June 2017


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


THE SMILING GHOST. Warner Brothers, 1941. Wayne Morris, Brenda Marshall, Alexis Smith, Willie Best, Alan Hale, David Bruce. Written by Kenneth Gamet and Stuart Palmer. Directed by Lewis Seiler.

   A recent review here of Secret of the Blue Room (1933) got me wondering: Universal used this story again in 1938 (The Missing Guest) and 1944 (Murder in the Blue Room). So how did it turn up at Warners in 1941?

   In all fairness, Ghost takes a wholly different comic approach to the story and introduces characters not found in any blue room — some of them rather well-realized — but when we get to the series of murdered fiancés and the eventual solution, we are on very familiar ground indeed.

   Wayne Morris starts the film as an impecunious engineer looking for any sort of job, who hires on to be engaged to Alexis Smith for a month, unaware that each of her previous fiancés has met a horrible fate. By the time he’s wised up by reporter Brenda Marshall he has narrowly escaped murder at the hands of the eponymous ghoul .

   Okay, never mind the improbability of this guy getting a scientific degree and having two intelligent women fall in love with him. They do it for the sake of the plot, so let’s just get on with the skulking shadows, eyes peering through secret passages, brushes with death and all the rest of it.

   The proceedings are enlivened considerably by subsidiary characters like Charles Halton as an eccentric uncle who collects shrunken heads, and especially by Alan Hale as a detective posing none-too-convincingly as a butler. Lewis Seiler directs without distinction but he keeps things moving, and the rest of the cast are the usual Warners reliables, with everyone pitching in to keep things going efficiently and forgettably.

   But I still can’t figure out how writers Gamet and Palmer passed this off as their own…..

THE SMILING GHOST


Editorial Comment:   Walter Albert has also reviewed this film for this blog, nearly six years ago. Check it out here.

BENNETT FOSTER – Gila City. Five Star, hardcover, 2003. Leisure, paperback; 1st printing, September 2004. A fix-up novel comprised of six stories reprinted from the western pulp magazines; details below.

   To call it a novel is, truthfully, an exaggeration. What this book actually consists of is a series of connected but individual stories from the pulps, each with its own definitive ending. What’s more than a bit strange about this is that the stories did not all come from the same magazine. Chronologically, and in the same orderas they appear in this book, they jumped from title to title, as follows:

        “Mail for Freedom Hill” Dime Western, November 1946.
        “Pilgrim for Boothill’s Glory Hole” Star Western, February 1947.
        “Dandy Bob’s Cold-Deck Cattle Deal” Dime Western, April 1947.
        “The Joke in Hell’s Backyard” Dime Western, July 1947.
        “Gila’s Four-Rod Justice” New Western, December 1947.
        “Duggan Trouble at Salada Wash” Dime Western, March 1948.

   All of the stories take place in the small western town of Gila City, Arizona. It’s within a day’s ride of Tucson, if that helps you place it geographically. Some of the same townspeople appear now and then, as needed, but the villains generally come and go within the time and space of a single story. (More often than not they don’t even survive to the end of the story.)

   The two primary protagonists, on the other hand, are the same throughout: First and foremost, Dandy Bob Roberts, local gambler and sharply dressed gent of sharper than average wit. He is also not averse to doing a little cattle rustling on the side. His natural-born tendency toward illicit ventures always seem to turn around on him, though, often making a small town hero of him. His stature in town seems somehow to keep rising, mostly because of the interference of Old Man Duggan, town drunk, stable hostler and teller of tall tales, and a constant pain in the behind to Dandy Bob.

   For example: When a dude from the East (or pilgrim, as he’s referred to here) happens to come to town looking for a mine to buy, Bob decides to salt the Widow Fennessy’s holdings. Old Man Duggan, having the same idea, unknowingly manages to switch Bob’s high grade ore back to a bag of useless rock. It all works out in the end, though. An inadvertent explosion in the mine exposes a new vein of gold, starting the Widow Fennessy into thinking a lot more favorably of Old Man Duggan as suitable marriage material.

   Which is more plot detail than I’d usually provide, but it should give you the general gist of these gently humorous stories, along with the not idly stated fact that they are gently humorous. Dandy Bob in one story actually becomes the owner of the saloon he’s been plying his trade in all these years, and in another tale Old Man Duggan somehow manages to get himself elected Justice of the Peace, but alas neither position or status is permanent.

   Totally ephemeral, in other words, but also a more than adequate way to spend one’s time while flying cross country on an airplane.

ADVENTURES IN COLLECTING:
BOOK HUNTING IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
by Walker Martin


   For two glorious, insane, and busy weeks I’ve been on the trip of a lifetime. The adventure started May 31, 2017, when I boarded the Queen Mary 2 in Brooklyn, NY and ended on June 14, 2017, when I stumbled off the airplane at the Newark, NJ airport. At no time did I get more than five hours sleep each night and often not even five hours. But it was worth the trip because everything was free and paid for by a fellow book and pulp collector that I’ve been friends with for almost 50 years.

   What do I mean by free? The entire trip was paid for, free seven day luxury cruise, free hotel rooms in London, free hotel in Hay on Wye, otherwise known as “The Town of Books,” free trains, free airplane tickets. In another words the only thing I had to pay for was my books, beer, and some food (the food was free on the 7 day cruise).

   There were six of us on this trip and the total cost must have been over $20,000, or close to it. The story behind how all this came to pass is fascinating and began over 100 years ago when a young boy named Ollie Pendar decided to start collecting Cracker Jack baseball cards in 1914. He was born in 1905, so he was only nine years old and never dreamed that his card collection would finance a trip of a lifetime 100 years later.

   He put together the baseball card collection by buying and eating boxes of Cracker Jack, each of which had a card as a prize. He obtained the official Cracker Jack Album and pasted the cards in during 1914 and 1915. There were over 100 cards of some of the great early baseball stars. This was back in the era when baseball truly was The National Sport, not like today when people flock to such sports as football and basketball. Shortly after Ollie went away to boarding school, and his mother packed them away in a box where they stayed for almost 100 years.

   Now mothers are known for their dislike of baseball cards, comic books, stamp collections, etc. They usually throw such collections in the trash, meanwhile chuckling with glee and sadistic happiness. That’s why these collectibles are so valuable and rare. Without mothers we would be drowning in piles of comics and baseball cards, all worthless because our moms did not throw them away.

   But Ollie’s mom saved them and there the cards resided in the attic for the teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties. I’m sure Ollie and his mother forgot about them and did not realize they were sitting on a future fortune. Ollie lived a long life as an attorney and died at age 96 in 2002. His heirs did not open the box containing the cards until 2014 and before the Internet they probably would have been chucked into the garbage. But nowadays a simple google search on your computer, and you can see the cards are worth a fortune.

   They have even been given a name: The Stockton Find. To make a long story short, the cards were auctioned off one by one and realized over six figures. Some sold for only hundreds each but some sold for thousands. I believe one card had a high bid of $26,000. There were three main heirs, and my friend got a third of the amount realized. I’ve known hundreds of book collectors, and I know what they would have done with such a windfall of money. They would have blown it on their book and pulp collections, spent it on themselves, maybe put it in the bank, or perhaps spent it on their favorite vices such as drugs, booze, or women. Or perhaps the collector’s wife would confiscate the money. I’ve seen it happen time and time again, so I know whereof of speak.

   But my friend did not do any of the above. Instead he decided to spend his share of the money on a book hunting cruise and trip to England and Wales. I think it is now time to identify the generous collector who dreamed up this trip and paid for it: Everard Pendar Digges La Touche. His relatives, neighbors, co-workers know him as Pen, but book and pulp collectors know him as Digges. Since he retired as a Major from the Air Force and one of his favorite literary characters is The Major by L. Patrick Greene, he is often called The Major.

   Behind his back we sometimes refer to him as The Reading Machine, but it is a compliment based on the character The Thinking Machine and the fact that Digges can read a book anywhere and any time except while in the shower. The only reason he doesn’t read in the shower is because the pages get drenched and he can’t read the words.

   I should also introduce the five readers and collectors that Digges invited to go on this trip:

      Nick Certo–Book dealer, art collector, and expert on conspiracy theories.

      Richard Corcoran–Businessman, student of politics, and the youngest member by far of our little group

      Scott Hartshorn–Book seller, art collector, and expert on film noir.

      Ed Hulse–Editor, publisher, author, and the man behind Blood n Thunder magazine and Murania Press.

      Walker Martin–Since I’ve filled up my house with books, pulps, vintage paperbacks, original art, dvds, and jazz cds, I refer to myself as The Collector. But others call me Percy, since I think Percy Helton was one of the greatest character actors ever filmed.

   Unfortunately only three of the above could take the seven day cruise. The other three flew out to England seven days later, and all six of us met in London. I feel I have to say something about the cruise which was an amazing way to start off this grand adventure. I’ve been on a cruise before so I knew what to expect but this was a luxury cruise with everything first class. There were almost 3,000 guests and over 1,000 employees making sure that the guests enjoyed themselves.

   I’ve never eaten such fine and excellent food for seven days. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were superb events where fine food and drink were served. The service was unbelievable. During the day entertainment such as plays, music, and all sorts of events kept us busy. At night there were several jazz clubs on board the ship.

   I ate, drank, and gained ten pounds due to my gluttony. All the food was paid for already but I managed to rack up almost $400 for beer, gin and tonics, and other incidentals. It was a cruise to die for, and I probably would have died if it had been much longer! Also on this heavenly cruise were Digges and Scott Hartshorn.

   When the ship docked, we met the other three collectors at our hotel in London and the six of us spent two days in the big city visiting museums, 221 Baker Street, several bookstores, Charing Cross Road, riding the subway system and eating and drinking in pubs. I loved the pubs, and now I wonder why the USA doesn’t have more of them.

   The six of us in front of 221 Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes in London. From left to right: Digges, Walker Martin, Richard Corcoran, Nick Certo, and Ed Hulse. Scott Hartshorn is peering over the top of Ed.

   Digges and Ed in 221 Baker Street!

   This shows four of us in the cafe of the Richard Booth Bookshop in Hay on Wye. Booth was the self appointed King of Hay On Wye. On the left are Digges and Ed Hulse. On the right are Walker Martin and Richard Corcoran. (Richard is the young guy.)

   Here are Ed Hulse and Digges La Touche strolling between some buildings. The streets were narrow and the sidewalks very small. I was almost run over by a couple of speeding cars. What better way to die while hunting for books?

   This photo shows some of the shops and bookstores. All these buildings are made to last and built of stone, unlike many houses in the US.

   As we visited the bookstores I noticed a serious problem, mainly how the hell was I going to fit all the books in my luggage? Most bookstores in London and Hay on Wye did not want to ship the books to America. So when I saw a book I wanted, I usually made a note of it and figured I could probably buy it a lot cheaper in the US. Certainly that would solve my luggage problem and postage would be a lot cheaper. When I arrived back home I looked up several books on abebooks.com and sure enough they were available at far lower cost.

   But there were still rare books that had to be bought! Most were in Hay on Wye, which is a beautiful little town of about 30 to 40 bookstores and perhaps a pub on every street corner. Our hotel in Hay on Wye was the beautiful Swan Hotel, and I recommend it highly. They had a great breakfast included with the room and two pubs. They also had a nice meeting room for us to hang out in between book buying. The staff was extremely friendly and seemed glad to see us, unlike the hotel in London which was disappointing to say the least.

   Almost all the bookstores in Hay on Wye were of interest. We spent four days there which is ample time to investigate them. Richard Booth’s Bookshop and Cafe was the biggest and Murder and Mayhem the most interesting. But the one I found to be the best and most unusual was The Poetry Bookstore. It was a former ice house, and I spent some time in the basement where it was still chilly and very damp. It is the only bookstore in the UK devoted to books dealing with poetry. The main floor had many books on poetry, and the basement had hundreds of poetry magazines. I collect and read these back issues and have thousands in my own collection, but I still managed to find some back issues I needed.

   About half of our group had no interest in The Poetry Bookstore, of course, but there were plenty of other stores to satisfy our bibliomania. Many detective novels were bought in Murder and Mayhem and Digges found some volumes of P. G. Wodehouse that he still needed. Nick being a book dealer himself, found several books for his own collection and for possible customers, including the exceedingly rare magazine The Outsider, containing poems by Bukowski. The three issues were priced at hundreds of pounds but I’m sure he got a good deal. I don’t collect Blackwood’s Magazine, but I found several volumes reprinting stories from the 1800’s on into the 1920’s and 1930’s.

   There were plenty of books that were not rare, but we bought them to read. I was kept busy scribbling away titles and authors that I intended to look up in the US and order through abebooks. In addition to poetry magazines, I also collect literary or little magazines. I found a few oddball titles and managed to read several stories and articles in my room at the Swan Hotel.

   Here is Ed Hulse again, this time in front of the remains of an old castle which is being restored.

   Speaking of reading, what else did I read during the two weeks? In addition to poems and stories from the literary magazines, I read several tales from Blackwood’s Magazine, a collection of Robert Silverberg stories from his best period of 1970-1972, and a book of Philip Larkin’s poetry chosen by Martin Amis.

   It seemed that this trip was full of funny events, one howler after another. But this is to be expected when a bunch of old friends get together for such a big trip and adventure. Let me pick out a few to give you a taste. They all involve literature in some form or another:

      1. One of our group found what looked like a first edition of 1984 by George Orwell in dust jacket and in great condition. Only six pounds! Rushing up to pay for it, the cashier calmly said with a sneer, “You do realize this is the Dutch edition”. Needless to say none of us can read Dutch.

      2. As readers and book collectors, we all know the power of a good story. No matter what our surroundings, we can lose ourselves in a good novel. This happened to me when my roommate started to brew coffee and almost set the room on fire in our London hotel. I was in bed, under the covers reading and noticed nothing until I heard loud cursing coming from the kitchen area. Looking up I saw a lot of smoke billowing through the room. But there was no sprinkler system or fire alarm! We managed to put out the fire and get a fan to blow out the smoke. A few days later I saw a big tower of apartments go up in flames on TV in London, and I totally understood that the British have different fire codes than we do.

      3. This is a true story. Near the end of our trip as we started to realize that no one was going to ship all our books back to the US, we started to throw away our clothes in order to make more room in the luggage for books. It would be cheaper to buy a new pair of pants or a shirt back home, so we started to think about what clothes to throw away. All of us may have thrown something away to make room for books. I packed so many books in my suitcase that I broke one of the zippers. There still was one zipper that held the suitcase barely closed, and somehow it made it across the Atlantic on the airplane. When I unpacked it at home the zipper finally broke and everything spilled out on the floor. Close call! If it had broken in London or on the plane I would have been doomed.

   There was one major disappointment for me. I used to have a complete set of London Mystery Magazine, 132 issues during 1949-1982. But in a moment of insanity I disposed of it for practically nothing. I checked with several bookstores in Hay on Wye and nobody had copies, in fact many did not even know what I was talking about. If anyone has a set or a large amount of issues, please contact me.

   Peparing to leave the beautiful Swan Hotel in Hay on Wye. From left: Nick Certo, Scott Hartshorn, Richard Corcoran, Ed Hulse, Walker Martin, and Digges.

   Digges and I on the train back to London from Hay On Wye. During the 3 1/2 hour train ride Digges read the entire trip while I pondered what beer I would order in the next pub.

   And so ended our grand adventure. I’m still exhausted from very little sleep and I have some weight to lose. Also I miss the pubs! But I’d like to thank three people who made this trip possible. First of all my thanks to Ollie Pendar, who as a little boy over a hundred years ago was smart enough to be a collector. I’ve always said collectors are the best people in the world. Second, I want to thank Ollie’s mother. Unlike most mothers, she did not throw away the baseball cards!

   Thanks also to Nick Certo and Richard Corcoran for the use of their photos. But most of all I want to thank my old friend Digges, aka Pen and The Major.

Beautiful skyline of Hay on Wye in Wales.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


THE BOOK OF ELI. Warner Brothers, 2010. Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals. Directors: Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes.

   I’ve become increasingly convinced that Denzel Washington is the auteur of the films that he appears in. That’s not to say that he doesn’t work with talented directors or that his co-stars aren’t often talented actors themselves. It’s just that Washington is able to portray so many different types of characters who find themselves in nearly impossible situations. In that sense, there is a common thread that runs through a lot of Washington movies. He often portrays a loner, a solitary man whose thoughts run deeper than one might expect.

   And you know what? That’s definitely true for his role as the titular character in The Book of Eli. Washington portrays Eli, a man living in post-apocalyptical America. He’s been spending his years walking through the wastelands that were once vital cities and towns, making his way to the West Coast. He’s carrying with him an extremely precious object. One that the audience learns is the last remaining copy of the King James Bible.

   As you might expect from what I just mentioned, the Christian symbolism and allegory is overt in this overall gritty feature. Eli is on a mission. One that he thinks is divinely inspired. And that mission involves his traveling on foot, through tough terrain and in the face of violent marauders, all the way to the West Coast so that he can hand over the Bible to people who will make proper use of it.

   The greatest obstacle to his completing his mission comes in the form of a would-be tyrant by the name of Carnegie (an over the top Gary Oldman) who wants the Bible in order to consolidate his control over a desperate, illiterate populace.

   Fortunately, Eli – a loner at heart – finally allows for companionship in his life, albeit of the platonic variety. Solara (Mila Kunis) is a girl held captive by Carnegie who decides she wants a better life and decides to join Eli on his quest. The two of them face down not only Carnegie and his henchmen, but also a husband and wife whose hospitality toward them may have less to do with kindness than with cannibalism.

   While I thoroughly enjoyed watching Washington’s portrayal of Eli, I ended up feeling that the story, while compelling, was just a little too straightforward. The Christian allegory was strong, and the message that the Bible could be used for good or for evil was loud and clear. But it just wasn’t enough to make me feel as though the movie would not have benefited from a greater degree of moral complexity.

   One final note: the movie, set as it is in a post-nuclear war America, is filmed in earth tones, almost sepia. Sometimes it works well. Other times, the unique color scheme only serves to draw attention away from the action on hand.

W. GLENN DUNCAN – Rafferty: Cannon’s Mouth. Rafferty #5. Gold Medal, paper back original; 1st printing, June 1990.

   There were six books in the Rafferty series, and you can find my comments on the previous entry, Rafferty: Wrong Place, Wrong Time (1989) here. I enjoyed that one, but I did add a caveat that “[b]oth of the cases Rafferty is working on turn out to be very light ones.”

   This one’s even lighter, I’m sorry to say. Rafferty’s home base is Dallas, but except for the location, you can see a lot of similarities between his character and that other more famous PI who worked in the Boston area. I use “worked” in the past tense, because another author is writing up his adventures now, and it’s like spinning the wheels on a car stuck in a snowbank. There’s lots and lots of action, but you get nowhere awfully fast.

   Which is a whole other review altogether, I grant you.

   Here’s the story in this one. While Rafferty’s on a surveillance case that he’s being paid for, he’s accidentally mistaken for a hit man, but when he does a civic duty as a private citizen and warns the cops, all kinds of warning signals go off. Rafferty, quite naturally decides to stay involved, on his own clock.

   There is a lot of the usual banter between Rafferty and the cops and Rafferty and his close lady friend Hilda Gardner, but this time around both it (the banter) and the story seem forced, and the ending, while it fits the story, seems to come out of nowhere. This one’s no more than average, all the way through.

SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


JOHN CROWE – When They Kill Your Wife. Buena Costa County series #5. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1977. No paperback edition.

   As seems true about all the inhabitants of California, the residents of fictional Buena Costa county live in a world of intricately tangled relationships, the kind that too often result in murder. Even though they’d been separated for a year, when Paul Sobers’ wife is killed, he’s compelled to find out why, and a tightly closed corner of the world yields many secrets as he starts digging up the past.

   The result is a tale that’s even more complex and tortuous than the one Ross Macdonald tells, and occasionally the going gets heavy. The ending is not fair to the reader, but while the finale to a detective story sometimes comes as a letdown to the reader, this one’s actually better than any of the preceding parts — a triple-snapper!

Rating:   B

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 1, No. 6, November 1977 (slightly revised).

       The Buena Costa County series —

Another Way To Die (1972)
A Touch of Darkness (1972)
Bloodwater (1974)
Crooked Shadows (1975)
When They Kill Your Wife (1977)
Close To Death (1979)

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


DANCE HALL RACKET. Screen Classics Inc., 1953. Timothy Farrell, Lenny Bruce, Bernie Jones, Honey Bruce and Killer Joe Piro. Written by Lenny Bruce. Produced by George Weiss. Directed by Phil Tucker.

   There’s something sort of fitting about Lenny Bruce dong a tame 1950s skin-flick, but the good news here is that this film is too seldom shown to damage his reputation — which, come to think of it, he did pretty well all by himself. The other good news is that aside from Bruce, Dance Hall Racket is not a waste of anyone’s talent; the talents here assembled are perfectly suited to this sub-nudie effort, and navigate the seedy screen like they were born for it.

   We get Timothy Farrell as Umberto Scali, running a dime-a-dance joint as a front for various & sundry illegalities, such as murder, diamond smuggling and maybe a touch of prostitution; Lenny Bruce and Killer Joe Piro as flunky-hoods; Honey Bruce as a dancer who changes her clothes a lot, and Bernie Jones (formerly of Spike Jones’ ensemble) as a dumb Swede who stops the action every so often to tell excruciatingly bad jokes.

   Dance Hall Racket exists primarily as an excuse to show attractive young ladies in stages of undress, highlighted at various intervals by an actual glimpse of a bare breast (GOSH!) but there’s a sort of tawdry plot here: something about Timothy Farrell buying hot ice and planning to abduct a recently-released con and find out where he stashed the loot.

   We also get an undercover cop worming his way into Farrell’s scene and a neophyte taxi-dancer resisting temptation, but Dance Hall Racket is too disjointed to weave any of these threads together; like I say, it’s an excuse to look at nekkid wimmin, and a pretty feeble one at that, shot on shoe-box sets by a cameraman who looks like he was thinking of something else at the time.

   Getting back to the talented people who made this film, well, Lenny Bruce is legendary, and his wife Honey was played by Valerie Perrine (who got an Oscar nomination) in the biopic Lenny, but the others are almost as fascinating: Producer George Weiss started out with Test Tube Babies in 1948, went on to Glen or Glenda? (1953) and continued on into the 90s making films he should be ashamed of.

   Right after Dance Hall Racket director Phil Tucker tried going “legit” with Robot Monster, a legendary mess in fake 3-D, but was soon back to doing things like Strips Around the World and Bagdad After Midnite. He continued working sporadically in the movies as late as the 1980s.

   My favorite though is Timothy Farrell, here the gang boss, but in real life an L.A. County Sherriff’s bailiff (he appeared as himself the next year in A Star Is Born) who acted in nudie movies and religious shorts on the side. He eventually made County Marshall (despite having one of his films seized in a police raid) but was fired for using his deputies as political activists in 1975, indicating a personality much more interesting than this bizarre little film.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


When The Death Bat Flies: The Detective Stories of NORVELL PAGE. Altus Press, hardcover, softcover, ebook, 2013. Introduction by Will Murray.

   This thick Altus Press edition collects over 800 pages of detective and crime stories by pulp wunderkind Norvell Page, best remembered today for helming the best of the popular adventures of Richard Wentworth, star of the eponymous pulp The Spider. It is accompanied by an informative introduction and biographical look at Page and his career by pulp expert and Doc Savage chronicler Will Murray.

   Page cracked the more highly regarded pulps like Black Mask, Dime Detective, and John Campbell’s Unknown, but by far his greatest output aside from the Spider epic was for the likes of Ten Detective Aces (his Ken Carter series), Detective Tales, Strange Detective Mysteries, and even the spicy pulps. Most of the stories collected here come from Detective Tales.

   Most of the stories are novellas running about seven chapters and around 30,000 words. These novellas feature tough cops, private eyes, amateur criminologists, and the like, and enough gunfire for several small wars. Never let it be said Norvell Page spared bullets even when his language was spare. A few of the novellas venture into weird menace territory, coming out of Strange Detective Mysteries and Strange Detective Adventures.

   If you like rough tough knock ’em sock ’em rock ’em action, relentless pace, breathless escapes, low-slung fast cars and faster women, gun-happy mugs and crafty villains, this book is a bonanza, with sleuths like Don Q. (Quixote) Ryan, big Swede Larsen, Richard Carter. John Stone (whose paralyzed face is mindful of Richard Benson, the Avenger), Aubrei Dunne (two-fisted inventor of countless gadgets, and star of the book’s title story), Bruce Shane (a two-gun man), Flinn McHurd, Walsh Devore, amateur criminologist, Grant Montana out to clear his Private Eye dad who did seven years for a crime he didn’t commit, and more.

   “The explosion of the gun almost blew me out of the bed.”

   “Conroy laughed sharply and his belly-gun blasted upward toward the sound of that voice.”

   “Pardon my rudeness,” she said pleasantly. “Go to Hell.”

   “… he seized a chair and used his impetus to snatch it back over his shoulder. Instantly he whipped it up and it smashed across the chest of Blackie, who was fumbling for a gun.”

   “… But see oh man of the West, how we of the East can die!”

   “It was glorious, Garner thought, to be able to fight against criminals who preyed on the people, to be a defender of innocents like … yes, like the knights of old did!”

   And that’s a random sampling just from page flipping.

   The shorts tend to be crime stories, fast moving, with a lot of impact, but not strong on originality. They are better than filler because Page was incapable of not writing compelling prose, but they wouldn’t make anyone’s best list. For all that they have impact.

   Page is a pulp master, not a great writer, certainly not a great innovator, but a skilled professional with enough personal demons and more than enough drive to make his work both interesting and fun to read. If you only know him from Spider reprints or his two collections of Prester John tales from Unknown, this is an ideal place to see him at work. More collections are coming, and I am particularly hoping to see the Ken Carter stories collected. Meanwhile sit back, pop some popcorn, and kick back. Norvell Page is taking you on a hell of a ride through the wild and woolly pulp jungle.

ALEX SAXON – A Run in Diamonds. Carmody #1. Pocket, paperback original; 1st printing, November 1974. Expanded from the story “The $50,000 Bosom,” Adventure, December 1970. Included in Carmody’s Run (Dark Harvest, hardcover, 1993) as by Bill Pronzini, along with three stories from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine which appeared there also under the author’s own name. This latter book was reprinted by the Detective Book Club in a hardcover 3-in-1 edition.

   In spite of my affection for Bill Pronzini’s nameless private detective, enhanced no end by the latter’s love affair with Black Mask and the other detective pulps he collects, I find Carmody a more original creation, seemingly more free of the cliches of his particular subgenre.

   Carmody is a freelance contract man, providing bodyguards, new identities, black market commodities, what have you. Since his divorce he has moved his theater of operations from San Francisco to Europe and a villa in Majorca, which is where this adventure begins.

   Stolen diamonds are involved, which should be obvious from the front cover on. Somebody wants Carmody out of the way for a while, and a wild goose chase takes him to Amsterdam while dirty business is going on elsewhere. Carmody’s business success relies greatly on his reputation, and any embarrassment he received he must take as a personal matter.

   And revenge he gets. A number of deaths result, though not all at his hand. It’s an earthy, violent tale, just complicated enough to keep you guessing, and suspenseful enough to make one relish every minute of successful retribution to the disrespectful enemy.

   Carmody has previously appeared in a number of shorter stories, in magazines such as Alfred Hitchcock’s, but as far as I know this is his only novel. I sort of wonder if Pronzini had put his own name on it, whether this might have made more of an impression when it came out.

   Here’s the highest compliment I can give a book: this is the kind of tale I would write if I could.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 1, No. 6, November 1977 (very slightly revised).


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