January 2016


REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


RAOUL WHITFIELD – Jo Gar’s Casebook. Crippen & Landru, hardcover/softcover, 2002.

   Originally published in the pages of Black Mask by Whitfield writing under the pen name of Ramon Decolta, the eighteen stories featuring the “little island detective” Joe Gar are selected from the 24 stories that were published in the pulp magazine and include the final two stories published (as by Raoul Whitfield) in Cosmopolitan.

   Jo Gar is a private investigator in the Philippines, intelligent (he speaks at least six languages), and always outperforming the police. He was, at one time, a member of the Manila police force, and he has retained his friendship with Lieutenant Juan Arragon, although that friendship is now tempered with a certain wariness on Arragon’s part.

   When Arragon is killed, his replacement, Sadi Ratan, is no friend of Gar’s, treating him with s measure of hatred and contempt even though Gar always proves him to be wrong. (Or, possibly, because Gar always shows him up.) When Ratan, perhaps half-joking, proposes that he should join Gar in his private agency, Gar’s polite, but telling reply, is that he fears that “the loss to the Force would be too great, Lieutenant.”

   Gar is a man of few words, an observant and reticent investigator, who moves quietly through these colorful tales, eventually resolving his cases in ways that show a deep understanding of human character and the class relationships that figure so prominently in the island’s multi-ethnic composition.

   Another fine contribution to the publisher’s growing, and impressive, list of short-story collections. This volume also includes abridged reprints of essays by E. R. Hagemann on Whitfield and his work that appeared originally in The Armchair Detective, with “A Remembrance of E. R. Hagemann,” an afterword by R. H. Miller.

   There are, in addition, bibliographic data on the publication history of the stories used in the collection as well as Hagemann’s “Annotated Bibliography of the Works of Raoul F. Whitfield Appearing in Black Mask,” updated with additional notes by Tom Roberts and Peter Ruber.

— Reprinted from Walter’s Place #159, March 2004.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


FRANCES FLETCHER – The Murder Sonata. Leisure Books, paperback original, 1980.

   Milton Schring sat in the solo chair of the symphony orchestra in an unnamed city. As well he should, since he was an immensely talented musician. Unfortunately, his private life is not exemplary, and after one performance — musical, though he was waiting to take part in another kind — he is found dead backstage.

   Interesting information here about symphony orchestras, their sponsors, their labor problems, and their individual members’ egos. Otherwise, not fair play and merely average in characterization and writing. “Damsel in distress” would sum it up.

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


Bibliographic Note:   This will be brief. This is the only book in Hubin by Frances Fletcher, about whom nothing is known.

SUE GRAFTON – W is for Wasted. G. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, September 2013. Berkley, paperback, August 2014.

   Only three more to go, unless Sue Grafton has something else up her sleeve. X is out in hardcover, but while I’m anxious to know what comes next for Kinsey Millhone, I’ve decided to bide my time until August, when it’s scheduled to come out in paperback.

   That is to say, I think I can. The case itself is not all that interesting in Wasted — well, there are two cases at the beginning, but I doubt you’ll care if I let the cat out of the bag and tell you what you already know — it’s what happens to Kinsey along the way that’s going to have me on the fence about this.

   In Wasted, her 85-year-old neighbor and landlord Henry gets a cat, Kinsey has some encounters with some ex-boy friends, and learns a lot about her father’s side of family, and thus meets some cousins she had no idea existed, one of whom follows her home, sort of. As did the cat, in another way.

   At the beginning there are two dead bodies for Kinsey to tell us about: the first of a homeless man who has a note in his pocket with her name on it; the second that of a fellow PI with an unsavory reputation, but with a wife who loved him. Every once in a while, Kinsey’s narration of her own tale is interrupted by third person flashbacks into the life of that aforementioned down-on-his-luck PI before he died.

   I’m not sure why Grafton did this. If as a result anyone reading this book thinks there’s any mystery left after about halfway through, I think they should go back to grade school to find out what two and two add up to.

   I’m also not sure why Grafton has Kinsey relate everything she does, down to the minutest bit of minutia possible, whether it be meals, areas of town she drives through, or the GNP of the nation. Maybe I’m kidding about that. Perhaps it’s to break up the monotony of what a dogged PI has to do to solve a case. (Kinsey does not have the luxury of reading the interspersed interludes about what that deceased what up to before his death.)

   There is also one big surprise in store for Kinsey in this book, and I’ll bet you a sizable size of money that every other review of this book will tell you all about it. But I won’t.

The title track from this New England based singer-songwriter’s 1995 Rounder/Philo CD Sting of the Honeybee:

MILLENNIUM. 20th Century Fox, 1989. Kris Kristofferson, Cheryl Ladd, Daniel J. Travanti, Robert Joy, Lloyd Bochner. Screenwriter: John Varley, based on his short story “Air Raid.” Director: Michael Anderson.

   I wish I could say that I have read the story this movie was based on, but although I read a lot of John Varley’s work, “Air Raid” isn’t one of them. Varley is a very good science fiction writer, and no matter how much I’d like to say that this is a very good science fiction movie, I hate to tell you that I just can’t do it.

   What’s worse, I can see that this could have been a very good movie, but while it has its fans, I don’t think it did very well overall, critically or financially.

   What Millennium is is a time-travel movie, and while the “Back to the Future” series of movies show that time-travel movies can be done so that they make sense, even to a general audience, they have to be gosh darn hard to pull off, never once allowing the viewer to become confused along the way. The premise in this movie is this: Sometime in the future of our planet, life has become so bleak that they send commando squads back the present to kidnap airline passengers who about to die in an accidental crash, replace them with identical dead bodies and bring them back to the future to send them off to colonize other planets to maintain human civilization.

   The idea being that this is a way to not disrupt the true flow of time, since people about to die would not be missed, causing a different change of events to occur, rather than the present one. As anyone who has read time-travel stories knows full well, changing things in the past can seriously change things in the future.

   Kris Kristofferson plays Bill Smith, a head NTSB investigator in charge of looking into one such crash, during which he accidentally meets Cheryl Ladd, leader of a commando crew such as described above, the second time for her, the first time for him. Can one chance encounter such as this, under the strangest conditions, lead to romance? Of course it can.

   The idea of time-travel paradoxes is well explained — for example, what would happen if you went into the past and killed your grandfather before you were born? — but even the best attempts to present the same on the screen can easily go awry.

   It may have helped if they had asked me — should I go back in the past and offer my services? — but when scenes shifted in this movie, a caption of what time and year it was would have helped. I had to back up once to start over again myself to make sure when it was that what on the screen was happening. Luckily with modern technology (a DVD player, not a time machine) I could do that easily.

   If the presentation hadn’t been so confusing, this would have been a very enjoyable movie, with one more caveat: If you watch this movie and start to get worried about timequakes, with a paradox caused in the past rippling its way through to the present, shaking the furniture around like an earthquake was happening, you needn’t. You’d never know.

CLIFTON ADAMS – Death’s Sweet Song. Gold Medal 483; paperback original; 1st printing, March 1955. Black Curtain Press, paperback, 2013. Reprinted by Stark House Press, softcover, 2014, combined with the novel Whom Gods Destroy (Gold Medal 291, 1953).

   Adams is perhaps better known as an award-winning writer of westerns, but this is one of two or three crime/suspense novels he’s written as well. It’s solidly in the small area of the field once very popular — the story of a good man gone bad, tempted too far by a weakness of the flesh and the overpowering proximity of the sensuous evil of an all-too-willing woman.

   If this a tale no longer seen very often, Gold Medal is probably at fault, for they surely wore out their presses on this particular sub-genre of eroticism during their first ten years in business (pointing out as I say this that practitioners of the form include such noted authors as Charles Williams and John D. MacDonald).

   This one takes place in and around a shabby motel on Route 66, at a time before the interstate system of highways made us a nation of Holiday Inners. Creston, Oklahoma — a town a smart guy simply aches to get out of, and Joe Hooper is pining away for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come knocking. Beth is the local girl everyone assumes he will marry some day. It is taken for granted, a pinpoint of accuracy showing how life goes on in a small town.

   The wife of the safe-cracker staying overnight in Joe’s motel, in the room next door, is named Paula. Naturally he cuts himself in on their plans. Murder is not, however, originally on the agenda. It’s hard to to say how stupid men can be over women, yet granting a bit of leeway, I suppose they can make messes of their lives as easily as this.

Rating:  B minus.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 2, No. 2, March 1978 (slightly revised).


Note:   One of Clifton Adams’ pen names was Jonathan Gant, and one of the books he wrote under that name was Never Say No to a Killer (Ace Double D-157). You can read my review of that book here.

SELECTED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


   Lalo Schifrin was the original choice to do the soundtrack for the film The Exorcist. YouTube claims this was his original theme:



   Director William Friedkin rejected Schifrin’s work turning to Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” for the theme:



   The history behind this has always claimed Schifrin’s soundtrack scared test audiences too much and the studio asked to have it toned done. Hard to believe after listening to that theme, but when you listen to this recording of Schifrin’s soundtrack the problem of intensity is more obvious.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


HAZARD. Paramount Pictures, 1948. Paulette Goddard, Macdonald Carey, Fred Clark, Stanley Clements, Percy Helton, Frank Faylen, Charles McGraw. Maxie Rosenbloom Screenplay by Arthur Sheekman and Roy Chanslor (his novel). Directed by George Marshall.

   Looking at that cast and those credits you can forgiven for thinking this must be a small missing gem you have somehow overlooked.

   I had fairly high hopes for this when I saw the cast and credits — for about fifteen minutes.

   Goddard is Ellen Crane, a spoiled rich girl with a gambling problem ever since the boy she was engaged to died in the war. Fred Clark is Lonnie, the owner of Club 7 who has a thing for her. She is into him for $5,000 and a hot check and he offers her a deal; high card wins and she is either clear or she marries him.

   She doesn’t draw the high card or there would be no plot. She skips town, but Lonnie hires skip tracer Storm (Macdonald Carey) to stop her starting a cross country race that leads to Chicago and Los Angeles, and then a road trip back as she and Storm connect. He even does a little cheap analysis proving she has been trying to lose her father’s money by compulsive gambling because she blames that for her boyfriend’s death.

   George Marshall was one of the masters of the comedic form, and the cast is uniformly good, but this is the flattest film you have ever had the bad luck to see. There is no spark between Goddard and Carey, the script is dishwater dull, and not even the character actors manage a bright moment.

   There isn’t a genuine laugh in the picture. There’s not a moment where the film ever rises above the level of one single note. Even a bit of action and rough stuff at the ending leaves the blood pressure low. When George Marshall can’t even choreograph a comedic fight you know things are bad.

   There is one single funny line, the last one in the film delivered by Frank Faylen to Fred Clark followed by Clark’s double take, but by then it is far too little too late. Skip this and take a nap instead. It will be more exciting — likely more laughs too.

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:


UNTAMED WOMEN. United Artists, 1952. Mikel Conrad, Lyle Talbot, and a lot of people whose names would mean nothing to you. Look ’em up at IMDb if you want to satisfy your morbid curiosity; do I have to do all the work around here? Written by George Wallace Sayre. Directed by W. Merle Connell.

   An adolescent-dream film, written by a B-movie veteran and directed by a maker of early Nudie Flicks.

   The story opens with a military doctor of some sort (played by that bad-movie stalwart Lyle Talbot) explaining Mikel Conrad’s case to an Archaeologist (?!) then shifts to a hospital room where the kindly Doc shoots Conrad full of some kind of drug that triggers a flashback to the rest of the film: Four men from a WWII bomber crew shot down and cast up on an uncharted island that turns out to be populated by beautiful women in skimpy outfits — why can’t I have flashbacks like that?

   All is not sweetness and spice here, however; it seems the High Priestess of the nubiles is mistrustful of our lucky heroes, although the rest of the tribe can’t wait to get their hands on them. Complications ensue, including mild bondage of the sort you used to see on the covers of All Man magazine, dinosaurs, invasive hairy cavemen, earthquakes and an Oedipus complex. There’s also a “comic relief” who will remind you irresistibly of that irritating guy in your barracks who never shut up.

   The Dinosaurs in this film are “borrowed” from One Million B.C. (1940) using the same stock footage that appeared in so much low-budget film and TV of the 1950s, from Jungle Jim to Rin Tin Tin. Indeed, it cropped up so often in those days that I feel I grew up with it; the lizard monsters have become like old friends for me, the caves and cliffs as familiar as the scenes of my childhood, and the volcano erupting has assumed the status of a perennial treat. Untamed Women thus became for me not just another silly movie, but a nostalgic revisit to my tawdry youth.

   Be that as it may, I would estimate that of Untamed Women’s 70-minute running time, 20 minutes are courtesy of One Million B.C. The sad part is that they constitute the most interesting parts of the movie. The rest is taken up in talk, a long walk around Bronson Canyon, more talk, a bit of cheesecake and a lot of plain damn silliness.

   The acting… well my first impression was that it seemed pretty bad, but on reflection, it may be the only dramatically valid response to a script that includes lines like “The strange-tongued one speaketh in riddles.” And “Shoot anything with hair that moves!”

   Okay, Untamed Women may not be quite as enjoyably bad as some other films I could name, but I’d have to say it has a solid place in the ranks, and fans of this sort of thing should put it on their lists.

   I’ve just received and installed the photoshop software that I have been using on my now defunct computer upstairs in my study on my wife’s computer. I may try to see if I can install it on my laptop which I’m using now, but I have been told it might not be compatible with Windows 7.

   In any case, the Adobe software on my laptop has been reverted back to backup status again. To try out the new software — and it works! — I’ve added two more images to Bill Deeck’s review of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Door.

   You can see the results here: http://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=38060

   What I can do now is go back to posting longer reviews and any other articles and essays that require more than one image. They’ve been on hold until I didn’t have to waste so much time using Adobe. Eh.

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