel was for most of his life one of the country’s best known interior designers. Truth, believe it or not, is often stranger than fiction.

DOROTHY SIMPSON – The Night She Died. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1981. Bantam, paperback, 1985. Poisoned Pen Press, trade paperback, 1998, First published in the UK by Michael Joseph, hardcover, 1981.

   In the world of crime fiction, there seems to be an unwritten law that a new private eye has to have a gimmick, a little quirk of behavior, perhaps, that will help him (or her) stand out from all the others. There is a similar theory for policemen, and it holds that because of the nature of their job, they need humanizing: a loving family, perhaps. Teething babies. Bad backs.

   Inspector Thanet is lucky. He has all three.

   His current case involves a murdered woman. Who killed her? Her husband, with whom she was seeing a marriage counselor? Her thwarted, amorous boss? The determined ex-suitor?

   Thanet’s investigation also takes him back into the past, over his sergeant’s objections, to dig up an unsolved murder the victim may have witnessed as a child. The problem is that looking into this old case is as dry and uninteresting as poking around in a pile of dusty bones, and it’d be awfully easy to give the story up as routine right here.

   And this you shouldn’t do, as Simpson has a terrific surprise in store for the persevering reader who sticks it out to the end. I suspect there’ll be a good many people who’ll never reach it. Exquisitely plotted, and ploddingly told — a sad combination.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1981.


      The Inspector Thanet series –

1. The Night She Died (1981)
2. Six Feet Under (1982)
3. Puppet for a Corpse (1983)
4. Close Her Eyes (1984)
5. Last Seen Alive (1985)
6. Dead On Arrival (1986)

7. Element of Doubt (1987)
8. Suspicious Death (1988)
9. Dead By Morning (1989)
10. Doomed to Die (1991)

11. Wake the Dead (1992)
12. No Laughing Matter (1993)
13. A Day for Dying (1995)

14. Once Too Often (1998)
15. Dead and Gone (1999)

JANICE LAW – Death Under Par. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1981. iUniverse, softcover, 2000.

   With the obvious exception of horse-racing, I think more mysteries have had to do with golf than with any other sport. Unless you can come up with another physical pastime I’m not thinking of, golf is the clear runner-up, which is what leads us to the latest Anna Peters thriller.

   She and long-time boy friend Harry have finally tied the knot, and for their honeymoon they travel to Scotland, for a working vacation during the British Open — he’s an artist on assignment for Sports Illustrated. There have been vandals at work, however, and threats have been made against one of the golfers. In case you haven’t been following Miss Peters’ adventures, she runs her own security business, and it quickly becomes a working honeymoon for her as well.

   She finds a common thread between the golfer and two of her leading suspects: they all attended the same small college in Hartford (Trinity College, recognizably incognito). As a result, there is a good deal of local Connecticut scenery involved as well, including a quickie tour through the offices of the same newspaper [the Hartford Courant] that prints most of my reviews.

   Which, of course, interested me much more than it will most of you. This is a straightforward crime story, making it more realistic than the puzzle artifices of a pure whodunit, perhaps, but in all truth, this case of Anna Peters presents no other challenge than that of sheer endurance.

   A twist was needed. This one comes straight.

Rating: C.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 3, May/June 1981 (slightly revised).


The Anna Peters series –

1. The Big Payoff (1975)
2. Gemini Trip (1977)
3. Under Orion (1978)
4. The Shadow of the Palms (1979)
5. Death Under Par (1981)
6. Time Lapse (1992)
7. A Safe Place to Die (1993)
8. Backfire (1994)
9. Cross-Check (1997)

WILSON TUCKER – To Keep or Kill. Rinehart & Co., hardcover, 1947. Lion #21, paperback, 1950; Lion Library LL84, 1956.

   Tucker, who is probably better known today for his science fiction, wrote a total of five Charles Horne mysteries for Rinehart back between 1946 and 1951. After that he apparently decided he was better off not trying to write detective fiction, even as a sideline.

   Not that he left the field completely, but I think he probably made the right decision.

   Horne is a private eye. Most of his work is done for insurance companies. He quite vehemently does not do divorce work. The small metropolis of Boone, Illinois, where he has his office, is a figment of Tucker’s imagination, although there is a Boone County (up near Rockford).

   This is the second Horne book. As it begins, he is witness to an explosion. He thinks it’s a practical joke at first, but when it goes off it takes part of a city block and a couple of victims with it. Later, Horne is kidnapped and kept a prisoner in the home of the girl who planted the bomb. She’s a redhead, tall, beautiful, and as loopy as a loon.

   She is in love with Horne, she has been stalking him for months, and now that she “owns” him, so to speak, she expects — well, this was written before such explicit intentions could be stated, but those are the kinds of intentions she has. Viewed from today’s more permissive perspective, Horne’s brave resistance to temptation seems both admirable and refreshingly naive.

   Tucker’s style in this book is a burbling, slap-happy one, somewhat reminiscent of Fredric Brown in nature. In all, however, it hardly manages to disguise a total apparent lick of respect for logical thought processes. Or let me put it another way: the sort of logic that is used by all concerned would make sense only to the well-confined inmates of a lunatic asylum.

   It wouldn’t be hard to enjoy this quirky excuse for a detective story immensely. There is a thin line, it is said, between genius and lunacy. If I’d been able to follow the plot at all, I’d have said this was the work of the former.

   As for a letter grade, I’m not too sure of this one at all, but if it means anything to you, what I’m going to do, if I don’t change my mind tomorrow, is give this book a definite (C plus?).

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 3, May/June 1981.


The Charles Horne series –

The Chinese Doll. Rinehart, 1946. Dell Mapback #343, 1949.

To Keep or Kill. Rinehart, 1947. Lion #21, 1950.
The Dove. Rinehart, 1948.
The Stalking Man. Rinehart, 1949. Mercury Mystery #150, no date.
Red Herring. Rinehart, 1951.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


ROBERT J. CASEY – Hot Ice. Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1933. Greenberg, reprint hardcover, no date stated. Prize Mystery Novels #4, digest-sized paperback, 1943.

   Robert J. Casey’s Hot Ice was something I picked up at an antique store just to be nice and let it sit on my TBR shelf for five or ten years till I finally seized it in fit of read-it-or-rid-of-it. Well, it’s not a keeper, but I’m glad I took the time for this charming, hard-boiled tale of double-cross and murder in the stolen gem market.

   It features Joseph Crewe, a Chicago police detective, and an ex-reporter named Jim Sands as an engaging pair of sleuths following a trail of unrelated (or are they?) murders across the city, and author Casey uses a ploy here you don’t see very often: we all know how irritating it is when an author provides information to the detective and withholds it from the reader (she bent down and picked something off the floor, tucking it carefully in her pocket. “I’ll pull this out in the last chapter,” she smiled knowingly) but Casey provides information to the reader that the sleuths have to puzzle out for themselves (or will they?) and there’s some dandy suspense engendered watching them stumble towards it, plus a few added twists as the reader and detectives are both faced with the mystery of a murdered milkman who finished his route post mortem.

       The Jim Sands series –

The Secret of Thirty-Seven Hardy Street. Bobbs, 1929.
The Secret of the Bungalow. Bobbs, 1930.
News Reel. Bobbs, 1932.
Hot Ice. Bobbs, 1933.
The Third Owl. Bobbs, 1934.

Editorial Comment:   Hubin does not say whether Joseph Crewe is in all of these novels or not. According to a limited Google search, he is in some of them.

RANDY STRIKER – Key West Connection. Signet, paperback original, 1981. Reprinted as by Randy Wayne White “writing as Randy Striker,” Signet, paperback, 2006.

   Here’s the first installment of a brand new “action-packed” adventure series. The hero is Floridian charterboat captain Dusky MacMorgan, ex-US Navy (underwater demolition). He’s a cross between Travis McGee and Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan, if you can believe it.

   He leaves a lot of dead people behind him. And, of course, so do the villains. In this book they’re a gang of dope smugglers. The top levels of the gang include a US Senator (unnamed) and assorted top officials in all levels of the executive branch. And an ounce of humanity you would not find in any of them.

   MacMorgan’s wife and twin little boys are killed in a bomb accident (it was meant for him), and he takes his remorse out in total retaliation. He leaves a lot of dead people behind. (Or did I say that?)

   I think Randy Striker (is that his real name?) should quit the annoying habit of telling the end of each chapter first. Otherwise, well, you probably already know if you’re going to go out looking for this book or not. If Striker is the charterboat captain we are informed he also is, these are — if you’ll excuse this expression — his wet dreams.

Rating:   C minus.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 3, May/June 1981.


The Dusky MacMorgan series –

1. Key West Connection. Signet, 1981.
2. The Deep Six. Signet, 1981.
3. Cuban Death-Lift. Signet, 1981.

4. The Deadlier Sex. Signet, 1981.
5. Assassin’s Shadow. Signet, 1981.

6. Everglades Assault. Signet, 1982.
7. Grand Cayman Slam. Signet, 1982.

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