November 2008


A REVIEW BY MARY REED:
   

MILES BURTON – Beware Your Neighbour. Collins Crime Club, UK, hardcover, 1951. No US publication.

   Hallows Green is a quiet street of detached houses with highly respectable inhabitants, a microcosm of middle-class England. There’s Walter Glandford, retired science professor; general practitioner Dr. Jeremy Teesdale; solicitor Peter Raynham; brothers Lawrence and Barry Flamstead, who live at opposite ends of the street and unfortunately do not get along too well; retired admiral Sir Hector Sapperton,; philanthropist Miss Florence Wayland; former civil servant Charles Vawtrey; and bank manager Claude Dodworthy. An exotic note is struck in this residential backwater by Hopton and Rachel Egremont, the couple holding regular religious services with a vaguely Eastern flavour in their corner house.

MILES BURTON Beware Your Neighbor

   Generally speaking the neighbours are friendly but alas, this soon changes following a series of anonymous communications, causing each resident of Hallows Green to look with suspicion on the others.

   It all begins when Glandford’s morning post brings a note informing him murder stalks Hallows Green. Miss Wayland receives a New Year card signed as from Death, while Peter Raynham is the recipient of an antique dagger blade inscribed “Honourable Death Is Best.” Lawrence Flamstead gets a drawing of a tiger with the message “Media vita morte sumus” or “In the midst of life we are in death.” Dr Teesdale’s note, a torn-out advertisement inscribed “H.C.N.,” is left under the windscreen wiper of his car. Sir Hector receives an envelope containing one of his own calling cards amended to show “Death comes for” written above his name.

   Banker Dodworthy’s communication arrives in the form of a parcel left in his bank’s night safe. It contains a wooden box which by the agency of an explosive strip from a Christmas cracker goes bang when he (rather foolishly in my opinion!) opens it. Further, the box lid is embellished “Next time…Death” in poker work. Vawtrey is the recipient of a photograph of a skeleton marked, in reversed letters, “Yours.” Only Barry Flamstead, one of the warring brothers, and the religious Egremonts are left out.

   It becomes apparent whoever is keeping the postman busy is a resident of the street. And since the inhabitants naturally want to keep the situation quiet to avoid the scarlet taint of scandal, enter the admiral’s former colleague and now friend Desmond Merrion to investigate.

   Hardly has Merrion arrived when Vawtrey’s garden goes up in flames, gigantic footprints are discovered here and there, matters escalate, and ultimately murder is done. But who is responsible and what could be the motive for the crimes disturbing this quiet pocket of suburbia?

My verdict: I felt Beware Your Neighbour leaned towards metamorphing into a literary curate’s egg, yet I cannot say any part of it was actually bad.

   All through the novel I was racking my brains as to what messages the anonymous communications could possibly mean. There’s much innocent fun to be had speculating on the matter. For example, did the honourable death dagger blade sent to solicitor Raynham point to a disgruntled former client or a shady incident in the legal eagle’s past? Then too why were one brother and the religious couple left out of the general correspondence?

   The reader is drawn along through a string of strange incidents until Merrion begins to unravel what is going on. When the solution is revealed, readers may accept the motive behind the odd communications as fitting with the ultimate crime, though if like me they begin thinking about it later they may begin to wonder if the whole odd arrangement was over-egging the pudding somewhat — not to mention pointing the finger into a very small circle, surely something the culprit would wish to avoid.

   So there was a little disappointment at the end of a novel with an otherwise excellent set-up. I for one would have loved to see what sort of plot Agatha Christie would have constructed using those letters as its kicking off point!

 Etext: http://www.munseys.com/diskfour/bwaredex.htm

         Mary R

http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/



[EDITORIAL UPDATE] 11-20-08.  I’ve deleted my previous comment, which dealt with my inability to find a cover image to go along with Mary’s review, the first failure I’ve had along those lines in quite a while.

   The good news, though, is that I’ve had the good fortune to have one sent to me, and you will have already seen it above. Sometimes all you need to do is ask. And to offer special thanks in return to Ian of SA Book Connection, who said and I quote:

 Hi Steve

   You are more than welcome to this rather disreputable cover…now sold. Such a pity that the really nice copy I had went at $300 without my having scanned it. I do still have one left…spine a trifle more white than this so any publicity for SA Book Connection welcome!

   Thanks for finding me.

      Best wishes

         Ian

   Me again. Thanks again, Ian. If anyone’s interested, please follow the link above. And when doing the required search for the book, don’t forget to spell Neighbour correctly!

— Steve

PHILIP ATLEE’S JOE GALL SERIES,
by George Kelley

JOE GALL

   Joe Gall is the Cadillac of hardass spies. Sure, Matt Helm can crush a foe’s kidneys with a crowbar, but would Helm allow himself to be turned into a heroin addict as Gall does in The Death Bird Contract (Fawcett, 1966), surely one of the best books James Atlee Phillips (who writes the Joe Gall series as “Philip Atlee”) ever wrote?

   I started the Joe Gall series early on with The Green Wound (Fawcett, 1963) and The Paper Pistol Contract (Fawcett, 1966). I was immediately impressed by the quality of the writing:

   The man seemed to be trying to walk up into the sky. One second he was strolling along the noon street in Laredo, distinguishable in the polyglot crowd only by his little white leather cap. Then he lunged forward and went gusting into an antic dance. Face contorted under the direct sunlight, he whirled and took two enormous sweeping steps, high and sideways. Racking away from the glittering store windows, he caromed into the parked car and jackknifed into the gutter. (The Green Wound, page 1)

JOE GALL

   We find out later that the man was carrying nearly half a kilo of uncut heroin in his butt, sealed in pliofilm and insertion surgically assisted. However, something went wrong: the bundle busted and a pound of pure heroin blasted into the tissues of the man’s body without warning. And the description of the event is graphic, yet at the same time poetic.

   The other trademark of the Joe Gall series is detailed references to local food, buildings, streets, and exotic customs. The reason is that James Atlee Phillips visited each of the sites of the novels in the series, many times writing the first draft on location to be sure to capture faithfully the local flavor. (Details of Phillips’ writing habits were related to me by a friend of his, Tom Van Zandt.)

   From Van Zandt’s information, Joe Gall is a projection of Phillips’ own fiery personality and style. Early in the series, Phillips has a minor character describe Joe Gall’s role that remains more or less consistant throughout the series:

JOE GALL

    “You are a greedy-guts, companero, like me. You want the best of everything; the best wines, the most attractive women, the clean overhead smash in tennis…. And you do these things well, almost with a Spanish style. But the flaw is always there. You are trying to sneak around the edges of your society, an anonymous man getting the best of it. Without making any obeisance to its smug gods of mass stupidity, automation, and regimentation…. You would appear to be, although you have not told me so, some kind of roving executioner in the holy name of Democracy. You think you can do this, as part-time work, and nurture your soul in an Ozark Mountain retreat. Not so, Josef. If you work in an abattoir, you get blood on you.” (The Silken Baroness, page 53)

   Joe Gall has class. He works only on a contract basis for large sums of money and spends most of his time in a fabulous mountain retreat in the Ozarks. He’s similar in style and flair to that legendary Western “consultant,” Paladin.

JOE GALL

   In terms of quality, I like the first four books in the series best. The Skeleton Coast Contract (Fawcett, 1968) features my favorite Joe Gall scene: Joe’s staked out on an anthill, and I assure you the description will make you itchy and wiggly for weeks. I have a certain amount of sentimental fondness for The Canadian Bomber Contract (Fawcett, 1971) because my home town is Niagara Falls, New York and I appreciate the fact that Phillips took the time to write an adventure taking place in my backyard and get it right.

   I recommend all the books in the Joe Gall series without reservation, but you have my preferences. The later books seemed to lack vitality and The Last Domino Contract (Fawcett, 1976) has Joe Gall calling it quits. Whether Phillips brings Gall out of retirement remains to be seen; however we have several top quality books to continue to enjoy while they remain in print.

From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 3, No. 2, Mar-Apr 1979       (very slightly revised).



      Bibliographic data: The JOE GALL books. [Expanded from Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin.]

   Pagoda, as by James Atlee Phillips. Macmillan, hardcover, 1951. Bantam 1055, paperback, 1952. [Burma]. Joe Gall is an independent soldier of fortune.

JOE GALL

All later books are paperback originals:

   The Green Wound. Gold Medal k1321, July 1963 [New Orleans, LA] Joe Gall is now a semi-retired contract agent for the CIA. Reprinted as The Green Wound Contract, Gold Medal, 1967.
   The Silken Baroness. Gold Medal k1489, 1964 [Canary Islands] Reprinted as The Silken Baroness Contract, Gold Medal, 1966
   The Death Bird Contract. Gold Medal d1632, 1966 [Mexico]
   The Paper Pistol Contract. Gold Medal d1634, 1966 [Tahiti]

JOE GALL

   The Irish Beauty Contract. Gold Medal d1694, 1966 [Bolivia]
   The Star Ruby Contract. Gold Medal d1770, 1967 [Burma]
   The Rockabye Contract. Gold Medal d1901, 1968 [Caribbean]
   The Skeleton Coast Contract. Gold Medal D1977, 1968 [Africa]
   The Ill Wind Contract. Gold Medal R2087, 1969 [Indonesia]
   The Trembling Earth Contract. Gold Medal, 1969 [U.S. South]
   The Fer-de-Lance Contract. Gold Medal, Jan 1971 [Caribbean]
   The Canadian Bomber Contract. Gold Medal T2450, August 1971 [Montreal, Canada]
   The White Wolverine Contract. Gold Medal T2508, Dec 1971 [Vancouver, Canada]
   The Kiwi Contract. Gold Medal T2530, Feb 1972 [New Zealand]
   The Judah Lion Contract. Gold Medal T2608, Sept 1972 [Ethiopia]
   The Spice Route Contract. Gold Medal T2697, April 1973 [Middle East]
   The Shankill Road Contract. Gold Medal T2819, Sept 1973 [Ireland]

JOE GALL

   The Underground Cities Contract. Gold Medal M2925, Feb 1974 [Turkey]
   The Kowloon Contract. Gold Medal M3028, August 1974 [Hong Kong]
   The Black Venus Contract. Gold Medal M3187, Feb 1975 [South America]
   The Makassar Strait Contract. Gold Medal P3477, March 1976 [Indonesia]

JOE GALL

   The Last Domino Contract. Gold Medal 1-3587, 1976 [Korea]

Note: In a chart created by R. Jeff Banks accompanying the first appearance of this article, he points out that the background of the unnamed hero of The Deadly Mermaid by James Atlee Phillips (Dell 1st Edn #26, pb, 1954) is very similar to that of Joe Gall’s.

THE CURMUDGEON IN THE CORNER
by William R. Loeser

ARTHUR W. UPFIELD – An Author Bites the Dust.

ARTHUR W. UPFIELD An Author Bites the Dust

Angus & Robertson, Australia, hardcover, 1948. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hc, 1948. Many reprint editions, both hardcover and soft, including Angus & Robertson, UK-Australia, hc, 1967; and Scribner’s, US, ppbk, August 1987 (both shown).

   The most under-rated writer of detective fiction is certainly Arthur Upfield. His books provide levels of characterization and description of places exceptional in the mystery. Most importantly, his half-aborigine Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte can and does detect.

ARTHUR W. UPFIELD An Author Bites the Dust

   Moreover, Mr. Upfield did not, to my knowledge, write a bad book. For the first few chapters, though, of An Author Bites the Dust, I thought he had; for Mr. Upfield had difficulty breathing life into the dry husks of the coterie of colonial litterateurs led by the soon-to-die Mervyn Blake, who see their purpose in life as shaping the future of Australian literature.

   Fortunately, other characters appear and Bonaparte is able through questioning to make some of the remaining writers come to life. It turns out the unenviable Blake met his death from poisoning by coffin dust (i.e. ptomaine spores latent in the dust we all become — would it work?) for a motive so well-wrought, all-encompassing, and completely literary that description would take pages.

   Let my “fair play” in not disclosing the murderer serve as an additional incentive for those of you who have not, to read this excellent book. Cat fanciers will want to know that the clue that starts Bony on the path to success is delivered to him by a cat.

ARTHUR W. UPFIELD An Author Bites the Dust

   Other thoughts: I wonder if the mystery writer Clarence B. Bagshott who appears here in a minor role was an intended or sub-conscious self-portrayal of the author? I wonder also if the American compositor and proofreader thought the “De Cameron” (p. 18) was a clan of Scots who emigrated to France?

   Most of all, I wonder — as I’ve wondered while reading each of Mr. Upfield’s books — how a half-caste named Napoleon Bonaparte could move through the generally upper-middle-class society of Australia of the 1930’s and 40’s with so few comments about his name (one here) and without a snub due to his ancestry (In this book he even poses briefly as a South African (!) journalist.)

From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 3, No. 2, Mar-Apr 1979       (very slightly revised)..


A REVIEW BY STEPHEN MERTZ:

CARTER BROWN – The Deadly Kitten.  Signet D3345; paperback original, December 1967. Horwitz #141, Australia, ppbk, July 1968.

CARTER BROWN The Deadly Kitten

   It now seems apparent that the mystery writing career of Australian Alan G. Yates has taken on a unique significance. Although Yates is still active under his real name in the science fiction field, as “Carter Brown” he produced 179 short novels between 1953-76, and it now appears that these books comprise not only one of the longest, but quite possibly the last series of hardboiled mysteries told in the humorous, decidedly tongue-in-cheek vein which was also, once upon a time, the specialty of such practitioners as Robert Leslie Bellem, Jonathan Latimer and Richard S. Prather.

   It’s too bad. There’s definitely a place for happy go-lucky, good-natured mayhem played more for smiles than anything else, and while I’m not forgetting Donald E. Westlake, there’s simply no one like Brown writing in the private eye field these days. And that’s a pity.

   Every Carter Brown novel was “typical.” One of Brown’s many series characters would take on an incredibly complex case populated by any number of sexy ladies and bad-ass men — all of whom generally hated each other’s guts and never missed an opportunity to say so, quite humorously at times — and while ratiocination was never the forte of Brown’s heroes, the case would always be satisfactorily wrapped up no later than page 128.

CARTER BROWN The Deadly Kitten

   The Deadly Kitten stars Hollywood “industrial consultant” Rick Holman — a hard drinking wise-cracker of a private eye of the Dan Turner/Shell Scott school — who takes an assignment from macho movie star Leonard Reid to try and quiet down one of Reid’s ex-live-in male lovers who is going around town making waves about Reid’s sexual habits.

   In most ways this too is a “typical” Brown, but Kitten is distinguished by a singularly colorful cast, some great dialogue and, for a change, the solving of a really twisty puzzle by actual deductive reasoning. And nobody has ever packed more plot twists into 125 pages, and still maintained narrative pace, like Carter Brown. The book is fast, lightweight and engaging.

   Recommended as top drawer “Brown” as well as a fine paperback quickie for those who like to read them at one sitting.

From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 3, No. 2, Mar-Apr 1979.


BEFORE DAWN. RKO Radio, 1933. Stuart Erwin, Dorothy Wilson, Warner Oland, Dudley Digges, Gertrude Hoffman, Jane Darwell. Based on a story by Edgar Wallace; director: Irving Pichel.

BEFORE DAWN Warner Oland

   As far as Ive been able to determine, Edgar Wallace wrote this story in Hollywood especially for this film, and it was never published separately. Im far from being an expert on Wallace, so I can easily stand to be corrected.

   Assuming that you dont expect to see a detective story when you watch this movie, I think youll enjoy it immensely. (I did.) Warner Oland is the villain in this one, playing an Austrian psychoanalyst who listens intently to a dying mans last words as he confesses to a crime that he committed 15 years earlier.

   Not only that, he reveals where a million dollars in stolen gold is hidden, somewhere in back in the US, which turns out to be in one of those spooky old dark houses that were so popular in criminous 1930s cinema.

   Slow-speaking and soft-spoken Stu Erwin plays an undercover cop who nabs Patricia Merrick (Dorothy Wilson) and her father (Dudley Digges) as a pair of phony mediums only to discover theres nothing phony about her at all. And off they go to the house where the suspicious death of the owner, Mrs. Marble (Jane Darwell) has occurred the very same house where Dr. Cornelius is snooping around.

BEFORE DAWN Warner Oland

   If mediums able to speak to the dead actually exist, Id like to think that they would be intelligent, beautiful and petite young brunettes like Dorothy Wilson, whose career in Hollywood (1932-1937) was not nearly long enough.

   She married scriptwriter Lewis R. Foster (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) in 1936, and that was it as far as her career was concerned; she raised a family and stayed married until his death in 1974. She herself died in 1998.

   There is plenty to see in this sixty minute movie: secret doors and rooms, deadly cisterns in the basement, candles blowing out, no telephones, cops that go tearing off in the wrong direction at precisely the wrong moment, and the evil deeds of Dr. Cornelius.

   You cant go wrong!

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review by Kate Mattes:


WILLIAM G. TAPPLY – The Dutch Blue Error. Charles Scribner’s Sons, hardcover, 1984. Paperback reprint: Ballantine, 1985.

WILLIAM TAPPLY Dutch Blue Error

   The Dutch Blue Error is the second book in the Brady Coyne series. Coyne, a lawyer to Boston Brahmins, finds detective work is often what his clients want. Since Coyne is divorced, has an apartment overlooking Boston Harbor and loves to fish and play golf, he likes the money he gets from his clients and usually obliges them.

   In his second book, we meet Xerxes (“Zerk”) Garret, a young black law graduate who substitutes for Coyne’s pregnant secretary while studying for the bar exams. Oliver Hazard Perry Weston summons Coyne to help him quietly buy a duplicate of the Dutch Blue Error, a stamp owned by Weston and thought to be one of a kind.

   Weston takes great pride in his stamp collection, especially since being confined to his house in a wheelchair. Tormented by the thought that his stamp might not be unique (Weston is not an attractive person, treating his adoring son badly), he asks Coyne to act as “his legs” and locate the stamp, validate it, and then negotiate payment.

WILLIAM TAPPLY Dutch Blue Error

   Coyne reluctantly agrees, and these chores lead him to some unusual characters as he keeps appointments in the Combat Zone, Harvard Square and the Peabody Museum, where he and Zerk have a body on their hands.

   The police quickly settle on Zerk as the likely murderer, and suddenly Coyne has an increased desire to straighten out the question of the Dutch Blue Error and clear Zerk. The book is well plotted and the ending is both unpredictable and realistic.

   Death at Charity’s Point, the first in the Coyne series and winner of the 1984 Scribner’s Crime Novel Award, features Coyne’s investigation of the apparent suicide of a wealthy client’s son at a liberal boarding school. While this is an intriguing case, Coyne’s politics and sensitivities are vague. In The Dutch Blue Error, he is more clearly defined and likable.

   Brady Coyne also makes a cameo appearance in The Penny Ferry by Rick Boyer.

         ———
   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.

A REVIEW BY STEPHEN MERTZ:

RAYMOND CHANDLER – The Lady in the Lake.   Alfred A. Knopf, 1943. Armed Services Edition #838, paperback, 1945. Pocket 389, ppbk, 1946. Many other reprint editions, both hardcover and soft.

RAYMOND CHANDLER The Lady in the Lake

   I was really disappointed upon rereading this one for the first time in fifteen years and found it far from the “masterpiece” which Barzun and Taylor dubbed in it their Catalogue of Crime. According to Frank MacShane’s Life of Raymond Chandler, Chandler was in the dumps when he wrote this, his fourth novel, plagued by personal hassles as well as anxiety over the war in Europe.

   It shows. The first half of the book is paced quite nicely and in the first two chapters in particular hero Philip Marlowe is in top wisecracking form. But for the most part the verve and spark of Chandler’s best work are sadly lacking.

   By any standards other than Chandler’s own this could pass as a minor but competent private eye novel. But it is Chandler, and here he’s just going through the paces. All of his stock characters and situations are on hand: the brutal cop, the honest but tired cop, the good girl, the mystery girl (two, in fact), Marlowe at constant odds with the law and his own client, being lied to in his search for a missing wife by everyone, every step of the way.

RAYMOND CHANDLER The Lady in the Lake

   But the writing is peculiarly flat. The plotting, never Chandler’s strong point, is slipshod. The murderer’s identity is glaringly obvious. Marlowe’s solution of the case is unsubstantiated guesswork. The solution itself makes not an iota of sense, raising far more questions than it answers.

   But, most irritating of all, a number of very skillfully drawn characters — some quite integral to the story — appear briefly, speak their lines, are talked about for the rest of the book, but never appear on stage again, giving the whole project an uncomfortable, vaguely lopsided effect.

   Chandler is my favorite Eye writer, the yardstick by which I measure all others who work the genre, and it hurts like hell to say these things. But it’s hard to believe that The Lady in the Lake is by the same man who gave us such milestone works, such true masterpieces, as Farewell, My Lovely and The Long Goodbye.

From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 3, No. 2, Mar-Apr 1979.


REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


SUSAN KANDEL. Shamus in the Green Room, 2006.
      —, Christietown, 2007.

SUSAN KANDEL

   Cece Caruso, a biographer of mystery writers and an amateur sleuth, after cases involving research connected with her biographies of Erie Stanley Gardner and the writers of the Nancy Drew series, turns her attention to Dashiell Hammett and Agatha Christie.

   In Shamus, after her biography of Hammett has been published to some acclaim, she’s hired by the producer of a new film about Hammett to tutor the actor who will play the writer/detective.

   In my reviews of the two earlier books I noted that that Cece was often as much concerned about her clothes as her sleuthing, but that’s definitely not true this time. There’s an occasional sign of Cece’s clothes buying addiction, but the focus is definitely on the Hammett connection and the novel is all the stronger for it.

SUSAN KANDEL

   Christietown is something of a return to the clothes conscious Cece of the first two books, but she’s having some trouble finishing her biography of Christie, bogging down in the puzzling segment of Christie’s life that, in 1926, found her fleeing her marriage and the subject of a week-long manhunt that received extraordinary media coverage.

   Eventually, her breakthrough in understanding this facet of Christie’s life also leads to a breakthrough in her understanding of the murders connected with a real estate development, a Christietown that is attempting to recreate a village from Christie’s era in the Mojave desert.

   This is currently one of my favorite series and while there’s no teaser for a fifth novel, I’m hoping that’s not a sign that the series has ended.

   Bibliographic data:

      SUSAN KANDEL

I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason. William Morrow, hc, May 2004. Avon, pb, March 2005.

SUSAN KANDEL

Not a Girl Detective. Willliam Morrow, hc, May 2005. Avon, pb, March 2006.

Shamus in the Green Room. William Morrow, hc, May 2006. Avon, pb, May 2007.

Christietown. Harper, trade pb, May 2007. Avon, pb, June 2008.

      >>>

[UPDATE]   The chances that there will be more books in the series are awfully slim, or so it seems. You can find Susan Kandel’s website here, but only the four books are mentioned, and her calendar of events is all but empty after June of this year.   — Steve

[UPDATE #2]  11-18-08.  Good news, straight from Susan Kandel herself:

  Hi Steve,

   Thanks for the note — there is indeed a fifth Cece book, called Vertigo a Go Go, which will be out early next fall (2009), again from Harper. I took a year off to rest (!), but the series continues! I think the problem is I haven’t updated my website in years (literally), and I’m planning to get to that this fall so readers have a sense of what’s coming up for me.

All best

   Susan

WILLIAM G. TAPPLY – Cutter’s Run.  St. Martin’s Press; paperback reprint, November 2002. Hardcover first edition: St. Martin’s, 1998.

WILLIAM TAPPLY Cutter's Run

   Tapply has been writing the Brady Coyne books for a long time, since 1984, and for some reason he’s still not the big name in the mystery field I think he should be after nearly 20 years. Note that it took almost four and a half years for this one to move from hardcover to paperback. By any standard that’s a long time to be kept on hold.

   I think that Tapply may be working against the grain — that the current market is demanding fluffier and fleecier female fiction, while the machio-er and male-oriented mysteries are left to manage for themselves.

   But to the case at hand. Coyne is a low-profile Boston attorney who seems to run into mysterious doings wherever he goes. This time it’s swastikas in Maine, a poisoned dog, and a reclusive African-American lady who then disappears. Tapply’s prose is deceptively smooth, like the surface of a quiet pond suddenly revealing gnarly snags below. One of his greatest assets as a writer is the shivery sort of anticipation he produces when you (think you) know what’s coming.

WILLIAM TAPPLY Cutter's Run

   Coyne has been spending his weekends in the small, rustic, backwoods country town of Garrison with a lady friend named Alex. From the outside they seem to be very compatible, but there are hints of trouble there too. Besides the mystery, a good deal of the rest of the story is about a huge communications gap between the sexes that — from a sympathetic male point of view — mystifies me as much as it does Brady Coyne.

   Tapply is a smooth, experienced writer, but where he may be the weakest, or so it seemed to me this time around, is in the detective end of things. Coyne gets the local sheriff interested in the case easily enough — in fact, he even makes Coyne a deputy — but why is it that he (Coyne) is the only one to investigate the missing woman’s home? Brady also does a lot of other detective work, but the case is solved by what amounts (in retrospect) as near happenstance.

   So is this what’s holding Tapply back? He’s good, but he’s just never found the key to what would make him great? Or is it — and this is what I hinted at this before — that he’s a male writer in a field where the Sisters in Crime are now the leading edge?

— November 2002 (revised)



[UPDATE] 11-17-08.   Bill Tapply and Brady Coyne are still going strong, I’m happy to say, no matter what I wrote back then, with books and more adventures showing up on the shelves at Borders on a regular basis. I still don’t think he gets the recognition he deserves, not nearly as much as he should have, after a career as long as his — and it’s not over yet!

THE CURMUDGEON IN THE CORNER
by William R. Loeser

CAROLYN WELLS The Tannahill Tangle

CAROLYN WELLS – The Tannahill Tangle. J. B. Lippincott, US/UK, hardcover, 1928.

   I can’t remember who killed whom in Carolyn Wells’ The Tannahill Tangle, nor have I any desire to look it up.

   The feature that sticks in my mind is the two well-to-do couples who are the main characters. They are engaging in spouse-swapping, and, when one of them is killed, the perceptive reader might feel that the inherent frictions of this diversion have some bearing on the crime.

   But no, the survivors and Ms. Wells take great pains to assure themselves, each other, and us that they are too “well-bred” for such messy sports as murder. Fleming Stone is called in and, as I recall, is able to find someone of less-illustrious parentage and prospects to pin the rap on.

   Fortunately, I had only this one book of Ms. Wells to get rid of. It is a reminder I will not soon forget that the Golden Age produced the worst clinkers as well as the masterpieces of detective fiction.

From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 3, No. 2, Mar-Apr 1979       (very slightly revised).


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