August 2017


CARTER BROWN – The Wench Is Wicked. Al Wheeler #1. Horwitz-Transport, Australia, paperback original, 1955, as by Peter Carter Brown. To be published by Stark House Press, trade paperback, October 2017, in a threesome with Blonde Verdict and Delilah Was Deadly. (See the end notes for more information.)

   Carter Brown was the primary working byline of an Australian writer named Alan Yates (1923-1985), but his short breezy detective novels, featuring both cops and PI’s, almost always took place in the US. They appeared first in Australia, but when they were picked up by Signet in the US in the mid-1950s, they took the country by storm. With over 300 titles to his credit, a good estimate is that Carter Brown eventually totaled over 100 million copies in print.

   One of his most commonly used characters was a freewheeling police lieutenant named Al Wheeler. Based in Southern California, Wheeler appeared in almost 60 of his books. Stark House Press has gotten the rights to the first six of them and will be reprinting them in order, including several never before published in this country. (And if sales go well, I’m sure there’ll be more.)

   In this case Wheeler investigates the case of a man who’s been found shot to death in a deep quarry. It turns out that he was known well by all of the members of a Hollywood cast and film crew that’s shooting a movie nearby. When it turns out that the man was also writing a series of bombshell articles for Dynamite magazine (self-explanatory) the list of suspects goes sky high.

   Wheeler does a better than average job of investigating, but to tell you the truth. solid police procedure is not the reason so many people (mostly guys) read all those Carter Brown paperbacks over the years. The women that Wheeler meets are always luscious, full-bosomed and wear their clothes — what there are of them — so tight one wonders how they manage to move and breathe. The banter that Wheeler has with these ladies is full of good-natured innuendo, and (you will not be surprised to know) a good deal of extracurricular activity goes on as well.

   Tastefully, I hasten to add. Nothing explicit, not in 1955. Just enough to get the pulses of red-blooded males pumped up a notch or two, and the pages turning about as fast as they could. And so it is here, starting with book one, never before published in this country.


Bibliographic Notes:   The forthcoming Stark House three-in-one volume will also mark the first US publication of Delilah Was Deadly (Horwitz, Australia, 1956). The history behind Blonde Verdict (Horwitz, Australia, 1956) is a little more complicated. This will be its first US appearance in its original form, but previously unknown to Al Hubin, it was revised and reprinted in the US by Signet under the title The Brazen in 1960. This is new information that will appear in the next installment of the online Addenda to Crime Fiction IV.

Two 1001 MIDNIGHTS Reviews
by Bill Pronzini


LEO BRUCE – Case for Three Detectives. Geoffrey Bles, UK, hardcover, 1936. Stokes, US, hardcover, 1937. Academy Chicago Press, paperback, 1980.

   Case for Three Detectives is at once a locked-room mystery worthy of John Dickson Carr and an affectionate spoof of the Golden Age detectives created by Sayers, Christie, and Chesterton.

   When Mary Thurston is found in her bedroom, dead of a slashed throat, during a weekend party at her Sussex country house, it seems to all concerned an impossible, almost supernatural crime: The bedroom door was double-bolted from the inside; there are no secret passages or other such claptrap; the only windows provide no means of entrance or exit; and the knife that did the job is found outside the house.

   The following morning, three of “those indefatigably brilliant private investigators who seem to be always handy when a murder has been committed” begin to arrive. The first is Lord Simon Plimsoll (Lord Peter Wimsey): “… the length of his chin, like most other things about him, was excessive,” the narrator, Townsend, observes.

   The second is the Frenchman Amer Picon (Hercule Poirot): “His physique was frail, and topped by a large egg-shaped head, a head so much and so often egg-shaped that I was surprised to find a nose and mouth in it at all, but half-expected its white surface to break and release a chick.” And the third is Monsignor Smith (Father Brown), “a small human pudding.”

   The three famous sleuths sniff around, unearth various clues, and arrive at separate (and elaborate) conclusions, each accusing a different member of the house party as Mary Thurston’s slayer. But of course none of them is right. The real solution is provided by Sergeant Beef of the local constabulary, “a big red-faced man of forty-eight or fifty, with a straggling ginger moustache, and a look of rather beery benevolence.”

   Along the way there is a good deal of gentle humor and some sharp observations on the methods of Wimsey, Poirot, and Father Brown. The prose is consistently above average, and the solution to the locked-room murder is both simple and satisfying.

   Sergeant Beef is featured in seven other novels by Leo Bruce (a pseudonym of novelist, playwright, poet, and scholar Rupert Croft-Cooke), most of which have been reissued here by Academy Chicago in trade paperback. Among them are Case Without a Corpse (1937), Case with Four Clowns (1939), and Case with Ropes and Rings (1940). Each is likewise ingeniously plotted and diverting.

LEO BRUCE – A Bone and a Hank of Hair. Peter Davies, UK, hardcover, 1961. British Book Centre, US, hardcover, 1961. Academy Chicago, US, paperback, 1985.

   Croft-Cooke abandoned Sergeant Beef in 1952 and three years later began a second notable series of detective novels, also published under the Leo Bruce by-line, this one featuring Carolus Deene, ex-commando and Senior History Master at Queen’s School, Newminster, who solves mysteries as a hobby. Until recently, when Academy Chicago began reprinting these, too, in trade paperback, most of the twenty-three Deene titles were available only in England.

    A Bone and a Hank of Hair involves Deene in the strange disappearance of Mrs. Rathbone, Mrs. Rathbone, and Mrs. Rathbone — or are all three the same woman in different guises? Deene’s investigation, prompted by relatives of the original Mrs. Rathbone, takes him to an unpleasant home in remote East Kent, some curious parts of London, and an art colony in Cornwall.

   The jacket blurb says, more or less accurately, “Everywhere he meets bizarre, sometimes richly comic, sometimes sinister characters who bring him at last to the (guaranteed unguessable) conclusion.” On hand as usual in this series, in minor roles, are Mrs. Stick, Deene’s housekeeper and conscience; and the Gorringers, Deene’s headmaster and his (half)witty wife.

   Deene and his investigative methods, and Bruce and his blend of sly humor, tricky plotting, and eccentric characters may not be for every taste. But in this and such other adventure as A Louse for the Hangman (1958),Jack on the Gallows Tree (1960), Nothing Like Blood (1962), and Death in Albert Park (1964), both perform admirably.

   Croft-Cooke also published several worthy criminous novels under his own name, including Seven Thunders (1955) and Paper Albatross (1968).

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


TOUGH GUYS. Touchstone/Buena Vista Pictures, 1986. Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charles Durning, Alexis Smith, Dana Carvey, Darlanne Fluegel, Eli Wallach. Director: Jeff Kanew.

   A buddy movie. A message movie about how American society treats senior citizens. A comedy-crime film. Those are all perfectly adequate ways of describing Tough Guys. But at the end of the day, the movie was really one thing: a golden opportunity to bring Hollywood legends Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas together on the big screen for one last time.

   The two actors who appeared in a total of seven movies together, but who are perhaps best known for their work together in John Sturges’s Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (reviewed here ), portray best friends in Tough Guys. Best friends who happen to be finishing up a 30-year stint in prison for robbing the Gold Coast Flyer. These two men, the last two to rob a train in the United States, are truly the last of a dying breed.

   But if prison is tough, getting out is even tougher. Both men are fish out of water. Not only have times change, but they’re old men now. But they still love women.

   Through a series of romantic mishaps and comedic adventures, they learn the hard way that very few people want to treat senior citizens with much respect or dignity. There’s definitely a message here, one that Lancaster, in an interview with the New York Times, suggested takes the movie out of the real of action-comedy into something more meaningful.

   Despite this being a lightweight, perfectly innocent affair that doesn’t stay with you long after you’ve finished watching, Tough Guys works. The pairing of Lancaster and Douglas as two aging criminals trying to regain one last moment of glory is pure entertainment. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good one.

   One last thing: without Lancaster and Douglas, this movie never would have worked. It’s their vehicle from start to finish.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert J. Randisi


MAX BYRD – California Thriller. Bantam, paperback original; 1st printing, April 1981. Reprinted several times.

   California Thriller is the first of three Mike Haller books, and the most noteworthy; it was awarded the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award for Best Paperback Novel of 1981. It was the author’s first novel

   Mike Haller is a transplanted Boston PI now working out of San Francisco. Although a viable character, he has been strongly influenced by Robert B. Parker’s Boston PI, Spenser. He’s as physical, well read, and quick with a wisecrack as Spenser, but where the latter works alone, Haller has an Irish partner who covers his back. He also has a regular lady friend, as does Spenser, and she is Dinah Farrell, who is a psychoanalyst — which, of course, comes in handy now and again.

   When one of the country’s leading journalists disappears in Sacramento’s Central Valley, the man’s editor, acting for his wife, hires Mike Haller to find him. With nothing but a two-year-old newspaper clipping to go on, Haller begins retracing the man’s steps. He becomes involved with a professor of biochemistry at Berkeley and an ex-cop who has made a fortune in private security work and has his eye on the governor’s seat.

   Before long a young girl turns up dead and Haller becomes convinced that somebody doesn’t want the journalist found. When Haller finally finds out what the journalist was onto — politics, murder, and private bacteriological-warfare tests — and gets his hands on some incriminating tapes, he’s running for his life and trying to save the lives of thousands.

   Byrd’s second Mike Haller novel is Fly Away, Jill (1981), and the third is Finders Weepers (1983).

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts


TESS GERRITSEN – I Know a Secret. Rizzoli & Isles #12. Ballantine, hardcover, August 2017.

First Sentence:   When I was seven years old, I learned how important it is to cry at funerals.

   Detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles have two murders to investigate. Although they occurred in separate locations and no connection seems to exist between the two victims, there is a commonality in their wounds. Also when Maura visits her biological mother, an imprisoned serial killer who is dying of cancer, she receives a cryptic message. What does her mother know?

   Such a well-done beginning. It is one filled with very intriguing information and leaves one with many questions— “You’ll find another one soon.” –to which one wants answers.

   Third-person, anonymous narration is a writer’s element; i.e., trick, which can be annoying, and disruptive to the flow and tension of the story. Bear with it, however, as it not only makes sense but leads one down an unexpected path.

   Gerritsen really knows how to write natural dialogue. It serves many purposes, even to indicate the difference in educational backgrounds between Isles and Rizzoli— “Bilateral globe enucleation,” said Maura softly. “Is that some kind of fancy medical talk for someone cut out her eyeballs?” “Yes.”

   The dialogue is only one aspect of Gerritsen’s literary voice. Excellent analogies is another— Cops were like terrorists. They tossed devastating bombs into the lives of victims’ friends and families, and then they stood around to watch the damage they’d done.”

   Learning about the families of the protagonists gives them dimension and life. It makes them vulnerable and realistic. If one has a character who is Italian, one can also be ensured of large meals with good food— “The leg of lamb was studded with garlic cloves and roasted to a perfect medium rare. Surrounding it were bowls of crisp rosemary potatoes, green beans with almonds, three different salads, and homemade dinner rolls.” –Yet one is also reminded that cops don’t get Christmas off.

   A fascinating benefit of Gerritsen’s novels, due to her background, is the medical and scientific information one learns. It takes the investigative information just another step up.

   The plot is so skillfully developed. The investigation is layers built on layers. It is refreshing even when theories are developed that don’t prove out … or do they? And the twists keep coming, one of which could not have been more unexpected. What is particularly enjoyable is that they don’t feel contrived, although you know Gerritsen labored long and hard on them, because the logic works.

   I Know a Secret is an excellent book. It is skillfully plotted with twists that give definite “Wow!” moments. Gerritsen is a “must read” author.

— For more of LJ’s reviews, check out her blog at : https://booksaremagic.blogspot.com/.


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET. Universal, 1942. Lionel Atwill, Una Merkel, Claire Dodd, Nat Pendleton, Richard Davies, Noble Johnson, Ray Mala. Produced by Paul Malvern. Written by Al Martin. Directed by Joseph H. Lewis.

   The good news is that this predestined 2nd-feature was done by people who knew their way around cheap movies. Producer Paul Malvern started out at Monogram with Duke Wayne’s Lone Star series, and went on to memorable kitsch like House of Dracula (far from the best in the series, but showing fine use of stock footage and contract players).

   Writer Al Martin’s resumé is less distinguished, but director Joseph H. Lewis (who would go on to Gun Crazy and beyond) had lavished bizarre camera angles and punchy editing on low-budget movies for half a decade by the time this trifle fell onto his plate.

   And then there’s the cast: Lionel Atwill at his supercilious best; Una Merkel ditzy as ever; Nat Pendleton clueless as always, and Noble Johnson playing a nasty Native Chief as one to the manner born. The only downside is that the film itself isn’t much good.

   That is to say, I enjoyed it, and you might too, but there are definitely some Quality Control issues here. For one thing, there’s no Monster in this purported Horror Film, and that’s always a bit of a let-down for those of us who used to stay up late watching “Shock Theater” or the local equivalent thereof – indeed it was not until my later years, with mature critical sensibilities, that I learned to appreciate this work on its own terms, such as they are.

   For another thing, Merkel and Pendleton are fine comedy performers, but they don’t have a funny line between them. And finally, the story tends to meander a bit, starting with a bit of Mad Doctoring in Frisco, then the hunt for a fugitive killer aboard a luxury liner, a little dab of shipwreck, and then some testy diplomacy with Island Natives who evince a taste for human sacrifice.

   Well. it certainly moves around a lot, and like I say, Mad Doctor of Market Street carries this nonsense with a certain amount of style. There’s a particularly fine second or two toward the end, when Lewis’ camera pans in on Atwill’s terrified expression as he realizes the jig is up, a perfect confluence of fine acting and skillful direction. And if it seems wasted on a dumb picture like this, well, like I say: It’s still fun.

DANGEROUS CROSSING. 20th Century Fox, 1953. Jeanne Crain, Michael Rennie, Max Showalter (as Casey Adams), Carl Betz, Mary Anderson, Marjorie Hoshelle, Willis Bouchey. Based on the radio play “Cabin B-13” by John Dickson Carr. Director: Joseph M. Newman.

   You probably know the story, or one very much like it. After a young honeymooning couple board a trans-Atlantic ocean liner in New York City, married for only a day, the husband (Carl Betz) goes off to run an errand at the purser’s office and promptly disappears. The new bride (Jeanne Crain) simply can’t believe it.

   An intensive search takes place and shows that the husband is nowhere on board. The couple’s stateroom is empty, the wife’s luggage is in a room down the corridor, and most telling, there’s no one on board who can even say they saw the two of them together.

   There is only one person is not thoroughly convinced that she is crazy, and that’s the ship’s doctor (Michael Rennie). If not for him, the new Mrs. Bowman would surely think she has gone mad.

   To my mind, this is one of the great suspense movies of all time — or at least it could have been and should have been. It begins well, but it doesn’t maintain the same sharp, keen edge it should have over the full length of the movie.

   It does have its moments, however. You certainly should not watch this film if you suffer from any of the ten warning signs of paranoia. The ocean crossing is a foggy one, with the constant blaring of foghorns, and that helps considerably. Nonetheless, as you sit there watching, you’ll probably begin to wonder what might have happened if someone like Alfred Hitchcock had gotten his hands on it.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #24, August 1990. (slightly expanded and revised).


GORDON DAVIS – Ring Around Rosy. Gold Medal k1380, paperback original; 1st printing, January 1964. Cover art by Robert McGinnis. Also published as From Cuba, with Love, as by E. Howard Hunt. Pinnacle, paperback, 1974.

   By 1964 the revolution in Cuba was solidly in place, but its aftermath was still a mass of recrimination and guilt. Dave Mallory is no PI, but when he’s hired by a beautiful Cuban exile to find the man who informed on her father, he jumps at the chance.

   The man is also the foreman of the Cuban plantation her father once owned. Davis, a pen name of the notorious E. Howard Hunt, always surprises me how good a writer he is, no matter what byline he is using — mostly due, I am sure, to the feeling of the strong gritty authenticity that permeates his work.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990. (slightly revised).


Bibliographic Note:   The Pinnacle reprint is exceedingly scarce. At the time this review was posted, no copies could be found offered for sale on line. Amazon has a page for it, however, along with a photo, so it does exist.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


MAX ALLAN COLLINS – Carnal Hours. Nate Heller #7. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1994. Signet, paperback, 1995.

   Max Collins is another writer I think of under-rated. He hs written 30 or more crime books (I have 28), all competent, and many very good. He won a Shamus for True Detective, the first of the Heller books, and was nominated for another. And yet, despite his considerable and continued successes, he is too often ignored by critical opinion.

   Heller is in his 30’s now, back in operation Chicago after seeing action in WWII and being discharged, he flies to Nassau at the request of (and for a healthy fee from) Sir Harry Oakes, a rough-hewn multi-millionaire who made his fortune in Canadian gold and is now the “King of the Bahamas.” Oakes wants Heller to find evidence that his daughter’s husband is cheating on her, and a check for $10,000 convinces Heller that this is the thing to do.

   Before he can accomplish his goal, though, Oakes is brutally murdered, and the son-in-law is charged with the crime. Oakes’ daughter, convinced of her husband’s innocence, hires Heller to prove it; but the island’s power structure is solidly in his way.

   The Oakes case is one of the 20th century’s premier unsolved cases, and Collins has done his usual thorough research. As always with the Heller series, he has mixed historic with fictional characters, and in addition to the principals in the case has tossed in Erle Stanley Gardner and Ian Fleming for good measure.

   I like the series, and I liked this book. Collins blends history with crime fiction better than anyone else dong it on a regular basis, and never lets the background get in the way of his story — though the background is meticulously laid out, and engrossing.

   He’s a story-teller; he would have been, I think, a premier pulp writer had he been born at the right time. Before you take that as damning with faint praise, please spend a respectful moment considering who some of the premier pulp writers were.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #14, May 1994.


Bibliographic Note: According to the Thrilling Detective website, there are now 17 Nate Heller novels and four story collections. Most recent in the series is Better Dead (2016), which takes place in the 1950s in the midst of the Joe McCarthy era.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Ed Gorman


W. R. BURNETT – High Sierra. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1940. Reprint editions include: Avon Murder Mystery Monthly 40, digest-sized paperback, 1946. Bantam #826, paperback, 1950. Carroll & Graf, paperback, 1986. Film: Warner Brothers, 1941 (Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart).

   “Early in the twentieth century, when Roy Earle was a happy boy on an Indiana farm, he had no idea that at thirty-seven he’d be a pardoned ex-convict driving alone through the Nevada-California desert towards an ambiguous destiny in the Far West.”

   Thus begins what is, in effect, the biography of Roy Earle, a fictional creation who reflects the lives of several eminent American outlaws of the 1920s and 1930s. The structure and texture of the opening sentence signals the reader that this will be much more than simply a genre piece of tommy guns and molls. Burnett will attempt nothing less than a definitive appraisal of a bandit’s life as Earle leaves prison, falls in love, and works toward the robbery that will doom him.

   For many, Sierra is probably more familiar as the finest of Bogart’s films (with the arguable exception of The Treasure of Sierra Madre). In the film version, John Huston sought to create a romance, a complex variation on the Robin Hood myth, but Burnett creates a novelistic portrait of Roy Earle that is full of fire and contradiction.

   Chapter 37 is the key scene in the book. In the space of 3000 words, Roy Earle expounds on himself (“I steal and I admit it”); on his inability to trust (“The biggest rat we had in prison was a preacher who’d gypped his congregation out of the dough he was supposed to build a church with.”); and on the failure of the common man to fight for himself (“Why don’t all them people who haven’t got any dough get together and take the dough? It’s a cinch.”).

   He is, throughout the novel, idealistic, naïve, ruthless, and doomed in a way that is almost lyrical. Not unlike Studs Lonigan, Roy Earle becomes sympathetic because his faults, for all their outsize proportion, are human and understandable, and his humility almost Christ-like: “Barmy used to talk to me about earthquakes,” Roy says; “he said the old earth just twitched its skin like a dog. We’re the fleas, I guess.”

   Far from the myths created by J. Edgar Hoover’s biased attitude toward the criminals of the 1930s, Burnett gives us a sad, sometimes surreal look at a true outlaw. High Sierra is filled with every possible kind of feeling, from bleak humor to a pity that becomes Roy Earle’s doom. The book’s theme of time and fate is worthy of Proust. If you want to know what made the work of “proletariat” America so powerful in the 1930s, all you have to do is pick up this novel.

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

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