December 2013


REVIEWED BY GEOFF BRADLEY:         


HARRY STEPHEN KEELER The Affair of the Bottled Deuce

HARRY STEPHEN KEELER – The Affair of the Bottled Deuce. Ramble House, 2005.

   I’ve read half-a-dozen Keelers with generally pleasing results, but this is the first Ramble House original I’ve read. This was written in 1958 but was unable to find a publisher until Fender Tucker embarked on his project to release all the Keeler in existence.

   Reading it one can see why. This is particularly slow moving — a body found shot in a locked room is reported to the police on the first page of the book, but it’s not until some 50 pages later that the police arrive, and it’s even later when they realise that the gun in the supposed suicide victim’s hand is actually made of wax.

   So it’s a locked room mystery with several of Keeler’s trademarks — the usual will, the magic tricks — but ultimately the good bits — and there were several — didn’t quite outnumber the bad bits (as has been the case in other Keelers I have read). And even the locked room answer was a little disappointing, at least to readers who know their Sherlock Holmes.

   Will I be reading more Keeler after this? Of course I will.

No, not this blog’s anniversary. I missed that a couple of days ago. This blog’s first post appeared seven years ago, on December 28th, 2006. That seems like a long time ago.

But that’s nothing in comparison to the fact that my wife Judy and I were married on this date in 1964, some 49 years ago. I remember being just a little nervous that I would botch up my lines, the few there were, but I didn’t. I certainly couldn’t imagine what the future had in store for us — some ups and downs, that’s for sure — more ups than downs, to tell you the truth, a whole lot more — and here we are, almost a half century later, and still each other’s best friend, and more.

       A Ballade of Detection

Savants there be who joy to read
    Of lofty themes in words that glow;
Others prefer the poet’s screed
    Where liquid numbers softly flow.
    Others in Balzac interest show,
Or by Dumas are much impressed;
    Some seek grim novels of woe–
    I like Detective Stories best

To my mind nothing can exceed
    The tales of Edgar Allan Poe;
Of Anna Katharine Green I’ve need,
    Du Boisgobey, Gaboriau;
    I’ve Conan Doyle’s works all a-row
And Ottolengui and the rest;
    How other books seem tame and slow!
I like Detective Stories best.

The dim, elusive clues mislead.
    Hiding the mystery below;
To fearful pitch my mind is keyed,
    Opinion shuttles to and fro!
    Successive shocks I undergo
Ere the solution may be guessed;
    Arguments and discussions grow–
I like Detective Stories best.

          ENVOY:

Sherlock, thy subtle powers I know,
    Spirit , incarnate quest,
To thee the laurel wreath I throw—
    I like Detective Stories best.

            — Carolyn Wells

NOTE: Reprinted from The Bookman, March 1902. Thanks to Victor Berch for unearthing this poem and sending it along to be posted here.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


BERT & DOLORES HITCHENS – F. O. B. Murder. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1955. Permabook M-3051, paperback, 1956.

BERT & DOLORES HITCHEND F. O. B. Murder

   For those readers who enjoy police procedurals and others who just enjoy good books, this first novel by the combined Hitchens is recommended.

   David McKechnie and Collins (whose first name I missed, if it was ever mentioned) are investigators for an unnamed railroad. Collins is of mixed Irish and Mexican parentage. McKechnie is described as Black Irish, which, for those like me who might be baffled by the term — I went through a lot of books before I discovered its meaning — is an Irishman who has lost his Faith and is a solitary and brooding man. McKechnie, under that definition, would be more Grey Irish, in my opinion, but let it go.

   Collins specializes in stolen-or-missing-baggage cases. He is just beginning an investigation of the disappearance of two pieces of luggage belonging to a very strange woman when he discovers a terrified wetback locked In a reefer (refrigerator car) and near death.

   McKechnie meanwhile is checking on some whiskey stolen from a boxcar and then is drawn into the case of a man who everyone thought was a hobo who had died from, apparently, a fall from a boxcar. The death had been dismissed as an accident. The hobo, however, turns out to own half a uranium mine (backward reels the mind), and the FBI is also interesting itself in the incident. Another death, possibly in connection with the whiskey thefts, comes later.

   Not surprisingly, all of these cases tie in with each other, but the authors are skillful enough to make it sound reasonable. McKechnle and Collins work with the FBI and the Los Angeles police force and arrive at a satisfactory conclusion when the interconnectedness of the incidents has been pointed out to them by their supervisor. All they discuss with each other is horses and women.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 10, No. 1, Winter 1988.


Bibliographic Note: McKechnie and Collins appeared in one other novel by the Hitchens, that being The Man Who Followed Women (Doubleday, 1959).

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


DAVID BISHOP Original Alibi

DAVID BISHOP – Original Alibi: A Matt Kyle Mystery. David Bishop/Telemachus Press, softcover, July 2012.

      Spoiler Warning:

   This is a great book, it is, in fact, one of the best books I’ve ever read. At least it was when Raymond Chandler penned it as The Big Sleep, the first Philip Marlowe novel. As the second Matt Kyle novel, it’s not so hot.

   David Bishop is a bestselling writer of e-books including two other mystery series. He’s a competent enough scribe, as such things go, but there isn’t an original idea in the book or an original line or an original character. If this is what the genre is like in electronic form then it shouldn’t be hard to gain grandmaster status, this is tired, borrowed, too often copied (I won’t say plagiarism, that would imply at some point it actually sounded like Chandler), terribly dated, and a bit silly.

   And those are the good points.

   Bestselling writer Matt Kyle was a cop who executed a rapist in cold blood and went to jail. On coming out he took up writing and got a PI ticket in California (you can’t get a PI ticket in California if you were in prison — The Outsider to the contrary — as any viewer of Rockford Files will recall — Rockford only got his because he was pardoned).

   Now he lives in a condo with a balcony and Axel, an ex-con he befriended acts as his valet — he can’t get rid of him, actually — and general errand boy and hacker. Save for the hacker part this is an entry in the Falcon B movie series — come to think of it one of those (The Falcon Takes Over) was based on a Chandler novel, different novel (Farewell My Lovely), but FYI, as if anyone reading this didn’t already know.

   Yes, he has a valet. I’m not sure I recall any other PI’s with valets other than Lee Thayer’s Peter Clancy. Lester Leith had one, but he was primarily a thief and gentleman crook. Radio’s The Fat Man, Brad Runyon had one, but not from Hammett. I recall the hero of Raoul Whitfield’s Killer’s Carnival having one, but he was a big game hunting playboy, not an eye. Erle Stanley Gardner’s Terry Clane had a valet, but he was a lawyer and soldier of fortune. I suppose we should be grateful it’s not Eric Blore or Mantan Moreland (though they were often the best part of those films).

   General Whittaker, formerly of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is old and dying in his wheelchair and his private sanctuary and wants to know who murdered his pregnant granddaughter-to-be, Ileana Corrigan, and set up his no good son Eddie before he dies. Kyle likes the old man, and wants to help him so he takes the cold case. The General also has a daughter, Karen, who drops her scanties at the glance of a man — and Kyle does a lot of glancing. She doesn’t quite climb into Kyle’s lap standing up or have a slinky sister, but her name might as well be Carmen.

   Kyle, on the other hand, doesn’t throw her out of his bed and have a hissy fit tearing up the bedclothes, but then Karen’s not as perverse, crazy, or lethal as Carmen. She’s just a slut who would like to inherit a bigger chunk of daddy’s money, and doesn’t mind sleeping around to do it.

   At one point Bishop breaks away from Kyle’s narrative to show us Karen seducing the chauffeur to get him to beat up Kyle. There’s no reason to tell the reader this rather than let us discover it when Kyle does, other than a tame and rather dull seduction scene. It doesn’t generate suspense or deepen character. All it does is make the hero look like a bigger chump.

   Kyle also has a cop buddy called Fidge and then there’s the police captain Richard Dickson, Double Dick, who dislikes him, but all the cops hate Double Dick and like Matt …

   Every private eye has to have a cop buddy.

   Save for the parts borrowed from Chandler the rest of the book and the characters are series television quality plotting, not incompetent, but shallow and with no depth. This wouldn’t pass in a first semester writing course. It’s derivative and not felt. It’s precisely the kind of writing instructors try to beat out of students’ heads. You can’t reinvent the wheel, or rewrite a great book as your own.

   He could have at least have made it an Admiral instead of a General.

   He even uses the necktie bit.

   This is not crude, imaginative, violent, savage, or sexy enough to be good pulp — even bad pulp. Frank Kane’s Johnny Liddell and Carter Brown might have been generic private eye, but at least they were the real thing. This is authentic as a Cracker Jack police whistle, and about as shrill.

   There is a point when homage crosses the line. Original Alibi homages the hell out of The Big Sleep.

   And, just saying, but you really shouldn’t write about prison if your idea of it came out of James Cagney movies. Matt Kyle seems to have been sentenced to 1946 prison. You should at least watch an episode of Lockup, or Prison Break.

   This is prison a la Boston Blackie. He even mentions Boston Blackie, and I’m pretty sure its Kent Taylor, not Chester Morris since he goes on about the mustache. Apparently he isn’t aware of the term ‘pencil thin’ and never heard of David Niven, so its a Boston Blackie mustache for all ten of us who don’t have to look up Boston Blackie or Kent Taylor on Wikipedia or in IMDb.

   I know many writers don’t like research, and I don’t expect him to be Max Allan Collins or Loren D. Estleman, but you should have some idea of how the police and actual PI’s work and what they can and cannot do. You could at least watch some old PI movies and television series and pay attention. He’s watched them, but he didn’t pay attention. He can’t have.

   I don’t care how much you bribe him, no CSI can give you next day DNA results. That only happens on television because they have to telescope time. The television writers know better, their technical advisor told them. This book needs a technical advisor, and a writing course, and a class in ethics ….

   Your sole experience of life as you write about it cannot be second hand from books, movies, and television. You need to have experienced or observed something for yourself. You don’t have to be a private eye to write about one, or to have gone to go to prison to write about that. You do have to learn about those things then put yourself in those positions.

   You can’t write any book from the outside like this and expect it to be good. You have to believe it yourself. If you don’t why bother to write a mystery and expect a reader to read it? It isn’t just coming up with an unusual weapon, a few twists, a femme fatale, and hero. The unusual weapon has to figure in the plot as more than a weapon, the twists have to come from the plot, the femme fatale has to be more than just a slut, and the hero has to be a hero for a reason, not just because you chose him.

   Matt Kyle might have been more. The back story is dark enough, but Kyle is strictly light weight in voice and action. He reads something like a sixteen-year-old wanna-be Marlowe might write, not like a man who went to prison and still believes he was right. Donald Lam and Archie Goodwin are darker than this. They exist, Matt Kyle never does. You can’t even work up empathy when he is being beaten up (this scene was ‘borrowed’ from The Glass Key, he expanded from Chandler) or is in one dull improbable fight.

   At no point will you believe Matt Kyle is anything more than a voice, and not one you really want to listen to.

   Did I mention General Whittaker’s chauffeur is a lot like Rusty Regan from The Big Sleep? Just asking. He’s even involved with the general’s daughter with the revolving door to her bedroom.

   Most of the time you will have to fight to remember this is set now. If you keep thinking it’s 1946 you can be forgiven. I’m not sure the author has read a PI novel since 1946. I’m not sure he read any books but The Big Sleep, though he constantly references other movies and books; not Raymond Chandler of course. Under the circumstances you wouldn’t want to remind anyone of Raymond Chandler.

   A valet?

   Oh, there’s something else I have to mention.

   The butler did it.

   No kidding, and without so much as a hint of irony. I’m not sure he or his hero even get it. The butler did it.

   I should be fair, I downloaded this for free.

   You get what you pay for.

   The butler did it.

   I’m not exactly sure how many e-books you have to sell to achieve bestseller status. Bishop seems to have sold enough. He won’t be selling any to me, but so long as Amazon pays up he likely doesn’t care.

   I am a little angry though. There are readers out there who read this and think it represents the genre. They haven’t read Chandler or seen Hawks The Big Sleep so they don’t know they are reading re-warmed dreams and second hand metaphors. They don’t know who Ross Macdonald, Thomas Dewey, Brett Halliday are, and Mickey Spillane is a name from a beer commercial, not an experience.

   They are readers and we should care that this represents our genre. I don’t know what can be done, but surely we can at least speak out, rail against the night so to speak.

   But this was free, keep in mind.

   It’s just not quite worth what I paid for it.

TV HIGHLIGHTS IN JANUARY 2014 –
ADVENTURE, CRIME AND MYSTERY TV SERIES
by Michael Shonk


   January is quickly replacing September as TV viewers’ favorite month. With cable networks programming all year round more and more new TV series begin in mid-season. Here is the schedule for returning and new series in January.

   Below are some of the adventure crime mystery series I look forward to watching.

       Tuesday January 7:

INTELLIGENCE (CBS at 9pm then moves to Monday at 10pm on January 13th): New series. Shades of Hugh O’Brian and Angel Tompkins of 1972 NBC series SEARCH. Gabriel (Josh Holloway) is a high-tech agent with a microchip in his head that connects him to the entire global information network (computers, phone, satellites). Marg Helgenberg plays Lillian Strand his boss and Meghan Ory (Riley) is there as his bodyguard and someone to flirt with.

JUSTIFIED (FX at 10pm): Season 5 premiere. Based on characters created by Elmore Leonard who admired the show. Each season has Federal Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) face off against a new group of criminals in Harlan County Kentucky. This season it is the Crows. Also with Walton Goggins, Jere Burns, Nick Searcy and Joelle Carter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3we6iP0i_mw

KILLER WOMEN (ABC at 10pm): New series of eight episodes, each week female Texas Ranger Molly Parker (Tricia Helfer) hunts down the female killer of the week.

PERSON OF INTEREST (CBS at 10pm): Series returns from holiday vacation. The group continues to deal with the death of series’ most popular character, Joss (Taraji P. Henson) and new developments with “the machine.” Created by Jonathan Nolan (THE DARK KNIGHT) and stars Jim Caviezel, Michael Emerson, Kevin Chapman, Amy Acker and Sarah Shahi. You can watch a full episode for free at http://www.cbs.com/shows/person_of_interest and see my favorite scene of Season Three here:


       Sunday January 12

TRUE DETECTIVE (HBO at 9pm): New series deals with what happens to two detectives (Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) in a period of over ten years as they try to solve a monstrous murder.


       Monday January 13

ARCHER (FX at 10pm): Season 5 premiere. Animated spy spoof. The story of Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) and the staff of I.S.I.S., a small privately owned international spy agency. Also in the voice cast are Jessica Walter, Aisha Tyler, Judy Greer and Amber Nash.

THE BLACKLIST (NBC at 10pm): TV’s most popular new series returns after its holiday vacation. Someone is not happy with Red’s (James Spader) involvement with the FBI. Now despite being on the run from everyone, bad and good, Red’s interest in FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) remains.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jP8IwBoe4VM

   Free full episodes here: http://www.nbc.com/the-blacklist


       Sunday January 19

SHERLOCK (PBS at 10pm): Season 3 premieres. Created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, they have produced the best version of Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) I have ever seen or read. This British TV series will last three episodes on MASTERPIECE.


       Saturday January 25

BLACK SAILS (Starz at 9pm): New series. Yar, pirates of old! Its 1715 and pirates run the island of New Providence, among them is the most feared, Captain Flint (Toby Stephens).

http://www.starz.com/originals/BlackSails


   Other new series of interest to adventure, crime and mystery fans include limited series (eight episodes) spy thriller THE ASSETS (ABC Thursday January 2nd at 10pm), cop series CHICAGO P.D. (NBC Wednesday January 8th at 10pm) and lawyer drama RAKE (Fox, Thursday January 23rd at 9pm).

   Returning series to make its new season premiere include CRACKED and KING (both on Reelz channel Monday January 6th), PSYCH (USA, Wednesday January 8th at 9pm), BANSHEE (Cinemax, Friday January 10th at 10pm), and THE FOLLOWING (FOX, Sunday January 19th after NFL football, moves to its regular spot on Monday at 9pm January 27th).

   Of course, your fall favorites return with new episodes this month. A few such as HOSTAGES (CBS), SLEEPY HOLLOW (FOX) and AMERICAN HORROR STORY (FX) will have their season finale in January (both SLEEPY HOLLOW and AMERICAN HORROR STORY have been renewed for next season).

Reviewed by
CAPTAIN FRANK CUNNINGHAM:


J. FRANK DAVIS The Chinese Label

J. FRANK DAVIS – The Chinese Label. Little Brown & Co., hardcover, 1920. A. L. Burt, hardcover reprint, no date. Also available in various Print on Demand editions; it can be read online here.

   When the United States Treasury learns from secret sources that two famous diamonds, stolen from the Sultan’s sash, will probably be smuggled into this country, it sets its machinery quickly to work.

   Napier, of the Secret Service, is the agent chosen, and San Antonio is selected as the likeliest place in which to unearth the plot. Napier’s task is a hard one, but with skill he picks up clue after clue from insignificant happenings, implicating Chinese and Mexicans, and American arms officer, and an international spy.

   All are linked with the two diamonds, which are supposed to be concealed in a can of opium bearing a Chinese label.

— Reprinted from Black Mask magazine, August 1920.


Bibliographic Note:   Accoring to Hubin, Davis worked for newspapers for 20 years as drama critic, special writer, managing editor, etc. This was the only crime novel to be published under his own name. As Nick Sherlock Collier, he also wrote Frenological Finance (Clark, 1907).

MASTERPIECES OF MYSTERY

A Bibliographical Account
Presented by Victor A. Berch


   There seems to have been a few compilations of mystery stories under this title, but presented below is the earliest I could find. The stories appeared in the Sunday Constitution Magazine of the Atlanta Constitution and what makes them unusual is that they were condensations of the original tales by Arthur B(enjamin) Reeve of Craig Kennedy fame.

   Some of the readers of Mystery*File may have online access to the Atlanta Constitution, but for those who do not, your local library should be able to borrow the microfilms of the issues involved.

   The list is arranged by story number, story title and date of publication. So here goes:

1. The Murders in the Rue Morgue, by Edgar Allan Poe [not noted as a
Masterpiece of Mystery]-June 10, 1928
2. File No. One-Thirteen, by Emile Gaboriau [also not noted as a Masterpiece
of Mystery] June 17, 1928
3. The Sign of the Four, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. June 24, 1928
4. The Outcasts of Paris, by Eugene Francois Vidocq. July 1, 1928
5. Zadig, by Voltaire. July 8, 1928
6. The Adventure of the Hansom Cab, by Robert Louis Stevenson. July 15, 1928
7. Inspector Bucket, by Charles Dickens. July 22, 1928
8. Sergeant Cuff, by Wilkie Collins. July 29, 1928
9. The Story of the Three Burglars, by Frank R. Stockton. Aug. 5, 1928
10. The Horla, by Guy de Maupassant. Aug. 12, 1928
11. The Biter Bit, by Wilkie Collins. Aug. 19, 1928
12. The Doomdorf Mystery, by Melville Davison Post.. Aug. 26, 1928
13. A Scandal in Bohemia, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sep. 2, 1928
14. The Purloined Letter, by Edgar Allen Poe. Sep. 9, 1928
15. The Safety Match, by Anton Chekhov. Sep. 16, 1928
16. Some Scotland Yard Cases, by Sir Robert Anderson,. Sep. 23, 1928
17. Gentlemen and Players, by E. W. Horning. Sep. 30, 1928
18. The Riddle of the Rope of Fear, by Mary E. and Thomas W. Hanshew,
Oct. 7, 1928.
19. The Sign of the Shadow, by Maurice Le Blanc. Oct. 14, 1928
20. The Murder at the Jex Farm, by Oswald Crawford. Oct. 21, 1928
21. The Border, by Henry C. Rowland. Oct. 28, 1928
22. The Man Who Was Lost, by Jacques Futrelle. Nov. 4, 1928
23. The Mystery of the Steel Door, by Broughton Brandenberg. Nov. 11, 1928
24. The Mystery of the Seven Minutes, by Louis Joseph Vance. Nov. 18, 1928
25. The Lost Room, by Fitz-James O’Brien. Nov. 25,1928
26. The Woman in the Case, by Arthur Train. Dec. 2, 1928
27. The Yellow Cat, by Wilbur Daniel Steele. Dec. 9, 1928
28. The Oblong Box, by Edgar Allan Poe. Dec. 16, 1928
29. A Suspicious Character, by William Hamilton Osborne. Dec. 23, 1928
30 The Mystery of the Steel Room, by Thomas W. Hanshew. Dec. 30, 1928
31. The Great K & A Train Robbery, by Paul Leicester Ford. Jan. 6, 1929
32. The Mystery at 89—-St., New York, by George S. McWatters. Jan. 13, 1929
33. The Adventure of the Toadstools, by Sax Rohmer. Jan. 20, 1929
34. The Fenchurch Street Mystery, by Baroness Orczy. Jan. 27, 1929
35. The Case of Mrs. Magnus, by Burton. F. Stevenson. Feb. 3, 1929
36. Cowardice Court, by George B. McCutcheon. Feb. 10, 1929
37. Cheap, by Marjorie. L. C. Pickthall. Feb. 17, 1929
38. The Great Valdez Sapphire, by Anonymous. Feb. 24, 1929
39. The Episode of the Black Casquette, by Joseph Ernest. Mar. 3, 1929
40. The Listener, by Algernon Blackwood. Mar. 10, 1929
41. The Mysterious card, by Cleveland Moffett. Mar. 17, 1929
42. A Study in Scarlet, by A. Conan Doyle. Mar. 24, 1929
43 [not used]
44. The Lost Duchess, by Anonymous. Mar. 31, 1929
45. The Pipe, by Anonymous. Apr. 7, 1929
46. The Hand on the Latch, by Mary Cholmondely. Apr. 14, 1929
47. [not used}
48. The Beast with Five Fingers, by William F. Harvey. Apr. 21, 1929
49. The Mystery of Marie Roget, by Edgar Allan Poe. Apr. 28, 1929
50. The Risen Dead, by Max Pemberton. May 5, 1929

SIMON BRETT Situation Tragedy

SIMON BRETT – Situation Tragedy. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1982. First published in the UK by Victor Gollancz, hardcover, 1981. Dell/Murder Ink #57, paperback, 1986. Warner, paperback, 1990.

   In case you’ve never come across one of these mystery adventures of actor-sleuth Charles Paris before, be forewarned: there will be times when you will be convinced that if there is any detection going on it is definitely taking second place to Simon Brett’s witty, caustic commentary on the world of show business, British style.

   In this, his seventh case, Paris tackles the world of commercial television. Somewhat to his own surprise, he has a bit part in a new sitcom. It’s a continuing part, at least — but so’s the series of fatal “accidents” that begin to plague the show, and even before the first episode is ever aired.

   Also be forewarned that Charles Paris is something of a tosspot and a womanizer, but he is certainly also one not to be overly impressed with the glamour of show-biz. There are also a couple of digs at the peculiarities of some mystery collectors. (Nobody who doesn’t deserve it!)

   The ending is tragic, scarcely believable, and yet, mostly a fitting one.

Rating: B

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 3, May-June 1982 (very slightly revised).This review first appeared in the Hartford Courant.

The Charles Paris series —

1. Cast in Order of Disappearance (1975)
2. So Much Blood (1976)
3. Star Trap (1977)
4. An Amateur Corpse (1978)
5. A Comedian Dies (1979)
6. The Dead Side of the Mike (1980)
7. Situation Tragedy (1981)

SIMON BRETT Situation Tragedy

8. Murder Unprompted (1982)
9. Murder in the Title (1983)
10. Not Dead, Only Resting (1984)
11. Dead Giveaway (1985)
12. What Bloody Man is That (1987)
13. A Series of Murders (1989)
14. Corporate Bodies (1991)
15. A Reconstructed Corpse (1993)
16. Sicken and So Die (1995)
17. Dead Room Farce (1997)
18. A Decent Interval (2013)

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