December 2017


FRANCES CRANE – The Golden Box. Pat Abbott & Jean Holly #2. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1942. Popular Library #80, paperback, no date stated, circa 1946. Rue Morgue Press, softcover, 2005.

   This second of a series of 26 adventures of husband-and-wife (to be) detective novels takes place in Jean Holly’s home town of Elm Hill, Illinois, not in New Mexico, where she has been living ever since her parents died. She is single, but at the age of 26, she is starting to wonder how life will be treat as an old maid. Her future husband, a private detective named Patrick Abbott, is in the picture, though, and part of the fun of this book is in watching how their somewhat bumpy romance is progressing.

   But from Jean’s point of view only. Pat Abbott is one of those strong, quiet kind of men, and getting him to say more than a couple of words about the case at a time, for example, is a bit of a struggle. What he thinks about Jean is another matter altogether — there we have no idea — but that he is in Illinois where Jean’s Aunt Sue is recovering from a short illness should tell you something.

   Dead is the rich old lady who runs just about everything in terms of Elm Hill society matters, and she is pretty much disliked for that very same same reason. Domineering, you might say. Her death might have been passed off as natural if it weren’t for the followup death of the black maid who found her body — in her case a suicide that that doesn’t look like one, not to the trained eye of an expert like Pat Abbott.

   The opening chapter is a bit of mess, with characters being introduced willy-nilly without very much of an introduction, and the ending is cluttered and confused. In between, though, the hometown sleuthing is fun to watch and goes down smoothly — there are lots of suspects!

   While there is one good clue as to the killer’s identity, Pat Abbott otherwise keeps all his cards too close to his chest (see above). The motive for the killing is discovered, for example, only by sending a telegram off to his secretary back in his office for her most timely assistance.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


JOSEPH SHEARING – So Evil My Love. Harper & Brothers, US, hardcover, 1947. Pocket #560, paperback, 1948. Collier, paperback, 1961. First published in the UK by Hutchinson as For Her to See, hardcover, 1947. Film: Paramount, 1948. TV adaptation: Season 5, Episode 23 of Lux Video Theatre, 27 January 1955.

SO EVIL, MY LOVE. Paramount, 1948. Ann Todd, Ray Milland, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Leo G. Carroll, Raymond Huntley. Screenplay by Ronald Millar, based on the novel by Joseph Shearing. Directed by Lewis Allen.

   A rare example of a pretty good book enriched and improved by the Hollywood Treatment.

   Marjorie Bowen (real name Mrs. Margaret Gabrielle Vere Long née Campbell) wrote about a hundred and fifty novels under a variety of pen names, but she reserved “Joseph Shearing” for books based on real-life crimes. This one is inspired by the mysterious death of Charles Bravo in 1876, referred to in the Press as “Murder in the Priory.”

   Briefly, Charles Bravo was poisoned by antimony and lingered in agony for three days without telling attending physicians how he came to ingest it. Two inquests were held, with heavy suspicion falling on his wife, but no one was ever charged.

   The novel opens with Olivia Harwood, a missionary’s widow recently returned to London and in dire straits. She contacts Susan Courtney, an old school mate now rich but unhappily married to an abusive dullard. Because she has some foolish letters Susan once wrote about her love for another man, Olivia gets a position in the household as Susan’s paid companion.

   Over the next couple hundred pages, she consolidates her power over Susan and makes enemies of everyone in the household. She also makes the acquaintance of Mark Bellis, a charming painter and obvious (to the reader) con man who talks Olivia into extorting and stealing from Susan, then absconds with the loot and the letters. By this point the relationships between the characters have gotten to the point where the only recourse for Olivia is to part Susan from her husband… permanently.

   To her credit, Shearing/Bowen does a fine job ratcheting up the suspense, especially in the inquest scenes, and she’s equally skillful at relating things from Olivia’s POV and letting us see what she’s missing. Overall though, the book suffers in comparison to the film.

   Probably because they wanted to protect the image of their stars, Paramount and writer Ronald Millar changed the dynamics between the characters considerably, and in the process made them deeper and more complex. In the book, Olivia is motivated by greed and envy, but in the film Ann Todd is a loyal friend to Susan (A brilliant performance from Geraldine Fitzgerald) who is corrupted by Ray Milland and genuinely torn when she sees her old friend charged with murder and realizes she has done this to her.

   For his part, Milland imparts his equivocal charm to the Mark Bellis character, who doesn’t come in till well into the book, but shows up early in the film. Even better, the more he corrupts Olivia, the more he finds himself genuinely drawn to her. And as the two characters pursue their passion, it leads to a richly ironic conclusion that eerily recalls Letter from an Unknown Woman or Duel in the Sun in its satisfying tragedy.

   Director Lewis Allen puts all this across with typical Paramount polish and a measured pace perfectly suited to the material. He also steps back and gives his supporting players plenty of room to strut their stuff. I’ve already mentioned Geraldine Fitzgerald, but she deserves another nod for the way she moves her character from vapid cheer to despairing near-madness. Raymond Huntley plays the nasty husband as a perfect prick, but with a faint trace of sympathy that makes him more believable. Even stuffy Leo G. Carroll lends a touch of roguishness to his role as a cynical PI who moves the story to its conclusion.

   In sum, this is a film that departs considerably from its source, but one you shouldn’t miss.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


ALISTAIR MacLEAN – Night Without End. Collins, K, hardcover, 1960. Doubleday, US, hardcover, 1960. Reprint editions include: Fawcett Gold Medal, US, paperback, no date stated [1960s], among many others, both US and UK.

   In latitude 72.40 north, 8000 feet up on the Greenland ice-cap, self-preservation makes for a remarkable turn of speed.

   That’s an understatement to say the least in Alistair MacLean’s Arctic thriller, Night Without End, that opens as the team at an IGY tracking station in the bitter north hears a plane where none should be, and one in trouble at that, a jet airliner circling above their lonely station, in trouble in the sky, and about to come down in an unforgiving land.

   Dr. Mason, the narrator, and his two companions know what the Arctic can do to the unwary, the unprepared. They know routine, food, shelter, warmth, and common sense are life and anything less is death.

   At his best, and this was written in his best period before his work became little more than screen scenarios, no one could drop you into the middle of a pulse-pounding plot with the same elan as the Scottish author of adventure classics like The Guns of Navarone and Ice Station Zebra. He seemed, too, to have a fine ear for the detail of Arctic adventure, for the ice prick pain of the bitter cold and the soul destroying chill no protective gear can fully repel.

   If he lacked the Conradian or Stevensonian skills of a Hammond Innes or Geoffrey Household or the sheer gift for character of a Victor Canning and humor of a Desmond Bagley, he made up for it with driving narrative, impeccable research, and an eye for plot that Agatha Christie might have admired, for his best works tend, like a classic Christie tale, to set a small group of people in an isolated environment with a mystery to be solved whose solution is as vital to everyone’s survival as the natural world that threatens from without.

   As with Ice Station Zebra, the McGuffin in this one is only important to set the action in motion, but that’s more than enough, this is about action, suspense, mystery, and thrills, not the history of a plot contrivance.

   Here it turns out the cause of the plane coming down was no accident. It was hijacked and forced down, and it’s 18,000 miles off course.

   No one knows who the hijackers are, why they did it, or if they survived, but they have committed one murder other than the passengers killed in the crash, and they are willing to commit more, and only Mason can uncover their plot, stop their sabotage, and keep his crew and the survivors alive as the weather deteriorates and the endless night closes in while outside human threats accumulate, including the good guys who will do anything to stop the killer escaping and the bad guys set to rendezvous with him and leave everyone else to die.

   The tense finale on a shifting glacier is as satisfying as it is nerve wracking.

    Night Without End is one of MacLean’s tighter plotted and leaner books, with just the right mix of action, atmosphere, weather, characterization, plot, and twists to keep you happily turning pages and wishing that someone today still had the skills to write this kind of book with the same economy. An old favorite, and I was both pleased with how well it holds up, but also how much of it I remembered considering I first read it back in Middle School.

   This night has an end, and a very satisfactory one it is.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


MICHAEL CONNELLY – Echo Park. Harry Bosch #12. Hacjette, hardcover, 2006; paperback, August 2007.

   What struck me most about Echo Park, a Michael Connelly thriller, was how well it captured the geography of Los Angeles and Burbank, two cities I am very familiar with. It’s that sense of place, that gritty urban realism, which makes this entry in Connelly’s Harry Bosch police detective series a worthwhile read. That’s not to say that’s it’s not a good thriller in and of itself. It is. It’s just that that the geography and topography featured in the work is, to my mind anyway, just as important as plot and character.

   For those not familiar with Harry Bosch, he’s Connelly’s best known fictional creation, a Vietnam veteran turned LAPD detective, the type of guy who plays by his own rules and has his own particular code of honor. In this twelfth book in the series, his code of honor makes him dogged in his pursuit of justice for the murder of Marie Gesto, a young woman who disappeared in 1993. Flash forward to 2006 and Bosch still hasn’t put anyone behind bars for the crime, and he hasn’t been able to deliver closure to the poor girl’s parents in Bakersfield.

   Through luck or something far more sinister, Bosch learns that a serial killer by the name of Raynard Waits is willing to confess to the murder of Marie Gesto. But there’s something off about this strange man’s willingness to confess to the crime. He wasn’t even on Bosch’s radar in 1993. Bosch had always thought that the son of a wealthy LA businessman was the likely culprit. Echo Park follows Bosch as he navigates not only Los Angeles, but also the byzantine internal politics of the LAPD. Along the way we meet a sleazy lawyer, an ambitious prosecutor, an FBI agent who may be in love with Bosch, and a coterie of police officers.

   I found Echo Park to be an engrossing read, what some critics would consider the hallmark of a successful work of commercial fiction. What the novel lacks in depth, it more than makes up for in forcing the reader to discover what comes next. However, when all was said and done, I can’t say that I found the villains in the work to be particularly compelling. But the geography and sense of place certainly are. This is a work of Los Angeles crime fiction par excellence.

CRIME WAVE. Warner Brothers, 1953. Sterling Hayden, Gene Nelson, Phyllis Kirk, Ted de Corsia, Charles Bronson (as Charles Buchinsky), Jay Novello, Ned Young, Dub Taylor. Director: André De Toth.

   Here’s a relatively unknown film noir that I recently saw for the first time, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s one I’m pleased to recommend to you without a single reservation. Or if you have seen it but not recently, why not watch it again? It’s one of those films that you see more of it every time you watch it.

   It isn’t much of a crime wave. A small gang of ex-cons are pulling a small series of gas station robberies. The police assume that they’re only after eating money, as the take they get is never more than a few hundred dollars. But when their latest job costs the life of a motorcycle cop who stops to investigate, the attitude of the police changes dramatically, starting with Det. Lt. Sims, played by Sterling Hayden, who towers majestically over everyone, laconically shooting out his dialogue in torrents, tommy-gun fashion.

   Caught in between the police and the holdup gang is Gene Nelson and his wife, Phyllis Kirk. He’s out on parole, has a good job, and wants nothing to do with his former cell mates, but when they invade his home and hold his wife hostage, he has no choice to go along with them, and the plan they’re working on next.

   The movie has filmed in only 13 days, and mostly on location in the greater Los Angeles area, giving the film a sense of immediacy that it might not otherwise have.

   On a personal level, Lt Sims is adamantly against the idea of parole — once a con always a con — and to me this is Starling Hayden’s movie all the way. Gene Nelson does his best, but standing up against this hulking nemesis of a police officer? No way, no how.

   Even if the ending is a little rushed (and all does end well), as a well-photographed crime thriller, that, well — go back and read my first paragraph again.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


JEROME DOOLITTLE – Half Nelson. Tom Bethany #5. Pocket, hardcover, 1994; paperback, 1995.

   I missed the fourth of Doolitttle’s tales of would-have-been-Olympic-wrestler-except-for-Carter’s-boycott, ex-pilot, now sort of PI Bethany, but fortunately these don’t require reading in strict sequence.

   Bethany is at a Harvard gathering as his lover Hope’s request, to meet with a save-the-trees environmentalist who has received death threats by mail. He’s not able to help the man much, who flies back to Oregon to go about his business. When shots are fired at his house there, however, Bethany packs up and heads West to see what he can do.

   The situation worsens drastically, and before it’s done Bethany is head-to-head against both Big Business and the FBI, and there have been more deaths than one.

   I like Doolittle’s writing, and I like the not-in-the-data-banks character of Bethany, so I like the books. I have a weakness for one-man-against-the-system (damn, there’s a lot of hyphens in this review) stories, and that’s basically what these always are.

   Doolittle is a good storyteller. What I don’t like is the unrelentingly liberal bias against business and authority in any form. Life just isn’t that simple, Jerome, however comforting it might be to think so. It’s still a damned good read, though.

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


Editorial Comment:   My review of Body Scissors, the first of the Tom Bethany books, appears here. There were six in the series in all. A complete list follows that earlier review.

Earlier this week, Bill Crider, one of my longest friends in mystery fandom, posted what is probably going to be his final blog entry.

Here’s the link: https://billcrider.blogspot.com/2017/12/update.html

I’ve known Bill for almost 40 years, but we’ve met in person only once. I’m not sure of the date, but if there was a Bouchercon held in Washington DC around 1980, that’s when it was.

There have been 115 comments of good wishes so far following this last post of his, including mine. There will probably be more. A nicer, more liked person in fandom you will probably never find.

MIKE BRETT – The Guilty Bystander. Ace Double D-349, paperback original, 1959. Published back-to-back with Kill Me with Kindness, by J. Harvey Bond.

   Before I begin the review of this book itself, a couple of things worth mentioning. First of all, the author is the same Mike Brett who wrote the much better Pete McGrath PI novels. There were ten of them, and I read and reviewed the first one, Kill Him Quickly, It’s Raining (Pocket, 1960), here.

   I enjoyed it, and in the process of talking about it, I brought up the fact that the author had written two books about a fellow named Sam Dakkers, both from 1959, and about whom I knew nothing. The Guilty Bystander, half an Ace Double paperback original, is one of the Sam Dakkers books. (The earlier one was Scream Street, also from Ace, and published the same year.)

   I didn’t know anything about Sam Dakkers at the time, but in the meantime I’ve discovered that he has a page in Kevin Burton Smith’s wonderful PI-oriented Thrilling Detective website. The thing is, though, is that Sam Dakkers is no PI. He’s a bookie who handles illegal bets, and who has been busted any number of times. Nor in this book at least, does he have anyone who even resembles being a client.

   He’s only a guy who gets into trouble, caught between a hood named Benny Flumshin — no kidding — and the cops, and it all starts with a girl. A girl who acts sexy in a bar and lets Sam take her home. Before things get too hot between them, the doorbell rings. The girl’s boy friend, she says, and Sam takes it on the lam out the window.

   A shot rings out. Sam goes back, and the girl is dead. He’s hit on he head, and when he wakes up the cops are there. Who’s the boy friend? None other than the aforementioned Benny Flumshim.

   There’s more, but this is the gist of the story. (The “more” consists of a guy who breaks into Sam’s apartment later that night with a knife and ends up dead himself, and in a major way, a stolen diamond worth a fortune.) The problem is, is that the story is not very interesting, nor (as far as I could tell) are all of the threads of the story tied up. Otherwise, strictly routine, and that’s stretching it.

   Sam Dakkers sure had the ability to attract some good-looking ladies, though, you gotta give him that.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


JOHN COURAGE – Made to Murder. John Long, UK, hardcover, 1957. No US edition.

   Five top mystery writers are invited, and even commanded, to spend a weekend with Sir Arthur Troon at his remote estate. The five are (and these are all pseudonyms):

   — The narrator, Richard Dawn, who invents a new detective for each book and yet whose character, Michael Crombie, “brilliant Eton-and-Oxford sleuth,” is described as having a significant following. (I merely pass on what the author has to say; I don’t attempt to explain it.)

   — Marion Courlay, creator of Roger Drake, “the tough American detective with breeding and brains.”

   — Wallace “Valentino” Peck, who created Gaston Torr, “detective-cracksman.”

   — Roderick Black, whose stories about Spike Regan have been compared with both Simenon and Chandler, a comparison considered by some a libel on Black.

   — Dodo Fenn (whose place is taken by her husband. Paul), who writes about Archibald Creme.

   Sir Arthur has a dossier on each writer, with information therein that will destroy each of their careers and possibly send them to jail should the facts be divulged — or, in one case, lead to severe embarrassment. He has called them together because he has discovered that one of them is responsible for his son’s kidnapping, and his son’s resultant death, and thus for the suicide of his wife.

   Sir Arthur says he will give the information in the dossiers to each writer when four of them have discovered who the writer responsible for the kidnapping is and have disposed of, by some perfect crime, that individual. Otherwise, he will turn the information over to the authorities.

   As is to be expected under the circumstances, Sir Arthur is murdered. So is his secretary. So is his butler. So is —

   Some questions raised by this novel: will the compositor run out of exclamation points? Why doesn’t the Colt .45 that Dawn carries in his hip pocket cause him pain or at least discomfort when he sits down? Is there such a thing as a five-chambered revo1ver?

   An amusing work, though perhaps not intentionally, and flaw seekers should enjoy themselves.

— Reprinted from CADS 18, February 1992. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.


Bibliographic Notes:   John Courage was — not surprisingly — a pseudonym, that of Richard Goyne (1902-1957); according to Hubin, other pseudonyms Aileen Grey, Scarlet Grey, Kitty Lorraine, Paul Renin & Richard Standish. As Courage, he was the author of some 25 mysteries, none published in the US. Under his own name, he wrote over 50 others, with one or two of them indicated as marginal entries. None of these were ever published in the US, either. Information as to the output under the remaining pen names will be provided upon request.

   Readers wishing to find a copy of Made to Murder, here is a head start: There is one offered for sale on Amazon.com in Canada, with an asking price in the $75 range.

99 RIVER STREET. United Artists, 1953. John Payne, Evelyn Keyes, Brad Dexter, Frank Faylen, Peggie Castle, Jay Adler. Director: Phil Karlson.

   Not a perfect noir film, but to me, it comes awfully close. John Payne plays a brooding ex-boxes who came within seconds of being the world champion, but because of a bad right eye, his life now revolves around driving a cab for a living and being driven to frustration by a wife (a luscious Peggie Castle) who wants more than a cab driver can give her.

   No one dos better at brooding than John Payne, and with fists that are essentially lethal weapons, he at times is a powder keg of ager wothin seconds of going off. Not only does he find his wife is cheating on him, but another woman (the very beautiful Evelyn Keyes), her heart set on Broadway, asks for Payne’s help after she kills her producer at a late night “audition.” (There may be more to it than that.)

   And so far I have not mentioned that Payne’s cheating wife is cheating with a guy (Brad Dexter) who has $50,000 worth of stolen diamonds, but whose fence (Jay Adler) won’t take them because in the course of the robbery, someone ended up dead.

   As you may have concluded on your own, there is more to the story than can fit with comfort in 83 minutes of running time. That is the movie’s only flaw. Beautifully photographed, and well acted — no one does better as an everyday kind of guy at brooding than John Payne. But even better in another way is Evelyn Keyes, whose attempt at vamping the villain in a shorefront dive will have every red-blooded guy’s heart pounding like there’s no tomorrow.

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