July 2012


THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


GEORGE SELMARK Murder in Silence

GEORGE SELMARK – Murder in Silence. Cassell, UK, hardcover, 1939. Doubleday/Crime Club, US, 1940. Thriller Novel Classic #37, no date [1945], abridged.

   The septuagenarian vicar of Twitten has gone and done it. He has married a chorus girl, and he is returning unrepentant but panting to the vicarage. Meanwhile, his daughter, who has something on her mind but it’s apparently not her father’s unfortunate marriage, disappears.

   Most unusually, the chorus girl turns out to live up, or down, to the typical chorus-girl reputation. Deaths start occurring. A demented but chuckling villain appears at night. The heroine is brave and bright. The hero is dull and sensible. Inspector Bass drinks too much at the village pub and at the Twitten Manor Home for Inebriates, joining the home’s owner, Dr. MacFarlane, who always has a bottle handy, while the murderer remains unapprehended.

    A thriller-type novel with a twist and some interesting characters. George Selmark is a pseudonym of Seldon Truss. Truss wrote only one novel under this name with a detective that Truss had written about under his own name. Odd.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 1, Winter 1989.


Bibliographic Notes:   To clarify Bill’s last paragraph, Murder Is Silence is the only novel to have been published first under the George Selmark byline. Two mysteries first published in the UK in the 1960s as by Seldon Truss were reprinted in the US as by George Selmark.

   As for Inspector Bass, he appeared in two other novels under Truss’s name, both also in the 1930s.

JOHN LUTZ – Diamond Eyes. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, December 1990. No paperback edition.

JOHN LUTZ Diamond Eyes

   The dust jacket of this book describes it as “A novel of suspense featuring private investigator [Alo] Nudger.” Partly right. There is a lot of suspense, but most of that is due to the fact that Nudger doesn’t do any investigating.

   In fact, I’m not sure I know what he does do, other than worry and sweat and lose his lunch as his client, his girl friend and his best friend are all either murdered, terrorized or brutalized by a pair of thugs who think Nudger knows the location of a slew of stolen diamonds.

   He doesn’t, but that’s no excuse. The final straw comes when [Oops. PLOT ALERT] he simply leads the bad element straight to his dead client’s sister. He has successfully hidden her out for the second half of the book, but if I may quote from page 189: “He got in the Granada and aimed it north toward Hannibal, not noticing the drab gray rental car that followed.”

   There is no other word to describe him. In this book Alo Nudger is incompetent. I’ve read a few of his cases before, and I’ve enjoyed them, but if I were to call this one disappointing, it would be an understatement.

PostScript:   [Minor PLOT ALERT]   I also didn’t care for the way Nudger’s client, female, was so brutally murdered. Calling it torture and rape doesn’t begin to describe it. What the author may have had in mind was showing how sadistically uncivil Nudger’s opponents are, but I (simple minded as I am) found it distasteful and disgusting.

   Early on in the story a bomb on an airplane goes off, killing 93 people. For a PI story, I think this is overkill. I concede that it was a crucial part of the story the author was telling. You’ll have to convince me, though, that it was a story worth telling. It certainly wasn’t one I wanted to read.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 28,
       February 1991 (slightly revised).


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


KILLER’S KISS. United Artists, 1955. Frank Silvera, Jamie Smith, Irene Kane, Jerry Jarrett, Mike Dana, Felice Orlandi, Shaun O’Brien, Barbara Brand. Director and co-screenwriter: Stanley Kubrick.

KILLER'S KISS Stanley Kubrick

   Recently saw Killer’s Kiss which immediately became my favorite Stanley Kubrick movie, which ain’t saying much, but is intended as a compliment nonetheless. A lot of folks consider Kubrick a genius, and a lot think he’s a pretentious bore; I’ve always thought he had some talent but tended toward self-indulgence, with his failure to capture Nabokov’s Lolita on film particularly disappointing, coming from one as intelligent as Kubrick says he is.

   Anyway, there are a few — a very few — really cheap really good movies to come out of Hollywood, and Killer’s Kiss is one of the tackiest and best. It’s not as good (or as threadbare) as Ulmer’s Detour or Bluebeard, but then nobody could do as much with as little as Ulmer, whose films sometimes amaze one by the very fact of their existence.

   But though not on the same level as Ulmer’s poetic cheapies, Killer’s Kiss is nonetheless right up there with Murder by Contract (1958) and Blast of Silence (’61) as a gritty, stylish thriller done for peanuts.

   The cast is non-professional but talented, with Frank Silvera particularly good as a lecherous dance-hall owner who murders for love, and Irene Kane inadequate but haunting as the neurotic object of his attentions.

KILLER'S KISS Stanley Kubrick

   There is some very effective use of seldom-lensed New York City locations — which seems innovative but was probably merely necessary — particularly the roof of a warehouse, which stretches out like some improbable desert before the hero fleeing across it.

   There are also a couple of very visceral fight scenes, the most memorable of which involves the hood and the hero smashing each other with clubs, spears, and plaster mannequins. It makes one realize, with a twinge of regret, how skillful a filmmaker Kubrick could be when he wanted to Show Feelings instead of Explaining Ideas.

KILLER'S KISS Stanley Kubrick

   Surprisingly, in fact, Kubrick resists the temptation here to wallow in his own concepts. There is, for example, a part early on where he cuts between the prizefighter hero and the taxi-dancer heroine getting outfitted in their dressing rooms. Almost any other director would have cut back and forth several times, to make sure no one missed the point about professional athletes and prostitutes both being paid to ruin their bodies for the pleasure of strangers, but Kubrick cuts only once, realizes the point is made and gets on with things.

   Also, this is the only prize-fight movie I’ve ever seen that has only one shot of a spectator grinning while the hero gets his face punctuated. In every other fight movie, the Director’s not truly happy until he’s looked down his nose at fight fans by showing lots of low-angle shots of them porking out and screaming for blood, just to make sure the moviegoers can feel morally superior to them.

   Killer’s Kiss has just the one shot of Silvera getting turned on while he watches the fight on television, a restraint amazing coming from Kubrick.

KILLER'S KISS Stanley Kubrick

NEWS IS MADE AT NIGHT Lynn Bari

NEWS IS MADE AT NIGHT. 20th Century Fox, 1939. Preston Foster, Lynn Bari, Russell Gleason, George Barbier, Eddie Collins, Minor Watson, Paul Harvey, Richard Lane, Charles Lane, Betty Compson, Paul Fix. Screenplay: John Larkin. Director: Alfred L. Werker.

   Of all the thousands (millons?) of sites on the Internet, I believe the one I visit the most is IMDB, even more than Wikipedia, but excluding (of course) my own blog, the one you’re reading right now.

   Back in the olden days, you’d watch a movie on the late show, try to catch the list of credits as they flashed by, and if you were lucky, you might recognize some the cast from other pictures you’d seen them in. You’d know the top two or three stars, of course, but not the ones listed any farther down than that.

   For example, you might have known who Preston Foster and Lynn Bari were, but the rest of the names in the credits above? Mission: Highly Unlikely. I’ll let you have the honors on seeing what you can learn about them, but they were all professionals in the movie business, with lots of credits, and they – all of them – are part of what make this relatively low-budget movie so enjoyable.

NEWS IS MADE AT NIGHT Lynn Bari

   Preston Foster and Lynn Bari are included in that last comment, of course, but what IMDB cannot do is help you find out what other movies they may have made together, unless there’s some way to do that that I don’t know about. What I do know is that they teamed up once before, in a movie called Chasing Danger, and that’s because I reviewed it here on this blog earlier this month.

   I enjoyed watching that one, but all in all, I think I enjoyed this one more. In fact, I know I did, because News Is Made at Night falls into the category of a detective mystery tackled by a pair of newspaper people, one of my favorite kind of stories — lacking a PI anywhere in sight, that is.

NEWS IS MADE AT NIGHT Lynn Bari

   Foster plays the hard-nosed editor who isn’t above the cheapest of tricks to get a story (publishing phony affidavits on the front page to stir up trouble; using an extension line to impersonate the acting governor to grant a reprieve to a convicted killer at the last minute; that sort of thing) while Lynn Bari plays the brash lady reporter whom Foster won’t hire because he doesn’t hire women.

   Lynn Bari, of course, won’t be put off for any reason anything like that, nor is she above a little minor blackmail when she gets wind of one of Foster’s schemes.

NEWS IS MADE AT NIGHT Lynn Bari

   Any movie that begins with a small plane strafing a prison yard has something going for it already, but the snazzy snap crackle and pop of the “animosity” between Foster and Miss Bari keeps the movie moving right along, even though the plot itself is rather ordinary and somewhat confusing, at that.

   (Something to do with a gang of gangsters trying to run a town, or are they merely dirty politicians? Either way, they are all busy trying to gun each other down for most of the film’s 70 minute length.)

NEWS IS MADE AT NIGHT Lynn Bari

   But believe it or not, there is a pretty good detective story that emerges from all this gang-oriented violence – not one worthy of a Christie or Carr, mind you — but if you’re a fan of detective fiction more than out and out crime fiction, you’ll find the ending satisfactory in that regard too — as well as the romance we all know is what this movie is really all about.

PostScript:   I am amazed at how many posters and movie stills I found of this slightly obscure film — more, in fact, than I could use. On the other hand, there are no reviews or external links on IMDB to this movie. This one will be the first.

NEWS IS MADE AT NIGHT Lynn Bari

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


RAYMOND CHANDLER in HOLLYWOOD

WILLIAM LUHR – Raymond Chandler and Film. Frederick Ungar, hardcover/softcover, 1982; bibliography and index, photographs, filmography. Florida State University, trade paperback, 1991.

AL CLARK – Raymond Chandler in Hollywood. Proteus, hardcover/softcover, 1983; index, filmography. Silman-James Press, trade paperback, 1996.

   I have paper editions of both these books: the Luhr is a 5-1/2 x 8″ yellowback, the cover sporting a portrait of Chandler set into an oval frame next to a pulp illustration; the Clark is a large-sized 8 x 10-3/4″ book, the cover featuring a brown hat with a revolver resting on the brim.

   The Luhr pages are densely packed with text in small type, while the Clark is profusely illustrated with stills, lobbycards and other advertising material for the films. Luhr is an associate professor of English and film at St. Peter’s College, and Al Clark is a Spanish-born publicist and magazine editor who is currently creative director of the Virgin Records group, based in London.

   The copy for Clark’s biography is probably written by him and is a tongue-in-cheek view of his life; Luhr’s credentials are presented soberly. The casual reader is likely to assume that Luhr is writing a serious study of Raymond Chandler’s Hollywood career and that Clark has put together an album for the film buff.

RAYMOND CHANDLER in HOLLYWOOD

   In fact, both books are valid contributions to the literature on Chandler’s Hollywood years. Luhr’s approach is largely analytical, a close reading of his films. Clark went to Los Angeles where he interviewed people involved in the films and people who knew Chandler, and his narrative is a mixture of production information and film analysis.

   Clark unfortunately only cites his sources in his preface: there are neither notes nor bibliography. He seems more sensitive than Luhr to information furnished by people like Leigh Brackett, but both men communicate their enjoyment of the films and of Chandler’s fictional world, and I would not want to be without either book.

   The layout on the Clark book is handsome, and the stills, not the tiny postage stamps one often sees, are generously displayed in an attractive format. I compared the two accounts of The Long Goodbye, and while they are not perfectly congruent they are in general agreement, with, as one would expect, Luhr going into greater detail about the film and Clark more enlightening on the actual production. He incorporates a lengthy interview with Nina Van Pallandt into the chapter, and it is the insight furnished into the making of the film that makes Raymond Chandler in Hollywood a more intimate look at the Raymond Chandler film world.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 7, No. 2, March-April 1983.


VIRGINIA RICH – The Cooking School Murders. E. P. Dutton & Co., hardcover, 1982. Ballantine, paperback, 1983.

VIRGINIA RICH Eugenia Potter

   For a nice, gently nostalgic Midwestern tale of murder that will remind you of nothing less than home-folks all the way through, look no further. (Of course, if you come from a long line of Manhattanites or native Californians, you may be left wondering what the charm of living in Iowa may actually be, even after reading this book, but then again, some people are beyond help.)

   Seriously, though, as an amateur sleuth in this first of a new series, Mrs. Potter has the right idea. As a widow in her early sixties, she’s seen enough of life to be convinced that when it comes to murder, an honest character study of the people involved will always prove to be an essential key to its solution. So do I, when it comes down to it (even though, of course, that’s where any resemblance between Mrs. Potter and myself most definitely ends).

   Three deaths occur the same evening in Harrington, Iowa, immediately after, it seems, the first meeting of an advanced cooking class offered by the local high school. One is that of a long-time friend of Mrs. Potter’s — apparently a suicide. Another is that of the new femme fatale in town, whom blackmail seems to follow like a well-trained setter.

VIRGINIA RICH Eugenia Potter

   The latter, obviously, has been murdered, and it comes as no great surprise, but the death of a naive young schoolmarm seems to have been purely an accident.

   Everyone else takes the “obvious” answers to the questions raised by these three nearly coincident deaths. Not Mrs. Potter, though, who putters around and unknowingly puts her own life on the line as she busily constructs various scenarios for the crimes, placing each of her many friends and acquaintances into every possible role.

   Naturally she fails to put the solution together quite correctly enough, until it is very nearly too late. Myself, I thought the final outcome rather unlikely, and, if you will, a bit of a let-down to a mystery novel that till then, had me very nicely entertained.

   Overall, then, I’d call this one a lightweight in the world of amateur detection, but it’s still a mystery with its own built-in source of warmth and charm — just enough to ward off the ever-approaching chill of murder.

P.S.   If you are so inclined, you can skip the recipes. I did.

Rating:   B.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 7, No. 2, March-April 1983 (slightly revised).


      The Eugenia Potter series –

1. The Cooking School Murders (1982)
2. The Baked Bean Supper Murders (1983)

VIRGINIA RICH Eugenia Potter

3. The Nantucket Diet Murders (1985)
4. The 27 Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murders (1992) (with Nancy Pickard)

VIRGINIA RICH Eugenia Potter

      Virginia Rich’s first novel was published when she was 68, and she died three years later. Fellow mystery writer Nancy Pickard continued the series, working from the boxes of notes Virginia Rich had made in planning future novels.

      The Eugenia Potter series, continued by Nancy Pickard

5. The Blue Corn Murders (1998)

VIRGINIA RICH Eugenia Potter

6. The Secret Ingredient Murders (2001)

IT’S ABOUT CRIME, by Marvin Lachman

BLACK LIZARD

   Black Lizard’s first mystery anthology included the [Harlan] Ellison Edgar winner, “Soft Monkey.” The Second Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction, edited by Ed Gorman (trade paperback, 1988), is 664 pages long with thirty-eight short stories and a full-length novel, Murder Me for Nickels, by Peter Rabe.

   Most of the stories are reprints, but the list of authors reads like a Who’s Who of hardboiled detective fiction for the last thirty-five years, including Avallone, Max Allan Cdllins, Estleman, Gault, Hensley, Lutz, McBain, Pronzini, Spillane, Willeford, et al.

   Of the book’s three new stories, I especially liked Jon Breen’s baseball mystery about a streaker (remember them?).

   There is also a Hall of Fame quality to The Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg (Carroll & Graf, trade paperback, 1988), which in its 592 pages offers stories about almost every important private eye, including Philip Marlowe in “Wrong Pigeon,” the last story Chandler wrote.

   Only Hammett (readily available elsewhere) seems to be missing among the authors who include current masters like Hansen, both Collinses (Michael and Max Allan), Lutz, Pronzini, Muller, Estleman, and Grafton. The editors also dug out early work by Carroll John Daly, Robert Leslie Bellem, Fredrick Brown, Gault, McBain, and Prather, as well as rarities: a Paul Pine story by Howard Browne and a private eye story by Ed Hoch, who doesn’t usually write in that genre.

– Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
Vol. 11, No. 1, Winter 1989.


Editorial Notes:   A complete list of authors for the Black Lizard anthology is as follows: Stories by Michael Avallone, Timothy Banse, Robert Bloch, Lawrence Block, Ray Bradbury, Jon Breen, Max Allan Collins, William R. Cox, John Coyne, Wayne D. Dundee, Harlan Ellison, Loren D. Estleman, Fletcher Flora, Brian Garfield, William C. Gault, Barry Gifford, Joe Gores, Ed Gorman, Joe L. Hensley, Joe R. Lansdale, Richard Laymon, John Lutz, Ed McBain, Steve Mertz, Arthur Moore, Marcia Muller, William F. Nolan, Bill Pronzini, Ray Puechner, Peter Rabe, Robert Randisi, Daniel Ransom, Mickey Spillane, Donald Westlake, Harry Willeford, Will Wyckoff, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.

   Contents for the “Mammoth” collection:  

MAMMOTH PRIVATE EYE

Raymond Chandler, ‘Wrong Pigeon’ [aka 'The Pencil'] (1971: Philip Marlowe)
Carrol John Daly, ‘Not My Corpse’ (Race Williams)
Robert Leslie Bellem, ‘Diamonds of Death’ (Dan Turner)
Fredric Brown, ‘Before She Kills’ (1961: Ed and Am Hunter)
Howard Browne, ‘So Dark For April’ (1953: Paul Pine)
William Campbell Gault, ‘Stolen Star’ (1957: Joe Puma)
Ross Macdonald, ‘Guilt-Edged Blonde’ (1953: Lew Archer)
Henry Kane, ‘Suicide is Scandalous’ (1947: Peter Chambers)
Richard S. Prather, ‘Dead Giveaway’ (1957: Shell Scott)
Joseph Hansen, ‘Surf’ (1976: Dave Brandsetter)
Michael Collins, ‘A Reason To Die’ (1985: Dan Fortune)
Ed McBain, ‘Death Flight’ (1954: Milt Davis)
Stephen Marlowe, ‘Wanted — Dead and Alive’ (1963: Chester Drum)
Edward D. Hoch, ‘The Other Eye’ (1981: Al Darlan)
Stuart M. Kaminsky, ‘Busted Blossoms’ (1986: Toby Peters)
Lawrence Block, ‘Out of the Window’ (1977: Matt Scudder)
John Lutz, ‘Ride The Lightning’ (1985: Alo Nudger)
Sue Grafton, ‘She Didn’t Come Home’ (1986: Kinsey Millhone)
Edward Gorman, ‘The Reason Why’ (1988: Jack Dwyer)
Stephen Greenleaf, ‘Iris’ (1984: John Marshall Tanner)
Bill Pronzini, ‘Skeleton Rattle Your Mouldy Leg’ (1985: Nameless Detective)
Marcia Muller, ‘The Broken Men’ (1985: Sharon McCone)
Arthur Lyons, ‘Trouble in Paradise’ (1985: Jacob Asch)
Max Allan Collins, ‘The Strawberry Teardrop’ (1984: Nate Heller)
Robert J. Randisi, ‘The Nickel Derby’ (1987: Henry Po)
Loren D. Estleman Greektown’ (1983: Amos Walker)

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