November 2009


Three More by EDWARD D. HOCH
by Mike Tooney:


    For Part One of this series, go here.

EDWARD D. HOCH

4. “Toil and Trouble.” First appearance: Shakepearean Whodunnits, edited by Mike Ashley. Carroll & Graf, trade paperback, November 1997.

    “The bodies of the two grooms were bloodied everywhere from MacBeth’s dagger, yet the wounds of the King himself barely bled at all.”
    “How is this possible? … Is it enchantment? A sign from heaven?”

COMMENTS:   In the days of political turmoil that gripped medieval Scotland, someone vows to end the struggle once and for all; if that means murdering one’s way to the top, so be it.

    When the King dies, the innocent grooms are blamed; but the would-be killer is unaware that he has murdered a dead man, and the killer’s wife, despite all appearances, is not a suicide but the victim of a carefully contrived murder scheme.

NOTES:   This was Hoch’s contribution to a Shakespearean-themed anthology in which various authors converted the Bard’s works into whodunnits. Hoch manages to mimic Shakespeare’s cadences fairly well and makes “the Scottish play” into a good little murder mystery.

EDWARD D. HOCH

5. “Money on the Red.” First appearance: Show Business is Murder, an MWA anthology edited by Stuart M. Kaminsky. Berkley, hardcover, August 2004; paperback, August 2005.

    “So you’re a performance artist?”
    “When I’m performing in a museum it’s art, when I’m in an Off-Broadway theater it’s show business.”

COMMENTS:   They say that to make it big in show biz you need an effective gimmick. Wanda Cirrus’s gimmick is highly unusual: She is a living roulette wheel ball; you know, the wheel spins round and a white ball skitters to a stop on a certain red or black numbered slot — only in Wanda’s case, she’s the ball.

    At least the pay is good, but when a shady gentleman approaches her with a scheme to beat the system she yields to temptation; soon, however, someone is stabbed to death and Wanda realizes she’s in too deep. They also say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas; Wanda knows that, unless she’s very clever, she’ll stay in Vegas — permanently.

NOTES: This one has a nice little twist ending; Hoch rarely disappoints the reader.

EDWARD D. HOCH

6. “Christmas Crossing.” First appearance: Blood on the Holly, edited by Caro Soles. Baskerville Press, Canada, trade paperback, October 2007.

    “You still haven’t told me what you’re doing here. Does it have anything to do with Christmas?”
    Monica took a sip of her beer. “I’m meeting the three wise men.”

COMMENTS:   Matos (first name? last?) owns a little bar attached to a hotel situated on Beaver Island, in the St. Lawrence River; since it’s almost Christmas, he’s rather surprised when several strangers check in during the off season.

    Pleasantly surprising, as well, is the appearance of an old flame he had known from before the fall of the Iron Curtain, but clearly she has something to hide. Presently someone is murdered, and Matos finds himself facing the muzzle of a dead man’s gun.

NOTES:   The story’s pace is hampered by excess repetition, but there is a nice, subdued twist ending. Most of the mystery involves what everybody wants, the “MacGuffin” (Hitchcock) or “dingus” (Sam Spade).

A REVIEW BY MARYELL CLEARY:
   

PATRICIA MOYES – Who Is Simon Warwick?   Holt Rinehart & Winston, US, hardcover, 1979. Paperback reprint: Owl Books, 1982. UK edition: Collins Crime Club, hc, 1978.

PATRICIA MOYES Death on the Agenda

   Moyes brings the classic “missing heir” theme up to date in this suspenseful mystery. In a fit of remorse toward the end of his life, Lord Charlton makes his American-adopted nephew his sole heir. On Lord Charlton’s death, his “modestly-situated solicitor” Ambrose Quince has the responsibility of finding the nephew, if possible.

   Two claimants turn up, both with papers to prove their identity. Then one is murdered, and the other is the obvious suspect. But, to Inspector Henry Tibbett, nothing is that obvious. There are others who would benefit if the missing heir stayed missing, and the remaining claimant might well be eliminated in one way or another.

   Curious questions arise: how did each claimant come by the papers each had? Why does the remaining one so strenuously insist that his wife not come to England to be with him in his trial for murder? Why was Lord Charlton so sure that he would have recognized his missing nephew?

   Though readers may have their suspicions about the murderer, the suspense does not let up until a spine-tingling trap closes in the final pages.

– Reprinted from The Poisoned Pen, Vol. 6, No. 4, Fall 1986.



Editorial Comment: Maryell’s review of Death on the Agenda, also by Moyes, appeared here earlier on this blog.

A REVIEW BY RAY O’LEARY:
   

MICHAEL CONNELLY – The Poet. Little Brown, hardcover, January 1996. Trade paperback: Warner, July 2002; mass market paperback: Warner Vision, January 1997.

   Jack McEvoy is a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, and Death is his beat; he covers stories in which someone has died, be it by murder, suicide or accident. Now he is in the back seat of a police car on the way to his brother’s house to tell his sister-in-law that her husband is dead.

MICHAEL CONNELLY The Poet

   His brother Sean was a police detective who apparently drove to a nearby lake and shot himself. Over the past several weeks he had been investigating the murder of Theresa Lofton, a teenage girl whose body was discovered in a park, severed in half.

   The case seemed to have gotten to him so badly that he killed himself, leaving as his only note a line of poetry on his car’s fogged up window: a line from a poem by Poe that’s contained in the story “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

   After a vacation following his brother’s funeral, Jack decides to do a story on the rate of suicides by policemen. While researching it, he comes across an article in the New York Times that mentions the suicide of a Chicago detective who obsessed over the murder of a little boy — a case also unsolved. His suicide note also consisted of a line of poetry from Poe.

   That’s too coincidental for Jack. He’s soon traveling to Washington, D. C. and Baltimore where his investigation comes to the notice of the FBI. The FBI reluctantly agrees to join forces with him (to keep him from writing about it prematurely) as they discover at least six cases of policemen who apparently committed suicide, leaving as their only notes a line from Poe.

   Meanwhile, every third or fourth chapter is not told in the first person by Jack but is in the third person as we follow a pedophile named William Gladdin as he tries to stay in the business of taking shots of unclad children to peddle over the internet.

   Extremely well written, with fine characterization and gripping suspense up to a point, but I felt Connelly may have gone overboard with the twists at the end. It seems to have done well enough, as there has been a sequel, The Narrows, a book in which Harry Bosch appears.

Editorial Comment: Ray recently reviewed The Narrows here on this blog. It’s my error in posting them in the wrong order!

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


W. R. BURNETT – Dark Hazard. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1933. Paperback reprints include: Hillman #20, 1949; Lancer 71-307, no date stated (early 1960s).

W. R. BURNETT Dark Hazard

Film: First National, 1934 (with Edward G. Robinson, Genevieve Tobin, Glenda Farrell). Also: Warner Bros., 1937, as Wine, Women and Horses (with Barton MacLane, Ann Sheridan).

   When you read a book where the central character starts out with a bit of a gambling problem, you usually end up with a story about a guy with a gambling problem. Period.

   But W.R. Burnett wasn’t your usual writer, and Dark Hazard is about a lot more than the standard gambling-addict tribulations: it’s about things like the denizens of a big city hotel moving up and down the social scale; gamblers, gangsters and hangers-on; slick California dog-racing and rustic Ohio babbitry; and finally it’s just about the special bond between a man and his dog, conveyed in prose at once moving and tough as a dime — worth the trouble of seeking out.

Editorial Comment: Some while ago Dan reviewed Romelle here on this blog, also by W. R. Burnett.

Reviewed by GLORIA MAXWELL:         


SUZANNE BLANC – The Green Stone. Carroll & Graf, reprint paperback, 1984. Previous editions: Harper & Brothers, hc, 1961. Detective Book Club, hc, 3-in-1 edition, February 1962. Lancer, pb, 1966.

SUZANNE BLANC

    “Perhaps it is not prophecy at all but the belief in prophecy that fulfills it…” and destiny that brings certain people together in a given place, at a given time. For Mr. and Mrs. Randall, their destiny is to be murdered on a Mexican highway by bandits. And for Mrs. Randall’s emerald ring to be responsible for the danger and near death of Jessie Prewitt and ruin for Luis Pérez.

    Jessie Prewitt comes to Mexico to flee the painful memories of her broken marriage. Luis Pérez, a tourist guide, hankers after a life of ease and wealth — and feels the possibility brush his fingertips when the beautiful emerald comes into his possession.

    As quickly, police suspicion also brushes against Pérez, and he passes the gem onto Jessie (without her knowledge) when the police come to question him. Pérez intends to reclaim the jewel later — no matter what danger or force results.

    As pressure builds for the police to find the emerald and solve the Randalls’ murder, so does the tension and suspense surrounding Pérez’ determination to regain the gem, and Jessie’s unwitting thwarting of his aim.

    Told from the omniscient viewpoint, Suzanne Blanc creates very human characters, and allows the reader to understand their frustrations, anxieties and pleasures. Like a finely tuned piece of machinery, all the parts of this book work together in unison. The result is an exquisite “gem” of a story — seemingly plain and simple, but full of depth and color when held to the light.

    Don’t neglect this one!

– Reprinted from The Poisoned Pen, Vol. 6, No. 4, Fall 1986.



Bibliographic Data: [Taken from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin.]

        BLANC, SUZANNE. Ca. 1915-1999

    The Green Stone (n.) Harper 1961 [Insp. Miguel Menendes]   Edgar winner: Best First Mystery, 1962.
    The Yellow Villa (n.) Doubleday 1964 [Insp. Miguel Menendes]
    The Rose Window (n.) Doubleday 1967 [Insp. Miguel Menendes]

SUZANNE BLANC

    The Sea Troll (n.) Doubleday 1969

TOP O’ THE MORNING. Paramount Pictures, 1949. Bing Crosby, Ann Blyth, Barry Fitzgerald, Hume Cronyn, John McIntyre. Screenplay: Edmond Beloin & Richard L. Breen; director: David Miller.

   Trivia experts likely know that William Levinson and Richard Link created the character of Lt. Columbo for Bing Crosby, but they may not realize Bing had played a detective before, and in fact a private detective in this 1949 musical comedy with a touch of noir.

TOP O' THE MORNING Bing Crosby

   Music and murder had mixed before — Charlie Chan at the Opera, Murder at the Vanities, The Princess Comes Across, and Lady of Burlesque come to mind, but those were backstage mysteries, and the singing was confined to the stage. This may be the only full blown musical comedy murder mystery ever filmed.

   It begins with a murder and a shocking theft — the Blarney Stone — which bequeaths the gift of gab on anyone who kisses it — has been stolen. The stone is part of ancient Irish lore and it’s theft could well visit disaster on the entire nation. Finding the stolen stone and restoring it and the killer is of vital importance.

   Enter top American insurance investigator Joe Mulqueen (Bing Crosby), a laid back pipe-smoking crooning detective, sent by Inspector Fallon (John McIntyre) to Ireland find the ancient rock and save the company from having to pay off on the priceless relic.

   But that pits Joe against Sergeant Briany MacNaughton of the Irish Garda Civil, and his fiery daughter Conn (Ann Blyth), and further complications ensue because Joe’s arrival seems to fit all too well a prophecy about who the lovely Conn will marry.

   Top o’ the Morning is by its nature schizophrenic. When Bing isn’t crooning familiar tunes or those written for the film by Burke and Van Heusen, romancing the lovely Blyth, doing the usual Irish shtick with Fitzgerald and most of the cast, and exploring the legend of the Blarney Stone, he’s playing detective investigating a brutal murder.

TOP O' THE MORNING Bing Crosby

   Toward the end of the film the mood turns dark and even noirish, and the screenplay acknowledges a nod toward G. K. Chesterton and one of Father Brown’s most famous cases, “The Invisible Man,” as Joe and Sgt. MacNaughton close in on the killer.

   Indeed these scenes almost make you wish the film had been played as a straight detective story, and they have a quiet power as well as a dark noirish look, thanks to Miller’s direction.

   Top o’ the Morning is more of a curiosity than a success. You can’t fault the cast or even the screenplay; the two forms just don’t really work that well together.

   Bing does get to show a little steel beneath the crooning in a few scenes, and he’s always worth watching playing off Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, who played almost as many cops and professional Irishmen, gets to exercise both his specialties here, and Blyth is both lovely and convincing. A special nod to Hume Cronyn as Biddy O’Devlin, who gets to shine briefly in an offbeat film.

   Still Top o’ the Morning is well worth catching, and noir fans will recognize some excellent work toward the end of the film. It’s one of those films that you may find you like far more than it really merits.

Reviewed by MIKE DENNIS:


GIL BREWER - The Squeeze.   Ace Double D-123, paperback original; 1st printing, 1955.   [Paired with this novel, tête-bêche, is Love Me to Death, by Frank Diamond.]

   A fortune in illicit cash, a sinister gambling joint operator, a gorgeous redhead, and enough double-crossing to last a lifetime … these are the building blocks of The Squeeze, a fast-moving novel by Gil Brewer.

GIL BREWER The Squeeze

   Written in 1955, The Squeeze is centered around Joe Maule, a Chicago transplant to the southwest Gulf Coast of Florida, the site of many Brewer tales. Joe is in debt to the tune of $12,000, a fortune at the time.

   He owes it to Victor Jarnigan, owner of a nearby illegal casino. Jarnigan, who has cheated Joe out of the money, has concocted a plan to allow him to clear his debt. All Joe has to do is get cozy with Caroline Shreves, local femme fatale.

   Caroline lives with her sister and her husband, who has apparently squirreled away $300,000 in cash. She’s eye-popping, and is given to hanging around local cocktail lounges on weeknights. Joe’s instructions are to develop a relationship with her, then get into the house and try to grab the money.

   Well, Joe gets tight with Caroline, all right, according to the plan, but he falls in too deep. As with most Brewer protagonists, he’s blinded by his lust for this alluring woman who knows all the moves. She appears to fall for him, too, and before you can say “Judas kiss,” the two of them are plotting to grab the money for themselves and split town.

   This is the kind of well-written story that made pulp fiction work back in the day. It’s the kind of novel that immediately draws you in, continuing its hold over you with a steadily building story line and no-frills plotting. It’s pure noir: Joe is screwed from the first page, but he’s the only one who doesn’t know it.

   Brewer’s formula of lonely-guy-meets-beautiful-dish works again, thanks to clever variations in his theme. He pushes all the right buttons in this little gem, which unfortunately has been left in the dust of the last half-century.

Copyright © 2009 by Mike Dennis.

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