August 2020


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

“C”-MAN. Laurel Films / Film Classics, 1949. Dean Jagger, John Carradine, Harry Landers, Lottie Elwen, Rene Paul. Director:  Joseph Lerner.

   “C”-Man is what we film-lovers call “an enjoyable little B.” Dean Jagger, in a Wig that would embarrass Howard Cosell, plays a rugged Customs Inspector looking for the smugglers who killed his buddy. Second-billed John Carradine gets about five minutes’ screen time as an alcoholic Doctor, and someone named Harry Landers, who was never heard of since, puts in a high-key, tightly wound performance as a barely-controlled psycho. Director Joseph Lerner covers the bare-bones budget with some interesting camera angles and rapid-fire location shooting, but that raised an interesting question for me:

   Irving Lerner was an energetic fast-paced maker of really impressive, really cheap films like Murder by Contract. Katz’s Film Encyclopedia credits Irving Lerner’s oevre to Joseph, apparently assuming they are one and the same, and it’s easy to watch “C”-Man and pick out the odd bits of style that turned up later in Murder by Contract. But Style is a fickle mistress. Does anyone know for sure if Irving and Joseph are one and the same?

               

   Directorial flourishes aside, the best part of “C”-Man for me was seeing mild-mannered Dean Jagger cast so violently against type. Kind of interesting, actually. Jagger somehow adds a layer of depth to the film, suggesting that maybe Tough Guys can be soft-spoken, gentle sorts without losing too much credibility. Works for me.

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

   

I know a guy who’s addicted to brake fluid. He says he can stop any time.

JONNY ZERO. Fox. 60m. 14 January 2005. Franky G as Jonny Calvo, GQ as Random, Brennan Hesser as Danielle Stiles. Created and written by R. Scott Gemmill. Director: Mimi Leder.

   Well, I tell you this. I never expected to see any episodes of this TV series ever again. Fox aired eight of the thirteen episodes, but they showed them in the wrong order (someone killed in one episode was first introduced a couple of episodes later). The ratings were poor as a direct result, and it’s wonder it lasted for as long as it did. My feeling is that I was the only one who ended up watching it.

   And it was a great show, or so I thought. It starred Franky G, one of the few Puerto Rican actors to star in his own drama series, playing Jonny Calvo, who had all kinds of problems. After serving four years in prison for involuntary homicide (I believe), he has his parole officer on his back, wanting him to stay out of trouble; his ex-crime boss wanting him back on the payroll and back in trouble; and an FBI agent who wants him to go to work, undercover, for the ex-crime boss. He also has an ex-wife (I believe) and a son he can only watch on the playground. No contact.

   To make ends meet – it’s better than mopping floors in a pizza joint – he accidentally finds himself doing what private eyes do, even though he has no license. In the pilot he hired by a girl’s stepfather to find her. All he knows is that she’s disappeared somewhere in Manhattan, and you probably know what that means.

   The setting, in other words, is the grittier part of the night club and other sleazy entertainment scene. While on the trail, Calvo gets beaten up every so often, runs into cars in between time, and is pushed into walls with what seems relentless regularity. It isn’t all gloom and doom, though. Calvo has an infectious smile that seems to brighten even the darkest alley he happens to find himself in. (I may be mistaken, but I don’t believe he is ever referred to as Jonny Zero in this first episode.)

   All thirteen episodes have been televised in other parts of the world – Australia, for one, I believe – and searching for copies on DVD, I found a set offered online by a source in Pakistan. Yelp reviews are bad, however, so I’ll pass, but it was good to see at least this one again.

   
   
   

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:

   

JOE R. LANSDALE – Mucho Mojo. Hap Collins & Leonard Pine #2. Limited edition: Cemetery Dance, hardcover, 1994. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1994; paperback, 1995. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, trade paperback, January 2009. Listed as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was awarded the British Fantasy Award. TV Adaptation: The book was the basis of the second season of Hap and Leonard (Sundance, 2017).

   Lansdale is well-known (at least to Bill Crider and me), but primarily for horror, in which field he’s a multiple award winner. This is his first “traditional” crime novel to my knowledge. (*) Mysterious thinks it’s a breakout.

   Hap Collins is white, fortyish, and working in the rose fields of East Texas. Leonard Pine is black, the same, and gay (but not very cheerful) on top of it. They’re tighter than ticks on the proverbial redbone, and Leonard has a bad leg gotten saving Hap’s life during some shady doings. They are sort of drifting along when Leonard’s Uncle Chester dies and leaves him a hundred grand and his house, which changes a lot of things. They discover that Uncle Chester was going senile before he died, and had hinted to the local police that somebody was murdering black children.

   Then, while putting his house in shape, they discover a bunch of kiddie porn magazines and dig up the bones of a 10-year old child buried in a box under the floor. The police think Uncle Chester did it, but Leonard doesn’t believe it, so he and Hap begin to dig deeper. So to speak.

   This is an entertaining book, and Hap and Leonard are interesting and refreshingly different characters. I don’t know that they’ re all that believable: 40-year old field hands with as much on the ball as our dynamic duo strike me as more than a little unlikely, but hey, it’s just a story, right? And a good one, too. Lansdale knows how to spin a yarn. He’s got a good East Texas “voice,” and Hap narrates the story effectively, with a fair share of quips and country sayin’s.

   There’s a lot of dialogue, and not much of the brooding atmosphere you might expect from Lansdale. It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but you won’t know if it’s yours ’til you try a sip.

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

   

(*) EDITOR’S NOTE: There was one earlier book in the series: Savage Season, a small press edition published in hardcover by Ziesing in 1990,.

R. T. CAMPBELL – Unholy Dying. Professor John Stubbs #1. Westhouse, UK, hardcover, 1945. Dover, trade paperback, 1985, 2019.

   R. T. Campbell was the pen name of Ruthven Campbell Todd, a noted art critic, poet and fantasy novelist. He was obviously also a lover of detective stories, since under the Campbell byline he wrote seven of them, all within the space of two years, 1945 through 1946. Some of the them have been reprinted over years in the US, including three or four of them last year.

   His series character, professor of botany John Stubbs, was a direct copy of John Dickson Carr’s Gideon Fell, a fact which falls into the category of “good intentions.” Based on this first one, it’s an enjoyable tale, true enough, but if it matched up in overall quality to that of its model, more people would have heard of both Campbell and Stubbs, and no, Sheila, they don’t or didn’t, then or now.

   From page 4, a very apt of the detective himself: “…my Uncle John, looking like a shortsighted baby elephant, struggling up from his seat, which he must have found a pretty tight fit, waving a large bundle of manuscripts to his acquaintances around him and absentmindedly ignoring the protests of his neighbors, who, in the execution of this friendly gesture, he swiped on their heads, to the devastation of the flora and fauna on several professors’ wives’ hats.”

   The story is in large part told by his nephew, journalist Andrew Blake. Dead, by poison, is an obnoxious other member of academe, generally known to have stolen the work of others and a general overall boor in person. Unlike locked room and other “impossible” mysteries, in this case, all of the doors to the conference were open, and anyone could have done it.

   But Stubbs, visably eager to take on his first case of murder, narrows the list of suspects to no more than five or six, which ordinarily would make the case also easy for the armchair detective at home to solve as well as Stubbs, who makes the unfortunate mistake of not telling anyone of his deductions, only ominous hints, and another murder occurs. Also not as ept as a detective story should be, if the killer turns out to be a surprise, it’s because that character of that person never is gone into. Not out of a hat, but somewhat close.

   The telling is literate, but it still gets bogged way way down during the investigation. I’d have to call this one as being in the wheelhouse of those readers who already fans of the Golden Age of Detection. It won’t convert any others.

   

      The Professor John Stubbs series

Unholy Dying (n.) Westhouse 1945. (*)
Adventure with a Goat (n.) Westhouse 1946.
Bodies in a Bookshop (n.) Westhouse 1946. (*)
The Death Cap (n.) Westhouse 1946.
Death for Madame (n.) Westhouse 1946. (*)
Swing Low, Swing Death (n.) Westhouse 1946. (*)
Take Thee a Sharp Knife (n.) Westhouse 1946.

(*) Currently available as Dover reprint paperbacks.

   —

   Here’s a link to one other recent review of this one:

http://moonlight-detective.blogspot.com/2019/06/unholy-dying-1945-by-rt-campbell.html

   And for a review of Bodies in a Bookshop on this blog by Doug Greene, go here.

   A long distance email conversation between Walker Martin and Sai Shankar about the former’s formative days as a Black Mask collector has evolved into a post on the latter’s “Pulp Flakes” blog. You can read it here. (Follow the link.)

WILLIAM L. DeANDREA – The Lunatic Fringe. M. Evans, hardcover, 1980. Mysterious Press, paperback, 1985.

   As far as mysteries go, the title of this one is a little bit of a puzzle in itself, perhaps. What it’s referring to is a group of dedicated election year radicals who have been rallying about the cause of the Democratic presidential candidate.

   Not enough information, you say? Take, then, the book’s subtitle, which is: “A Novel Wherein Theodore Roosevelt Meets the Pink Angel.” Yes, that Theodore Roosevelt – – but he’s not the one running for President. The year is 1896, and William McKinley is the Republican candidate. Running against him, on the Democratic ticket, is William Jennings Bryan, the silver-tongued orator from Nebraska.

   Bryan and his campaign are being backed by William Randolph Hearst, the new publisher of the New York Journal. Roosevelt is still only the president of that city’s Police Board, and his staunch ally in fighting corruption in the ranks is a young police officer named Muldoon. And it is Muldoon who innocently begins to unravel a plot which, left unchecked, would spell doom for half the city.

   These were the days of an entirely different era, politically as well as socially. DeAndrea, whose two previous books have each won him an Edgar award, has caught the flavor well. There is a touch of Horatio Alger in Muldoon, a rough but ready Irish cop, and a warm sense of proud propriety in Katie, his older but still unmarried sister.

   Regrettable are DeAndrea’s occasional lapses, as in much bad science fiction, into allowing his characters to talk to each other of things it seems they should already know. As a detective story, though, which ls what this is, parts fit, and parts don’t. Those that do are often muddled, though seldom beyond repair. Minor inconsistencies in character sometimes have a reason behind them, and sometimes they take the appearance of whims, fashioned to fit passing reflections.

   Even so, although the motive for the murder Muldoon and his superior find themselves investigating seems in the end to have been rather nebulous, DeAndrea as the author produces a creditable surprise as to the identity of the killer.

   It does not seem enough, unfortunately, to keep his award-winning streak alive at three.

Rating: C plus.

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 1, January-February 1981.

   
Editorial Update: William DeAndrea won three Edgars in all:

      Killed in the Ratings 1978 (Edgar winner: Best First Novel)
   
      The HOG Murders 1979 (Edgar winner: Best Paperback Original)

   He won his third Edgar in 1994 for his reference work, Encyclopedia Mysteriosa.

REVIEWED BY RAY O’LEARY:

   

JOHN SANDFORD – Shadow Prey. Lucas Davenport #2. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1990. Berkley, paperback, 1991.

   Over 20 years ago, Larry Clay was a policeman who used his uniform to get away with raping 12-year-old Native American girls. Now, Lawrence Duberville Clay is Director of the FBI — and a small group of Native Americans have devised a plan to lure him to Minnesota, where they plan to kill him.

   Realizing Clay is a Publicity Hound, the group plans to draw his attention with a series of well-publicized murders. But since the killings began in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, where most of the Indians live, the bulk of the investigation is handled by Lt. Lucas Davenport of the Minneapolls PD.

   I found this inordinately easy to put down. Davenport is hardly a likeable character — he has proposed marriage to the unwed mother of his child, a Murphy Brown clone, but has no qualms about starting an affair with the female cop sent to assist him — and the ending is swiped from an earlier — and better — book by William Goldman.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #71, May 1995.

RIVIERA. “Villa Carmella.” Sky Atlantic, UK, 15 June 2017 (Season One, Episode One). Anthony LaPaglia as Constantine Clios, a billionaire philanthropist; Julia Stiles as Georgina Marjorie Clios, an American art curator, and second wife of Constantine; Lena Olin as Irina Atman, Constantine’s first wife. Written by Neil Jordan & John Banville. Director: Philipp Kadelbach. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime (until September 1).

   There’s a much larger cast than this, of course, and lots of views of the beautiful Riviera shoreline, as well as intimate peeks inside the lives of the Rich and Famous. What more could a viewer want? Well, a faster moving story line for one thing, but looking back after watching this, the first episode of the first season, maybe it just seemed slower than usual. It is, after all, one long ten hour story, told one segment at a time. Not everything has to be crammed into the first 60 minutes.

   Or maybe it’s that the story sounds so familiar. Georgina is Constantine’s second wife, and she is in New York City bidding in an art auction while he’s back home in France, entertaining himself on a large luxury yacht when it suddenly explodes, leaving no survivors. After the funeral, Georgina begins to learn that her husband had, shall we say, all kinds of secrets. End of episode one.

   It is clear, in a very general sense, where the story goes from here. It’s the details that are missing, and I suspect that it will not be until episode two before I will decide whether watching more than that may be worth doing. There are, of course, hints that Constantine may not even be dead, even though the police have matched his dental records.

   What is not clear is, once this first season’s story line is finished, what can be left for an already aired second season, and a third one that is already in the works. Time, as they say, shall tell.

   

               

HARLAN ELLISON “Find One Cuckaboo.” PI Sheckley Scodell #1. First published in The Saint Mystery Library #11, edited by Leslie Charteris; paperback original, 1st printing, February 1960. Collected in Again, Honorable Whoredom at a Penny a Word (Edgeworks Abbey, trade paperback, September 2014).

   I’m not 100 percent positive, but in all likelihood this was the first and only appearance in print of New York City based PI Sheck Scodell. In the early days of his writing career Harlan Ellison scraped out a living writing all kinds of stories, not only science fiction, but crime stories, too, mostly in the lowest level magazines, such as Guilty, Trapped, Pursuit, and so on, and I wouldn’t be surprised to be told he wrote westerns as well.

   Of these, several others were private eye tales, three with Jerry Killian and one with Big John Novak (who in reality was three foot two). You can read more of them by following the links to the Thrilling Detective website. Scodell describes himself as being a dead ringer for the man in all of these shirt advertisements: “the fellow with the slight moustache, wearing a black eye patch, smiles at a wench..”

   He also admits that he’s not always the brightest bulb on the block, and that’s probably why he was hired on this case, which if the word wacky hadn’t be invented, they’d have to in order describe this one properly.

   It seems as though one of three eccentric sisters, all in their fifties and each a  millionairess several times over, has been raped and murdered. All three of them hated each other, even though they lived together in the same house, but nonetheless the two remaining ones have taken up with guns and have vowed to kill the culprit on sight.

   Their financial advisors call on Sheck for help. His job: stop them.

   This one comes straight from the old pulp magazines, but with a somewhat distasteful twist to it that the pulps most certainly wouldn’t have allowed their writers to get anywhere near. It’s one of those tales in which all kinds of crazy things happen but they all get straightened out in the end. Ellison always had  imaginative ideas and a very readable way with words, even when he was first starting — and probably getting a fraction of a cent a word — and “Find One Cuckaboo” is no exception.

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