January 2020


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


ALLEN ESKENS – Nothing More Dangerous. Mulholland Books, hardcover, November 2019. Setting: Missouri, 1976-Present.

First Sentence: I was fifteen the day I learned that Ms. Lida Poe had gone missing.

   Set in the 1970s, Eskens gifts his readers with a story that deals with a mystery, bigotry, and a young man named Boady Sandem growing up in an environment that makes him decide who and what he believes and for what he stands.

   It is so nice to read a book whose story starts on the first page and continues straight on through; no prologue and a single Point of View. Beginning with relating a memory, Eskins’ voice as a true storyteller is apparent— “I knew that President Ford has his hands full trying to beat out an actor named Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination, but what any of that had to do with the price of a turnip down at the IGA — I couldn’t tell you.”

   Eskens creates a sense of time without giving you a specific date, and he creates a sense of place through some of the most evocative descriptions one will find— “…Soon I found myself sitting in the crux of my favorite oak tree, watching the afternoon sun ripple across the surface of Dixon’s pond, the smell of mud and water in my nose, the feel of tree bark under my bare feet.” His humor is subtle; it slides in without one really noticing— “Personally, I didn’t find it hard to believe that someone had up and left Jessup; what baffled me was why more people didn’t do it.

   The characters, both good and bad, are real and recognizable— “Hoke wore his sixty plus years like an old book. … Sitting close to him, you could see the loose ends of a past that Hoke never talked about.”

   The descriptions of Boadie’s life as a teen are wonderfully representative of life in a rural area have a timelessness about them, yet we are also reminded of the bigotry that is pervasive in many such areas– “I mean, there’s no reason there ain’t no black quarterbacks playing pro football. They can run as fast and block and stuff, but they ain’t as smart as whites. That don’t make ’em bad people. They’re just different. … I think that if a black man sets his mind to it, he can be just as good as a white man.” There is also the pressure to conform and the way hatred and racism spreads– “You put enough like-minded idiots in a room, and pretty soon their backward way of thinking starts to take on an air of legitimacy.”

   One wants the book to be perfect, and it nearly is. But not quite. There are a couple of unfortunate and completely unnecessary portents. There are coincidences which make one shake one’s head believing the author could have done better. There is a rather predictable wounding of our hero that feels as though the author watched one too many detective shows. Fortunately, one can forgive those weaknesses in contrast to the story of Hoke, his pain, and how he met Boadie, and how impactful is the story overall.

   Nothing More Dangerous is a story of friendship, bigotry, violence, fate, and redemption. It is also a beautiful story that touches one’s heart.

Rating: VG Plus.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


LILLIAN BERGQUIST & IRVING MOORE – Your Shot, Darling! Morrow, hardcover, 1948. Graphic #84, paperback, 1954.

   I read Your Shot, Darling! just a few years ago; the same year, I think, when I joined DAPA-EM. Practically last week in the Scheme of Things. But when I noticed it on my shelf the other day, I couldn’t remember much about it: something about a gun-nut hero, murder, and denouement on a shooting range. Or was I recalling correctly? So I pulled it off the shelf and had another look.

   Well for starters, it’s heavy-duty stoopid: dumb cops, obvious killer, knuckle-head hero and dense heroine, abetted by a supporting cast that…

   “The bastards, going to all that trouble to welcome me home! Sure, I loved them too, the lousy bums!”

   These particular lousy bums keep coming on to the hero in true pulp fashion, dropping veiled hints of danger and promises to spill everything, then turning up dead in tried-and-tiresome fashion a few pages later, leaving our none-too-brilliant protagonist to puzzle things out, which he manages only after the authors have reached some predestined number of pages.

   But there comes a point where idiocy acquires a certain charm, and Your Shot, Darling! gets us there. Like a Keeler novel, this book reads relentlessly dumb and unpretentious, so much so that it gets to be fun after a while. I may not get back to it for another thirty years – or ever, for that matter. But I’m glad I rediscovered it.

        —

Editor’s Note: This was the only mystery novel that either author wrote, either solo or tandem.

MR. ADAMS AND EVE “The Mothers.” CBS, 15 March 1957 ( Season 1 Episode 6). 30 min. Howard Duff, Ida Lupino, Olive Carey. Guest Cast: Lee Patrick, Olive Blakeney, Walter Woolf King. Written by Sol Saks, Bernard Ederer & Robert White, based on characters created by Collier Young. Director: Richard Kinon.

   The premise of this 30 minute comedy show was that Ida Lupino and Howard Duff, movie stars in real life, would play a married couple who were also movie stars, but concentrating on their life at home (which of course often overlaps their professional lives as well).

   I don’t know how I happened to be thinking about this series, but it somehow came to mind as a very funny show that was on while I was in high school. I didn’t think anyone else would remember it, but I went looking and of all things, I found several episodes to see for free on YouTube.

   

   I may have picked the wrong one to watch In this one, it accidentally happens that both Howard’s ad Eve’s mothers end up staying with them at the same time. As they are quite opposites in nature (Eve’s mother has been in show business for quite some time, Howard’s mother from Washington state and is rather naive about big city ways), they expect the worst.

   As it turns out the two mothers find themselves fighting over the same man. Pot roast comes into it as well, and it is up to the maid of the house (Olive Carey) to finally straighten things out.

   I may have had a crush on Ida Lupino at the time, or why else would I have remembered this show so well for all these years? This is the least funny comedy episode I can ever recall watching. The script is so lame the actors have to resort to exaggerated facial expressions and other gestures of the head to to give their lines any oomph. Not even the laugh track can find anything funny in this one, not even to giggle at. This was, to say the least, disappointing. There are times when you really can’t go home again.


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


THE NARROWING CIRCLE. Eros Films, UK. 1956. Paul Carpenter, Hazel Court, Russell Napier, Trevor Reid, Ferdy Mayne Screenplay by Doreen Montgomery, based on the novel by Julian Symons. Directed by Charles Saunders.

   Sigh …

   What can you say.

   The Narrowing Circle was a major breakthrough novel for critic and mystery novelist Julian Symons. Barzun and Taylor reckoned it was his best novel and ranked it high among the subgenre of mysteries set in a publishing house background (which includes Kenneth Fearing’s The Big Clock).

   Basically the story is that when a journalist’s rival for a major editorial job is killed after beating him out for the job and cheating with his girlfriend, it looks bad and as he delves into the mystery to clear himself, he stumbles across more bodies, convincing Inspector Crambo (Trevor Reid in the film) he’s the guilty man. “Plausible and entertaining,” was how Barzun and Taylor summed it up in A Catalogue of Crime.

   Alas, almost none of that is preserved in the low-budget feature made from the book starring the ever annoying and impossibly crass Paul Carpenter (whether Canadian or American, I never knew, but his inability to act transcended nationality, even in a time when British films thought they had to have at least a pseudo American lead), cheap production values, leaden direction, and a lame script.

   Any suspense films depends to some extent on identification or sympathy with the protagonist, but Carpenter, a singularly bad actor, makes that almost impossible.

   The “narrowing circle” of the title is a pretty good metaphor from the novel, the detective in the case describing to the protagonist suspect how the police dangle the noose lightly over the suspect’s neck and let him slowly draw it tight with his own actions, the “narrowing circle” of circumstantial evidence building against the suspect, often by his own hand.

    We open with Carpenter in his office dictating a rough tough hard boiled private eye story. Whether intentional of not, that’s a sort of backhand tribute to Symons, who has much derogatory to say about that kind of thriller. It’s the kind of grace note you could expect in one of Symons’ sharply observed books.

   The highlight is a scene where Hazel Court and Carpenter both try to silence the other while dictating a rough and tumble hard-boiled melee at the same time. I would really have liked to have seen that scene between two actors with charisma and timing. Alas that isn’t what you get, though Court is by far the best thing in this.

   And it is the last grace note you get in this amateurish by rote suspense mystery.

   Pretty soon we learn our hero expects to be be promoted to crime editor at the publishing house where he dawdles away his time penning cheap thrillers, even bragging to his homey blonde girlfriend. But when his rival gets the job (Ferdy Mayne) our hero also discovers he got the girl, who is two timing him, so when his rival turns up dead there is only one natural suspect.

   Bits and pieces of the Symons novel are still here, but so ineptly written, directed, and acted as to make it unrecognizable. Even the romance between rival reporter Hazel Court and Carpenter is sabotaged by Carpenter’s usual annoying performance and the trite and frankly illiterate screenplay and ham-handed direction.

   Any of the interesting bits about the inside workings of a big publishing house are lost in scenes of Carpenter stumbling around finding bodies. The screenplay doesn’t even try to make his stupidity remotely believable. By the end of the film you may be rooting for him to be charged and hanged for sheer stupidity.

   You really may have to see this to understand how bad the actors are. They stumble over their lines, miss their marks, and practically fall over their own feet. It looks like the crudest type of live television and not a film.

   Symons might not be everyone’s cuppa, but he was a literate writer who knew his way around suspense and mystery, and certainly his best book deserved better than this tiresome mess.

   Don’t let the narrowing circle of this noose choke the enjoyment out of you. Even if you are a major Symons’ fan, just skip this one. You can imagine a better adaptation of his book than this, certainly with a better cast.

   Anyone could.


   Rupert Heath, publisher of Dean Street Press’s line of reprinted vintage mystery fiction, recently sent me an email flyer outlining what’s in store for us from them this March. I asked if I could reprint it here, and he has most graciously agreed:


Vintage Mysteries from DSP
in March 2020
by Rupert Heath


   We are delighted to be adding new Golden Age mysteries to our range of publications on 2 March 2020. This time we are featuring authors Moray Dalton, E. & M. A. Radford, Henrietta Clandon and Roy Horniman, including the classic black crime-comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets.

   Further to our successes last year, we are publishing five further titles from Moray Dalton: The Belfry Murder, The Belgrave Manor Crime, The Condamine Case, The Case of Alan Copeland, and The Art School Murders.

   We have three more titles from E. & M.A. Radford, the married Golden Age crime-writing couple: The Heel of Achilles, Death of a Frightened Editor, and Death and the Professor.

   A new author for DSP, we are very pleased to add four classic Golden Age mysteries from Henrietta Clandon: Good by Stealth, Inquest, Power on the Scent, and This Delicate Murder.

   And finally we are excited to bring out a new edition of Kind Hearts and Coronets (aka Israel Rank) by Roy Horniman – the basis for the famous Ealing Comedy, and every bit as fresh, funny and relevant as when it was first published in 1907.

   All best wishes

       Rupert Heath

           Publisher

REVIEWED BY MIKE TOONEY:


THE GREAT DETECTIVE. “Train of Events.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 02 January 1980 (Season 2, Episode 1). (11th overall of 30 [or is it 35] episodes.) Cast: Douglas Campbell (Inspector Cameron), James Duggan (Sergeant Striker), Sandy Webster (Dr. Chisholm), Sean McCann (McCarthy, the conductor), Maurska Stankova (Klara Elek, the widow), John Grima (Vilmos Elek, the dead man), Richard Farrell (Conley), Patrick Brymer (the cabbie). Producer: Peter Wildeblood. Writer: Larry Gaynor. Director: Rudi Dorn.

   Ordinarily a ride on the Sudbury to Toronto night train is an unexciting affair, but not this evening. Aboard is Provincial Inspector Alistair Cameron, his assignment being to keep tabs on a gold bullion shipment worth $200,000; there has been much anarchist activity of late, and Cameron is there to make sure they don’t get a chance to subsidize their revolution with other people’s money. An unwelcome addition to the passenger load, at least as far as the Inspector is concerned, is Sergeant Striker, who has been assigned to Cameron as his “bodyguard” in case things get out of hand with the anarchists.

   Everything goes well until the train stops for water; then bullets start to fly from the siding, punching holes in windows and woodwork alike — and, it would seem, one unfortunate man in the passenger car. After everything calms down, with the anarchists breaking off the attack, the Inspector insists on inspecting the gold, which is under armed guard in a specially modified combination car near the engine; satisfied that the bullion is intact, Cameron permits the train to proceed non-stop to Toronto, where it arrives with the early morning sun — but without the railway car, the guards, and the gold! Needless to say, the bank intends to have the Inspector’s guts for garters for this …

   And it’s here that the story turns into an impossible crime, and a well-done one at that. Conundrums abound: How did an entire car disappear from a moving train? When the passenger killed during the ambush is autopsied, how can it be that he was shot from no farther than six inches? And what bearing did his profession have on the robbery? In searching the train, now a crime scene, why can’t Striker find any signs whatsoever of bullet damage?

   And what’s the significance of that forlorn lady’s wig found stuffed under a seat? What about those two rather hefty women who bumped into the Inspector when he left the train? After there’s a gas explosion in a shack in the railyard, why, according to the coroner, did the victims perish the way they did instead of being killed in the blast? What about that piece of plywood Cameron and Striker find not far from an over-river railway bridge? And, finally, how did the widow of the man killed in the ambush get to be such a good shot? (Actually that last one is never asked or answered in the show; we were just wondering.)

   “Train of Events” is a model of how to do an impossible crime story on episodic TV: it’s the right length, not too long and not too short (roughly an hour, unlike the usual overly-padded Banacek episode); every element and scene contributes to forwarding the plot; and the characters and tone are lightly tongue-in-cheek without being a distraction. We especially appreciate how the director took great pains to reconstruct the events, nicely adding to the Great Detective’s Big Reveal of the crime.

   IMDb tells us that this series was “based on the first government appointed provincial detective Alistair Cameron, set during the late Victorian Era. He is assisted by his friend Dr. Chisholm, a pathologist. He relocates from Scotland to Canada for his job, takes in a house keeper, and becomes guardian of his niece. He also has a sergeant who assists on his cases.”

   Wikipedia also tells us that The Great Detective was based on the exploits of John Wilson Murray (1840-1906), who was “Ontario’s first full-time criminal detective with the title Detective for the Government of Ontario. He held the position until his death and solved hundreds of crimes.”

   The big three performers in “Train of Events” are Douglas Campbell (1922-2009) as Inspector Alistair Cameron (25 episodes), Sandy Webster (1923-2017) as Dr. Chisholm (20 episodes), and James Duggan (died in 2013) as Sergeant Striker (9 episodes). Early in his career, Douglas Campbell was a stage sensation, scoring big with Shakespeare in the ’50s (being naturally portly and blustery, he made the perfect Falstaff); he once described himself as a “William Morris socialist,” whatever that means.

   Among a lot of other actors doing one-shots on The Great Detective who have achieved notice elsewhere: Geraint Wyn Davies, John Neville, Megan Follows, Maury Chaykin, Sharon Acker, Nick Mancuso, Len Cariou, Henry Beckman, Alan Scarfe, and James Bradford (who played Inspector Regan in three episodes of the show).

   The CBC seems to have developed amnesia about The Great Detective series; we can’t find anything about it on their website.

      —

NOTE: This episode, which was obviously taped off an A&E broadcast (hence the low quality), is available on YouTube, but the individual who posted it there is not allowing it to be embedded on other sites. You can watch it here, at least for now.

ART OF CRIME (L’art du crime). “Une Beauté faite au Naturel: Parties 1 & 2.” France 2 / Gaumont Television / France Télévisions. 17 November 2017. Nicolas Gob (Antoine Verlay), Eléonore Bernheim (Florence Chassagne), Philippe Duclos (Pierre Chassagne). Guest Cast: Miou-Miou, Stéphan Wojtowicz, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Venantino Venantini (Leonard de Vinci). Dircetor: Charlotte Brändström.

   A man who had been stealing a painting from an old French mansion at night is found stabbed to death, his outstretched pointing to a marker stone with name of Leonard de Vinci engraved upon it. Question: Is it possible that an unknown painting by the Italian master is hidden behind the otherwise worthless painting?

   Tackling the case on behalf of the police are two mismatched (of course) detectives, one a street smart cop, Antoine Verlay, now assigned to the department handling crimes of art fraud and theft, and an art historian and authenticator, Florence Chassagne.

   They do not get along especially well, but working on the theory that opposites attract, you just know, deep down inside, they will find working together more than the chore it is in this, their very first case together.

   Art of the Crime was on for three seasons. Even though I didn’t follow all of the details about the world of art, forgeries, I found the story line fascinating. The amount of money that’s at stake is certainly grounds for many more stories like this one. The color photography is absolutely splendid, especially the scenes in the underground areas of he mansion, where Verlay and Chassagne find themselves temporarily trapped.

   And thanks to the latter’s vivid imagination, Leonardo da Vinci himself makes an appearance. What’s not to like?


CHARLES ALVERSON, who died several days ago (January 19th), had a relatively minor career in the world of crime fiction, but his two books about San Francisco-based PI Joe Goodey struck me as being very done, both solidly in the Raymond Chandler tradition. After reading the two of them, I was constantly on the lookout for the third, but alas, it never turned out to be.

   Quoting from his first book (*), here’s the first paragraph:

   I was stretching a tall gin and tonic at Aldo’s, the only bar I knew that hadn’t yet torn up my tab, when I looked up and discovered that my elbow room to the west had been annexed by an elderly gentleman in a three-piece suit.

   And from the second:

   “Don’t mistake me for a moralist, Rachel.You know better. I’m just an ex-cop scuffling after enough money to stay alive and operating. If some justice gets done in the process, that’s fine. It makes the client feel better about paying.”

   According to Wikipedia, after deciding perhaps that mystery writing wasn’t going to pay the bills, Alverson Alverson was managing editor of the British environmentalist magazine Vole, financed by Terry Jones of Monty Python, and was co-screenwriter of Terry Gilliam’s film Jabberwocky, and was co-developer of the story and co-writer (uncredited) of the first draft of the screenplay that became Brazil (1985).

(*) This quote and the one following are included in Dick Lochte’s long essay on Joe Goodey you can find on the Thrilling Detective website.


        The Joe Goodey series —

Goodey’s Last Stand. Houghton Mifflin, 1975

Not Sleeping, Just Dead. Houghton Mifflin, 1977


    Plus one crime-related standalone novel:

Fighting Back. Bobbs Merrill, 1973

   Noted TV journalist and news anchor JIM LEHRER died today at the age of 85. Of his many other accomplishments, which will most assuredly be included in the many obituaries appearing now online and again in tomorrow’s newspapers, he also wrote a good many works of crime fiction, most of which I seem to have missed knowing about for all these years.

   The first series of note are the light-hearted adventures of One-Eyed Mack, Oklahoma’s lieutenant governor, who solves mysteries in his spare time. Lehrer also wrote two books about Charles Avenue Henderson, a former CIA agent who wants nothing more to do but retire in peace and quiet, , but who finds that actually doing so is not as easy as he thought.


      The One-Eyed Mack series —

Kick the Can. Putnam 1988

Crown Oklahoma. Putnam 1989
The Sooner Spy. Putnam 1990
Lost and Found. Putnam 1991
Fine Lines. Random House 1994
Mack to the Rescue. University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.


    The Charlie Henderson series —

Blue Hearts. Random House 1993. ISBN 0-679-42216-1.

Purple Dots. Random House, 1998.


      Crime-related standalone novels include —

The Special Prisoner. Random House, 2000.
The Franklin Affair. Random House, 2003.
Top Down: A Novel of the Kennedy Assassination. Random Houose, 2013.

   W. GLENN DUNCAN passed away on May 7th of last year. He was the author of six books about a PI named Rafferty (no first name known). Rafferty, whose home base was Dallas TX, was definitely in the Spenser tradition, but with a Gold Medal sensibility. if that makes sense. (All of his books were paperback originals published by Fawcett Gold Medal. )

   Rafferty is also known for the set of Rules he lives by, and many of them are quoted throughout his adventures. (See below.)


        The Rafferty series —

Rafferty’s Rules (1987). Film: Cinepix, 1992, as Snake Eater III: His Law.
Last Seen Alive (1987)
Poor Dead Cricket (1988)
Wrong Place, Wrong Time (1989)

Cannon’s Mouth (1990)
Fatal Sisters (1990)

W. GLENN DUNCAN Rafferty


   — By W. Glenn Duncan, Jr.

False Gods (2018)


        Rafferty’s Rules, as compiled by Kevin Burton Smith

2) Be lucky. (Wrong Place, Wrong Time)

3) If you’re going to be stupid, see rule number two. (Wrong Place, Wrong Time)

3) When all else fails, sit on your duff and await good news…

5) If a client can afford it, he — or she — pays top dollar.

6) Don’t forget the money.

7) Anxious clients who smile too much are usually trouble.

8) The client has to say out loud what he wants me to do. (Rafferty’s Rules)

8) When in doubt, raise hell and see who complains about the noise. (Last Seen Alive)

9) Dull won’t balance the checkbook.

11) Don’t worry about what’s right, worry about what’s possible.

11) To feel really dumb, be a smart ass once too often. (Wrong Place, Wrong Time)

12) Selling people is antisocial.

13) Get the money up front.

16) When you can’t tell the bad guys from the good guys, it’s time to get the hell out. (Wrong Place, Wrong Time)

17) Never take a client at face value.

18) Ribs should be eaten naked.

19) When you can’t tell the bad guys from the good guys, it’s time to get the hell out. (Wrong Place, Wrong Time)

20) Any hunch so strong that it hurts just has to be right. (Cannon’s Mouth)

21) Grow up and grow old.

22) Don’t skulk. You can get away with anything if you act like you’re supposed to be doing it.

23) You show me a man who always “fights fair” and I’ll show you a man who loses too often.

27) In one way or another, every client lies. (Even Rafferty isn’t sure if this is #27 or not.)

28) Hot coffee and nudity don’t mix. If you spill, it hurts.

33) Always obey your friend, the police man.

34) Sometimes good luck accomplishes more than hard work. (Rafferty’s Rules)

34) When in doubt, dodge. (Wrong Place, Wrong Time)

34) Clients always hold back something back. (Last Seen Alive)

35) If a client appears to be telling you everything, see rule #34. (Last Seen Alive)

39) Smiting the wicked sounds biblical, but mostly it’s good clean fun.

41) When someone mentions how good something “could” be, they’re really telling me how lousy that something is.

47) Wear steel-toed boots when kicking people on their bony parts.

« Previous PageNext Page »