For those of you who are into such things, I’ve just put 24 old pulp magazines up for bids on eBay today. There are westerns, detective pulps, including two copies of Black Mask, and two copies of Unknown.

I hope this link works:


THE HAT SQUAD. CBS / Stephen J. Cannell Productions / Columbia Pictures Television, 1992-1993. Cast: Don Michael Paul as Buddy, Nestor Serrano as Rafael, Billy Warlock as Matt, James Tolkan as Mike Ragland, Shirley Douglas as Kitty Ragland in the pilot, replaced by Janet Carroll when the show became a series, and Bruce Robbins as Darnell. Creator & Executive Producer: Stephen J. Cannell. – Executive Producer: Bill Nuss. Supervising Producers: Jo Swerling Jr. and Charles Grant Craig.

   Stephen J. Cannell is best remembered for his work on THE ROCKFORD FILES, but he is also responsible for some of the worst TV series ever to air. Remember BROKEN BADGES? I reviewed it here.

   Cannell was a popular and successful producer from 1970s-90s, specializing in over the top fantasy hero with a gimmick.

   THE HAT SQUAD was a fantasy cop drama about a detective squad of three adopted brothers who wore hats. Each of the brothers came from a different set of parents -– all victims of violence. Growing up they had been inspired by the stories of the LAPD’s Hat Squad told to them by their adopted father Police Captain Mike Ragland.

   There really was a “Hat Squad.” The four huge men (Max Herman, Clarence A. “Red” Stromwall, Harold N. Crowder and Edward F. Benson) were not related but all were best friends. They worked in the Los Angeles Police Robbery Division in the 50s-60s, and were respected and feared by criminals and remain legends in the LAPD. Each was over six feet tall and 220 pounds. They wore fedoras and expensive suits to add to their intimidating look.

   I recommend you click and read the LA Times article (March 29, 1987) interviewing two of the surviving members. It is a little thick on the hype but it is more entertaining than any of the TV episodes linked below.

   The movies took the characters of The Hat Squad and made MULHOLLAND FALLS. TV writer/producer Stephen Cannell made them perfect heroes. Then in typical 90’s Cannell style, he created a cheesy fantasy where the boys grow up and create their own Hat Squad with their adopted Dad as their supervisor.

PILOT. September 16, 1992. Written by Stephen J. Cannell/ Directed by Rob Bowman. GUEST CAST: Sam J. Jones, Stacy Edwards and Darlene Vogel. *** The Hat Squad goes up against a super villain Victory Smith who is visiting Los Angeles to rob a bank. While he makes his plans, he terrorizes the public and escapes the attempts of the Hat Squad to catch him.

   The pilot made several unwise choices in setting up the TV series premise and characters. The most damaging was making the villain more intimidating than the Hat Squad. Having the bad guy kick the Hat Squad butt repeatedly might have followed proper heroic drama format rules (hero loses until all hope is lost then defeats evil), but it was not how the real Hat Squad got famous. When a bad guy showed fear to Buddy when he put on his hat I laughed out loud, and even the actors looked embarrassed by how stupid the moment was.

   Looking back at Cannell’s work it is sadly disappointing how cartoonish and absurd his writing could get. The way Cannell has the Hats capture the villain in the pilot was more appropriate for a bad movie serial of the forties than network prime-time TV of the nineties.

   LA Times Howard Rosenberg was one disgusted TV critic. You can read the entire review of the pilot here.

   Rosenberg’s first line was right on the mark. “THE HAT SQUAD is prime time’s new propeller beanie, an example of just how comically infantile and moronic television can get.”

   The pilot episode aired September 16, 1992, Wednesday at 8pm to 9:30pm (Eastern). According to “Broadcasting” (September 28, 1992) THE HAT SQUAD finished in 43rd place in the Nielsen ratings. NBC’s UNSOLVED MYSTERIES was 12th, and SEINFELD was 30th, ABC’s FULL HOUSE was 44th and HOME IMPROVEMENT aired two episodes, the first finished 27th and the second episode (opposite SEINFELD) finished 3rd, and FOX’s MELROSE PLACE finished 74th.

FAMILY BUSINESS. October 28, 1992. Written by Stephen J. Cannell. Directed by Kim Manners. GUEST CAST: Ron Ely and Mark Pellegrino. *** Darnell’s encounter with a bully at school leads the Hat Squad to a family gang that specializes in violent crime.

   This episode aired on Wednesday at 8-9pm. Nielsen ratings (“Broadcasting” November 9, 1992) had NBC UNSOLVED MYSTERY at 11th place, ABC WONDER YEARS at 33rd and DOOGIE HOUSER at 37th, FOX BEVERLY HILLS 90201 at 59th, and THE HAT SQUAD at 74th.

   According to “Broadcasting” (August 9, 1993) Cannell blamed the failure of the series to CBS programming it at 8pm rather than 9pm or 10pm. The cause of the series failure was more due to Cannell, but CBS did not do THE HAT SQUAD any favors with its scheduling. The series had three different time periods. From the pilot airing September 16 until November 11 the series aired on Wednesday at 8-9pm.

REST IN PEACE. December 9, 1992. Written by Charles Grant Craig & Bill Nuss. Directed by Bruce Kessler. GUEST CAST: Rebecca Staab, Pat Bermel and Gianni Russo. *** Buddy heads to Vegas to get the proof a local mobster killed his father.

   TV series with multiple leads usually have episodes featuring one of the leads while the others stay in the background. This episode belong to Buddy as we got his back-story and he got to “meet cute” a gorgeous blonde by having their cars bang into each other.

   This episode was the only one of the series to air at 9pm on Wednesday. Ratings were better, finishing 51st (“Billboard” December 21, 1992). ABC’s HOME IMPROVEMENT finished 5th and COACH was 15th. NBC’s SEINFELD was 38th and MAD ABOUT YOU ended up 56th. FOX with BILLBOARD MUSIC AWARDS finished 61st.

   The next episode would not air until January 2. 1993, when THE HAT SQUAD moved to Saturday at 10pm and back to last place in its time-period. ABC had THE COMMISH and the better Cannell series out-rated HAT SQUAD every week. With few exceptions THE COMMISH would win the timeslot and NBC’s SISTERS finished a close second. Fox did not (and still doesn’t) program for the 10pm time period.

   Production values and directors aided and abetted the series over the top style. They loved their fog machine, or since this was Los Angeles, their smog machine. The music was by Mike Post, who was admired for his work then, but today is more a source of earworms than music. This is the 90s so there were silent scenes illustrated by some awful pop song.

   The cast gave forgettable performances burdened by stereotypical characters defined by role rather than any real human characteristics, such as Kitty the boys’ adopted Mother, a character who only existed as the old fashioned Mom who would tell her grown son to get a hair cut (he does) and give them hugs when they were sad.

   The exception was James Tolkan who played the father Mike, a man devoted to family and a strong set of values. Tolkan is best known for his many roles as an authority figure that is a jerk. It was a nice to see him give a strong performance as a softer nicer character.

   The three members of the Hat Squad were miscast as badly as their characters were written. The real Hat Squad was made up of gentle giants that terrified people by just walking into the room. The three adopted brothers were more average looking guys that looked silly rather than threatening wearing fedoras.

   The oldest son, Italian-American Buddym was overprotective and bossy of his younger members of the Hat Squad. The middle son, Puerto Rican Rafael, behaved like Pepe LePew around women. The youngest of the Hat Squad, Matt, was the cute one who was studying to be a lawyer. There was a fourth adopted brother Darnell, a black teenager who kept this angelic family rainbow approved.

   The last episode of THE HAT SQUAD aired January 24, 1993. That left two of the filmed thirteen episodes unaired. One of those episodes was “FRANKIE STEIN.”

   This episode has an ironic twist the writer probably did not intend. Of the real Hat Squad, three were lawyers while they were cops. Max Herman quit the force before he had earned his pension to become a defense attorney. Reportedly, Herman handled over thirty murder cases and none were convicted of the original (more serious) charge. The other two (Stromwall and Crowder) that had become lawyers would end up as judges.

FRANKIE STEIN. Never Aired. Written by David Greenwalt. Directed by Kim Manners. GUEST CAST: David Morse, Sondra Nelson and Linda Darlow. Matt questions his desire to become a lawyer. The Hat Squad has to deal with a violent criminal who was let out of prison early after he had agreed to be a test subject for some government experiments.

   This was a fantasy cop drama, the good guys are pure at heart and obey their Mother and Father, and bad guys are pure evil who would steal a little boy’s baseball card. The fantasy plots could only happen in the make believe land of Stephen Cannell, where everything is simple including the stereotypical characters, cliché motives, hokey dialogue, over the top action, and the bad guys who get all the breaks until a happy ending where comic book justice prevails.

   As a former professional TV critic in the late 70s and 80s who admired Cannell’s work in such shows as TOMA, CITY OF ANGELS (my review here ) and TENSPEED AND BROWNSHOE, I am finding myself embarrassed as I re-watch Cannell’s old series now. It is like looking at a picture of you in the past, seeing yourself in the stylish clothes and hair of the day and wondering, “What was I thinking?”

GEORGETTE HEYER – Behold, Here’s Poison. Supt. Hannasyde #2. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1936. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover, 1936. Dutton, hardcover, 1971. US paperback reprints include: Bantam, January 1973. Fawcett Crest, 1979. Berkley, July 1987. Also reprinted many times in paperback in the UK.

   There was a time in the 1970s, I’d say, when every used bookstore that carried paperbacks had a shelf devoted to Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. For all intents and purposes, she created the category. Many publishers put out two or three a month, all following the style, pace and mode of Georgette Heyer’s books Those were gentler times, and modesty prevailed. The category no longer exists. Like Gothic romances, publishers stopped publishing them quite a few years ago.

   Heyer also wrote thrillers, twelve n all, four of them with Superintendent Hannasyde along with his trusty assistant Sergeant Hemingway, who if Behold, Here’s Poison is an accurate example, spent much of his time asking questions of the servants of the house.

   Hannasyde’s problem in this book is two or maybe even threefold. Dead is the master of the house, one in which two overlapping but directly related families reside, and all of them had to put up with Gregory Matthews’ temperament and mean-hearted ways, or move out. There are plenty of suspects, in other words.

   Problem number two: The doctor’s first diagnosis is that of natural causes, but when one family insists on an autopsy, the cause of death is discovered to have been nicotine poisoning. By t he time Hannasyde is called in, five days have gone by. No physical clues remain.

   Alibis are also useless. There is no way to even determine how the poison was administered. It’s a tough case for any detective to crack, and Hannasyde has to admit so also, if only to himself and Hemingway.

   But the dialogue between the squabbling and assorted family members is both wicked and delicious, particularly that of cousin Randall, whose sharp tongue exposes all of the false pretenses and facades of the rest of the family, much to the sophisticated reader’s amusement and pleasure. His barbs especially hurt since he is also the primary beneficiary of the dead man’s estate. He’s quite the character, Randall is, and one not easily forgotten once met.

   The solution to the mystery is the weakest part of the book. The killer’s identity I’d say is impossible for the reader to discern on his or her own. The motive, at least. You might be able to figure who done it by the process of elimination, but what’s the fun in that?

        The Superintendent Hannasyde series —

Death in the Stocks. 1935
Behold, Here’s Poison!. 1936
They Found Him Dead. 1937
A Blunt Instrument. 1938

       The Inspector Hemingway series —

   [all four of the above, plus]
No Wind of Blame. Hodder 1939
Envious Casca. Hodder 1941
Duplicate Death. Heinemann 1951
Detection Unlimited. Heinemann 1953


THREE STRANGERS. Warners, 1946. Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Joan Lorring, Robert Shayne, Arthur Shields, Rosalind Ivan, Peter Whitney and AlanNapier. Written by John Huston and Howard W.Koch. Directed by Jean Negulesco;

   For my money, the best thing John Huston ever wrote — maybe because he was working from his own story and not adapting someone else’s.

   Whatever the case, this is rich drama, starting with an ancient legend (undoubtedly of Huston’s invention) that if three strangers meet at Midnight on the eve of Chinese New Year and make a wish — just one wish, mind you — to the goddess Kwan Yin, she may open her heart and grant it.

   Here the strangers are Sydney Greenstreet as a respected solicitor, Peter Lorre, a genial drunkard wanted by the police in connection with a murder, and Geraldine Fitzgerald as an obsessive who will do anything to get her estranged husband (Alan Napier) back. To this end she has coaxed the other two to her place and persuaded them to join her in a single wish.

   They pool their wish on a ticket in the Irish Sweepstakes, and…

   And then the movie lets them go their separate ways while they await the results. Sydney starts things off in a lightly humorous vein; he’s handling the finances of a wealthy widow (Rosalind Ivan) who still gets amorous visits from her late husband. Things get serious when he uses some of her money for a risky investment that turns out the way you think it would. Meanwhile….

   Meanwhile, Peter Lorre is holed up in a cheap apartment with burly Peter Whitney, lying low till Robert Shayne’s murder trial is over. It seems Whitney and Shayne pulled a burglary, Shayne shot a cop, and Lorre got drunkenly mixed up in the whole affair. They’re aided by Joan Lorring, who is obviously smitten with Lorre’s lovable drunk, but at a crucial moment, Shayne betrays them, putting all three on the run. And while that’s going on…

   Geraldine Fitzgerald acts out in the best Joan Crawford tradition, alternately seductive and plain-damn crazy as she lies, schemes, and ultimately cuts off her unwilling spouse from everyone but her. Faced with a life in ruins, Alan Napier gets a gun and heads for her apartment, where the three principals have gathered to cheat their fates.

   And that ain’t the half of it.

   Jean Negulesco directs all this with real style, imparting a sense of movement with his camera, even when nothing much is going on, and hiding the cheap sets with tricky camera angles. The headline players are at the top of their form, but what I loved here was the well-written and perfectly-played bit parts, which I attribute to co-writer Howard Koch.

   Yeah, the story is Huston’s but when I look at the wealth of memorable supporting parts in Koch’s oeuvre — Casablanca, Sergeant York, and The 13th Letter, to name a few — I gotta give him credit for enriching the whole thing: from the clerks in Sydney’s law offices to the kindly cop who pinches Lorre, everyone acts like he’s the star and this is his movie. Negulesco lavishes time and close-ups on them, and the actors themselves, perhaps realizing they won’t get many chances like this, come through beautifully. The result is a film rich in detail and richly ironic.

PERSONAL NOTE:   Oddly enough, I have a statue of Kwan Yin around here somewhere, but I’ve never thought to pray to it or even make a wish. And even if I did, I don’t know any strangers.

   “I don’t know any strangers.” Let me think about that one for a minute.

SARA PARETSKY -Blood Shot. V. I. Warshawski #5. Delacorte, hardcover, 1988. Dell, paperback, June 1989.

   I enjoyed Bitter Medicine, the previous adventure of Paretsky’s Chicago-based PI V. I. Warshawski, so much that I ranked it number one for the issue [Mystery*File 13, not yet online]. This one is nearly 100 pages longer, and unfortunately I don’t really think the extra pages add anything.

   If it had been up to me, I’d have condensed the first 160 pages down to about 30 or so. That’s when this story of lost parents and criminal neglect in the chemical industry began to click for me. A number of good scenes follow, as well as some sharp characterization.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #18, December 1989, very slightly revised.

IRA LEVIN – The Boys from Brazil. Random House, hardcover, 1976. Dell, paperback, 1977. Reprinted several times since.

THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL. 20th Century Fox, 1978. Gregory Peck (Dr. Josef Mengele), Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen, Steven Guttenberg, Denholm Elliott, Rosemary Harris, John Dehner, John Rubinstein, Anne Meara, Jeremy Black. Based on the book by Ira Levin. Director: Franklin J. Schaffner.

   What makes Ira Levin’s The Boys from Brazil such a compelling read is that it seamlessly situates a compelling mystery within the context of an international thriller and blends it with elements of science fiction and horror. Although nominally a story about a Nazi hunter investigating a postwar plot initiated by Dr. Josef Mengele in which the sadistic doctor has targeted some ninety-four civil servants and middle class men for murder, Levin’s work also incorporates aspects found more commonly in the paperback medical thrillers that flooded the market in the 1970s.

   Given Mengele’s notoriety for experimenting on twins in Auschwitz, it’s no surprise that the key to the plot involves his desire to utilize his scientific training to promote his vision of a pure Aryan race. But how? That’s for Yakov Liebermann (played by Laurence Olivier in the film as Ezra Liebermann) to find out. A Simon Wiesenthal-like Nazi hunter and Holocaust survivor living in Vienna, Liebermann has built his reputation on his ability to find Nazis hiding in plain, or not so plain, sight and have them extradited for trial. Among them is Frieda Maloney, a former camp guard who later became an American citizen. As in any good thriller, Levin makes sure that seemingly unrelated stories intersect in a meaningful way. For Maloney’s work at an adoption agency in New York ends up being what allows Liebermann to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

   As the title of the work indicates, there are boys – children – and they are from Brazil. But they aren’t just any ordinary children. Here’s where the creepiness of medical horror and science fiction enter into the story. Without giving too much away, let me just say that what Liebermann discovers is both horrifying and somewhat ludicrous. But that doesn’t stop The Boys from Brazil from being a deeply original work, one that clearly was meant both to entertain and to raise provocative questions about the nature of evil and how it might manifest itself in one’s very genes.

   The film adaptation of Levin’s work, while nominated for several Academy Awards, benefits greatly from Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Mengele but alternatively suffers from Sir Laurence Olivier’s role as Liebermann. Apparently enough people found it Oscar worthy. I didn’t. From his faux German or Yiddish accent to his over-animated mannerisms, Olivier is clearly acting in a manner that prevented me from fully seeing his screen time as anything other than a performance. Peck became Mengele. Olivier was simply unable to disappear into the role. I thought the same thing when I watched him portray a cantor in The Jazz Singer (1980).

   There are some good moments, but overall the film, apart from a memorable score from Jerry Goldsmith, is rather lackluster. It certainly doesn’t hold up nearly as well as Marathon Man (1976), in which Olivier played a Nazi fugitive from South America who has traveled to Manhattan to claim his diamonds.

   But do look for a young Steve Guttenberg (billed as Steven Guttenberg) in a supporting role as an intrepid Jewish political activist who travels to Paraguay to track down and to photograph Nazi war criminals hiding there. I watched a copy on BluRay from Shout Factory. It looks great.

ROBERT SILVERBERG “Double Dare.” Short story. Galaxy Science Fiction, November 1956. Reprinted in The Fifth Galaxy Reader (1961). Collected in The Cube Root of Uncertainty (1970), among others.

   While published before I discovered science fiction magazines at the local newsstand, which would have been a couple of years later, this is the kind of SF story I enjoyed immensely when I did, and which I don’t come across all that frequently any more.

   Which is to say a “nuts and bolts” kind of SF story, in which either a Terran scientist or a pair of engineers from Earth — as in “Double Dare” — are given a problem to be solved, and whatever their motivation, they go ahead and do it.

   In this case, the stakes are raised about as high as they can go, starting with a bet in bar about which of two races, Earth’s or the alien Domerangi, is the better at solving technological problems. To settle the question, a team of two experts from Earth are sent to the Domerangi home planet, where they are presented with three engineering or physics problems to solve, with two of the Domerangi doing the same back on Earth.

   The first two tasks are easy, but the third is a tough one: to build a perpetual motion machine. Given the right incentive — and on a personal level it is to be able to go back home again — the two from Earth … but telling more would spoil the point of the story. Suffice to say that everything works out in very fine fashion, and with a added twist to the tale as well.

   Stories such as this one are built on cheery optimism, I grant you, but they’re also a lot of fun to read.

by Francis M. Nevins

   Once upon a time, when the occupant of the White House was a bald guy known as Ike, there was a popular CBS TV program on Sunday nights known as WHAT’S MY LINE?, in which the regular panelists had to guess the occupations of the special guests who appeared each week. The guests of course couldn’t be household names or the game would be pointless.

   One week in May 1958 the guests included a mystery writer: not a Carr or Queen or Christie of course, but someone who’d been banging out whodunits for decades without ever acquiring a name or much of a following. Subsequently the program used her photograph in promotional ads: “This sweet little elderly lady writes blood-curdling murder mysteries!”

   She’d been doing so since 1919, all but one featuring the same character. Her name was Lee Thayer — Emma Redington Lee Thayer if you want to be complete about it — and her sleuth was a red-headed young man of vaguely Holmesian cast named Peter Clancy. Thayer had at least two distinctions; she appeared on national TV and she continued writing Clancy novels until around age 92. (She died in 1973, a few months short of her 100th birthday.)

   Over the decades I’ve acquired a fair number of Thayers, and read a lot of them too. Frankly, they’re awful. Characters thinner than onion-skin paper, dime-novel prose, murder methods straight out of wackadoodledom — she had it all. Maybe that’s why I keep revisiting her. Maybe I just have a masochistic streak. Anyway, I recently decided to devote a column to a randomly selected trio of her works. Happy holidays, gang!

   Q.E.D. (1922) was her fourth novel, and if I liked it a bit more than most of her books, perhaps it’s because of the total absence of Wiggar, Clancy’s valet, an insufferable parody of English menservants whose coruscating bons mots like “Oh, Mr. Peter, sir!” make me feel as if my fingernails are being ripped out of me with pliers.

   Also it’s one of her simpler and more workpersonlike plots. In the wilds of northwestern New Jersey where Clancy and some friends are about to go off trout fishing, a total stranger is found outside the house of one of the group, only his own footprints visible in the thin coating of snow, a pistol in his pocket, his throat slit as if with a razor blade and his neck broken as if by a ju-jitsu expert, of which there happen to be three among the dramatis personae.

   The murderer is fairly obvious 100 pages before the climax but the denouement is Thayer at her purest, featuring a race against the clock and a howling thunderstorm. “The sky…was now riven by sharp swords of blinding light. The wind was rising in deep, sighing exhalations. In the lightning flash…were revealed high flung masses of cloud, lurid and awful, towering into the zenith….”

    The murderer runs for his life “at a mad pace through the blinding storm…” and there’s “a great roar as of the thundering voice of God” as a tree limb miraculously falls onto an overhead trolley wire and our villain is electrocuted. If you read Thayer, denouements of this sort, complete with Bible quotations, come with the territory.

   Remember, this book was written almost 100 years ago. Prohibition is in force, the movie industry has not yet completely uprooted itself from the East Coast, the police don’t seem to have any cameras, and there are so few automobiles on the streets of Manhattan that the cops let Clancy’s car defy all speed limits because of “the intelligent law that a man may drive as fast as he likes as long as he does not jeopardize others….” What I wouldn’t give for a proper legal citation of that law!

   It’s hard to believe that with local trains and a ferry you could travel from northwestern New Jersey across the Hudson to the heart of Manhattan in about 90 minutes, but there were large numbers of small commuter lines back then whereas today there’s only New Jersey Transit, which has no connections at all between northwest Jersey and New York.

   You also have to remember how old this book is when you encounter the racism. The face of a Japanese butler is likened to a “yellow mask” as are the faces of “all other Japs,” a sentiment which is followed by the cheerful humming of a mercifully forgotten tune: “All coons look alike to me.” Indeed we have come a long way.

    On a much more positive note are the fishing sequences, which strongly suggest that Thayer must have been a passionate angler of (dare I say it?) the first water, well versed in the ways of rods, reels, leaders, flies and the like. “[M]ost of the joy of fishing is fishing — messing around in the water—hearing the birds and the quietness — and watching the scenery go by.” How bucolic. Except for the fish.


   Q.E.D. is probably the earliest American detective novel I’ve ever read. (Previously the reigning champ was S.S. Van Dine’s 1926 THE BENSON MURDER CASE.) With our next Clancy we’re in familiar territory if we’re whodunit buffs, with Prohibition abolished and the Depression in full swing, financially devastating a huge number of people.

   HELL-GATE TIDES (1933) takes place entirely in Manhattan and mainly in a single two-story apartment in a high-rise tower on Gracie Place, just east of 81st Street and Carl Schurz Park and next to the East River, a building so luxurious it boasts a private dock for the use of yacht-owning tenants back from long excursions.

   A doctor friend sends one of his patients to consult with Clancy, a handsome young aristo named Alan McLeod who came within an inch of death thanks to strychnine administered in one of the items of his usual breakfast — coffee, a boiled egg, buttered toast and an orange.

   Calling himself Peter Carteret so as not to have to discard any of his personal items with monograms, Clancy and the intolerable Wiggar visit the McLeod mansion in the sky and find it occupied by Alan’s fiancée Gloria Kirby (who is near broke but concealing it well), an enigmatic housekeeper, an old family friend who loves to explore obscure corners of the world, and a flock of servants, the most suspicious being a tattooed Englishman named Bunce who is likely to remind you, if you grew up watching B Westerns, of that hulking Brit Harry Cording.

   There’s also a macaw, sometimes called a parrot, that only Bunce can induce to speak. Soon the party is joined by McLeod’s uncle and nearest relative, Russell Fahnestock, just back from a yacht trip. There’s no violence until about halfway through the book when, during a social gathering, Fahnestock steps out onto the balcony just off the huge living-room, apparently has intimate conversations with first Gloria Kirby and then Alan McLeod, and is never seen again until his body is found floating in the East River below, his neck broken and “a deep purplish mark encircling his throat….”

   The bird claims that Alan murdered his uncle. Clancy solves the crime only because the real killer carelessly left a fingerprint on Fahnestock’s cigarette lighter, which the police don’t find but Clancy does. This time Thayer eschews her signature apocalyptic ending but allows the killer — whose method is as wacko as that of the murderer in Q.E.D. — to dive out of an apartment window and drown himself in the book’s titular tides.

   Without consulting an expert I would take with several shakers of salt the criminological dogma that is advanced at least four times in the course of this novel. Clancy: “….[T]he criminal mind follows a pattern. A gun-man, for instance, will never use a knife, or vice versa.” (127) “A poisoner rarely carries a gun.” (262)

   Detective Captain Jake Kerrigan: “A poisoner is one kind of a man. A strangler is another. The two don’t blend.” (209) “A poisoner poisons. Get me? He doesn’t strangle.” (290) But perhaps the strangest scene takes place when beside the East River Wiggar encounters and befriends a homeless boy with dreams of being first a “detectuff” and then the next Will Rogers. A beat cop finds the two on a park bench with the Englishman’s arm cuddled around the kid and thinks nothing of it. In more recent times he’d probably suspect Wiggar was a priest.


   The most recent and by far the least interesting of the Thayer trio I’ve chosen for this column is DEAD END STREET (1936). The murders this time are incidental — a beat cop who saw too much, two professional burglars who learned too much about the masked mastermind behind their gang — and the main problem for Clancy is to determine who or what is driving to the brink of madness or suicide a young aristo named Arthur Madison, just returned to New York after having lived most of his life in China with his recently deceased father.

   The family mansion is at the extreme northern tip of Manhattan in an area which, judging by contemporary maps, looks very different today from the way it looked 80-odd years ago. (Thayer drew the dust jackets for all but the last few of her books but it would have been helpful if she’d drawn some maps for them too.)

   While looking into a series of jewel robberies from stately homes that have nothing in common except that each of them backs onto a waterway connected with the East River, Clancy and his buddy Captain Kerrigan happen to run into two women who are servants at the Madison mansion, a daughter and widowed mother fallen on hard times since the death of the head of the house — a doctor who as chance would have it once saved Kerrigan’s life — and are actually managing to save a little money working as housemaid and cook for $60 a month apiece plus meals. (My, how the value of the dollar has changed!)

   Already suspecting that the jewel thieves he’s hunting are based in the neighborhood, Clancy arranges for himself and Wiggar to be hired by wealthy old Henrietta Madison Ross and her crippled husband Leon Ross (at least once mistakenly called Nelson) respectively as chauffeur and butler, and in due course they discover that the attempts to drive Henrietta’s nephew Arthur into the looney bin are connected not only with the jewel thefts but also with the three incidental murders that happened nearby.

   Thayer provides enough secret rooms, underground passages and concealed tunnels for a year’s worth of silent serials, and this time the criminal mastermind is actually taken alive. The same dogma repeated so often in HELL-GATE TIDES pops up here too as Clancy informs us that “a crook sticks to tried and true methods. A knife is quick and quiet. The man that uses one…wouldn’t be risking the noise of a gun….” I am probably not revealing too much about the wacky plot to drive Arthur insane when I say that the Madison family fortune is based on the business of importing glass.


   Thayer thought of herself as a book designer and illustrator rather than an author, saying of her 60-odd novels “some are worse than others.” True enough! Both I and mystery writer/critic Jon L. Breen, who has probably read more Thayers than I have, agree that the best of her books that we’ve both read is EVIL ROOT (1949).

   No one will ever call her the peer of Christie, Sayers and P.D. James, but she put in close to half a century at the trade in which her achievements were at best modest, and she deserves a bit more than to be totally forgotten.

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “The Silver Mask Murders.” The Man in the Silver Mask #3. Novelette. Detective Fiction Weekly, 23 November 1935.

   In the years during which Erle Stanley Gardner was one of the most prolific pulp writers around, he tried his hand not only at mysteries — tons of them — but westerns, adventure stories and even science fiction (collected in The Human Zero: The Science Fiction Stories of Erle Stanley Gardner, 1981). Given the undeniable fact of the latter, it should come as no surprise that he dabbled in the equivalent of the hero pulps as well.

   The most famous of the latter were The Shadow, The Spider, Operator #5 and so on. Most were the primary occupants of their own magazines. Gardner’s contributions to the genre consisted of only three long stories in the pages of Detective Fiction Weekly, all in 1935. Having read only this, the third and last of them, I don’t know if the hero in these stories was ever given a name. He seems to have been known only as The Man in the Silver Mask.

   You can probably guess why, but to confirm your suspicion, the cover of the magazine his third adventure appeared in will illustrate as well as words could do. Besides his general anonymity, nothing also is known about his background, nor why he feels to need to keep his identity a secret. All we know for sure is his fierce determination to fight crime.

   Assisting him in these endeavors are a hunchbacked Chinese mute servant by the name of Ah Wong, and a female secretary/assistant named Norma Lorne and described as “a rather slender, willowy young blonde,” who aids The Masked Man outside the office as well as in.

   In “The Silver Mask Murders” this vigilante on the side of justice comes up against a powerful nemesis named Thornton Acker, a lawyer whose clientele consists solely of other criminals who can afford his steep fees ($250,000 this time around) to help them get out of jams they can’t manage to do on their own.

   Acker’s task in this one is to make sure that a man in prison doesn’t testify against his boss in court, which he does in spectacular fashion. But the Man in the Silver Mask is working on the other side, that of law and order, and Acker’s meticulous planning soon begins to go further and further awry.

   For the most part, this is routine stuff, with a lot more violence, I suspect, than ever appeared in any other Erle Stanley Gardner story. One scene sticks out, though, one in which Silver Mask is threatening a hoodlum he’s holding captive with physical torture at the hands of his Chinese assistant. When asked later by Norma Lorne whether or not he was bluffing, Silver Mask confesses that he doesn’t know.

   The story ends with many underlings dead or in jail, but with Acker still at large. A blurb at the end of the story advertises that the next installment of the series would be coming soon, but it never did. The world of mystery fiction never noticed.

   The Man in the Silver Mask series —

The Man in the Silver Mask. Detective Fiction Weekly, July 13 1935


The Man Who Talked. Detective Fiction Weekly, September 7, 1935


The Silver Mask Murders, Detective Fiction Weekly, November 23, 1935


JERRY KENNEALY – Beggar’s Choice. Nick Polo #9. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1994. No mass market paperback edition.

   One of the cover blurbs calls this an “underrated series,” and I’d have to agree. Almost none of the books have made it to paperback, which is dismaying when you think about the large amount of trash that does. Kennealy is, like his character, a San Francisco PI.

   Polo and his lady friend are doing a regular stint of volunteer work in a soup kitchen when one of the homeless regulars asks Nick to check a couple of license plate numbers. He says they belong to people who’ve been generous to him, but Nick has doubts about that. He has even more doubts when they turn out ti belong to a Tong lord and a wealthy businessman, but before he can find out anything else, the homeless man is dead, victim of a somewhat suspicious hit-and-run. He decides to check into it a little further, and the hornets stat buzzing about the proverbial nest.

   The Polo books aren’t Edgar material but they are enjoyable, solid examples of standard PI fare without a lot of breast-beating, angst, and Significant Social Issues. Polo is a likable and well-developed character, as is his current lady, reporter Jane Tobin.

   Kennealy’s prose is competent though not flashy, and he tells a reasonably fast-moving, well-constructed story. Though he doesn’t overwhelm you with ambiance, he obviously knows San Francisco [and overall, what he’s doing].

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #17, January 1995.

       The Nick Polo series —


Polo Solo (1987)
Polo Anyone? (1988)
Polo’s Ponies (1988)
Polo in the Rough (1989)
Polo’s Wild Card (1990)
Green With Envy (1991)
Special Delivery (1992)
Vintage Polo (1993)
Beggar’s Choice (1994)
All That Glitters (1997)
Long Shot (2017)


“Polo at the Ritz” (May 1993, New Mystery; also 1999, First Cases 3)
“Reluctant Witness” (2000, The Shamus Game)
“Carole on Lombard” (2001, Mystery Street)
“Love for Bail” (2015, Fifty Shades of Grey Fedora)

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