THE INVISIBLES “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1). 01 May 2008. BBC, 60 min. Anthony Head, Warren Clarke, Dean Lennox Kelly, Jenny Agutter, Mina Anwar, Paul Barber, Emily Head, Darren Tighe. Creator/screenplay: William Ivory. Director: William Sinclair.

   The Invisibles was a short-lived British comedy-mystery series that consisted of six episodes and was never renewed. The episodes do not seem to have titles, so I’m calling this first one the pilot.

   And as the pilot it does a first rate job of establishing the characters and setting extremely well. Maurice Riley (Anthony Head) and Syd Woolsey (Warren Clarke) are two of three members of a gang of burglars, who retired when the third of them died. They were called “The Invisibles” by the press due to the fact that in all of the years they were in working together, they were never caught.

   Now some 15 years later, bored to death of easy living, the two remaining members find themselves in need to go back to work. Syd’s son is in a jam, moneywise, and against Maurice’s wife’s strict orders, back to their black-clothed clandestine activities they go.

   Things do not go well at first. Their skills are rusty, and security devices have been updated greatly during their years of retirement. But along the way their path leads them to the third member’s son (or he finds them), and at the end of the first episode they are ready to tackle the world in full gear again.

   Even in this first episode the two main characters have great chemistry together. It is as if they really were two mates who have known each other for a long time. The humor in that is raised by both their camaraderie and their struggles to get themselves in shape to work again is largely quiet and unforced, but none the less effective for all that.

   The complete series is available both on DVD and streaming on Acorn TV.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


GEORGE P. PELECANOS – Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go. Nick Stefanos #3. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1995. Back Bay Books, trade paperback,July 2011.

   I started the last Stefanos book, Shoedog, but couldn’t get into it and gave up. I’d forgotten why, though, so I gave this one a shot because of the title.

   Nick Stefanos is a PI and pat-time bartender in Washington, DC, He’s an alcoholic, too. One night he ends up down by the river at the end of M Street, passed out in the weeds. He comes to early the next morning,just enough and in time to hear a black man and a white man execute someone, who turns out to be a young black man.

   It’s not something he can forget or let alone, and he begins a journey that ends with more death, and leaves a trail of empty bottles and shattered lies.

   A few things come quickly about this one. First, it’s a great title. Second, I don’t like “heroes” who are as generally screwed up in the head as Stefanos is. Third, Pelecanos writes a mean, effective, dark brand of prose.

   All of which says, I guess, that he is a very good writer, but I don’t like what and who he writes about. I got awfully tit=red of the gulp-by-gulp, bottle-by-bottle accounts of Stefanos’s drinking, and of his repeated pissing in the street.

   I never had much of a taste for noir fiction, and if this isn’t that, it’s close. Nasty stuff, well done, and I think I’ll pass on the next course, thank you very much.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #19, May 1995.


      The Nick Stefanos series —

A Firing Offens.St. Martin’s 1992.
Nick’s Trip.St. Martin’s 1993.
Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go. St. Martin’s 1995.
The Big Blowdown. St. Martin’s 1996. (*)
King Suckerman. Little 1997. (*)
The Sweet Forever (1998) (*)
Shame the Devil. Dennis McMillan 1999.
Soul Circus (2003) (*)
Hard Revolution (2004) (*)

   (*) May be only cameo appearances.

SEAN CHERCOVER – Big City Bad Blood. Ray Dudgeon #1. William Morrow, hardcover, January 2007. Harper, paperback, March 2008.

   The big city that the title of this first novel refers to is Chicago, and in it, just doing his job, PI Ray Dudgeon finds himself up against the Outfit — or better stated, caught in the crosshairs between two factions of the same.

   His client is a mild-mannered locations scout from Hollywood, who seems to have stumbled across a rental scam that so far has cost the lives of several of the inhabitants of a building he was looking at. His life threatened, want he needs to do is have Dudgeon act as his door-to-studio bodyguard.

   And Ray is more than tough enough to handle the job, but then again he doesn’t know ahead of time what he’s up against. Parts of this book are as brutal and hardboiled as they come, and deciding to stay with the case anyway, Ray also manages to lose the love of his life.

   I enjoyed the book, but as in most cases in which a PI is hired as a bodyguard, there is next to no detective work involved. I really don’t care for books in which the primary subject matter consists of gangsters, the Mob, or hoodlums in general, but if you do, then you may like this book even more than I did. (I also am no big fan of police procedurals any more, either. Fair is fair, I’d say.)

            —

Bibliograhic Notes:   Awards and award nominations for this book:

2008 Shamus Award for Best First Novel
Finalist 2008 Anthony Award for Best First Novel
Finalist 2008 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel
Finalist 2008 Barry Award for Best First Novel
Finalist 2008 Thriller Award for Best First Novel

   There has been one followup novel in the series, that being Trigger City (2008), and several novelettes and short stories which either Dudgeon has appeared or some of the people he knows have lead roles in.

THOMAS CHASTAIN – Vital Statistics. J. T. Spanner #2. Times Books, hardcover, 1977. No paperback edition.

   Relatively few private eye novels appear any moe, and those that do often seem to have their existence pend soley on minor variations from the standard format. This one’s told in present tense, for example, but one soon learns to ignore that. The only other distinguishable feature is that J. T. Spanner’s office help consists of his two ex-wives, with both of whom he maintains most cordial relations.

   The case itself concerns a missing stewardess and the mutilated body of an unidentified young woman. Are they the same? The underlying background and mood are provided by the living entity called New York City, the provider as well of a myriad interesting facts and figures.

   Although nothing new really develops, it is a smooth and convincing effort, the only jarring moment coming with a distastefully violent means of forcing a final confession.

–Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 2, No. 3, May 1978.


Bibliographic Notes: Spanner’s earlier case was entitled Spanner (Mason/Charter, 1977). There was not a third. Among his other crime novels, Chastain wrote five books about Max Kauffman, a Deputy Chief Inspector of the N.Y.P.D, including an appearance in the first Spanner book, and two additional cases for Perry Mason, written after the passing of Erle Stanley Gardner.

Mike Resnick, who died yesterday or early today, was primarily known as a science fiction and fantasy author, editor and publisher, accumulating many significant awards over the years, but he wrote in many other categories as well, including mystery fiction.

   Here is his entry in the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin:

RESNICK, MIKE [i.e., Michael Diamond Resnick] (1942-2019)

Eros at Zenith (n.) Phantasia 1984 [Future]
Santiago (n.) Tor 1986 [Future]
Stalking the Unicorn (n.) Tor 1987
Neutral Ground (ss) The Further Adventures of Batman, ed. Martin H. Greenberg, Bantam 1989 [Batman]
Origins (ss) Dick Tracy: The Secret Files, Max Allan Collins & Martin H. Greenberg, Tor 1990 [Dick Tracy]
Second Contact (n.) Easton 1990 [2065]
Museum Piece (ss) The Further Adventures of the Joker, ed. Martin H. Greenberg, Bantam 1990 [Batman]
Dog in the Manger (n.) Alexander 1995 [Cincinnati, OH]
Sherlock Holmes in Orbit [ed. with Martin H. Greenberg] (oa) DAW 1995 [Sherlock Holmes]
The Adventure of the Pearly Gates (ss) Sherlock Holmes in Orbit, ed. Mike Resnick & Martin H. Greenberg, DAW 1995 [Sherlock Holmes]
-The Widowmaker (n.) Bantam 1996 [Future; Jefferson Nighthawk (The Widowmaker)]
Mrs. Vamberry Takes a Trip (Vamberry the Wine Merchant) (ascribed to J. Thorne Smith) (ss) Resurrected Holmes, ed. Marvin Kaye, St. Martin’s 1996 [Sherlock Holmes]
-The Widowmaker Reborn (n.) Bantam 1997 [Future; Jefferson Nighthawk (The Widowmaker)]
-The Widowmaker Unleashed (n.) Bantam 1998 [Future; Jefferson Nighthawk (The Widowmaker)]

   The dash indicates perhaps only marginal criminous content, but for completeness, there was one additional Widowmaker story:

4. A Gathering Of Widowmakers (2006)

   From the Fantastic Fiction website:

   “The Widowmaker, the consummate bounty hunter-has been frozen for a century in order to defeat a deadly disease. Only now the cost of his care has risen, so the Widowmaker is called out of retirement for one special commission…”

    And two additional private eye Eli Paxton mysteries:

1. Dog in the Manger (1997)
2. The Trojan Colt (2013)
3. Cat on a Cold Tin Roof (2014)

   The following may qualify as criminous in nature:

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
1. The Amulet of Power (2003)

   Anthologies he edited of possible interest to mystery readers include:

Whatdunits (1992)
More Whatdunits (1993)
Alternate Outlaws (1994)
Sherlock Holmes in Orbit (1995) (with Martin H Greenberg)
Down These Dark Spaceways (2005)
Alien Crimes (2007)

   If you’re more familiar with Resnick’s many other novels, anthologies and collections than I, and know of others that qualify as crime or mystery fiction, please tell us about them in the comments.

THOUGHTS ON CORNELL WOOLRICH
by Dan Stumpf


   Just finished re-reading Mike Nevins’ Woolrich bio: First You Dream, Then You Die, an excellent work and one I recommend highly.

   It was Nevins who reminded me, almost 50 years ago, how fine a writer Woolrich was. I had read and been very impressed by Rendezvous in Black, back in the 60s, but Nevin’s well-edited collection of Woolrich short stories, Nightwebs, got me seriously into collecting him, and turned me on to a lot of very fine tales.

   There’s one point, though, where I disagree with Nevins seriously, and I’m afraid it’s a point that he insists on over and over:

   The Police in Woolrich books are always out there. Everywhere. Vaguely menacing, impossibly vigilant, and unconscionably brutal. They do things in Woolrich stories that would make LAPD look like Quakers. Naturally, Attorney Nevins is appalled by all these shenanigans, and he says so. But he also implies that Woolrich himself condemns such tactics, and that he means for his readers to be horrified by them as well.

   But unfortunately for Woolrich’s reputation with those of a progressive nature, I have never seen any sign in any of his books that he regarded the Cops as anything Other than a Fact of Life, and their fantastically hard-nosed tactics as other than necessary. This, by the way, is not just a problem for Nevins; It’s a question that invariably confronts any fan of Woolrich — How can such a sensitive, romantic stylist condone such brutality and facism?

   The answer, I think, is in Woolrich himself. Woolrich was Homosexual, but he could hardly be called Gay; By all accounts he despised himself for his attraction to men, and there are several passages in his books where he seems to positively lavish self-hatred on characters who are in any way less than manly.

   It’s worth remembering, then, that homosexual conduct was against the law in Woolrich’s day, and that the Police were notoriously rough on Gays. There was a phrase still current in my childhood, “Smear the Queer,” whose frightening implications were not apparent to me until much later, but it pretty much describes the treatment a Gay could expect in those days at the hands of the Law.

   Think, then, of that tormented mind when Woolrich knew that at any time, he might be caught by the slimiest of dodges and subjected to legal torture — and probably thought he deserved it — writing of crime and necessarily of Police.

   For an apt contrast, look at the obsessive detective Ed Cornell in Steve Fisher’s I Wake Up Screaming. Visually based on Woolrich himself, the bent cop does all the things a Woolrich cop might do, and comes off as purely evil. But in the view of Woolrich himself, nothing the Police did was as corrosive to Society as evil the Evil they were trying (literally) to stamp out, and hence the most outrageous conduct on the part of Cops throughout his canon gets casually shrugged off, if not defended.

   This aside, First You Dream, Then You Die, is a model of what a Literary Biography should be: Informative, Analytical and compulsively readable. Go out and buy a copy. And tell ’em Stumpf sent ya.

AFTERLIFT: Chapter One “There Are Rules.” ComiXology (an Amazon company), October 2019. Writer: Chip Zdarsky. Artist: Jason Loo. Colorist: Paris Alleyne. Available only on Kindle.

   A young Chinese-American girl named Janice Chen makes her living driving for Cabit, whenever she’s not driving for Lyft or Drivepal. Her parents, especially her mother, do not approve, but she has a technique that often works when a fare starts to get a little too friendly. She stops the car, says it looks like construction up ahead, asks to check on the passenger’s iPhone, clicks on five stars, and drops him off.

   Street smart, that she is, but her very next passenger is one she has no way of being prepared for. It’s a man who is escorting a young girl, but not just any young girl. She is dead, and commandeering Janice’s car, the man is taking her to her afterlife.

   This is but the first of a five-issue limited series, and it ends with a horde of demons chasing the car. Where the story goes from here, I have no idea, but the setup is certainly a doozy.

   The art is terrific, maybe even better than the story I’ve read so far, bright and extremely colorful. On the other hand, I can’t believe that this is the future of comic books. On my Kindle the lettering in the word balloons is so small that I have to keep zooming in and out, first to read the dialogue, and out again to see the larger picture.

   Then again, I am Old — I have been reading comic books for almost 75 years — and I need cataract surgery. Printing comics has to be expensive, and maybe eliminating a printed version will catch on. With this particular comic, I am impressed with the final product, the way it looks, if not how it feels, but… Perhaps your guess is better than mine.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


ANTHONY BOURDAIN – Bone in the Throat. Villard, hardcover, 1995. Bloomsbury, paperback, 2000.

   Bourdain is Chef at one of Manhattan’s “hotter-than-hot” new dining spots, and this is his first novel. I sort of expeted another cozy food book and almost skipped it. Turned out it wasn’t, though.

   Tommy Pagano isn’t one of the Boys, but he’s related to them. He’s sous chef at a restaurant in Little Italy controlled by his uncle Solly the Wig, who definitely is one of the Boys. Not one of the big boys, and not too highly thought of, but one of them. The Feds are after Solly and his boss, Charley Wagons, and they’re watching and turning everybody in sight.

   The owner of he restaurant is wearing a wire and trying to keep everybody happy. Tommy gets dragged into the mess when he’s made an unwilling witness to some bad business by his uncle, and his dreams of becoming a big-time chef give way to nightmares about being a small-time con. Or maybe even a no-time-left corpse.

   This was not a cozy, or even a “humorous” look at mob life. It’s got sort of a wry tone and a couple of the characters were a little exaggerated, but it would take a pretty odd sense of humor to call it funny.

   The cooking background is interesting and not overdone, and Tommy Pagano is both a realistic and likable character. I don’t know anything about the Mafia, but these hoods seemed pretty genuine. Bourdain tells a good story with crisp dialog and well-drawn, if mostly sleazy characters, and I liked this.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #19, May 1995.


  JAMES REASONER “War Games.” Novelette. Markham #5. First published in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, April 1982. Kindle reprint, 2013.

   The lead story in the same issue of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine was a Mike Shayne novelette by Brett Halliday entitled “Deadly Queen,” which is of note especially because it just so happens that was ghostwritten by the same James Reasoner who wrote “War Games.” Between the two stories almost half of the magazine was work by James, one of a very few authors producing the same wordage today of the most prolific pulp writers of the 1920s and 30s. Over a million words a year? That’s a lot of typing!

   “War Games” the last of five stories he wrote about a PI by the name of Markham (not related to the TV detective of the same name). In it he’s called in by the head of a military academy for teenaged boys to find out who left him a threatening note in his desk in his office.

   There are a number of suspects. Colonel Rutledge is the sort of hard-nosed former military officer who runs a tight ship, to say the least. The most obvious suspects are a couple of boys, one of whom he expelled, the other a boy from own he is friends with, and an English instructor who was dressed down publicly for using the book Catch 22 in class.

   The colonel does not mention his granddaughter, who lives on the grounds, but Markham quickly adds her to his own list, as not surprisingly, she is, shall we say, the rebellious type. The story proceeds from here, and it’s a good one.

   The story is too short to learn much about Markham as a person, except that he’s the kind of person who, when he accepts a job, makes sure he finishes it. I was reminded more of Philip Marlowe than I was Sam Spade, say, if you’d like a couple of other PI’s to to compare him to. Even so, more than Marlowe, Markham is a guy I’d like to sit down and have a beer someday, if ever I could.

   And this is the kind of story that makes you wish there were more than just the five. The good news is that three of them are already available as Kindle ebooks, as indicated by a (*) below. What I’d really like to see, though, is a print collection of all five. Back issues of Mike Shayne magazines have become awfully hard to find in the wild, and that issue of Skullduggery? Impossible.


       The Markham series —

All the Way Home. Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, April 1979
Death and the Dancing Shadows. Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine March 1980 (*)

             

The Man in the Moon. Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, April 1980 (*)
The Double Edge. Skullduggery, Summer 1981
War Games. Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, April 1982 (*)

K. K. BECK – Young Mrs. Cavendish and the Kaiser’s Men. Walker, hardcover, 1987. Ivy, paperback reprint, April 1989.

   The year is 1916, and the US is not yet in World War I. What the Germans hope to do is make sure we don’t, and somehow a lonely spot in the Arizona desert is an important part of their plans. And, although they don’t know it, so is Maude Teasdale Cavendish.

   She’s 29, divorced, and an ambitious society reporter for the San Francisco Globe. What she uncovers begins a rousing Rover Boys type adventure, with the addition of two spunky, forward-looking heroines [the other being young debutante Louise Arbour, a whiz at driving her very own motor car, and who kidnappers mistake Mrs. Cavendish for, early on in the story], back when most women still had “delicate constitutions.”

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #13, June 1989


UPDATE:   I only vaguely remember this one, but my review of it makes it sound as though I’d enjoy reading it again. I do remember thinking I’d like to read another of Mrs. Cavendish’s adventures, but alas, it didn’t happen.

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