THE LONELY MAN. Paramount, 1957. Jack Palance, Anthony Perkins, Neville Brand, Elisha Cook Jr. Claude Akins, Lee Van Cleef and Elaine Aiken. Written by Harry Esex and Robert Smith. Directed by Henry Levin.

   A pretty good film that should have been great.

   I mean look at that cast, and all of them with good parts written by the author of Creature from the Black Lagoon and Sons of Katie Elder, with photography by Lionel (The Manchurian Candidate) Lindon. So where did they go not-great?

   We’ll leave that for later. Right now let’s start with the basics: Jack Palance stars as Jacob Wade (called Jake by his friends, but that movie wouldn’t come along till next year) a notorious gunfighter/outlaw trying to make his peace with the world and particularly with the son (Tony Perkins) he hasn’t seen in nigh unto twenty year now. Turns out Tony blames Jack for the ostracism and death of his mother, and when Jack gets run out of town, Tony goes along just out of adolescent angst.

   Meantime (as they say in Westerns) Neville Brand is plotting revenge for a near-fatal wound Jack gave him sometime before the movie started. And not just him; Brand is abetted by fellow no-goods Lee Van Cleef and Elisha Cook Jr. And not just them; Robert Middleton is skulking around with suspect intentions and shady links to an outlaw band run by Claude Akins. (Here billed for some reason as “Claude A. Akins” though his actual middle name was Marion!)

   With all this going on, one expects a lot of action, but in fact this is a rather leisurely film as Jack and Tony hole up on a ranch with the pert Ms. Aiken (a stage actress of note who did too few films) and chase wild horses around until the bad guys come calling. Elaine loves Jack, and Tony has a yen for Elaine, but there’s a lot of complex emotional issues to resolve, and director Levin seems disinclined to hurry things along.

   Therein lies the problem. I wouldn’t mind a bit of emotional conflict, but director Levin never seems to put any passion into it, giving the feeling that we’re just marking time here. And in the year that gave us emotionally resonant westerns like The Tall T, The Halliday Brand, Fury at Showdown and Forty Guns, that just won’t wash.

   On the plus side, The Lonely Man has lustrous photography of some breathtaking locations, fine action scenes, and writers Essex and Smith took the time to work things out intelligently. This film is worth your time, but I can’t help wishing….

  I’M THE LAW “The Killer.” Syndicated; Cosman Productions / Television Corporation of America. 3 July 1953. (Season 1, Episode 21). George Raft (Police Lt. George Kirby). Guest Cast: Lawrence Dobkin, Nestor Paiva, June Vincent. Screenplay: Jackson Gillis. Director: Robert G. Walker.

   I’m the Law was a syndicated mystery series starring George Raft that ran for 29 episodes in different markets in 1953. Raft played a New York City police lieutenant who wore a hat and a a bulky overcoat no matter the weather, inside and out (if this one episode I recently happened upon typified the rest of the series).

   And let me say up front that this particular episode is not very good. It begins with a public stenographer being bumped off by a mobster because she was given too many secrets to type up. And whose fault is that? Her death is made to to look like an automobile accident (I think), but the marks on her neck indicate right away that she was strangled.

   The black and white photography is good, and it’s always fun to see familiar actors’ faces again, but you can turn your mind off while watching rest of this one, in case you ever do. George Raft is no better (or worse) than many similar roles he played over the years.

CARTER DICKSON – The Punch and Judy Murders. Sir Henry Merrivale #5. William Morrow & Co., US, hardcover, 1937. Pocket #219, US, paperback; 1st printing, March 1943. Berkley, paperback, April 1964. International Polygonics, paperback, 1988. First published in the UK as The Magic Lantern Murders by Wm Heinemann, hardcover, 1936.

   There is no locked room or impossible crime in this early adventure of Sir Henry Merrivale, but there is certainly everything else but. Two men being watched by the police die simultaneously, 70 miles apart, poisoned by strychnine. Psychic research is hinted at.

   I really enjoyed this one. On page 185 (of the Pocket edition) even though many of the apparently unexplainable happenings have already been explained, there is what amounts to one final “Challenge to the Reader,” wherein H. M. invites both of his fellow investigators to name the killer. Each of them names another person, and each of them has a finely worked set of motives and opportunities to support their suggestions.

   They’re both wrong, of course, but not Merrivale. He’s right on the money. Me, I wasn’t even close. Fooled again, and I think it’s terrific! There are so many things going on, and so quickly, that the short summary that takes up all of page 67 is a must. This is detective fiction for dyed-in-the-wool detective fiction fans at its finest.

   What’s more, what I think is also unique about John Dickson Carr’s work is that while he always wrote rationally based detective fiction, his stories always seem to take place in a setting and an atmosphere producing more shivers and chills than any other mystery writer I know.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990. (considerably restructured and revised).

CLIFFORD D. SIMAK – Out of Their Minds. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, 1970. Berkley, paperback; 1st printing, September 1970. Daw #514, paperback; January 1983.

   It is not clear at first where this book is taking place. All we know of the small backwoods town where our protagonist hero Horton Smith is heading is its name, the quietly evocative Pilot Knob. Later on, though, when Horton and his newly obtained female companion, a comely schoolteacher named Kathy Adams, find themselves on the run in turn to her hometown of Gettysburg PA, it is revealed that Chicago is not far off their route.

   So what this does is to place Pilot Knob in author Clifford Simak’s favorite story setting of either Wisconsin or Minnesota. It would be an ideal place for Horton Smith to settle in for a while, except for a couple of things: after making a wrong turn somewhere along the way, he sees a dinosaur, but only briefly before it disappears again. Tired eyes, he’s thinks. But then, after spending the night in a rundown farmhouse with a very strange couple, Norton wakes up in the morning in a cave full of rattlesnakes.

   The purely bucolic setting — again one of Simak’s specialties, and it is no different here — belies the fact that something strange is going on. After Horton realizes the couple he stayed with were actually Snuffy Smith and his wife Lowizey, he is reluctantly but totally convinced of that. (Today’s younger readers will need to be told that the couple were for many years the main characters in the “Barney Google” comic strip in every Sunday’s newspapers.)

   I’ve called this a science fiction review, and for the most part it is. Simak does his best to convince the reader that there is a scientific explanation for what goes on in the second half of the book, which turns out to be a collision between our world and the one created by the collective imagination of the people who live in ours: one in which Walt Disney characters and Don Quixote co-exist, a furious reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg is fought, as currently imagined, and where even the Devil himself eventually shows up.

   Since there are no rules in the world of fantastic literature, anything can happen, and does. Unfortunately, to my way of thinking, with only shaky logic behind the events that happen to Horton in this secondary world, I’m sure it’s not as fun to read as the author intended. Personally I found Simak’s description of life and the people in Horton Smith’s small backwoods hometown in the first half of the book a lot more interesting, even though that’s not the story he really had in mind to tell.

Reviews by L. J. Roberts

MAGDALENE NABB – Some Bitter Taste. Marshal Guarnaccia #12. Soho Press, hardcover, October 2002; trade paperback, October 2003.

First Sentence:   The young man, Gjergj, just disappeared.

   An elderly woman believes a stranger has been in her apartment and asks Marshal Guarnaccia to visit her. Another case of a wealthy expatriate interferes. When he does, he discovers she has been murdered. The two cases involving the past, as well as Albanian and Jewish refugees, causes Guarnaccia to question his own judgment.

   For places we’ve not been, one tends to think of the idealized version of them. Nabb quickly dispels that image of Florence— “There were no words to describe Florence in July. … Breathing the same soup of evaporating river, car fumes, sweat, and drains day after day made you long to stay indoors where it was cool and clean.”

   Nabb gives one a real sense of the marshal. Without going into specific details, we know how he looks, as well as how he deals with, and is regarded by others. The types of complaints handled by the marshal seems universal. One also gets a look at his home life— “She held his head and looked down into his big, mournful eyes. ‘What is it, Salva?…’ As long as she kept hold of him and he could feel the vibrations of her voice it was all right.”

   It’s nice to have him referenced as Salva — one assumes short for Salvatore — by his wife, rather than always by his rank. That he is so self-deprecating— “‘He’s too clever for me.’ The captain sat back in his chair and looked hard at the marshal. ‘The prosecutor doesn’t think so, as I said.’ The marshal wanted to say, ‘You shouldn’t give the wrong idea about me, get up people’s hopes. It’s not right’” –while everyone else sees his skill and worth, is both interesting and rather unique.

   Although it appears there are two separate cases, the commonalities and the way in which Nabb finally weaves them together is so well done. While his superiors deal with the procedural aspects of the cases, Guarnaccia follows the actual clues. More than that, however, is his ability to what lies behind the images people present.

   Some Bitter Taste is a true mystery, rather than a book of high action. It’s a story of flawed people. The ending is a bit sad, but it’s real.

— For more of LJ’s reviews, check out her blog at :

Bibliographic Note:   Magdalene Nabb wrote 14 crime fiction novels with Marshal Guarnaccia as the primary detective, the first published in 1981. She died in 2007, with the final book in the series appearing in 2008.

MICHAEL COLLINS – Shadow of a Tiger. Dan Fortune #5. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1972. Playboy, paperback, January 1979; 2nd printing, October 1981 (shown).

   Michael Collins was the pen named used by Dennis Lynds (1924-2005) when he wrote about his one-armed Manhattan-based PI named Dan Fortune. Until, that is, Fortune packed up and headed for the far sunnier climate of California. Sunnier, but also a state with plenty of opportunity for a good PI to make a better than average living.

   All in all, there were 17 Dan Fortune novels and two short story collections. For much more about the author and a complete bibliography, check out this page on the primary Mystery*File website.

   Fortune was still living in New York City in this book, and in many ways the setting is an inherent part of the story, as he finds himself involved in the murder of a mild-mannered pawnbroker who seemingly had no enemies in the world. But his brother may have, having been much more active in the French resistance during World War II, and his brother has friends and acquaintances who may not be entirely friendly.

   The dead man’s daughter may also be part of the problem that Fortune must solve. She’s recently taken up with a young hoodlum from the far wrong side of the tracks. Figuratively speaking, of course, as the metaphor does not quite apply to Manhattan, but the social and economic boundaries are there all the same.

   Political, social and economic issues are always to the forefront in a Dan Fortune novel, so why should this one be different? What I also enjoyed, and even more so, was the any number of twists in the tale that Dan Fortune must unravel before he’s done with this one, a far better than average left-of-center PI novel. All without preaching. Quite an accomplishment.


NIGHT OF THE DEMON. Columbia Pictures, UK, 1957. Columbia Pictures, US, 1958; released as Curse of the Demon and shortened by 13 minutes. Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis, Maurice Denham, Athene Seyler. Based on the story “Casting the Runes” by M. R. James. Cinematography by Edward Scaife. Director: Jacques Tourneur.

   The plot may be hopelessly incoherent, but the photography is amazing. Now, amazing isn’t usually a word that I would use when discussing cinematography. But it fits. With director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, Out of the Past) at the helm and cinematographer Ted Scaife (Khartoum, The Dirty Dozen) behind the camera, Night of the Demon is elevated from what would have been a mediocre B- horror movie into a visually stunning work of horror cinema, albeit one that is not well served by its, confusing and disjointed story line.

   Psychologist and professional skeptic Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) arrives in England for an academic conference wherein he hopes to disprove the existence of the supernatural and the theories of occult leader Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis). Unfortunately, just prior to Holden’s arrival, the viewer learns that the world of black magic is all-too-real — at least in this movie.

   Rather than hinting at the possibility of the occult, or teasing the audience a bit, the filmmakers behind Night of the Demon evidently decided to show the audience the fire monster within the first ten minutes of the movie. The problem with this, of course, is that it takes away a great deal of suspense and makes Holden’s incessant arguments with his late colleague’s niece, Joanna (Peggy Cummins), about why witchcraft is all just a bunch of hokum even more tedious. And believe me, it’s not merely once or twice than Holden segues into a monologue why he is not superstitious.

   But lest you think I didn’t enjoy the movie at all, I assure you that, in many ways I did. There’s something cinematically magical about black-and-white horror movies like Night of the Demon. It’s in the way in which they create a whole universe all its own. An off-kilter world, a land of shadows and madness, the England that Dr. Holden finds himself in is a land that harks back to its pre-Christian past.

   England may be modern, but there’s an Anglo-Saxon past just underneath the surface. After all, the people who wrote cryptic manuscripts in runes had their own ways of thinking well before scientists like our protagonist Dr. Holden came along.


SPARKLE HAYTER – What’s a Girl Gotta Do. Robin Hudson #1. Soho Press, hardcover, 1994. Penguin, paperback, 1995.

   Hayter is a TV newswoman who has worked for CNN and WABC, and this is her first novel. She’s also been a standup comic. Would you believe I actually bought this, on a whim?

   Robin Hudson is a third-string reporter — fallen from better times — for ANN, a news network obviously modeled on CNN. In the process of being divorced from an unfaithful husband, she is not in the mood for a package of material from someone who has fond out a lot about her she isn’t particularly proud of.

   She’s supposed to meet the man at a hotel where the network is having a party, but he doesn’t answer his door. The next day he’s found dead in the hotel room, and it turns out he was trying to blackmail several of the network’s employees. But why, and who was he working for?

   Hayter does have a way with words — “dumber than a sack of hammers” and “a few bees short of a hive” were just a couple of phrases that caught my eye early on. I liked Robin Hudson, and I liked the quick, sure hand Hayter showed with the other characterizations. She writes a bit better than she plots, as is nearly always the case these days with first novelists. This one wasn’t egregious, though, and only broke down a little toward the end.

   I thought is was a strong contender for the First Novel Edgar most of the way through, and I’m not sure I still don’t. I liked Hayter’s maiden voyage a lot.

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

      The Robin Hudson series —

1. What’s A Girl Gotta Do? (1994)
2. Nice Girls Finish Last (1996)

3. Revenge of the Cootie Girls (1997)
4. The Last Manly Man (1998)

5. The Chelsea Girl Murders (2000)

WITHOUT LOVE. MGM, 1945. Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Keenan Wynn, Carl Esmond, Patricia Morison. Director: Harold S. Bucquet.

   When a wartime inventor comes to Washington, he finally finds a room with a young widow who is also a great admirer of science. He has had experiences with love; she has had enough love to fill a lifetime. Result: a platonic marriage. You can take it from there.

   While Tracy tries to be as hard as nails, and can’t, Katharine Hepburn combines a certain kind of buoyancy with girlish primness. In 1945 she was also extremely beautiful, and it’s worth wading through all the stagey dialogue and moth-eaten plot just to see her.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #24,, August 1990.

PATRICIA MOYES – Down Among the Dead Men. Henry & Emmy Tibbets #2. Holt Rinehart & Winston, US, hardcover, 1961. Ballantine U2240, US, paperback, April 1965. Henry Holt, US, paperback, 1986. First published in the UK as The Sunken Sailor (Collins, hardcover, 1961).

   When the Tibbetts go on vacation, murder a usual is not far behind. Invited by friends to go sailing for a week in the North Seam they discover themselves instead find the killer of a man temporarily marooned on a fog-covered sandbank.

   For a while in this book there is more talk about boating than I cared to know, but once the mystery begins, the at least full attention is paid to it. There are lots of clues, most very well hidden, and except for a middle portion which sags rather predictably, this is fine stuff.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990. (very slightly revised).

Bibliographic Notes:   Henry Tibbett was an Inspector, later Chief Superintendent, with Scotland Yard. Somehow or another, his wife Emmy invariably found herself mixed up in many if not all of his cases. Nineteen of their adventures together were published between 1959 and 1993. Patricia Moyes died in the year 2000 at the age of 77.

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