March 2018


REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


THE KREMLIN LETTER. 20th Century Fox, 1970. Patrick O’Neal, Richard Boone, Max von Sydow, Bibi Anderssona, Barbara Parkins, George Sanders, Nigel Green, Orson Welles, Dean Jagger. Based on the novel by Noel Behm. Director: John Huston.

   There is no actual letter in this movie. Or maybe there is, but it’s not important. Such is the mystery – if not incoherence – of John Huston’s bleak spy thriller, The Kremlin Letter. As a movie in which atmosphere and mood count far more than plot, this somewhat neglected thriller features Patrick O’Neal (Castle Keep) as Charles Rone, a US Navy officer turned spy.

   On the behest of the enigmatic Highwayman (Dean Jagger) and his assistant, the jocular but devious Ward (Richard Boone), he is sent on a mission to Moscow to retrieve the eponymous Kremlin letter, a document signed by a high ranking US intelligence official promising American support to the Soviet Union should the Russians decide to wage war on Red China.

   Along for the ride are Janis (Nigel Green), a seedy pimp and drug pusher; “The Warlock” (George Sanders), an urbane homosexual and San Francisco drag queen who is willing to use his sexual proclivities to unlock secrets from closeted gay men in Moscovite society; and B.A. (Barbara Perkins of Valley of the Dolls fame), who has the uncanny ability to crack safes with her feet.

   Much of the movie is devoted to watching these unlikely spies do all sorts of things in Moscow. The movie shifts from one scene from another, but if it’s continuity you’re looking for, you’re not going to find it here. If you want a bleak portrayal of a cruel world where spies will do anything for their respective countries, The Kremlin Letter may be exactly what you’re looking for.

   There’s no James Bond glamour here, but there’s plenty of cruelty and manipulation. As for the Kremlin letter that the team is looking for, it turns out to be a McGuffin. But despite Huston in the director’s seat, The Kremlin Letter is far from being a prized black bird from Malta that’s worth killing for.

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


AMY STEWART – Girl Waits with Gun. Constance Kopp #1. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, hardcover, September 2015. Mariner, trade paperback, May 2016. Setting: New Jersey, 1914.

First Sentence:   Our troubles began in the summer of 1914, the year I turned thirty-five.

   Constance Kopp and her two sisters live on a farm in New Jersey. While in town, their buggy is rammed by an automobile driven by Henry Kaufman, head of the Kaufman Silk Dying Company. The harder Constance tries to collect the money due them for damages, the more intense and violent become the threats and attacks on the sisters, causing Constance to seek help from the police and Sheriff Heath. But refusing to pay damages is not only crime of which Kaufman and his gang are guilty.

   It’s always a pleasure to come across a book based on real people and cases, and Constance Kopp is someone one can’t help but like from the outset. She is capable and doesn’t allow herself to be intimidated. In fact, all the characters are intriguing. How can one not enjoy Fleurette’s sass, or Norm’s ingenuity?

   Stewart paints a painfully accurate picture of life for unmarried women of this time, and of life for workers in mill towns. However, it is also important to remember that Constance’s experience is not atypical for women today as well.

   The plot is very well done. Constance’s past is very skillfully woven in revealing layers and details of her life as the story evolves. The way in which Constance receives her training from everyone, at every step along the way is fascinating. There is also a thought-provoking lesson on people’s sense of duty— “I couldn’t understand how anyone would take hold of a stranger and pout out their troubles. But now I realized that people did it all the time. They called for help. And some people would answer, out of a sense of duty, and a sense of belonging to the world around them.”

   The newspaper articles interspersed within the story are an excellent insight into journalism of the time. The fact that they are real, as were the letters included, makes them even better.

   Girl Waits with Gun is a well-done and fascinating story. It’s a perfect blend of fact as a basis for fiction.

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


      The Kopp Sisters series —

1. Girl Waits With Gun (2015)
2. Lady Cop Makes Trouble (2016)

3. Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions (2017)
4. Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit (2018)

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


SAMSON AND DELILAH. Paramount, 1949. Victor Mature, Hedy Lamar, George Sanders, Angela Lansbury, Henry Wilcoxon and Russ Tamblyn. Written by Jesse L. Lasky Jr, Fredric M. Frank, Harold Lamb and Vladimir Jabotinsky. Produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille.

   Readers of these pages know me as a man whose life has been a ceaseless, unending and redundant search for spiritual enrichment. Hardly surprising then, that especially at this time of year I should turn to Old Time Hollywood in search of enlightenment – where better?

   Actually, Samson and Delilah ain’t bad. In its own splashy way, it’s actually pretty good, with gaudy Technicolor, sumptuous sets and costumes, and a big finale when (SPOILER ALERT!) Samson brings the heathen temple down on the Philistines.

   Lasky and Frank’s script is mostly simple stuff, with clearly-defined Good Guys up against Bad Guys with mostly no redeeming qualities at all — although they go to some lengths to provide Hedy Lamar’s Delilah with some credible motivation for destroying Samson, and even embellish the Bible a bit by giving her a change of heart late in the show, where she even helps Samson (SPOILER ALERT!) bring the heathen temple down on the Philistines.

   Said Philistines are ably led by George Sanders, as the Saran of Gaza (more on this later) amply supplied with cynical quips, an army led by DeMille Stalwart Henry Wilcoxon, and staffed with reliable heavies like Mike Mazurki, Harry Cording, Lane Chandler, Fred Kohler Jr, Bob Kortman, Ted Mapes, John Merton, Ray Teal, Tom Tyler, Harry Woods… and that’s George Reeves as the wounded soldier who brings the news of defeat to the Saran’s court.

   The acting is variable rather than Biblical. Victor Mature’s brainless strongman is predictably smug, Angela Lansbury suitably vapid, and Hedy Lamar…. Well, she delivers her lines capably, but DeMille has her perform with a body language like a silent movie vamp waiting to pounce, knees akimbo, on our poor lummox or any guy on two legs who can’t outrun her.

   As I say though, this is mostly light and enjoyable and should be taken on that level – especially when Mature as Samson counsels the future King Saul (Russ Tamblyn) to put down that sling and make something of himself. And again, the smashing finale is worth waiting for, when the Saran wraps things up with a caustic comment while Samson (SPOILER ALERT!) brings the heathen temple down on the Philistines in a burst of beautifully done special effects.

   This is, in its own way, Great Filmmaking, along the lines of Forbidden Planet, Duel in the Sun or Mackenna’s Gold, and if you haven’t read any good comic books lately, I recommend it highly.

I think that Grace Slick is the best female rock and roll singer of all time. Lots of videos on YouTube. Here’s one of them:

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


PAT FRANK – Forbidden Area. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1956. Bantam A1553, paperback, January 1957. Harper Perennial, trade paperback, December 2016. Published in the UK as Seven Days to Never (Constable, hardcover, 1957).

   If Pat Frank is remembered at all today by modern readers it is likely for two mainstream bestselling science fiction works, the satiric Mr. Adam, about the last fertile man in the world, and the post-nuclear holocaust novel Alas, Babylon.

   That is only a small part of his output though, that included the Korean war novel (also a film with John Payne) Hold Back the Dawn, and this Cold War novel of spies, sabotage, detection, and nuclear brinksmanship.

   The Cold War novel had its real precedents in the popular future war genre from the late 19th Century in which writers like William Le Queux wrote speculative, but ground in somewhat realistic terms, novels “warning” British readers of the threat from outside invasion, often the Germans, sometimes the French (Napoleon was a not so distant memory), the Russians, or the “yellow perils” of Asia.

   Writers like M. P. Shiel, Le Queux, H. G. Wells, and even Arthur Conan Doyle (Danger!) contributed to the genre, and eventually it would produce one prophetic classic, Erskine Childer’s The Riddle of the Sands.

   In the period between the wars the subject was mostly reserved for the pulps, with heroes like the Spider, Operator #5, and G-Man Dan Fowler repelling wave after wave of foreign and domestic threats, and surely the inspiration for John Creasey’s Dr. Palfrey series. Thrillers indulged as well with books like Oppenheim’s Matorini’s Vineyard (which I reviewed here) and The Spy Paramount.

   With the advent of the atomic bomb in 1945 the genre got a big boost. National paranoia (some of it wholly justified) combined with the very real fear of nuclear war inspired a new wave of writers, and while some were well within genre boundaries like Will Jenkins (Murray Leinster’s) Murder of the U.S.A. and Sterling Noel’s I Killed Stalin, more mainstream writers took up the gauntlet, adding the fear of accidental nuclear war to the mix as well.

   These include novels such as Philip Wylie’s Triumph, Eugene Burdick’s Fail Safe, Paul Stanton’s Village of Stars, Nevil Shute’s On The Beach, The Bedford Incident, Ice Station Zebra, and Peter Bryant’s (nee Peter George) Red Alert, which became the basis for Dr. Strangelove.

   The genre had once again leaped from the pulps and pages of thrillers to the bestseller list.

   Forbidden Area falls into the latter category and opens off the (then) lonely Florida coast where two wooing teens see a Russian submarine disgorge a landing craft containing a small car and a team of men in black.

   Afraid of the girl’s father, the two keep silent, and thereby as the saying goes, hangs the tale. When a B29 is stolen shortly after a team of seven people are drawn together as the investigation proceeds and more B29’s, all part of the Strategic Air Command, are lost or sabotaged. The seven people come to realize the Soviet Union is preparing for a first strike against the U.S., but can they find evidence and prove it before it is too late?

   The book shows its age today, but it still manages to generate suspense and considering the growing new Cold War it is more relevant than it might have been even a year ago although the threat is different and the methods today less primitive.

   How the Soviet Union is foiled and nuclear war averted makes for some excitement even today, and if the characters all fit a bit too neatly into certain clichés, it isn’t to the detriment of the story. Frank was a fairly clearheaded writer not given to distracting from the plot at hand by going off on tangents.

   Forbidden Area is a relic of another era, but not without some virtues in terms of story and plot. It offers nothing new to the genre, but it does it with a compactness and straight forward line of suspense worth noting, and is a reminder the more things change the more they stay the sam

MARGARET YORKE – Cast for Death. Dr. Patrick Grant #5. Walker, US, hardcover, 1976. Bantam, US, paperback, October 1982. First published in the UK by Hutchinson, hardcover, 1976.

   Author Margaret Yorke was the author of close to 40 works of crime fiction, but only five of them seem to have been detective stories, all featuring Oxford don Patrick Grant as their leading protagonist. The rest appear to to be novels of suspense — whether romantic or psychological, I hesitate to say.

   But on the basis of this, the first of her books that I’ve read, I’d have to say that detective fiction was not among her strong points. (I’m speaking here of the traditional kind, with clues, alibis and all kinds of red herrings.)

   The general background is fine — that of the then-current Shakespearean season in the small cities and towns near Oxford. Dead, found floating in a river — presumably a suicide — is an actor who never showed up for his final performance. But as a work of detective fiction, the resulting case is a shambles. An observant man, Grant seems to have a special ability to jump to (correct) conclusions by instinct only.

   And by sheer coincidence. A dog he accidentally runs over on a highway belongs to a woman who also has just died, also assumed to be a suicide, but her life — would you believe — is somehow connected with the first one. Grant puts two and two together by noting a canister of Earl Grey tea in both their lodgings.

   More interesting is Grant’s off-and-on lukewarm romance with his long-time acquaintance Liz. He sees her on occasion only, but a chance kiss turns into a longer one than either one of them expects, and they both step back and tacitly decide not to say anything about it. But when a visiting policeman from Crete begins to show interest in Liz, feelings of what? could it be jealousy? shakes Grant to his core.

    Not that by book’s end does he do anything about it, and to the frustration of this reader, at least, this was the last book in the series. From here, though, we are allowed our imagination.

      The Patrick Grant series

1. Dead in the Morning (1970)

2. Silent Witness (1972)
3. Grave Matters (1973)
4. Mortal Remains (1974)
5. Cast for Death (1976)

JONATHAN E. LEWIS, Editor – Strange Island Stories. Stark House Press, trade paperback. Published today!

              CONTENTS:

Introduction

          GHOSTS AND SHAPE SHIFTERS

“Monos and Daimonos” by Edward Bulwer (New Monthly Magazine, May 1830; The Student: A Series of Papers, 1835)

“Hugenin’s Wife” by M.P. Shiel (The Pale Ape and Other Pulses, 1911)

“The Far Islands” by John Buchan (Blackwood’s Magazine, November 1899; The Watcher by the Threshold and Other Tales, 1902)

“The Ship That Saw a Ghost” by Frank Norris (A Deal in Wheat and Other Tales of the New and Old West, 1903)

“The Gray Wolf” by George MacDonald (Works of Fantasy and Imagination, 1871)

“The Camp of the Dog” by Algernon Blackwood (John Silence: Physician Extraordinary, 1908)

“Island of Ghosts” by Julian Hawthorne (All Story Weekly, April 13, 1918)

          BIZARRE CREATURES AND FANTASTIC REALMS

“The Fiend of the Cooperage” by Arthur Conan Doyle (The Manchester Weekly Times, October 1st 1897; Round the Fire Stories, 1908)

“Spirit Island” by Henry Toke Munn (Chambers Journal, November 1922)

“The Purple Terror” by Fred M. White (The Strand Magazine, September 1899)

“Friend Island” by Francis Stevens (All-Story Weekly, September 7, 1918; Fantastic Novels Magazine, September 1950)

“In the Land of Tomorrow” by Epes Winthrop Sargent (The Ocean, December 1907 and January 1908)

“The Isle of Voices” by Robert Louis Stevenson (Island Night’s Entertainment, 1893)

“Dagon” by H. P. Lovecraft (The Vagrant, November 1919; The Outsider and Others, 1939)

“The People of Pan” by Henry S. Whitehead (Weird Tales, March 1929; West India Lights, 1946)

          HUMAN HORRORS

“The Sixth Gargoyle” by David Eynon (Weird Tales, January 1951)

“Three Skeleton Key” by George G. Toudouze (Esquire, January 1937)

“Good-by Jack” by Jack London (The House of Pride and Other Tales of Hawaii, 1912)

“The Isle of Doom” by James Francis Dwyer (The Popular Magazine, April 15 1910)

“An Adriatic Awakening” by Jonathan E. Lewis

Notes for Further Reading

Back in the 60s this was music I’d heard nothing like before. A statement that was probably true for almost every one else at the time:

DARK INTRUDER. Made-for-TV movie, NBC/Universal, 1965. Pilot for a failed television series to have been called The Black Cloak. Released theatrically when deemed too violent for TV. Leslie Nielsen (Brett Kingsford), Mark Richman, Judi Meredith, Gilbert Green, Charles Bolender, Werner Klemperer, Vaughn Taylor, Peter Brocco. Screenplay by Barré Lyndon. Music by Lalo Schifrin. Director: Harvey Hart.

   Brett Kingsford (played admirably by Leslie Neilsen) is an expert on the supernatural in this failed TV pilot, and while nobody asked me at the time, I think the series that would have ensued if things had worked out differently could have been a good one.

   The story takes place in San Francisco in 1890, and Kingsford is called in by the police when a baffling series of Jack the Ripper style killings begins to take place. The victims have all been clawed to death, and left at the scene of each killing is an ivory ancient Sumerian figurine.

   When a friend of his, Robert Vandenburg (Mark Richman), begins to think he may be the one responsible, Kingsford has an additional reason to be involved in the case, along with his dwarf assistant Nikola (Charles Boldender).

   The copy of this short 59 minute film I watched was a very dark print, but even so it matched the mood of the proceeding perfectly, and the movie does have a few quite scary moments. Too scary for TV in 1965? I’d have to agree.

   But it was very well done, with well above average production values and a large supporting cast. To my untrained eye, the director knew what he was doing too, with the camera moving fluidly with lots of well constructed overhead shots.

   And, in case you were wondering, while Leslie Neilsen’s sideburns looked as false as they probably were, he had the presence to carry off the rest of his role very well. I also liked the wink and nod between him and his assistant at the end when they talk about all of the strange things they’ve seen together, with a hint of more to come. Alas, it was not to be.

         BRETT: Ah, Nicola, if only the rest of the world knew what we know.

         NICOLA: If they did, sir, nobody would get a decent night’s sleep.


REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


LAURENCE SHAMES – Sunburn. Joey Goldman #3. Hyperion, hardcover, 1994; paperback, 1995.

   I panned Shames’ [first novel], Florida Straits, but hope springs eternal,just like down-and-dirty Florida books seem to.

   Joey Goldman is still in Key West, and doing well in real estate. His natural father, the New York Godfather Vinny Delgado, is visiting him and his wife, and from this visit are going to come Bad Things.

   Vinnie is feeling the weight of his years and sins, and the burden of all the secrets he’s got locked in his head. A chance meeting with a reporter friend of Joey’s leads to the idea of a book to be published after his death. Not surprisingly, there are those who if they knew would think this very poor idea. Even less surprisingly, some of these find out. The FBI wants to hang a fresh New York murder on Vinny. the paisons just want to hang him up.

   Well, once again I demonstrate that I’m no slave to foolish consistency. Though this features basically the same cast of characters as the earlier book, I liked it. Somehow Shames had done a better job of making his criminals sympathetic in a believable fashion, or maybe I was in a different mood.

   He’s a good storyteller, and has a good ear for dialogue. He also does a good job of sketching in the Key West ambiance without a lot of purple prose and excess verbiage. The characters make the book, however, and though I’m still a little uncomfortable with some of the shadings, I liked them.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #15, September 1994.


Bibliographic Note:   #2 in the series of incidents in the life of Joey Goldman was Scavenger Reef (1994). He may have appeared in later books — Shames now has 17 books in his “Key West” series — but if so, I do not know about it.

Next Page »