CHARLES KNIEF – Emerald Flash. St. Martin’s, hardcover, April, 1999; paperback, May 2000.

   Opening paragraph:

   The first time I saw Margo Halliday she was stark naked, running for all she was worth down a Honolulu alley in the middle of the night.

   Telling the story is ex-SEAL and now Hawaii-based private eye John Caine. Emerald Flash is the third of four recorded adventures.

   Chasing Margo Halliday is her ex-husband:

   The big man jogged past and I dropped him with a flying kick, He went down easy but refused to let go of the pistol, so I broke his wrist and he gave it up. All the fight went out of him. He deflated like an octopus brought up on a lure and dropped into the bottom of a canoe, when it knew it was going to die.

   Caine doesn’t see Margo again until seven months later, when she is accused of killing her ex-husband. Not only that, but hard on her trail is a gang of Colombian thugs, and for good reason. They think she is somehow in possession of a fortune in stolen emeralds. She remembers Caine, and she calls on him for help.

   He does, but it isn’t easy. I was reminded of John D. MacDonald in a couple of ways, not only the obvious one, but Caine also has a philosophy of life very similar to that of a certain Travis McGee. But there is a difference: no matter how close he and Margo get as man and woman, they sleep in separate beds, and none of the McGee books had the same amount of firepower that is called upon in this one: rifles, grenades, Glocks, even an elephant gun.

   Somewhat toward the end of the book:

   It had been a year of extremes. I felt good and fit. My wounds all had healed. I had gone up against powerful enemies and had vanquished them all, including the one who had ordered my destruction.

   And now it was over.

   It’s not a perfect book. Too much of the story depends on things that happened in earlier ones, for example, and a long, lengthy portion of the book consists of Caine and Margo on the run, which with all of the aforementioned firepower is exciting enough for two or three books, but crammed into just this one, it somehow managed to slow the pace down rather than enhance it.

   On the other hand, when things are going a little slower, Caine manages to get along with a brain as well as brawn, and is as quick with a quip as Jon Stewart on a good night, and that’s very good indeed.

       The John Caine series –

Diamond Head (1996)
Sand Dollars (1998)
Emerald Flash (1999)
Silversword (2001)

STOP ME BEFORE I KILL! Falcon/Hammer Films, UK, 1960, as The Full Treatment. Columbia Pictures, US, 1961. Claude Dauphin, Diane Cilento, Ronald Lewis, Françoise Rosay. Screenplay: Val Guest and Ronald Scott Thorn, based on the latter’s novel The Full Treatment. Director: Val Guest.

   There is a quite a bit that may be of interest to regular readers of this blog in this film, recently released as one of a box set of non-horror Hammer films. The cinematography by Gilbert Taylor is clear and crisp, in stunning black-and-white, and the performances by all are as top notch as the script will allow them to be, especially that of leading lady Diane Cilento.

   She plays the wife of a race car driver (Alan Colby, played by Ronald Lewis) who was in an auto accident on an ordinary highway while the two of them were on their honeymoon together. He’s recovered but is having (apparently) trouble in bed with her. While in France, then back to England, they call on the services of a psychiatrist named Prade (Claude Dauphin).

   The problem is more than a mere sexual dysfunction, however, and here’s where that rather title of the film comes in. What Colby also has to fight is a compulsion to kill his wife, mostly by strangulation, either manually or with whatever wire in the kitchen is handy. They also live in an apartment with, for no other apparent reason, a set of old surgical tools.

   Commenters on IMDb, some of them, have complained about the length of the movie, and suggest that it should have been shorter in order to maintain the level of suspense the producer and director of the film intended it to have. They, the commenters, are right, but the US version, the one I’ve just watched, is already missing 15 minutes from its original two hour length in the UK.

   And what’s worse, one key scene is missing, one referred to later as the shower scene, in which (apparently) the newly married couple try to make love, and can’t. The next scene, also crucial to the movie, takes place at a dinner party being held by Prade, where Colby takes serious offense at several of Prade’s jabbing and jesting remarks.

   Strangely, though, a scene in which Diane Cilento’s character is seen swimming in the nude is left intact, but filmed discreetly at a distance so as not to bother (?) the censors.

   But the major problem is that, even by cutting the film (or script) down to size, there is no real suspense. Everything is well foreshadowed in advance (is that redundant?), and the viewer’s only obligation is to fit all the pieces together as they occur into the ending that is already well established ahead of time.

SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


GASTON LEROUX “The Woman with the Velvet Collar.” First published in English in Weird Tales, October 1929. Reprinted in Startling Mystery Stories, Spring 1969, and in several anthologies of weird fiction since. Originally published in French as “La femme au collier de velours” in 1924.

   Although it took me a while to become fully immersed in Gaston Leroux’s “The Woman With the Velvet Collar,” by the story’s end I was left with the indelible impression that I had just read a well-crafted horror tale. First appearing in English translation in Weird Tales, Leroux’s conte cruel transports the reader to Corsica, a land known for its vendettas and its cultural and physical separateness from mainland France.

   “The Woman With the Velvet Collar” unfolds with a discussion between two sailors, a sea captain named Gobert and his friend, Michel. The two men are discussing Corsican vendetta stories, with Gobert assuring Michel that he has a story that is far more horrifying than any run of the mill vendetta. The tale further unfolds as Gobert begins to tell a story within a story, about his experiences in Corsica in which he encountered a ghost like woman dressed all in black and with a black velvet ribbon around her neck.

   As it turns out, the woman was named Angeluccia and she was married to a local Corsican official. But she kept a secret from her husband! She was secretly romantically involved with her cousin, one of her husband’s employees. Without giving too much of the plot away, let’s just say that the guillotine makes a bloody appearance in this fiendishly clever tale about what happens when a costume party in which Angeluccia dresses up as Marie Antoinette turns into the beginning of a dark foray into the supernatural.

Bibliographic Note:   Captain Michel also appeared in three additional stories:

       Le noël du petit Vincent-Vincent (1924); The Crime on Christmas Night (1930).
       Not’ Olympe (1924); The Mystery of the Four Husbands (1929).
       L’auberge épouvantable (1925); The Inn of Terror (1929).

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


ELIZABETH CADELL – Shadows on the Water. William Morrow, hardcover, 1958. First published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton, hardcover, 1958, as Shadow on the Water by Harriet Ainsworth.

   Kate Verney, widow, is sailing to South America to become acquainted with her new grandson and maybe to save him from being christened Theobald. Her roommate on the ship is Lindy Barron, who along with her brother, Rex, is going to Lisbon to live with her father, William Barron, an arrogant, physically attractive businessman with a weakness for females.

   Upon arrival at Lisbon, the group discovers that Barron is missing, presumed dead after the horse he was riding fell off a cliff. Later Barron turns up, saying that someone had stretched a wire across his favorite riding path. Other attempts are made on his life.

   Since Kate’s passport is stolen while she is ashore at Lisbon, she cannot continue her voyage. Which is a good thing, for someone has to keep an eye on the Barron children’s welfare — and William Barron’s, despite his protests.

   Though disappointing to me because it did not have the engaging humor of Cadell’s The Corner Shop, this book is nonetheless a good example of the romantic-suspense novel, featuring a heroine a little longer in the tooth than usual. Cadell’s goal is merely to entertain, and she is for the most part successful.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 6, No. 2, Summer 1990, “Vacation for Murder.”


This is singer-songwriter Paul Siebel singing perhaps his most famous song, also covered by many other artists, including Linda Ronstadt, Leo Kottke and Bonnie Raitt:

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:


SKI TROOP ATTACK. The Filmgroup, 1960. Michael Forest, Frank Wolff, Wally Campo, Richard Sinatra, James Hoffman. Screenwriter: Charles B. Griffith. Director: Roger Corman.

   What’s better: a bloated high budget war film that reaches for aesthetic and narrative greatness, but completely misses the mark or a decidedly downscale production that doesn’t aspire for greatness, but provides the viewer with a decent enough story and some well choreographed combat sequences?

   I ask because the latter is how I’d describe Roger Corman’s Ski Troop Attack, a movie that is by no means an outstanding combat film, but one, thanks to screenwriter Charles B. Griffith, with just enough realistic sounding dialogue to make it a perfectly watchable low budget charmer.

   Filmed in South Dakota over the course of ten days, Ski Troop Attack follows the exploits of a group of American soldiers behind enemy lines in snowbound Nazi Germany.

   On skis, the men scout out the area and eventually make their way to a railroad bridge that they intend to destroy. Leading the group is the by the book (of course!) Lt. Factor (Michael Forest) who repeatedly clashes with the hot headed Sgt. Potter (a nearly perfectly cast Frank Wolff).

   Joining them for the mission are the Southern good old boy Pvt. Herman Grammelsbacher (Richard Sinatra) and the ethnic Yankee Pvt. Ed Ciccola (Wally Campo). There’s tension among the men, of course, but none of it rises to the level of actual deep animosity. It’s more of a friendly sort, exacerbated by wartime. In some sense, what makes Ski Troop Attack watchable is that it is at its core a buddy film.

   That said, the film is unmistakably low budget, with no big special effects or gigantic set pieces. But at a running time just shy of 70 minutes, the film nevertheless sort of works as it was surely intended: as temporary escapism. Look for scene in which a completely incongruous jazz score by Fred Katz plays in the background as three of the American soldiers line the railway bridge with explosives. It’s so creatively bizarre that it actually makes this quirky film more valuable to posterity than it naturally had any right to be.

Lighthouse was a pop rock big band from Canada with often up to 13 members. “One Fine Morning” was the title track of their first album, released in 1971.

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