Books Noted


   I’ve asked Chuck Harter, the author of the following book to tell us more about it. He’s most graciously agreed:

CHUCK HARTER – Mr. Novak: An Acclaimed Television Series. Bearmanor Media, hardcover, softcover and eBook, illustrated, 15 October 2017.

   This book is a comprehensive look at a classic dramatic television series that aired for two seasons in the early 1960’s. It was filmed at the MGM studios, aired on the NBC network and showcased life at a typical American High School.

   The program starred James Franciscus as teacher John Novak with first Dean Jagger then later Burgess Meredith as the Principal of the school. Mr. Novak was the first series that portrayed teachers and students in a realistic dramatic manner.

   Previously there had only been sitcoms which didn’t reflect the lifestyles of the real students of America. The series featured top quality scripts, actors and production and won over 47 awards during its run including the prestigious Peabody Award for excellence.

   Many of the awards came from academic institutions which praised the show for its portrayal of the educational community. Such was the impact of the production that it prompted many to become teachers and many existing educators to improve their skills.

   The book traces the evolution of the series from development to the pilot’s production and acceptance by NBC. It then covers the filming and airing of the first season to great acclaim.

   The second season, which was fraught with controversy and discord is then examined with the result being cancellation.

   The legacy of the principals involved with the series is examined along with comments by those that continue to be interested in this vintage classic dramatic series of superior values.

   The book contains exclusive interviews with over 40 actors including Ed Asner, Frankie Avalon, Diane Baker, Beau Bridges, Johnny Crawford, Tony Dow, Sherry Jackson, Tommy Kirk, Walter Koenig, Martin Landau, June Lockhart, Beverly Washburn and many others. There are 243 illustrations and an index, including a complete episode guide with full credits, plot descriptions, vintage interviews, and new appraisals by the author.

   There is also an extensive appendix with a list of the awards Mr. Novak won, Producer E. Jack Neuman’s writer’s guide for Mr. Novak, An advice column for High School graduates by star James Franciscus, Principal Vane’s (Dean Jagger) speech to the new teachers, the Mr. Novak board game and more.

   The Introduction of the book is by A-List Director Richard Donner: “I’m so glad Chuck Harter is brining the Mr. Novak experience to a wider audience…read his detailed behind-the-scenes account.”

   The Foreword is by the late Martin Landau: “Chuck Harter has produced a superlative book that is both fascinating and informative.”

   The Afterword is by Star Trek actor Walter Koenig: “You don’t have to be an actor…just a student to appreciate the skillful way in which Chuck Harter unfolds the stories behind the cameras.”

   Mr. Novak was a television series of exceptional quality and the amazing thing is that when episodes are viewed today — they are not dated or corny but are still relevant to modern times.

   The book is also available at Amazon.com, while the Official website is https://mrnovakbook.com/

ANNOUNCEMENT : Warner Home Video is going to release the first season of Mr. Novak (30 episodes) in a DVD set in 2018. They will be struck from the original 35mm camera negatives and should look pristine.

   I’ve asked Dick Etulain, the author of the following book to tell us more about it. He’s most graciously agreed:

RICHARD W. ETULAIN – Ernest Haycox and the Western. University of Oklahoma Press, hardcover, illustrated, 2017.

   This book attempts to resurrect writer Ernest Haycox as a major figure in the development of the fictional Western. It is not a biography; Haycox’s son, Ernest Haycox, Jr., does that in his smoothly written book On a Silver Desert: The Life of Ernest Haycox (2003). Nor is it primarily a work of literary criticism. That book is available in Stephen L. Tanner, Ernest Haycox (1996).

   Rather, my book is a work of literary history, tracing Haycox’s literary career from its origins in the early 1920s to his death in 1950.

   Born in 1899 and reared in Oregon, Haycox contributed to high school publications and then to college outlets at Reed College (1919-20) and the University of Oregon (1920-23). By graduation, Haycox had published several stories in pulp magazines. Hoping to establish strong links to fictional outlets in the East, Haycox traveled to New York City, where he met editors important to his career in the 1920s. Meeting Jill Marie Chord (also from Oregon) on the train east, they married in New York City but soon returned west to Portland, which would be the Haycox home for the remainder of his life.

   By the end of the 1920s, Haycox was a steady contributor to many pulp magazines, including such stalwarts as Adventure, Short Stories, and Western Story Magazine. In 1928, he published his first full-length serial, which appeared the next year as Free Grass, his first novel. In the opening 1930s, Haycox made his first appearance in Collier’s and remained a steady contributor for almost twenty years.

   Hoping to move to the top of writers of Westerns, Haycox experimented with several new wrinkles to chosen genre. He created reflective protagonists (“Hamlet heroes”) and dark and light heroines (passionate and reserved women).

   Even more important, he began to turn out historical Westerns, infusing his lively fiction with historical backgrounds such as building the transcontinental railroad, fighting Indians in the Southwest, and settling Oregon. His most notable historical Western was Bugles in the Afternoon (1944), a fictional recreation of Gen. George Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

   Immensely successful, Haycox was nonetheless dissatisfied with the restrictions of the Western and entered a period of revolt in the last half-dozen years (1944-50) of his career. Abandoning lucrative serial markets, he set out to write first-rate historical fiction. His best historical novel, The Earthbreakers (1952), appeared two years after his death.

   Talented, ambitious, and driven, Ernest Haycox became a major figure in popular fiction written about the American West. Haycox’s continuing growth, gradual but steady, amply demonstrates an author determined enough to defy popular demands and honest enough to write novels consistent with his changing literary beliefs.

COMMENTS BY BARRY GARDNER:


WILLIAM F. NOLAN – The Black Mask Murders. Black Mask Boys #1. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1994. No softcover edition.

   There’s probably no one better suited to do a novel featuring Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner as detectives than Nolan, a Hammett expert of the first order and [editor] of The Black Mask Boys (1985), a homage to the pulp. This, the first book in a projected series, is narrated by Hammett, and plans call for the narration to rotate among the three in future volumes.

   I’m not going into the plot any more than to tell you it involves gangsters and a maguffin, as I didn’t enjoy the book enough to finish it. Though obviously a labor of love on Nolan’s part, I couldn’t reward it with the same feeling.

   It isn’t badly done, I just don’t particularly care for the type, and using mystery writers for the characters didn’t change my feelings as I’d thought it might. Nolan’s a competent writer, and if you like Kaminsky’s Toby Peters books I think you’d like this too.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #14, May 1994.

             The Black Mask Boys series —

The Black Mask Murders (1994).
The Marble Orchard (1996).

Sharks Never Sleep (1998).

BASIL HEATTER – Virgin Cay [+] A Night Out. Stark House, trade paperback; 1st printing, July 2017. Includes Virgin Cay (Gold Medal, paperback original, 1963) and A Night Out (Popular Library, paperback original, 1956). Introduction by Steve Lewis.

   The book actually needs no introduction, not if you’ve read my reviews of the two paperback novels that comprise this just published reprint of both, here:

http://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=47342

and here:

http://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=47173

   Of course, you could go back and read both reviews and then buy the Stark House combo, which not too surprisingly, if you think about it, I do recommend.

           

A Book Note by DAN STUMPF:


ROBERT BLOCH – The Scarf. Dial Press,. hardcover, 1947. Avon #211, paperback, as The Scarf of Passion, 1949. Gold Medal d1727, paperback, 1966.

   Movie-makers aren’t the only ones who commit violence on books. Toward the end of October I was reading a 1966 reprint of Robert Bloch’s first novel, The Scarf. It’s a first-person serial-killer tale, and it’s creepy enough that it probably worried Bloch’s friends and family at the time and still packs a chill or two. And while I was reading this late-40s novel, I came upon a reference to Bob Dylan.

   That got me curious, so I looked up the passage in an earlier edition, and found it had been considerably re-written, either by Bloch himself or by some talented hack at Fawcett who could ape his style. And so it goes throughout the 1966 edition: a train trip becomes a plane ride, a radio is rewritten as a stereo, and there’s even a reference to dancing the Frug. (Ah, who could forget the Frug?) All of which were no doubt intended to make The Scarf pass for a contemporary novel in ’66, but now seem oddly quaint.

BILL S. BALLINGER – The Spy in the Java Sea. Signet D2981, paperback original; 1st printing, September 1966.

   Book five of a five book paperback spy series from the same publisher who made a lot of money printing the James Bond stories. Joaquin Hawks, son of a Nez Perce Indian father and a Spanish mother, is the leading character in each, all I believe taking place in Southeast Asia just before the war in Vietnam.

   The descriptions of the at-the-time exotic locales are done in detail and done well, but if this final tale in the series is an example, the stories are straight-forward, told without any verve I could see, and filled with cliches. In Java Sea, a malfunctioning CPU unit on a new US nuclear submarine has it stranded immobile somewhere at the bottom of the ocean, and both Moscow and Peking are close on Hawks’ trail as he hopes to find it.

   The result? Nowhere nearly as good as James Bond, and it pales completely in comparison to the Quiller spy adventure I read recently. I skimmed ahead to the end of the book to see if anything happened that I didn’t foresee happening. It didn’t, and I basically abandoned this one on page 46. In all honesty, I wasn’t a big fan of these knockoff spy novels back in the 60s, and I guess I’m still not now. You may enjoy this one more than I did.



Available from Stark House Press, Amazon, Walmart and at PulpFest 2016.

KAREN A. ROMANKO – Television’s Female Spies and Crimefighters: 600 Characters and Shows, 1950s to the Present. McFarland, softcover, February 2016.

   The full title of this book is self-explanatory, I’m sure. I’ve only browsed through it myself, so this is not a review, but in my opinion this is a book that every reader of this blog ought be know about, if you don’t already.

   To open the book, author Karen Romanko provides a long and knowledgeable introduction to the overall history of female crimefighters on television, followed in the main portion of the book by a comprehensive alphabetical listing of all relevant TV series and their significant characters, cross-referenced between the two. For example, the TV series Elementary and the character Joan Watson each have their own entries, each mentioning the other in bold face.

   The first entry is Acapulco H.E.A.T., followed by Lydia Adams (Southland); the last two are Roberta Young (Snoops) and The Zoo Gang, a British production that aired in this country on NBC in 1975.

   This is a book that’s easy to get caught up in, following one familiar show to its star and then to others not so familiar, and vice versa for (in my estimation) hours on end.

PETER CHEYNEY AND I
by Michael Keyton


   I came across Peter Cheyney when I was somewhere between twelve and thirteen. A church bazaar or second hand bookshop, the memory is blurred. What remains clear is that being basically stupid and already with the propensity to read what I wanted to read, I assumed at first the book was a western ‘Peter Cheyenne’ being some kind of cowboy. When it became clear that it wasn’t a western, I put the book down convinced Peter Cheyenne was an American thriller writer.

   I forgot all about him (well almost, the name having some kind of magic) for almost forty years. And this ‘forgetting’ is key to the whole story. Peter Cheyney was the most popular and prolific British author of his day. He was also the most highly paid. His curse perhaps is that he undoubtedly influenced Ian Fleming, for Bond is nothing more than a glamorous composite of the Cheyney ‘hero’. Cheyney created the template that Fleming developed, and the rest is history. Bond got Chubby Broccoli and celluloid fame, Peter Cheyney obscurity and critical censure.

   John le Carre, when asked about spy books that might have influenced him as a child, gave the following response. He duly bowed his head to Kipling, Conrad, Buchan and Greene, and then referred to the: ‘…awful, mercifully-forgotten chauvinistic writers like Peter Cheyney and Co.’

   John Sutherland made a similar point, referring to Cheyney’s Dark Series as the ‘high point of a resolutely low flying career.’ These two, wonderfully pithy, assessments are true to a point. They are also skewed by the cultural background and literary talent of both men.

   Cheyney was chauvinistic, and no great shakes in terms of vocabulary and style, but he shouldn’t be forgotten ‘mercifully’ or otherwise. Cheyney’s success as the most highly paid writer of his time does not necessarily qualify him as a literary giant, but it does show that his work reflected the attitudes and mood of a huge swathe of the population, amplified it and played it back to them. Cheyney talked to the popular mood rather than the concerns of an educated elite. It was ‘everyman’ who bought his work in droves.

   During the dark years of World War II and the austerity that followed, Cheyney’s novels were taken into battlefields, were exchanged for ten cigarettes in POW camps, and at a time when fabric was rationed, women fantasised about the glamorous Cheyney femme fatales in their satin and silks, sheer stockings, ruffles and bows. Read Cheyney and you’re reading violence and brutality set in a fashion catalogue.

   For those jaded by pilgrimages to Baker Street, Cheyney provides a welcome alternative. Most of his many heroes, villains and victims live in a very small area of London. Some are unwitting neighbours, and all jostle each other on the same roads and streets, ghosts in parallel worlds. These are mapped, allowing the reader to go on his or her own ‘Cheyney walk.’

   Cheyney, Behave recaptures a lost world and provides an eye-opening analysis of a popular culture we might prefer to forget. The book examines the importance of cigarettes and alcohol in Cheyney’s world, his attitude to ‘pansies’, racism, women, and the unconscious but jaw-dropping sexism of his age. It analyses the significance of Cheyney’s ‘Dark’ series in terms of war propaganda and how Cheyney accurately captured the effects of war on prevailing morality.

   In his books you will find misogyny, homophobia, racism, sexism and chauvinism and, at their core, idealism and a deep vulnerability. In terms of market forces they reflect a world long past, one far different from ours but fascinating and worth understanding. Read Cheyney, Behave and judge for yourself.

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