SUE GRAFTON – “L” Is for Lawless. Kinsey Milhone #12. Henry Holt, hardcover, 1995. Fawcett Crest, paperback, 1996.

   The Grafton/Milhone express keeps chugging along. I really liked the “K” book. Matter of fact, I’ve liked most of her books. She’s one of the few bestsellers who I think generally lives up to her reputation and sales. Most of the time I rate her and Muller about even, way ahead of Paretsky.

   Kinsey is getting ready to attend a wedding. Her landlord’s brother and her Hungarian friend Rosie are getting hitched, but a little before the happy event her landlord asks her to help out the relatives of an old acquaintance of his, said acquaintance being recently deceased. It seems the man was supposed to have been a veteran, but when his relatives try to get benefits from the government, no record of him exists.

   Kinsey is asked to see what she can do, and the seemingly innocent and simple request turns into something very complex indeed, and dangerous. The dead little old man was more than he seemed, and had some very nasty friends.

   Grafton still writes well, but the plot in this one left me so cold that I basically skip-read the last third or so. I didn’t believe any of it, and I didn’t get interested in it. I didn’t give a damn about any of the characters aside from Kinsey, either, and she acted like an idiot for most of the book I’m sure most of her fans will love it, but the best I can say is it wasn’t egregiously bad. It sure wasn’t good, though.

   I seem to be a lot more demanding of rational behavior from my fictional heroes than most people are; or maybe I just have different ideas as to what’s rational. Sometimes I wish I didn’t, because it spoils a lot of books for me that I might otherwise like.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #21, August-September 1995

HOWARD L. CORY – The Mind Monsters. Ace Double G-602, paperback original, 1966. Published back-to-back with The Unteleported Man, by Philip K. Dick (reviewed here ).

   An astronaut, Terence O’Corcoran, crash-lands on a strange planet where he encounters strange monsters, genies and leprechauns, and the apathetic people of the city Mahtog, who are being terrorized by the Thryn. The Thryn, actually Mahtogians who have been captured and drugged, are led by the bearded and mysterious Brahubru.

   An army is formed and war is begun, ending with the revealing of Brahabru as the original Terence, but it does not come as much of a surprise. It was, of course, the Genies who had made an improved copy to help their created people.

   One gets the feeling that the author was glad to get away from the scientific environment of Terence’s spacecraft to concentrate on the seemingly magical qualities of the planet, but since the Genies are finally revealed to be energy-beings, this story does qualify as science fiction. The problems of language and translations are discussed (pages 60-61), but the author’s efforts do not always seem consistent.

Rating: 2½ stars.

–September 1967

Just for fun:



HOUSE OF BLACKMAIL. Monarch Film Corp., UK, 1953. William Sylvester, Mary Germaine, Alexander Gauge, John Arnatt, Denis Shaw. Story & screenplay by Allan Mackinnon. Director: Maurice Elvey.

   A foolish young man named Billy Blane has forged a cheque for £200 and is threatened with arrest unless he pays £5,000 to the urbane and wealthy Markham. His artist sister, Carol (Mary Germaine) tries to get him out of it by agreeing to meet Markham in his old country house. On the way, she picks up a good-looking and garrulous hitch-hiker (William Sylvester) who calls himself Jimmy. The radio, meanwhile, speaks of an escaped convict from a nearby prison. Jimmy agrees to accompany Carol to the house and pose as her lawyer in an attempt to unnerve Markham.

   There, they meet Markham (Alexander Gauge) and his two associates, an elderly Eastern European doctor (Hugo Schuster) and a sharp-tongued American (John Arnatt), also a Polish maid (Ingeborg von Kusserow) and a seedy, spying butler (Denis Shaw). After some sparring from Jimmy, Carol agrees to pay the money, but is unable to withdraw it from her bank until morning. The pair must remain until then and, with the windows electronically secured, there is no way to escape. During the night, Markham is murdered, and the killer could only have been someone staying at the house…

   There is much intrigue and some witty dialogue to be enjoyed in this early fifties B-film, which reveals its small budget with its studio-bound setting and recycled score (at one point, it sounded like something from a Norman Wisdom film!). American William Sylvester is ebullient as Jimmy and, with his mid-Atlantic accent, could well have made an excellent Saint.

   As usual, Alexander Gauge is wonderfully erudite as the disreputable Markham, another of his reasonable-criminal roles, while the British actor John Arnatt displays a convincing American accent as the man who takes charge. There is also some decent characterisation – for example, with Bassett the butler and his listening at keyholes and room of pin-ups – and much creepy sneaking about, which I always love.

   Despite the gothic aesthetics, however, this is emphatically a mystery, not a thriller, and a pretty straightforward one at that. It’s about the characters’ interaction – not wanting to be alone or with any of the others either – and also keeps us guessing as to whether Jimmy is the escaped prisoner or not. The ending is neat, simple and reasonably satisfying, while everything before it is enjoyable too.

   An average film, of course, but that should be no insult when such things are as fun as this.

Rating: ***




WILL SCOTT – Giglamps. Cassell, UK, hardcover, 1924. No US edition.

   I have seldom enjoyed a book more than Giglamps, a collection of short stories about a tramp who sometimes acts as detective and sometimes runs afoul of the law himself — all told with rare warmth and humor. Giglamps himself is a marvelous character:

   He was sockless, tieless, collarless and shaveless. His attire was a pair of inadequate trousers, a cutaway coat that had once belonged to somebody else — and probably did still — and a straw hat that could not imaginably ever have belonged to anybody. Twenty in heart, sixty in experience, he was somewhere between the two in years. By inclination he was always disinclined. By profession he did not practise any.

   Will Scott’s style is Chestertonian in its use of paradox and unexpected juxtaposition of ideas, but it avoids GKC’s atmospheric preoccupations and occasional obscurity,

   “The Vanishing Rouse,” the first story in Giglamps, has two mysteries. First, why did someone steal Giglamp’s dilapidated boots and replace them with “good boots; great boots; boots worthy of being sung, fit to pass into the epics and the legends of highway and casual ward”? Second, how can a house simply disappear like smoke?

   Eavesdropping outside a small house in the middle of a field, Giglamps witnesses a murder, When he brings the law to the scene, however. there is no house to be found. This fine tale, filled with humor and a variety of incidents, is damaged only by the unlikelihood that no sign whatever would have been left of the removal of the house.

   Just as good a story is “A Holiday By the Sea,” in which Giglamps consciously becomes a detective and discovers a completely unexpected crime. Most of the other stories do not have pure detection, but in each one Giglamps has to resolve some sort of problem.

   EQ did not know of Giglamps; if he had, the book surely would have been a Queen’s Quorum choice.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 6, Number 1 (Spring 1984). Permission granted by Doug Greene.



The Battle of Sideways · ss Pan Jan 1923
The End of the Road · ss Pan Jul 1923, as “Good-bye Giglamps”?
Giglamps in Eden · ss Pan Apr 1923
A Holiday by the Sea · ss Pan Aug 1922
Medals for It · ss Pan Oct 1922
Meeting of Creditors · ss Pan May 1923, as “Giglamps Meets His Creditors”
One in a Million · ss
Roads to Rome · ss Pan Sep 1922
Too Much Mercury · ss Pan Jun 1923
Trussed to Luck · ss Pan Dec 1922
The Vanishing House · ss
When Snakes Were Ladders · ss Pan Nov 1922
A Wish for a Cigar · ss Pan Mar 1923, as “Giglamps Revokes”

Reviews by L. J. Roberts


JERI WESTERSON – Spiteful Bones. Crispin Guest #14. Severn House, hardcover, 2020.

First Sentence: Nigellus Cobmartin stood in the courtyard of his family home – its garden walls crumbling, its arched windows overlooking the tired and weedy garden with its dead flowers and gnarled trees – and sighed.

   The year is 1398, and Crispin Guest’s house is filled with his assistant Jack, his wife Isabel, and their many children, as well as the satisfaction of watching grow and providing training for Christopher Walcote, the son he can never acknowledge.

   Into that tranquility comes John Rykener/Eleanor Cobmartin with an urgent summons. In restoring the home, he inherited, John’s “husband’s” workers uncover a body holding a precious relic. The body had been bound and sealed within a wall for 20 years. It is up to Crispin to discover the killer while protecting the secret of John’s true identity.

   One can appreciate that the author of Spiteful Bones, an historical mystery, provides a section of “Notes About Characters,” as well as a “Glossary.” The sections are not only helpful but interesting in themselves.

   No one stays the same age forever, having characters who age, and whose life circumstances change, adds realism to the story and, in the 14th book of this series, much has changed for Westerson’s characters. Readers of the series will appreciate that, but even new readers are given a sense of how time has progressed.

   Westerson has a wonderful voice. Her dialogue is reflective of the period without being mired in it. She writes with a balance of humor and drama. It is interesting to see how, even in this period, forensic evidence was taken into account— “But it looks as if someone coshed him good. Aye, look at the wood of the uprights here. If he was still awake, there would have been scratches and scuffs from a struggle.”

   One issue, however, is the frequent use of Latin phrases. While is it very appropriate to the period, an immediate translation of each phrase, as is often done by other authors, would not have been amiss. Still, there are lines which make one smile— “Sometimes, Jack, the Church, in all its wisdom, is lacking when it comes to compassion.”

   The relationships are enjoyable and add dimension yet don’t overtake the plot. They provide richness and emotion. One becomes attached to the characters. There are times where one might question whether Crispin is too modern; too good, too noble. Yet, it is part of the development one has seen in the character and is part of what draws one back to the series.

   Spiteful Bones presents an effective twist and an exciting climax. Historical mystery devotees will be pleased.

Rating: B plus.

RICHARD HIMMEL – I Have Gloria Kirby. Gold Medal #179, paperback original, 1951. Reprinted by Gold Medal several times.

   Gloria Kirby was Johnny Maguire’s first love, and when she comes storming back into his life, it’s at least fireworks all over again. But she’s in trouble, hooked on dope, and on the lam with $70,000 in hot money, and who else can she turn to?

   Maguire’s not a private aye, but as the next thing but, he’s a semi-successful lawyer, one who’s fought his way up out of a neighborhood on the wrong side of the tracks, the same neighborhood that spawned Gloria Kirby, and her currant boy friend, the notorious Danny Nelson, who wants her back.

   Although the fatal attraction of raw sex appeal seems overstated, it is a theme that always struck home in a simpler age. Maguire’s love life is so messed up as to brand him a hopeless romantic, yet with a girl like Tina at home, I doubt that my eye would wander quite so easily.

   As for the story, maybe you think you could take it from here. Maybe so, but only if you kept things moving and at the same time mixed things up pretty well by introducing a secondary problem Who stole the money in the first place, and why?

Rating: B

– Slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, September/October 1978.


      The Johnny Maguire series —

I’ll Find You. Gold Medal 1950
The Chinese Keyhole. Gold Medal 1951
I Have Gloria Kirby. Gold Medal 1951
Two Deaths Must Die. Gold Medal 1954
The Rich and the Damned. Gold Medal 1958



THE RETURN OF WILDFIRE. Lippert, 1948.  Richard Arlen, Patricia Morison, Mary Beth Hughes, James Millican, Reed Hadley, Chris Pin-Martin, Stanley Andrews and Mike Ragan. Written by Betty Burbridge and Carl K Hittleman. Directed by Ray Taylor and Paul Landres.

   Whence the title? Return of Wildfire isn’t a sequel, and the eponymous stallion never actually leaves anyplace, so the issue of returning doesn’t arise here. Well never mind, it’s a bit draggy at times, but well played, and with a terrific finish.

   The story opens on a ranch owned by Stanley Andrews, the widowed father requisite in B-Westerns, with two daughters (Mary Beth Hughes and the lovely Patricia Morison.) Andrews raises horses, and suffers from the depredations of outlaw horse Wildfire, who keeps running off with his stock. But his real problem is with dress-heavy Reed Hadley, who aims to corner the market and will stop at little or nothing to get his hands on Andrews’ herd.

   About this time driftin’ cowpoke Richard Arlen blows in, helps out Ms Hughes, who has been injured hunting Wildfire, and is promptly hired on. He also takes a yen for Ms Morison, which leads to some very tiresome complications with Hughes, but before things can get too bogged down, Hadley makes his play and things liven up.

   Andrews gets murdered by his own foreman (James Millican, in a well-judged role as a vacillating bad guy) Hadley jumps in and scarfs up the horses in a dirty business deal, and when Arlen whips up replacements from Wildfire’s herd, Hadley just plain steals them, too.

   Up to this point, The Return of Wildfire has run on the tepid side, but from here on out, it’s non-stop action, with a running gun battle across the Sierra Peloma Mountains, capped with an exhausting fistfight that recalls similar moments in Winchester 73 and The Naked Spur. And I have to say directors Taylor and Landres do it just as well as Anthony Mann could have. Quite a surprise coming from producer Lippert, and one that makes for fine viewing.

   I said The Return of Wildfire was well played, and it is. Besides Millican’s wavering, we get Arlen’s type-cast toughness, and Reed Hadley’s sepulchral villain. And best of all, there’s Patricia Morison, who makes any film she’s in a delight to watch.


FRANCIS K. ALLAN “The Lost Hours of Murder.” Published in Dime Mystery Magazine, August 1948. Probably never reprinted.

   The final story in this issue, “The Lost Hours of Murder,” by Francis K. Allan, is the second of two full “novels” contained therein, and as such runs to all of nineteen and a half (pulp-size) pages.

   Allan, by the way, was an extremely prolific writer for the detective pulps. During the years right after the war you could hardly pick one up and not read one of bis stories. In 1945 and 1947 he had a couple of hardcover novels published, but then none from then on until 1976, when he wrote Death in Gentle Grove, which I’m sure nobody else but me remembers. I do because it was one of the first books I did when I started writing reviews for the Hartford Courant.

   (I might be wrong, but it’s my impression that Allan went on to law school and better things, thus explaining the 30 year gap in his writing career.)

   “The Lost Hours of Murder” concerns a guy who wakes up on what he thinks is Thursday but discovers when he gets to  work that it is really Friday, and his partner, with whom he apparently quarreled in the interim, has mysteriously disappeared. It’s a classic situation, but even in full “novel” length, Alla’s tale is crowded, without all the space he needs to do anything with it.

   Cornell Woolrich, say, might have done better with the premise, which is a good one, but as it is, only the first half of this one holds any interest at all. There’s no hint of any supernatural influences at work, which was common in stories published in Dime Mystery Magazine, just a straight-forward mystery story, interesting for the moment but also instantly forgettable.


Final Thought: Unfortunately, maybe that last phrase would apply just as well to pulp magazines in general. It would make a great epitaph, wouldn’t it? “Throwaway literature at its finest!”

– Slightly revised from Mystery*File #30, April 1991.

ROSES ARE RED. 20th Century Fox, 1947. Don Castle, Peggy Knudsen, Patricia Knight, Joe Sawyer, Edward Keane, Jeff Chandler, Charles McGraw, Charles Lane, Paul Guilfoyle, Doug Fowley), James Arness (as James Aurness). Director: James Tinling.

   With a title such as this one, you could be excused for thinking that this particular film would be a romantic comedy/musical starring Doris Day or Betty Hutton. But no. “Ha!” on you. What this is instead is a snappy 60-minute crime mystery with a cast that’s totally in sync with the story all the way through. (Just take a look at the names. Fans of B-movie mysteries from the 40s will recognize them all.)

   Not only is the cast picture perfect for this sort of thing, the plot has a twist added to a twist that I don’t remember seeing before. Finding a career criminal who looks exactly like the newly elected district attorney and arranging it so the former is ready to step in to impersonate the latter, that’s twist number one. What was new to me was to carry the twist one step further (trying to be clear as I can without revealing all).

   I’m not exactly sure why they came up with the title they did. The movie does open with police lieutenant Joe Sawyer on the scene of a murder of a girl in whose hand is found a red rose, but there’s no real reason for the rose nor, in fact, does the killing have much to do with rest of the story. (See above.)

   One other thing that I found amusing, in a trivia-of-the-day sense, was seeing both Jeff Chandler and James Arness in the same movie, both in important but rather minor roles, both in the early stages of their respective careers. Fun facts such as this make movies such as this all the more fun.


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