September 2015


  LEONARD LUPTON – Murder Without Tears. Graphic #149, paperback original; 1st printing, 1957. Cover art by Roy Lance.

   I don’t know why I should be the one to bring this up, but some of you who’ve been following this blog for a while now just might remember a pledge I made toward the beginning of the year,something along the lines of my reading more Gold Medal paperbacks in 2015, and reporting back on them here.

   I didn’t get to far with that idea, did I? I’m sorry, and I apologize. Here it is the end of September, though, and I think there’s still time to redeem myself. Or in other words, I’m aware of the problem, and I’m working on it.

   That I’m reviewing this book by Leonard Lupton means I’m getting close, but I’m not there yet. Graphic Books published a lot of hard-boiled crime and detective material in the short period of time they were around, but I’ve always gotten the sense that in terms of their paperback originals, they and Ace got what Gold Medal turned down.

   There isn’t a lot of new ground that ends up being covered in Murder Without Tears, but after an opening that’s slow to get started, the rest of the early going has its moments. After the War (Korea) Jason Broome came back to his home town, determined to make good. Born on the wrong side of the tracks, figuratively speaking, he now owns a home on the heights above the river that once belonged to the man who owned the plant where Broome’s father worked for most of his life.

   Problem is, it’s been turned into a gin mill. A high-toned gin mill, but still a dive, at least in some people’s minds. Enter the girl. Anne Cramer grew up playing with the daughter of the man who used to own the house, but once they’ve met, she and Jason seem to get along fine. A friend of her father’s comes to Jason and tells him to leave it off with Anne.

   And he ends up dead. Coming to Jason’s rescue is Anne. They spent the night together, she says. Jason is relieved, but he soon realizes that Anne has provided herself a nice alibi as well.

   So far, so good, but while the story doesn’t go downhill, exactly, it sort of stagnates from here. It’s told by someone who knows his way around words, though, making me wonder why this is the only story like this Leonard Lupton wrote under his own name. (He wrote a half an Ace Double as by Chester Warwick, and eight romantic suspense novels in the 80s as by Mary Lupton.)

WEB OF DECEPTION. Made-for-TV movie. NBC-TV, 25 April 1994. Powers Boothe, Pam Dawber, Lisa Collins, Paul Ben-Victor, Rosalind Chao. Director: Richard A. Colla.

   In order to review this movie in the usual fashion, I’d also have to tell you more than you’d like to know about it — or more than I normally would. As is my usual fashion I picked this out of a box of DVDs I’d stored away in the basement and totally forgotten about, including how I obtained it and why I’d decided to own it in the first place.

   All I knew before I started watching it was that it was a crime film, it had the names of some people in it that I recognized, and that’s all. I didn’t even read the back cover.

   So assuming you’re somewhat like me in not knowing too much ahead of time, I’m going to be as sketchy in the details as I can and still come up a set of comments and other observations that make sense.

   Powers Boothe plays Dr. Philip Benesch in this film, a forensic psychiatrist who works hand in hand with the police department in court cases in which the sanity of the defendant comes into question. His job: to say the accused was sane at the time the crime was committed; the defense has to hire their own psychiatrist to say just the opposite.

   A more smug guy you cannot believe. Even the cops whose side he is on think he’s a jerk. This is a family-oriented blog, or else I’d be able to say what they really think. He is also having marital problems. His wife, played by Pam Dawber, has just found out he’d been having an affair. He claims it’s over, and asks for forgiveness.

   About this same time, a good-looking court stenographer (Lisa Collins) starts stalking him, following wherever he goes, and obviously obsessing about him. He’s flattered but finally tells her off, to get out of his life, adios, good-bye. She retaliates, and how. Suffice it to say that Dr. Benesch finds himself in deep sh–, oops, what it’s like to be on the other side of the law.

   Powers Boothe, who played Philip Marlowe on the HBO series of the same name, does a fine job here playing a man who finds his life turned upside down, almost literally. Pam Dawber, though, as his wife, does an even better job of playing a woman who is trying to keep loving her husband, but as more and more details come to light, finds it more and more difficult to do so.

   This is pretty good entertainment, as far as the standard of TV-making stood in 1994. It would have been even better if the police weren’t so obviously uninterested in doing a proper investigation. The lady district attorney equally so. You’ll have to stay focused on the characters and the relationships between them. If you can, you should enjoy this one. If you’re interested in a murder mystery worthy of the name, I don’t believe you’ll be happy at all.

SELECTED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


Yes, that Lizabeth Scott. Available on YouTube for a limited time only.

A1 Can’t Get Out Of This Mood. Written-By – Frank Loesser, Jimmy McHugh

A2 Men. Written By – Frank WhitfieldWritten-By – George Wyle

A3 I’m In Love Again. Written-By – Cole Porter

A4 He Is A Man. Written-By – Carroll Coates, Ronnie Selby

A5 Legalize My Name. Written-By – Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer

A6 It’s So Nice To Have A Man Around The House. Written-By – Harold Spina, Jack Elliott

B1 He’s Funny That Way. Written-By – Neil Moret, Richard Whiting

B2 A Deep Dark Secret. Written-By – Joe Hooven, Marilyn Hooven

B3 Lucky. Written-By – Michael Merlo, Patrick Welch

B4 When A Woman Loves A Man. Written-By – Hanighen, Jenkins, Mercer

B5 Willow Weep For Me. Written-By – Ann Ronnell

B6 How Did He Look? Written-By – Abner Silver, Gladys Shelley

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


CAT GIRL. Insignia Films/AIP, 1957. Barbara Shelley, Robert Ayres, Kay Callard, Ernest Milton,Jack May. Written and produced by Lou Russoff (brother-in-law of Samuel Z. Arkoff, head of AIP). Directed by Alfred Shaughnessy.

   A British-born variation on Val Lewton’s classic Cat People (1942) this is cheap and a bit crude, but oddly sensual for a 1950s Monster Movie.

   Director Alfred Shaughnessy went on to some acclaim writing Upstairs Downstairs (1971-75) and writer-producer Lou Russoff was responsible for classics like The She Creature, It Conquered the World and Beach Party, so you can appreciate the dynamic tension present in the creative process here.

   It all opens up in a creepy (and rather cheaply-furnished) old castle on a dark & stormy night, where Barbara Shelley is summoned to inherit the Family Curse, which has something to do with a psycho-spiritual link with predatory cats. Seems rather a heavy burden to bear — especially since the old man who passes on the familial blight gets mauled by a cheetah shortly thereafter — and I can’t imagine why the family didn’t simply opt to pay a fine instead, but I guess that wouldn’t make much of a movie, would it?

   Anyway, Barbara has more to contend with than mere Doom; it also seems she’s married to an unfaithful boor who makes the Curse of the Cat People seem a mere inconvenience: greedy, condescending, completely self-centered, and it’s a bit of a relief when Barbara finds him out on the castle grounds shaking the bushes with a comely female guest and, in the words of one critic:

   “The legacy of emotion and sensuality suppressed in countless British film heroines over the past twenty years, appears in a particularly violent and distorted form…. as the ghostly cheetah, powered by all her repressed desire, begins to savage the lovers while she looks on in ecstasy….”

   Well, that’s a good deal stronger than anything you’ll find in Cat People, and Barbara Shelley’s sexuality is much more overt than Simone Simon’s: she sleeps in the nude and goes about in a strapless gown apparently held up only by her firm anatomy — which in 1957 was pretty strong stuff, especially for a monster movie supposedly aimed at kiddies, but I digress.

   Up to this point Barbara has all our sympathy, but it quickly develops that she’s still in love with an old boyfriend, now a happily-married psychologist, who begins treating her obvious symptoms of dangerous insanity. And naturally he decides that the best thing for her is to move in with him and his mousy missus, as the attentive viewer mutters, “Yeah, right,” or the functional equivalent.

   At about this point, Cat Girl begins aping Cat People pretty shamelessly as Barbara’s jealousy turns to evil, and she starts plotting her rival’s demise. We get a variation on the birdcage scene from the earlier film, then a repeat of the night-stalk, leading up to a rather muddled conclusion where… well I won’t give it away, just take my word: it’s muddled.

   Yet I still enjoyed Cat Girl, and if you have a taste for cheap monster movies you will too, thanks mainly to Barbara Shelley. Her sheer screen presence in a role with a bit of depth to it lifts this well out of the ordinary. In fact, even before I watched this last week, I remembered it with affection from when I saw it on its first release, sharing a double bill with The Amazing Colossal Man.

   Now THAT was Bang for your two-bits!

Sonya Hunter is a San Francisco based singer/songwriter who combines traditional folk music with indie rock. The song “New Year” appears on her first CD, Favorite Short Stories
(Heyday, 1992).

THE FLASH. “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1). The CW, 7 October 2014. Grant Gustin (Barry Allen / The Flash), Candice Patton (Iris West), Danielle Panabaker, Rick Cosnett, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh, Jesse L. Martin, John Wesley Shipp. Based on the character in DC Comics. Developed by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg. David Nutter.

   One episode isn’t enough to say, but after watching this first one on DVD, I was more impressed than I expected to be. I enjoyed this one. It was done well, and I will be watching to see what comes next.

   If it devolves into a series of corny supervillains every week, that may end it for me, but at the moment, after stage one, there are a number of interesting plot threads this series has going for it already, and they were all crammed into one 45 minute episode. Amazing.

   To enumerate: The Flash, or rather Barry Allen, is the fastest man alive. As a young forensic crime scene assistant, he obtains this ability through an explosion of a particle accelerator at S.T.A.R. Labs, after awakening from a coma lasting nine months. (Any significance to that?)

   Some background: his father is in prison, having been convicted of killing his mother when he was a small boy. The father (John Wesley Shipp, the previous TV Flash) is innocent. Young Barry grew up with a police detective named Joe West and his daughter Iris. He may be in love with her now, but she now has a secret romance with her father’s partner on the police force.

   The head of S.T.A.R. Labs is in a wheelchair from the accident, but with two assistants he works with Barry, helping to gauge his powers, designing a suitable suit, and so on. Barry is determined to use his powers for good, which is a good thing, because other people affected by the accident have also become metahumans, and they have begun to use their powers in other ways, all bad.

   The special effects are terrific, and the acting on the part of the very young (mid-20s?) actors (or am I just old) is adequate, if not more. I admit the overall ambiance is comicky, but maybe that’s just me. There is a quick scene at the end which suggests that there are other secrets yet to be revealed. Tune in next week! I think I will. (The DVD set already paid for.)

LIONEL BLACK – The Eve of the Wedding. Avon, paperback, 1st US printing, December 1981. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1980.

   This is the sixth of seven recorded cases solved by British newspaperwoman Kate Theobald, and the first of them that I’ve read. I’ve always thought that she and her barrister husband Henry were a Mr & Mrs detective duo, but Al Hubin lists only her as a series character, and not him in Crime Fiction IV. Inspector Bill Comfort is mentioned there as an occasional sleuthing partner, as he is for this one, but I’d say that that’s stretching it, as while the police are at hand, Comfort is offstage for most of the book.

   But Henry is a key character in this one, in a secondary role, true, but if it were me, I’d still say this is a married couple detective team. Dead is the brother of the groom during a party the night before he is to marry the daughter of the American half of a business partnership that split a generation or so ago.

   There are plenty of motives, not all of them all that savory. It seems that the dead man raped the bride-to-be during the party. He was also the one who stood in the way of the proposed re-merger of the two companies, US and UK. There is also a poltergeist at hand, making a nuisance of itself. Could it have thrown the dagger into the dead man’s neck. Henry thinks the idea is hogwash.

   There are several generations of family living in the huge mansion, and most of them do not get along, and I mean seriously. There is a completely dotty uncle and aunt, a pair of aged married servants who will do anything for their master, the patriarch of the family, but in one way or another, they were all cowed by the dead man, not a nice person at all.

   Black’s style is engagingly readable, but with a list of possible suspects like this, I’d have liked to have seen more actual detection. Having our detectives solve the case largely by overhearing and listening to secret conversations going on over the course of one long, long evening is not my idea of real detective work.

      The Kate Theobald series —

Swinging Murder. 1969.
Death Has Green Fingers. 1971.
Death by Hoax. 1974.

A Healthy Way to Die. 1976.
The Penny Murders. 1979.
The Eve of the Wedding. 1980.
The Rumanian Circle. 1981.

A live version (2006) of a song on their CD All the Roadrunning. I have been listening to Emmylou’s music for over 40 years, and I hope to for some time to come.

THE GRID. “Hour One/Hour Two.” TNT, US, 19 July 2004 as the first two episodes of a six-part mini-series. First shown on BBC Two, UK, 2004. Dylan McDermott, Julianna Margulies, Bernard Hill, Jemma Redgrave, James Remar, Piter Marek, Silas Carson, Olek Krupa, Barna Moricz, Emil Marwa, Robert Forster, Tom Skerritt. Director: Mikael Salomon.

   A failed poison Sarin attack in London post 9/11 leads to the creation of a international counter-terrorism team in the US led by Maren Jackson (Julianna Margulies) of the National Security Council. Others are members of the FBI (Dylan McDermott) and the CIA (Piter Marek). Characters on the British end of things are played by Bernard Hill (MI5) and Jemma Redgrave (MI6).

   In spite of the stated spirit of cooperation between the various agency involved, not-so-hidden rivalries between agencies break out almost immediately, not to mention the squabbles between MI5 and MI6 in the UK, the latter which also resents the US team’s “know it all” involvement, which by the end of episode two has proven quite wrong.

   They must have spent a lot of money putting this mini-series together. It shows, but the dazzling switches from scene to scene and country to country is just that, dazzling, and there are a lot of characters to keep straight at the same time. By the end of Hour Two, I think I was doing well, but I had better keep watching, or I am afraid all I have put together so far will be lost.

   But I say with an ulterior motive: as a bit of persuasion to make sure I do so. The story, while very dramatically done, does not seem to break any ground that hasn’t been plowed over many times before, and I am not talking about the threat of Islamic terrorism in specifics, but anti-espionage efforts in general.

   The inclusion of intimate details in terms of personal backgrounds and animosities as well as inter-agency squabbling falls into the same category. It’s nice on the eyes so far, but while I’m sure I will continue, there’s no sense of urgency about it either, which is too bad on many levels, including the amount of time and energy that was put into this.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


BEVERLEY NICHOLS

          No Man’s Street. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1954. Hutchinson, UK, hardcover, 1954, as The Moonflower.

          Death to Slow Music. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1956. Hutchinson, UK, hardcover, 1956.

   Sir Edward Carstairs, music critic unloved by all, is found dead in his study. Since he was generally despised, why does Sonia Rubenstein, prima donna who had given scores of “farewell” concerts, hire Horatio Green, retired private detective, to discover Carstairs’s murderer?

   Or is she primarily interested in the missing recording of a new symphony? Why does Carstairs’ sister despise him? What hold did Carstairs have on the world famous conductor, Dr. Ernst Kalkbrenner?

   Assisting Superintendent George Waller, Green, who would rather be tending his garden, uses his nose, which is a keen instrument, his intelligence, and the fact that he is in Lyons when he thinks he is in Paris, to discover the murder.

   An interesting case, but Green did not particularly appeal.

   In The Moonflower Mystery (published in England as The Moonflower, and reviewed here ), Nichols’s second mystery, the reason for my dissatisfaction with his first became evident: Horatio Green was merely a cardboard character with idiosyncracies. In the second novel — with a horticultural plot — he becomes flesh, as it were.

   With the third novel, Death to Slow Music, Green continues as a real person. At Seabourne with his 19-year-old niece, he becomes involved with the murder of a woman on the Ghost Train at the amusement pier. She was to meet Julian Doyle, accompanist and orchestrator for the famous Nigel Fleet. Fleet and his entourage are in Seabourne performing in the cabaret “Personal Appearances” and rehearsing for Fleet’s operetta, “Serenade.”

   Doyle is needed for the show, so Fleet prevails upon Green to investigate and make sure Doyle isn’t arrested, which Green docs with the aid of a blind and deceased composer. Nichols gets better and better, and there are three more in the series.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1990, “Musical Mysteries.”


NOTE:   Bill’s review of Murder by Request, the fifth in the series, was posted here earlier on this blog. Following that review is some biographical information about the author and a complete listing of his Horatio Green series.

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