April 2013


A Review by Francis M. Nevins, Jr.:


JON L. BREEN – Listen for the Click. Walker & Co., hardcover, 1983. No paperback edition.

   There is a kind of detective novel set in a world of quiet gentility, a magical place without pain or grief or terror, a place where corpses don’t bleed and the emotions of the living are always under iron control. During the lulls in the plot a Nice Young Man and Nice Young Woman get together, and in the final chapter, preferably at a ritual gathering of the suspects, the Brilliant Detective effortlessly exposes the murderer.

JON L. BREEN Listen for the Click

   The current generic name for a book of this sort is the English Cozy, because there’s a myth that it’s always been the exclusive property of British writers. In fact, however, a number of well-known Americans too have specialized in it, and Earl Derr Biggers’ half dozen Charlie Chan novels (1925-1932) are models of the form.

   Jon L. Breen, an award-winning mystery reviewer, short-story writer, and Biggers devotee, has set his first detective novel on this turf . Amid an unobtrusive but knowingly sketched background of Southern California’s racing community, a jockey who had given many people potential murder motives is shot out of the saddle of a bronze horse statue on the lawn of a wealthy racing enthusiast’s widow.

   The nephew of this dotty and whodunit-fixated old lady is racetrack announcer Jerry Brogan, whom Breen casts in the dual role of Nice Young Man and Clever Amateur Sleuth: if he wasn’t sleeping with his Chicana girlfriend without benefit of a marriage license, he might have stepped straight out of a Biggers novel of the 1920s.

   Meanwhile, a suave con man and a shady private eye with literary ambitions launch a scheme to make Jerry’s aunt believe that they’re the Holmes and Watson of the west coast. In due course, after the underdog horse wins the big race, a Gathering of Suspects is arranged in the purest Charlie Chan movie tradition — “The murderer is in this room,” one of the small army of detective figures in the book intones solemnly — and all the clues are put in order.

   Breen combines quiet charm, gentle digs at several types of crime fiction, and a puzzle complete with such original touches as an over-obvious Big Secret that mutates into a huge joke and a clue hidden in the book’s title. It’s no Secretariat, but lovers of the soft-spoken whodunit will have a fine canter around the track with this thoroughbred.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 7, No. 3, May-June 1983.


      The Jerry Brogan series —

   Listen for the Click (n.) Walker, 1983.
   Triple Crown (n.) Walker, 1986.
   Loose Lips (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1990.
   Hot Air (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1991.
   Jerry Brogan and the Kilkenny Cats (ss) Murder Most Irish, ed. Ed Gorman, Larry Segriff & Martin H. Greenberg, Barnes & Noble 1996.

WINDY CITY PULP CONVENTION 2013 REPORT
by Walker Martin


   Once again the usual gang of veteran collectors rented a 12-seat van for the long trip to Chicago. I’m talking about our annual pilgrimage to the Windy City Pulp Convention which was held over the weekend of April 12-14, 2013. But three days were not enough for us so we left the morning of April 10 and arrived 14 hours later.

   We were to stay a total of five days eating meals together, some of us rooming together, competing against each other for books, magazines, artwork, and generally bumping heads, fighting, and insulting each other. You might wonder how five collectors could survive such an intense trip. I wonder about this also but somehow we managed to get through the ordeal of roaming through a gigantic room of 150 tables, most of them piled high with stacks of books, pulps, digests, slicks, pulp reprints, and artwork.

WALKER MARTIN Cover paintings

   I always sleep poorly at the pulp conventions and I guess I averaged 4 or 5 hours sleep each night. The rooms at the Westin Hotel are nice and the convention rate is really low each night, only $109 plus taxes. I would have stayed longer but everyone else had packed up their books and pulps and left. The first day we arose early and continued our practice of eating breakfast each morning at the Egg Harbor Cafe. We devour everything in sight and thus do not have to leave the dealer’s room for lunch and waste valuable time when we could be buying and selling books.

   Thursday we again visited The Doug Ellis and Deb Fulton Pulp Art Exhibit. They also happen to live in this art museum. We have visited the museum for three years in a row and this year we saw the new expansion. However, we got lost driving back to the hotel and spent a couple hours blaming each other for such stupidity, so this may be the end of the visits to the Art Exhibit.

   Friday was the official beginning of the festivities. Dealers were allowed in at 8:30 but since I had an “early bird” badge, I started to harass and bother the dealers at 9:30, thus beating the poor souls who had to wait until 11:00. Since I no longer need many pulps, I’m mainly interested in pulp art and cover paintings. I made my first buy at Bob Weinberg’s table. I’ve known Bob since the late 1960’s when we both lived in NJ and used to meet at the NYC SF conventions. Despite the news that he was having some health problems, he was at this table each day and walked around the dealer’s room.

   While I was talking to Bob, I noticed a cover painting by Brian Lewis for NEW WORLDS #84 (June 1959). I quickly snapped it up because I’ve recently been reading through my sets of NEW WORLDS and SCIENCE FANTASY because of the recent publication of three excellent books on these two British magazines edited by John Carnell. Written by John Boston and Damien Broderick the books are titled BUILDING NEW WORLDS and STRANGE HIGHWAYS. Both deal issue by issue with the stories, authors, and artwork.

WALKER MARTIN Cover paintings

   I then spent the rest of the convention buying original art. I’ve always wanted a GALAXY cover painting from the period when I started to read the magazine. I bought the cover for March 1955 by Mel Hunter. I also found a nice preliminary cover by Kelly Freas for ANALOG. Moving to other tables I manage to buy two Norman Saunders illustrations for the men’s adventure magazines. Unfortunately they do not depict such crazy scenes as Nazis partying with girls but then again I would not be able to afford such great art.

   Art dealer Fred Taraba had many interesting paintings but I managed to control my greed and addiction and limited myself to a nice painting showing a woman screaming in a library. Sort of reminds me of the typical reaction from the non-collecting spouse when they realize they have married a Book Collector! This painting is by Maurice Thomas and was used as the cover on a 10 cent Dell paperback, DEATH WALKS THE MARBLE HALLS by Lawrence Blochman. It also was reprinted in the NEW YORKER for August 19, 1996.

WALKER MARTIN Cover paintings

   I also found a nice illustration by Edd Cartier titled “Framed For Murder.” Somehow I’ve managed to accumulate five of these Cartier drawings over the years. One of biggest finds was a set of 20 illustrations by Lynd Ward, who was an early graphic novelist. My first greedy thought was to buy all 20 but since they were priced at $500 each, I started to hesitate and before I knew it paperback collector, Tom Lesser had clutched two of them. Then I decided to buy only five of them at a discounted price of $450 each. All 20 are from one of the greatest ghost story collections ever, THE HAUNTED OMNIBUS edited by Alexander Laing.

   But my biggest discovery was a large piece of art by Howard Wandrei. The brother of Donald Wandrei, Howard is known in pulp circles for his short stories written for such magazines as DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, SPICY DETECTIVE, WEIRD TALES, UNKNOWN, etc. However his real claim to fame may very well turn out to be his strange, unusual, and bizarre outsider art. I’ve been thinking about buying this piece, which is impossible to describe, for two years, ever since I first saw it at the 2011 Windy City.

   In addition to the fabulous dealer’s room, there also was a large art exhibit, mainly taken from the collections of Doug Ellis, Deb Fulton, and Bob Weinberg. There were a couple of panels discussing Sax Rohmer and Fu Manchu and Science Fiction and Bookselling. Unfortunately I was so busy partying, drinking and having a fine old time with my collector pals, that I missed the panels. As I’ve said before, one of the great things about Windy City and PulpFest are the friends and contacts that lead to long friendships and future deals.

WALKER MARTIN Cover paintings

   The film programming was handled by film expert, Ed Hulse and was of great interest. The serial DRUMS OF FU MANCHU was shown as well as several episodes from the great Boris Karloff THRILLER TV show. Ed also had the new issue of BLOOD N THUNDER magazine, which is a must buy for all magazine and film collectors. Check out his Murania Press website for news of upcoming publications.

   Actually I did find a major pulp want now that I think of it. I recently obtained the February 1933 BLACK MASK cover painting and was pleased to find the magazine in the dealer’s room. The auction this year was one of the best ever held by Windy City. Friday night saw over 200 lots sold from the estate of Jerry Weist. I just added up the amounts paid for the lots and the total was over $43,000 for Friday. The Saturday auction also was of interest. A complete set of PLANET STORIES in very nice shape was auctioned off in several lots. But the main magazine title was the many issues of ALL STORY(1905-1920). These issues brought the highest prices and many had Edgar Rice Burroughs stories.

   I’m closing in on a complete set of ALL STORY and need only 4 issues. Since many issues of this magazine are now over 100 years old, it is getting hard to find copies. But the auction had one of the four I needed, the July 7, 1917 issue. But I had to drop out when the bidding hit $950. Artwork is more interesting at that price and it’s difficult to justify paying hundreds for magazines. A friend of mine paid $900 for a pulp at the Frank Robinson auction and read it in about an hour. $900 for an hour’s reading? And I firmly believe these magazines should be read. I simply do not understand collectors who do not read but pay such high prices for issues.

WALKER MARTIN Cover paintings

   Jack Cullers provided me with some nostalgia. He found Rusty Hevelin’s copy of the June 12, 1972 St. Louis Globe-Democrat. In an article about the first Pulpcon, titled “Pulp magazine may fade, but never the memories” there is a photo of Edward Kessell, Rusy Hevelin, and Mrs Walker Martin, all looking at a Graves Gladney painting for THE SHADOW magazine. 41 years ago and I’m still at it!

   Doug Ellis told me Sunday afternoon that the attendance had reached a new high level of 488. Almost 500 attendees and a new record that the old Pulpcon never came near. In this day of electronic gadgets and e-books, that is quite an achievement. So there is hope for the collectors of books and magazines afterall.

   Monday morning the 5 of us, now known as The Publisher, The Collector, The Dealer, The Reader, and The Loser, piled into the van with hundreds of books, magazines, and artwork. Somehow we made it back to NJ despite one of us almost being arrested by a state trooper. It’s too strange a tale to tell.

   Next up? PulpFest in three months! Details at pulpfest.com. See you there…

[UPDATE] 04-19-13.   Thanks to pulp collector/dealer Dave Kurzman, some photos of the proceedings:

1. Long time pulp collector Digges La Touche sifting for nuggets while sitting on the floor.

WALKER MARTIN Windy City Pulp Show 2013

2. Ed Hulse and Walker Martin keeping a close eye on the traffic across the way:

WALKER MARTIN Windy City Pulp Show 2013

   For Ed’s own comprehensive commentary on the weekend’s activities, go here.

[UPDATE] 06-20-13. Here is a link that shows two pages of photos from Windy City. Mainly about the art but interesting just the same:

http://www.comicartfans.com/galleryroom.asp?gsub=144236

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


ROBERT SYLVESTER The Big Boodle

   Dated but fun is Robert Sylvester’s The Big Boodle (Random House, 1954; Permabook M-3022, 1955) set in pre-Castro Cuba and dealing with PI Ned Sherwood’s efforts to disentangle himself from an elaborate counterfeit scheme involving Mexican film stars, Cuban hit-men, ex-revolutionaries and corrupt officials.

   There’s a lot of foreshadowing in the early pages — so much that I nearly gave up on this after Sherwood said for the umpteenth time that he’s too smart to get mixed up in etc.etc — and I saw the plot resolution come marching down Main Street from a long ways away, but Sylvester creates some interesting characters, handles them effectively, and throws in enough action (also very well-handled) to make a worthwhile read. His hero also has a cute habit of comparing himself to Philip Marlowe, Nero Wolfe and other fictional PIs, sometimes very cleverly.

ROBERT SYLVESTER The Big Boodle

   This was, incidentally, turned into one of those lackluster films of Errol Flynn’s later years (UA, 1957) of which I am so morbidly fond. It offers some fine Cuban locations (Unlike We Were Strangers, reviewed here, Flynn appears to be actually filming in them.) and Pedro Armendarez appears once again as a cop, but aside from this it bears little relation to Sylvester’s work.

   Directed by Richard Wilson and written by Jo (House of the 7 Hawks) Eisinger, it changes Ned Sherwood into a world-weary croupier, handed a stack of counterfeit money by a mysterious femme you-guessed-it and subsequently beaten, shot at, picked up by the police and generally chased around Havana until they run out of picturesque locations, whereupon, having lumbered up to a respectable running time, things wrap up without too much fanfare.

ROBERT SYLVESTER The Big Boodle

   Critics at the time remarked that by now Flynn was good at looking world-weary, but he seems more movie-weary than anything, visibly sucking in his gut and trying to focus his bleary eyes as he reads lines to the other actors mired in front of him. And aside from the location shooting, little care seems to have been taken with The Big Boodle; in one fight scene, Flynn’s part is taken by a stunt double who looks so little like him that I actually re-wound to see if I’d missed a part where someone else comes into the room.

   This is must-see for fans of the late actor, but anyone else would be well-advised (as Flynn himself should have been) to steer clear of it.

ROBERT SYLVESTER The Big Boodle

RON GOULART – Big Bang. DAW, paperback original, 1982.

RON GOULART Big Bang

   If you go by the odds, they’re over a thousand to one that you’11 find this latest work by Ron Goulart, a wacky wordsmith in the tradition of no one but himself, over in the science fiction of your favorite B. Dalton Bookstore, and not in with the mysteries at all. If it were to come down to it, I guess that’s where I’d put it, too, but if you care for your detective-story reading served to you a la a combination of Craig Rice and Crazy Guggenheim, why not step across an aisle or two and give yourself a real treat?

   The proprietors of Odd Jobs, Inc., are Jake and Hildy Pace, who are assisted at times by their tipsy attorney, John J. Pilgrim, and an electronic eavesdropper named Steranko. Their specialties are cases “normaI agencies won’t go near, cases even our government has given up on.” The year is 2003, in case you were wondering, and the President are a pair of Siamese twins named Ike and Mike, joined together at the funny bone.

   The case is a fairly ordinary one, all things considered: a series of huge explosions is wiping out important world figures, as well as anyone else in the general vicinity. The Paces suspect stock manipulators at work, rather than your standard, every-day sort of terrorist type of person. Rex Sackler, Luther McGavock, Ed Jenkins, and Race Williams (among others) have already failed on the case. (Goulart is a notorious name-dropper, isn’t he?)

   His work is also filled with hilariously funny glimpses into today’s media-conscious society, stirred up thoroughly and served here as a fast-paced (extremely), no-nonsense (well, maybe just a little) detective novel. I mean, what other mystery story have you read recently that requires the use of a Captain Texas secret decoder device as an essential part of the solution?

    Rating:   B

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 7, No. 3, May-June 1983.


    The Jake & Hildy Pace series —

Odd Job No. 101, and other future crimes and intrigues (collection). Scribner, 1975.
Calling Dr. Patchwork. DAW, 1978.
Hail Hibbler. DAW, 1980.
Big Bang. DAW, 1983.
Brainz, Inc. DAW, 1985.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


ROBERT SYLVESTER We Were Strangers

   We Were Strangers (Signet #716, 1949) is an interesting book with an interesting story behind it. The author (Robert Sylvester) wrote the novel Rough Sketch (Dial Press, 1948), parts of which deal with the Cuban Revolution (referred to in To Have and Have Not) of the 1930s. Then when it was filmed as We Were Strangers he re-organized (but did not re-write) the chapters to conform to the movie. It might be fun some time to look up Rough Sketch and see how it differs, but for now Strangers offers entertainment enough.

ROBERT SYLVESTER We Were Strangers

   The story starts off unpromisingly — a result of the chapter-shuffling? — with an off-putting stretch about a bunch of sycophants spending a weekend on a rich man’s island, but after about 50 pages things shift radically to the Cuban thing, with some really fine background, interesting characters (including a tough street girl named China Valdes) and details of a regime so casually brutal as to seem all the more chilling — embodied in Ariete, a murderous cop and one of the Great Bad Guys of Literature. Really. Every time you see him even referred to in the book, somebody dies or disappears, and the scenes where he stalks the Valdes girl are like something out of Night of the Hunter.

   This gradually morphs into a plot to kill the dictator, engineered by Tony Fenner, a Cuban-American hustler who appeared in other work by Sylvester. We get some taut business with clandestine meetings, phony deals, and a lot of sweaty work as the conspirators dig a tunnel to plant a bomb. It’s good stuff, intercut with scenes of Ariete harassing China Valdes as he closes in on them, all culminating in an ironic conclusion that… that would be spoiling things to reveal. Suffice it to say it’s a suspenseful and emotionally riveting ride.

ROBERT SYLVESTER We Were Strangers

   But the end of the story isn’t the end of the book, which moves on to a rather unexpected and haunting conclusion. Suddenly the characters get caught up in real life, with truly poignant results. And I have to say that when I think back on Strangers, I’m going to remember this ending and the bittersweet feel Sylvester imparts to it as the characters realize that the life-and-death struggle that brought them so close is now just a finished chapter in a story that has to move on.

   Like I said, there was a movie made of this (Columbia, 1949) and I can see why the themes of struggle and irony in Rough Sketch appealed to John Huston, who directed and co-wrote the film We Were Strangers.

ROBERT SYLVESTER We Were Strangers

   Huston wisely jettisoned the sycophants on the island and (less wisely) replaced the sadder-but-wiser ending of the book with a blood-and-guts shoot-out. But his sure hand at directing the actors and action got severely undercut by budget constraints, or possibly just laziness; the stars never appear on any authentic Cuban locations, but only in unconvincing back-projection shots that make the whole thing look phony as a fast shuffle.

   If you can get past that (and I couldn’t) the rest of the film has its moments. There are fine turns by Pedro Armendariz as Ariete, and Gilbert Roland in a supporting role that he credited with reviving his career. Jennifer Jones would probably be convincing as China Valdes if you could forget that she’s Jennifer Jones, but John Garfield just looks tired and bloated—perhaps understandable since he died just three years later. In all, I’d say We Were Strangers may be well-intentioned, but we know where the road paved with Good Intentions goes, don’t we?

ROBERT SYLVESTER We Were Strangers

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


PARIS 7000. ABC, 1970; Universal Television. Created by Richard J. Michaels and Gene L. Coon. Executive Producer: Richard Caffey. Cast: George Hamilton as Jack Brennan and Jacques Aubuchon as Lt. Jules Maurois. Theme by Michel Colombier.

paris 7000 George hamilton

   The story of PARIS 7000 began with Lana Turner and Harold Robbins. In September 1969 ABC premiered a PEYTON PLACE wannabe called THE SURVIVORS on Monday at 9pm. Based on an idea by Harold Robbins and starring Lana Turner, Kevin McCartney and George Hamilton, the series had a budget of $250,000 episode. ABC had given Universal TV a commitment for 26 episodes.

   The series was a failure on every level. After its premiere the ratings were bad. The reviews were negative. There were production problems including personality clashes with star Lana Turner that reportedly got three producers fired.

   The November 10, 1969 issue of “Broadcasting” reported ABC’s midseason plans. THE SURVIVORS would move to Thursday at 10pm.

   A week later “Broadcasting” added, “ABC, committed to full season of THE SURVIVORS from Universal TV despite weak ratings and disastrous reviews, is expected to announce drastic change in format for series starting at midseason. Reportedly key ingredient to be held over would be series co-star George Hamilton. Lana Turner and Kevin McCarthy will be dropped.”

   On December 8, 1969, “Broadcasting” reported that the producers and Hamilton would move from THE SURVIVORS to a completely new program.

   That new program was PARIS 7000. George Hamilton played Jack Brennan, a diplomat working at the American embassy in Paris. Any American in trouble would call the embassy’s phone number Paris 7000 and Brennan would come to their aid. The series was called an action drama but the episode I have seen (“Call Me Ellen”) was a mystery sadly burdened by its soap opera melodrama beginnings.

   PARIS 7000 first aired January 22, 1970 on ABC opposite CBS THURSDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES and NBC’s DEAN MARTIN SHOW. Ratings were better than its parent THE SURVIVORS, but the show was cancelled at the end of the season.

   “Call Me Ellen” was the tenth episode and was a return to an earlier episode, “Call Me Lee” (episode three that aired February 5, 1970).

   TV Guide‘s Cleveland Amory review of PARIS 7000 mentioned the episode “Call Me Lee”:

      http://www.chezgrae.com/ShowInfo/Paris7000.html

paris 7000 George hamilton

   The original episode had Jack fall in love with Leona (Lee), a blonde stewardess played by Barbara Anderson. Leona would die and her role in a smuggling ring would be revealed. Brennan would identify her body.

   Seven episodes later and the series final episode, “Call Me Ellen” would feature a surprising twist to Leona’s story. Considering the series soap opera past I wonder if Jack’s mourning over the death of Leona had been a running subplot. Even if not this was a creative twist on the BONANZA curse, the death of a female love interest of the week so the regular character could continue to fall in love in future episodes.

“Call Me Ellen.” March 26,1970. Written by Richard Bluel; directed by Jeannot Szwarc. Produced by Harry Tatelman. Guest Cast: Barbara Anderson, Paul Henreid and Brenda Benet. *** While making his monthly visit to San Remo and the grave of the woman he still loves, Jack sees her double getting into a taxi.

   Despite Jack seeing the brunette version of blonde Leona leaving a graveyard, Barbara Anderson looked too good to be a zombie, so who was she?

   The acting makes one think of zombies, and to push the edge of bad acting even further there were endless flashbacks and characters silently staring off to nowhere as they were supposedly lost in memories and/or deep in thought.

   But the most unforgivable flaw of PARIS 7000 was the over the top melodrama left over from its THE SURVIVORS roots. Jack stared at Leona’s headstone silently lost in his memories and/or deep in thought, a huge Christian cross loomed behind him, as we listened to Barbara Anderson voice over, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my Jack to keep. If I should die before I wake. Remember me. Remember me.”

   Jack confronted the brunette who says she knows nothing about Leona. Her name was Ellen. She ran a local hotel and was a single mother of a young handicapped boy who after many expensive operations would soon be able to walk. Jack, who still hadn’t accepted Leona’s death, now had his hopes or confusion rise (it was hard to tell which). He checked into the hotel and began to seduce the beautiful widow and mom.

   Meanwhile, a bad guy, who had been following Jack all the way from Paris, called his Boss and told him that Jack had found her. The Boss tells his henchman to kill the woman.

   Who this woman was and what her secrets were would have made an interesting TV mystery, but the flawed script made it difficult to tell the difference between a clue (the son) and a plot hole (why was she at the graveyard). In addition, the melodrama of the romance overwhelmed the story in typical bad TV fashion. Jack and Ellen fell in love. She became upset because he was in love with Leona not her, Ellen. But of course she couldn’t resist the romantic powers of George Hamilton and sacrificed it all for him in the end.

   PARIS 7000 never had much of a chance of surviving. Most likely it was considered the simplest alternative to fill the twenty-six episodes order of THE SURVIVORS (which lasted fifteen episodes). The lack of time to develop a series remains a common cause of bad TV. This May next fall’s TV series will be announced, that gives the producers around four months (plus the time spent on the pilot) to find out what works and what doesn’t. There was less than two months from when ABC’s decided not to change THE SURVIVORS but to instead create a new series with new characters and when the first episode PARIS 7000 aired. It is a wonder this wasn’t worse.

   If the series had toned down the soap opera melodrama a notch to romantic suspense this series might have been watchable. But considering its past, the results are understandable.

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts


JAMES R. BENN – Billy Boyle. Soho Press, hardcover, 2006; softcover,2007.

JAMES BENN Billy Boyle

Genre:   Historical mystery. Leading character:   Billy Boyle, 1st in series. Setting:   England; 1942/World War II.

First Sentence:   I typed the date under my name: Lieutenant William Boyle, August 6, 1942.

   Former Boston Irish Cop, from a family of Boston Irish Cops, Billy Boyle was a newly-made detective and is now a Lieutenant in the US Army. In spite of thinking he wouldn’t be assigned to Europe, his distant cousin manages to get him a staff job — in England assigned to the staff of General Dwight D. Eisenhower as his personal investigator. His first assignment is to catch a spy who may have been planted at Beardsley Hall, English home for the exiled Norwegian government.

   There are eight primary elements for which I look when starting any new book and Benn really managed to tick all the boxes. Let’s start with “hook”. The book has an excellent opening with a style that addresses the reader in a let-me-tell-you-a-story style. His voice is engaging and humor, natural. There is also an honesty in the way he writes emotion.

   Benn establishes a solid sense of place. Admittedly, the descriptions of London and Boston may have resonated more strongly with me than they may for others as I know both places. However, even when he moved the story away from those locations, there was always a clear feeling for the location.

   The characters are fully drawn. Billy is the focus and the voice, but even with Kas, the Polish baron, and Daphne, proper English daughter of a knight, you know their backgrounds and who they are.

   One of the most interesting aspects is Billy’s perspective on the war, as an American amongst the English and Norwegians. I particularly appreciated the way in which Benn intertwined the events of Billy’s present with memories from his past, as well as his understanding of people and level of caring.

   There is a lot of fascinating historical detail embedded within the plot, much of which I had never known. Still, it is a mystery and I enjoyed Billy taking control of his first crime scene which also provided interesting information on forensics.

   Billy Boyle was an absolutely treat to read. Although I wonder why I hadn’t discovered him sooner, I’m delighted to know there is a whole series ahead of me.

Rating:   Very Good Plus.

       The Billy Boyle World War II mystery series —

1. Billy Boyle (2006)
2. The First Wave (2007)

JAMES BENN Billy Boyle

3. Blood Alone (2008)
4. Evil for Evil (2009)
5. Rag and Bone (2010)
6. A Mortal Terror (2011)
7. Death’s Door (2012)
8. A Blind Goddess (2013)

THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


ERIC AMBLER The Dark Frontier

ERIC AMBLER – The Dark Frontier. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1936. Mysterious Press, US, hardcover, 1990; reprint paperback, 1991.

   Eric Ambler’s first novel, The Dark Frontier from 1936, has taken until now to find a publisher in this country: Mysterious Press. Ambler argues fervently in his contemporary introduction that this is parody, and in truth it was hard for me for much of the narrative to regard it as anything else, till at last the story drew me in.

   But I wonder if a youthful Ambler thought at the time it was parody he was writing. In any event, a tiny Balkan kingdom, Ixania, is full of starving peasants and little else — except a brilliant scientist who has invented something that might be used for great good or evil, something that sounds a good bit like atomic energy.

   An earnest academic, Professor Barstow, is somehow transformed into the intrepid agent Conway Carruthers, who is determined to save an unready mankind by obliterating all record of the invention. Others, of course, have rather different things in mind for it.

   This story is not persuasive for the first half and not particularly memorable of character or plot throughout, but it’s a pleasant enough diversion and good to have to complete the Ambler oeuvre in the U.S.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 13, No. 1, Winter 1991.

NOTES ON RECENT READING: About the Mystery
by Marvin Lachman.


   I really wanted to like THE POETICS OF MURDER (1983), edited by Glenn W. Most and William W. Stowe, an Edgar-nominated collection of essays from Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich in hardcover and trade paperback. Good writing about mystery is always in short supply. Unfortunately, this is an anthology of pretentious essays, written from an academic viewpoint, and boring as hell.

   One essay argues that the “…intense curiosity aroused by the detective story derives from its association with the primal scene, a psychoanalytic term reference to a child’s first observation, either real or imagined, of sexual intercourse between his or her parents.” Other essays deal wih “The Detective Novel and Its Social Mission;” “Delay and the Hermenautic Sentence;” “From Semiotics to Heremneutics: Modes of Detection in Doyle and Chandler;” “Metaphysical Detective Stories in Postwar Fiction.”

   An East German writer, Ernst Kaemmel, claims that the detective story is the child of capitalism, its crimes involve attacks on private property. He celebrates the absence of detective stories in Socialist countries but has missed the main reason. It is that the idea of finding truth, so essential to the detedcteive story as we know it, was not accepted in Nazi Germany, nor currently in East Germany or the USSR.

   Professor David Grossvogel, reasoning along similar lines, finds the detective story bad because, by providing fictional mysteries to solve, it distracts readers from the real mysteries (and problems) of life. I wonder what, if anything, Professor Grossvogel does for escape.

   In POETICS OF MURDER mysteries are repeatedly compared to “literature.” Opinions are tossed off, as if sacred, with no explanation, e,g., “Certain works are easily rejected, however. I have trouble reading Edgar Wallace and Ellery Queen, though I have tried several times.” Almost every article has a publish or perish quality to it, with never a feel for the fun in reading the mystery.

   Now, if you want a really good book of essays about mystery fiction, pick Howard Haycraft’s classic THE ART OF THE MYSTERY STORY (1946), just reprinted in trade paperback by Carroll & Graf. The editor and his contributors are just as erudite and insightful, but they have written for people who read and love mysteries, and the differences show both in quality and variety.

   We have serious but non-pedantic, pieces by Chesterton, Chandler, Knox, Gardner, Sandoe, Carr, and many others. There’s also humor, including Rex Stout poking his tongue in his cheek to prove that Watson was a woman. We have Edmund Wilson deriding the form, “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd” and its proponents, writers like Nicholas Blake, Anthony Boucher, and Joseph Wood Krutch, giving a different viewpoint.

   There are lists of great books, classic introductions by Sayers and Van Dine, reviews by Dashiell Hammett, etc. If ever an anthology deserved to be called “great,” THE ART OF THE MYSTERY STORY does.

   However, one need not go back to 1946 to find a good book about the mystery. A fine recent book is THE CRAFT OF CRIME (1983) by John C. Carr from Houghton, Mifflin in hardcover. Carr provides interviews with twelve of the most popular mystery writers around and by adroit questioning and selection of articulae subjects, he has given us an interesting book which also increases our knowledge of the field.

   The writers selected are Kendell, Lovesey, McBain, Francis,Langton, Gregory Mcdonald, Mark Smith, Robert B. Parker, Van de Watering, June Thomson, McClure, and Lathen. Mr. Carr is a good questioner with only occasional lapses when he is in too obvious awe of his subject. Otherwise, the Q and A technique works quite well, with the exception of a bias against William Faulkner which Carr betrays in several questions.

   Most of the time we get probing questions which permit these writers to demonstrate how interesting and witty they are. There are differences in quality as is inevitable in a collection of this type, but not a bad interview in the lot. My favorites are those with Parker and the two women who write as as Emma Lathen.

   Parker has some trenchant things to say about academic life which he was able to leave in 1979 for full-time writing. His description of his priorities in life make us feel as if we really know him, though I’m not sure about liking him. Parker provides a neat summary of the difference between old-style mysteries and the kind he writes, claiming that the world is “no longer amenable to logical deduction.”

   He’s probably right in that regard, but he misses the point that it is exactly for that reason that many of us look for escape reading in which intellect does triumph. As long as writers write (and the public buys) mysteries like Parker’s which are often resolved by fist fights or gun battles, rather than by brains, we shall have a case of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

— Reprinted from The Poisoned Pen, Vol. 6, No. 2, Winter 1984/85.


Walter Albert Reviews FOUR B-FILMS
from Cinevent 30 (May 1998)


   Meet Boston Blackie (Columbia, 1941) was a zippy 60 minutes, with the crisp direction of Robert Florey making the difference here. Rochelle Hudson was a luscious treat as the female lead, and Chester Morris and Richard Lane sparred amiably as Blackie and his sympathetic nemesis, Inspector Faraday.

   Even better was Raffles (Hyclass Producing Co., 1917; George Irving, director). John Barrymore was a charming and stylish Amateur Cracksman, his performance fully justifying the curtain line delivered by the detective: “I’m delighted he’s escaped! He’s really splendid!” (Frank Morgan plays Raffles’ friend, Bunny Manders, an early appearance for the future MGM contract player.)

   As Meet Boston Blackie demonstrated, B-films can be the most enjoyable and dependable of film viewings. I was. therefore, depressed by the lackluster Mr. Moto Takes a Chance (2Oth Century Fox, 1938) and by the dreadful The Lone Wolf Strikes (Columbla, 1940).

   Peter Lorre couldn’t salvage the back-lot jungle melodrama of the Moto film, and Warren William, Eric Blore and Montagu Love brought only momentary life to the Lone Wolf’s dead-at-the-starting-gate caper. The pacing of the Lone Wolf film was funereal, and I am convinced that the director (Sidney Salkow) told his actors to count to three before delivering a line.

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