December 2009


THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


H. F. M. PRESCOTT - Dead and Not Buried. Dodd Mead; US, hardcover, 1938. Constable, UK, hc, 1938. Hardcover reprint: Eyre & Spottiswoode, UK, 1957 (shown). Paperback reprint: Collier Books, US, 1965.

H. F. M. PRESCOTT Dead and Not Buried

   There is no introduction to Old Marshall, the corpse. At the very beginning he has been brutally murdered. The man who did it is unknown to the reader, at least for a while. The woman who watches the murder being committed and who later shields the murderer is Marshall’s wife.

   Old Marshall’s corpse disappears, so the police, in the form of Sergeant Tucker, a wise and thoughtful man no longer eager for success, don’t know what has happened to Marshall. Did he just leave the farm or was there foul play?

   On a nearby chicken farm live Mark (sometimes Marc) Yorke, moneyed, elegant, and a tad snobbish, and Philipson (first name unknown, which seems to happen frequently in mysteries, at least the ones I read), a shell-shocked sometime artist who is also Quite clumsy, which saves his life on at least two occasions.

   Despite the lack of a body, Philipson is suspected of having done away with Marshall. Unfortunately for Philipson, he is suffering from temporary amnesia about what happened the afternoon of Marshall’s death.

   The foregoing is a bare description that really does not do justice to this novel. The reader knows who did it fairly early on — a man who has murdered one person and has twice tried to kill another one, but who dog-ears a page in a book “with compunction.”

   Prescott has sketched her characters amazingly well, with attention to the small things that bring people alive. Most of them, particularly the vicar, the. vicar’s daughter, Sergeant Tucker, and Mrs. Harker, who cooks for Yorke and Philipson, are people you will enjoy having met.

   Prescott wrote no other mystery novels, which is a great pity. Her talent was considerable. For those who like their mystery novels catalogued, I would put this in the English-village and Holy Terror categories.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1987.



Bio-Bibliographic Data:   As Bill pointed out, this was Ms. Prescott’s only work of crime fiction. Here’s some biographical data about her, taken from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin:

PRESCOTT, H(ilda) F(rances) M(argaret). 1896-1972. Educated at Oxford and Manchester; lived in Oxford.

    There is considerably more about her to be found on the Internet, however. From her wikipedia page, for example:

    “H F M Prescott is best known however for her historical novel The Man on a Donkey. Written in the form of a chronicle, the book tells the story of the Pilgrimage of Grace, a popular rising in protest at the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. Her biography of Mary I of England, Mary Tudor (originally titled Spanish Tudor), which won the James Tait Black Prize in 1941 remains one of the leading works on Mary I’s troubled life and reign and is named by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as the best biography of the monarch.”

Taken in December of either 1902 or 1903…

1900s Newsstand

For an image with considerably more detail, one in which you can actually read the titles, go to:

http://www.shorpy.com/node/7392?size=_original

UPDATE. [01-01-10] The Internet is wonderful. The copy of Scientific American along the top right edge of the extended newsstand is dated 13 December 1902. See below:

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN 13 December 1903

LES ROBERTS - An Infinite Number of Monkeys. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1987. Paperback reprint: St. Martin’s, 1988.

LES ROBERTS Saxon Private Eye

   This is the novel that won Roberts the award in St. Martin’s “First Private Eye Novel Contest” back in 1986, and by and large, it’s a good one.

   The leading character is a part-time actor named Saxon, who is also a full-time PI, which is more than OK as a gimmick, because Hollywood is always in need of another private eye. Lots of good stories in them there hills.

   His client in this particular adventure is pulp-paperback writer Buck Weldon, a throwback to the Mickey Spillane’s earliest days, and somebody is trying to kill him. Keeping Saxon’s interest at its highest peak is Weldon’s beautiful daughter Tori. (For some reason, I pictured a youthful Raquel Welch in the role, which you have to admit, makes for a very nice picture.)

   I have to admit the ending surprised me a little, and it shouldn’t have, which is the sign of a perfect detective story, or very nearly so. Saxon needs to have some of his cruder edges sandpapered away, though. As a ladies’ man, he’s too obvious, and besides that, he talks too much. Be subtle, man!

– This review first appeared in Deadly Pleasures, Vol. 1, No. 2, Summer 1993 (slightly revised).


Bibliographic Data:   Monkeys was Les Roberts’ first book, and there were six in all that Saxon appeared in (see below). Roberts has written another 14 books about Cleveland-based PI Milan Jacovich, so far, the most recent of which being King of the Holly Hop (2008). One stand-alone novel (The Chinese Fire Drill, 2001) plus one short story collection (The Scent of Spiced Oranges, 2002) complete his resume to date.

       The “Saxon” series:

1. An Infinite Number Of Monkeys (1987)
2. Not Enough Horses (1988)

LES ROBERTS Saxon Private Eye

3. A Carrot For The Donkey (1989)
4. Snake Oil (1990)

LES ROBERTS Saxon Private Eye

5. Seeing The Elephant (1992)
6. The Lemon Chicken Jones (1994)

    Judy and I, 45 years ago. We were married in Jamaica. New York City, that is. Queens.

Happy Anniversary!

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


? MURRAY LEINSTER – The Monster from Earth’s End. Gold Medal s832, paperback original; 1st printing, January 1959.

? THE NAVY VS. THE NIGHT MONSTERS. Realart Pictures, 1966. Mamie Van Doren, Anthony Eisley, Billy Gray, Bobby Van, Pamela Mason. Director: Michael A. Hoey.

LEINSTER Monster from Earth's End

   Interestingly, a couple decades after “Who Goes There?” John W. Campbell’s story which was the basis for The Thing from Another World (reviewed here ), Murray Leinster visited that neck of the woods for The Monster from Earth’s End, which is a splendid book despite a cover that looks like a naked blonde in the clutches of a giant booger.

   It’s set on a remote Antarctic island serving as a way station for people and things going to and from the South Pole, and Leinster starts off splendidly, with the creepy arrival on the island of a plane carrying a mysterious cargo; most of the crew has vanished, and the pilot kills himself on landing.

   From here on the tension never lets up, as Leinster takes up the mood Campbell established in his tale and sustains it for nearly two hundred pages of solid chills. I particularly like the way he draws his characters as individuals — like those in the Howard Hawks film — and lets them carry as much of the story as the monsters do. And trust me, these are some very creepy monsters indeed.

   The Monster from Earth’s End was filmed (rare for a paperback original) as The Navy vs. the Night Monsters in 1966 by Michael Hoey, son of the fondly-remembered Dennis Hoey and a busy movie-maker in his own right, though never a very distinguished one: he worked on a few Elvis Presley movies and a lot of Television and that’s about it. Navy may mark some notable point in his career, high or low, depending on your tolerance for schlock.

LEINSTER Monster from Earth's End

   As such, it’s … well … let’s be charitable and say it’s not completely successful. There’s some lurid photography by Stanley Cortez (Night of the Hunter), some of the characters are a bit deeper than usual, and there was obviously an attempt to re-capture the ambiance of Hawk’s The Thing, with spots of banter and sexual repartee among the principals (Mamie Van Doren, Anthony Eisley, Bobby Van…)

   Unfortunately, it all falls terribly flat in Hoey’s oven-mitts. Where The Thing benefited from Hawks’ overlapping dialogue and relaxed mise-en-scene, the characters in Navy/Monsters look like they were stood up in front of a camera handed their lines and that’s it. The comedy relief is very clearly labeled: “Comedy Relief” with posed pratfalls; love scenes are marked: “Love Scene” with syrupy underscoring, and the scary bits…

    …well, there’s another problem. Where Leinster could toss off a line like “Half the plane now was filled with monstrous, moving, incredible horrors,” and let the reader’s imagination do his work, and where Hawks tingled our spines with brief glimpses of some big nasty-looking Thing, Hoey has to trot out a few silly-looking rubber monsters and let them flop their limp tentacles about rather aimlessly while the actors try to look scared.

   It’s all a bit disappointing, and the resolution comes off as particularly lame, as if at some point they decided to just end the damn thing. Too bad they didn’t do it 90 minutes sooner.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


The Shadow of Frankenstein STABLEFORD

BRIAN STABLEFORD – The Shadow of Frankenstein: The Empire of the Necromancers #1. Black Coat Press; trade paperback, 2008.

   Stableford, who has translated a number of French nineteenth-century thrillers, begins a saga conceived of as a sequel to Paul Féval’s John Devil, originally published in France in 1861 but recently translated by Stableford and published by Black Coat Press in 2005.

   In his introduction to Shadow of Frankenstein Stableford describes John Devil as “a long and complicated duel of wits” between John Devil, a legendary figure whose identity is something of a mystery, and Gregory Temple, an English detective.

   Temple’s career has been damaged by John Devil, but in the sequel Temple is back on the job, in pursuit of his arch-enemy, reluctantly accepting the help of Ned Knob, a secondary character in Féval’s novel who, in the continuation, assumes a major role, demonstrating both intelligence and some moral fibre as he seeks to find his place between the rational world of Temple and the messianic vision of John Devil.

The Shadow of Frankenstein STABLEFORD

   Stableford merges the Frankenstein mythos and the very real traffic in dead bodies that was a major source for cadavers used in medical research to create a vision of a world in which a means of achieving physical resurrection after death has been achieved.

   Stableford has pared the thriller of much of its exterior Gothic trappings, but kept the concept of warring intelligences, reason combating an almost religious belief in a new science that threatens established systems.

   While I found Stableford’s ideas of more than passing interest, I found the novel something of a chore to read. There’s a coolness to the prose, possibly the result of an attempt to avoid some of the excesses of the thriller form.

   Much of the novel is concerned with the laying out of the framework of a novelistic grand plan, and it’s possible that succeeding volumes may recapture some of the impulsive thrust that can still engage a modern reader in the conventions of 19th century genre fiction.

The Shadow of Frankenstein STABLEFORD

   I rather suspect, however, that Stableford has failed at some basic level to write a novel that compels me to return to this series to discover if it takes on a life of its own.

Editorial Comment:   Number two in this series by Stableford has now been published: Frankenstein and the Vampire Countess (Black Coat Press, 2009). Contents: “The Return of Frankenstein” and “The Vampire in Paris,” which appeared respectively in Tales of the Shadowmen Nos. 4 and 5.

Reviewed by DAVID L. VINEYARD:         


ARSÈNE LUPIN. 2004. Raymond Duris, Kristin Scott Thomas, Pascal Greggory.
Director: Jean-Paul Salomé, Screenplay: Jean-Paul Salomé and Laurent Vachaud, based on the novel La comtesse de Cagliostro (aka The Memoirs of Arsène Lupin) by Maurice Leblanc. In French with subtitles; 131 minutes.

ARSENE LUPIN

    “Louis XI. François 1st. Henri IV. Louis XIV. Arsène Lupin.
    “What pride I felt the day I set foot in this forgotten place.
    “To have found the lost secret of the Kings of France, to become its master, its only master, to receive such inheritance!”

— Arsène Lupin in L’Aiguille Creuse (The Hollow Needle), Chapter 10, by Maurice Leblanc.

    For those who only know the name Arsène Lupin, a brief introduction is in order. Lupin is a French gentleman burglar/detective created by journalist Maurice Leblanc (1864-1941) in the feuilletons or newspaper serials that dominated French popular fiction from the days of Alexandre Dumas and Eugene Sue well into the 20th Century.

    Lupin debuted in the magazine Le Sais Tout in 1905, and the stories were collected in 1907′s Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar (aka Arsène Lupin in Prison and Arsène Lupin Escapes), following the pattern established by Ponson du Terraill’s picaresque Rocambole two generations earlier.

ARSENE LUPIN

    Twenty volumes followed with The Billions of Arsène Lupin being the last to be published in Leblanc’s lifetime in 1941. Unlike many of his fellow laborers in the disposable newspaper serials, Lupin carved a place for himself as the premier example of the French detective story, his international fans extending to President Theodore Roosevelt and beyond.

    A genius with a keen sense of justice, panache, and an ego to match, Lupin is one of the most fully imagined characters in the genre, and the star of countless films, books, comics, and even animated adventures. Three American films, many French films and television series, Japanese films and anime, even a Philippine television series have all followed.

    Lupin is a master of disguise and has a small army of identities under which he operates including private detective Jim Barnett, Prince Sernine, Don Luis Perena, M. Lenormand (who rises to no less than the head of the Surete), and others. As often as not Lupin may not be identified as Lupin until late in the tale — if at all.

    Like most fictional criminals, he changes midway in his career to more detective than thief rivaling Sherlock Holmes with whom he had two memorable encounters (today the books use Holmes’ name, but at the time he was Herlock Sholmès), but even at his most criminal he is a righter of wrongs and defender of the weak, and like Holmes he is given to a sort of manic depression, very high highs and low lows (several times he considers suicide when all is lost).

ARSENE LUPIN

    If Lupin is a younger brother to Raffles, he is at least that or more to the Saint. That said, Lupin is a very Gallic hero, given to dramatic flair and boasting. Compared to Lupin, Poirot, the Belgian, is a shrinking violet.

    Over his long career he also acquires a great deal of wealth, numerous wives and lovers, a lost son, and even his own submarine (The Secret of Sarek) given to him for his services to a Moroccan prince (his adventures, both recorded and only referred to carry him to the literal ends of the Earth — to Antarctica, Saigon, Tibet, New York, Morocco … but always back to France).

    In 813, the greatest of the Lupin sagas, he only just misses becoming a power in Europe by putting a puppet king on a European throne. He is possibly the most ambitious hero in the genre.

    Today the adventures of his non-canonical grandson Lupin III, created by manga artist Monkey Punch and hero of anime and live action films (including The Castle of Cagliostro directed by anime legend Hayao Miyazaki) are better known to most than Lupin himself, but the original still has his charms, and in 2004 he returned to the big screen in a widescreen adventure worthy of a career that began in 1905 and which continues today.

    In the 1950′s and 60′s five pastiche of his adventures were penned by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narjeac, authors of Les diaboliques and Vertigo. Today many of the books are still in print, and his adventures continue in pastiche form in the Black Coat Press “Tales of the Shadowmen” anthologies.

ARSENE LUPIN

    Arsène Lupin, the film, is based on Leblanc’s 1924 novel Le comtesse de Cagliostro (in the US and UK, The Memoirs of Arsène Lupin), which recounts the origins of Lupin and his first great adventure.

    Taking a cue from that, the film opens with Lupin’s childhood where he is the son of a young woman virtually indentured to her well-married half sister and a teacher of fencing and martial arts (particularly savate — French kick boxing).

    The young Lupin is enamored of his cousin, and unaware of the tensions in the house — or that his father is a thief after a fabulous necklace owned by his uncle — in fact the necklace — the infamous piece of jewelry owned by Marie Antoinette that helped to spur the French Revolution and part of the lost jewels of the kings of France.

    When the police come for Lupin’s father, he escapes, but returns and enlists Arsène to steal the necklace, but he is apparently killed in a struggle with an accomplice within sight of the famous “Needle” a peculiar shaped rock off the French coast, and Arsène and his mother are exiled from their home, young Arsène swearing revenge on society and particularly on his uncle and men like him.

ARSENE LUPIN

    Some years later we meet the youthful adult Arsène (Raymond Duris) on board a gala yacht for a costume ball. Despite his grand manner, monocle, and white tie and tails he is little more than a pickpocket, but a talented one.

    It’s at this point he meets the beautiful Countess Cagliostro, Josephine Balsamo (Scott Thomas), who claims to be the granddaughter of Joseph Balsamo. the notorious Count Cagliostro, charlatan, con man, and according to some, alchemist and wizard. (See Dan Stumpf’s review of the film Black Magic and his review of the Alexandre Dumas pere novel Joseph Balsamo elsewhere on this blog.) She takes young Arsène under her wing as her lover and student and transforms him from a mere pickpocket into a master criminal.

    But there are dark undercurrents stirring. There is a mysterious cabal of wealthy men sworn to protect the secrets of the lost jewels of the French kings, plus the dangerous man who serves them and is the sworn enemy of Josephine, — the strange scarred man who serves Josephine and distrusts Arsène, and Josephine herself — who rumor has it is not the grand daughter of Cagliostro, but the daughter — the immortal daughter over a century old.

    Eventually Lupin breaks with her, but by now he too is sworn to uncover the secrets of the lost treasure of the king’s of France which leads him back to the cousin he once loved as a youth.

ARSENE LUPIN

    Thus begins the duel of wits between Lupin and the Countess and the cabal who protect the lost treasure. Cross and double-cross, buckled swashes, gallant gestures, disguise, and the elegance of France in another age are on display in a handsome film that manages to keep tongue in cheek in true Lupin style while never laughing at itself or the audience for enjoying it.

    Though the plot is complex and elements from several of the Lupin novels are brought in, the plot is easy to follow, and Duris makes a charming Lupin, one who grows from something of a talented ruffian in gentleman’s clothing to a master criminal and suave adventurer.

    He has a gamin quality, a rougher edge beneath the suave exterior that gives the character more depth than simply another charming adventurer — much like the original by Leblanc. Thomas as Josephine is simply lovely and clearly having fun playing the wicked and treacherous Josephine, and Eva Green as Lupin’s true love is both touching and beautiful in what could have been a throwaway role.

ARSENE LUPIN

    I’ll go no farther in describing the plot because I can’t without giving away too much, but needless to say, there are surprises to be had, and twists unexpected, before the film reaches its end, leaving you satisfied and wanting more.

    But that said, and for any treasure hunters out there, despite the film and Leblanc’s book, the famous Needle which features in the film and the Lupin novel, The Hollow Needle, is not hollow, but solid rock. The lost treasures of the French kings will have to be found somewhere else.

    Arsène Lupin is a beautifully shot film that seems to have that same slightly golden glow of photographs of that gilded age. It’s not only a handsome film to look at, but one of the most lavish and playful any genre film has earned. It is also faithful to both the letter and spirit of the Leblanc novels. It’s more than worthy of Lupin and his adventures.

    And a word has to be said for the cinematography of Pasal Ridao. The film is a delight to look at with stunning camera work and sets and costumes adding real depth to the proceedings.

    Lupin was played by John Barrymore in Arsène Lupin (1932, with Lionel cast as his nemesis Inspector Ganimard and Karen Morley in a racy pre-code role as an undercover police agent helping to trap Lupin — it’s delightfully ripe old time cinema) and Melvyn Douglas in Arsène Lupin Returns.

ARSENE LUPIN

    Charles Korvin played the role in a later film. In France, Robert Lamoureaux, George Descrieres, Jean-Claude Brialy, and Jean-Pierre Cassel have all played Lupin in several films and television series (available in boxed sets, but in French).

    There have also been Lupin comics in France, an animated series, and there were several radio series, one hosted by Lupin himself. In Japan Lupin was played by a Japanese actor in live action films and later featured in an anime aside from the popular Lupin III films and series. In the Philippines a series about a wealthy playboy who was really a thief was called Lupin ran and is also available on DVD.

    Lupin has also appeared in Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier’s “Tales of the Shadowmen” anthology series from Black Coat Press, most recently in my own “The Jade Buddha” in volume 5 of that series in which he encounters the real model for Fu Manchu, Hanoi Shan.

    There are several good French sites for Lupin, and you can learn a good deal more about him at the sites for Black Coat Press and the French Wold-Newton Universe including full bibliographies, chronologies, and filmographies.

    Many of the Lupin books are in print, and those that are not relatively easy to find for the most part, and quite a few are available to read online or download as free ebooks including Leblanc’s two science fiction novels and a few of the non-Lupin novels.

    But even if you don’t want to dip into his literary adventures, treat yourself to this lavish and enjoyable film. Few creations in the genre have received so faithful or so lush a tribute.

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