Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


VALENTINE WILLIAMS – Courier to Marrakesh. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover. Houghton Mifflin, US, hardcover, 1946. No paperback editions.

   A huge figure stood in the doorway. It was a vast man in a black hat and a dark business suit, who leaned heavily on a cane. He might have been a tank, the way he shouldered Mülder aside as he came into the room, limping as he went. I instinctively glanced at his feet. My blood seemed to turn to ice when I perceived that one of them was encased in a monstrous surgical boot.

   Enter one of the most despicable villains in popular literature, especially the popular literature between the wars, a clever, dangerous, fanatic, and self serving monster who serves his masters, but always serves himself first. Under the Kaiser there had been a code even he had to follow, but now he is Adolph Hitler’s top man.

    “He is a monster, a wild beast, and everywhere he goes he leaves a trail of treachery, of broken faith, of blood—yes, blood!”

   By now you may have figured out this is not a nice man. The fact is he could give Moriarity, Carl Peterson, and even Dr. Fu Manchu a run for their money. His name is Dr. Adolph Von Grundt, but he is much better known as …

    “… Clubfoot does not change. Human beings — poor creatures with broken hearts like me — they change. But not Clubfoot. Because the man is not human.”

   In Courier to Marrakesh the setting is mid-WWII in North Africa and Italy. Andrea Hallam is an American singer and guitarist touring with the USO, doing her best for the boys. She tried to join the WACS, but she was:

    … sternly told at Washington that my job was to keep up morale, singing to the armed forces. They seemed to like me at the Stage Door Canteens, the camps and naval bases, not only my cowboy and hill-billy numbers, but even the old French and Italian ballads, the Spanish saetas and Portuguese fados, in my repertoire. It may have been my red hair, of course; our sailors and soldiers have never been known to have any particular allergy to redheads. But my heart was not at peace and I never rested until I persuaded Washington to send me overseas to sing at the camps.

   Andrea is also looking forward to running into old friend Hank Lundgren.

    If I had been the marrying sort I could have settled down with Hank Lundgren at Milwaukee. It was in the fall of ’39, soon after war broke out in Europe, that he came up with his proposal… I liked Hank tremendously, but the songs came first.

   Andrea thought Hank, who had a business in radio before the war, was in communications, but when she meets dashing handsome gray eyed Nicholas Leigh, a young British officer, she discovers what he and Hank actually do: “I’m Intelligence, the same as Hank.” That’s certainly exciting, dull old Hank Lundgren in intelligence, who would have thought.

   Andrea is soon up to her neck in dubious people, Countess Mazzoli, who claims to be an anti-Fascist Italian, and her son Captain Mazzoli among them, and the Countess has given Andrea a locket to deliver to a man named Safi, who is certainly suspicious, Peter Lorre type, you know. Then there is the Swiss Herr Ziemer who is to introduce her to Moroccan singer Shelika Zueima, a local artist Andrea has been wanting to hear. It is Zueima who will warn her about Clubfoot for the first time.

   Soon enough Andrea is up to her lovely red hair in intrigue, enlisted by Leigh, Hank, and their buddy Major Riley (aka Snafu) in a bit of political intelligence. Andrea all on her own has stumbled on a nest of Nazi intrigue, and only just missed Clubfoot himself. They need to get her away and Naples sounds like the best place. Safu tries to explain to her the political situation she has stumbled on a struggle for power between the old Prussian guard of the German General Staff and Hitler.

   This was soon to be the stuff of headlines as 1944 came to a close. The book came out in November of 1944 and the famous July Plot to assassinate Hitler led by Count Von Stauffenberg had only just happened.

    “ …a strong anti-Hitler movement has developed among a small but influential group of the high-ups on the German General Staff. These Generals realise (sic) that Germany has lost the war; what they’re after now is to try to salvage as much as they can of the wreck. The plan is to throw dust in the eyes of the free nations by getting rid of Adolf and the Nazis and have the Generals fix the peace.”

   Grundt and his boys are after an old drinking cup that contains something important and the stakes are high, winning the peace after the war.

    “Hitler’s not the only danger to the future of the world. The reactionary elements everywhere are fighting a rearguard action to save the world from democracy, people who have this cock-eyed idea that a military government in Germany, purged of the Nazis, is preferable to a victorious Russia.”

   This is far above the usual chase for some super weapon or battle plans of most wartime spy thrillers. Whether Williams was in any way privy to it or not, these debates were actually going on during the war and fought out in the shadow world of intelligence. There are still those who would have preferred to rearm Germany and declare war on Russia despite the fact both sides had the bomb by the end of the war. There are still those who think we should have sided with Hitler against Stalin. Riley sums it up for her.

    “In Marrakesh, lady, anything can happen. Through no fault of yours you’re up to the neck in this game of ours, and let me tell you, my dear, it’s a game with no punches barred. There’s nothing to choose between your Dr. Grundts and your Colonel von Rodes. These Prussian Army gangsters are fighting for their very existence…”

   Before it is over Andrea will fall in love with Nicholas Leigh, be captured by the Prussian side and threatened with torture, and be rescued, ironically, by none other than Clubfoot himself. Events move quickly and soon enough Andrea learns what is at stake.

    “All the Nazi leaders keep dossiers against each other,” he (Hank) said. “Fritsch was supposed to have had one on Hitler. Sheer dynamite, if what they say is true — that’s why for years Hitler didn’t dare to touch him. Anyone who could have got hold of it could have blown Adolf sky-high… That Hitler dossier is right up our street. No need to publish anything; just see that selected extracts are shown to the right people, both in Germany and outside. That dossier is supposed to contain the complete file of Hitler’s dealings with the German industrialists who financed him, his correspondence with Mussolini, documents establishing his responsibility for the famous Party purge, details of his private fortune and where it’s tucked away abroad—gosh, in the Balkans alone it would be worth ten divisions of troops to us.”

   Granted Dennis Wheatley did this same sort of thing, but Williams is a much more literate and smooth writer, and there are no huge chunks of undigested history to trip over in the narrative. It moves fairly fast, Andrea is an engaging and certainly different narrator/protagonist, and always, as in all of the Clubfoot novels, the shadow of Grundt’s lumbering figure hangs over all brilliant, threatening, and monstrous.

   There’s a last minute desperate fight and rescue, but not quite soon enough, a happier ending than you might expect, and in the long run a better example of the WWII spy novel than you have any reason to hope for from the admittedly old fashioned Williams. Compare this to Wheatley’s Gregory Sallust novels or Oppenheim’s final novels at war’s beginning (The Last Train Out and The Shy Plutocrat) and you’ll see how literary and modern Williams reads in comparison. Wheatley still sounded as if it were 1939 in the 1960‘s.

   Some discussion of Valentine Williams followed a recent review here of his collaborative novel with Dorothy Rice, The Fog, so I thought it might be of value to show one of the reasons Williams stuck with thrillers more than detective stories and was admired and enjoyed for them.

   This book shows a style that embraced change and modernity, a willingness to experiment with a woman narrator and protagonist (she’s a pretty modern heroine, smart, tough, and capable, no swooning for Andrea) — and successfully — a pretty canny grasp of back room wartime politics, and Williams usual inventiveness.

   He also does remarkably well with his largely American cast of characters, certainly better than most British writers of the era. John Buchan, a far better writer, didn’t do half this well with Hannay’s American pal John Blenkiron. It’s hardly revolutionary, but it is a good thriller in a long running series and an unusually fresh book for this late in the Clubfoot saga. Few thriller series that began in the grim shadow of the First World War were still this fresh and inventive mid way through the Second.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


DRUM BEAT. Warner Brothers, 1954. Alan Ladd, Audrey Dalton, Marisa Pavan, Robert Keith, Rodolfo Acosta, Charles Bronson, Warner Anderson, Elisha Cook Jr. Screenwriter-Director: Delmer Daves.

   If you’re not a Charles Bronson fan, you’re probably not going to care for Drum Beat all that much. If you are a Bronson fan, however, you’re in for a real treat in this extraordinarily scenic CinemaScope Western. Most of the movie is filmed outdoors and there are some great naturalistic settings.

   Directed by Delmer Daves, the film’s top billed star is Alan Ladd, who portrays Johnny MacKay, an “Indian fighter.” His mission: bring peace between white settlers and Indians in southern Oregon, not far from the California border. His opponent is Captain Jack (Bronson), a renegade Modoc warrior whose arrogance, intransigence, and ruthlessness is on full display.

   But make no mistake about it: Bronson steals the show in this one. He is a wild man, nearly as untamable as the natural settings in which he lives and breathes. But if anyone can break Captain Jack’s reign of terror it is going to be MacKay. So we know from the get go we’re in for an eventual showdown between the two men. And what a showdown it is! The two rivals eventually go at it in hand-to-hand combat as they cascade down a river. It’s but one extremely well filmed action scene in a movie replete with harrowing, often quite shockingly violent, action sequences.

   Skilled character actor Robert Keith, who was simply brilliant as a criminal in The Lineup, which I reviewed here, portrays a settler seeking vengeance against the Modocs, while Irish-born actress Audrey Dalton portrays Nancy Meek, Johnny MacKay’s love interest. Their romance just doesn’t feel all that real, but is in many ways, a necessary ingredient in the overall plot.

   Drum Beat isn’t without its flaws. The film does at times feel just a bit too predictable. At times, it also seems to borrow too heavily from John Ford’s classic, Fort Apache (1948). There’s even a scene in which MacKay tells a Calvary officer that, even though they aren’t visible, the Indians are certainly hiding in the rocks. John Wayne’s character famously said almost exactly the same thing to Henry Fonda’s character in that earlier film. There’s also the matter of the double cross, although in Drum Beat, it’s the Indians, not the Whites, who are the duplicitous ones.

   All that being said, Drum Beat is a certainly an above average Western. The film’s best moment is when MacKay and Captain Jack meet in a Modoc dwelling early on in the film. It’s an exceptionally well-filmed scene and is an example of great staging. It certainly places the emphasis on these two characters. The struggle, tension, and grudging admiration between these two fighters make this somewhat lesser known Western worth a look.

A YANK IN LIBYA. PRC, 1942. Walter Woolf King, Joan Woodbury, H. B. Warner, Parkyarkarkus (Harry Parke), Duncan Renaldo, George Lewis, William Vaughn, Howard Banks, Amarilla Morris. Director: Albert Herman.

   There is no movie so bad that someone leaving a review on IMDb won’t call it a Poverty Row Classic. (Check it out.) This isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen, but it’s in the bottom dozen. The only reason I kept watching it — well, two actually — was the presence of two actors whose performances I found far and away above the rest of the cast.

   The first was Joan Woodbury, far from being well known, but whose good looks and charm on the screen always delight me, and the second was a veteran radio actor named Parkyarkarkus, aka Harry Einstein, who I’d never see in person before. On radio he played a pseudo-Greek character on several comedy variety programs, including Eddie Cantor’s and Al Jolson’s as well as a short running one of his own called “Meet Me at Parky’s.”

   In A Yank in Libya he plays a jovial heavy-set seller of razor blades in a Libyan marketplace, clad in Arab garb as a far-fetched transplant from Brooklyn, added (one presumes) for comedy relief, but as time goes on, he seems to know more and more about what is going on than the hero does.

   Which entails a Nazi attempt to incite the Muslim tribal leaders to rebel against the British rule. Walter Woolf King (whose name I don’t ever remember seeing on the screen before) is a reporter who uncovers the plot, a brash sort of know-nothing role, while Duncan Renaldo plays the tribal leader most friendly to the British, and rather unconvincingly, to my eyes.

   It occurs to me to add that most of the other players in this film do a better than average job of it. It’s the story that lets them down, a patchwork affair fastened together by good wishes and duct tape, that and the abysmal budget they must have had to work with. The list of cast members is a large one, but if there are more than five people on the screen at any time, the footage was swiped from another movie.

   But one last note. If you think you’d be interested in seeing this movie, I’d suggest using the video link embedded above. It’s free, and the sound quality, the small amount I’ve watched of it, is tremendously better than the version on DVD from Alpha Video, which I paid an almost reasonable four dollars for.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


OAKLEY HALL – Warlock. Viking, hardcover 1958. Bantam, paperback, 1959. University of Nebraska Press, softcover, 1980. New York Review of Books Classics, softcover, 2005

WARLOCK. Fox, 1959. Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone, Dolores Michaels, Wallace Ford, Tom Drake, Richard Arlen, Whit Bissel, Donald “Red” Barry and DeForest Kelley. Screenplay by Robert Alan Arthur. Directed by Edward Dmytryk.

   I’ve been pleased to read a few truly great Westerns this year, and this was one of them, a Pulitzer nominee that can stand right up there with The Big Sky, The Last Hunt and The Stars in Their Courses as a great novel and a great Western.

   Author Oakley Hall takes the basic elements from the Earp-in-Tombstone saga (events that have already become an American Iliad) and uses them to create his own Epic Ballad, much as John Ford did in My Darling Clementine.

   But where Ford turned heroes into legends, Hall transmutes the legends into role-players, fictionalizing them to give himself the poetic license he needs. Thus Wyatt Earp becomes Clay Blaisdell, Doc Holiday is Tom Morgan, Ike Clanton turns into Abe McQuown—and Tombstone becomes Warlock.

   What emerges is a complex, fast-moving and vivid drama-cum-folk-tale punctuated by shoot-outs, hold-ups, bar fights and lynch mobs, in which characters sometimes stand impressively against the tide and sometimes get swept along or even drowned by it. Hall has a nifty trick of showing how the players we admire most can be capable of cowardice and treachery, yet somehow never lose our esteem. And in all the complexity of character he never lets go of the narrative reins, keeping the tale moving nicely at all times. Hall can write actions scenes with the best of them, but it’s his feel for people and place that make the tale so memorable.

   I saw the film shortly after reading the book, and I guess I’ll have to wait a couple years and see it again so I can judge Warlock the movie on its own terms. As it was, the story seemed too simple and too hurried, and the characters unconvincing or simply unappealing. Richard Widmark isn’t bad as the outclassed Deputy trying to do his duty, but I never got a feel for the character, and I’m not sure he did either. Henry Fonda, once a memorable Wyatt Earp, looks a bit podgy as Blaisdell, and Anthony Quinn plays Morgan/Holliday as a prissy mother hen — one critic called it “the most open depiction of homosexual love in the classic western.”

   The supporting players come off a bit better, including DeForest Kelley in the Curly Bill part, and Frank Gorshin (!) as Widmark’s hot-head kid brother, but again the film simplifies them into non-existence. Or at least it did to me, seeing it when I did. The film has its fans, and perhaps I’ll like it better a few years hence. Meanwhile, let me say again that the book is one that Western fans should treat themselves to.

DANA CAMERON – A Fugitive Truth. Avon, paperback original, May 2004.

   Though an archaeologist by profession, Emma Fielding somehow manages to run into an abundance of cases of murder on her many and varied field trips, this being the fourth in a series, and unfortunately only the first that I’ve read.

   Based on the example at hand, it’s a lapse I’d like to remedy as soon as I can. This one’s an impressive outing, beginning as if it were a gothic romance novel from the 1970s, as Emma travels through a dark and overcast night to the Victorian mansion where the Shrewsbury Library is located, and where her latest project has taken her.

   After helping to excavate the 18th century home of one Margaret Chandler and putting the life of the woman in the proper context, Emma plans on reading the young bride’s diary, written while she was still trying to adjust to life in the American “wilderness” as a new arrival from England. Here’s a quote that will help describe how Emma’s philosophy of life (and career) put her on my side, immediately and forever. From page 56:

   I also reminded myself of why I had finally decided that my work was important. History tends to be about great events or trends that are disassociated from the common person. Historical archaeology is about everyday things, it’s finding out about people who didn’t always have a voice or fair representation by those who kept the public records, it’s about filling in the blanks. By teaching what archaeology teaches about the past, I was letting my audiences know how people like them made great things possible. On good days, I felt like I was a preacher, teaching empowerment, hope and ownership.

   When one of her fellow resident scholars is found drowned under mysterious circumstances, Emma is asked by the local police lady to use her academic insight and help with the investigation from the inside. As in the best of detective novels, there are a number of suspects, all with differing motivations, and all must be scrutinized with care, since – if Emma is not careful – she may become the killer’s next victim.

   In parallel with the present day crimes, Emma also discovers that Margaret, the lady of the diary, was abruptly accused of the death of a clergyman in her day, but the comments she wrote about her criminal trial are written in code, which requires deciphering on the part of Emma.

   When Margaret’s problems are over and she was absolved of the crime she was accused of, her comments were, “The truth is more than a sum of the facts,” an observation that does not explain the circumstances of her acquittal – the crucial pages are inscrutably missing – but it gives Emma the shove she needs, and at the right moment, in her own investigation.

   Besides the good, no, excellent characterization and a better than average detective story – and somehow it manages to slip my mind and I have to realize this over and over again, don’t the two go hand-in-hand? – there is an epilogue that is absolutely outstanding. Moralizing after the fact is not all that common in detective fiction, and moralizing on the level of Spider-Man? Now that’s unique.

PostScript:   Besides being a mystery writer, Dana Cameron is by primary occupation a professional archaeologist, which comes as no surprise at all.

— May 2004

      The Emma Fielding series

1. Site Unseen (2002)

2. Grave Consequences (2002)
3. Past Malice (2003)

4. A Fugitive Truth (2004)
5. More Bitter Than Death (2005)
6. Ashes and Bones (2006)

   And as a sign of the times, perhaps, given the end of this Emma Fielding series, beginning in 2013 Dana Cameron has written five novels in a fantasy-paranormal “Fangborn” series. Here’s a description:

    “Archaeologist Zoe Miller has been running from a haunting secret her whole life. But when her cousin is abducted by a vicious Russian kidnapper, Zoe is left with only one option: to reveal herself.

    “Unknown to even her closest friends, Zoe is not entirely human. She’s a werewolf and a daughter of the ‘Fangborn,’ a secretive race of werewolves, vampires, and oracles embroiled in an ancient war against evil.”

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


THE GHOST BREAKERS. Paramount Pictures, 1940. Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Richard Carlson, Paul Lukas, Anthony Quinn, Willie Best, Virginia Brissac, Noble Johnson, Tom Dugan, Paul Fix, Lloyd Corrigan Screenplay Walter DeLeon, based on a play by Paul Dickey Director: George Marshall.

   If you asked me to list the ten best comedy-mystery films of the Golden Age of Cinema there are certain films that could not be left off the list, The Thin Man, Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, The Cat and the Canary, My Favorite Blonde … But there is only one film that could be in the number one spot, the perfect blend of comedy, mystery, and scares, The Ghost Breakers.

   It wasn’t a new story then. It had been filmed twice before in the silent era and was based on a play that had also been novelized (it’s available as a free e-book), and it would be filmed again with Martin and Lewis as Scared Stiff (1953), but when you find the perfect cast, directors, and script — helped along to no small extent by Bob Hope’s army of gag writers — familiarity is a small problem.

   Bob Hope is radio star Laurence (Larry) Lawrence in this one. His middle name is Laurence too: “My parents had no imagination.” Larry does a radio show in which he uses his contacts in the underworld, namely Raspy Kelly (Tom Dugan), to get the inside dope on racketeers. When he reveals gangster Frenchie Duval (Paul Fix) is running a diaper service racket and not cutting his men and partners in on it, Frenchie is unhappy and invites Larry over to ‘talk.’

   It’s the night of a spectacular thunder storm (“Basil Rathbone must be having a party.”) that keeps knocking the power out which will further complicate things, but the station assures Bob they have auxiliary power and the show will go on.

       Receptionist to Bob: “You were great tonight, in your own opinion.”

       Bob, taken aback with no comeback: “I’m working on it.”

   Larry was going on vacation after the show, but not as far as he fears Frenchie will send him.

   Staying at the same hotel is Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard), who has inherited an island off Cuba known as Black Island on which stands the old slave castle Castillo Maldito once owned by her ancestor Don Santiago — who doesn’t care to vacate the place it seems. Anyone who goes there save the old black woman caretaker (Virginia Brissac) and her zombie son (Noble Johnson in terrific makeup) dies.

   Paul Lukas is Mr. Parada who wants to buy the place for $50,000, but when Ramon Mederos (Anthony Quinn) calls and warns her against selling she pulls back. She’s sailing for Cuba that night and might as well see what she owns.

   Larry and his man Alex (Willie Best in one of his best roles) show up at the hotel with Larry packing Alex gun, and on the 14th floor Larry, Mederos, and Parada come together. Mederos is killed and Larry thinks he did it so he ducks into Mary’s room and she takes pity on him.

   Larry hides in her trunk and ends up in her stateroom sailing for Cuba when the police search her room and her trunk is loaded to take to the dock.

   There is a classic bit on the dock as Alex hunts among the myriad trunks for the one Larry is in.

       To policeman: “I used to be a porter, I just love trunks.”

   It gets even better when a drunk becomes convinced Alex is a ventriloquist when he hears Larry in the trunk.

   Once on board Alex informs Larry he couldn’t have shot Maderos because the gun is the wrong caliber, but by then Larry notices Goddard is in trouble and despite himself he decides to go to Cuba with her to investigate Black Island; though he might regret that a bit when someone tries to drop a fire bucket full of sand on his head on the foggy deck.

   Ghosts or not, there is a very real killer lurking in the shadows.

   In short order they end up in Cuba where Goddard meets an old friend who lives there, Geoff Montgomery (Richard Carlson), and he joins the quest to help her, but that night when he takes Goddard to a local club she realizes Larry and Alex have gone to the island ahead to protect her. She determines to go too, but before she can leave meets the threatening Francisco Mederos (Quinn playing twins). Once he is gone she decides to swim to the island despite the sharks and see for herself leaving a note for Geoff that Mederos spots and reads as well.

   And once on the island, they are all in for a surprise or two.

   The film moves at a clip, joke on top of scare on top of clever line on top of intriguing mystery. It never stops to breathe or let you, or let you worry if any t’s are left uncrossed and i’s undotted. (Lloyd Corrigan keeps appearing running into Mary but we never find out who he is or what his role was.) Hope and Goddard had previously starred in the hit The Cat and the Canary (another remake) which is why Ghost Breakers got made in the first place.

   A word has to be said about Willie Best in this film, because without him, much of this would not work. I suppose to be politically correct it must be mentioned the role is a common stereotype of the era as is Noble Johnson’s part as the zombie. I can understand why that might interfere with some people’s enjoyment of the film, but beyond that, and making no apologies for the prejudices of the time period, Willie Best, one of the best light support comics of his era, is every bit Bob Hope’s equal in this exchanging quips and punch lines as brightly and cleverly as Bob. He is no more cowardly than Bob, and his reactions are just as funny. Compare this to the more offensive similar role he plays in The Smiling Ghost, and you will see what I mean.

   It really is a pleasure to watch them playing off each other in this. They are much more a team here than the usual black supporting character of the era is in other films. He may play a servant, but he is every bit Bob’s equal in every scene, and the two characters show real affection and respect for each other while exchanging smart lines and gentle barbs. Even the few racial jokes are less offensive than most.

   The scenes at Castillo Maldito are the film’s highlight, and Marshall milks them for all they are worth, with specters, an organ that plays itself, secret passages, cobwebs on cobwebs, and one stunning moment when Goddard descends the staircase dressed in her ancestors black gown to the shock of zombie Johnson. There are some genuine frissons in these scenes of a type that won’t be seen again on screen until The Univited, a serious ghost story.

   You know this will all work out, the mystery of Black Island and Castillo Maldito will be solved and the killer revealed, and as you have to expect from the beginning there is at least one final kicker, but this is easily the best of a great tradition, and one of the rare perfect films ever made. There isn’t a single false step in it. No gag falls flat, no scene plays false including a punny bit where Bob and Goddard are trying to unscare each other with phony British airs while dancing and exchanging awful puns and word play. This would not work at all with almost anyone else, but these two have it down pat, and you can see the mischief in both their eyes. You have to know that scene was broken up numerous times by Bob and Paulette getting more risque than the censors would allow on screen.

   The Ghost Breakers is funny when it is supposed to be funny, and it is scary when it is supposed to be scary, and it sometimes manages to be both at once. There is even a pretty good clue which hadn’t been quite so over used in film then, though it was pretty old hat in books long before that.

   I first saw this around age ten and I recall it was pretty scary then. Less so now of course, but I still appreciate the art that goes into it, and every time I watch it I see something new in the three main characters performances: Hope, Goddard, and Best are the reason to watch this film and the three divide the pleasures surprisingly equally. They are reason enough to watch this one, even if it wasn’t the perfect model of its type.

   But don’t misunderstand, I am saying unequivocally that The Ghost Breakers is the best comedy mystery Hollywood ever made. There is everything else and then there is The Ghost Breakers.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Karol Kay Hope


  GORDON ASHE – A Nest of Traitors. Holt Rinehart & Winston, US, hardcover, 1971. Popular Library, US, paperback, no date. First published by John Long, UK, hardcover, 1970.

   Gordon Ashe is a pseudonym of John Creasey, an amazingly prolific British writer who had to his credit some 560 novels published under more than twenty names. A Nest of Traitors continues the adventures of Patrick Dawlish and “The Crime Haters,” one of his most popular series.

   A revered British war hero and onetime independent crime fighter, Dawlish is now deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, London, specializing in crimes of international significance. He is also the acknowledged leader of a loosely knit group of crime fighters, the membership representing every major police force in the world.

   In this case, Dawlish must alert various international investigative agencies to a widespread passport-fraud scheme that could wreak havoc on immigration and passport control throughout the world. As Dawlish’s investigation continues, passport control turns out to be the tip of the iceberg; a select group of the world’s most powerful men are on their way to seizing control over each government, major industry, banking system, and society on the planet.

   By the time Dawlish discovers this master plot, the organization — known as “the Authority” — has almost succeeded, and Dawlish is the one person standing between a
free world and its complete domination by this small but vicious group of immensely wealthy megalomaniacs.

   Unfortunately, Dawlish is just too perfect; and the Authority is too powerful to really be vulnerable to the heroic antics of what Ashe would have us believe is the last honorable man in the world. Farfetched, but a good book to read yourself to sleep with.

   Patrick Dawlish appears in all the Gordon Ashe novels except The Man Who Stayed Alive (1955) and No Need to Die (1956). Representative titles are Death on Demand (1939), Murder Too Late (1947), Elope to Death (1959), A Clutch of Coppers (1969), and A Blast of Trumpets (1975).

         ———
   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.

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