June 2020


THE CHICAGO CODE. “Pilot.” Fox. 07 February 2011. Jason Clarke (Jarek Wysocki), Jennifer Beals (Teresa Colvin), Matt Lauria, Delroy Lindo. Director: Charles McDougall.

   Another short-lived series on Fox, The Chicago Code lasted 13 episodes before not being renewed for a another season. On the basis of the first episode, I think it deserved better, but if no one is watching, what can even the network execs do?

   As who I consider the star of the series, though, Jennifer Beals plays the Chicago Police Department’s first female superintendent, a token placement in that position by City Alderman Ronin Gibbons (a perfectly cast Delroy Lindo), who think he has a puppet he can manipulate to his liking whenever he wants. Not so. In fact, quite the opposite. Knowing he is a crooked as a snake and twice as deadly, she recruits a pair of other cops as a secret squad to bring him down.

   Which is about as far as this first episode goes, but it does its job in defiling all of the characters and what the stakes are exceedingly well. So far there does not seem to be anything out of the ordinary that might convince you or anyone else anyone to stay with it, but I found all of the characters both well defined and well played.

   The series does not seem to have ever come out on DVD, and the only streaming option I’ve come across is at an asking price of $1.99 a clip. For 13 episodes, that seems rather pricey for a series that once watched is gone, so as they say, we shall have to see.

   

REVIEWED BY RAY O’LEARY:

   

LEE WILSON – This Deadly Dark. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1946. Handi-Books #78, paperback, 1948.

   I picked this one up at a used book sale because its tattered dust cover heralded it as the winner of the $1,000 Red Badge Prize Mystery. Of the dozen previous winners listed inside, however, only two were by familiar names: Hugh Pentecost and Christianna Brand, and only her Heads You Lose was a familiar title.

   Matt Rogers, having just returned from a three year stint as a soldier and war correspondent in the Pacific and Japan, returns to bis Crime Beat for the San Francisco Globe. Receiving an anonymous tip on a recent crime of violence, Rogers is lured into an alley near the scene of the crime, where he’s assaulted and viciously blinded by person(s) unknown. Wallowing in self-pity and trying to work up the nerve to kill himself, he’s goaded into investigating the crime once more by R. B. (you don’t learn what the initials stand for until the last few paragraphs) Clancy, a female photographer for People (!) magazine.

   Though Wilson is no prose stylist, he (?) offers some pretty decent dialogue, and, more importantly, brings his characters to life. Though I spotted the Vital Clue (but not the killer) well before Rogers did, and saw the hate-turning-to-love relationship between Rogers and Clancy marching down Main Street, I found this all-in-all to be a pretty solid effort.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #66, July 1994.
   

Editorial Update: Lee Wilson was the pseudonym of Laura Elizabeth Lemmon, (1917-2003). This was her only work of crime fiction.

O’NEIL DE NOUX “The Heart Has Reasons.” PI Lucien Caye. Novelette. First published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, September 2006. Collected in New Orleans Confidential (Create Space, 2010).

   Besides the list below of short stories that New Orleans-based PI Lucien Caye has been featured in, there are five novels, with a sixth promised as coming soon. I doubt that the list of short stories is complete,. The author is nothing but prolific, with perhaps over 40 books and 400 short stories to his credit. Nor is Lucien Caye De Noux’s only recurring series character; others are Dino Francis LaStanza, John Raven Beau, Jacques Dugas, and Joseph Savary (also probably not a complete list). Some (or none) of these gentlemen may also be PI’s.

   There is not too much to learn about Lucien Caye in “The Heart Has Reasons.” The year is 1948, the city is New Orleans, and Caye has an office on the ground floor of the house he lives in, not far from (or in) the French Quarter; his living quarters are on the second. He was wounded in the war; and at the time this story takes place, he is independently wealthy, thanks to a grateful client who has recently died and remembered him in his will.

   Which is why he is able to show his softer side in this tale. He takes in a young girl and her baby from a torrential rainstorm and learns that the father is in trouble with a local loan shark. He is in fact in the hospital with a broken arm, incurred when he couldn’t pay what he owes. Choosing to play the role of The Equalizer, long before The Equalizer came along, Caye decides that the young couple, as yet not married, need someone on their side for a change.

   Which he does, most efficiently. The time and the locale also add greatly to the tale. Nicely done.

   

      Magazine appearances –

The Heart Has Reasons (nv) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Sep 2006
Too Wise (nv) Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Nov 2008
They Called Her the Gungirl (ss) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Jul/Aug 2010
The Marriage Swindler (ss) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Mar 2013
The Magnolia Murders (ss) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Jul/Aug 2017
The Peeschwet (ss) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Mar/Apr 2019

   Taken from the Thrilling Detective website:

      Non-magazine appearances:

“Erotophopia” (1997, Kiss and Kill: Hot Blood 8)
“Hard Rain” (1999, Pontalba Press Presents Short Stories: Volume 1)
“Friscoville” (April 1999, Hemispheres; 2001, The Thrilling Detective Web Site; aka “The Problem on Friscoville Avenue”)
“Lair of the Red Witch” (2000, The Mammoth Book of Erotic Short Stories)
“St. Expedite” (September 2001, Hemispheres)
“Bluegums” (February 2003, City Slab)
“The Iberville Mistress” (2003, Flesh & Blood: Guilty As Sin)
“Expect Consequences” (2003, Fedora II)
“Guilty of Dust and Sin” (2009, New Orleans Mysteries)
“Tenderless Night” (October 2010)
“She Gleeked Me” (August, 2011)
“Christmas Weather”
“Kissable Cleavage”

   COLLECTIONS

New Orleans Confidential (2006; revised 2010).

   NOVELS

Enamored (2012)
Rapacious (2014)
Hold Me, Babe (2016)
Dame Money (2018)
Walkin’ the Blues (2020)

BODYGUARD. “Episode 1.” ITV/BBC One, UK, 26 August 2018. Richard Madden as PS David Budd; Keeley Hawes as The Rt. Hon. Julia Montague MP, the Home Secretary and Conservative Party Member of Parliament for Thames West: Sophie Rundle as Vicky Budd, David’s wife; plus a large ensemble cast. Director: Thomas Vincent.

   After successfully defusing a terrorist attack aboard a speeding train, PS David Budd is assigned the ask of guarding Home Secretary Julia Montague against possible attempts on her life. Unknown to host of his superiors, Budd is suffering from PTSD from his years of service in Iraq and Afghanistan, but because of his moody and sometimes violent behaviors at home, he is separated from his wife and two children.

   There isn’t a lot of time to fill out an actual story in this, the first of six episodes, but it certainly does a great job of paving the way for what comes next. Budd does not care much for the policies of the woman he is guarding, thinking of her as just another politician who does not care for the men and women who must do the fighting to carry them out, and conflict between them seems inevitable. His domestic problems at home are also sure to play a role in what comes next.

   The British seem to do this kind of story much better than we seem to on this side of Atlantic. With only five more episodes to go, I’m much more likely to finish this particular example of that than some others I’ve been sampling. (I assume you’ve been following my recent investigations into streaming TV right along with me.)

   

ROY WINSOR – Three Motives for Murder. Ira Cobb #2. Fawcett Gold Medal, paperback original1st printing, July 1976.

   The first book in this “Ira Cobb” series, The Corpse That Walked, won an Edgar, for Best Paperback Mystery, I believe. In Mystery*File #3, I rated it as a C Plus. I’m out of step, I’m afraid, and am still not impressed.

   Professor Cobb’s “Watson” is young Ph.D. (in English) Steve Barnes, whose engagement party is disrupted by the discovery of the dead body of his future brother-in-law. A lot of dirty linen comes to light, and most everyone comes under suspicion, as Ned Penrose was one of those worthless, idle scoundrels even the best families try to hide.

   My objection in not in the padding (road-map directions between any two locales), or the ridiculous coincidences (disguised as “complex relationships”), but more in the fact that the police disappear completely from the scene, allowing Cobb to run the show on his own, interviewing witnesses, carrying evidence around with him the whole genteel amateur detective bit. It rubs me wrong.

Rating: C

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

   

Bio-Bibliographic Update: There was a third book in the Ira Cobb series, that being Always Lock Your Bedroom Door (Gold Medal, 1976). As for the author, Roy Winsor, here’s an excerpt from his Wikipedia page:

   “He is most famous for creating some of the longest running soap operas in television history. Before he created television soap operas he wrote for many radio serials. He also produced the Western Have Gun – Will Travel for the radio. In 1951 he created the long-running soap opera Search for Tomorrow (1951-1986). For Search for Tomorrow, he first worked with fellow soap opera writer Agnes Nixon. The same year he created Love of Life (1951-1980). 3 years later he would create another long-running soap opera The Secret Storm (1954-1974). The year before The Secret Storm ended he would take over as head writer of the NBC soap opera Somerset, he wrote for the show from 1973 to 1974. In 1981 after a long break he returned to soap operas and co-created (with Bob Aaron) the serial Another Life (1981-1984) for CBN.”

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Susan Dunlap & Marcia Muller

   

AGATHA CHRISTIE – The ABC Murders. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1936. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1936. Reprinted many many times, in both hardcover and soft, including an edition published by Pocket in paperback entitled The Alphabet Murders in 1966. Film: MGM, 1966, also as The Alphabet Murders, with Tony Randall as Poirot. TV adaptions: (1) An episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, ITV, UK, 5 January 1992., with David Suchet as Poirot (2) A three part mini-series on BBC One, UK, 2018, as The ABC Murders with John Malkovich as Poirot.

   Agatha Christie has long been acknowledged as the grandc dame of the Golden Age detective-story writers, Beginning with her moderately successful The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), Christie built a huge following both in her native England and abroad, and eventually became a household name throughout the literate world. When a reader – be he in London or Buenos Aires – picks up a Christie novel, he knows exactly what he is getting and has full confidence that he is sitting down to a tricky, entertaining, and satisfying mystery.

   This enormous reader confidence stems from an effective combination of intricate, ingenious plots and typical, familiar characters and settings. Christie’s plots always follow the rules of detective fiction; she plays completely fair with the reader. But Christie was a master al planting clues in unlikely places, dragging red herrings thither and yon, and, like a magician, misdirecting the reader’s attention at the exact crucial moment. Her murderers – for all the Christie novels deal with nothing less important than this cardinal sin – are the Least Likely Suspect, the Second Least Likely Suspect, the Person with the Perfect Alibi. the Person with No Apparent Motive. And they are unmasked in marvelous gathering-of-all-suspects scenes where each clue is explained, all loose ends are tied up.

   As a counterpoint to these plots, Christie’s style is simple (even undistinguished). She relies heavily upon dialogue, and has a good ear for it when dealing with the “upstairs” people who are generally the main characters in her stories: the “downstairs” people fare less well a1 her hands, and their speech is often stilted or stereotyped.

   Christie, however, seldom ventures into the “downstairs” world. Her milieu is the drawing room, the country manor house, the book-lined study, the cozy parlor with a log blazing on the hearth. Like these settings, her characters arc refined and tame, comfortable as the slippers in front of the fire – until violent passion rears its ugly head. Not that violence is ever messy or repugnant. though; when murder intrudes, it does so in as bloodless a manner as possible, and its investigation is always conducted as coolly and rationally as circumstances permit. One reason that Christie’s works are so immensely satisfying is that we know we will be confronted by nothing really disturbing, frightening, or grim. In short, her books arc the ultimate escape reading with a guaranteed surprise at the end.

   Christie’s best-known sleuths are Hercule Poirot. the Belgian detective who relies on his “little grey cells” to solve the most intricate of crimes; and Miss .lane Marple, the old lady who receives her greatest inspiration while knitting. However, she created a number of other notable characters, among them Tuppence and Tommy Beresford, an amusing pair of detective-agency owners, who appear in such titles as The Secret Adversary ( 1922) and Postern of Fate (1973); Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard, who is featured in The Secret of Chimneys ( 1925), The Seven Dials Murder ( 1929), and others; and the mysterious Harley Quin.

   The member of this distinguished cast who stars in The ABC Murders is Hercule Poirot. Poirot is considered by many to be Christie’s most versatile and appealing detective. The dapper Belgian confesses gleefully to dying his hair, but sees no humor in banter about his prized “pair of moustaches.” And yet he has the ability to see himself as others see him and use their misconceptions to make them reveal themselves and their crimes.

   A series of alphabetically linked letters are sent to Poirot, taunting him with information about where and when murders will be committed unless he is clever enough to stop them. The aging detective comes out of retirement, he admits, “like a prima donna who makes positively the farewell performance … an infinite number of times.” Is the murderer a madman who randomly chooses the victim’s town by the letter of the alphabet, or is he an extremely clever killer with a master plan? And why has he chosen to force Poirot out of retirement?

   These questions plague Poirot’s “little grey cells” as the plot thrusts forward and then winds back on itself time and time again. Well into the novel, Christie teases the horrified reader by introducing a coincidence that looks as if it will solve the cases, then snatches it back, dangles another possibility, snatches that one back, too. And so on, until the innovative and surprising conclusion is reached. Poirot is at his most appealing here, and Christie’s plotting is at its finest.

———
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

COSMOS. Elliander Pictures, 2019. Tom England, Joshua Ford, Arjun Singh Panam. Screenwriter-directors: Elliot Weaver & Zander Weaver.

   There is a tremendous dichotomy about this movie between those leaving reviews of it on IMDb. About half seem to have found it boring beyond belief, while the other half have found it both fascinating and inspiring. Me, I think they’re both right.

   In the first 50 minutes nothing happens except for the conversation between three science and engineers geeks sitting in a large station wagon or a small mini-van setting up their computers, telescopes and the other equipment as they get ready for an all night’s vigil watching and listening to the stars.

   The story the does jump into higher gear when they start receiving signals from who or what somewhere in the sky. There is no action, only the stunned reaction of the three friends as it slowly begins to dawn on them as to what they are probably the first people on Earth to be seeing and hearing. Fascinating and inspiring? I’d say yes, and all the more so because I know personally people who could each be one of the three, and if I knew more about astronomy, I’d probably be one of them.

   That this is a bare bones, love-of-making-movies production goes without saying. I can’t really recommend this movie to everyone, as there are plot holes galore in the story line, and the ending, as the three of them stand looking happily up into the night sky, all wearing their red Astro Nuts caps, goes on for far too long. But if ever we are approached by being from space, I think it could very easily go like this. Or, let’s put it this way. I hope so.

   

REVIEWED BY RAY O’LEARY:

   

JAMES GRADY – Shadow of the Condor. Ronald Malcolm #2. Putnam, hardcover, 1975. Dell #7570, paperback, 1977.

   A sequel to Grady’s Six Days of the Condor, which was a competent effort made into a superior film (Three Days of the Condor), thanks to improvements made by an intelligent screenwriter and an excellent cast.

   When a member of Air Force Intelligence is found shot to death at a missile silo in Montana, they ask the Liaison Board, headed by the “Old Man” (John Houseman in the film) to take charge of the investigation and discover what sort of plot the dead agent had stumbled onto. He decides to use Ronald Malcolm, the retired “Condor,” as the front man in an obvious operation taking place in Montana, while other agents try to discover what happened from the European end, where the dead man had been stationed.

   Despite the fact that most of the characters are strictly from Cardboard, I found Shadow a real page-turner for the most part, with a gripping twisty plot that gets even twistier when Grady rings in two Red Chinese agents just over the Montana border, who also have a keen interest in the matter.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #40, July 1989.

ROBERT MARTIN writing as LEE ROBERTS – Little Sister. Andrew Brice #1. Stark House Press / Black Gat Book #27, trade paperback, August 2020. Based on the story “Pardon My Poison,” as by Robert Martin, Dime Detective Magazine, April 1948, in which the leading character was Jim Bennett. Introduction by Bill Pronzini. First published as a paperback original by Gold Medal, #229, March 1952, as by Lee Roberts.

   Between 1951 and 1964 and under his own name, Robert Martin wrote fourteen novels in which PI Jim Bennett was the leading character, but back in the 1940s Bennett was the detective of record in several dozen pulp stories, largely but not exclusively for Dime Detective Magazine. Bennett was a down to earth sort of guy, based in Ohio with a steady girl friend whom he later married. He wasn’t flashy, and in quiet contrast to all of the other PI’s of the same era, as Bill Pronzini points out in his introduction to the upcoming Stark House reprint, “he never once gets laid.”

   This may be the reason why the Jim Bennett of the earlier pulp version of this story gets replaced by Andy Brice in this one. The setting is still Ohio, PI Andy Brice is still a nice guy, but yes, one big difference is, he does get laid. He’s hired by the older sister of a younger girl, who if the word “sexpot” hadn’t been invented yet, they’d have had to come up the word, just to describe her. She is the kind of girl who cannot seem to keep her clothes on properly, at least whenever she’s in the same room as Brice. Her bigger problem, though, when she comes home on night in a doped-up daze, what they also find in the trunk of her car is the body of a dead man.

   It isn’t the younger girl whom Brice spends the night with, however, and wishes for more, but his client, the older sister. And while on the case for her, Brice is also poisoned and shot at, while other characters fare much worse. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, many of them men with eyes for Linda, the little sister, but Martin’s prose is smooth and easy and keeps things running like a well-tuned engine.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

MARY STEWART – The Moon-Spinners. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1962. M. S. Mill Co. & Morrow, US, hardcover, 1963. Crest #R717, US, paperback; 1st printing, May 1964.

THE MOON-SPINNERS. Buena Vista (Walt Disney), 1964. Starring Hayley Mills, Eli Wallach, Joan Greenwood, Peter McEnery, Irene Pappas, Pola Negri, John LeMessurier, Andre Morell. Screenplay: Michael Dyne, based on the book by Mary Stewart. Directed by James Nielson.

   “Even in Crete nobody’s going to murder a visitor.”

   So speaks young Englishwoman Nicola Ferris as she chides the couple that has given her a ride to the remote seaside village of Agios Georgios, St. George, in the shadow of the White Mountains. Nicola works for the British embassy, and for her holidays she is meeting her older cousin Frances Scorby, a naturalist who has written several books on flowers and who hopes to study local wild flowers.

   Frances, who she calls Aunt Frances, raised her.

   It seems a perfect holiday, beautiful setting, fine food, the sea, and a family reunion for the orphan Nicola.

   The best laid plans and all that.

   This being Mary Stewart, the best of the writers of romantic suspense (and as good as any man in the adventure/suspense/adventure genre), you know things won’t be quite that simple, especially when Nicola runs into a strange man while exploring the island, a fugitive being hunted, and finds herself up to her neck in a mystery involving the attractive mysterious Englishman named Mark Langley hiding out on the mountain with a bullet wound and concerned for his younger brother Colin who has been missing since he was wounded.

   Then there is the attractive Tony Gamble who she meets at the hotel where he does the cooking, and the mysterious Stratos whose sister Sofia runs the inn and who only recently arrived from the West and despises the poverty and ignorance of his own people. And why does Sofia look so frightened of Gamble and her brother?

   And what is the mystery of the Bay of Dolphins where the fates, the ones who spin the silver moon from the title, spin a silver full moon so that you might one night see the lost treasure ship at the bottom of the bay? Because treasure is involved, if not the one the Moon-Spinners reveal.

   I strained across the moving whispering darkness. As before, it was full of sounds, far fuller than when, on the ridge, I stood insulated by the air from the subdued and roaring life of the sea.

   Stewart, like Daphne Du Maurier had a genuine talent for the romance of adventure and lonely places, the Stevensonian voice out of Buchan and Geoffrey Household that gives life to the landscape around her heroines.

   Soon enough Nicola finds Colin, held prisoner, and is drawn even deeper into the mystery that ends in a dangerous battle on Stratos caique.

   The Walt Disney film is shot on location, and while it does away with Colin and combines Mark Langely and Tony Gamble into a single character, stays fairly close to the book until midway through when it dissipates some of the suspense by adding some extraneous characters that seem to have wandered in from The 39 Steps, including Pola Negri as a mysterious woman on a yacht and John LeMessurier as a shady British consul with a wife who drinks and talks too much..

   Hayley Mills in an early grown up (sort of — Disney isn’t quite ready for her to be a Hitchcock blonde exactly) role is Nicola, traveling with her Aunt (Joan Greenwood) in Crete to record folk music (an excuse for some musical interludes) who arrives in Agios Georgios and discover the sinister zodiac obsessed Stratos (Eli Wallach) who wants no one at the hotel, especially the Englishman Mark Gamble (Peter McEnery) who is staying there.

   Some of the suspense is lost, and the ending is a bit too neat, but it is gorgeously shot, the music, including the title song “Moon-Spinners” is good, the actors are all far better than the material, and even with the changes something of the suspense and romantic mood is captured.

   Mills is good as the feisty Nicola, and not all that far from Stewart’s heroine if a bit younger, McEnery a decent leading man, and Wallach by turns sinister, threatening, ingratiating, and threatening.

   Irene Pappas hasn’t much to do but is gorgeous, Joan Greenwood gets to be Joan Greenwood, and Pola Negri — well, that part I can’t explain, but someone must of thought it was needed.

   As a Stewart fan, of course, I would much prefer they had filmed the book, and even with Mills in it, I can’t see what the need of all the business with Negri and LeMessurier was, saving someone involved had seen too many Hitchcock films.

   But how exactly anyone would quite capture the quality of Mary Stewart’s writing on film is hard to see.

   …when the big white bird flew up among the glossy leaves and the lemon flowers, and wheeled into the mountain, I followed it. What else is there to do, when such a thing happens on a brilliant April noonday at the foot of the white mountains of Crete; when the road is hot and dusty, but the gorge is green, and full of the sound of water, and the white wings, flying ahead flicker in and out of deep shadow, and the air is full of the scent of lemon blossoms?

   

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