Characters


THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


ELIZABETH HELY – A Mark of Displeasure. Scribner, hardcover, 1960. Heinemann, UK, hardcover, 1961.

   Visiting Edinburgh, Scotland, for the first time, Commissaire Antoine Cirret of the Paris Sûreté is somewhat bemused. The references to the weather by everyone he meets lead him, temporarily, to believe that many of the inhabitants of that city are weather fetishists.

   In Edinburgh at the request of a friend to support him while he’s giving a concert, Cirret goes to sleep during the “Emperor Concerto.” This does not, Cirret would assure you, mean he does not think much of his friend’s technique; it’s just that he does not care that much about music.

   Alec Trevor, the friend and pianist, also has friends in the city, one of whom dies while leaving the concert. Except for Cirret’s curiosity, the murder of a not-much-loved widow by nicotine poisoning would not have been detected.

   The poisoner is known to the reader and maybe to Cirret. Since she is also a friend of Trevor’s, Cirret disturbs the musician by wanting to investigate the case. Actually, Cirret doesn’t care who did it; he, as a humanitarian, merely wants no repetition of the crime.

   Hely presents a wicked but well-liked murderess whose motives are, she assures herself, of the highest, and a delightful detective in Cirret, who looks much like a monkey and may have that creature’s sense of humor. There aren’t that many French detectives that I have enjoyed reading about, but Cirret is an exception.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes: Elizabeth Hely was the pen name of Nancy Elizabeth Brassey Leslie Younger, (1913-1981). Her criminous output as a writer consisted of three books in the Cirret series (see below), plus one standalone, The Long Shot (Heinemann, 1963).

       The Commissaire Antoine Cirret series —

   Dominant Third. Heinemann, UK, 1959. US title: I’ll Be Judge, I’ll Be Jury. Scribner, 1959.
   A Mark of Displeasure. Heinemann, UK, 1961. Scribner, US, 1960.
   Package Deal. Hale 1965. No US edition. TV movie: Universal, 1968, as The Smugglers (with Shirley Booth and Emilio Fernández as Inspector Cesare Brunelli).

   From ThePeerage.Com:

Nancy Elizabeth Brassey:

   Nancy Elizabeth Brassey is the daughter of Lt.-Col. Harold Ernest Brassey and Lady Norah Hely Hutchinson. She married, firstly, S/Ldr. Reginald Frederick Stuart Leslie on 16 July 1935.1 She married, secondly, William Anthony Younger, son of Sir William Robert Younger, 2nd Bt. and Joan Gwendoline Vanden-Bempde-Johnstone, on 25 July 1945.

   From 16 July 1935, her married name became Leslie. From 25 July 1945, her married name became Younger.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Francis M. Nevins


WILLIAM ARDEN – A Dark Power. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1968. Berkley, paperback, 1970.

   During the same years he was writing the Dan Fortune private-eye novels under his Michael Collins by-line, Dennis Lynds took on the pseudonym William Arden and launched another series, this one dealing with industrial spy and PI-in-spite-of-himself Kane Jackson.

   The five Jackson novels are written in a spare, unadorned third-person style reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett’s, and their protagonist is very much the hard-bitten operative, without the leavening of compassion one finds in other Lynds detectives, like Dan Fortune or Paul Shaw.

   Most of the Jackson exploits are distinguished by their setting in the jungle of high-level capitalism, principally in the chemical, metallurgical, and pharmaceutical industries where Lynds worked as a trade-publications editor before turning to fiction.

   In A Dark Power, first and freshest of the series, Jackson is hired by a New Jersey pharmaceutical combine to recover a missing sample of a drug potentially worth millions. The trail leads through the mazes of interoffice love affairs and power struggles, and several corpses are strewn along the path.

   Although Lynds tends to get lost in his own plot labyrinths, this time he keeps the story line under firm control, meshing counterplots with fine precision, skillfully portraying people trapped by their own drives, and capping the action with a double surprise climax. Jackson reaches the truth by clever guesswork rather than reasoning, but this is the only weakness in one of the best PI novels of the Sixties.

   Of the four later Jackson exploits, the most interesting is Die to a Distant Drum (1972), which, like Lynds’s novels as by Mark Sadler, takes as background the turmoil of the Vietnam era. Jackson poses as a revolutionary bomb-maker and joins a Weatherman faction in order to infiltrate a chemical plant and bring out certain evidence of industrial piracy. The result, as usual with Lynds under whatever by-line, is a fine and thoughtful thriller.

         ———
   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 Kane Jackson series –

A Dark Power. Dodd, 1968.
Deal in Violence. Dodd, 1969.
The Goliath Scheme. Dodd, 1970.

Die to a Distant Drum. Dodd, 1972.
Deadly Legacy. Dodd, 1973.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


MARGOT NEVILLE – Murder of a Nymph. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover 1950. Detective Book Club, hardcover reprint [3-in-1 volume]. Pocket #829, paperback, 1951. First published in the UK by Geoffrey Bles, hardcover, 1949.

   Another young woman, no better than she should be, bites the dust. And here it’s Australian dust, in, of all places, Come-Hither Bend. Apparently the young woman’s, for want of a better word, friends and relatives at that oddly named place, including her betrothed, were not too fond of her. When she gets off the bus to spend the weekend there, someone beats her about the head and pushes her off a cliff.

   Since everyone had problems with Enone — thus one reason for the nymph — coverup is the name of the game. Detective Inspector Grogan knows this but has difficulty penetrating what each person is trying to conceal. When another murder occurs through the stupidity of one of the characters, all begins to come clear.

   It took me five attempts to finish this book. Grogan appealed, but the rest of the characters left me cold or slightly nauseated. While she writes well, Neville doesn’t provide the wit or lightness that I particularly enjoy. Maybe if I’d read it in sunlight and warmth –

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bio-Bibliographic Data: Margot Nevile was the joint pen name of Margot Goyder (1896-1975) and Anne Neville Goyder Joske (1887-1966). Most but not all of their criminous output consists of the Inspector Grogan series. All were published by Geoffrey Bles in the UK; those marked with an asterisk (*) were never published in the US:

       The Inspector Grogan series —

Murder in Rockwater. 1944. US title: Lena Hates Men.
Murder and Gardenias. 1946. (*)
Murder in a Blue Moon. 1948.
Murder of a Nymph. 1949.
Murder Before Marriage. 1951.
The Seagull Said Murder. 1952. (*)
Murder of the Well-Beloved. 1953.
Murder and Poor Jenny. 1954. (*)
Murder of Olympia. 1956. (*)
Murder to Welcome Her. 1957. (*)
The Flame of Murder. 1958. (*)
Sweet Night for Murder. 1959. (*)
Confession of Murder. 1960. (*)
Murder Beyond the Pale. 1961. (*)
Drop Dead. 1962. (*)
Come See Me Die. 1963. (*)
My Bad Boy. 1964. (*)
Ladies in the Dark. 1965. (*)
Head on the Sill. 1966. (*)

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


C. DALY KING – Obelists at Sea. Knopf, US, hardcover, 1933. Heritage, UK, hardcover, 1932; Penguin Books, UK, paperback, 1938.

   During the bidding for a number in the ship’s pool on distance traveled by day, the lights go out and Victor Smith, either a copper king or a Western railroad magnate, is shot twice in the heart. Only one gun is found to have been fired, and that is proved not to have committed the murder. Smith’s daughter also dies, although of what cause is not known. To add to the complexity, Smith had taken or been given poison almost immediately before he was shot.

   The case is too much for the ship’s detectives, so four gentleman aboard assist in the investigation. Dr. Hayvier, a well-known behaviorist, Dr. Pechs, an equally well-known psychoanalyst, and Dr. Pons, inventor of Integrative Psychology, and Professor Miltie, who had carefully avoided being identified with any of the schools of his “science” — all have their theories, all different, with different suspects.

   Put aside the fact that the Meganaut has ten decks above the water line and a crew of at least a thousand and that Captain Mansfield invariably refers to it as a “boat.” This is still a fascinating, albeit a bit slow, novel.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Editorial Comments: While I do not know if all four of the detective characters in this novel appear in all of the books below, Professor Pons is stated in Hubin to be in each of them.

       The Dr. L. Rees Pons series –

Obelists at Sea. Knopf, 1933.
Obelists en Route. Collins, UK, 1934.
Obelists Fly High . H. Smith 1935.
Careless Corpse. Collins, UK, 1937.
Arrogant Alibi. Appleton, 1939.

    Also of interest, I believe, is the following quote taken from author Martin Edwards in his review on his blog of C Daly King’s mystery output in general:

    “‘Obelist’ was a word that King made up. He defined it in Obelists at Sea as ‘a person of little or no value’ and then re-defined it in Obelists en Route as ‘one who harbours suspicion’. Why on earth you would invent a word, use it in your book titles, and then change your mind about what it means?”

For more on C. Daly King, the mystery writer, may I also direct you to Mike Grost’s comments about his work on his website.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


JOHN LESLIE – Night and Day. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1995. Pocket Books, paperback, 1996.

   This is the second of four mysteries featuring Gideon Lowry, a jazz pianist and private investigator based in Key West. His brother committed suicide at the end of the first book and Gideon’s girl friend (Casey) has moved to Miami.

   A visiting singer named Asia (with lips the color of plum) hires Gideon to locate her estranged husband, a writer obsessed with Hemingway. This is a not inappropriate obsession in Key West with the annual Hemingway Days celebration and the Hemingway house, which is open to the public as a museum. Gideon finds the missing husband, but he’s soon killed and Asia looks like a prime suspect.

   The novel (like the other three) is heavy with sultry heat and the perfume of whatever produces heavy scents In Key West. A nice series of grace notes on the 1990s private eye scene.

       The Gideon Lowry series —

Killing Me Softly (1995)

         

Night And Day (1995)
Love For Sale (1996)
Blue Moon (1998)

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


ED McBAIN – The Gutter and the Grave. Hard Case Crime #15, paperback, December 2005. First published as I’m Cannon — for Hire, as by Curt Cannon (Gold Medal #814, 1958), with the leading character also named Curt Cannon.

   Ed McBain’s The Gutter and the Grave is a quick, entertaining read and quite good, if not overly complicated, murder mystery. It’s also a time capsule of sorts, an enchanting mirror looking backward to late 1950s Manhattan, an age when jazz was king, the Bowery was for bums, and there were down and out and hard drinking private eyes like the book’s protagonist, one washed out thirty-something, Matt Cordell.

   Cordell, as the narrator of the work, lets us know early on who he is and what he is. “I’m a drunk. I think we’d better get that straight from the beginning.” (Page 13.) Our “hero” spends his days hanging out around Cooper Union in lower Manhattan. Then one day, a friend—of sorts—from the old neighborhood uptown — way uptown — shows up and wants an investigative favor.

   Enter Johnny Bridges who wants Cordell to look into some fishy goings on in the tailor shop he runs with a guy named Dom Archese. Maybe Dom’s fishing from the cash register late at night.

   All fine and good, until the duo head uptown only to find Dom Archese dead. Worse still, at least for Bridges, are the initials “JB” scrawled in chalk. Bridges, to no one’s surprise, becomes the chief suspect and ends up in police custody. It’s now up to Cordell to figure out what’s going on and to exonerate his so-called friend, if possible.

   Along the way, Cordell meets up with Dom’s wife, Christine (who also ends up dead), Christine’s sister, who is an aspiring musician by the name of Laraine Marsh, a Manhattan cop named Miskler, and sundry other colorful characters including a rival PI and his sultry employee. All the while, Cordell is reminded of his ex-wife, Toni, his one true love who ended up in the arms of another man.

   Cordell’s world is not a happy one, but it’s an extraordinarily vivid one. At least that’s how Ed McBain paints it. And what a painting! Reading The Gutter and the Grave transports you to a specific time and a specific place. It’s sometime in the late 1950s and Manhattan’s a crowded, hot city in the summer. The murder and the lies all around Cordell only make it hotter. Recommended.

       The Matt Cordell/Curt Cannon short stories (as by Evan Hunter) –

“Die Hard” (January 1953, Manhunt)
“Dead Men Don’t Dream (March 1953, Manhunt)
“Now Die in It” (May 1953, Manhuntt)
“Good and Dead” (July 1953, Manhunt)
“The Death of Me” (September 1953, Manhunt)
“Deadlier Than the Male” (February 1954, Manhunt)
“Return” (July 1954, Manhunt)
“The Beatings” (October 1954, Manhunt)

   The first six of the above were collected in I Like ’em Tough, as by Curt Cannon (Gold Medal #743, 1958).

THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


JAMES MITCHELL – Dying Day. Henry Holt, hardcover, 1989. First published in the UK by H. Hamilton, hardcover, 1988.

   James Mitchell has done a number of crime novels, as himself and as James Munro, and now turns up with a London private eye named Ron Hogget. Hogget finds things for people, though the finding usually involves some fearful activities.

   Ron is often fearful — he’s that sort of person — but he usually gets the job done. And he has Dave, a friend who drives a cab, reads Literature, knows everything about guns and self-defense and nothing about fear.

   Hogget’s second adventure is Dying Day. [But see below.] Here Tony Palliser, filthy rich now from business that began with airplanes — Dakotas — participating in the Berlin airlift in 1948, calls on Hogget’s services. It’s one of those planes, lost at that time, that Palliser now wants Ron to find.

   Why, after all these years? Palliser’s reason is thin, but his money is good so Ron starts. And finds he’s not alone on the search, that the real reason must be quite impressive for all the dying being arranged on its behalf. Including, very likely, his…

   A solidly constructed, high-tension story with a well-crafted array of characters.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

      The Ron Hogget series —

Sometimes You Could Die. H. Hamilton, 1985. No US edition.
Dead Ernest. H. Hamilton, 1986. Holt, 1987.
Dying Day. H. Hamilton, 1988. Holt, 1989.

Next Page »