November 2008


JOHN PENN – A Deadly Sickness.

Bantam, reprint paperback; 1st printing, Nov 1986. Hardcover edition: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985. UK first edition: Collins Crime Club, hc, 1985.

JOHN PENN

   There is a type of British detective story I read and greatly enjoy, and I’d have to say that Agatha Christie represents it best.

   It’s an old-fashioned sort of story, one seldom taking place in London, but rather in one of the many villages England seems to be endlessly populated with. The police may take part, but the primary focus is often on other main characters, all of whom are more or less involved with the mystery, some more than others.

   And so, I have discovered John Penn. Everything I said above seems to apply. The first case Detective Superintendent Thorne and Sergeant Abbot worked on together seems to have been A Will to Kill, also recently published by Bantam. As in this one, a young girl is the key figure, and the same local doctor makes an appearance in each.

   In fact he is more of a main character in this one, as the police make only a late and mostly routine appearance in finally solving the death of the wealthy Sir Oliver Poston. The identity of the killer is unknown to the reader, of course, but what’s also a mystery, for a while, is what actually happened after his heir’s drunken accident on the occasion of his 40th birthday, preceding the death of his father. (Of the whole crowd, only the young girl mentioned above seems not to know.)

   As I am aware that most of you are completely capable of reading between the lines, I have probably said too much already. For that reason, I liked A Will to Kill more, but sometimes even when you know what’s going to happen, it’s fascinating to watch well-developed characters as they go through their paces.

ó From Mystery.File 1, January 1987 (heavily revised).



[UPDATE] 11-24-08.  By some strange coincidence, when I used my computer to check the date just now, it also told me the time, which was exactly 11:24. I think this may be the day I should buy a whole stack of lottery tickets!

    When I wrote this review, over 20 years ago, I was rather down on British mystery and thriller fiction. How do I know? I deleted the first two paragraphs, neither of which do you see here, nor will you ever see them.

JOHN PENN

    I’ve changed my mind about British detective stories in the meantime. Maybe I’ve slowed down and I enjoy the pace of the older “humdrums” (of which category I do not consider the above to be an example) a lot more than I did when I was younger, but the glitz and glamour of present-day London and other larger cities, with all of their problems with the younger generation and immigrant populations, holds a lot of interest for me as well.

    I believe what remains of the review reads smoothly enough. Enough time has elapsed enough since I wrote it that I cannot tell you, however, whether the doctor figure that I mentioned was the same person, or if I meant to use him as a generic character.

    “John Penn,” and I did not know this when I wrote the review, was the joint pseudonym of Paula Harcourt and John H. Trotman. The latter did not write any mystery fiction of his own, but the former, who died in 1999, has a list of over 20 books to her individual credit in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, mostly of the espionage thriller variety, from what I can deduce from their titles.

    From CFIV then, here’s a list of all of John Penn’s work. Series characters: GT = Insp. (Supt.) George Thorne; DT = Chief Insp. (Supt.) Dick Tansey. (Most of the Tansey books have never been published in the US.)

* Notice of Death (n.) Collins 1982
* Deceitful Death (n.) Collins 1983
* A Will to Kill (n.) Collins 1983. GT
* Mortal Term (n.) Collins 1984. GT

JOHN PENN

* A Deadly Sickness (n.) Collins 1985. GT
* Barren Revenge (n.) Collins 1986. GT
* Unto the Grave (n.) Collins 1986. GT
* Accident Prone (n.) Collins 1987. GT
* Outrageous Exposures (n.) Collins 1988. DT

JOHN PENN

* A Feast of Death (n.) Collins 1989. DT
* A Killing to Hide (n.) Collins 1990. DT
* Deathís Long Shadow (n.) Collins 1991. DT
* A Knife Ill-Used (n.) Collins 1991. DT
* A Legacy of Death (n.) Collins 1992. DT
* A Haven of Danger (n.) Collins 1993. DT
* Widowís End (n.) Collins 1993. DT
* The Guilty Party (n.) Collins 1994. DT
* So Many Steps to Death (n.) Collins 1995. DT
* Bridal Shroud (n.) Collins 1996. DT

JOHN PENN

* Sterner Stuff (n.) Collins 1997. DT

MAX BRAND – Gunman’s Goal.

Five Star, hardcover, Feb 2000. Leisure, paperback; 1st printing, Nov 2002. First appearance: Western Story Magazine, 14 July 1928.

MAX BRAND Gunman's Goal

   Max Brand is one of this country’s most famous western writers, and that’s exactly how this latest of his works is being marketed, but what it an action-packed crime novel that just happens to take place in the West. Reprinted from its serial form when it first appeared in the pulp Western Story Magazine in 1928, this is one of a series of adventures of James Giraldi, a dashing young adventurer to whom crime is a fine art, looking solely for the excitement, not ill-gotten gains.

   He’s hired in this novel by a girl (beautiful) to find her father (innocent) who has disappeared, fleeing from the law after being charged with murder. The girl’s Cousin Edgar (dastardly) has evil intentions toward the estate, and to that end he is making romantic overtures to her mother (fluttery and weak-minded).

   It reads much better than it sounds! The action is continuous, the dialogue often lyrical, and the tale truly epic in nature. This is the stuff that legends are made of, the American West of the imagination, not of reality, but to my way of thinking, every so often a strong dose of balladry and fables like this is just what the doctor ordered.

MAX BRAND Gunman's Goal

   [One note of caution, though: Going back to Brand’s original manuscript may be responsible for some glitches a good eagle-eyed editor should have caught. Giraldi’s horse gains a new name from one chapter to the next, and once in Giraldi’s hands, a saddlebag full of valuable papers suddenly seems to contain currency instead.]

— November 2002 (slightly revised)


[UPDATE] 11-23-08.   Put this in the “For What It’s Worth” category: A reviewer of this book on Amazon claims that it was published earlier as Three on the Trail and warns people not to buy it. I don’t believe the two books are the same. “Three on the Trail” was published as a six-part serial in Western Story Magazine beginning 12 May 1928; and as as you can see from the cover to the right, “Gunman’s Goal” was in the 14 July issue of the same year.

STEPHANIE BARRON – Jane and the Stillroom Maid: Being the Fifth Jane Austen Mystery.

Bantam, hardcover; August 2000. Reprint paperback, May 2001.

   Never having read any of Jane Austen’s works, or at least none that I can recall, I may not be the ideal person to be reviewing this book. On the other hand, speaking as a mystery fan, I thought the Jane Austen in this make-believe fiction does superbly well in her role as a full-fledged detective. By way of presentation, the book is related to us by her “editor” Stephanie Barron (a/k/a Francine Matthews), and I enjoyed it immensely.

STEPHANIE BARRON Jane Austen

   The year of the text is 1806, when it was entirely possible that Jane Austen could have been visiting Derbyshire, where she could have seen the house she used as an inspiration for Pemberley, the grand manor in the novel, as Barron says, “we now know as Pride and Prejudice.”

   And if she were in Derbyshire, is it not possible that she could have been once again (see the subtitle) involved in a murder there, this time of an apothecary maid in the most mysterious of circumstances?

   This is a well-plotted, well-told throwback to the Golden Age of detective fiction, in my humble opinion, with complication piled on complication. The maid has been shot in the forehead, but her body has been mutilated in a manner such as to cast blame on the demonic Masons the local folk fear so greatly. A sacrifice of some sort? More, and perhaps most puzzling, she is dressed in men’s clothing.

   Jane’s investigation — for definitely no timid wallflower is she — suggests that the maid’s death involves those well above her station. For many reasons, there are many who are not displeased that she is dead. Once again Lord Harold, the Gentleman Rogue in Jane’s life, is available to give her entrance to the world of the local gentry; if not for him, doors otherwise opened would have remained closed, and the case would never have been solved.

   Told in what satisfies me as being Jane Austen’s own words, with touches of delicate humor throughout, here’s a trip back in time I can’t recommend more. Charming and delectable; a complete pleasure.

— November 2002 (slightly revised)


   Bibliographic data:

      The JANE AUSTEN series —

1. Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor (1996)

STEPHANIE BARRON Jane Austen

2. Jane and the Man of the Cloth (1997)
3. Jane and the Wandering Eye (1998)
4. Jane and the Genius of the Place (1999)
5. Jane and the Stillroom Maid (2000)
6. Jane and the Prisoner of Wool House (2001)
7. Jane and the Ghosts of Netley (2003)
8. Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy (2005)
9. Jane and the Barque of Frailty (2006)

STEPHANIE BARRON Jane Austen

   Stephanie Barron’s most recent book, A Flaw in the Blood (Feb 2008), may be the first in a new historical series. In this one Irish barrister Patrick Fitzgerald, along with his ward Georgiana “Georgie” Armistead, initiates an enquiry into the death of Queen Victoriaís beloved Prince Albert.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


STEPHEN BOOTH – Scared to Live. HarperCollins, UK, hardcover, 2006; Bantam, US, hc, May 2008.

      —, Dying to Sin, 2007. HarperCollins, UK, hc, Sept 2007.

STEPHEN BOOTH Scared to Love

   I’m not going to mince words about the latest installment in this British rural procedural series: it’s far too long for the interest it generates in its investigation, of the murder of a middle-aged woman who turns out not to be what she seems to be.

   Booth has always reveled in details about the region but the protracted and not really very interesting investigation, and, in particular, the handling of one of his two main characters, D.S. Diane Fry, sapped much of my interest in the novel.

   Diane is an outsider to the region and has become increasingly dissatisfied with her job (and life), and Booth, perhaps himself dissatisfied with the character, has no firm sense of the direction in which he might take her. I didn’t find the character “development,” if that’s what it is, believable. She just comes across as unhappy and unpleasant, and any sympathy I’ve felt earlier for this troubled D.S. greatly diminished.

   I can only hope that Booth gets a firmer grip on her character in the next novel although I’m not really sure that I care to see if he does.

   [ … ]

STEPHEN BOOTH Dying to Sin

   As an addendum to this rather glum take on Booth’s novel, I’m happy to report that the next novel, Dying to Sin, finds Booth in a return to form, with DS Fry and DC Cooper working together to trace the history of skeletons turned up in ground breaking work by the new owner of a local farm, a history that will lead to a third body and a trail of abuse and murder that leads the investigators far afield in their attempts to identify the remains and track down the perpetrators.

   The novel is also a record of the tremendous changes in farming and landowning that are transforming the landscape of rural England. Fry is perhaps no more content with her present assignment than she was in the preceding novel, but she’s able to work effectively within its framework and the more settled Ben Cooper.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review by Mark Johnson:


MIKHAIL CHERNYONOK – Losing Bet. Translated by Antonina W. Bouis. Dial Press, hardcover, 1984. Russian title: Stavka Na Proigrysh, 1979.

   To many American readers, Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park was a curiosity — a murder mystery set in Moscow. But since World War II, the mystery has been a popular form in the Soviet Union, and novels by writers such as Vil Vladiminovich Lipatov, the brother team of Arkady and Georgy Alexandrovich Vainer, and Julian Semyonovich Semyonov are widely read.

   Most of these mysteries would not appeal to Western readers; they are long-winded and parochial. But Mikhail Chernyonok’s Losing Bet was an excellent choice for translation.

   A young woman has fallen — or been pushed — from the balcony of an apartment in Novosibirsk, a city of a million inhabitants in remote western Siberia. Detective Anton Birukov is in charge of the case. The woman, Sanya, is the ex-wife of the apartment’s tenant, Yuri Demensky, but he claims he has not seen her for years.

   In the apartment are found the fingerprints of a well-known professional criminal, Vasya Sipeniatin, but his specialty has always been cunning, not violence. Other suspects include Ovchinnikov, a self-styled ladies’ man who borrowed Demensky’s apartment for romantic liaisons; Zarvantsev, a talented artist who has “gone commercial”; and Stepnadze, a railroad conductor with a lucrative career on the side, illegal speculation in hard-to-find books.

   All had known Sanya, but who had killed her, and what was she doing at Demensky’s? As Birukov and his aides methodically track down clues from the bars and theaters of Novosibirsk to the resorts of the Black Sea, they begin to see a conspiracy of bribery and corruption that has led to one murder and will lead to more.

   Much of the appeal of Losing Bet lies in its incisive but affectionate portrait of working-class Russians at work, play, and love. The police work is without frills. Aside from the interesting structural differences between Soviet and Western police forces, Birukov’s crime-solving techniques would seem familiar, and sound, to American readers of police procedurals.

         ———
   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.

DEBORAH DONNELLY – Died to Match.

Dell, paperback original; 1st printing, October 2002.

DEBORAH DONNELLY

   I missed the first one, of course, but I managed to catch up with Deborah Donnelly in this, her second mystery novel. The protagonist in both is Carnegie Kincaid, who’s a high-profile wedding planner in the city of Seattle. While she’s not number one, her clientele still consists of some of the wealthier big-names in town.

   In Died to Match an engagement masquerade party for two of the latter — wealthy big-names, that is — held at the Seattle Aquarium, results in one bridesmaid falling (or jumping or being pushed) into the ocean. Later on yet another one — a bridesmaid, that is — is found murdered in an exhibit with her head crushed in.

   There are a lot of characters to keep track of, which has the advantage of providing a host of possible suspects, but some of them seem to come and go without being fully introduced. Carnegie has a male friend, a newspaper reporter named Aaron, with whom she is having a touch-and-go almost romance. He seems to be the unthreatened jealous type. She thinks he smokes too much.

   The book itself is just over 300 pages long. About half of it is devoted to the various vicissitudes of the wedding planning business, Carnegie’s off-and-on affair with Aaron, and me just in general wondering why the wedding is going on as scheduled with someone (seemingly) stalking the bridesmaids like this.

   Donnelly does some fast talking and shuffling around to explain this (reference Aunt Enid, who may live not much longer) and lest I seem to be neglecting the other half of the book, she does a better-than-average job of providing all of the clues, false leads, and other required paraphernalia of an honest-to-goodness detective story.

   I doubt that I’m among the primary audience intended for this book, but in all honesty, Deborah Donnelly certainly delivers everything her readers are looking for, and maybe others, like me, who are satisfied as well.

— November 2002 (revised)



[UPDATE]  11-22-08. For whatever reason, the wedding planner ambiance, or the fact that the books were a rare breed these days, fully clued detective stories (or hopefully, a combination of both), the series seems to have caught on, at least for a while. There are six of them in all; you’ll find a complete list below. The bad news is that the last one came out nearly two years ago, and there’s not been another one since.

  Veiled Threats. Dell, pbo, Jan 2002. “In the first Wedding Planner Mystery, Carnegie ventures off her Seattle house-boat to deal with a handsome suitor, an annoying reporter, and a kidnapped bride.”

DEBORAH DONNELLY

  Died To Match. Dell, pbo, Oct 2002. “When a Halloween engagement party turns murderous, Carnegie finds herself costumed as a bridesmaid and stalked by a killer!”

  May the Best Man Die. Dell, pbo, Sept 2003. “In this Yuletide caper, Carnegie encounters a drowning at a bachelor party, a stripper in a Santa suit, and a murderous chase through a coffee roasting plant…”

  Death Takes a Honeymoon. Dell, pbo, Apr 2005. “Where there’s smoke, there’s murder, in this fiery tale of smoldering smokejumpers, hot-tempered actresses, and a super-heated Sun Valley summer.”

  You May Now Kill The Bride. Dell, pbo, Jan 2006. “On picturesque San Juan Island, love and lavender are in the air. But so are poisonous gossip, passionate jealousy…and murder.”

  Bride and Doom. Dell, pbo, Dec 2006. “When a baseball-themed engagement party is crashed by a corpse, Carnegie steps up to the plate to clear her pal of murder. Too bad her fiancť Aaron has suddenly come down with Relationship Deficit Disorder…”

DEBORAH DONNELLY

   Note: The short synopses above came from Deborah Donnelly’s website.

THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU. Columbia, 1942. Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, ‘Slapsie’ Maxie Rosenbloom, Larry Parks, (Miss) Jeff Donnell, Don Beddoe. Director: Lew Landers.

   This movie came before the filmed version of Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), but from all accounts, thereís no coincidence involved in the fact that the plot of Boogie Man so closely resembles that of Arsenic. Boris Karloff was still in the Broadway run of the latter, and from what Iíve read, the movie was done to cash in on its popularity.

THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU

   (For some reason thatís not entirely clear, Karloff wasnít offered his Arsenic role in the movie; Raymond Massey played the part, but Peter Lorre, on the other hand, was in the Arsenic film. You tell me.)

   The main concept of Boogie Man is that Boris Karloff, as mildly befuddled and bemused Professor Nathaniel Billings, a role he could have played in his sleep but never did, is trying to create a legion of super-powered zombies in his basement laboratory.

THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU

   Unfortunately all of the door-to-door peddlers he tries his invention on fall out of the machine as corpses Ė and no super-powers. That’s delightfully dimwitted powderpuff salesman Maxie Rosenblum as one of the subjects right here on the left.

   Some reviewers whose comments Iíve happened to read have complained that nothing in this film is very scary. It is to laugh. In spite of the title, this is not a horror film at all. It is a comedy. And while I donít think I laughed out loud, I may have giggled to myself a few times. I know I smiled a lot.

THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU

   Playing against Mr. Karloff is Peter Lorre as Dr. Lorencz, the local sheriff, undertaker, and justice of the peace, along with a few other titles. The good doctor favors a wide-brimmed black hat and a long black coat with a Siamese kitten with a nose for crime and corruption in one of the inside pockets.

   I got the feeling that Boris Karloff was playing it straight (or as straight as he could be, knowing full well that it was a comedy) and Peter Lorre, whose comedic skills are much greater than you may ever have realized, was doing his best in a droll, expressive deadpan way (not a contradiction) to throw his fellow thespian off-balance.

THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU

   They make a good team, and after this movie they made a two or three other horror films together that were also really comedies, including The Raven (1963) and The Comedy Of Terrors (1964).

   Here’s a clip from YouTube to demonstrate them in action in this movie, and here’s another, beginning with Dr. Lorencz being called in on the case and running over seven minutes long.

THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU

   Also in the cast are Jeff Donnell, later to become George Gobelís wife Alice on his TV show in the mid-1950s, and Larry Parks, later to become Al Jolson.

   As the blissfully unaware divorcee Winnie Shaw, who oohs and aahs over every decrepit aspect of the rundown country inn the professor is more than willing to sell to her, as long as he can keep working in the basement, Miss Donnell made more of an impression on me than he did.

   One warning. I said that this was a comedy, not a horror movie. Before wrapping up this review I went to IMDB to read what the commenters there had to say, and sadly to say, some of the humor went right over their heads. Theyíre too young, I guess, but I have to admit that some of the funny stuff was awfully corny. Itís part of the charm, thatís all I can say.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


CHINATOWN NIGHTS. Paramount, 1929; William Wellman, director; Wallace Beery, Florence Vidor, Warner Oland, Jack Oakie, Jack McHugh, Testsu, Komai, Peter Morrison. Shown at Cinecon 41, September 2005.

CHINATOWN NIGHTS

   I may have a very soft spot for the resourceful Mary Miles Minters and Mary Pickfords of the film world, but let it not be thought that I subsist only on sweets. I’m also partial to Warner Oland, both for his masterful incarnation of Charlie Chan and for his earlier screen career as an Oriental villain, a role he once again assumes in this flavorful treat.

   Chinatown is ruled by two gang lords, Chuck Riley, the Caucasian tong leader played by Wallace Beery, and Boston Charley, the Chinese tong leader, played by Warner Oland. (It’s of interest that this screening was preceded by the showing of a trailer for one of the early, lost Chan films starring Oland.)

CHINATOWN NIGHTS

   Florence Vidor is the society woman who tours Chinatown and stays, infatuated with Riley, whose familiarity with Shakespeare and some signs of tenderness captivate her. The most striking scene takes place at the performance of a Chinese opera, attended by both Riley and Charley, that explodes in a shoot-out that shatters the always fragile quiet of Chinatown.

   The soundtrack is somewhat rough, but Beery is a commanding presence, with the dark, dangerous streets, punctuated by gunfire, creating an ominous background to the troubled (and troubling) relationship of Beery and Vidor.

   Oland’s role is, unfortunately, not large, but he doesn’t get lost in the crowd.

[EDITORIAL COMMENT]   Walter doesn’t mention it, but this movie is regarded as Florence Vidor’s first and last sound film. Her voice was dubbed by another actress, the story goes, and after a long career in the silent era (and once married to director King Vidor), she decided to quit the movie-making business, having married again, this time to violinist Jascha Heifetz in 1928.

   I’ve tried, but so far I’ve come up empty in finding a photo of Warner Oland in this movie. Sorry, Walter!    — Steve

JIM WRIGHT – The Last Man Standing. Carroll & Graf, hardcover, 1991.   Hardcover reprint: Detective Book Club; 3-in-1 edition.

   This is the second of two crime thrillers written by Jim Wright, both published in hardcover by Carroll & Graf. His first one, The Last Frame (1990), also came out in paperback, but I can’t find any record that this one ever did.

JIM WRIGHT Last Frame

   Which is a shame, because it’s more than a decent entry in the “serial killer” sub-category of thriller fiction, and a strong case could be made for it to be cross-classified in the “hard-drinking newspaper reporter” branch of detective fiction as well — and what’s more, with real detection. If the book had come out in paperback, maybe its author would have more than the tiny dual listing in Hubin and be all-but-unknown anywhere else.

   The reporter is Stuart Reed, who literally stumbles across the mutilated body of Diana Diaz while jogging. While he’s only the New Jersey paper’s environmental columnist, Reed becomes obsessed with the story, even in the face of what seems to be official indifference, then losing his job (and not so incidentally) his wife when he pushes too far, allowing the case to subsume his life completely.

   While getting the basic elements of the workaday world exactly right, Wright might not be the most polished writer in the world, sometimes describing the most mundane everyday activities in too much detail: on pages 38-39, Reed comes home to his Manhattan apartment and we’re told that he uses two keys in the front entrance, one for his mailbox (empty) and then three on his front door. Parking lots are described in close-up: “a square lot, with a row of diagonal parking spaces on both sides…”

   But caring about detail comes in handy later on, when the thriller aspect takes an abrupt about-face and morphs itself into the fair-play tale of detection alluded to earlier. All of the details jar into place, and suddenly this double-faceted crime thriller becomes a small never-discovered treasure in the rough.

— December 2002 (slightly revised)


[UPDATE]  11-20-08.   Revised: 11-25-08.    Although The Last Man Standing never came out in paperback, copies of the hardcover are not hard to find online. (What is strange is that while I have a copy myself, there’s only one DBC edition listed on ABE. Why should the book club edition be scarcer than the First Edition? I have no idea.)

JIM WRIGHT Last Frame

   In my original comment I talked about the fact that I wasn’t able to come up with a cover image for the book. That’s been rectified, as you will have seen. At the time, all I had to show you was a copy scan of Jim Wright’s first book which you see here to the left.

   As I said earlier, all he wrote were the two mysteries; in the late 1970s he also wrote two non-fiction books about sports stars Bobby Clarke and Mike Schmidt.

   His full name is James Bowers Wright, and Contemporary Authors says that he started working for several New Jersey newspapers in 1972. Working his way up the ladder, he eventually became the metropolitan assignment editor for the Bergen Record, and that’s the connection that helped me track him down. He answered a few questions that I asked, and he was also kind enough to send me the cover image you see at the top of the page.

   Here’s his reply to the email I sent him:

  Steve,

   Thanks for the review and for tracking me down… I no longer write crime novels — and no longer write for The Record. Ironically, I ended up as an environmental writer there and started blogging about nature, and moved on to a job out of newspapers.

   Glad you (mostly) liked The Last Man Standing. It got a tremendous review in one of the trade publications but was reviewed indifferently elsewhere and in no big publications, so that was it.

   My first book The Last Frame, was based on Weegee, the Crime Photographer, before he came so popular, and dedicated to him…

   I think the writing in that one is a tad better. It was optioned as a movie but never made…

   Thanks again.

               Jim

  PS. Don’t miss my nature blog:  celeryfarm.net.


[UPDATE #2] 11-23-08.  For a complete list of all 27 weeks’ worth of “forgotten books,” see Patti Abbott’s latest post on her website, where all this started. It’s a spectacular array of good reading, that’s for sure.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review by John Lutz:


GEORGE C. CHESBRO – Shadow of a Broken Man.   Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1977. Paperback reprints: Signet, 1978; Dell, 1987.

GEORGE C. CHESBRO Shadow of a Broken Man

   This is the first Chesbro novel featuring Dr. Robert Fredrickson, a professor of criminology who doubles as a private detective, is a dwarf, and is known to his friends as Mongo. A onetime top circus performer, Mongo possesses some very useful skills for tight situations, among them tumbling and gymnastic ability and a black belt in karate.

   While preparing to leave for vacation in Acapulco, Mongo is approached by Mike Foster, who married the widow of famous architect Victor Rafferty. Foster’s wife, Elizabeth, happened to see a photograph of a new museum in an architectural magazine, and is convinced that the design is the work of her husband.

   But Victor died five years ago, and the museum’s design is listed as the work of a man named Richard Patern. Victor Rafferty died from a fall into an open smelting furnace, so there was essentially no body to be recovered, and Elizabeth is haunted by the conviction that Rafferty is still alive. Mike Foster’s marriage is suffering; he wants Mongo to clear up this matter so he and Elizabeth can get on with their lives.

GEORGE C. CHESBRO Shadow of a Broken Man

   Mongo assumes there won’t be too much complication here, so he postpones his vacation and accepts the case. His first move is to consult professor of design Franklin Manning, resident architectural genius, who flatly tells Mongo that the museum is Rafferty’s design, without question.

   And suddenly Mongo is involved in something much more complex and dangerous than he imagined. Russian and French agents are part of the package, as are U.N. Secretary Rolfe Thaag and more than one victim of Communist brutality.

   The writing here is literate and fast-paced, the plot is intricate, the concept is bizarre yet entirely plausible. This is a well-spiced recipe that results in haute cuisine.

   Chesbro is also the author of City of Whispering Stone (1978), An Affair of Sorcerers (1979), and The Beasts of Valhalla (1985), which likewise feature Mongo.

GEORGE C. CHESBRO Shadow of a Broken Man

         ———
   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.

GEORGE C. CHESBRO, R. I. P.   On a sad note to go with this review, news of George Chesbro’s passing is making the rounds of the mystery fiction blogs today. The best reportage, as usual, is on The Rap Sheet, including some of Jeff Pierce’s personal remembrances of the author.  — Steve

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