July 2010

   This will be my last post for a few days. Right around 8:30 tomorrow morning, Paul Herman will be picking me up and we’ll be on our way to Columbus and the second annual PulpFest.

   And I won’t be back until Sunday, once again with my satchels full of books and magazines and my checkbook empty. Heck, if I plan it very, very carefully, my checkbook will be empty several minutes after the doors to the dealers’ room open on Friday. It won’t be hard to do, especially with all the wares that’ll be out for display, fully designed to tickle everyone’s fancy. Well, mine, at least.

   Some of you I will see there, I am sure. If not, so long until next week Monday. For the rest of this evening, it’s time to pack.

   From the Wordle website:

    “Wordle is a toy for generating ‘word clouds’ from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.”

   The one you see below is a fine example. It was taken of this blog earlier today by J. Kingston Pierce and is shown to great advantage over on his Rap Sheet blog.

WORDLE Mystery*File

   Here’s a blow-up.


WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS. MGM, 1928. Lon Chaney, Anita Page, Carroll Nye, Wheeler Oakman, Mae Busch, Polly Moran. Director: Jack Conway. Shown at Cinecon 27, Hollywood CA, September 1993.


   Even with a missing reel, this Lon Chaney film was a stunning thriller. Chaney plays a tough New York detective on the trail of “Mile Away” Skeeter (who’s always a mile away from the crime when it happens).

   Chaney’s hard as nails, but he’s got a soft spot for Myrtle (played by Anita Page, a Cinecon guest) and for a lad who’s got in with mob and just needs the right influence to go straight. But then the lad falls for Myrtle, who’s mighty taken with him and…

   Chaney’s rough-hewn face is a perfect mask for the hard-nosed cop, but bruised the way his heart will be. Nobody could ring the changes on pathos like Chaney, probably the greatest of silent screen dramatic actors. A smashing performance and superb photography and direction.

LUIZ ALFREDO GARCIA-ROZA – The Silence of the Rain. Picador, trade paperback reprint, July 2003. Hardcover edition: Henry Holt & Co., July 2002.


   This moody sort of detective novel was first published in Brazil and translated from the Portuguese, and to start matters off in the right direction right from the beginning, I highly recommend it to you.

   It begins in a mildly light-hearted fashion, as a mix-up over a wealthy executive’s suicide in a parking garage leads Inspector Espinosa of Rio de Janeiro’s First Precinct into handling the case as though it were a murder.

   (Not unlike Columbo of TV fame here in this country, we are privy to certain events that Espinosa is not, and even by the end of the case he is still running through endless speculations as to what actually happened.)

   The mood becomes gradually edgier, though, until page 121, which is where the reader is confronted with the realization, rather forcibly, that this is no cozy, and never was. Reading mysteries taking place in other countries also makes you realize that the rules are often totally different. Here’s a quote from page 161:

   I left thinking about the paradox: I trusted the information I could get from lowlife street gamblers but was wary of that same information in the hands of my fellow policemen. The worst was that I didn’t even know exactly how much I distrusted them, but one of the things I’d learned from a life on the force was not to confide in other officers.

   And from page 238:

   Espinosa called the precinct from the hospital No news. They kept reiterating that it was an isolated kidnapping, not related to the “normal kidnappings in the city.” Espinosa was stunned by the phrase: how could cops talk about “normal kidnappings”? Were there normal kidnappings and abnormal kidnappings?

   Espinosa is, the dead man’s widow decides, a rare bird, a cultivated policeman. He is attracted to her. She is so wealthy she does not seem to notice. Espinosa is a reader of Dickens and Thomas De Quincey, is afflicted by loneliness and self-doubts, and he is also better than decent as a reader of character.

   Complicating matters is the million-dollar life insurance policy the dead man had recently taken out, followed by the disappearance of his secretary Rose.

   Besides an almost other-worldly atmosphere and surroundings, there are enough twists and turns of the ensuing plot to keep any detective story buff more than satisfied, even with the aforementioned Colombo-like prologue.

   There is also an ending I know I’ve never read before — I couldn’t possibly have forgotten a scene like this, and if you read the book, as I’m strongly suggesting, you won’t either.

   And yes, the telling of tale does switch back and forth between first person and third. Just in case you were wondering!

— July 2003

       The Inspector Espinosa series –

1. The Silence of the Rain (2002)
2. December Heat (2003)


3. Southwesterly Wind (2004)
4. A Window in Copacabana (2005)


5. Pursuit (2006)
6. Blackout (2008)
7. Alone in the Crowd (2009)


THE MISSING JUROR. Columbia Pictures, 1944. Jim Bannon, Janis Carter, George Macready, Jean Stevens, Joseph Crehan, with Trevor Bardette & Mike Mazurki (both uncredited). Director: Oscar Boetticher Jr.


   Two stars carry over from the movie which I previously reviewed here, Janis Carter and George Macready (in The Fighting Guardsman), and Jim Bannon was in the one I reviewed before that (in The Great Jesse James Raid). It’s like old home week here on the blog.

   Jim Bannon plays Joe Keats in The Missing Juror, an ace reporter who saved a man from going to the gallows for a crime he didn’t commit. Too late, though, for the previously condemned man (played most convincingly by George Macready) had gone mad while on Death Row, and he perishes instead in a mental institution – by his own hand, his body burned beyond recognition.

   Bad karma all round, you might say, but then things start to get interesting. The members of the jury who convicted the innocent man have begun to disappear or to die in a series of unfortunate accidents. Janis Carter plays Alice Hill, one of the jurors who has survived so far, and in the process of warning her – she doesn’t believe a word of it at first, naturally – Keats finds himself falling in love with her.


   It’s a great premise for a real noirish tale. It’s only too bad that no one involved in the production of this movie knew how to produce a real noirish tale, nor even how to tell a tale that makes any more sense than this one does.

   There are enough holes in the story to sink a battleship, and no one in the cast ever stops to make the obvious questions – with the answers equally obvious – if there are any. Some questions simply don’t have any answers, or at least none that I can think of.

   It may be as obvious to you, if you’ve read this far. I’ve tried to careful in how I described the basic structure of the plot, but with deficiencies as great as those that this movie has, I’d have to say nothing to avoid saying anything.

   But do you know what? It doesn’t really matter that the story has more leaks in it than a sieve that’s been used for target practice. This is a fun movie to watch, from beginning to end. And some (if not most) of that is due to the director, more familiarly known as Budd Boetticher. Unusual camera angles, imaginative lighting and clever dolly shots keep things interesting, and the story doesn’t stop moving once, even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense.


William F. Deeck

JOSEPH L. BONNEY – Murder Without Clues. Carrick & Evans, hardcover, 1940. Digest-sized paperback: Green Dragon #16, 1940s, condensed.


   An amateur pugilist who plays the violin, dabbles in chemistry, smokes pipes when he’s pondering, deduces expertly, investigates crime, and has a roommate named Watson.

   Yes, as you surmised, I am alluding to Simon Rolfe, who regards Sherlock Holmes as an “incompetent bungler.” There are differences, of course; Rolfe reads mostly, perhaps only, of the works of Montaigne.

   While he criticizes some of Holmes’s deductions, Rolfe himself occasionally falls short in exercising that talent. For instance, Watson tells Rolfe that he does a lot of typewriting and moons about when he’s trying to straighten out a plot sequence or characterization. Rolfe responds: “You’re a writer, then?”

   In this novel, either the first or the second of two featuring Rolfe — I’d deduce the first, since he meets Watson in this one — the police are baffled by a locked room stabbing at the home of a former vaudeville memory champion.

   Not only was the room locked, with untracked snow outside the windows, but all the inhabitants of the house have alibis, including the man the stabbed woman accuses of the murder just before she dies. The weapon, which could not have been removed from the house, cannot be found.

   An interesting detective, appearing in not a lost gem of the literature necessarily, but nonetheless a good read.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 2, Spring 1989.

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

BONNEY, JOSEPH L. (1908?-1989?)

       Murder Without Clues (n.) Carrick 1940 [Simon Rolfe]
       Death by Dynamite (n.) Carrick 1940 [Simon Rolfe]


       Look to the Lady! (n.) Lippincott 1947

Reviews by L. J. Roberts

MARTIN WALKER – The Dark Vineyard. Quercus, UK, hardcover, 2009. Knopf, US, hardcover, July 2010.

Genre:   Traditional mystery/police procedural. Leading character:  Captain Bruno Courrèges; 2nd in series. Setting:   St. Denis, France.

MARTIN WALKER Bruno Chief of Police

First Sentence:   The distant howl of the siren atop the Marie broke the stillness of the French summer night.

   The alarm on the top of the Mairie (city hall) of St. Denis calls Police Chief Bruno Courrèges and the volunteer squad out to a fire of a field and large barn.

   Upon investigation, Bruno learns the fire was arson and the property being used to develop GMO (genetically modified organisms) crops; specifically, drought-resistant grape vines.

   The Californians are coming, wanting to buy a large part of the valley, which would bring jobs and produce varietal wines. Someone wants to stop it through vandalism and maybe murder.

   More and more, I look for good mysteries that rely on the mystery and on well-drawn characters rather than overt violence. This is just such a mystery.

   Walker brings the Pergord area, the fictional town of St. Denis, and the people to life with descriptions so evocative, you’re inclined to pack a bag. Walker’s inclusion of information on GMOs, the impact of climate change on the wine industry, the cost of land, and more enhances the story, without ever bogging it down.

MARTIN WALKER Bruno Chief of Police

   Bruno is one of the best protagonists I’ve read in awhile. He knows and cares the people and about whom Walker causes you to care as well. Bruno is savvy to what works with them, solution-oriented, his military training stands him well and he loves his community.

   What I most appreciate is his good working relationship with his counterparts and superiors. The plot is well constructed. Walker does use a number of French terms; most I understood through the plot and only a couple did I have to look up, but it added veracity to the story.

   This is not a fast-paced, guns-blazing, cars-racing story. It is one which builds upon itself through characters with a subtle tension as the story progresses.

   I did identify the villain, but not until three quarters of the way through the story, at which point I felt it was somewhat deliberate, but I didn’t guess the motive until it was revealed.

   Once I started this book, I found impossible to put down. This was a very good read and one I highly recommend.

Rating:   Very Good.

        The Bruno Courrèges series –

1. Bruno, Chief of Police (2008)

MARTIN WALKER Bruno Chief of Police

2. The Dark Vineyard (2009)
3. Black Diamond (July 2010)

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