October 2008


   As I often do before heading out of town, I’ve been doubling up on posts this week, as you may have noticed. Rich Harvey’s Pulp Adventurecon #9 is an all-day show on Saturday in Bordentown NJ, and I’ll be there:

DATE:
Saturday, November 1, 2008
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

LOCATION:
Ramada Inn of Bordentown
1083 Route 206, Bordentown NJ
(Just off NJ Turnpike Exit 7)

FIFTY TABLES with plenty of terrific material. PULP MAGAZINES, vintage paperbacks and related movie & paper collectibles! You won’t find more pulp magazines anywhere else on the east coast!

   I’ll be leaving tomorrow morning with Paul Herman. We’re planning on doing some bookhunting along the way, then stopping at noted pulp collector Walker Martin’s home in NJ in the afternoon and staying overnight with noted paperback collector Dan Roberts over in nearby PA. (Paul of course is also noted, and so am I.)

   It’s always a great trip, and I’m looking forward to it.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


HIDEAWAY. RKO-Radio, 1937; Richard Rosson, director; Fred Stone, Emma Dunn, Marjorie Lord, J. Carroll Naish, William Corson, Tommy Bond. Shown at Cinecon 41, September 2005.

HIDEAWAY J. Carroll Naish

   A rural comedy-drama, with Fred Stone, a major stage performer who created the role of the Scarecrow in the original production of The Wizard of Oz (1903), heading the cast.

   Fred is a lazy farmer who takes in as boarders a crew of urban gangsters, led by J. Caroll Naish, in search of a cache of money from a bank robbery, believed to be hidden somewhere on the property formerly occupied by a confederate of the Naish gang. The film is populated by country boobs, with Stone’s family (Dunn, Lord, and Tommy Bond of “Our Gang” fame, who died recently), a relative island of sanity in the surrounding inanity.

HIDEAWAY J. Carroll Naish

   The film was chosen to introduce guest Marjorie Lord, who had a minor film career and is best known for her TV role as Danny Thomas’ wife in Make Room for Daddy.

   J. Carroll Naish walked off with the film, which depressed me for its misuse of Stone and its cheapening of the once-popular rural melodrama. A more charitable view is that it’s a routine, bottom-of-the-bill quickie, with some good performers doing their best to make a weak script palatable.

ANNE ROWE - Up to the Hilt.

Detective Book Club; hardcover reprint [3-in-1 edition], November 1945. First edition: M. S. Mill, hardcover, 1945. Other hardcover reprint: Grosset & Dunlap, no date (cover shown).

   To quote Inspector Barry on page 55: “Society murders are a pain in the neck.” I don’t know whether all of Anne Rowe’s mysteries take place in the same milieu (I always wanted to use that word), but after one she wrote early on in her career, in 1930, to be precise, she became prolific later on, producing a total of seven in the years between 1941 and 1946.

ANNE ROWE Up to the Hilt

   Barry is in three of these, including this one, of course, and an Inspector Josiah Pettingill is in three of the others. Pettingill’s cases all seem to take place in Maine. Inspector Barry seems to be a New York City and suburban Connecticut sort of guy.

   Telling the story in this one is Jane Applebee, head of a literary agency inherited from her aunt, and dead is one of her leading clients, a lady whose luster, though, had been fading. Living in an apartment on the top floor of a converted Manhattan loft building, Jane has many friends, neighbors, relatives (two sisters) and (sort of) a new boy friend, one Dr. Hunt Berwick, a somewhat mysterious man who has connections enough (it seems) to become an advisor to the aforementioned Inspector Barry.

   This is another old-fashioned detective story, and they surely don’t write them like this any more, where even with the wide range of characters, both leading and walk-on, the focus is on the mystery, and little else. On page 19 there is even a diagram of the layout of Jane’s entire floor, with the warning on the page opposite that it is going to prove important later.

   And yes, it does, but you have to read Jane’s description also, as the map does not include precisely and exactly what it should. The story is crisply told, though, and if you can forgive the inspector for making Jane his right-hand lady, filling her in (and therefore us, the reader) with certain details we shouldn’t have been able to ascertain otherwise, it’s quite enjoyable.

   Another small problem, if that is what it is, and I almost hate bringing it up, is that after two more murders, there are surprisingly few candidates left to be the killer. One is obvious, the other is not, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone else. (You always exclude the maids, don’t you?)

   The 1940s Manhattan set is not the sort of society I’ve ever mixed in, as I’ve probably said before, and it’s surely too late now, but this is the kind of mystery that sneaks me into it, so to speak, and with all of smart deducing going on, what it does is serve up a heaping amount of vicarious pleasure, double-portioned.

– July 2002 (slightly revised)



[UPDATE] 10-29-08. I’ve reviewed one other book by Anne Rowe previously on this blog, one called Too Much Poison (1944), and yes, it takes place in the same wartime Manhattan social set.

   Along with it I included a complete bibliography for her, so I won’t repeat it here. Inspector Barry was in that one, too, and if I made either it or this one sound like your kind of detective story, then I think it most probably is. In fact, I guarantee it.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review by Marcia Muller:


TONY HILLERMAN Listening Woman

TONY HILLERMAN - Listening Woman. Harper & Row, hardcover, 1978. Paperback reprint: Avon, April 1979. Many other reprint editions, both hardcover and soft.

   Joe Leaphorn is assigned to a double homicide that has occurred on a remote plateau of the Navajo reservation. Hosteen Tso, an old man, had complained of illness and gone to Margaret Cigaret, known as Listening Woman, for a pollen-blessing ceremony. During a brief period when Listening Woman left him alone, both Hosteen Tso and her niece and assistant, Anna Atcitty, were bludgeoned to death.

   The old man, Listening Woman reports to Leaphorn, knew something about some sand paintings that had been desecrated, but refused to discuss it, saying cryptically that he had made a promise to someone long ago. Following this rather slender lead, Leaphorn travels across the barren mesas to that part of the Indian nation where the Navajo wolves and witches are said to dwell.

   As in Hillerman’s other novels, ancient tribal beliefs come into sharp conflict with the modern world – a conflict that is reflected in Leaphorn himself. And when he finally reaches the solution to the crimes, he sees how legend can be manipulated to suit the designs of evil men.

TONY HILLERMAN Listening Woman

   Hillerman has put his knowledge of Navajo custom and mysticism to good use in this novel. His stark depiction of the New Mexico landscape is particularly fine, conveying a haunting sense of how insignificant one man is against the vastness of nature, and making this a compelling and often chilling book.

   Joe Leaphorn also appears in The Blessing Way (1970), Hillerman’s first novel. A nonseries novel, The Fly on the Wall (1971), is a political story set in the capital of an unnamed midwestern state. In addition, Hillerman has produced a juvenile novel and various works of nonfiction, including the hilarious The Great Taos Bank Robbery and Other Affairs of Indian Country (1970).

         ———
   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.

William P. McGivern

REVIEWED BY BOB SCHNEIDER:         


WILLIAM P. McGIVERN – Police Special. Dodd Mead, hardcover, May 1962. Hardcover reprint: Mystery Guild, August 1962.

   McGivern had a rich and varied writing career ranging from newspaper work to pulp fiction to crime novels (five of which were made into feature films most notably Odds Against Tomorrow starring Robert Ryan and Harry Belafonte, 1959) to screenplays (the John Wayne film Brannigan, 1975) to TV series scriptwriting (Kojak).

   Like many once popular and respected mystery writers from the middle of the last century, McGivern is rarely read today. A review of Police Special (1962), a collection of three of his crime novels, may serve to re-kindle interest in this neglected writer.

***

William P. McGivern

Rogue Cop (1954), the first entry in this omnibus, tells the story of once honest but now corrupt Philadelphia cop Mike Carmody and his younger honest cop brother, Eddie. Mike spends the first half of the novel trying to protect Eddie from the murderous thugs who now bankroll his affluent lifestyle.

   It becomes clear early on that Mike will ultimately fail to prevent the murder of his brother. The second half of the story follows Mike’s efforts to avenge Eddie by bringing down the guilty criminals. Whether Mike succeeds or not and if so at what cost to himself and others is only revealed in the final chapters.

   This is a gripping morality tale filled with menacing scenes and dangerous confrontations worthy of Hammett himself. McGivern believes that we all make countless daily choices to be good or bad, to be brave or cowardly. The decisions we make have consequences and effects far beyond ourselves and the immediate present.

***

The Seven File (1956) describes a kidnapping from beginning to end. Two of the central characters, as in Rogue Cop, are brothers. Duke Farrell was once a golden boy — strong, smart, athletic but of flawed character.

William P. McGivern

   Hank Farrell, not quite as strong, smart or athletically gifted as his older brother has stayed clear of Duke for many years until the two are brought together by the meticulously planned kidnapping of a wealthy family’s child.

   McGivern shows that deeply flawed people are unlikely to carry out even the most perfect of schemes because they will inevitably deviate from the plan due to their own greed, cowardice and poor judgment. Despite numerous setbacks the kidnappers do manage to snatch the child and one must read through to the final chapter to learn of the ultimate outcome of the crime.

   McGivern alternates the story’s middle chapters between the kidnapper’s actions and the FBI’s efforts to solve the crime. The chapters featuring the criminals are grippingly menacing and expose their gradual loss of control over events. The FBI chapters painstakingly detail the procedures of a mid-twentieth century kidnapping investigation.

   A theme that emerges from McGivern’s storytelling is that most of us are capable of at least one act of courage or one act of mercy, no matter how costly to ourselves, which can turn around a seemingly lost situation. The action takes place mostly in New York City and Maine. The title of the story derives from a code name that the FBI gives to this kidnapping investigation.

***

William P. McGivern

The Darkest Hour (1955) shows how corruption on the New York City waterfront affects the lives of those who work on and live near the docks. Steve Retnick returns to Manhattan after serving time for manslaughter. He was a tough but honest cop who crossed the wrong people and was framed for his efforts by some union thugs.

   Retnick has seemingly lost everything; his job, his wife and five years of his life so he is hell bent for revenge no matter what the cost to himself or others. Though Retnick believes that all his former friends and co-workers have abandoned him, he still does have some allies and it is those allies who provide the framework for his ultimate salvation — should he choose to use them. As is typical in a McGivern story, there are many gritty confrontation scenes between the various characters.

***

   McGivern’s writing style, subject matter and themes are neither for the fainthearted nor for those seeking a high amount of classic detection. Whether tackling police corruption, political corruption, union corruption or civic corruption, he zeroed in on the weaknesses of society and created compelling crime stories that are still entertaining and meaningful half a century after they were written.

          — — —

            Additional bibliographic data:

Rogue Cop. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1954. Paperback reprints: Pocket 1030, 1954; Pyramid M3188, 1973; Berkley, 1987.

The Seven File. Dodd Mead, 1956. Paperback reprint: Pocket 1156, 1957, as The #7 File. Also: Berkley, pb, 1989, under the original title.

The Darkest Hour. Dodd Mead, 1955. Also published as: Waterfront Cop, Pocket 1105, paperback, 1956. Also: Berkley, pb, 1988, under the original title.

   See this earlier post for a complete listing of all of William P. McGivern’s crime fiction. This review also appears on the Golden Age of Detection wiki, reprinted by permission.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review by Marcia Muller:


TONY HILLERMAN – The Ghostway. San Diego: Dennis McMillan, 1984. (Limited edition.) Also published in a regular trade edition by Harper & Row, 1985. Paperback reprint: Avon, 1986. Many other reprint editions, both hardcover and soft.

TONY HILLERMAN The Ghostway

   Hillerman’s second series character, Navajo tribal policeman Jim Chee, is a younger man than Joe Leaphorn and more closely tied to mainstream American society. Because of this, he is perhaps less interesting than Leaphorn, and the Chee books lack the haunting, magical quality of Hillerman’s earlier work. Chee is nonetheless a complex character and the dichotomies he must face within himself are closely intertwined with the plots.

   The Ghostway concerns a Los Angeles Navajo who has shot a hoodlum to death and in turn been seriously wounded in a parking lot on the reservation. The FBI is looking for the man — Albert Gorman — for some reason that they do not discuss in detail with the Navajo police, and he is traced to the hogan of a relative, Ashie Begay.

   But when Chee, the sheriff’s deputy, and the FBI agents arrive at the hogan, they find no signs of life; the hogan’s smoke hole has been plugged, its doorway boarded over, and a hole cut in one side. To Chee this means someone has died inside and the hogan thought to be possessed by the malicious chindi (ghost) of the dead person has been abandoned.

TONY HILLERMAN The Ghostway

   There are things that bother Chee about the situation: Ashie Begay was a wise old man, accustomed to death, and he loved his home; surely when he saw that Albert Gorman, the wounded man, was close to death, he would have moved him outside, as is the custom.

   And when Chee finds Gorman’s body, it has been prepared as the dead are supposed to be, except Begay has neglected to wash the corpse’s hair with yucca suds. Did something interrupt the preparations? And where has Ashie Begay gone?

   At the time the case begins, Chee is facing a tough personal decision: Should he join the FBI and leave the reservation with his white lover, Mary Landon? Or should he stay on here where his roots are and risk losing her?

   Before he can resolve this, however, Ashie Begay’s granddaughter, Margaret Billy Sosi, disappears from her boarding school, and Chee must track her down. Eventually he finds her in Begay’s contaminated hogan — a place where even he, with his logical policeman’s mind, is loath to step — but she quickly eludes him.

   He follows her to Los Angeles, where Navajos of the Turkey Clan, to which she belongs, live in abject poverty. Chee’s investigation takes him back to the reservation again, and into its far reaches where a Ghostway (purifying ceremony) is being performed. And at the ceremony, he must confront not only a killer but also the cultural conflict within himself.

TONY HILLERMAN

   While not as powerful as the Leaphorn novels, The Ghostway ties its thematic matter into the plot in an extremely satisfying way, and Chee is developed to greater depth than before. Any reader will be eager to see how he resolves his conflicts in future novels.

   The previous Chee books are People of Darkness (1980) and The Dark Wind (1982).

         ———
   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.

MAX MURRAY – The Right Honourable Corpse.

Farrar Straus & Young, US, hardcover, 1951, as The Right Honorable Corpse. Hardcover reprint: Unicorn Mystery Book Club, 4-in-1 edition, April 1951. US paperback reprint: Collier, 1965, as The Right Honorable Corpse. British hardcover: Michael Joseph, 1952. British paperback reprint: Penguin #1203, 1957.

MAX MURRAY

   Back when he was actively writing, which was up right up to his untimely death in 1956, Max Murray was never one of the big names in the field of mystery fiction. Even though he had a respectable string of detective novels in a ten year stretch between 1947 and 1957, he may not even have been in the second or third tier of big names, in spite of the fact that many of his books were reprinted in this country by Dell in paperback and either the Detective Book Club or the Unicorn Mystery Book Club in hardcover.

   The problem may have been that he never used a series detective. I’ve thought this of several mystery writers before, but I don’t believe I’ve ever quite come out and said it. I think it takes a steady focal point, a recurring detective character that the readers can feel comfortable with before they’ll take the author to heart as well.

   With obvious exceptions, of course. But authors like Andrew Garve and E. X. Ferrars, to take two rather disparate examples, were extremely prolific and presumably very popular in their day, are all but totally forgotten now. Ferrars did have a few recurring characters, but if you can name one without going and looking up her bibliography, you are the winner of today’s trivia contest, and truth be said, when Garve wrote as either Roger Bax or Paul Somers, he did have a couple of series characters. You’re this year’s trivia champion if you can name either.

   And I’m straying from the review of the book in hand, without making a very solid case for my conjecture, I’m afraid, but perhaps I’ll return to it some day.

   Here below is Murray’s entry in Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, along with a few facts about him, most of which I didn’t know, until I looked him up earlier today:

MURRAY, MAX(well). 1901-1956. Born in Australia; newspaper reporter in that country, the U.S., and England; scriptwriter and editor for BBC during WWII; married to author Maysie Greig.

      The Voice of the Corpse (Joseph, 1948, hc) [England] Farrar, 1947.

MAX MURRAY

      The King and the Corpse (Joseph, 1949, hc) [France] Farrar, 1948.
      The Queen and the Corpse (Farrar, 1949, hc) [Ship] See: No Duty on a Corpse (Joseph 1950).
      The Neat Little Corpse (Joseph, 1951, hc) [Jamaica] Farrar, 1950. Film: Paramount, 1953, as Jamaica Run (scw & dir: Lewis R. Foster).

MAX MURRAY

      The Right Honourable Corpse (Joseph, 1952, hc) [Australia] Farrar, 1951.
      The Doctor and the Corpse (Joseph, 1953, hc) [Singapore; Ship] Farrar, 1952.
      Good Luck to the Corpse (Joseph, 1953, hc) [France; Academia] Farrar, 1951.

MAX MURRAY

      The Sunshine Corpse (Joseph, 1954, hc) [Florida]
      Royal Bed for a Corpse (Joseph, 1955, hc) [England] Washburn, 1955.
      Breakfast with a Corpse (Joseph, 1956, hc) [Nice, France] U.S. title: A Corpse for Breakfast. Washburn, 1957.
      Twilight at Dawn (Joseph, 1957, hc) [Australia]
      Wait for the Corpse (Joseph, 1957, hc) [England] Washburn, 1957.

   All of his books were published in the UK, but when they were published in the US, strangely enough they were often published here first. And as befitting his background as a world news correspondent for the BBC, his books take place all over the world, with only two of them in Australia, where he was born. (And as it turns out, where he died, while back on a visit.)

MAX MURRAY

   The Right Honourable Corpse is one of the two, as it so happens, and from the description of (a) the closely knit circle of politicians, bureaucrats and diplomats in the small and isolated capital city of Canberra, and (b) life in the beautiful but desolate Australian out-of-doors, you’d think he’d lived there all his life. And, truth be guessed at, perhaps in his own mind, perhaps he did.

   Dead, but mourned only on the surface, is Rupert Flower, the powerful Minister for Internal Resources, poisoned to death during a piano concert going on in his home. Vain and vindictive — a dangerous combination — he was a man whose untimely passing was foreseen by many.

   Martin Gilbert, the pianist, turns out to be the central character, and I for one would have liked it immensely if he’d ever made a return appearance, which sad to say he did not. It turns out that he is a spy — a domestic one. He works undercover for the new Commonwealth Security Service, and it is not a job that he likes, and his extreme distaste only grows as the case goes on.

MAX MURRAY

   Bitter, sarcastic and outwardly enigmatic in tone and behavior, Martin discovers that friendship with the people he is observing does not go hand-in-hand with reporting those observations on to his superior, Sir David Reynolds. Nor is falling in love consistent with the role he is playing, another problem being that one of the possible suspects is also his best friend and in love with the same girl.

   The plot is quite largely secondary to the players, but it’s a good one. At the end, it’s also fairly clear why Martin Gilbert was never brought back for an encore. As a character himself, he gave all he was capable of in this one. I don’t think he had another murder case to be solved in him. He is used up, worn out, but never thrown away. No sir or ma’am. Tears seldom come to my eyes at the end of detective stories, but I’m not unwilling to say they did this time.

[UPDATE.] 10-28-08. Taken from a couple of emails sent by Jamie Sturgeon:

   Enjoyed your piece on Max Murray, a quick e-mail to point out correct title Wait for a Corpse. There’s a note on Crimefictioniv.com (Part 7) to say Twilight at Dawn was rewritten by his widow Maysie Greig (it says wife but should be widow) and published as Doctor Ted’s Clinic. It is possible that Twilight at Dawn is not criminous or only marginally at best.

   Also: In the entry for Maysie Greig in ADB (Australian Dictionary of Biography) Max Murray’s middle name is Alexander and year of birth as 1900. No separate entry for Max Murray.

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