GARY MADDEROM – The Jewels That Got Away. Curtis 07311, paperback original, 1973.

   As a mystery or crime fiction writer, Gary Madderom has one other book listed in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, that one being The Four Chambered Villain, which was published in hardcover by Macmillan in 1971 before being reprinted in paperback, also by Curtis. According to an online obituary, he worked for a while for Warren Publishing, well known for putting out such magazines as Creepy, Eerie, Famous Monsters of Filmland, and Vampirella.

   The book at hand, which as usual for Curtis, fell apart as I read it, is the story of a jewel heist which, as usual, the plan for which unravels (falls apart) almost as soon as it’s put into motion. Even a second attempt fails, and that one even more so than the first.

   Coerced by financial circumstances (he has no money) and coaxed along by his cousin’s beautifully stacked secretary, would-be actor Rocco Agnello reluctantly lets Frank (reputedly connected with the Mafia) talk him into the plan. It is somewhat amazing that it takes 190 pages to tell the story, but to Madderom’s credit as a writer, it does so, and in a very self-assured fashion.

   One might wish for more depth in the characters as well, but one can’t have everything. Call this one average, no more.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


ROB KANTNER – The Quick and the Dead. Ben Perkins #7. Harper, paperback original, 1992.

   Thanks to Leonard, Estleman, Jackson, and Kantner, Detroit has become one of the better-known cities on the hardboiled map. The city, its makeup and its history, are an important part of each author’s approach to his story, though the focus of each of course varies. Kantner’s for the seventh Ben Perkins is the world of Detroit Catholicism.

    Perkins, the sometime private eye, full time maintenance head of a large apartment complex, is currently enjoying the benefits of an interesting life. His boss would like to fire him, a mafia don wants some incriminating material Perkins has, and an ex-lover is about to have their child.

   Now a local judge who is in a position to both help and harm him wants him to take on a job for St. Angela’s parish — for no pay. The ex-priest of the church is being considered for canonization during an upcoming visit by the Pope. The problem is that when his body was dug up to be examined, it wasn’t there; the coffin was filled with bricks. Perkins’ job: find it, and find out why it is missing.

   I’ve generally enjoyed Kantner’s novels. Perkins, and ex-factory worker and ex-union enforcer, is a well-realized bluecollar type of PI, and Kantner tells a good story in very good prose. The books don’t make me want to start babbling about “transcending the genre,” but then again they rarely bring on one of my tirades about foolish people and foolish plots. This one is no exception. It won’t make you forget Chandler, but it’s a solid example of the hardboiled type.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #5, January 1993.


       The Ben Perkins series —

1. The Back-Door Man (1986)

2. The Harder They Hit (1987)
3. Dirty Work (1988)
4. Hell’s Only Half Full (1989)
5. Made in Detroit (1990)
6. The Thousand Yard Stare (1991)

7. The Quick and the Dead (1992)
8. The Red, White and Blues (1993)
9. Concrete Hero (1994)
10. Trouble is What I Do (story collection; 2005)
11. Final Fling (2007)     ADDED LATER (see comments)

THE KILLING. United Artists, 1956. Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, Ted DeCorsia, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook, Joe Sawyer. Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, with additional dialogue by Jim Thompson; based on the novel Clean Break by Lionel White.. Director: Stanley Kubrick.

   A revolutionary heist film in many regards, and considered by many viewers as a classic. (It has an 8.0 rating on IMDb.) Not Kubrick’s first film, but while it’s one that while it didn’t make a lot of money at the box office, what it did do was to make film critics sit up and take notice of a new guy in town.

   The story is a old one by now, and maybe it was even then: The theft of $2,000,000 in cash from a race track is meticulously planned, and everything goes as smooth as silk when all of a sudden, it doesn’t. What’s distinctive about this film is that it’s shown in non-linear fashion, and I’m willing to wager that in 1956 audiences were not ready for stories told that way, even with some (studio required) voiceover narration to help them out.

   One problem I personally have with this film is that I do not believe for one second that Marie Windsor’s character would stay married to Elisha Cook for five minutes, much less than five years. I only wish she had had more screen time. What a femme fatale she was in almost every movie she made, and she was never more fatale than she is in this one.

   It is the ending that makes this movie pure noir. When he’s forced to improvise, Sterling Hayden, the mastermind of the plot that he sees disintegrating around him, he starts to make mistakes that he might not otherwise. All that effort — and all that money — [SPOILER ALERT] just blowing away in the wind.

A Reappraisal Review by Walter Albert:


SHE. RKO Radio Pictures, 1935. Helen Gahagan, Randolph Scott, Helen Mack, Nigel Bruce. Based on the novel by H. Rider Haggard. Directors: Lansing C. Holden & Irving Pichel.

   Herewith my reconsideration of She, bringing, I hope, a close to my rediscovery (thanks to your astute reviewers) of my earlier review.

   I watched first the b&w version of She, then a few sections of the colorized version.

   No, Nigel Bruce’s role is not a “throw-away,” although he’s very clearly a supporting player and is best used in the sections that lead up to the discovery of Kor.

   I’m not generally fond of colorizing films, but the process is rather tastefully used in She, and is especially effective in the Hall of Kings segment. Harryhausen and James V. D’Arc both compare the musical accompaniment to the dances in the Hall of Kings to Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” which is certainly stretching it quite a bit.

   I have CDs of both the original score and its restoration and recording with William Stromberg conducting the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. I don’t find it musically as compelling as the score for King Kong, but it’s an impressive record of Steiner’s musical genius. His scores for the two Merian C. Cooper fantasy productions are at the top of my favorites among his film scores, as are Rozsa’s scores for The Jungle Book and The Thief of Baghdad among his numerous film scores.

   Helen Gahagan is not conventionally attractive, but her imperious manner contrasts very effectively with Helen Mack’s performance, two roles that are the strong emotional underpinnings of the film.

   And the production design and special effects are outstanding.

   I must say that I’ve enjoyed returning to the film after three decades and I appreciate the comments about my earlier review that prompted this voyage — dare I say it? — of discovery.

TREASURY MEN IN ACTION “The Case of the Deadly Dilemma.” ABC, 24 March 1955. (Season 5, Episode 25.) Series shown in syndication as Federal Men. Walter Greaza (as The Chief), Charles Bronson, Lewis Charles, Lillian Buyeff, Ralph Moody. Director: Leigh Jason.

   Information on this series, which ran for five years on ABC, NBC then back to ABC, is scarce. (Even the information in that first sentence may be wrong.) But it ran for quite a while, so in my opinion, it doesn’t really deserve to have been forgotten for so long, which I think it has been.

   The chief, who introduces and narrates this episode, is this time around the head of the Secret Service. I do not know, but I do not believe that that was always the case. Counterfeiting, in particular, is the crime, and it is Charles Bronson’s character who is assigned to go undercover to get the goods on the big shot who’s the head of the gang.

   To prove himself, though, he’s asked to kill an old man whose wife has gotten tired of him. This is where the dilemma of the title comes in. Bronson is really on the spot, up on the roof with the old man and the head of the gang, the latter with a gun on him. It’s kill, or be killed.

   It’s a tough situation, and to this point, a rather good story. Too bad both the screenwriter’s creative imagination ran out, as did the running time for this episode, no more than 25 minutes long.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:


POWER OF THE PRESS. Columbia Pictures, 1943. Guy Kibbee, Lee Tracy, Gloria Dickson, Otto Kruger, Victor Jory. Based on a story by Samuel Fuller. Director: Lew Landers.

   I’d be lying to you if I said that Power of the Press was anything resembling a great movie. In fact, it’s an extraordinarily dated flag-waving programmer from the Second World War, one that has dialogue at moments that is so artificial, preachy, and stale that it is almost cringe worthy.

   So why did I continue to watch until the very end?

   First of all, so you don’t have to! Second, at a running time of just over an hour, it’s really not that big a time commitment. More importantly, there are actually some good names attached to the project, not the least of which is Samuel Fuller who, under the name “Sam Fuller” is credited with the story, albeit not the screenplay.

   Furthermore, the cast includes two well-known character actors from the era: Guy Kibbee, who portrays a wholesome small town newspaper publisher who takes over a New York City newspaper and Otto Kruger, his nemesis who has been abusing the power of the press to push an isolationist, America First agenda.

   As I said before, it’s overall not a particularly good film, but with solid craftsmanship from director Lew Landers, Power of the Press is worth watching as a history lesson, if for no other particular reason. Not every wartime film was nearly as iconic as Casablanca (1942); some were just little programmers like this one meant to rally the American public against fascism. Of interest in that regard is the fact that, after writing the story for this film, Fuller served overseas in the U.S. Army, taking part in beach landings as well as the liberation of a concentration camp.

GAVIN LYALL – Judas Country. Hodder & Stoughton, hardcover, 1975. Viking, US, hardcover, 1975. Ballantine, US, paperback, 1976.

   Planning to meet his partner in the flying business in Cyprus, for a small fee, pilot Roy Case agrees to bring along a planeload of champagne to a hotel there. But the hotel has gone bankrupt, there is no money, and the cases of champagne turn out to be filled with an equal weight of small arms and ammo.

   The good news? His partner, recently released from an Israeli prison, plans to meet a fellow jailmate, a professor of archaeology with a dubious reputation. The latter, as it happens, claims to know where a sword once belonging to Richard the Lion-Hearted may be found. Unfortunately the not-so-good professor seems to have committed suicide before he can reveal what he may or may not know.

   The man’s daughter is staying at the hotel with him, but she claims to know little. Also a major player in this Middle-Eastern drama of a world hidden to ordinary tourists is a representative of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, both female and very good-looking. One does not need to have a suspicious mind to notice that she seems to arrive on the scene very quickly.

   Lots of murders and attempted murders ensue, and lots of double dealing as well, as the trail leads to Beirut, back to Cyprus, then to Israel again. Lyall tends to tend his story by telling as little as the he thinks the reader needs to know, but that same reader had better pay close attention, or the ending, where all of the players come together again (or at least those who have survived), will become a dizzying swirl of twists and turns and sudden double — if not triple — crosses.

   There’s also a little too much detail about flying small airplanes, especially in bad weather, to suit me, but I can otherwise recommend this novel to fans of adventure fiction, in the good old-fashioned British way, with nary another qualm.

JAMES PATTERSON – The Season of the Machete. Ballantine 27105, paperback original, 1977. Warner Books, hardcover, 1995.

   For reasons never made overly clear, the Mafia and the CIA combine forces to instigate a bloody revolution in the peaceful Caribbean Island of San Dominica. Well, there are some indications of what it’s all about, and it certainly is bloody, but this is not what you might call the entertainment of the year.

   Piles of dismembered bodies grow as eye witness Peter Macdonald tries to tell someone he saw a blond Englishman near the scene of the first murder. It is not the black revolutionary Colonel Dred who’s responsible, but the crack assassination team of Carrie and Damien Rose, and they seem to fear a double-cross.

   Although it’s not very appealing, there is a sense in which this is a gripping story. The narration is heavy-handed, however. Too much is revealed in advance, and worse, there’s nothing to clean up the mess afterward.

Rating: C plus.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 2, No. 4, July 1978 (very slightly revised).


Bibliographic Note: This was Patterson’s second book. The first was The Thomas Berryman Number (Little Brown, 1976), which I also remember reading. To say that he has written quite a few since then would be the understatement of the month.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


FRANCES & RICHARD LOCKRIDGE – The Judge Is Reversed. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1960. Pocket, paperback, 1983.

   With the period of mourning for Pete, the Norths’ first cat, nearing its end, it was time for Pam to have another cat to talk to. At a cat show she finds a judge being criticized harshly. Attending a tennis tournament later, she and Jerry discover that same judge being criticized harshly.

   Still, despite his flaws as a judge, did someone have to hit him a killing blow in the back of the head, maybe with a cat’s scratching post? Did a cat breeder do it? The foot-faulting tennis player? Or the chairman of the committee against cruelty to animals who tries to kick cats?

   Not a great mystery as such, but Pam North always amazes and amuses, particularly when she is looking for a Siamese whose face doesn’t come to a point.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 6, No. 4, Winter 1990, “Beastly Murders.”

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


JOHN BUCHAN – John Macnab. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1925. Houghton Mifflin, US, hardcover, 1925. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and paperback.

   “… I don’t care a tinker’s curse for success, and what is worse, I’m just as apathetic about the modest pleasures which used to enliven my life … I tell you what I’ve got, It’s what the Middle ages suffered from — I read a book about it the other day — and it’s called Taedium Vitae. It’s a special kind of ennui … I find ‘nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting moon.'”

   So speaks Sir Edward (Ned) Leithen, successful solicitor and political figure in the opening chapter of John Buchan’s novel John MacNab. It is a condition not unknown in England following the Great War. He’s suffering from the middle age blahs as well, tired of work, bored with play, sick of hunting and fishing, looking for something to enliven him to breathe life back into existence. Acton Croke (Buchan was superb at the naming of names of fictional creations and places), the surgeon Leithen consults, has a prescription for what ails him too: “If you consult me as a friend, I advise you to steal a horse in some part of the world where a horse-thief is usually hanged.”

   Soon, with his friends Charles, Lord Lamancha, and John Palliser-Yeates, he will take up Sir Archibald Roylance’s offer of his house in Scotland at Crask (“Crask’s the earthenware pot among the brazen vessels–mighty hard to get to and nothing to see when you get there.”) and put Acton Croke’s prescription to the test, with the birth of the poacher, they call John Macnab.

   Only in Buchan would a vacation involve physically and mentally pushing yourself to your very limits.

   Most writers at the time did not tie their created worlds together, so that there is no mention of the Scarlet Pimpernel in Baroness Orzcy’s tales of the Old Man in the Corner or Lady Molly and the Old Man, or his Watson Polly Burton never meets Lady M, and Manly Wade Wellman aside, Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger might as well exist on different planets, moreso Brigadier Gerard.

   True, Ayesha runs into Allan Quatermain, but then it was almost impossible for anyone to not run into Quatermain in Haggard’s fiction, even if it was only in a vivid dream. Edgar Rice Burroughs does have Tarzan visit Pellucidar, but he never meets David Innes, and all his fiction is only loosely tied by Jason Gridley and his Gridley wave by which they communicate their tales to Burroughs.

   The Count of Monte Cristo never casually thinks about the Three Musketeers; Jane Austen’s heroines don’t seem to be overly neighborly, Pride never meets Senibility; David Copperfield never stumbles across Fagin or Little Nell; Rochester never discusses brutish behavior and romantic lassitude with Heathcliffe.

   But John Buchan’s creations inhabit the same world and class system. They literally belong to the same club (The Rungates Club, also the title of a collection of short stories where they share adventure tales). Richard Hannay knows Lamancha and Leithen and Palliser-Yeates, Ned Leithen knows Archie Roylance from Mr. Standfast and The Courts of Morning, Archie Roylance knows Dickson McCunn from Huntingtower.

   It may be the most extensive shared fictional world of its time in that sense. Even in Sapper and Yates only one character connects the different worlds (Ronald Standish in Sapper, Jonah Mansel in Yates). Buchan’s world is unexpectedly cozy, if a bit tweedy and closed. It’s as if Lamont Cranston and Richard Wentworth both knew Doc Savage and belonged to the same club.

   Crask is small, remote, and ideal for the game the three gentleman decided to play to treat what ails them, but not without complications. Archie has three chief neighbors in the region, Claypool, the Radens (cursed with daughters), and the American’s the Bandicoots. The three friends will write a letter to each of the landowners declaring their intention to poach on a specific night and time and sign it John Macnab and then set the game in motion.

   In other hands, this would play out obviously. The canny old highlander would prove the most difficult, one of the trio would fall for one of the Raden’s daughters, and the American would show off a bad sport and have to be dealt with, but Buchan is too a good a writer for that, and while I won’t give too much away readers of Buchan know what a force of nature Janet Raden is when she becomes Archie Roylance’s wife.

   In fact what sets this apart is how it plays with your expectations. Characters show depth and unexpected growth. Nobility sprouts in ignoble ground, and at the moment that John Macnab threatens to blow up in everyone’s face, a slip of a girl and a man of lesser class with an unexpected sense of honor and humor saves them all.

   You might not think a novel about poaching would amount to much in terms of suspense, but you would be wrong. Buchan’s splendid feel for the outdoors, and especially the highlands, his characters almost spiritual connection with both nature and nature’s darker side, all make this as suspenseful and meaningful as any thriller.

   Then the mist came down again, and in driving sleet Leithen scrambled among the matted boulders and screes of Bheinn Fhada’s slopes. Here he knew he was safe enough, for he was inside the Machray march and out of any possible prospect from the Reascuill. But it was a useless labour, and the return of the thick weather began to try his temper. The good humour of the morning had gone, when it was a delight to be abroad in the wilds alone and to pit his strength against storm and distance. He was growing bored with the whole business and at the same time anxious to play the part which had been set him. As it was, wandering on the skirts of Bheinn Fhada, he was as little use to John Macnab as if he had been reading Sir Walter Scott in the Crask smoking-room.

   I’ve always thought of this in cinematic terms, an Ealing comedy though with a more extensive cast and across time. Basil Rathbone or Ronald Colman for Leithen, Patric Knowles for Lamancha, and Kenneth More for Palliser-Yeates, David Tomlinson for Archie, Jean Simmons or Glynis Johns as Janet, Edmund Gwenn as the gillie Wattie Lithgow, Margaret Rutherford for Lady Claypool with her yappy dog, and so on.

   John Macnab proved popular and interesting enough that a sequel, and a good one, The Return of John Macnab by Scottish novelist Andrew Greig came out in 1996, a critically acclaimed work in which a group of friends set out to recreate the legendary John Macnab’s exploits in a modern setting. It’s a different and more serious work than the original but every inch its equal with its own splendid feel for the Scottish landscape.

   This is a different Buchan perhaps than what you may know from the Richard Hannay series, different still from the more obvious humor of the tales of grocer Dickson McCunn and the Gorbals Diehards. The books featuring Ned Leithen, the most autobiographical of Buchan’s creations, are unique among his output: The Power House, the first modern spy novel from 1910 predating the more famous Thirty Nine Steps; The Dancing Floor a near supernatural novel about middle age romance and adventure; and Sick Heart River Buchan’s own rough country version of Hilton’s Shangri-La and an elegaic farewell to his readers, full of duty and sacrifice and the hard won rewards and cost of honor. Leithen is a far more complex character than Hannay as Buchan himself was.

   John Macnab is not the best place to start reading Buchan, but it is a perfect place to end up. It’s a rare thing, an adventure novel full of physical action but little violence, a thriller where no one dies and nothing more important than a man’s honor and reputation is at stake, and a novel of ideas and heart about something as ignoble as poaching. It is a book well loved and appreciated by his readers, and one I wholeheartedly recommend you get around to, but only after some of the other better known works so you fully appreciate its charms.

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