May 2020



ONE FRIGHTENED NIGHT. Mascot, 1935. Charley Grapewin, Mary Carlisle, Arthur Hohl, Wally Ford, Lucian Littlefield, Regis Toomey, Hedda Hopper. Screenplay by Wellyn Totman, based on a story by Stuart Palmer. Director: Christy Cabanne.

   I don’t want to wax too passionate about the virtues of One Frightened Night, a cheap old-dark-house thing from a studio that died of penury, filled with bad dialogue, tired acting, and no pace whatsoever. And yet…


   Night starts off with imaginative title credits, worthy of Sam Bass (B-movie makers knew the value of wrapping even the direst offerings in fancy wrap) and proceeds to ring in some changes on the standard formula. Charles Grapewin (Uncle Henry in Wizard of Oz) stars as Jasper Whyte, a reclusive millionaire who kicks things off by announcing plans to distribute his wealth, Lear-like, before his death, to his greedy relatives gathered for the occasion in his creepy mansion on a dark/stormy etc. But there’s a hitch: he tells everyone they wouldn’t get any of it if he had only been able to find his long-lost grand-daughter.

   This is normally the sort of set-up that would put him dead on the library carpet late in the first reel, but writer Stuart Palmer throws things about a bit: just before Midnight (when the bequests were to be made) Jasper’s lawyer shows up with the missing heiress. Then “The Great Luvalle” a creaky vaudeville magician played by Wallace Ford, arrives with another woman claiming to be the missing grand-daughter. In short order one of them turns up dead, and Jasper, who started off the film looking like the most-likely victim is thrust into the role of amateur detective.

   I’d like to say the film lives up to this charming premise, but the fact is, it just sort of plods along, with tired dialogue, annoying complications, and humor that could set comedy back fifty years. On the other hand, Grapewin delights in playing a lead, Wallace Ford is suitably brassy as the obvious charlatan, and together they inject enough energy into things to make One Frightened Night worth sitting through. To me, anyway.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson 53, September 2007.



ONE WEST WAIKIKI “Along Came a Spider.” CBS, 01 September 1994 (Season 1, Episode 5). Cheryl Ladd (Dawn ‘Holli’ Holliday M.E.), Richard Burgi (Detective Mack Wolfe). Created by Glen A. Larson, who also wrote this episode. Director: Jerry Thorpe.

   One West Waikiki had a short six-episode first season run on CBS, followed by a second season of 13 episodes shown in syndication. Starring was Cheryl Ladd as a hands-on medical examiner newly arrived in Hawaii from California who helps the police solve murders.

   And there two of them in “Along Came a Spider.” Both victims appear to have been natural deaths until relatives start prodding the police (and Holli) into investigating further. The problem is, in both cases, is that the deceased have already been cremated. It is up to Holli and the police, in the form of detective Mack Wolfe, to find a way around this “small” problem. Complicating matters is that Hollli’s former mentor is called in, and in spite of his boasts ahead of time, he finds nothing either.

   In spite of the beautiful sun and other scenery, I’d have enjoyed this one more if we the viewers hadn’t been shown the murders taking place. I’m not a big fan of inverted murders, and not even the beautiful Cheryl Ladd in the leading role can make me change my mind about that. I didn’t dislike this one, mind you. If the entire series were available on DVD, I’d love to have it.

   One other thing, though. This was episode five of the CBS run, and not only are Holli and Mack apparently just getting to know each other, but much is made of the fact that Holli is still only in her second week on the job. I have a feeling that maybe the guys in suits decided to put this one out of order.



JACK FOXX – Freebooty. Fergus O’Hara #1. Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1976. Speaking Volumes, softcover, 2014

   San Francisco, in the 1860s. Where you’d meet a man like Paladin perhaps, or even more likely, a man like Fergus O’Hara. Or the other assorted miners, gamblers, sailors and such whom O’Hara encounters in the booming California city on the bay. Luckily O’Hara’s lovely wife Hattie is traveling with him and can help restrain his natural affinity for drink, but even she cannot stop the way that adventure continuously finds the red-headed Irishman, who is always ready for action when it comes.

   And both robbery and murder occur while aboard the steamer Freebooty they take upriver to Stockton, and when O’Hara shows his secret credentials as a Pinkerton detective he’s given a free hand in the subsequent investigation. This is a cheerful bawdy tale taking place a century ago that also becomes an intricate puzzle in detection, complete with a multitude of clues.

   The scenery and atmosphere are great – it’d make a marvelous movie – and while the middle section seems a little too long, the ending is most satisfactory, and without a doubt well worth waiting for.

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 1, No. 2, March 1977.


Bibliographic Note: I do not know if I knew at the time that Jack Foxx was the pen name of author Bill Pronzini. If I had, I’m sure I would have mentioned it. Bill wrote four novels as Jack Foxx, with two of the other three starring a South Seas pilot-for-hire named Dan Connell. This was the only recorded case for Fergus O’Hara. Since he worked for the Pinkerton Agency, I think it’s safe to call him a PI.

TALMAGE POWELL “Her Dagger Before Me.” Novelette. Lloyd Carter #1. First published in Black Mask, July 1949. Reprinted in The Third Talmage Powell Megapack (Wildside Press, Kindle edition, 2020).

   Lloyd Carter’s home base is Tampa, Florida, and has been for thirteen years. He’s been a private eye for almost 21 years, when you count the years he spent in the profession in New York before his wife ran out on him then died when a fast freight “got in the way of the automobile” she and her new lover were in.

   He hasn’t gotten used to the heat in Tampa, though.

   The case in “Her Dagger Before Me” involves a girl, tall and slim but with rather drab brown hair who could easily lose herself in a crowd. Her father, now dead, had been enormously wealthy, but she can’t inherit until she is thirty. In the meantime she is convinced that her stepmother is spending it so fast there will be no money to inherit.

   Carter’s job: to scare off her stepmother’s current boy friend, a smooth operator who’s doing his best to help her spend it. When Crater goes to confront him, however, he finds hm dead. As far as suspects are concerned, there are plenty.

   Powell was the author of hundreds of short stories for both the pulps and the digest magazines that followed them in a career that extended from 1944 to 1982. He was also the author of seventeen novels under both his own name as well as various pen names. This story was early in his career, but the writing is smooth and clear, and the story nicely constructed, with an ending that’s well worth waiting for.

   Now here’s what’s interesting. Of the novels he wrote, five of them featured a PI from Tampa called Ed Rivers. Not only was Rivers based in the same location, but the reasons for him moving there were exactly the same as Lloyd Carter’s. Another similarity is his use of a knife as his weapon of choice. Kevin Burton Smith on his Thrilling Detective website considers Carter and Rivers to be one and the same. I agree.

MEET MISS SHERLOCK “The Case of the Dead Man’s Chest.” CBS, 07 July 1946. Sondra Gair as Jane Sherlock, and Joe Petruzzi played Peter Blossom, a lawyer and her fiancé, with William Conrad as a homicide captain named Dingle.

   Meet Miss Sherlock had two runs as a summer replacement show for CBS, perhaps on the West Coast only. The first is said to have been on the air from July 3, 1946, to September 26, 1946 while the second one ran from September 28, 1947, to October 26, 1947, but that early date for the first run must be in error. The date given for this episode is correct, as a missing man is declared dead exactly seven years after his disappearance on July 7, 1939. (See update below.)

   This is a problem with getting cornet information about old radio show. You have to rely too much on second-hand data. No matter. We’re lucky to have any examples of shot-lived radio shows such as this one to listen to today. (There is one other I know about: 46-09-12 “Wilbur And The Widow,” with a broadcast said to be September 12, 1946.)

   As a feather-brained, if not out-and-out screwy amateur detective, Jane Sherlock has a strange occupation for her to keep running across dead bodies: she’s a buyer for her fiancé’s mother’s shop on Broadway. In this episode, when she buys a large rosewood chest at an auction, she discovers two things: a lot of people want to buy it from her, and and secondly, a skeleton of a man is inside.

   The first half of the show showed some promise, but the second half does its best not to fulfill that promise, and for me, I’d have to say it succeeds. There are too many people involved, and Miss Sherlock, for the most part is pushed to the side, without much involvement. It’s always fun to recognize Bill Conrad’s voice in one of these old radio shows, though. It’s so distinctive you couldn’t miss it if you tried.

   You can listen to this particular episode here.

   And one source of general information about the series is here.


UPDATE: The presumed date for this episode, July 7, 1946. was a Sunday, and the show (or at least the next episode, as announced) was on a Wednesday. It may be that the date assigned to this episode was incorrectly done based on the internal evidence I mentioned in paragraph one.

UPDATE #2. See Michael Shonk’s comment #2. in which he gives me the correct date for this episode: July 17 (not 7), 1946. Lots of other information in his comment about the company and cast of both runs of the series, too. Be sure to read it.


THE GLADES “Pilot.” A&E, 11 July 2010. Matt Passmore (Jim Longworth), Kiele Sanchez, (Callie Cargill). Creator & screenwriter: Clifton Campbell. Director: Peter O’Fallon.

   I was obviously busy doing other things back in 2010 and the four years following. This series passed beneath my radar altogether, and based on this first episode, it’s a show that really should at least have known about. Not all of the fun mystery series that were on cable back then were on the USA network.

   Matt Passmore plays a former homicide detective who is trying for an easier life but working at the same kind of job in a small town in Florida. (It seems he was kicked out of Chicago for sleeping with his boss’s wife, but he claims he was the only one who was not sleeping with her.) He’s a cocky sort of guy who borders on being obnoxious about it. For the most part he stays on the right side of overly brash, unlike the fellow who played the lead role in Psych. (My opinion.)

   Based on this, the first episode, the other major player will be a nurse (played by Callie Cargill) who helps him get a “female perspective” on a case. There seems to be a romantic attraction between them, but she’s married with a young son and (as an interesting change of pace) a husband in prison. I don’t know where that is going to go.

   Found dead in this pilot episode is a woman found ina swamp with no head. She has been in the water to be easily identified, and most of Longworth’s time is spent on trying to find out who she is, much less find her killer. There’s a nice twist in the tale toward the end, but most of the appeal to this show seems to suggest that its appeal will be with the characters, with the detective work coming in a reasonably close second.


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by George Kelley & Bill Pronzini

JOHN GARDNER – The Garden of Weapons. McGraw-Hill, US. hardcover, 1981. Mysterious Press, US, paperback, 1984. Published earlier in the UK by Hodder, hardcover, 1980.

   John Gardner is one of the most versatile British writers in the espionage genre. He gained early recognition for his Boysie Oakes series – The Liquidators (1964), Amber Nine (1966), and five others which he created in the hope they would be an “amusing counterirritant to the excesses” of James Bond; these were written in the black-humor style characteristic of the Sixties. In the Seventies, Gardner scored additional critical and sales triumphs with a much different type of series – one featuring Sherlock Holmes’s archenemy, Professor Moriarity, in The Retum of Moriarity (1974) and The Revenge of Moriarity (1975). And in the Eighties, Gardner returned to the frantic world of Bondian spies — literally — when he began a series of new 007 adventures.

   But Gardner’s best book to date is not one featuring a series character; it is the realistic espionage thriller The Garden of Weapons, which begins when a KGB defector walks into the British Consulate in West Berlin and demands to speak with Big Herbie Kruger, a legendary figure in intelligence circles. Kruger’s interrogation of the defector reveals that the greatest of Kruger’s intelligence coups — a group of six informants known as the Telegraph Boys — has been penetrated by a Soviet spy. Kruger decides to go undercover and eliminate the double agent himself. without the knowledge or consent of British Intelligence.

   Posing as an American tourist, Kruger enters East Berlin to carry out his deadly self-appointed miss1on. But the task is hardly a simple one; and Gardner’s plot is full of Byzantine twists and turns involving the East Germans, the KGB, and British Intelligence. Any reader who enjoys espionage fiction will find The Garden of Weapons a small masterpiece of its type.

   Another non-series Gardner thriller in the same vein is The Werewolf Trace (1977), which has been called “a compulsively readable thriller with delicately handled paranormal undertones and a bitter ending.”
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.


Bibliographic Update: As it so happens, The Garden of Weapons was not a standalone. There were seven in all, all but one published after this one:

      The Herbie Kruger series —

The Nostradamus Traitor (n.) Hodder 1979.
The Garden of Weapons (n.) Hodder 1980.
The Quiet Dogs (n.) Hodder 1982.
The Secret Houses (n.) Bantam 1988.
The Secret Families (n.) Bantam 1989.
Maestro (n.) Bantam 1993.
Confessor (n.) Bantam 1995.

KEVIN PRUFER “The River Market Murders.” Detective Armand #2. Short story. First appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, September 2006. Probably never reprinted.

   Armand is a homicide detective in Kansas City, a town that hardly ever shows up as the scene of a detective fiction story, except maybe in the pulps. In this tale, River Market is an area undergoing urban renewal, and at least one person is violently opposed to young people moving in and squeezing the former residents out. Several of these newcomers have been murdered, all with the same M.O., but the latest doesn’t quite fit the pattern.

   She’s older, for one thing, and she lives out in the suburbs. Her husband doesn’t know why she’d be downtown. She had no friends in the area, no reason to be there.

   Armand is an excellent detective, and the puzzle continues to gnaw at him. He also can relate to the anguish the woman’s husband is going through. He lost his wife in an automobile accident a year or so ago, and the thought of it often keeps him up at night.

   As a detective story, this is a good one, but it’s also one of the darker ones I’ve read recently. Armand finds himself identifying more and more with the victim’s husband, and whether the end of the story is a happy one, I will leave you to decide, if ever you get a chance to read this one.

   Armand’s first appearance was in “The Body in the Spring,” published in the June 2005 issue of AHMM. There were only the two. As to why I thought this one was so well written, I went investigating and discovered that Kevin Prufer is a very well known poet and a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Houston. His Wikipedia page is here.


CHARLES E. FRITCH – Negative of a Nude. Mark Wonder #1. Ace Double D-367, paperback original, 1959.  Reprinted in revised form as Strip for Murder (Kozy, 1960), with Christopher Sly the new leading character.

   James Reasoner reviewed this book several years ago on his blog, pointing out that Fritch was the editor at Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine who hired him to do a long run the Mike Shayne novellas that always opened the magazine. Fritch doesn’t seem to have done a lot of writing of his own, but he did a fine job editing the magazine on what was probably a very limited budget.

   This is the only novel under his own name in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, for example, but he also has entries under the pen names of Charles Brockden, Christopher Sly, Eric Thomas and house name Troy Conway. He also wrote science fiction and was the editor of the short-lived magazine Gamma. The name Eric Thomas is significant because he wrote a second adventure of PI Mark Wonder under that name: Psycho Sinner (Athena, paperback, 1961).

   As James points out in his review. Negative of a Nude starts out in near Richard S. Prather / Shell Scott mode, with Wonder being attracted to a girl at the beach, a girl he quickly learns is a high class stripper at a local night club, and their mutually deciding to go to his apartment together. But the entertainment they have planned is interrupted by a phone call from a would-be client, and when he’s hung up the phone, both Cherry Collins and the camera case containing photos he shot for a previous client are gone.

   The book takes place in Los Angeles, so lots of the street names and other general locales are very familiar. So’s the story, in fact, but it’s complicated enough – and turns to have enough bite to it, that the oh-so-standard hi-jinks at the beginning can be forgiven, if need be.

   Let’s put it this way.  Shell Scott never had a past as an ex-police detective and a former heroin addict (the latter being the reason for the former).

   Fritch ought to have written more, and for better (or more discriminating) publishers. Based on Negative for a Nude, he was good enough.


Note: More of Charles Fritch’s other mysteries written under different entangled names and various semi-sleaze publishers can be found here, posted earlier on this blog.


A. A. FAIR – Double or Quits. Donald Lam & Bertha Cool #5. Morrow, hardcover, 1941. Dell #160, mapback edition, 1947. Reprinted many times since.

   If a man working in a garage on his car’s engine is later found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning, the insurance would have to pay off double on his accidental death, right? Erle Stanley Gardner, writing under his A. A. Fair pen name, shows us how the wording of all life insurance policies says that the answer is no. No double indemnity, unless Donald Lam can come up with something.

   Unfortunately, this bit of legal expertise is the high point of this rather complicated affair involving a whole household of suspects and more horsing around than clue gathering. Lam incidentally weasels Berth Cool into giving him a partnership in their detective agency, but in general he gets himself out too far ahead of the evidence. I’d say he bungles the case; at any rate he doesn’t exactly shine.

Rating: C minus.

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 1, No. 2, March 1977.

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