January 2009

DAVID L. VINEYARD on Carter Brown:

         Following Steve Mertz’s review of The Deadly Kitten

   I’ll admit to a great deal of affection for the Carter Brown books that goes beyond my appreciation for Bob McGinnis sexy stylish covers. The Brown books are fast, fun, and harmless time killers that you might use like a bowl of sorbet to cleanse your mental palate after reading a heavier (and better book).

   And it isn’t as if the books are badly written. Al Wheeler is different enough from Danny Boyd, who is different enough from Rick Holman and so on, and the Mavis Seidlitz books deserve to be rediscovered and rightly praised.

   In some sense the Brown books are a continuation of Robert Leslie Bellem and the screwball school of writing, similar to Richard Prather and Shell Scott (though lacking the qualities that set the Scott books in their deservedly higher position of regard), or the Fickling’s Honey West. Anthony Boucher was one of the few critics to go out of his way to praise some of the better Brown books.

CARTER BROWN Dennis Sinclair

   The Brown books always reminded me of a good episode of one of the old Warner’s private eye series like 77 Sunset Strip or Hawaiian Eye, pleasant time killers you could enjoy and forget like a good hamburger.

   Interested readers should note that a few of the author’s other books under other pseudonyms made it in print in the States, including at least one written as Dennis Sinclair.

   Lt. Al Wheeler was popular enough in his native Australia to star in his own comic strip which often featured Carter Brown as a somewhat comic Watson to the L.A. detective.

   I have to admit that I miss the equivalent of these entertaining and inexpensive books today. Sometimes you would rather spend time with Danny Boyd than wade through War and Peace, and the Brown books were always what they were intended for, a pleasant diversion, simple, and in their own way, charming escapism.

SIMON HAWKE – Much Ado About Murder.


Forge, hardcover; First Edition, December 2002; reprint paperback: January 2004.

   There’s a period (1585-1592) in the life of William Shakespeare that’s called the Lost Years, in which nothing is known — where he was, what he was doing, and who he was hanging out with.

    Filling in the gap — pure speculation on Hawke’s part, not to mention audacity — here’s the third in a series of detective adventures of the most famous poet and playwright the world has ever known. Assisting him is his good friend and hanger-on with the Queen’s Men, Symington “Tuck” Smythe.

   Hard times have hit the traveling group of players. Plague has struck London, and all of the city’s playhouses have been closed down. (Not so incidentally, Hawke describes the horrible condition of the unsanitary streets in more than adequate detail. Ghastly.) Will has sold some sonnets, though, so he and Tuck are not starving, yet.

   They also run athwart the Steady Boys, a gang of young ruffians who feel that the country is being done under by too many immigrants: England for Englishmen in Shakespeare’s day!

   But while the events in Will and Tuck’s day-to-day life are interesting, after 130 pages, they’re no longer entirely riveting, so for the mystery fans perched in the front row, when the murder of Master Leonardo occurs, it’s with (dare I say) a certain amount of relief and “at last.” It’s a relatively minor case to be solved, but it’s Will’s sense of what makes people do what they do that saves the day.

   Bawdy at times, extremely funny at others, this is an entirely enjoyable lark, a remarkable flight of fancy, and I think you’ll like it, too.

— February 2003

SIMON HAWKE[UPDATE] 01-26-09. It turns out that Simon Hawke is (or was) an SF writer named Nicholas Yermakov, before he changed his named legally to Hawke.

   He’s most noted, perhaps, for a long series of books in his “TimeWars” series, the first of which you see here to the left. He’s also written Battlestar Galactica, Batman, and Star Trek novels, as well as novelizations of “Friday the Thirteenth” movies.

   There were only four books in his series of Shakespeare movies, I’m sorry to say. Perhaps the funny bones of a wider audience weren’t tickled as much as mine was. The fourth one was never even released in paperback:

     The Shakespeare & Smythe mysteries —

    A Mystery of Errors. Forge, hc, 2000; pb, 2001.
    The Slaying of the Shrew. Forge, hc, 2001; pb, 2002.
    Much Ado About Murder. Forge, hc, 2002; pb, 2004.
    The Merchant of Vengeance. Forge, hc, 2003.

[LATER THE SAME DAY.] I was looking at the two cover images I included in this post, and I think I can see one reason why there were 12 books in the TimeWars series, and only four in Hawke’s Shakespeare series, even though they were desgned for two entirely different audiences.

   You probably can, too. Look at the cover of Much Ado. It’s perfectly designed to show that it has something to do with a mystery (from the title) and something to do with Shakespeare (also from the title). Other than that? Dullsville.

NIKKI AND NORA. Unaired TV pilot, UPN, 2004. Christina Cox (Nora Delaney), Liz Vassey (Nikki Beaumont). Director: John David Coles.

   It didnít make the new season for the UPN television network, but from all I’ve read, this busted TV pilot has become a cult favorite in many quarters. You can watch it in its entirely on YouTube, broken up into seven parts, starting here. Warning: The picture quality leaves something (a lot) to be desired.

   Nikki and Nora are cops. Thatís nothing new, not even if theyíre young and good-looking. Pepper Anderson was not the first lady policewoman on TV, but she was one of the first whose good looks were emphasized. In fact, for many undercover situations she usually found herself in, her good looks were most definitely a positive plus for the job.


   Itís not that Nikki and Nora are partners and both female. Cagney and Lacey covered that territory a while ago also. Hereís the thing Ė in case you didnít know where all this is leading. Unknown to the New Orleans Police Department, Nikki and Nora are lovers.

   There has been at least one TV series featuring two law enforcement officers having an affair: a show called Standoff that starred Ron Livingston and Rosemarie DeWitt as top-notch hostage negotiators for the FBI. The program lasted about 18 weeks a couple of years ago. It wasn’t bad, but there are only so many hostage crises you can see before you decide you don’t want to see any more.

   The brunette is Nikki, the honey blonde is Nora. Noraís family doesnít know, except for her brother, whoís also on the force. Nikki comes from a wealthy family which gives her an ďinĒ in certain (wealthy) neighborhoods. Her daddy is a suave southern gentleman fond of the local cuisine.


   The story itself is standard enough. A young girl, a member of one those wealthy families I just mentioned, is raped and murdered in her own home. Before she died, though, she was able to call 911.

   After one false trail, a (snoopy) eye witness is able to send Nikki and Nora in the right direction. I could say more, but you may want to watch this for yourself. The acting is adequate, most of the time, and the two female stars seem to do most of the action scenes themselves. The scenes with the two of them together at home are toned down, Iím sure, from how they might have played out on cable TV.

   Some additional background might help you place the two stars: Christina Cox played ex-cop turned PI Vicki Nelson in a series called Blood Ties not too long ago. (She specialized in paranormal cases: vampires, werewolves and the like.) Liz Vassey has been on several series. Most recently sheís been Wendy Simms on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

   Neither of these two shows means much to me, Iím sorry to say. Iíve never seen an episode of either series, but the first one sounds tempting. I tend to stay away from crime scenes and autopsy labs. (I was going to say I ought to get out more, but thatís not the problem.)

   When I recently reviewed a B-mystery movie called Mad Holiday a short while ago, I noted that the director’s name was George B. Seitz, but since his name meant little more to me than that, I didn’t happen to mention him in the review itself.

   But there are a number of people reading this blog who know movies and the men and women who helped make them more than I do, and George Seitz came up for discussion several times before Ed Hulse spotted the post and added the comment you find below. As I’ve previously mentioned, I hate to have information hidden from view in the comments section, so (with no further fanfare) here it is again.

— Steve

GEORGE B. SEITZ, by Ed Hulse

   George Seitz is an interesting and under-appreciated movie pioneer. Itís true thatís he remembered ó if at all ó as the director of M-G-Mís Andy Hardy films, but heís also celebrated for his contributions to the motion-picture serial, a form in whose development he played an important part.


   Seitz worked in theater before breaking into the movie business before the first World War. He landed a position as scenario writer and editor for the American arm of Pathe Freres, a French company that eventually became known as Pathe Exchanges and then simply Pathe. (It merged into RKO at the dawn of the talkie era.)

   Seitz had a natural flair for melodrama and was largely responsible for the nurturing of serial queen Pearl Whiteís screen persona. He wrote and/or directed most of her serials before being chosen to head up his own production unit in 1919, making other chapter plays for Pathe release.

   As was the custom in those days, he not only directed but also starred in serials, including Bound and Gagged (1919), Pirate Gold (1920), and The Sky Ranger (1921). His most frequent collaborator was Frank Leon Smith, who penned short stories for the Munsey pulps before taking a job with Pathe as scenario editor and eventually writing many of the companyís most successful chapter plays.

   The Seitz unit also employed ó first as a stuntman, later as an assistant director ó Spencer Bennet, who eventually helmed more serials than any other director. Bennet, Smith, and the other members of Seitzís production unit made the classic 1925 version of Edgar Wallaceís The Green Archer, only a few tantalizing reels of which survive today.


   Seitz left Pathe early in í25, taking a westbound train for Hollywood immediately upon shooting the final scenes for his last serial, Sunken Silver, in Florida. He initially worked for Paramount, directing several Zane Grey adaptations for producer Lucien Hubbard: Wild Horse Mesa, The Vanishing American (both 1925) and Desert Gold (1926).

   Shortly thereafter he began freelancing, which he did with considerable success until 1934, when he signed a long-term contract with M-G-M. That studio was accelerating B-movie production to keep pace with Depression-era demands for double features, and Seitzís background in low-budget serials made him very attractive to Metro.

   He was not a stylish or innovative director by any means, but he shot films quickly and efficiently, with a minimum of retakes and no behind-the-scenes foolishness. Although the Andy Hardy series had pretty much run its course by 1944, when Seitz died, thereís little doubt that M-G-M would have kept him on the Culver City lot.

   Forgive me for being so long-winded, Steve, but Seitz is a favorite hobby-horse of mine, so to speak. I think heís an unjustly forgotten filmmaker.

JOHN BUXTON HILTON – Holiday for Murder. Diamond, reprint paperback; 1st printing, July 1991. Originally published as Passion in the Peak. US hardcover edition: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. Originally published in the UK by Collins Crime Club, hc, 1985.


   This is another in the author’s Inspector Kenworthy series, the fifth in the series published by Diamond. There have been seventeen in all, and they have all been published in the US, surprisingly enough. (For most British mystery writers, there’s always at least one book that doesn’t make the cut with publishers over here — or so it seems.)

   Of the ones they’re doing, Diamond is not publishing them in order. One that I read not too long ago was Hangman’s Tide, which originally came out in 1975. In Holiday for Murder, which was written ten years later, Inspector Kenworthy has already retired, but his ability as a detective has spread throughout England so greatly that he’s regarded as very nearly omniscient.

   In this book he investigates a strange sort of murder, a hillside automobile accident in the driver disappears, only to show up later, very much dead, some distance away. The dead man is a notorious womanizing rock musician (all of which are (to some degree) very much synonymous) who has the leading role (that of Christ) in a non-denominational/ecumenical Passion play now in the stages of rehearsal in the small village of Peak Low.

   Practical jokes at the expense of two different Mary Magdalene’s have preceded the accident, but the murder was apparently committed for other reasons. The villagers, various policemen, and the many actors, singers, electricians and so on involved in putting on the extravaganza are all precisely and individually depicted — Hilton’ s primary strength as a writer.

   The solution to the murder is presented in very anti-climactic fashion, strangely enough, as if Hilton felt that the mystery itself wasn’t strong enough to stand on its own.

   There is also a red herring — the matter of the match from Doncaster — that is poorly done. Kenworthy seems to know all about before he’s informed, and its significance in the story is none at all. It’s never mentioned again.

   But if you enjoy mysteries with small English village settings, read this one anyway. You’ll like it.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 33, Sept 1991 (revised).

[UPDATE] 01-25-09. Strangely enough, while I don’t remember any of the details of this book’s plot, much less whatever flaws I may have found in it, I do remember enjoying reading it, which makes that last sentence pretty much of a guarantee.


   One thing that I didn’t change in the review is Kenworthy’s rank. I called him an Inspector, but in Al Hubin refers to him as a Superintendent. (See below.) The easiest explanation is, of course, that he was promoted sometime during his career.

   When Hilton wasn’t writing about Kenworthy, he used Inspector Thomas Brunt as his detective on the case. What really distinguished them from the Kenworthy mysteries, though, is that the six Brunt books took place in England in the late 1800s through the year 1911 or so.

   And, for the sake of completeness, Hilton also wrote another six mysteries as by John Greenwood. Inspector Jack Mosley was in all of these. I remember the Mosley books as being somewhat lighter in tone, though I may be in error about that.

   Expanded from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, here’s a list of all the Kenworthy books —

         KENWORTHY, SUPT. SIMON     [John Buxton Hilton, 1921-1986.]

       Death of an Alderman (n.) Cassell, UK, 1968. Walker, US, 1968. Also published as: Dead Manís Path, Diamond, pb, 1992.
       Death in Midwinter (n.) Cassell, UK, 1969. Walker, US, 1969. (Diamond, pb, 1994.)
       Hangmanís Tide (n.) Macmillan, UK, 1975. St. Martinís, US, 1975. (Diamond/Charter, pb, 1990.)
       No Birds Sang (n.) Macmillan, UK, 1975. St. Martinís, US, 1978. Also published as: Target of Suspicion, Diamond, pb, 1994.
       Some Run Crooked (n.) Macmillan, UK, 1978. St. Martinís, US, 1978.
       The Anathema Stone (n.) Collins, UK, 1980. St. Martinís, US, 1980. Also published as: Fatal Curtain, Diamond, pb, 1990.


       Playground of Death (n.) Collins, UK, 1981. St. Martinís, US, 1981. (Diamond/Charter, pb, 1991.)
       Surrender Value (n.) Collins, UK, 1981. St. Martinís, US, 1981. Also published as: Twice Dead, Diamond, pb, 1992.


       The Green Frontier (n.) Collins, UK. 1982. St. Martinís, US, 1982. Also published as: Focus on Crime , Diamond, pb, 1993.
       The Sunset Law (n.) Collins, UK, 1982. St. Martinís, US, 1982.


       The Asking Price (n.) Collins, UK, 1983. St. Martinís, US, 1983. Also published as: Ransom Game, Diamond, pb, 1992.
       Corridors of Guilt (n.) Collins, UK, 1984. St. Martinís, US, 1984. (Diamond, pb, 1993.)


       The Hobbema Prospect (n.) Collins, UK, 1984. St. Martinís, US, 1984. Also published as: Cradle of Crime, Diamond, 1991.
       Passion in the Peak (n.) Collins, UK, 1985. St. Martinís, US, 1985. Also published as: Holiday for Murder, Diamond, 1991.
       The Innocents at Home (n.) Collins, UK, 1986. St. Martinís, US, 1987. Also published as: Lesson in Murder, Diamond, 1991.
       Moondrop to Murder (n.) Collins, UK, 1986. St. Martinís, US, 1986.
       Displaced Person (n.) Collins, UK, 1987. St. Martinís, US, 1988.

    Older posts on this blog often receive comments containing interesting viewpoints or insights that it’s a shame that they’re buried where regular readers of this blog aren’t likely go back and find them. In particular David Vineyard has been going through the entire backlog of posts, and over the past few days he’s been leaving an impressive array of both opinions and information throughout this blog about what he’s found.

    So over the next week or so, I’m going to be re-posting many of the comments he’s left, hoping to make sure the work he’s done receives the widest audience possible.

    There’ll be no frills on these. No cover images or bibliographies, for example — they’ll have been done in the original posts. You’ll have to go back and read those anyway. Nor will I usually add a reply of my own, but please feel to respond yourself, if you feel so inclined.

    First up, David’s reply to George Kelley’s overview of the Joe Gall series:

    “While I agree with many of the good things said about Atlee as a writer and about Gall as a character toward the end Atlee’s lack of fear of saying what he believed led to some outright racist passages that can’t be excused as either characterization or some ruse of Gall’s to infiltrate the enemy. At least one book ends with an unpleasant rant between Gall and his boss talking about protecting civilization from the dark races — I suppose I could have taken this wrong or out of context, and Atlee may have intended the passage as sardonic in the Richard Condon mode, but it didn’t read that way.

    “That isn’t a condemnation of the series as a whole, nor representative of them, but there is a fine line between being ‘outspoken’ in ones opinions and outright offensive and Atlee seems to sometimes cross that line.

    “Of course if you are going to read older popular fiction you have to park more modern sensibilities or at least cut the author and characters some slack for being men of their time, but this isn’t an isolated incident in only one Gall book. I will grant, however, that Atlee may have simply intended to stay true to the nature of Gall’s Southern redneck character and not have shared the words he sometimes put in Gall’s mouth.

    “John Buchan has been criticized for having a character in The 39 Steps refer to a Jewish character with ‘an eye like a rattlesnake’ with almost no one noting that Buchan was a close friend of Bernard Baruch, and the character in the book is a paranoid American who proves to be 100% wrong about the nature of the conspiracy he has uncovered. If I’m being overly sensitive and unfair to Atlee I apologise, perhaps he was just too convincing in the same way Buchan was.

    “Certainly the early Gall books represent a refreshing use of the hardboiled voice in the spy novel, and there is much to appreciate in Atlee’s books, but I have to admit once in a while he would have been better served by a more keen-eyed editorial hand.”

    To which Mark Lazenby has already responded:

    “Just tuned back in and am delighted to see people remember this great series. David rightly notes the pitfalls of evaluating past-generation, hard-boiled fiction through the prism of today’s more advanced social sensibilities. His views are well stated and worthy of consideration.

    “Please allow me one ‘but’ — while my memory of this series is now clouded by more than 30 years (I read the books as a teenager taking hand-me-downs from my father) my now-faded recollection is that I admired Atlee’s Gall character for his repudiation of Redneck views and ways despite his (somewhat eccentric) residency in the heart of small-town Arkansas. I can recall occasional rants that I interpreted not literally but as — quoting your correspondent — ‘sardonic in the Richard Condon way.’

    “This certainly motivates me to dig through the attic, locate one of the old, later Gall’s and give it a read. I will wager this series would resell in reprint.”


MABEL SEELEY – The Listening House.

Doubleday Doran/Crime Club, hardcover, 1938; reprinted, 1953 [25th Anniversary of the Crime Club]. Paperback reprints include: Popular Library #69, 1944; Mercury Mystery 45, digest-sized, n.d.; Pyramid R-1009, 1964, plus several later printings.

MABEL SEELEY listening house

   It’s hard to believe that The Listening House, one of the cornerstones in the Haycraft-Queen collection, has been out of print for so long and that it isn’t a book everyone knows.

   Perhaps the problem is that Seeley wrote only a handful of books (nine, not all of them mysteries) and stopped writing when she was still fairly young — she lived until 1991 but her last mystery book appeared in 1954. It might be a regional thing too, for she was resolutely set in her native Minnesota.

   And then again it might be that, for all her other charms, Seeley never again wrote a book as fine as her first, though she copied the title again and again so that she had during her lifetime the sort of brand name loyalty Travis McGee novels had, or in our own day Sue Grafton. Seeley’s other books include The Chuckling Fingers, The Beckoning Door, The Crying Sisters, and The Whistling Shadow.

   In The Listening House a young woman, fired from her job and down at her luck, rents a cheap room from a huge old creepy rooming house that is set on the very edge of a steep overlook, and tenants throw their garbage off the back side of the building.

   Gwynne Dacres is not your ordinary ingenue heroine. She has been married, she’s capable of taking care of herself, for the most part, she has managed to surmount the Depression. The Great Depression is a tactile, living thing in this novel, a character as important as any of the crime victims or killers.

MABEL SEELEY listening house

   Gwynne’s new landlady, old Mrs. Garr, is a terrible old tarantula of a woman, out of a Balzac novel, sitting on her cellar steps half the day and night, waiting, waiting, waiting, but for what? In the meantime a man’s body is found (by Gwynne) dumped, like an old load of dry goods, into the trash area at the bottom of that long cliff-like drop.

   Mrs. Garr’s terror is unfeigned, and we are not surprised, but horrified, and maybe even moved to pity, when the ghastly old lady is the second corpse whose body Gwynne discovers.

   There is plenty of horror or terror or what have you in this book, but it is also a fairly clued mystery with roots in a socio-sexual crime that occurred some twenty years back, during the days when police corruption in “Gilling City” allowed vice to run rampant.

   Seeley’s no-nonsense honesty about the harsh realities of what today we call “sex work” distinguishes her book from any other that I know of published in the late 1930s. It has a harsh, biting, Faulknerian edge to it.

   (I was thinking one of the reasons Seeley has faded from view is that none of her books was ever made for the movies — Irving Wallace made The Chuckling Fingers into a 1958 episode of the TV anthology series Climax! — and I can see that The Listening House is far too sexually frank for Hollywood of the late 1930s.)

   In addition to the sex-crime horror, which remains pretty disgusting even in today’s considerably degenerated world of “torture-porn” writing, Gwynne herself is torn, though in an amusing and sophisticated way, between the love of two very different men, a newspaper publisher, and the cop investigating the murders.

MABEL SEELEY listening house

   (She accidentally meets the first one while he’s wearing only his boxer shorts, doing chin-ups in his apartment, so she gets a long view of his bare torso and hairy forearms and legs — sort of the “meet cute while naked” introduction Ellery Queen used to give his cute male characters.)

   Some have called Seeley’s plot marred by “coincidence,” but I don’t read it that way. Certainly many of the tenants had reason to kill their evil landlady — but it’s because they followed her there, to track her down, it’s not as if it were all some accident that so many of the characters had some ties to the 1921 disappearance and suicide of the unfortunate Rose Liberry.

   I think Seeley is painting a picture pf a complex society in which crimes against women are endemic because they’re built into the system, they’re the mortar which holds the bricks together in an edifice larger than a listening house.

   Too bad her other books aren’t as good, but she did make up for a disappointing run by a sharp and exciting finale: The Whistling Shadow, which is like the William Irish/George Hopley book that Woolrich never wrote.


         Bibliographic data:    [Taken from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin; various paperback editions are shown.]

SEELEY, MABEL (Hodnesfield). 1903-1991.

      The Listening House (n.) Doubleday 1938.
      The Crying Sisters (n.) Doubleday 1939.


      The Whispering Cup (n.) Doubleday 1940.


      The Chuckling Fingers (n.) Doubleday 1941.
      Eleven Came Back (n.) Doubleday 1943.


      The Beckoning Door (n.) Doubleday 1950.


      The Whistling Shadow (n.) Doubleday 1954.

MAD HOLIDAY. MGM, 1936. Edmund Lowe, Elissa Landi, Zasu Pitts, Ted Healy, Edmund Gwenn, Edgar Kennedy, Raymond Hatton. Suggested by the story “Murder in a Chinese Theatre” by Joseph Santley. Director: George B. Seitz.

   I’ve looked, and I can’t find a record of the story just mentioned, nor even a mention anywhere of the author, Joseph Santley. If anybody knows anything more, let me know. [See the UPDATE below.]


   Another curiosity is that the name of the “detective” in this film is Philip Trent, but the character has nothing to do with the detective of the same name in the works of E. C. Bentley. This Philip Trent is a movie actor who plays a detective by the name of Selby James in a series of films based on the books written by Peter Dean. (Still with me?)

   Tired immensely of the role, claiming that the situations he’s been put into over the years to have been unrealistic and utterly unbelievable, Trent declares himself finished with the role and takes off on a sea-going vacation.

   And what does he run into? Murder and a stolen diamond. (How did you know?)

   He also discovers that ďPeter Dean” (played by Elissa Landi) is someone he wouldn’t mind being handcuffed to, once he meets her and is accused along with her of doing away with the owner of the diamond.

   As you can guess, any film with Zasu Pitts in it, or any movie featuring Ted Healy (mentor and leading instigator of The Three Stooges) is not bound to be taken very seriously. Nonetheless, there is some body to the plot (besides the body, I mean). And while it’s not exactly a high-class production, this strictly B-version of a detective mystery story still provides a full 70 or 75 minutes of entertainment.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 33, Sept 1991 (slightly revised).

[UPDATE] 01-23-09.  This review was written well before the Internet was in full swing, and in particular before the online IMDB was readily available. Joseph Santley was the director of 89 films, starting in 1928; in the 1940s he seems to have worked primarily for Republic, putting out small trifles like Rosie the Riveter (1944, with Jane Frazee) and Hitchhike to Happiness (1945, with Dale Evans).


   Santley was either the screenwriter or wrote the story for 15 other films in the 1930s, but where the story that Mad Love was based on was published, if ever, has still never been determined.

   Elissa Landi was only 32 when she made Mad Holiday, but she appeared in only three movies afterward, including After the Thin Man, also in 1936. (The photo you see of her to the left was taken from that film.)

   As for Mad Holiday itself, I have absolutely no recollection of ever seeing it. My only hope is that someday I’ll come across the video tape that I saved it on.

LILLIAN OíDONNELL – The Goddess Affair.

Fawcett Crest, paperback reprint; 1st printing, January 1998. Hardcover edition: Putnam, December 1996.

   Born in 1926, Lillian OíDonnell wrote 34 mystery novels between 1960 and 1998. Three different series detectives appeared in these books, all female: Norah Mulcahaney, a detective for the NYPD, beginning as a rookie cop (15 books); Gwenn Ramadge, a Manhattan-based PI (4 books, of which this is one); and Mici Anhalt, who works as an investigator for the New York City Crime Victim’s Compensation Board (3 books). The other 12 books all appear to be stand-alones.


   In The Goddess Affair Ms. Ramadge is hired by the owner of a cruise liner to find whoís been stealing jewelry from the passengers as the ship makes its way through the Caribbean, the Panama Canal and up the Central American coast.

   What she doesnít count on is being asked to solve a murder mystery too, that of Minerva Aldrich, the only one of three half-sisters who has any wealth remaining several years after the unfortunate death of their mother, who was the head of Goddess Designs, and the creative force behind it.

   Are the two cases connected? Itís up to the intrepid heroine to find out Ė although as she admits on page 185, ďShe didnít consider getting beat up or shot at as part of the job. She wasnít that kind of private eye.Ē

   What she does do is ask a lot of questions, most of them quite personal, but being on ship is like being trapped in a mansion surrounded by banks of snow. There is no place the possible killers and/or thieves to go. The telling is readable enough but rather flat in tone, without a lot of excitement Ė even though exciting things are going on.

   If being realistic can be considered a fault in a detective story, thatís the underlying problem here. Gwenn Ramadge is no superheroine. It takes several calls to her backup assistant in New York City to come up with the facts that clinch the case, all offstage Ė that plus luck, and the timely intervention of Ray Dixon, her close friend on the NYPD, who flies down and helps wrap things up in the last three or four pages.

   Some personal matters between Ray and Gwenn are also quickly settled, and on the last page they exit stage left — and off into the sunset — this being their last recorded case together.


   From the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, hereís a list of all four:

               RAMADGE, GWEN     [Lillian OíDonnell]

       A Wreath for the Bride (n.) Putnam 1990


       Used to Kill (n.) Putnam 1993
       The Raggedy Man (n.) Putnam 1995


       The Goddess Affair (n.) Putnam 1997



JOHN HARVEY – Darkness & Light. Harcourt, hardcover, July 2006; trade paperback: Harvest, July 2007. UK editions: William Heinemann, hc, 2006; Arrow, ppbk, 2007.

    — Gone to Ground. Harcourt, hardcover, February 2008; trade paperback: Mariner Books, October 2008. UK editions: William Heinemann, hc, 2007; Arrow, ppbk, 2008.

   I was a long-time fan of John Harvey’s Charlie Resnick series and had high hopes when he began a new series featuring retired detective Frank Elder.

   In the third in the series, Elders is asked by his ex-wife to look into the disappearance of a friend’s older sister. The inquiry eventually links up with a cold case that brings in D.I. Maureen Prior for an investigation that takes some surprising turns.


   This was a pleasurable, if evanescent read, with much of the detail disappearing as soon as I’d put down the book.

   I then read Gone To Ground, a stand-alone novel, with the investigation conducted by detective Will Grayson and his partner, Helen Walker.

   This should have been a natural for me since the case involves an academic who’s writing a book on “the mysterious life and death of fifties movie star Stella Leonard.”

   However, this went down easily and, like Darkness & Light, all too forgettably. Evanescent reads I can do without. Can this be my farewell to John Harvey’s work?

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