July 2007

   John P. Browner was the author of Death of a Punk (Pocket, pbo, 1980), a PI novel which as you may recall, was profiled here on the blog not so very long ago.

   At stated then, and so credited in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, the other book that Browner is said to have written was Who Killed the Snowman? (Pocket, pbo, 1979).

   While Death of a Punk is a book not easily found, it can be obtained if you’re willing to pay the price that’s currently being asked for it online. Or you can wait for it to show up while visiting used bookstores or library sales. It does exist.

   On the other hand, there are no copies of Who Killed the Snowman? offered for sale online anywhere at all. The suspicion that there weren’t any to be found began to grow. And who was John P. Browner anyway?

   To answer the second question first, Al Hubin, working under the assumption that that was Browner’s real name, reports his findings:

   Peoplefinders currently locates three John P Browners; one (age 87) is shown for Orlando, Florida and Deer Park, New York. Another (age 54) is shown for Durham, North Carolina and Sunapee/Claremont, New Hampshire. Either could possibly be the author in question. The third one is not given with an age, and he’s in Honolulu. Since Death of a Punk is set in NYC, that connects most closely with the 87 year old.

   There are a number of John Browners with no middle initials given, who could, I suppose, be candidates.

   There are 12 John Browners in the social security death benefit records; none is shown with middle initial P.

   There’s nothing very conclusive here, but I agree with Al that the Florida-New York state Browner is the most likely candidate. Unfortunately, no address or telephone number has been obtained for him, and here is where the trail has temporarily ended.

   As for Who Killed the Snowman? It doesn’t exist. Here, from Victor Berch, is the evidence:

   I decided to check through the volumes of Paperback Books in Print that I have. In the March 1979 volume was the following entry:

         Browner, John. Who Killed the Snowman? 1979. 2.25 (ISBN 0-671-82779-0) PB

   Then, in the Spring 1981 volume were the following entries:

         Browner, John. Death of a Punk. (Orig) 1980. Write for info (ISBN 0-671-82779-0). PB.
         Browner, Who Killed the Snowman? 1979. 2.25 (ISBN 0-671-82779-0) PB

   Note that the ISBN numbers are the same for each. I imagine that anyone writing for information would learn from the publisher (PB=Pocket Books), that the title Who Killed the Snowman? had been changed to Death of a Punk.

   The latest batch of covers uploaded to Bill Deeck’s Murder at 3 Cents a Day website are those for the Dodge Publishing Company, 1935-1938, some of which were designated as “Blue Streak Mysteries.”

Murder in the Senate

   Here’s Bill Pronzini’s introduction to the page containing the publisher’s line of detective fiction:

   About all I know about Dodge is that they existed from 1935 to 1942, only publishing mysteries between 1935 and 1938. Their specialty seems to have been Westerns, of which about two-score saw print. More than likely, Dodge was yet another publishing casualty of WW II and its paper shortages.

   Besides the one shown, other authors and titles in the short-lived series include Theodore Roscoe with two books, one of which is I’ll Grind Their Bones; Joseph T. Shaw’s Blood on the Curb; George Bruce’s Claim of the Fleshless Corpse; and a small handful of others.

   In case you were wondering, Geoffrey Coffin was the joint byline of Van Wyck Mason and Helen Brawner, whose series character Inspector Scott Stuart of the US Department of Justice made his first appearance (of two) in Murder in the Senate.

   I’m still on vacation mode, but as I promised I might, I’m posting a short piece on a book that I just discovered that I have but didn’t know anything about until just now. And I can’t wait until September to tell you about it.

   It’s a private eye novel, one by John P. Browner, who is in Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, but about whom he also knows nothing more. The complete entry for the author reads like this:

         * -Who Killed the Snowman? (n.) Pocket Books 1979
         * Death of a Punk (n.) Pocket Books 1980 [New York City, NY]

Death of a Punk

   It’s the second book of the pair which I’ve just discovered that I own. I found it in a box in my garage that I opened this afternoon to see what was in it (the box, that is). At the moment there’s not a single copy of Who Killed the Snowman? up for sale on the Internet, and Google brings up not a single mention of it, so I have no idea what it’s about. There is one copy of Death of a Punk on Amazon.com with an asking price of $75.00, but unless you’re more resourceful than I am, all of the other copies you’ll find there or anywhere else will set you back $300 or more. And, yes, you read that right.

   A word to the early bird. If the $75 one is gone by the time you read this, you weren’t early enough.

   The blurb on the front cover reads as follows: “Beyond the Law, Behind the Eight-Ball, Trapped in a Drug War … and Framed for Murder!”

   From the back cover:

ZZZ. Private Work for a Fee.
Complete Discretion Assured.
Leonard Hornblower (212) 699-1848.

   Lenny Hornblower. That’s me. $100-a-day plus expenses. Cash up front. Remember, this isn’t a licensed operation. I’ll trace anything, even runaways. For them it’s extra: $150 per, plus.

   So when a Mrs. Perlont (“Call me Lisa.”) asked me to find her Blinky, it was just another penny-ante job .. until I started nosing around the East Village puck rock scene and ran into a hot snowstorm: a cocaine heist, a hijacking ring and a know-nothing kid who knew too much to live.

   With friends like his, enemies were superfluous. Blinky was a punk rocker with a one-way ticket to Disaster Street. Trouble was, he wanted to take me along for the ride. And so did his stepmom who was willing to reveal everything but what I needed if I was ever going to find the one responsible for the …


   About the “ZZZ.” That’s the first word in the ad that Hornblower puts in the Village Voice every week. Rather than having it show up at the top of the list in the classified section, he makes sure that it appears at the bottom.

   There is a French version of this book, or at least I assume that it’s the same book, my French having disappeared on me about the same time I passed my last French exam, which would have been in 1964 or 1965. Here’s the bibliographic information from Amazon’s French website, along with a cover scan:

Browner - ZZZ

   Description du livre: Gallimard, 1981. État : Bon état. NRF 248p. N?1824, première édition. N? de réf. du libraire 1928.

   If you’ll check back, I think you’ll see that the Mystery*File blog has been up and running for seven months, as of today.

   I didn’t think I had anything to say when I started, but I guess I proved myself wrong. I’m fairly happy with all of the blog entries, and really really pleased with a few of them.

   The heading for this particular post says that I’m taking a break, which means that for the most part, I’ll be taking the rest of the summer off. I’ve not run out of things to say. Far from it! It’s the other way around, by a full 180 degrees — and I’m totally frustrated that I’ve not been able to follow through on a large number of things I’ve been planning on doing and just haven’t gotten to, yet.

   But the time has come for a short recess from blogging and to do a good many other more mundane things instead, like cleaning the garage and organizing my book and magazine collection, as if those two chores were not really one and the same thing. I also have a basement full of books plus three storage areas and they are all calling me, and not so softly in recent days and weeks.

   And there are a few other matters which will keep me away from this keyboard for a while. Working outside and doing a general long-delayed yard clean-up, scrubbing the deck, and believe it or not, no painting. I hate painting.

   I’m not going away. I’ll answer emails — even reply to some emails that I haven’t managed to get to in the last few months or so — and there will be an occasional post when an article or long piece is ready and it just doesn’t want to wait until September.

   I will also be working on the Addenda to Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV and continuing to add cover images to Bill Deeck’s Murder on 3 Cents a Day website, so I’ll not be all that far away from the computer, after all.

   A big thank you is due from me to all of the people who’ve stopped by, especially those who’ve left comments and have emailed me behind the scenes. A number of friends have been reunited through these blog entries, for example, and moments such as those have pleased me more than almost anything else. Thanks, too, to everyone who’s contributed. You know who you are, and I’m counting on you for more.

   Except for, as I say, an occasional post, you’ll hear from me again in the fall. Watch this space.

   Taken from an obituary which appeared in the online edition of The Guardian:

George Tabori

    “The dramatist and writer George Tabori, who has died aged 93, was one of the last of the generation of writers forced into exile by the Third Reich. Hungarian by birth, writing in English and directing and occasionally acting in German, he combined experience of British and American life with the cosmopolitan cultural traditions of central Europe. Starting as a maverick director in 1970, he was the most widely performed modern writer in the German theatre by 1992.

    “From 1943 until 1947 he worked for the BBC in London, where he took British citizenship [and] had begun to write novels: Beneath the Stone (1945), a thriller written in Jerusalem, Companions of the Left Hand (1946), composed on the boat back from Egypt, and Original Sin, a psychological crime novel set in Cairo. These came to the attention of MGM, which in 1947 signed him as a scriptwriter. He moved in émigré and film circles. With Thomas Mann he tried to set up a film of The Magic Mountain to star Montgomery Clift and Greta Garbo, but in the end he had few Hollywood credits, although he wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock’s I Confess in 1953 and shared a Bafta with Robin Estridge for the screenplay of Anthony Asquith’s The Young Lovers in 1954.”

I Confess

   His entry in Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, even slightly expanded, is relatively modest:

TABORI, GEORGE (1914-2007 )
      * Beneath the Stone. Houghton Mifflin, hc,1945. British title: Beneath the Stone the Scorpion. Boardman, pb, 1945.
      * -Original Sin. Houghton Mifflin, hc, 1947. Boardman, hc, 1947. Setting: Cairo.
      * The Good One. Permabook M4180, pb, 1960. Setting: West Africa.

Beneath the Stone

   Of Beneath the Stone, one online bookseller described it thusly: “The story of two men, a German and an Englishman – captor and captive – who meet for one night in a Balkan valley to dine…”

   A Time Magazine review of Original Sin says: “George Tabori […] seems to have written this psycho-thriller with his left foot. A khamseen howls for days in Cairo, wearing tempers thin as the hot, gritty sand seeps through the doors and windows of the pension […] On the fifth morning of the storm, Adela Manasse, wife of the pension’s proprietor, is found dead in her tub, naked and smiling a ‘kindly’ smile. How did she die and why did she smile? Original Sin explores this problem amid swirls of windblown sand and snarls of plot typical of Cosmopolitan magazine fiction – which is, in fact, what this novel is.”

The Good One

   From the front cover of The Good One: “The story of an honest police chief helplessly caught up in the seething violence and bloody fighting of a revolt in a West African colony.”

    — Thanks once again to John Herrington for passing the news along to Al Hubin.

   Excerpted from an obituary in the online edition of The Guardian:

    “Wing Commander Peter Cooper, who has died aged 88, spent 22 years in the RAF — including a wartime posting as air attaché at the British Embassy in Ankara – and 22 years as a Middlesex probation officer. As ‘Colin Curzon,’ he wrote two lively, witty mystery stories, The Body in the Barrage Balloon (1942), and The Case of the Eighteenth Ostrich (1940), and a morale booster, Flying Wild (1941), describing the lighter side of training.

    “A sometime arts correspondent for the Times, he was passionate about music, particularly that of Schubert and Wagner. As a vice-president of the Ruislip Gramophone Society he presented programmes of recorded music to rapt audiences. He was perceptive and witty in his comments on musical performances, and could be seen, always immaculately dressed, sitting on a camping stool outside London’s opera houses.”

   Below is Curzon’s entry in Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J.Hubin. As you can see, not much had been known about the author until now, not even that the name he used was not his:

CURZON, COLIN. ca.1917- . With the R.A.F. during WWII.
      * The Body in the Barrage Balloon; or, Who Killed the Corpse? Hurst, UK, hc, 1941. Macmillan, US, hc, 1942. Series character: Mark Antony Lennox; setting: England.
      * The Case of the Eighteenth Ostrich. Hurst, hc, UK, 1943. Macmillan, US, hc, 1944. SC: Mark Antony Lennox; setting: England.

   More about either of the books or Major Lennox has proven difficult to obtain:

Barrage Balloon

   Of Balloon, one online bookseller says only: “R.A.F. mystery.”

   Of Ostrich, another bookseller says: “This is a humorous mystery story about an officer in the US Signal Corps and his disaster prone fiancee.”

   Any additional information provided about the books would be welcome.

   What’s a barrage balloon? That I can tell you. From wikipedia: “A barrage balloon is a large balloon tethered with metal cables, used to defend against bombardment by aircraft by damaging the aircraft on collision with the cables. Some versions carried small explosive charges that would be pulled up against the aircraft to ensure its destruction. Barrage balloons were only regularly employed against low-flying aircraft, the weight of a longer cable making them impractical for higher altitudes.”

    — Thanks to John Herrington for spotting the obituary and sending the link on to Al Hubin.

   In today’s Hartford Courant, Bob Englehart’s editorial cartoon summarizes the state of the state very nicely, as usual:

Bob Englehart

   On his blog, Englehart adds the following:

    “As a rule, I don’t do memorial cartoons about victims of crime, but this is too much. This goes too far.

    “This is an argument for an arsenal of guns in every home, a pit bull kennel in the basement of every house, armed security guards, gated communities and the death penalty. The temptation is to fight evil with evil.

    “A cooler head will prevail in time, but not today. Today I vent with prose and cry with my cartoon, as does Connecticut.”

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