April 2011

HELENE TURSTEN – Detective Inspector Huss. Soho Crime, hardcover; 1st US printing, July 2003; trade paperback, May 2004. Originally published in Sweden as Den krossade tanghästen, 1998.


   The original title in Swedish, if translated correctly, would be (I believe) The Broken Tang Horse. It was changed, I suspect, for two reasons. The first I won’t tell you, but I think the second was to more correctly focus on what this novel is about: namely Detective Inspector Irene Huss.

   While portions of the book are told from the point of view of some of her fellow members of the Göteborg Homicide Division, most of this crime procedural novel is from hers. She’s in her forties, or so was my impression, happily married (her husband seems entirely comfortable with her career while he works as a chef), with two twin daughters in their early teens, one of whom decides halfway through the book to become a Skinhead and sing in a neo-Nazi rock band.

   This causes some friction at home, to say the least, and it takes an Intervention dinner with one of Irene’s colleagues to shock some sense into her. Irene’s other problems include working too many hours, drinking too much coffee, eating too much pizza, and having violent encounters with the Swedish version of the Hell’s Angels.


   The case itself, in this the first of which that have been recorded, is a major one and involves the death by falling of a wealthy businessman from the upper floor of his majestic palace of a home. Was it an accident? Suicide? Neither. It is quickly concluded that it was murder, and significantly over 350 pages of small print follow.

   The story takes place near Christmas time, so the weather is cold, sloppy, dreary and cold, and the investigation is slow, methodical (plodding) but effective. But once again, the focus is on Detective Huss and the fellow members of her squad and their boss, Superintendent Sven Andersson, who is older and ill-equipped to manage the idiosyncrasies of detectives on his team, all well drawn and easily recognized as strong-willed individuals, both male and female.

   The case itself, while multi-faceted and one that leads to all levels of Swedish society as well as several other deaths, is cracked by keeping tabs on a set of keys – who had extras made, who had access to them, and who had them.


   It took me several evenings of spare time reading to steadily make my way to the end. I wasn’t caught up with this one as much as I have been with the Stieg Larsson books, but I’m looking forward to catching up with more of Detective Huss’s adventures, or at least I would be if more of them could be found translated into English. Only three of them have been, so far:

· 1998 – Den krossade tanghästen, English title: Detective Inspector Huss (2003)
· 1999 – Nattrond
· 1999 – Tatuerad torso. English title: The Torso (2006)
· 2002 – Kallt mord
· 2002 – Glasdjävulen. English title: The Glass Devil (2007)
· 2004 – Guldkalven
· 2005 – Eldsdansen
· 2007 – En man med litet ansikte
· 2008 – Det lömska nätet
· 2010 – Den som vakar i mörkret

[UPDATE] 05-01-11.   I’ve just added the images you see above. For information on the Swedish television series based on the Inspector Huss books, see the comments.


AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT.   ITV [UK]. Season Eleven: 01 through 22 September 2008. Hercule Poirot: David Suchet, Adriadne Oliver: Zoe Wanamaker.

   At least this is how the title of this [four] part series (2 hours each, less adverts) was given in the Radio Times. On screen it appeared to be the less grammatical Agatha Christie Poirot.


   First up was “Mrs. McGinty’s Dead.” This is workaday rather than top class Christie, and I had one or two quibbles about the “red herrings” which relied a little too much on coincidence. But the adaptation was well done, and I enjoyed the production greatly. The part of Adriadne Olliver was played very well by Zoe Wanamaker.

   Second was “Cat Among the Pigeons.” I haven’t read this book, but looking at references, the producers have made a few slight changes, first to have Poirot on hand at the start and secondly to “sanatise” the sub-plot. Rather like the previous episode this was a very enjoyable production which I enjoyed despite what I perceived as flaws in the plot.

   Third was “Third Girl,” in which Zoe Wanamaker returns as Ariadne Oliver. Again not the strongest of stories, and I think it’s fair to say that as this series goes, the best is not still to come. Still I found it quite watchable despite its obvious weaknesses.

— Reprinted from Caddish Thoughts #134, November 2008.

Editorial Comments:   Not included in Geoff’s review at the time was Episode 4: “Appointment with Death.” There has been one further season of four additional episodes, making 65 so far with David Suchet as Poirot. The most recent episode to date has been “Murder on the Orient Express,” which aired 11 July 2010. It has been reported that a 13th and final series is scheduled for production in 2011.



LAWRENCE BLOCK – Grifter’s Game. Hard Case Crime, paperback, September 2004. Originally published as Mona, Gold Medal s1085, paperback original, 1961. Also: Carroll & Graf, pb, 1994; Five Star, hardcover, 1999.

   Joe Marlin is a con man, small-time thief and borderline gigolo. He lives a detached, drifting life, spending most of his time in nice hotels with plenty of liquor and willing, vacationing women — as well as the relative novelty of air conditioning.

   After he falls hard for Mona Brassard, everything changes. Without giving anything else away, the writing is only workmanlike, but this book has one of the most brutal, psychologically horrifying conclusions ever — without a drop of blood being spilled.

Editorial Comment:   My own review of Mona appears here earlier on this blog. From what I read now of what I wrote then, some 32 years ago, I had the same reaction to the ending as Tina has.


THE HOME MAKER. Universal, 1925. Alice Joyce, Clive Brook, Billy Kent Schaefer, Martha Mattox, Virginia True Boardman, Jacqueline Wells (later known as Julie Bishop). Scenario by Mary O’Hara, from the novel by Dorothy Canfield. Director: King Baggot. Shown at Cinecon 44, Hollywood CA, Aug-Sept 2008.


   The subject of this film — a reversal of roles in which the husband stays home and takes care of the children — was probably an unusual one in 1925, one that was apparently reflected (according to reviews quoted in the program notes) in the hostility in at least some of the reviews to the husband’s role.

   He’s portrayed as almost terminally bored by his office job and when he’s passed over for a promotion and then, as in everything else, fails at a suicide attempt that leaves him a cripple, he welcomes the opportunity to stay at home while his wife, taking a low-level job in the womens’ wear factory run by his former company, quickly shows herself to be a gifted manager, soon promoted to a position and salary her husband could only have dreamed of.

   This domestic drama might initially seem to have been lifted from the pages of one of the slick womens’ magazines of the period, but it sheds that formulaic corset, impressing by its crisp direction, fine acting and unsentimental treatment of a then controversial subject.

   It should be noted that two distinguished women writers were credited for the source and scenario for the film. Dorothy Canfield (Fisher) is probably best known for her children’s classic Understood Betsy, while Mary O’Hara was the author of the bestselling My Friend Flicka, turned into a successful film by MGM starring Roddy MacDowell (and, of course, a horse).



GEORGE DYER – Five Fragments. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1932. Hardcover reprint: Grosset & Dunlap, 1932 [?].

Film: FOG OVER FRISCO. First National Pictures, 1934. Bette Davis, Donald Woods, Margaret Lindsay, Lyle Talbot, Hugh Herbert, Arthur Byron, Robert Barrat, Henry O’Neill, Irving Pichel, Douglass Dumbrille. Director: William Dieterle.


   Following Dolores Hitchens’ Fools Gold [reviewed here ] and still on the book-to-movie bent, I visited a novel called The Five Fragments by George Dyer.

   Dyer authored a series of mysteries in the 1930 centered around the Catalyst Club, but this ain’t one of ’em; it’s a Keeler-esque series of long narrative flashbacks framed by a mysterious host who has assembled a group of disparate guests, each of whom knows something about a recent and notorious murder/kidnapping scandal in San Francisco.

   The five narrators — a pretty standard set of stock characters including a dumb cop, brash young reporter, doughty coast-guardsman, colorful gangster and cool customs agent — proceed to sketch out a tale of dope smuggling, bootleggers, a wild heiress named Arlene and her half-sister, who has fallen in love with the reporter and then got herself kidnapped.


   The resultant surprise conclusion is a bit creaky but entertaining nonetheless, and though none of the characters is ever more than two-dimensional, they are at least painted up real pretty, and they go through their allotted paces at a brisk clip.

   When Warners filmed this in 1934 as Fog Over Frisco they chewed through the book typical abandon: jettisoned the framing device, added a bumbling photographer (Hugh Herbert) to follow the brash young reporter and provide dubious comedy relief, switched stolen bonds for smuggled drugs (a bit of a no-no in ’34) and threw in a sinister butler for good measure.

   But I especially like what they did with the Arlene character, who never actually appears in the book: they built the non-existent part up into a neatly bitchy role for top-billed Bette Davis, who clearly relishes the part and leaves the movie all too soon.

   Directed by William Deiterle at the usual break-a-leg pace Warners’ pace, Fog offers nothing too special, but serves it up well.


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Edward D. Hoch

ÉMILE GABORIAU – Monsieur Lecoq. E. Dentu, Paris, 1868. Edited version published in the US: Dover, softcover, 1975.


   Monsieur Lecoq, Gaboriau’s twelfth book and his fifth novel in which the French detective of the title appears, is today often considered his best and most readable book. Changing reading habits, plus indifferent translations, have left the pioneer French mystery writer all but unread today, but he deserves a place in any survey of classic detective fiction.

   Lecoq, introduced in his first book as a secondary character, was a minor Sûreté detective with a shady past somewhat like the real-life Vidocq. But he soon takes center stage in the Gaboriau novels, and in Monsieur Lecoq he investigates a triple murder in a poor section of Paris.

   The killer, apprehended at the scene, appears to be a petty criminal who calls himself May, but Lecoq suspects he might really have another identity. The duel of wits between the two men extends through the first volume of the novel.

   The second volume, sometimes published separately as The Honor of the Name, is really a separate and inferior historical novel set around the year 1815, with Lecoq and the evasive villain only reappearing in the final twenty-two pages.


   Though there have been numerous British and American editions of the novel, the recent Dover edition cited above (skillfully edited and introduced by E. F. Bleiler) is the first to eliminate the extraneous historical novel and jump at once from the end of volume one to the important final pages of volume two.

   Gaboriau’s books are not without their weaknesses, and they often suffer from cardboard characterization and inconsistencies. Their strengths lie in plotting and background. They are not exactly the books we think of as detective novels today, but enough elements are present to argue effectively that Gaboriau deserves his title as the father of the detective novel.

   Lecoq first appears as a secondary character in The Widow Lerouge (1866), but stars in his next two cases, The Mystery of Orcival (1867) and File No. 113 (1967). He also makes a brief appearance in The Slaves of Paris (1868), but this is more a crime novel than a detective story.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

BRUNO FISCHER – House of Flesh. Gold Medal #123, paperback original, 1950. Reprinted several times.

BRUNO FISCHER House of Flesh

   Here’s a book whose main thesis is that the female of the species is a preying mantis, capable of devouring the male in the very act of sex; a she-dog in heat, contemptuously amused at the howls of the horde of disappointed hounds pawing furiously the door. (I grant you, some of you are not going to need to know anything more.)

   Harry is a professional basketball player from New York, seeking a summer of recuperation in the outlying countryside. Lela is the wife of the local veterinarian. Rumor has it that he fed his first wife to the dogs, and thereby hangs the tale: a detective story — truly it is! — a rich, sultry one with the sort of down-to-earth appeal that made the early Gold Medal paperbacks so immediately and immensely profitable.

   Images of a certain kind or a rustic America in a certain indefinite time in its past should spring to mind. These pictures of an age largely past may be entirely a matter of fiction, nothing more than a state of the imagination, and may have always been so, but their lush moodiness can be sharply cutting as well, with the moment of incision preserved in an instant forever.

   The dogs provide an essential clue to the murder that Harry is eventually accused of, but you know as well I do what comes before then: “Undress me … but slowly … very slowly …”

   House of Flesh was Fischer’s first for Gold Medal in their series of paperback originals that took the country by storm, and it was reprinted several times during the decade that followed.

Rating: B plus.

– Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 3, No. 6, Nov/Dec 1979 (slightly revised).

[UPDATE] 04-18-11.   The closet in my upstairs study has a shelf where I keep my Gold Medal paperbacks from this era, about a thousand of them. It’s time I started to read them again. I don’t remember any of the specifics of this one, but what I had to say back then about House of Flesh certainly triggers off a huge carload of memories.

Next Page »