February 2010



JAMES FRANCIS DWYER – The White Waterfall. Doubleday Page & Co., 1912; illustrated by Charles S.Chapman. W. R. Caldwell & Co., hc, International Adventure Library: Three Owls Edition. Serialized in The Cavalier in four parts, beginning 13 April 1912. Readily available in various Print on Demand editions and as an online etext.

   Australian writer Dwyer was a welcome regular in Blue Book Magazine in the 1930s, and this early South Seas adventure novel is a fine example of his robust, colorful narrative style.

   The remote, isolated island to which the characters travel, is thought to be uninhabited, but there are structures that pre-date the memory of any race that left written records, and a small group of natives perform ceremonies and make human sacrifices in the name of some savage God. This may remind some of a certain celebrated RKO film released in 1933, but the terrors are all too,human and no giant remnants of an earlier age live in the depths of the jungle.


   The protagonist, and narrator, Jack Verslun, an itinerant seaman, is hired to serve on a ship chartered by Professor Herndon, an obsessive scientist who has brought along his two attractive daughters on what turns out to be an ill-advised and dangerous voyage to “The Isle of Tears,” which a rough-looking rogue named Leith has promised the Professor will yield scientific wonders that will make his reputation.

   The party, aside from a largely native crew, is completed by Will Holman, a feisty young American who — the son of the owner of the chartered boat they are traveling on — is along for the heck of it and for the love of the younger of the two Herndon girls, Barbara. An older daughter, Edith, is useful for completing a quartet that I needn’t spell out for you.


   They reach the island after a terrific storm and when Jack is ordered to stay on the boat while Leith takes a small party to the island, concerned about Leith’s intentions, he jumps ship, catches up with the party and finds himself, Will, and the Professor and his daughters, in a situation that takes them to the brink of disaster.

   Dwyer is not, perhaps, as polished a stylist as John Russell, who wrote notable stories about adventures in the South Seas, but the slightly, pulpy cast of his story is perfectly pitched to drawn in a sympathetic reader, with the pace, once the horror of Leith’s intentions becomes clear, resembling the frantic drive of the flight through the jungle to the ship and escape of the earlier noted King Kong.

Editorial Comment: A brief biography of the author appears online at the Pulprack website, with another appearing here.

   And of special note to anyone reading this blog is The Spotted Panther, also by Dwyer, has recently been published in a handsome softcover edition by Black Dog Books. Highly recommended!


DOROTHY B. HUGHES In a Lonely Place

DOROTHY B. HUGHES – In A Lonely Place.   Duell Sloan and Pearce, hardcover, 1947. Paperback reprints include: Pocket #587, 1949; Bantam 1979, Carroll & Graf, 1984; Feminist Press, 2003.

Film: Columbia, 1950.   Humphrey Bogart (Dixon Steele), Gloria Grahame (Laurel Gray), Frank Lovejoy (Det. Sgt. Brub Nicolai).

   If you’ve seen the movie, which happens to be one of my favorites, know this: the book is completely different, but even better.

   Set in post-war L.A., the story is told in the third person, entirely from the point of view of Dix Steele. Dix is one of the lost men — someone who thrived in uniform, in danger, but who is now adrift, pretending to be a writer but living mostly on remittances from a wealthy uncle.

   When beautiful divorcee Laurel Gray comes into his life, he falls deeply in love and begins to heal, just a little. But Laurel begins to fear Dix, and she takes her concerns to Dix’s friend Brub Nicolai and his astute wife Sylvia. An old war chum of Dix’s, Brub is now an L.A. cop investigating a series of strangulation murders.

DOROTHY B. HUGHES In a Lonely Place

   As a crime story, this book starts out chillingly and compellingly, and becomes more so with each passing page.

   As a piece of social fiction, it paints a fascinating picture of post-war America, contrasting the disenchantment and isolation of some returning soldiers with the orderly, energetic, sociable world of recognizable “Greatest Generation” types like the Nicolai’s, who successfully fought a war and now want to build an orderly, peaceful world at home and also value having a good time — driving, dining, drinking and dancing.

   The prose is Hemingway-esque in its spareness. The integrity of the POV is scrupulous.

   This is one of the great American novels of the mid-20th century. If Hughes isn’t taught in colleges, she should be.

Website: www.ostarapublishing.co.uk

New Titles: February 2010

   Three months after the imprint’s launch, Ostara Publishing has issued four more titles in their print-on-demand Top Notch Thrillers series which “aims to revive Great British thrillers which do not deserve to be forgotten.”

   The new titles, originally published in Britain between 1962 and 1970, were selected by crime writer and critic Mike Ripley, who acts as Series Editor for TNT:

   The Tale of the Lazy Dog by Alan Williams is a brilliant heist thriller set in the Laos-Cambodia-Vietnam triangle in 1969 as a mis-matched gang of rogues and pirates attempt to steal $1.5 billion in used US Treasury notes.


   Time Is An Ambush is a delicate, atmospheric study of suspicion and guilt set in Franco’s Spain, by Francis Clifford, one of the most-admired stylists of the post-war generation of British thriller-writers.


   A Flock Of Ships, Brian Callison’s bestselling wartime thriller of a small Allied convoy lured to its doom in the South Atlantic, was famous for its breathless, machine-gun prose and was described by Alistair Maclean as: “The best war story I have ever read.”


   The Ninth Directive was the second assignment for super-spy Quiller (whose fans included Kingsley Amis and John Dickson Carr), created by Adam Hall (Elleston Trevor) and is a taught, tense thriller of political assassination which pre-dated Day of the Jackal by five years.


   Announcing the latest batch of reissues, Mike Ripley said:   “Our new titles are absolutely in line with the Top Notch ethos of showing the range and variety of thrillers from what was something of a Golden Age for British thriller writing. They range in approach from slow-burning suspense to relentless wartime action and feature obsessive, super tough, super cool spies and some tremendous villains. Above all, they are characterised by the quality of their writing, albeit in very different styles.

    “When first published, these titles were all best-sellers and their authors are among the most respected names in thriller fiction. Many readers will welcome these novels back almost as old friends and hopefully a new generation of readers will discover them for the first time.”

   Top Notch Thrillers are published as trade paperbacks with a RRP of £10.99.

THE LAW OF THE 45’s. Normandy Pictures, 1935. Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams (Tucson ‘Two-Gun’ Smith), Molly O’Day, Al St. John (Stoney Martin), Ted Adams, Lafe McKee, Fred Burns. Screenplay: Robert Emmett Tansey, based on the novel by William Colt MacDonald (Law of the Forty-Fives, Covici Friede, 1933). Director: John P. McCarthy.


   To start off, to put off the inevitable and to put it bluntly, there is absolutely no reason anyone should watch this Bottom of the Barrel B-Western movie except for historical reasons.

   To wit: although not officially part of the canon, and even though only two of them show up, and one of them has the wrong name, this is the first of the “Three Mesquiteers” movies, of which there were 51 more to come, beginning in 1936 and ending in 1943.

   Although many players played the three cowboys over the years, the ones I remember most are Robert Livingston as Stony Brooke, Ray Corrigan as Tucson Smith, and Max Terhune as Lullaby Joslin. You may have your own favorite threesome, but as much as I liked Bob Steele as a cowboy star (Tucson Smith in the last 13 of them), the ones above were mine.

   Some movies with a running time of 57 minutes have so much crammed into them that each and every scene has a crucial part of the story line in it. Not so with Law of the .45’s. It is the longest 57 minutes I can remember sitting through since grad school. The acting is a mixture of old-fashioned silent movie stars trying to figure out what the microphone is doing there, with pauses for emphasis that you could plow an 18-wheeler through, while other of the players seem to have taken nicely to the new technology, speaking in normal tones and normal rhythms.

   Story: a crooked lawyer is apparently behind the gang of outlaws terrorizing the valley where Tucson and Stoney are bringing their herd of cattle, and the latter agree to work for Joan Hayden (Molly O’Day) and her father (Lafe McKee) to bring peace and justice back to the land again.

   Other than that, there is little but cowboys riding here and there in the hills, ranches being burned to the ground and cattle stampeding (as cattle are wont to do) — all very exciting, or it would be if you care for watching cowboys riding here and there in the hills, sometimes at very high speeds. There is also a group of singing wranglers, unnamed as a group or individually in the movie’s credits, but their identities can be found on the know-all IMDB page for the film.

   As for Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, he gets to grimace and squint a lot, but on the other hand, he also gets the girl.


THE DIAMOND WIZARD. United Artists, US/UK, 1954. Released as The Diamond in the UK. Dennis O’Keefe, Philip Friend, Margaret Sheridan, Alan Wheatley, Francis De Wolff, Paul Hartmuth. Screenplay: John C. Higgins. Story Dennis O’Keefe, based on the novel Rich Is the Treasure (1952) by Maurice Procter. Directed by Dennis O’Keefe & Montgomery Tully.


   When a US Treasury agent is killed by British smugglers who have stolen a million dollars, a perfect diamond is found in his mouth. Perfect except for one thing — it’s artificial; and perfect artificial diamonds are a threat to both the British and American economies.

   So Treasury Man Joe Dennison (Dennis O’Keefe) is dispatched to England to team up with Special Branch’s Inspector Hector ‘Mac’ McClaren (Philip Friend) to track down the smuggler (Francis De Wolff) who is using a million dollars in stolen money to buy the artificial diamonds.

   The case gets more complex when lovely Marline Miller (Margaret Sheridan) shows up. She’s the niece of nuclear physicist Dr. Miller (Paul Hartmuth) who has gone missing — and once a romantic connection for Dennison.

   Following a handful of clues the police begin to tie the two cases together ending in an explosive climax somewhere between Edgar Wallace and Ian Fleming as they uncover something more sinister than flooding the diamond market afoot.

   This little film, directed by O’Keefe during a brief period when he fled to England like many other American actors of the period, is nothing new or great, but entertaining and loosely based on a novel by British mystery writer Maurice Procter, itself expanded from a novella “The Million Pound Note.” (Proctor is best known for his series of Inspector Harry Martineau police procedural novels.) The thrills are of the standard variety, but well enough done.

   There’s the usual master criminal, the usual mad scientists, some nasty thugs, and two tough honest cops. The difference between the American and British police style is played as complimentary rather than conflicting, and the scenes of the artificial diamonds being created have the nice SF touch of the kind that used to dominate German Expressionist cinema.

   This is an entertaining little film, not much more than a programmer, but coming in at 83 minutes it moves nicely and never really slows down for a breather. O’Keefe probably got the inspiration for this from his American film Walk a Crooked Mile (1948; Gordon Douglas, dir.) teaming him with Louis Hayward, with the latter the Scotland Yard man out of place in the US.


CURT SIODMAK – Whomsoever I Shall Kiss. Crown Publishers, hardcover, 1952. Paperback reprint: Dell 756, 1954.

CURT SIODMAK Whomsoever I Shall Kiss

   Quite without meaning to, I read two novels of Romantic Suspense last year. Curt Siodmak’s Whomsoever I Shall Kiss was the first, and it starts off well, with Royal Ludovici, a former small-time grifter and guy-with-a-funny-name, who lives by making himself useful to the very rich.

   In Italy to find proof of an heiress’s death (and thereby speed an inheritance to a distant relation), Royal finds the heiress very much alive and maybe suffering from amnesia … or maybe not.

   Well, Royal is suave, good-looking and unattached, the heiress is lovely, lonely and broken-hearted, so the only question for Royal is whether to get her to marry him, then tell her she’s wealthy, or to make sure that reports of her death weren’t so far wrong after all.

   It’s a nice set-up for a story, and I expected to see something interesting spun out of it by a hack with Siodmak’s credentials, but he doesn’t do much with it; in fact, he does practically nothing at all. Pages go by filled with sight-seeing, passionate embraces, tearful farewells, torrid embraces and even a bit from The Wolfman, all to very little effect. By the time Siodmak tacked an unsatisfactory ending on, I wasn’t even interested enough to be disappointed.


ANDREW GARVE – A Hole in the Ground. Dell, paperback reprint D275, 1959; Great Mystery Library #21. UK edition: Collins Crime club, hardcover, 1952. US First Edition: Harper & Brothers, 1952. Also: Pan #343, UK, pb, 1955; Lancer 72-730, US, pb, 1964.

ANDREW GARVE A Hole in the Ground

   I’d read quite a few of Andrew Garve’s novels, but I never heard of this one until I came across it on a sidewalk table at Barnes and Noble’s.

   Laurence Quilter is the Labour Party Member of Parliament for the area around the town of Blean in West Cumbria. He has a wealthy background and a wife named Jane. They have recently donated his family’s large house to the National trust and moved into a cottage on the estate and he is up for re-election. He is bitterly disappointed that he has never been given a position in the ruling Labour Party’s government.

   While looking through some old papers from his donated house, he comes across a crude map made by his great grandfather nearly a century before. It seems to indicate that somewhere on his land is the entrance to a large cave his ancestor discovered but didn’t make public.

ANDREW GARVE A Hole in the Ground

   While his wife is away visiting friends, he discovers the entrance to the cave and decides to contact a young School Master/ spelunker he knows named Peter Antsley. They explore the cave and find an underground river some 200+ feet below ground reached by going down rope ladders.

   On their second trip, Quilter takes a nap while Antsley does some exploring on his own. Outside, a storm rages which causes the underground river to flood and when Antsley’s foot gets caught and he calls for help, Quilter is too afraid to help him and Antsley drowns.

   Quilter decides to cover up his cowardice and tell no one. He takes his wife on vacation to France but when there is a mining accident in his district, he returns home leaving her. While in France they had meet Ben Traill, an American geologist who works for an oil company.

ANDREW GARVE A Hole in the Ground

   With Quilter in England, Jane and Ben spend so much time together that they fall in love. Finally, Jane decides to go home to confront her husband and from there, during the last 30 pages or so, the story takes a turn into left field.

   You might think that Quilter has been spending his time further covering up Antsley’s death, even though the dead man’s wallet has been found and the police know that Antsley had been in touch with Quilter shortly before he disappeared, but that isn’t the case at all.

   Let’s just say there’s an unnamed reference to a well-known British spy case that first hit the headlines circa 1950 and, though Garve didn’t know it at the time, the case would return two more times to the headlines in the ensuing decades.

   I don’t know if Garve wrote himself into a corner and came up with this lollapoloosa of an ending to get out or what. All I know is that this is the poorest book by Garve I’ve read. Fortunately, he went on to write much better stuff.

Next Page »