December 2015

From her website:

“In her career, the gifted multi-lingual vocalist Caterina Zapponi has explored music ranging from jazz and the American popular song to cabaret and musical theater.

“Zapponi was born and raised in Rome, the daughter of celebrated screenwriter Bernardino Zapponi, a collaborator and longtime friend of Federico Fellini. Her mother was a French born chanteuse and instilled in Caterina her love of the French repertoire.”

From her 2014 CD Romantica:


YOU AND ME. Paramount Pictures, 1938. Sylvia Sidney, George Raft, Robert Cummings, Barton MacLane, Roscoe Karns, Harry Carey. Director: Fritz Lang.

   “Genuinely odd but likable film.” That’s how Leonard Maltin described Fritz Lang’s decidedly uneven, but eminently watchable, gangster film/romantic comedy mash-up starring George Raft and Sylvia Sidney as two former jailbirds turned lovebirds. Both work in a department store run by a man who wants nothing more than to give parolees a second chance at building an upstanding life.

   Sounds typical enough, right?

   The thing is: Maltin’s correct.

   You and Me is nothing if not “genuinely odd.” With an Old World comedic sensibility with more than a dash of Yiddishkeit, an armed standoff in the children’s section of an Art Deco department store, and some captivating dreamlike montage sequences, this relatively obscure crime melodrama didn’t fare well at the box office.

   That’s not surprising, given how much of the movie feels as if it were almost an experimental film, a cult classic before there were cult classics.

   When looked at as a whole, the final product actually seems like a thought experiment in which Lang, either consciously or subconsciously, explored the possibilities of bringing both the aesthetic and thematic elements of German expressionism into the American crime film genre.

   Skillful use of light and shadow to convey meaning (check); a prominent spiral staircase (check); a subterranean meeting of criminals operating according to their own code with camera shots that look straight out of M (check).

   Some scenes, such as when a group of gangsters remember their time in the slammer, work extraordinarily well; others, such as when Sidney’s character instructs a coterie of criminals in basic math to demonstrate why crime (literally) doesn’t pay, fall flat. Yet, it’s difficult not to find some things to genuinely admire in this quirky film, one that surely left most audiences slightly baffled when first released in the late 1930s.


SHARON FIFFER – Dead Guy’s Stuff. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 2002; paperback, 2003.

   Jane Wheel is an antiques “picker” (similar to a book scout who finds books for dealers, Jane has a gift for spotting treasures among other people’s trash, which she then sells to e dealer who’s “sponsoring” her). Jane is not only a scout for other people, she’s also a collector of Bakelite. (Even after reading the book, I was a bit unclear about this product, but wife volunteered the information that she remembered it as plastics used in the manufacture of dinnerware. She then made a quick web search courtesy of Google and found that its use dates back to at least the 1930s and includes the manufacture of appliances and jewelry, among other products.)

   This unfortunately reminded me of shows I go to where glassware predominates with books and magazine relegated to also-ran status. Still, the obsession in itself is still recognizable to any collector and who am I to look down on any knowledgeable collector, whatever the field?

   Anyhow, Jane has found a collection of tavern memorabilia, which resonates with her tavern-owning parents who are renovating their bar and grill in Kankakee, Illinois.

   To my mind, the whole subject is somewhat cluttered, and the novel is, too, with gangsters and long-buried family secrets in the mix. In addition, her marriage is shaky and and she and her husband are only maintaining a relationship for their teen-age son.

      The Jane Wheel series —

1. Killer Stuff (2001)

2. Dead Guy’s Stuff (2002)
3. The Wrong Stuff (2003)
4. Buried Stuff (2004)

5. Hollywood Stuff (2006)
6. Scary Stuff (2009)
7. Backstage Stuff (2011)

8. Lucky Stuff (2012)



RANDY WAYNE WHITE – The Heat Islands. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1992; paperback, February 1993.

   I’d been unaware of White’s books until the ladies at The Mystery Bookstore here very kindly loaned me the advance proofs of the current offering. The first in the series, Sanibel Flats, evidently didn’t make it to my local library branch, and I somehow missed seeing it reviewed.

   Ford is a marine biologist with his own small biological supply company, operated out of a stilt house on Sanibel Island, Florida, that is both home and laboratory. All told, it’s the laid-back good life.

   As we begin, the most hated man on the barrier islands is found floating face down in Dinkin‘s Bay. He was the owner/operator of the local marina, and had alienated enough people that suspects were in plentiful supply. One of Doc’s friends, a fishing guide, quickly becomes the prime suspect, but Doc doesn’t believe it, and begins his own investigation. An oddball relationship with a lady tennis pro enlivens things somewhat.

   You know, I just can’t think of a whole lot to say about this one. I enjoyed reading it, in a mild sort of way; White writes adequately enough; Old Doc is a decent enough leading man; there really wasn’t anything to gripe about, so why aren’t I more positive? I don’t know, but I’m not.

   Good enough for checking out of the library, but I’m glad I didn’t buy it.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #3, September 1992.


IAN ALEXANDER – The Disappearance of Archibald Forsyth. Hutchinson & Co., UK, no date stated [1933].

   Back in the printed version of Mystery*File, issue #46, one of the items in Al Hubin’s “Addenda to Crime Fiction IV” columns revealed that Ian Alexander was a previously unknown pen name of Alexander Knox.

   In the very same issue, and totally unconnected with the Hubin entry, Charlie Shibuk mentioned Alexander Knox as one of the actors who appeared in Andre DeToth’s film None Shall Escape. This very remarkable coincidence went unnoticed by me, but naturally Charlie spotted it right away. He added the following information, which appeared in the letter column of M*F 47: “Knox was born in Canada in 1907 and appeared on stage and screen in England and America. He portrayed the title role in Wilson (1944).”

   Not only that, but he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in that film.

   As for his crime-writing career, this book at hand is the only one Knox wrote as Ian Alexander. In the 70s he wrote two novels included in Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, both historical adventure novels based on the Canadian wilderness of the late 18th century. As Leonard Blackledge, he wrote one crime novel entitled Behind the Evidence (Hutchinson, 1935), and as John Crozier, he wrote two others: Murder in Public (Hutchinson, 1934) and Kidnapped Again (Hutchinson, 1935)

   Both of the latter two novels featured a character called “Falcon,” who doubtlessly was not the Falcon of movie and radio fame, and created in book form by Drexel Drake in 1936. (Or was it Michael Arlen, in a 1940 short story called “Gay Falcon”? The radio series always credited Drake as creator of the character, who was called Michael Waring; Arlen was always the one stated as creating the fellow in the 1940s movie series: either Gay Lawrence (George Sanders) or Tom Lawrence (Tom Conway).)

   No more digressions, however. The sleuth in The Disappearance of Archibald Forsyth is a very interesting fellow, indeed, and it’s a shame that this was apparently his only case on record. His name is Eagels, he works and has a growing reputation as a private investigator in London, at least with Scotland Yard. He’s also, well, I’m going to do some extensive quoting here, if you don’t object too loudly. From pages 12-13:

   Eagels was a man whom it was impossible to pump. Most people have their little weaknesses, their penetrable moments, but Conway [from Scotland Yard] has never seen this tall figure when it was not utterly self-possessed, the features composed and unmoving, the dark eyes caves above the high cheek-bones, caves with fire in their depths. Eagles was a North American Indian. His father has been a chief of the Iroquois, has done well in Canada and given his son an excellent education along the lines of the white man he saw about him, but he had not neglected to give him the keys to the great storehouse of the knowledge of his own race.

   Eagels never had a Christian name that anybody knew. His skin was remarkably fair for an Indian, and he had served seven years with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police before he was connected with the bootlegging case that made his name in America. He had come to England shortly after, a strange man, gaunt and somewhat uncanny. Already his unusual facilities were being noticed by Scotland Yard. He had worked with the Yard on several cases while he was still connected with the R.C.M.P., and there was a mutual respect between them which the passing months did nothing to diminish.

   Eagels’ secretary and trusted assistant is Millicent Doe, who also deserves a mention. They make an unusual couple working together. From pages 20-21:

   They were working late. Eagels had dinner sent in at about eight-thirty, and for half an hour they left their desks and ate a strange, silent meal by the fire. They were odd companions. The perky, rather hard American girl, bred on the Broadway booze racket, efficient, capable, terse, emotionless, and the Indian, inheritor of a vanishing race. When they talked it was as if what went between the lines was more important than what was said.

   Question: Is this the first appearance of an American Indian as a detective? How many others are there?

   Here is something else equally striking. Read this, taken from page 72, as Eagels is thinking over the case so far (and yes, I promise to tell you something about that sometime soon as well):

   Conway might go to the house if he liked with a preconceived theory, but he wouldn’t. With this fact fixed in his mind, the complete refusal to theorize in advance which he had learned from Holmes himself the only time he had met him, Eagels listened to the conversation of the others.

   On page 97, Eagels considers what to do about a butler with an unfortunate habit of listening at doors:

   “I suppose,” he said, half aloud, half to himself, “that a bribe to keep his mouth shut would only open it wider. Old proverb: ‘Mouth shut with wampum will open with more.’”

   From pages 102-103 we find a tidbit of understanding about Eagels’ philosophy of human nature:

   Eagels could not help throwing a backward glance at the gloomy house as he left it, and thinking of the tortured hours the two children were going through [it is their father who has disappeared, probably murdered], hours that would probably echo all through their lives with recurring misery. He wondered if the influence which was behind it all had ever thought of the effect his actions would have on the happiness of the people he touched. Even the most callous, ordinary person, he thought, would have some consideration for other people’s feelings. This seemed to him sufficient distinction between the ordinary person and the person who is capable of murder.

   Crimes of sudden passion excepted, Eagels worked on the theory that a murderer is never a perfectly ordinary being. He is lacking in some quality, some essential element of humanity. He was quite convinced that a normal person is as incapable of murder as he is incapable of building a sky-scraper single-handed.

   I have been thinking about the next quote, whether to include it or not, and I’ve decided, what the hey, let’s go all the way. From pages 126-127:

   “Anyway,” said Conway, suddenly heaving a sigh, “this proves one thing that we’ve been thinking. It’s a gang that’s at the bottom of the whole business. If it is a murder, there must have been at least two people to get the body away from the church, and if it was enforced disappearance, they must have had more. If he disappeared himself, there are strange goings on which I can only explain by bringing in a gang. I can’t see the motive, though, that’s the worrying part.”

   “Yes,” said Eagels, “I’d thought of that. A gang seems the only solution. At least it seems the only solution at present. I don’t like it. If it was murder, it was too clever for a gang. The best murders are done by specialists – no accomplices. If it wasn’t murder, I don’t understand what has happened since. What about the will? Have you looked into Forsyth’s financial position?”

   “He’s not as rich as he was five years ago, but then, who is?” [Remember that is was 1933.]

   “He’s quite sound? No wriggling out of debts or anything?”

   “No debts that I can see. He was a careful old miser.”

   “What do you think of the note he left?”

   “The one you pinched from me, you mean?”

   “The one we made the little mistake about.”

   “Mistake my eye.” Conway grinned. “I don’t see why you wanted to have it; it was obviously a forgery.”

   “Too damned obviously.”

   “What do you mean?”

   “Well, I haven’t examined it yet, but it looks to me as if Forsyth was disguising his own hand.”

   Conway whistled.

   Luckily Miss Doe is a forgery expert, among other skills, but Eagels’ outwardly competent and calm facade does not reveal the torment roiling up inside. From pages 230-231:

   If he had been resolved before, Eagels was filled now with a determination that comes to few men. Down somewhere deep within him there was smouldering a terrible hatred. He admitted to himself that he had muddled the case horribly. The detectives of fiction that never make a mistake never occurred to him. He remembered the great detectives of reality – Sherlock Holmes himself – had sometimes been saved from grave errors by luck, and luck alone, but could he expect luck now? Holmes had never depended on luck. “Get your man.” The catchword was still branded on his brain. “Get your man.”

   “I’ll free Donald,” he swore to Joan. “Please, please trust me.”

   There is more. On page 233 Eagels is confronted with an important document that has disappeared from a locked safe:

   Could Feeny have taken the paper away with him? No. Eagels had read it after he left. Conway? No, he didn’t even know of its existence, and the porter had said no one climbed the stair after he went out. Therefore nobody entered the office at all. But the paper was gone!

   Nobody entered the office.

   Eagles thought carefully, remembering that if there was a contradiction in facts, it did not mean the facts were definitely wrong. It meant that his connection or interpretation was wrong.

   There is a lot of confusion that occurs just before the end. A lot of action that goes on that doesn’t seem to have nay meaning – until at length, in Chapter Sixteen, beginning with page 278, all is revealed. That it takes most of ten pages is quite telling. If this is your kind of detective fiction, as it is mine, usually, and yes, it’s probably an acquired taste today, you’re going to wish that this was not the only recorded appearance of detective Eagels.

— April 2015.

[UPDATE] 12-28-15.   I didn’t realize how long this review, was. I hope you made it here all the way through to the bottom, but I suppose that on occasion the scroll bar on the right side of your screen does have its uses. If by chance I happen to have intrigued you a little about this book, I regret to tell you that a search online two minutes ago turned up exactly no copies.

   More importantly, however, after writing this review I attempted to answer my own question and started putting together a checklist of Native American detectives in mystery fiction. I haven’t worked on it in ten years, but at the time I think w=it was fairly complete. Take a look, should you be so inclined.

   Please also read the comments. The first is from Jamie Sturgeon, who had some interesting information to report on the two books Knox wrote as John Crozier.

From Wikipedia:

“Eva Marie Cassidy (February 2, 1963 – November 2, 1996) was an American vocalist and guitarist known for her interpretations of jazz, blues, folk, gospel, country, rock and pop classics.”

From her posthumously released CD Somewhere (2008):

“From Dolly Parton’s ‘Coat of Many Colors’ to her own ‘Somewhere,’ Eva covers a wide musical spectrum-country, folk, blues, R&B, western swing, appalachian, celtic, Willie Nelson, Gershwin.”

BONUS: “If I Give My Heart.”


JOHN PAUL JONES. Warner Brothers, 1959. Robert Stack, Marisa Pavan, Charles Coburn (Benjamin Franklin), Erin O’Brien, Bette Davis (Empress Catherine the Great), Macdonald Carey (Patrick Henry), Jean Pierre Aumont (King Louis XVI), David Farrar, Peter Cushing. Director: John Farrow.

   Aside from an exciting naval battle sequence toward the end of the film in which the title character, portrayed by Robert Stack, faces off with Sir Richard Pearson (Peter Cushing) and shouts that he has yet to begun to fight, John Paul Jones is an epic bore. It’s not so much that it’s a poorly constructed film or without a talented coterie of actors as it is that the script is remarkably, almost painfully, lifeless.

   In many ways, the movie, at a running time just over two hours, plods along from scene to scene, many of which are exceptionally abbreviated in nature. Sad to say, but at times this Technicolor film plays less like a fictionalized historical drama than as an educational biopic classroom film. That’s not to say that John Farrow wasn’t a talented director or that he wasn’t capable of creating solid movies worth watching. Unfortunately, John Paul Jones simply isn’t one of his more durable works.

   As far as Robert Stack, he may very well have been perfectly adequate in his portrayal of the Scottish-born Revolutionary War hero, but that just wasn’t enough. There’s something a little too stiff, almost genteel in the manner in which Stack portrays Jones. One could imagine other actors with a little more grit and subdued rage – Kirk Douglas and Jeff Chandler come to mind – in his stead.

   But then again, with a script that plays it safe and never once allows the title character to lose his cool or show some warm-blooded passion, it’s difficult to imagine John Paul Jones as any anything but a meandering daytime cruise to nowhere particularly exciting.

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