January 2016


GRET LANE – Death Prowls the Cove. Herbert Jenkins, UK, hardcover, no date stated but known to be 1942.

   Nothing much seems to be known about Gret Lane, author of 13 works of crime and detective published in England between 1925 and 1943, except that the name itself is a pseudonym. The first two are standalone tales, two others are cases tackled (and solved, one presumes) by a policeman by the name of Inspector Hook. All of the rest (nine in all) feature an amateur originally named Kate Clare, but once she is married, she is Kate Marsh, as she is in Death Prowls the Cove.

   And in eight of the nine, she is paired up with a police inspector named John Barrin, but by the time Cove was written, and perhaps for some time before, he had retired from Scotland Yard. Both families, Kate and her husband Tony Marsh (who writes adventure tales), and Barrin and his wife Jennie (a matron of 60 or so who knits a lot) now live in semi-detached cottages in the small town of White Owl Cove along the shore in South Devon.

   Between them they have two maids, Polly and Sarah, sisters who in turn are engaged to two former miscreants, now totally reformed, from earlier books, named Bill and Jo-Jo. Dead not too far into the book is Jo-Jo’s Uncle Pierre, a former smuggler who has come to live in England from France.

   Suspected are Uncle Pierre’s former colleagues in crime; Bob Daw, a loutish local poacher of a fellow who had an argument with the dead man in a local drinking establishment before his death; a coterie of neighbors high above the cove who act very suspiciously; and Bill or Jo-Jo themselves, separately or together.

   This is a very cozy affair, with lots of huddled plans and strategies on the part of the combined two households, along with a local police inspector who is more than willing to let both Kate and John Berrin have the way with the investigation.

   And any self-respecting criminal who begin to beware when Kate starts reflectively rubbing the side of her nose. I hope I haven’t made this as unexciting as it is not, but truthfully the killer(s) can easily discerned by the laziest of readers — the scale and scope of the tale being so narrowly restricted as it is.

   I wouldn’t mind reading another, if I could afford it. The least expensive copy offered for sale online is in the $60 range, and some of the earlier ones have even higher price tags, if they are offered for sale anywhere at all.

       The Kate Clare (Marsh) series —

The Cancelled Score Mystery. Jenkins 1929 [JB]
The Curlew Coombe Mystery. Jenkins 1930 [JB]
The Lantern House Affair. Jenkins 1931
The Hotel Cremona Mystery. Jenkins 1932 [JB]
The Unknown Enemy. Jenkins 1933 [JB]
Death Visits the Summer-House. Jenkins 1939 [JB]
Death in Mermaid Lane. Jenkins 1940 [JB]
Death Prowls the Cove. Jenkins 1942 [JB]
The Guest with the Scythe. Jenkins 1943 [JB]

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


   I picked up used copies of two novels the other day by an author I’d somehow missed, Bernard Schopen, who writes about a Reno, Nevada detective named Jack Ross. The books are The Big Silence (1989) and The Desert Look (1990).

   They’re not bad, strongly reminiscent of Ross Macdonald in how they deal with crimes of the past that haunt the present, but Jack Ross is much more of a presence than Archer. The prose is powerful in places, particularly lyrical in describing the desert, but overwritten in others.

   The stories he tells are both tortuous and tortured, at times making Macdonald seem cheerful in comparison. Both were published by Mysterious Press in hardback and paper. I’m unaware of others, but these are worth checking out if PIs are your thing.

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


Bibliographic Update: There was a third book in the series: The Iris Deception (University of Nevada Press, softcover, 1996).

From Wikipedia: “Rani Arbo and the band Daisy Mayhem, consisting of Andrew Kinsey, Anand Nayak, and Scott Kessel, are an American musical group whose style combines folk, country blues, progressive bluegrass, jazz, and swing.”

This is a live version of a song included on their 2015 CD Violets Are Blue.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


JAMES ROLLINS – Amazonia. William Morrow, hardcover, 2002. Avon, paperback, 2003.

   James Rollins is a vet who has written several thrillers that don’t pose any serious threat to Clive Cussler but travel the same well-worn path of outsize adventures in tropical/arctic/marine settings, with fantastic elements that include lost races, animals surviving from prehistoric times, and cardboard characters. As you might imagine, I enjoy this sort of flimflammery.

   Nathan Rand’s father and his scientific party were lost in the “lush wilderness of the Amazon” years ago and presumed dead. Now a surviving member has made his way from the depths of the jungle but has died, his body acidly eaten away by malignant tumors. The most notable thing about the dead returnee is that he had one arm when he disappeared with the Rand party, |but stumbled from the jungle years later with two arms.

   The government quickly forms a search team while a multinational corporation, the company that originally financed the Rand expedition, is secretly fielding its own search team, not to rescue but to retrieve any medical data they might use and destroy the government party.

   Add to the mix a mysterious, perhaps legendary tribe of jaguar warriors, and jungle perils that beggar every imagination but that of the author and you have a predictable Rollins’ juggernaut on the move.

   The most memorable — and sympathetic — creation is a black jaguar trained by one of the members of the government crew. I’m sure that you’1l be relieved to know that he survives, although not all of the other good guys do. The most striking element is a gigantic, centuries old tree that contains the still living bodies of millennia of animals and humans in its roots, feeding off their vital essences and creating a unique evolutionary record.

   Now to track down Ice Hunt, which appears to be the latest in the apparently successful and profitable series. (I say that only because I can’t imagine that anyone would continue publishing these overwritten, implausible but fun novels if they weren’t making money.)

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

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:


SOL MADRID. MGM, 1968. David McCallum, Stella Stevens, Telly Savalas, Ricardo Montalban, Rip Torn, Pat Hingle, Paul Lukas, Capo Riccione, Michael Ansara. Screenplay by David Karp based on the book Fruit of the Poppy by Robert Wilder. Director: Brian G. Hutton.

   Hot off his television role in CBS’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E., David McCallum starred in the hardboiled thriller, Sol Madrid. Featuring an alternatively psychedelic and jazzy score by Lalo Schifrin, Sol Madrid has McCallum portraying the eponymous title character, a cynical, at times ruthless Interpol agent tasked with bringing down a heroin ring run by flamboyant criminal mastermind by the name of Emil Dietrich (a scenery-chewing Telly Savalas).

   Set in Mexico, the movie also features Rip Torn as a sadistic mafia boss, Stella Stevens as a nice small town girl who gets herself mixed up with some unsavory characters, and Ricardo Montalban as Madrid’s Mexican Interpol contact who wants nothing more than to live it up and retire early.

   Although the plot really is quite basic with very little new to offer, the movie’s explicit depiction of heroin usage certainly pushed boundaries when it was first released. Not only does the movie begin with a seedy scene in a shooting gallery, there’s also a horrific sequence in which Rip Torn’s character tortures a girl by deliberately getting her hooked on dope.

   Despite some tense moments and some terse dialogue, the movie ends up feeling tremendously incomplete. Not only does one get the impression that some of the movie’s most important sequences may have been edited out, but one can’t help but wonder whether most of the actors in the film were simply there for their paycheck. In more ways than one, that is a real shame, for Sol Madrid really had the potential to be something far more than just another rather forgettable late 1960s studio production, albeit one with just enough punch to it to make you want to watch to the very end.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


MARY ROBERTS RINEHART – The Door. Farrar & Rinehart, hardcover, 1930. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and paperback.

   This is a typical Mary Roberts Rinehart production. Eschewing the latter-day Gothic type, as someone has described it, as “a girl gets a house,” Rinehart pretty much sticks with an elderly maiden lady gets, or has, a house. (The Red Lamp is about a man who gets a house, complete with haunt, but that was a one-time aberration.) And in that house peculiar and frightening things always happen.

   Well, at least the goings-on frighten the maids. The gentry, while aware that something peculiar may be taking place, generally deny it orally in the hope that it will go away or investigate it so surreptitiously or so cautiously or so stupidly that they might well not have bothered.

   In The Door, the family nurse leaves the house on a cryptic errand. She does not come back. Some days later her body is found.

   A man is seen upon the stair, and thereupon disappears. Someone is mysteriously wandering about the house at night. A woman who comes to the door and is turned away is subsequently found dead to the last drop. A young cousin of the lady of the house is attacked on the grounds, and later on her boyfriend is treated the same way.

   There is a great deal of people not telling other people things they ought to know, particularly concealing information that it would be helpful for the police to be aware of. Such clues as there are were not sufficient for this reader to figure out who was the murderer, but Rinehart has never been a fair-play author. Indeed, in her introduction to The Mary Roberts Crime Book, which contains The Door, The Confession, and The Red Lamp, she states: “… I shall probably always be known as a writer of detective books, which I emphatically am not.” It can’t be said fairer than that, Mary.

   Rinehart was certainly no literary stylist, but her writing has always been competent and maybe a little better than that of the general run of Gothic writers. She did, of course, have her weaknesses. One is her penchant for anticipation. She frequently tells us what her characters are going to encounter. This wouldn’t be so bad, but she then has to tell us what they encounter when they do encounter it.

   Another fault she is guilty of is having her main character draw up a list of questions about what has happened. She may do this because she thinks her readers are nitwits who can’t keep in mind all the presumed oddities or because the demands of serialisation, which is how many of her novels were first published, required that the readers’ memories be refreshed.

   Her novels do give you an upper-class picture of a bygone era when servants were numerous and the females among them were given to fainting fits and other manifestations likely to irritate the gentry. The novels should be read for this aspect and their atmosphere of suspense.

— Reprinted from CADS 21, August 1993. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.

APPOINTMENT IN HONDURAS. RKO, 1953. Glenn Ford, Ann Sheridan, Zachary Scott, Rodolfo Acosta, Jack Elam, Ric Roman, Rico Alaniz. Director: Jacques Tourneur.

   Mostly a mediocre film, I regret to report. Perhaps I was expecting more, which sometimes happens. Glenn Ford plays a passenger on a ship making its way along the eastern coast of Central America. He’s a man on a mission, a mission that needs his presence (an whatever is in his money belt) in Honduras, where a revolution has just taken place. When the captain of the boat refuses to make landfall, Ford releases a gang of prisoners on board, and in return they take a married couple on the ship along as hostages.

   The couple (Ann Sheridan and Zachary Scott) are married but not happily so. He is a weak man but also a wealthy one. As we discover as the movie goes along, we gradually realize that she was aware of his first quality when she married him, but the second one compensated for that flaw considerably.

   Until she meets Glenn Ford. As this group of very disparate strangers makes their way through the jungle, complete with pythons, pumas and tiger fish, more than a fight for survival is going on. You’d think that a steamy romance would ensue, but as a romance, it’s not all that steamy. Glenn Ford was a master at portraying a man with something simmering inside, and so it is here, and we get the feeling that his mission is more important to him than whatever Ann Sheridan would like to have develop between the two of them.

   Do you know, I don’t think I knew that Ann Sheridan had red hair before. Why, when she was younger, did they always seem to cast her in black-and-white movies? One of the great unsolved mysteries of the film world.

   I am also not a big fan of Jacques Tourneur. I’m sure that this is not one of the films that made his reputation, but even in his best-known films, while I find the stories extremely well filmed and choreographed, I find the movies themselves do not often make a coherent whole. So it is here. There’s a lot of mystery going on, and there isn’t. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it does to me.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


MARTIN CAIDIN – The God Machine. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1968. Paperback reprints include: Bantam, 1969; Baen, 1989.

       — Four Came Back. David McKay Co., hardcover, 1968. Paperback reprints include: Bantam 1970; Baen, 1988.

   Martin Caidin, who wrote science fiction and adventure grounded in hard science and technology, and who is best remembered today for his novel Cyborg, which became the basis for the cult television series The Six Million Dollar Man, was never really part of the science fiction community his work most resembles. Most of his novels, like Cyborg, are thrillers using science fictional elements, and the writer he most resembles is Mickey Spillane in his narrative style and politics — which became increasingly bizarre (*) and dominant in his work later in his career.

   But before that he wrote some entertaining adventure novels with a bit of hard science and technology in a blend of SF and thriller adventure novel that was unique to him.

   The God Machine is the old supercomputer takes over the world trope. The hero, Steve Rand, works on Project 79, and as the book opens he is getting suspicious after an attempt on his life. He soon becomes convinced that it was the work of Project 79, a computer which may have achieved true AI (artificial intelligence).

   Caidin was a top notch suspense novelist when he wanted to be, and Rand’s first person narration has an immediacy that will likely remind you favorably of Mickey Spillane, both in some fairly explicit (for the time) Spillane style sex scenes and the violence.

   Rand manages to find a couple of allies in the project (one an attractive pneumatic fellow scientist) and in a suspenseful final down to the wire conflict must penetrate the near omniscient Project 79 and its lethal radioactive core in order to destroy the machine. It may not be as thoughtful as D. F. Jones’s Colossus: The Forbin Project of Charles Eric Maine’s B.E.A.S.T., but you can’t fault it as storytelling.

   Four Came Back has an international group of eight astronauts sent to a space station in near-earth orbit contaminated by an alien virus accidentally brought on the ship. As the orbit deteriorates and the virus spreads they have to face that not only will they not be rescued, they may have no choice but to destroy themselves to keep from spreading the disease to Earth.

   The crew is a mix of men and women, so there is a strong sexual element, kept in hand unlike some of Caidin’s later novels, and the narrative tension remains strong to the last page. It was a timely book when it first appeared, as NASA was seriously concerned they not bring anything back from space with the early Gemini missions, and it still works despite dating though Michael Crichton far surpassed it on all points with The Andromeda Strain. Four Came Back falls somewhere between Strain and Alistair MacLean’s The Satan Bug (published as by Ian Stuart).

   The immediacy of Caidin’s best work shows here, and many of today’s thriller writers could learn something about narrative drive from reading these. Caidin delivered a maximum of suspense and drive in the books of this era, and many are still worth reading, even if the science and technology that were his selling point are out of date.

   At his best, including Marooned (basis in an expanded version for the hit film with Gregory Peck), The Last Fathom, Cyborg, Whip, Almost Midnight, and Three Corners to Nowhere, Caidin wrote highly readable thrillers often with a strong basis in barely speculative day after tomorrow science and featuring strong narrative drive.

   He was always at his best writing about flying. His years as a pilot and his love of flying was another thing he shared with Mickey Spillane, and in addition to his novels he wrote several good nonfiction works about flying and space as a reporter. He also penned novelizations of films such as The Final Countdown, the Six Million Dollar Man series, an updated Buck Rogers novel, and books in the Indiana Jones series of paperback originals for Bantam. His work roughly spans from 1956 to 1990 including non fiction and fiction, novels and short fiction.

   I re-read the two reviewed here a few years ago, and while the science may not hold up and the technology has long since been surpassed, the narrative drive and Caidin’s convincing voice still shine through. These are solid entertaining and cinematic novels from his best period and are well worth a read, if you don’t mind your science well behind the contemporary norm and somewhat old fashioned pulpish writing.

(*) FOOTNOTE.  In the Eighties Caidin hosted a Joe Pyne style talk show in which he confronted extremist groups and their leaders, then late in his career he became convinced he was possessed with PSI powers which was reflected in his novels often featuring amoral murderous supermen as protagonists. (I don’t think even Caidin would call them heroes.)

   Some of his later books are disturbing reading for anyone who admired his earlier work, with some titles like Beamriders, Prison Ship, The Messiah Stone, and Dark Messiah just unreadable for me.

   These later books combine the worst of the late works of Robert A. Heinlein with Randian extremism and almost Sadean scenes of sex and violence. Be warned, depending on your tolerance for this sort of thing. Whether it serves as a warning or as an enticement, most of those late works were published by Baen Books. In general I would avoid most of his work past 1981 save for the Indiana Jones books and TSR’s Buck Rogers: A Life in the Future (1995), but everyone will be their own guide.

From this Canadian singer’s 8th jazz album, The Beat Goes On (2010):

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:


THE VIOLENT MEN. Columbia Pictures, 1955. Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Dianne Foster, Brian Keith, May Wynn, Warner Anderson, Basil Ruysdael, Lita Milan, Richard Jaeckel, James Westerfield, Jack Kelly, Willis Bouchey, Harry Shannon. Based on the novel Smoky Valley by Donald Hamilton. Director: Rudolph Maté.

   Sometimes the formula works. That’s what I thought when I finished watching The Violent Men, a taut, emotionally wrenching Western starring Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson.

   The plot, a standard one about a range war, follows former Union soldier John Parrish (Ford) as he gradually becomes embroiled in one with local land baron and petty tyrant, Lew Wilkenson (Robinson). Parrish initially is more than willing to sell his land to Wilkenson and head East with his fiancée. But when he realizes just how thuggish Wilkenson’s brother, Cole (Brian Keith) is and the lengths to which the Wilkenson clan are willing to go in order to consolidate their power, Parrish shifts gears and decides to launch a violent confrontation with the brothers.

   But behind these eponymous violent men there is a devious, scheming woman with blood as cold as ice: Martha Wilkenson (Barbara Stanwyck), Lew’s wife and Cole’s lover. Her duplicitousness and hidden contempt for her husband serve to fuel the fire that both literally and figuratively consumes Anchor, the family’s estate.

   With its tragic underpinnings and intense focus on family drama, there is something operatic about The Violent Men. That may help explain why the movie makes such extensive use of its score in pivotal scenes, so much so that the music occasionally overwhelms the visual presentation.

   This has the opposite effect of what the director likely intended, making scenes a bit too melodramatic for their own good. But with a solid cast and some beautiful outdoor scenery, this Western is something I imagine Tennessee Williams could have written, had he worked in the genre. It remains an above average film that, despite its forced upbeat ending, is well worth seeking out.

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