January 2011

IT’S ABOUT CRIME, by Marvin Lachman


PATRICK QUENTIN – Puzzle for Puppets. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1944. Paperback reprints include: Pocket #420, 1946; Avon, 1980; International Polygonics Ltd (IPL), 1989. Filmed as Homicide for Three (Republic, 1948; with Warren Douglas & Audrey Long as Peter & Iris Duluth).

   [… Among the recent offerings from IPL is the] fast-paced and even more enjoyable Puzzle for Puppets by Patrick Quentin, my choice as the best book in the Peter Duluth series.

   Wartime San Francisco is portrayed vividly, especially its hills, cable cars, and Chinatown, as Naval Lieutenant (jg) Duluth’s plans for a romantic weekend leave with Iris, his actress wife, are constantly hindered by theft and murder.

   This intemtptus-based frustration leads to even stronger emotion when he is framed for the murder and must track down the guilty party if he wishes to stay out of jail, let alone spend time with Iris.


CHARLOTTE ARMSTRONG – A Little Less Than Kind. Coward-McCann, hardcover, 1963. Paperback reprints include: Ace Double G-540, no date [1965]; Berkley S2173, 1972; IPL, 1989.

   More serious, though no less readable, is Charlotte Armstrong’s A Little Less Than Kind (1963), about the attempt of a young man to prove that his new stepfather murdered his father.

   Perhaps Pasadena is an unusual setting for a modern working out of Hamlet, but in the expert hands of Armstrong, one of the great writers of domestic suspense, the reader’s attention and emotions are grabbed early in the book, and then it is almost impossible to put it down.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 4, Fall 1989 (slightly revised).

Editorial Comment:   My apologies for not being able to come up with images of either of the two IPL covers. I think the two I did locate should do almost as well, however.

(1) WILLIAM JOHNSTON, 1924-2010.


    Al Hubin sent me earlier today news of the death of William Johnston, author of many movie and TV tie-in novels, including nine in the Get Smart series. He was born in 1924 and is reported to have passed away last October 15th.

    There’s a long article about Johnston on Lee Goldberg’s blog


on the occasion of Johnston’s being awarded last year’s Faust, the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers’ Grand Master Award.

    Said Lee Goldberg: “He wrote books based on Captain Nice, Room 222, Happy Days, Welcome Back Kotter, The Flying Nun, The Brady Bunch, Nanny and the Professor, The Munsters, Gilligan’s Island, Bewitched, The Monkees and F-Troop, among others.


    “But his TV tie-in work extended far beyond sitcom adaptations. He wrote books based on Ironside, Dick Tracy, The Young Rebels, The Iron Horse, Then Came Bronson, and Rod Serling’s The New People, to name a few. He even adapted the cartoon characters Magilla Gorilla and Snagglepuss into books for children.

    “Johnston also penned many novelizations, including the pilots for the 1930s-era private eye series Banyon and the high school drama Sons and Daughters. His feature film novelizations include Klute, The Swinger, Echoes of a Summer, The New Interns, The Priest’s Wife, Lt. Robin Crusoe USN and his final tie-in project, Gore Vidal’s Caligula (under the pseudonym William Howard).”


(2) ARIANA FRANKLIN, 1935-2010.

    From my daughter Sarah’s historical fiction blog, Reading the Past:

    “Diana Norman, who also wrote historical thrillers as Ariana Franklin, passed away on Thursday after a lengthy illness. […] Her ‘Mistress of the Art of Death’ series brought her back to the early Plantagenet era in the company of Adelia Aguilar, a Salerno-trained physician and forensic specialist (for the 12th c).”

    L. J. Roberts recently reviewed A Murderous Procession, the fourth in the series, on this blog. I added a bibliography and some cover photos.


(3) ROBERT E. W. JANSSON. 1936-2011.

    Born in England, died in Missouri January 13, 2011. A long online obituary can be found at


    A teacher and chemist by trade, Jansson was also the author of two crime thrillers in the 1970s, both in Hubin: Meet You in Munich (Barker, 1975) and News Caper (London: Macmillan, 1978).

    These were followed by Feet First in 2009, a detective novel, preceded in 2008 by a novel taking place in Iceland during the Viking era, Kari’s Saga.

[UPDATE] 02-04-11.   Jiro Kimura, on his Gumshoe Site, adds the fact that Prof. Stuart Warlock appeared in both of Jansson’s 1970s novels, a series character previously unknown to Hubin.


THE SCOUNDREL. Paramount Pictures, 1935. Noel Coward, Julie Haydon, Stanley Ridges, Martha Sleeper, Ernest Cossart, Alexander Woollcott, Everley Gregg, Rosita Moreno, Eduardo Ciannelli, Lionel Stander. Written & directed by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur.


   The gem of movie-watching in last October’s spooky season was an off-beat ghost story with the unlikely title The Scoundrel, written and directed by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (who appear as derelicts in one scene) and starring Noel Coward in his screen debut.

   This is a wonderful thing, witty, moving and quite creepy at times as it tells of Tony Mallare, a powerful publisher, unredeemed cynic and the devil with women (Coward naturally, at the top of his archly-amusing form), surrounded by back-biting sycophants and spurned lovers, who dies in a plane crash and returns to walk the earth for a month to see if he can find someone who will cry for him.

   Sounds hokey, I know, but Scoundrel has the wit, talent and imagination to carry it off. The first half of the film is brittle comedy, with everyone speaking in epigrams, topped easily by Coward at every turn, dispensing bons mots like loose change falling from his pockets as he breaks hearts with the lethal grace of a gunfighter in a western.

   Surprising, then, to see this drawing room comedy suddenly pirouette into bizarre drama when Mallare returns to seek redemption.


   Hecht and McArthur wisely use no special effects, but suggest Mallare’s otherworldliness by careful mise en scene and Coward’s remarkable acting, which somehow detaches him from the players around him.

   The contrast between his casual elegance earlier and the agonized isolation as he roams about, tired, wet and despairing, is … well, it’s haunting!

   The character of Anthony Mallare, incidentally, is playing a character based on Horace Liveright, the publisher whose name became synonymous with American Literature in the first half of the 20th century, the man who brought Dracula, with Bela Lugosi, to Broadway. But he’s chiefly remembered for his self-indulgence and lavish parties — and because his funeral was attended by only three mourners!

   I’ll just add that the supporting cast includes Lionel Stander and Eduardo Ciannelli as poets, some lovely actresses I never heard of, and Alexander Woollcott as a critic, who help make this a film whose like you will not see again.


Reviews by L. J. Roberts

SHONA MacLEAN – A Game of Sorrow. Quercus, UK, trade paperback, 2010.

Genre:   Historical mystery. Leading character:   Alexander Seaton; 2nd in series. Setting:   Scotland/Ireland-1628.


First Sentence:   The bride’s grandmother smiled: she could feel the discomfort of the groom’s family and it pleased her well.

    It is disconcerting enough to be accused of less-then reputable actions you know you did not commit, but even more so when confronted by a man who could be your twin.

    Alexander Seaton, a reputable teacher at Marischal College in Aberdeen, has never known any family beyond his now-dead parents until now. Near-twin cousin Sean O’Neill is about to change all that with an entreaty for Alexander to come with him to Ireland. It seems his grandfather is dying and the entire O’Neill family is under a curse which only the proven existence of Alexander can break.

    It is always frustrating when you absolutely love an author’s first book and are then disappointed in their second. Unfortunately, that was the case here. In The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, I felt great empathy for the character and came to care about him.

    In this book, other than as the “voice” of the story, and the one to whom everything happens — how many times can one get hit on the head without major concussion or brain damage — we learn little about his internal makeup. Yes, it is interesting that he is such a fish-out-of-water character being an academic caught up in conflict, but he never really came to life.


    I’ve never been to Ireland, but I did love MacLean’s descriptions. She made me feel as though I were standing next to the characters, and wished I could be. I also felt she well conveyed the sense of Ireland as a land where faith and superstition walked hand-in-hand.

    While I found the history fascinating and gained a better understanding of the conflict between the Catholics and Protestants, English and Irish, I felt MacLean became so caught up in the history, I somewhat forgot about the story.

    I was also interested to learn that a troupe of traveling players may have performed Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” in Ireland during this time.

    The story was interesting but I found it difficult to keep track of all the characters and, because most of them were simply that, there were few about whom I really cared. I am, by no means, ready to give up on MacLean. I do hope, however, her next book focuses more on telling us a whopping good story.

Rating:   OK.

Editorial Comment:   An interview with Shona MacLean can be found online here. And in case you may have been wondering, the answer is yes, sort of. Her uncle was “best-selling author Alistair MacLean who wrote The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare and a host of other action thrillers.”

JOHN NICHOLAS DATESH – The Janus Murder. Leisure Books, paperback original, 1979.

   One of the pleasures that comes from doing a regular column on mysteries like this one is that once in a while a book comes along that I can point out to that you might not have known about otherwise.


   While it’s not a book all of you are going to turn somersaults over, it is one you’re probably going to have to go out and do some hunting for if you want it.

   For example, who ever reads anything published by Leisure Books? And just look at that cover. I’m no expert, but that certainly looks like a double-barreled shotgun to me, suggesting a Mafia revenge novel, or if not that, then most certainly a crime novel crammed to the cranny with violence. Even the most dedicated private eye fan is going to think twice before opening this one up.

   Surprise. Believe it or no, this is a detective story. Not a bit of blood’n’guts in the book. The private eye’s name is Casey Carmichael. He may not be the most brilliant detective in the business, but he’s honest, he’s dedicated, and he tries hard. (He works out of Pittsburgh, by the way, and it’s been along time since anyone could say that about a detective story.)

   He’s hired in The Janus Murder by a female client to exonerate a man, her fiance, who’s been accused of killing her father. It seems he made the fatal mistake of committing the murder while being overheard on an open party line.

   That there’s no easier way of framing someone doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone, and as I mentioned before, even Casey doesn’t seem always to have all his brain cells clicking at once.

   This is a novel that simply cries out for some substantial line-by-line editing, but there are some subtle clues in the midst of the telling. Remarkably, some of them are left for only the reader to catch the significance of, and as the title indicates, a number of the clues are two-faced as well, including the one of the little gray man from upstate New York who turns out to be the key to unraveling the entire case.

   This is definitely little more than raw material for the true connoisseur, but it could easily have been much more than it is. And with it all — this is the truth — I found it very much impossible to put down.

– Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
   Vol. 3, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1979. Slightly revised.

[UPDATE] 01-29-11.   Leisure was indeed a small, obscure paperback publisher when this book came out, but until its recent financial problems came along, it had survived and was doing a fine business putting out westerns, historical romances, and even more importantly, the line of Hard Case Crime novels.

   The book is probably more easily found today than when I wrote this review, what with the ease you can buy most every book on the Internet. In fact, and this surprised me, you can download a copy almost immediately to your Kindle. That’s where I got the cover image, not from the original paperback.

   As for the book itself, I can add one other thing. The letter grade I gave it back in 1979 was a solid “B minus.” Unfortunately, while Datesh has two other books in Hubin, both written about the same time, neither one is a follow-up adventure for PI Casey Carmichael.

William F. Deeck

BAYNARD H. KENDRICK – The Eleven of Diamonds. Greenberg, hardcover, 1936. Penguin #616, paperback, 1946.

BAYNARD KENDRICK The Eleven of Diamonds

   Edward Fowler is found in the poker room of the Sunset Bridge Club with a knife in his back and the eleven of diamonds in his hand: Fowler was a gambler and a lover and a burglar, and he may have been other things besides.

   Since the case is an unusual one, the police call upon Miles Standish Rice, the Hungry, for assistance. Rice is also hired by a rich man whose son, verging on the ne’er-do-well and a confirmed and not very talented gambler, owed Fowler a large gambling debt.

   In this portrait of post-boom Florida, Rice eats a lot and often and puts his life in jeopardy on several occasions as he tries to figure out not only who killed Fowler but how he was killed.

   While the characters are interesting, I was disappointed in not being able to find the spies promised by the paperback publisher. Though not as good as many of Kendrick’s novels featuring Duncan Maclain, there is sufficient action and cerebration to keep most readers entertained.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 4, Fall 1989.

The Miles Standish Rice series —

    The Iron Spiders. Greenberg, 1936.


    The Eleven of Diamonds. Greenberg, 1936.
    Death Beyond the Go-Thru. Doubleday, 1938.

NOTE:   Deputy sheriff Miles Standish Rice also appeared in several novelettes and short stories, including “Headless Angel,” Black Mask, September 1939. See also Comments #2 and #3.



SHOW GIRL IN HOLLYWOOD. First National Pictures, 1930. Alice White, Jack Mulhall, Blanche Sweet, Ford Sterling, John Miljan, Virginia Sale, Lee Shumway, Spec O’Donnell. Based on John Patrick McEvoy’s novel Broadway Girl. Cinematographer: Sol Polito. Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Shown at Cinefest 28, Syracuse NY, March 2008.

   Dixie Dugan (Alice White), whose first Broadway show, directed by her boyfriend Jimmy Doyle (Jack Mulhall) has just opened and closed, is given a letter by movie director Frank Buelow (John Miljan) instructing studio producer Sam Otis (Ford Sterling) to test her for a contract.

   However, when she arrives in Hollywood, she finds she’s only one of a number of Buelow’s protegees. Discouraged, she’s ready to go back to New York when Jimmy Doyle’s musical is picked up by the studio. Dixie is hired as the lead, and she seems destined for stardom.

   White is not much of a dancer or a singer, the musical numbers are undistinguished, and the two-strip technicolor negatives of the closing musical number have not survived.


   However, the unoriginal plot is enhanced by the sometimes broad but still sharply etched performances of Hollywood types, by the behind-the-scenes filming of a major musical number, and by Blanche Sweet’s moving portrayal of Donna Harris, a silent film great who’s not made the transition successfully to sound films, and who serves as a mentor to Dixie.

   There are pre-echoes of A Star is Born, and if it’s a fairly routine musical, it’s more incisive and interesting as a portrait of the instability of careers in the early days of sound films, in the wake of the cataclysm that destroyed the silent film.

   As a kind of ironic commentary on this event, there’s a small role played by Spec O’Donnell, a talented comic actor who shone briefly in a series of late silent comedies with Max Davidson (a Cinefest favorite), with both of their careers largely ending with the demise of the silent film.


Next Page »