January 2010


THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


AARON MARC STEIN – The Case of the Absent-Minded Professor. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1943. Digest-sized paperback reprint: Mystery Novel Classic #82, no date stated (mid-1940s).

AARON MARC STEIN

   In this, apparently their fourth, investigation, Tim Mulligan and Elsie Mae Hunt, archaeologists, are at an “appendage to a football stadium that called itself a university” to check the authenticity of pre-Columbian gold ornaments recently donated to Ihe school. The only real scholar at the university is the absent-minded Alf Chambers, professor of anthropology.

   Although alcohol presumably makes him deathly ill, he seemingly becomes drunk one evening, during which time he believes he committed a murder. If he didn’t, somebody else definitely did. Mulligan and Hunt clear things up in a rather blah novel.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 3, Summer 1992.



Editorial Comment:   Bill was correct in his assertion that this was the fourth of the Tim Mulligan / Elsa Mae Hunt mysteries. There were 18 in all, the first being The Sun Is a Witness (1940) and the last Moonmilk and Murder (1955). After this long run, Stein switched to engineer-for-hire Matt Erridge as a series character, the latter appearing in 23 novels, beginning in 1958.

   Note: This quickie summary does not include the long list of books Stein wrote as George Bagby, most of them featuring Inspector Schmidt of New York City Homicide, he of the long-aching feet; and another 18 “Gibby and Mac” books he wrote as Hampton Stone. See one of Mike Nevins’ earlier columns on this blog for more details.

    I received the following email notice from Barry Traylor yesterday. He’s one of the co-chairs for PulpFest 2010

PULPFEST 2010 William F. Nolan

    “Our guest of honor at PulpFest 2010 will be William F. Nolan, best known as the co-creator of Logan’s Run. The author of more than 80 books and 750 magazine and newspaper pieces, Mr. Nolan is best known in pulp circles for The Black Mask Boys, an anthology drawn from and history about Black Mask magazine, celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2010.

    “Additionally, he edited and compiled Max Brand: Western Giant, a bio-bibliography of one of the most prolific authors to emerge from the pulp industry, and one of the best biographies of Dashiell Hammett, a founder of the hardboiled detective story. Mr. Nolan was recently named one of the 2010 recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award, presented annually by the Horror Writers Association.”

    PulpFest 2010 will be held at last year’s venue, the Ramada Plaza Hotel and Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. The show will begin on Friday, July 30th, and run through Sunday, August 1st. Clicking the link in Barry’s first paragraph will take you directly to the PulpFest 2010 website, where additional information may be found, including a FAQ page and a registration form.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


JANE EYRE. 20th Century-Fox, 1944. Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, Margaret O’Brien, Peggy Ann Garner, John Sutton, Sara Allgood, Henry Daniell, Agnes Moorehead, Aubrey Mather, Edith Barrett, Mrs. Fairfax, Barbara Everes, Hillary Brooke. Screenplay: John Houseman, Aldous Huxley, Robert Stevenson & Henry Koster (the latter uncredited), based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë. Director: Robert Stevenson.

JANE EYRE Orson Welles

– This review first appeared in The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 2, March/April 1982.

   Last night as I sat up until 2:00 a.m. engrossed in a showing of the 20th Century Fox version of Jane Eyre, I alternately cursed the frequent interruptions for the promotion of albums like Motels & Memories and local entrepreneurs like Mother’s Pizza (“Just like you remember it, only it really wasn’t ever this good!”) and revelled in the superb Dickensian detail of the sequences at Linwood School dominated by Henry Daniell’s marvelous portrayal of the sadistic religious fanati,c, Broadhurst.

   I was moved by the moody, romantic sweep of the episodes at Rochester’s estate, with the brilliant portrayal of mad Mrs. Rochester’s husband by Orson Welles, supported by one of composer Bernard Herrmann’s finest scores.

   The film is one of those meticulous re-creations of a literary classic that David Selznick, in particular, was gifted in bringing to life on the screen, but it has, at moments, something which such films often do not have: imaginative camera work which makes portions of the film seem as fresh as they did thirty-five years ago and confirms for me the rumors that Welles, coming to this project after Citizen Kane and the abortive Magnificent Ambersons, co-directed certain scenes.

JANE EYRE Orson Welles

   I thought I detected Wellesian touches in Jane’s introduction to Rochester at the manor; in the handling of the brief scene with Agnes Moorehead at the beginning as the camera in a sardonic low-angle shot accented the self-satisfied cruelty of Jane’s aunt and cousin; and in the exterior shots of the great house that squats malevolently at the film’s center, with its battlements and moody lighting that inevitably remind the viewer of Kane’s estate.

   You will get some idea of the quality of the team that was assembled for this film when I tell you that two of the script-writers were Aldous Huxley and John Houseman and that, in addition to Welles, Daniell, Moorehead, and Joan Fontaine (as Jane), there are splendid performances by a group of actors that can only serve to remind us of the talent that was still available to the major studios in the early forties: Elizabeth Taylor, Peggy Ann Garner, Margaret O’Brien, Sara Allgood, John Sutton (in an uncommonly fine portrayal of Broadhurst’s sympathetic alter ego, Dr. Rivers), and other players whose names are less familiar but whose faces are indelibly imprinted on our memories of films of the period.

JANE EYRE Orson Welles

   I was struck by the beauty of a line delivered by Welles as he described Jane’s first sight of Mrs. Rochester, “Look at Jane, all grave and silent at the mouth of Hell,” and bothered by the jarring modernity of another line describing Mrs. Rochester after her fatal leap as she “lay smashed on the pavement.”

   I was riveted by a shot of Moorehead looking like a grinning Medusa and by the long shot of the wedding ceremony with the ominous entrance of an unseen “Guest” glimpsed only at first as a shadow slipping by against a shaft of light suddenly striking a sacristy wall.

   And I was intrigued by the obvious attempt to introduce fairy-tale elements into the narrative, with the climax clearly using devices from “Beauty and the Beast” that could not have been accidental.

   In short, I was overwhelmed by the intelligence, craftsmanship, and beauty of this film and reminded that film history is filled with superb movies that are often only entries in an edition of Movies That May Be Seen as Interruptions of Late-Night TV Commercials.

JANE EYRE Orson Welles

Excerpted from an online obituary at Zenit.org:

RALPH McINERNY

       Ralph McInerny Dies at Age 80

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, JAN. 29, 2010 – Prominent Catholic author, professor and cultural commentator Ralph McInerny died today at the age of 80.

Ralph McInerny was a professor of philosophy and the Michael P. Grace Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame

He was an acknowledged expert on the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, and a prolific author. He penned over two dozen scholarly books, many more scholarly essays, and over 80 novels.

He wrote the popular book series Father Dowling Mysteries, which became a successful television program starring Tom Bosley and Tracy Nelson.

          …

   Here’s a list of his Father Dowling books. There isn’t much doubt that in our world of mystery fiction, these are the ones he’ll be remembered for the longest:

     The Father Dowling series

1. Her Death of Cold (1977)

RALPH McINERNY

2. Bishop as Pawn (1978)

RALPH McINERNY

3. The Seventh Station (1977)
4. Lying Three (1979)
5. The Second Vespers (1980)
6. Thicker Than Water (1981)
7. A Loss of Patients (1982)
8. The Grass Widow (1983)
9. Getting a Way with Murder (1984)

RALPH McINERNY

10. Rest in Pieces (1985)
11. The Basket Case (1987)
12. Abracadaver(1989)
13. Four on the Floor (1989)
14. Judas Priest (1991)
15. Desert Sinner (1992)
16. Seed of Doubt (1993)

RALPH McINERNY

17. A Cardinal Offense (1994)
18. The Tears of Things (1996)
19. Grave Undertakings (2000)
20. Triple Pursuit (2001)
21. Prodigal Father (2002)
22. Last Things (2003)
23. Requiem for a Realtor (2004)
24. Blood Ties (2005)

RALPH McINERNY

25. The Prudence of Flesh (2006)
26. The Widow’s Mate (2007)
27. Ash Wednesday (2008)
28. The Wisdom of Father Dowling (2009)
29. Stained Glass (2009)

RALPH McINERNY

   As Monica Quill, he wrote 10 books in a series of equally light mysteries solved by Sister Mary Teresa, and under his own name: six books about lawyer Andrew Broom, 13 mysteries with the University of Notre Dame as the background if not an active participant itself, two books with Egidio Manfredi as the leading player, and most recently (2009) two books in his Rosary Chronicle series. Not to mention another long list of standalone novels and story collections, and three anthologies edited, including Murder Most Catholic (2002) with Martin H Greenberg.

FATHER DOWLING

   The television series Father Dowling Mysteries of the TV series (and add Mary Wicke to Tom Bosley and Tracy Nelson as one of the continuing stars) was first aired as an NBC made-for-TV movie in 1987 and its weekly run did not begin until 1989. After one season the show moved from NBC to ABC, where it lasted another two season.

   Tom Bosley played Father Dowling, while Tracy Nelson played his assistant in solving crimes, Sister Stephanie ‘Steve’ Oskowski. Also appearing in all 44 episodes was Mary Wicke as Father Dowling’s always fussing housekeeper, Marie.

   The series has not yet been released on commercial DVDs — and why not?

   Not only has Old Time Radio collector and historian Randy Riddle posted an episode of Casey, Crime Photographer I’d not heard before, but it’s a locked room mystery to boot. Casey, played by Staats Cotsworth in this program, was based on the character created by mystery writer George Harmon Coxe.

   Here’s Randy, as he describes it on his podcast/blog:

    “In this post, we hear ‘Woman of Mystery,’ program 61 in the series, broadcast on the Armed Forces Radio Service as Crime Photographer and originally heard on CBS on November 9, 1950. It’s one of those ‘locked room’ mysteries, where Casey’s keen sense of observation come in handy to discover how a woman was murdered.”

   Unfortunately Casey solves the mystery only seven minutes into the program — or does he? Listen and see.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


LUCAS WEBB – Eli’s Road. Doubleday, hardcover, 1971. Reprint paperback: Popular Library, no date stated.

LUCAS WEBB Eli's Road

    I went back to the used book store to buy the copy of Green Ice they’ve had there for years, and got distracted once again. This time by a novel called Eli’s Road, by Lucas Webb.

    Considering the quality of this thing, I’m surprised Webb and his novel aren’t better known. It starts off a bit awkward, but soon gets the reader involved in a 1st person narrative spanning ante-bellum Kansas to 1880s Wyoming.

   Webb does a remarkable job of keeping his narrator believable from the time he writes as a callow teen-ager till he ends up in stoic middle-age, quite a feat of style, and the story: Bloody Kansas, rogue mountain men, orphan girls, pro-slavers, store-keepers, abolitionists, border ruffians, emigrants, freed slaves … and the mysterious Brother Frank.

   Seek it out.

[Editorial Comment]   I wish I had a copy of the paperback reprint to show you. The jacket of the hardcover edition, which perhaps sold to libraries and no one else, is rather plain and uninspiring, to say the least. The paperback is a lot more colorful and inviting, if you’re a fan of western sagas, and it has a quote from noted author Stephen Longstreet to boot:   “The Best Novel of the American West since The Big Sky.” No small praise.

     Lucas Webb is stated on the Web to be the pen name of Michael Burgess. Burgess is also well-noted as bibliographer R. Reginald (Cumulative Paperback Index, 1939-1959, among many others).

   But while Burgess did use Lucas Webb at least once as a pseudonym, an online bibliography for him does not include either Eli’s Road or one later novel under the Lucas Webb byline, a book called Stribling (Doubleday, 1973), about which I have found very little to date, only one quote:   “But there was no place to go to farm or settle; the farms were being deserted, the big combines tractoring out the shacks and the little fields…”

A TV Review by MIKE TOONEY:


“The Rise and Fall of Eddie Carew.” An episode of Kraft Suspense Theatre (Season 2, Episode 30). First air date: 24 June 1965. Dean Jones, Sheilah Wells, Alan Hewitt, Jerome Cowan, Harry Townes, Ken Lynch, Stanley Adams, Ian Wolfe, John Hubbard, Barry Kelley. Story: Robert Thom; adaptation: Don Brinkley. Director: Joseph Pevney.

“Alas, that love, so gentle in his view, should be so tyrannous and rough in proof.”

               – Romeo and Juliet

   Senile nonagenarian Ellis Stone (Ian Wolfe) manages to get himself locked in the vault of his own bank; unless he’s very good at holding his breath, by the time the electronic lock opens the door three days hence he’ll be very dead.

   The bank manager, in full panic mode, phones Sam Becker (Jerome Cowan), the public relations man for “our party.” He immediately sees the PR disaster (not to mention the financial catastrophe) that he and his cronies would suffer if dotty old Stone, a million-dollar-a-year party contributor, were to go toes up.

   In a moment of inspiration, he plumps for making use of the talents of Eddie Carew (Dean Jones), “The Human Can Opener,” currently serving time in the state pen.

   But Dr. Farley (Harry Townes), the prison psychiatrist, has been making progress weening Eddie away from his compulsion to steal and is flatly opposed to letting Eddie anywhere near piles of money. It would be, as he says, like having an alcoholic become a wine taster.

   The prison warden (Alan Hewitt) overrules the doctor, however, and takes Eddie to the bank. Before he goes, Eddie tries to warn everyone of what could happen; but even his girlfriend, Sally McClure (Sheilah Wells), encourages him to do this because she has faith in his rehabilitation.

   Eddie is now in a position to call the shots: no prison uniform (“something in charcoal gray” would be nice) or handcuffs, deciding who can be present when he does the job (others can be a distraction), and especially having “the best jelly man in the business,” Pinky Ferguson (Stanley Adams), assist him.

   Yes, you guessed it: Eddie has ideas that go way beyond rescuing the old guy, which he almost betrays when he first lays eyes on the safe. (“Well,” says Becker, “is he going to open it or make love to it?”)

   What Eddie doesn’t know is that before the sun rises he will have to crack this same safe three times: once out of greed, once out of duty (and self-interest), and once out of love ….

   This one has a great comic cast as well as normally serious actors doing a humorous turn. Dean Jones is well-known for the many Disney films he’s appeared in. Stanley Adams always seemed to be an affable fast-talker just on the other side of the law (e.g., Cyrano Jones in the immensely popular Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”).

   And Ken Lynch must have played a cop hundreds of times over the years. Jerome Cowan was a low-rent version of William Powell; he could do light comedy (Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.), but most movie fans remember him as Miles Archer in The Maltese Falcon and the spineless architect in The Fountainhead.

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