A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


OLIVER BANKS – The Rembrandt Panel. Little, Brown, hardcover, 1980. Pinnacle, paperback, 1982.

   Boston art dealer Sammy Weinstock and “runner” Harry Giardino seem to have little in common. Weinstock is reputable and knowledgeable, with a shop on Charles Street at the foot of Beacon Hill. Giardino is one of those characters who hang around on the fringes of the art world, buying up works here and there, peddling them to dealers, always waiting for a big score.

   However, when both are murdered in a particularly brutal and sadistic manner, Homicide men O’Rourke and Callahan sense a connection. Unable to find what it is, they accept the help of international art detective Amos Hatcher, who is taking time off from a seemingly dead-end case in Europe.

   Hatcher joins forces with the murdered dealer’s assistant, Sheila Woods, and in searching the shop they find an old and rare frame, minus its painting, with fingerprints on it that definitely link the two victims. With this discovery, the two (now lovers) start on a trail that takes them from Boston to Amsterdam to Zurich to Cape Cod — and eventually to a missing Rembrandt, a linking of Hatcher’s two cases, and a cold-blooded killer.

   This is an excellent novel, packed with information about art and the people who make their livings from it. The characterization is uniformly good, especially the established relationship between O’Rourke and Callahan (which is full of humorous camaraderie) and the growing one between Hatcher and Woods.

   This, plus the vivid depiction of the somewhat seedy side of Beacon Hill and the various foreign settings, does a great deal to make up for the fact that the plot moves slowly. We know all along who the killer is and what his motivations are, but nonetheless the story sustains our interest on the way to a satisfying conclusion.

   Banks’s second novel, The Caravaggio Obsession, which also has an art background, was published in 1984.

         ———
   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.

Bio-Bibliographic Notes: Amos Hatcher also appeared in Banks’s second novel, but this pair of art-oriented novels are the only mysteries he wrote. For another review of The Rembrandt Panel, check out J. F. Norris’s blog here. Banks himself was an art consultant and critic in New York City. He died in 1991, only 50 years old.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


TAKE MY LIFE. General Film, UK, 1947; Eagle-Lion Films, US, 1949. Hugh Williams, Greta Gynt, Marius Goring, Francis L. Sullivan, Henry Edwards. Screenplay by Winston Graham and Valerie Taylor, additional dialogue by Winston Graham and Margaret Kennedy based on the play and novel by Winston Graham. Cinematography: Guy Green. Director: Ronald Neame.

         Warning, Spoilers Ahead:

   There is a credit that belongs on this list that isn’t in the on screen or IMDb credits, that name is a former film editor turned director who began his career working with Neame, and according to some sources returned the favor with the outstanding editing that contributes so much to this suspenseful outing, David Lean.

   Whether that is true or not, this film is not only beautifully written by Winston Graham (Marnie, The Walking Stick, The Poldark Saga …) and directed by Ronald Neame, it also has a first class score and outstanding cinematography by Guy Green along with the imaginative editing and structure that adds so much to this film.

   The film’s opening is narrated by Francis Sullivan, the sarcastic and brilliant QC prosecuting Nicholas Talbot (Hugh Williams) for murder. We hear Sullivan’s account of the case while we watch what actually unfolded, even when it veers from Sullivan’s biased account.

   Nicholas Talbot is the n’eer do well husband of opera star Phillipa Shelly (the beautiful Greta Gynt) nee Talbot, and now as her manager, he has his first success in life. Her latest opera is opening in London, and Talbot is busy setting up her future appearances. The night of her debut she is nervous, and a famously temperamental diva on opening nights.

   So it is exceptionally bad night for the substitute violinist in the orchestra to turn out to be Elizabeth (Rosalee Crutchley in a nice totally unsympathetic turn), a lover of Nicholas from the past who begs him to come to see her, accidentally pockets his engraved silver pencil, and carries a picture of him in a locket.

   Phillipa, nerves on end after the success of the debut, puts on a jealous show, keeps digging at Nicholas, and finally throws some thing at him cutting his head when he reacts. He storms out leaving her alone. And during the period he wanders in the rain, a man approximately his height in the same overcoat and trilby that he is wearing shows up at the flat, where Elizabeth, his former lover, lives. He kills her in a fit of rage, sustaining a wound to the head, and then burning the body so no image of her face exists.

   There is a witness, of course, who never saw the killer’s face, but he saw him holding a handkerchief to his wounded forehead. When Scotland Yard puts out a call to hospitals for a man fitting that description, Nicholas is in an emergency clinic getting his wound sewed up because it wouldn’t stop bleeding.

   He is arrested, lies about how he got the wound out of embarrassment. and then when he tells the truth and police go to Phillipa, and thinking she is protecting him, she lies, tightening the noose around his neck. Then the only witness identifies him in a line up as the man he saw on the stairs.

   It may not be true, but the more questions the police ask the more Nicholas looks like a failure who hitched his wagon to Phillipa’s star and thus would have ample motive to murder a threat to that profitable future. He has motive, opportunity, he lied to the police, we really don’t know whether to trust it wasn’t him we saw kill Elizabeth.

    *** If you don’t want to know the rest of the plot, stop here.

   Up to this point the viewer has no idea whether he killed Elizabeth or not. We haven’t seen the killer. We can’t trust the narrator. Have we been seeing what really happened that night even when it veers from Sullivan’s account, or is Nicholas being railroaded on circumstantial evidence?

   It is only as Sullivan describes the crime in court that we see the murderer is Marius Goring, a man in an overcoat and a trilby who receives a wound to his forehead. We follow him home to Scotland where we see a photo of Elizabeth on his piano, but we have no idea who he is or what their relationship is, or how he could ever be tied to her and traced.

   It doesn’t look good for Nicholas, and Phillipa, feeling guilty, begins to investigate on her own with aid from sympathetic Inspector Archer (Henry Edwards) from the Yard. With no photograph of Elizabeth, she can’t even advertise for someone who knew her and might provide another suspect beyond Nicholas. She hits one dead end after another, even traveling to Holland to speak to Elizabeth’s mother hoping to find a picture, but the hateful old lady destroyed them all.

   In the dead woman’s things Phillipa finds a sheet of music, but it leads nowhere until visiting her family she hears her nephew humming it. Seems his friend heard the music at a school in Scotland and he picked up from him humming it, and with that her only clue, Phillipa boards the train for the remote boarding school in a small Scottish village.

   A boarding school whose master is Mr. Sidney Fleming, Marius Goring.

   There is a top notch scene worthy of Hitchcock when Phillipa plays the music on the organ in the school’s chapel goading Fleming, and suddenly can no longer see him behind her in the mirror above her. It’s a slick take on the famous scene from the silent Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney, and it is almost as nerve wracking, a murder in the making prevented only by the arrival of the school caretaker, the sinister Goring advancing behind her shot at a slightly skewered angle.

   She eludes Fleming and finds a picture of Elizabeth that proves she was Mrs. Fleming at a shop owned by a cranky Scot’s photographer. She rushes to catch her train back to London before Nicholas appears in court and is convicted of murder and sentenced to hang, but Fleming is on the train with her, and the man in the compartment with her is deaf and can’t hear a thing as Fleming confesses his crime and plans to silence her.

   Phillipa is saved, and Fleming falls from the train to his death, the death he planned for her, but the photograph has been destroyed, and she has no proof when she goes to tell her story at the Yard.

   There is a nice twist then that comes a bit out of left field, but it’s not bad, and by then the suspense is ratcheted up enough that all you want is to be let off the hook. How you get off is of much less import. Some may be more bothered by it than I am, but if you pay attention you can see it is not entirely improbable and Neame only cheated a little.

   You may as well give up on the suspense genre if you are going to be too much of a stickler for logic. So long as they don’t just pull them out of a hat, I’m willing to be flexible.

   This is a fine suspense film that is gorgeous to look at, imaginatively cut, and shot and directed by the always interesting Neame. Whether Lean actually cut the film or aided in it or not I can’t say for sure, but someone did an outstanding job that is as important as the plot or characters to the final product.

   I have one or two mild bits of carping to add. I found Williams a bit old and not as charming as I would have liked as Nicholas, it is hard to watch it and not think how perfect James Mason, Stewart Granger, or Ray Milland would have been in the role, and they might have held back the revelation regarding Goring a bit later in the film since the untrustworthy narrator was working so well, or set up that twist a bit better, but those are minor at best

   I read the novel back when Bantam was reprinting many of Graham’s suspense novels following the bestselling Marnie and The Walking Stick. It was an instant favorite, and I spent years looking for this film, finding a mention in a book here or a still there, but until now never the full film.

   If you never read one of Graham’s finely wrought suspense novels I suggest you go out and find one. This, the two above, Greek Fire, or The Green Flash are all good choices by a master whose work is much like that of Robert Goddard, a master of civilized but nerve stretching suspense who doesn’t always go for the easy or happy endings.

   Catch this one though. It is a classic suspense film you may well never have heard of, and you should get to know it. If you thought you had seen all the great suspense films, this one adds one more to the list. It really is exceptionally good and more than worth any lover of the genre’s time.

PIER 13. 20th Century Fox, 1940. Lynn Bari, Lloyd Nolan, Joan Valerie, Douglas Fowley, Chick Chandler, Oscar O’Shea, Adrian Morris. Director: Eugene Forde.

   In this semi-spritely remake of Me and My Gal, a 1932 film starring Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett, and directed by Raoul Walsh, it’s the chemistry between leading players Lloyd Nolan and Lynn Bari that keeps this otherwise ordinary crime film from sinking far below the water off Pier 13.

   He’s Danny Dolan, the new cop on the beat in the area, while she’s Sally Kelly, the wise-cracking and gum-chewing waitress whom he meets on his first day on the job. He’s attracted to her at once, there’s no doubt about that, but it takes her a while to show that she’s interested too.

   Trouble is, a notorious jewel thief is back in town and he has a hold on Sally’s sister, and he wants her help once again to pull off his next robbery. As I said earlier, there’s not too much to this as a crime story, and of course it all turns out well. It’s only the banter between the two lovers that makes this a movie worth watching. When sparks fly like this, there’s bound to be a fire.

Reviewed by Mark D. Nevins:


JOHN D. MacDONALD – The Empty Copper Sea. Lippincott, hardcover, 1978. Fawcett Gold Medal, paperback, 1979. Reprinted many times. TV movie: as Travis McGee, 1983 (with Sam Elliott & Gene Evans).

   Some years back an old friend of mine, now sadly passed on, advised me: “The Travis McGee novels are all pretty much interchangeable — until you get to The Empty Copper Sea, when things really begin to shift.” As I’ve been reading this series in order, slowly savoring each one, I admit I was looking forward to seeing what mysteries Copper would hold.

   On a narrative level, the differences are not significant, and in fact, in many ways, the plot of Copper mirrors that of its predecessor, The Dreadful Lemon Sky [reviewed here ]: Trav and Meyer work themselves into the social fabric of a small Florida town (one of JDM’s favorite themes) in order to clear the name and salvage the reputation of a friend who can’t do so for him/herself.

   However, in the case of Copper, Meyer takes more of a lead on the investigation, which gives McGee time to … reflect. And mull. And think about his life, and what it all means, and opportunities missed, and what might have been. We’ve seen philosophizing before (readers have written the series off due to a dislike of it), but for the first time the interior monologues seem to be more McGee’s than MacDonald’s — it’s as if McGee is starting to come off the page as a three-dimensional character.

   The novel is not slow, but the mood is melancholy, and there is a very different sort of ending [SPOILER ALERT] — the lead female character doesn’t die in the end. So, will she be back in the next episode? And is that one of the real markers of the change in the series’s direction?

   Some Travis McGee novels are Superb, and some are merely Good. I’d rate this one Very Good, and am restraining myself from ripping right into Green (hah): I promised I’d only read Travis in warm climates, so it will be late January in Key West.

   And, as always, some examples of JDM’s wonderful prose style:

   I woke up at two in the morning with the light still on and the Guide open and face down on my chest. I stayed awake just long enough to be sure I didn’t sink back into the same dream that awoke me. I had been underwater, swimming behind Van Harder, following the steady stroke of his swim fins and wondering why I had to be burdened with tanks, weights, and mask while he swam free. Then he turned and I saw small silver fish swimming in and out of his empty eye sockets.

and

   The world is full of contention and contentious people. They will not tell you the time of day or day of the month without their little display of hostility. I have argued with Meyer about it. It is more than a reflex, I think. It is an affirmation of importance. Each one is saying, “I can afford to be nasty to you because I don’t need and favors from you, buster.” It is also, perhaps, a warmed application of today’s necessity to be cool…

   If I were King of the World I would roam my kingdom in rags, incognito, dropping fortunes onto the people who are nice with no special reasons to be nice, and having my troops lop off the heads of the mean, small, embittered little bastards who try to inflate their self-esteem by stomping on yours. I would start the lopping among post-office employees, bank tellers, bus drivers, and pharmacists. I would go on to checkout clerks, bellboys, prowl-car cops, telephone operations, and U.S. Embassy clerks. By God, there would be so many heads rolling here and there, the world would look like a berserk bowling alley. Meyer says this shows a tad of hostility.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


THOMAS H. COOK – Mortal Memory. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, 1993. Bantam, paperback, 1994.

   Cook’s three novels of Frank Clemons, first an Atlanta cop, then a New York investigator, are about as dark and grim a trio as you’re likely to find. I’ve only read one other book of his and it was of the same shade, so I didn’t come to this one expecting a lot of chuckles. Which was just as well, because there weren’t any.

   This is the story of a man whose father murdered his brother, sister, and mother when he was nine. He has buried most of the memories of his childhood, but not so deep they can’t be disinterred, and that is what happens when a lady comes to town to interview him for a book she is writing about family Killers. As he brings the past into the light, its shadows darken the present, and we move along with him to a conclusion that seems at once both inevitable and unforeseen.

   Cook’s prose reminds me at times of David Lindsey in its slow pace and somber tone. When done well — as they each do it — the combination can result in powerful and evocative storytelling. The protagonist is drawn clearly in some ways, and in others we understand him no better in the end than he does himself. The same is true of his parents and siblings. There are questions left unanswered — but then there are those at the end of everything, aren’t there?

   The constant shifts between past and present were potentially distracting but well handled. I thought that the character of the writer was either too enigmatic or not faceless enough; as presented, she was vaguely unsatisfying. That is a relatively minor cavil though, and if you like this book well enough to read it through, you won’t be unaffected by it. Cook remains one of the masters of the dark side.

– Reprinted from Ah, Sweet Mysteries #9, September 1993.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:          


DOWN DAKOTA WAY. Republic Pictures, 1949. Roy Rogers, Trigger, Dale Evans, Pat Brady, Montie Montana, Elisabeth Risdon, Byron Barr, James Cardwell, Roy Barcroft, Foy Willing & the Riders of the Purple Sage. Screenplay: John K. Butler & Sloan Nibley. Director: William Witney.

   Full disclosure: I’m definitely a William Witney aficionado. Plus, out of all the singing cowboys, I like Roy Rogers the best. After recently watching Under California Stars, which I reviewed here, I had moderately high expectations for Down Dakota Way. At the very least, I thought it would be an overall fun movie watching experience. In that sense, I was somewhat mistaken.

   Now, it’s not as if Down Dakota Way is a terrible movie or that the direction is necessarily of sub-par quality. No, it’s just that the movie lacks that real, but difficult to describe in words, sense of fun, lighthearted, escapism. In many ways, Down Dakota Way has all the characteristics of a dark, brooding, Hamlet-on-horseback Western but without the excellent acting and brilliant cinematography that make many “Western noirs” truly outstanding films.

   In this entry in the vast Roy Rogers cinematic corpus, Rogers ends up doing battle with a corrupt cattle baron willing to employ criminal methods to cover up the widespread presence of foot and mouth disease among his stock. Complicating matters is the fact that one of the baron’s hired gunmen, a ruthless little piece of work, happens to be the adopted son of Roy’s favorite childhood schoolteacher. Since the gunman’s father was also a criminal, there’s a bit of a morality play in this somewhat forgettable Western, a didactic lesson about raising your children right and not judging sons for the sins of their fathers.

   Still, when all is said and done, Down Dakota Way really just isn’t all that captivating. For a Witney-directed film, I’d expected some better rough and tumble fight choreography. That, too, was sadly lacking.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


ZELDA POPKIN – Death Wears a White Gardenia. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1938. Red Arrow Books #5, digest-sized paperback. 1939. Dell #13, paperback, 1943.

   Mary Carner, department-store detective, appeared in five books, of which this is the first. At least in this novel, the store is Jeremiah Blankfort and Company in New York City, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an appearance by the Governor’s wife.

   Also adding to the festivities is the discovery of a corpse that turns out to have been Andrew McAndrew, credit manager of Blankfort’s and a chap, it would appear, given to blackmailing married customers who charge items for their girl friends. He also had his own girl friends, one of whom is carrying his child.

   The suspects are limited to those who were working in the store the previous evening before the anniversary celebration, but that is nonetheless a rather large number. McAndrew’s fed-up wife and brother-in-law and a junky but talented shoplifter add to the total.

   Mary Carner is convinced that the murder was committed by an employee of Blankfort’s. That part of the investigation is stymied since the store’s owner will not allow the employees to be questioned until the sale day is over. This is, after all, still in the depths of the Depression, and the department store’s finances are rather rocky.

   Better than Spencer Dean’s department-store mysteries, but not much better. One hopes that Popkin improved in her later novels.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1990.


       The Mary Carner (Whittaker) series –

Death Wears a White Gardenia. Lippincott, 1938.
Murder in the Mist. Lippincott, 1940.

Time Off for Murder. Lippincott, 1940.
Dead Man’s Gift. Lippincott, 1941.

No Crime for a Lady. Lippincott, 1942.

   Zelda Popkn wrote two other works of crime fiction, So Much Blood (Lippincott, 1944), and A Death of Innocence (Lippincott, 1971) which was the basis of a TV movie of the same title. (CBS, 1971 with Shelley Winters and Arthur Kennedy).

   For more on the author herself, here’s a link to her Wikipedia page.

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