August 2012

The surgery of week before last went well, but I had a step backward yesterday. Not a big deal, according to my doctor, but I’ll have to slow down for a few days. I’ve been thinking about this. I’m going to take his advice — that goes without saying — and go a step further and stop posting here until after Labor Day.

I’ve taken an End of Summer break before. It’s always good to take some time off to deal with things that haven’t managed to get done over the summer — nothing too physical this time! — and that’s what I’ll be doing over the next few days.

Best wishes to those of you in the path of Hurricane Isaac. I’ll be watching news reports and thinking about you. Stay safe!

[UPDATE] 08-30-12. Thanks for all the get well notes, especially Randy’s, which gave me a much needed smile yesterday.

I’m on the mend at last, but I still have to take it easy for a few more days.

There is a post on the EQMM site that I’d like to call your attention to, especially if you’re a pulp fan and Black Mask magazine in particular. It’s written by Keith Alan Deutsch and it’s entitled “Black Mask Magazine, Steve Fisher, and The Noir Revolution.” In it he gives a small salute to Fanny Ellsworth, the editor of the magazine who took over from much more well known Joseph Shaw in 1936.

The changes she made to the magazine have never been given much attention before, and the article is well worth your reading:


CHARTER PILOT. 20th Century Fox, 1940. Lloyd Nolan, Lynn Bari, Arleen Whelan, George Montgomery, Hobart Cavanaugh, Henry Victor, Etta McDaniel. Director: Eugene Forde.

   In spite of the fact that a couple of my favorite B-movie stars are in this one, I found myself disappointed for most of the movie’s running time.

   The opening scene showed some promise. Lynn Bari is the scriptwriter for a radio show based on the fictional exploits of air ace King Morgan, played by Lloyd Nolan. In reality, and far from fiction, Morgan is indeed a pilot, but for a commercial airline whose more prosaic tasks include bringing a load of soft-shelled crabs up from Galveston to LA.


   OK. So far, so good, but it turns out that there are romantic complications between the two, and for maybe next 50 minutes or so the movie turns into a comedy of most mundane proportions. He proposes, she refuses until he gives up flying, he gives up flying and goes to work behind a desk, which doesn’t work, in great detail which I shan’t bore you with, but if you were expecting a comedy, you might find this portion of the film amusing, if not out and out funny.


   It also turns out, though, eventually, that there is a bad guy in the background, and the next to final scene, with King Morgan and aforesaid bad guy kicking, wrestling and fist-fighting in the cramped space of a cockpit of a small airplane over the jungles of Honduras, with Lynn Bari screaming behind the controls while live on the air – well, at last the film was worth the money I paid to see it. On a homemade DVD, of course, as almost goes without saying.

   Lynn Bari, of course, is as beautiful as ever, and Lloyd Nolan, while far from beautiful, is, as usual, one of the finer actors ever to be a B-movie star. Watching him rehearse his prepared proposal speech, while working out a whole gamut of ways to present his lines, is like attending a master class in acting, and he does it with ease.


Allen J. Hubin

J. P. HAILEY – The Baxter Trust. Donald I. Fine, hardcover, 1988; Lynx, paperback, 1989.


   J. P. Hailey, “a pseudonym for a bestselling author of crime novels featuring a well-known detective,” introduces Steve Winslow in The Baxter Trust. Winslow is an intriguing chap, and his excellent debut has given me a thirst for more.

   He’s a failed actor who went to law school, passed the bar, joined a conservative law firm, and was immediately fired for his unconservative tactics. Now he advertises his freelance legal services (takers in one year = 0) while driving a cab for a living.

   Until Sheila Benton calls. She’s been charged with murder and picked Winslow (trial experience = 0) out of the yellow pages. Trouble is the D.A. has an ironclad case. And Sheila lies to everyone (including Steve).

   And Sheila has no way to pay Steve: the twenty million dollar trust she’s scheduled to inherit in eleven years won’t allow payments to defend her, and if her various peccadilloes were to become known (as they are almost certain to), she’ll be disinherited anyway.

   Lovely case for Winslow to get his law practice started on. A fresh and polished narrative.

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

Editorial Comments:   My review of The Anonymous Client, the second in the series, can be found here. (I agree wholeheartedly with Al’s assessment.) Included with that review is a complete list of the books in the series, along with the ID of the author’s real name, Parnell Hall, apparently unknown at the time of Al’s comments.

DARK SHADOWS 1991 Revival

DARK SHADOWS. NBC; January 13-14 1991. Premiere of TV series: 4-hour mini-series. Ben Cross, Joanna Going, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jim Fyfe, Barbara Steele, Ron Thinnes, Barbara Blackburn, Jean Simmons. Director: Dan Curtis.

   Part Two of the continuing saga of Barnabas Collins, the 200-year-old vampire whose release from a coffin chains means dire things for the village of Collinsport, Maine. I only occasionally watched the previous TV serial, not making much heads or tails of it when it was on originally. Picking the story up in the middle tends to do that to you.

   Coincidentally, if you remember reading my review of Barbara Hambly’s SF-Fantasy novel, Those Who Hunt the Night, which was posted here on this blog a short while ago, you will recall that the basic premise is the same: that vampirism is a blood disorder that might be curable. Ben Cross plays Barnabas to the hilt, agonized and tortured (and possibly sensuous, but I have seen anything romantic about vampires), while former Italian horror movie starlet Barbara Steele is Dr. Julia Hoffman, the physician who thinks she can cure him. (It looks as though she speaks through clenched teeth.)

DARK SHADOWS 1991 Revival

   The other major plot thread (there are a few other minor ones, mostly of sexual affairs and liaisons yet to come) is the budding romance between Barnabas and the new governess to the mansion, Victoria Winters, played by Joanna Going, who is beautiful, innocent and charming.

   There is a lot of blood — “Where did it all go? If she lost all that blood, where did it go?” — there is at least one stake to the heart, lots of moody atmosphere — caused by lots of fog — and spooky music. Or in other words, the works.

DARK SHADOWS 1991 Revival

   If released as a theatrical movie, this new series would probably be given a PG rating, but it’s not impossible it would be given a PG-13. This may be why, when the series itself started [the following week], it was switched at the last moment to ten o’clock instead of nine. Which is why I missed it, and so (missing an episode) why I probably won’t be watching it on a continuing basis.

   (Network shows are losing viewers left and right, and it’s really no wonder, when you consider that with all the stunting around, no one knows when anything is on for sure.)

   A brief word on the behalf of Jim Fyfe, who plays the semi-demented handyman Willie Loomis. You have never seen a more perfect example of small-town inbreeding, straight from an H. P. Lovecraft novel, perhaps.

   By the way, in case you’re interested, the mini-series is not complete in itself. If the people in charge have their way, the series may never end. I enjoyed it for the two nights it was on, and I may sample the series now and then, but for now, it simply left me — shall I say it? — hanging.

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

DARK SHADOWS 1991 Revival

[UPDATE] 08-25-12. I have been trying to match up the comments I wrote at the time with the episode list found on IMDB. I think what NBC did was to show the two-hour pilot on January 13th, then combined episodes #2 and 3 and aired them on January 14th.

   The series itself began on January 18th. Interest in the series seems to have faded quickly. There were only 12 episodes in all, including the three that were shown as part of this introductory mini-series. The final one was shown on March 22, 1991.


MURDER ON THE CAMPUS. Chesterfield Pictures, 1933. Shirley Grey, Charles Starrett, J. Farrell MacDonald, Ruth Hall, Dewey Robinson, Maurice Black, Edward Van Sloan, Richard Catlett. Based on the novel The Campanile Murders, by Whitman Chambers (Appleton, 1933). Director: Richard Thorpe.

   Obviously a change in title from the book to the film was in order, since I’m sure that not one person in a thousand knows what a “campanile” is, then or now. Though you could look it up on your own, what it is, is a bell tower, such as commonly found on college and university campuses. And the significance of that is, is that is where the body of a student is found, shot to death in the temple with the wrong hand.

   What makes this otherwise ho-hum of a mystery interesting is that he was the only one at the top of the building. He was playing the carillon when the music suddenly stopped, and a shot rang out. No one is seen leaving the tower. The only door at the base was watched by a throng of students. No one is found in the tower, either. The building is too high and too far out of range for a bullet to have killed him from outside. It is definitely murder, though. There is no gun in the building, and there are no powder marks on the body.

   The detective in charge of the case, Police Captain Kyne (J. Farrell MacDonald), a grizzled veteran of the force who doesn’t seem to mind brash young reporter Bill Bartlett (Charles Starrett, boyishly handsome and long before he became the Durango Kid) tagging along as he randomly interrogates suspects and hunts for clues.


   Bartlett has his own reasons for keeping an close eye on him. Besides getting the scoop for his paper, he’s in love with one of the chief suspects, Lillian Voyne (Shirley Grey). The latter is not only a student at the school (unnamed, unless I missed it) but she’s also a singer at a local night club. Strangely enough, she’s seen studying for a chem exam for all of two minutes in the movie and not singing once at all, not for an instant. I don’t know why, but I found myself disappointed.

   The school does have a chem lab where professor C. Edson Hawley (Edward Van Sloan) hangs out, but as for classrooms, I don’t remember seeing a one, even though the students there have an awfully good feeling about themselves. The dead student, it seems, was not doing well in his course work, failed to meet expectations as a member of the track team he was recruited for, and according to head of the fraternity house where he lived, “he lacked the cultural background a college man should have.”


   Which is an attitude beside the point, I suppose, or it is? But I have not forgotten about the locked room aspect of the murder, along with the mysterious fact that the gun that used to commit the crime was somewhere else at the time.

   The gimmick, as I would readily agree to call it, is a good one, and it would be even better if the investigation conducted by both of the separate parties (police and reporter) made more sense.

   What I really like to do is to read the book and say that the original author did a much better job with it. I have a strong feeling that he did, but the fact is I don’t own a copy, nor is there one offered for sale right now by anyone on the Internet.


  KENNETH FOWLER – Jackals’ Gold. Doubleday, hardcover, 1980. Dell, reprint paperback, June 1981.

   I have a few of Fowler’s westerns in paperback, but until I started to do some research about him before writing this review, I did not realize how even more prolific he was writing short stories for the pulps in the 1940s, mostly for titles such as Dime Western, Star Western, New Western, .44 Western, and so on. Of special note in that regard, he was the editor for the first two of these magazines between 1944 and 1946.

   He seems to have written only ten western novels, though, two under the pen name Clark Brooker. The first was Outcast of Murder Mesa, a Gold Medal paperback original under his own name in 1954. Jackals’ Gold was his final novel, published when he was 80, though perhaps it was written earlier, as there is no sign of age at the helm of the rough and tumble western adventure it is.


   It begins as the story of Rachel Carr, who poses as the widow of Brad Gamble, a prospector who hit it rich then died, leaving his wife a small fortune in gold. Unknown to her, however, is that the dead man had two partners, two men whom he pulled a fast one on, and two men who want the gold back.

   Gold, according to the author — and who am I to disagree? — does strange things to people. Added to the mix are several other mysterious riders who follow Rachel and her two “guardians” as they head back to Salt Lake City in a small wagon, or who sniff out their hidden cache along the way.

   It’s a tough trip, and Fowler tells it well, even as the major point of view changes to that of Caine Joritt, one of the dead man’s two former partners — see above — who finds himself keeping a much closer eye on Rachel than he expected. Fist fights, gun shots in the night, crashing rivers and sudden violent death are the order of the day, with little to no dialogue to slow things down even an inch in most of the book’s final eighty pages. Good stuff, and interesting characters, too.

KATHLEEN MOORE KNIGHT – Terror by Twilight. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1942.

CRIME CLUB Doubleday

   A little background first [keeping in mind that this review was first written in 1991]. Doubleday has been publishing “Crime Club” mysteries since 1928, and they’re still producing them [as of] today, making them the longest running line of books published under one specialized logo by any one publisher.

   Several years ago I attempted the rather foolhardy task of collecting them all. (At three or four a month for well over 60 years, that’s several thousand books.) I was doing pretty well when I began to lose interest — too many titles and authors I realized I never intended to read — and I began to break up the collection I had at its peak.

   I still have a large portion of the ones I’d managed to accumulate, but the Edgar Wallace’s are gone, to pick one significant example, but everything I intended to read, I kept, and every once in a while I do, as you’ve seen in these pages, and will again.

   But my good friend Ellen Nehr has decided to do something even more foolhardy, and that’s to write a book that will list and annotate all of the Crime Club ever published over the years. We were talking about it over the phone the other night, discussing authors and so on — I think we’ve decided that Aaron Marc Stein (aka George Bagby) [may have] had the most books published in the line, and that Leslie Charteris’s books were published over the longest span of time — and we began to bring up other authors who must have been very popular in their day, and who are all but forgotten today.

   Which is a long introduction to Terror by Twilight, by Kathleen Moore Knight, and how I recently happened to pick this one out to read. It’s the third of four Margot Blair books — Knight had other series and other characters as well, over 30 books in all — and I think it’s a prime example of a “second tier” detective puzzler, from back in the days when the puzzle was the primary reason of existence for mystery stories. The Golden Age, if you will.

CRIME CLUB Doubleday

   Margot Blair was a partner in the public relations firm of Norman and Blair, unmarried, and in her late 30s. In the course of her job, working for specific clients, she apparently ran into murder on several occasions, and the firm began to act more and more as personal inquiry agents, if not private detectives.

   In this particular case, she has been hired to buy clothes for a wealthy man’s granddaughter, which she’s been doing for over a period of several years, but never meeting the girl in person until shortly after the man’s death.

   The reason the girl has been so carefully sequestered is that she has been suspected of homicidal tendencies, going into almost trance-like states and waking to find small pets killed or other children attacked.

   And when her grandfather is discovered to have been poisoned, suspicion immediately points to her. Luckily Margot is on the scene — in a house crowded with other suspects — and she does not believe for a minute that her client is guilty.

   Lots of suspects, lots of motive, lots of hidden agendas, and they all have to be sorted out. This is all the novel consists of. The only characterization is that which is needed to keep the story going. The puzzle is everything, and I have to confess that Kathleen Moore Knight fooled me rather badly. It’s not exactly fair-play detection — what Margot learns on page 270 is kept from the reader until much later, for example — but there are plenty of other indications as to the killer’s identity before then, and I still didn’t catch on.

   Barzun & Taylor continue to amaze me. They call the Knight stories “feminine” and Margot Blair “featureless,” with no other indication they might actually have read one of them. After the “front tier” of Christie, Queen and John Dickson Carr, there were many detective writers of the 30s and 40s who are still very much readable today, and Kathleen Moore Knight is one I’m glad to recommend to you. It’s too bad that only Ellen and I ever read her any more.

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

[UPDATE] 08-23-12.   It was quite a task, but Ellen persevered and the book I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Doubleday Crime Club Compendium 1928-1991, was published in hardcover by Offspring Press in 1992. Over 700 pages long, it also included several pages in color of some of the best of the covers. For more, read J. F. Norris’s fine review of the book here on his blog.

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