Gayle McCormick was the lead singer for the blues rock group Smith, which was formed in Los Angeles in 1969. They had two semi-successful albums before breaking up and Gayle McCormick became a solo performer. “Baby It’s You,” written by Burt Bacharach, sold over a million copies for them:

J. JEFFERSON FARJEON – Mystery in White. British Library, UK, softcover, 2014. Introduction by Martin Edwards. First published by Collins Crime Club, UK, hardcover, 1937. Bobbs-Merrill, US, hardcover, 1938.

   There were some “lost classics” published during the Golden Age of Detection, I am sure, and this is almost — but not quite — one of them. The good news, though, is that as a puzzle story there are parts of Mystery in White that are absolutely terrific. If actual detective work in the crime fiction you read is your meat, this is definitely one you should not miss. The original edition is difficult, if not impossible, to find, but the recent reprint illustrated here is easy to obtain, and happily so.

   This one starts out on a train stranded in a sudden blizzard that has blown up just before Christmas, and the passengers in one compartment decide as a group to hoof it through the snow to the next station. Not a good idea, as it turns out, since if trains can’t get through, then how can people on foot?

   Suddenly a haven appears. A house with the lights on, the door unlocked, a blazing fire in the fireplace, and the table set for tea. But — and it’s a huge but — the house is otherwise empty. What should they do? Take advantage of the shelter, they decide, and repay their unseen host later, when they can.

   But wait, there’s more. Apparently a murder was committed on the train, and a killer is on the loose. Strange noises are heard in the house, which also seems to have ghostly emanations throughout. And more: footprints in the snow are found coming and going all night long. There is also more than one murder committed, perhaps as many as three.

   Doing an excellent job of deduction, at least in the first two-thirds of the book is the “old man” his fellow passengers first met on the train, or that is to say, Mr Edward Maltby of the Royal Psychical Society, and for a change, he allows his deductions to be challenged by the others — an absolute breath of fresh air from the infallible detectives of other books, those who hold back their thoughts and conclusions until the book is almost over and they’re finally ready to point their finger at the guilty party or parties.

   It is too much too hope for, then, with such a buildup of atmosphere, clues and various cries for help and other mysterious events in the night, that the ending — and a final explanation — can live up to what precedes. Alas, it doesn’t, and nothing probably could. Anything less than pure legerdemain would be a letdown, and there’s too much tramping around in blizzard conditions and waist-high snow to be realistic. This is a book that’s still a lot of fun to read, but as I said in the first paragraph above, a lost classic? No, far from it, but it’s good enough that I wish I could say otherwise!

Marjorie McCoy recorded two LP’s in the early 1970s and a handful of singles. This is one of the latter:

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


DR. JEKYLL AND THE WEREWOLF. Spain, 1972. Originally released as Doctor Jekyll y el Hombre Lobo. Paul Naschy, Shirley Corrigan, Jack Taylor, Mirta Miller. Story: Paul Naschy. Director: León Klimovsky.

   In Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf, the iconic Spanish horror star Paul Naschy reprises his role as the cursed Count Waldemar Daninsky, a man stricken with lycanthropy. In other words, he’s a werewolf. And like the cursed Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) of Universal Monsters fame, Daninsky is a brooding type, one who wishes nothing more than to escape the fate that the dark side of nature has seemingly imposed upon him.

   Naschy is a fine actor, portraying both the tragic Daninsky and the werewolf version of himself with a physicality rarely seen in horror movies made nowadays. But it’s not his portrayal of a werewolf that makes this Spanish horror film worth a look. Rather, it’s his portrayal of Mr. Hyde, that iconic villainous id first introduced to the world by Robert Louis Stevenson that sets this otherwise clumsy, occasionally sleazy, horror movie apart from derivative grindhouse fare.

   In a somewhat convoluted and admittedly silly plot – one that throws in horror trope after horror trope for good measure – Daninsky ends up in England where his new love Justine (Shirley Corrigan) introduces him to Dr. Henry Jekyll (Jack Taylor), grandson of the Victorian Era physician who unlocked the formula for dividing man into his good and evil halves. Jekyll thinks that he’s found a way to cure Daninsky of his curse. Amazingly, it involves turning Daninsky into Mr. Hyde and then using an antidote that will forever get rid of the lycanthropy and Mr. Hyde!

   As you might imagine, things don’t exactly go as planned, leaving the fiendish Mr. Hyde to embark upon a reign of brutal, sadistic terror. Naschy might very well be remembered for portraying one of cruelest, most unhinged versions of Dr. Hyde ever set to celluloid. Indeed, there are moments in the film – one scene in particular that involves Mr. Hyde torturing Justine – that are so far over the top and out of context from the rest of the movie that they actually serve to pull the viewer’s attention away from the narrative.

   That’s a shame, for Naschy’s Mr. Hyde is a truly memorable villain. The director could have done so much more with the natural talent he had on his hands, but instead seems to have gone for shock value galore over what could have been a much better, atmospheric horror film.

EARL DERR BIGGERS – The Black Camel. Bobbs Merrill, hardcover, 1929. Grosset & Dunlap, hardcover reprint; Photoplay edition. Paperback reprints include: Pocket #133, 1941; Paperback Library 52-312, 1964; Pyramid T-1947, 1969; Bantam N6315, 1975; Mysterious Press, 1987; Academy Chicago Publishers, 2009. Film: 20th Century Fox, 1931 (Warner Oland); remade as Charlie Chan in Rio, 1941 (Sidney Toler).

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck

   “Death is the black camel that kneels unbid at every gate.” Charlie Chan quotes this Eastern saying when Shelah Fane, silent-movie star, is stabbed to death in Honolulu. A famous but fading actress, Fane is in Hawaii to finish off the final shots of a South Sea film started in Tahiti. Apparently she also had witnessed a murder of another movie star in Hollywood some three years earlier and was planning at last to reveal the murderer’s identity.

   Chan has his work cut out for him in this investigation, particularly when the most likely suspect, a fortune teller, has an unbreakable alibi. Not a fair-play mystery, but Chan is always entertaining and interesting.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 7, No. 4, Winter 1991/2, “Murder on Screen.”


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

   Although Inspector Charlie Chan of the Honolulu Police Department is a household name throughout the world, he appears in only six novels. The great number of films, radio plays, and comic strips inspired by Chan are proof of the compelling quality of Earl Derr Biggers’s creation. However, these offshoots do not do credit to Chan’s character. In them, he becomes a stereotypical Chinese, mouthing ridiculous platitudes and doing more than his fair share of bowing and scraping.

   To anyone familiar with Chan only from the Thirties’ and Forties’ B-movies, Biggers’ novels will come as a refreshing surprise. In them, Chan is portrayed as an amiable, wise man, given to philosophic contemplation. He is an individual in whom the characteristics of the East and the West are delicately blended, and often Biggers uses this cultural mix in his plotting, allowing his detective to discern clues that either an Occidental or Oriental investigator would not.

   Chan’s character is one of considerable depth — a welcome period departure from sinister Orientals such as Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu. Unfortunately, Biggers’ secondary characters tend to be less interesting, especially his melodramatic and overly romantic young men and women.

   A sense of place is another aspect of fiction at which Biggers excelled. The Black Camel is set in the Honolulu of the Twenties — a city much different from the one we know today. Waikiki is a quiet beach community where trade winds “mumble at the curtains,” a place where flowers bloom unmolested, and the trip into the city itself is a long journey by streetcar.

   When movie queen Shelah Fane rents a house on the beach, she expects a restful sojourn, but complications in the form of an ardent shipboard suitor, a disturbing session with her trusted fortune-teller, and fear of a secret in her past arise to disrupt it. When Shelah is found murdered, Chan is called in.

   The star has left a letter for the fortune-teller, which could perhaps provide the vital key, but before Chan can read it, the lights in the house go out and it is snatched from him. Without this clue, the detective must sort through the conflicting stories of the murdered woman’s suitor, secretary, co-star, fortune-teller, tourist guide, butler, and a beachcomber — all of whom seem to have had ulterior motives where the film star was concerned.

   An entertaining novel, with suspects galore, and a surprise ending.

         ———
   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.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


MURRAY FORBES – Hollow Triumph. Ziff-Davis, hardcover, 1946. Reprinted as The Big Fake (Pyramid #97, paperback, 1953).

HOLLOW TRIUMPH. Eagle-Lion, 1948. Re-released as The Scar and The Man Who Murdered Himself. Paul Henried, Joan Bennett, Eduard Franz, Leslie Brooks, Mabel Paige and Jack Webb. Screenplay by Daniel Fuchs, based on the novel by Murray Forbes. Directed by Steve Sekely.

   Murray Forbes’ Hollow Triumph has an interesting idea for a book: Henry Mueller is a failed medical student and small-time chiseler with an over-sized ego, fresh out of prison when he discovers he bears an amazing resemblance to Viktor Bartok, a prominent psychologist. Readers of this sort of thing will figure at once that Mueller will kill Bartok and take his place, and that’s pretty much what happens, but Forbes gives it a cute twist: Mueller’s impersonation becomes a greater success than he figured on (the American Dream: if you fail at one thing, re-invent yourself as something else) and as time passes, he wins even greater fortune and honor… and he can’t stand the fact that the murdered man is getting all the credit for his killer’s work: Mueller rubbed out Bartok, but it was Mueller who got erased, and his overweening pride leads him to….

   It’s a clever thought, and somebody should write a book about it someday; Murray Forbes just didn’t seem too interested. Time and again he just tells us about things when he should be showing them. So we get lines like “She felt suspicious,” or “He was scared,” which ain’t exactly deathless prose. There are even points where Forbes seems to lose interest entirely, and instead of story-telling, he resorts to synopsis, resulting in passages like, “He went to New York to receive the honor, then came back and continued work with his patients…”

   I kept reading, but I’m not sure why.

   Fans of Old Time Radio may recall Murray Forbes as an actor on Ma Perkins and other programs, but this was his only novel, and in 1948 the Movies bought it, discarded most of the plot, noired up the rest, and released it under the original title and as The Scar, then as The Man Who Murdered Himself, creating an identity crisis to equal its protagonist’s.

   Joan Bennett is quite good here in a softer role than usual, but Paul Henreid’s acting, like Forbes’ writing, is just perfunctory. On the other hand, there’s fine photography by John Alton, and Daniel Fuchs’ script makes intelligent use of a plot twist that would have been a facile punch-line in lesser hands.

   Triumph/Scar/Murdered starts off with Henried/Mueller getting out of jail and leads quickly into a heist of a gambling joint (not in the book) that goes suspensefully wrong, leaving our antihero on the run from gangsters and hiding out in L.A. Things get tight when he’s spotted by the hoods, but when Mueller makes the switch with Bartok they get even tighter as he finds Bartok has a messy personal life, a grasping girlfriend… and is in debt to the Mob.

   It’s all done in suitably noir style, but without the artistry that distinguishes films like Night and the City or Out of the Past. Director Steve Sekely had his moments (mostly marginal ones in B movies), and he doesn’t spoil this one, but he never gives it the subversive energy that marks the classics of the genre.

   Fortunately Daniel Fuchs’ screenplay provides some unexpected highlights: Even when the leads fail to convince, the minor characters surprise us with quirky moments we weren’t expecting: A garage attendant starts dancing, a dentist turns loquacious, and a lowly scrubwoman proves to be the most perceptive character in the film.

   The marginal virtues aren’t enough to completely redeem The Scar, but I’ll remember it a little longer for them….

SHE COULDN’T TAKE IT. Columbia Pictures, 1935. George Raft, Joan Bennett, Walter Connolly, Billie Burke, Lloyd Nolan, Wallace Ford, James Blakeley, Alan Mowbray, Donald Meek. Director: Tay Garnett.

   Like the definition of film noir, and perhaps even more so, the concept of the screwball comedy has always been nebulous to me. Some films definitely fall in the category, beginning perhaps with It Happened One Night (1934), while other comedies are most clearly not. She Couldn’t Take It, as the case at hand, I’m going to say is; that is to say, if categories are important.

   What the film most definitely is not, is a classic. The members of a screwball family make the headlines so often with their upper class escapades and spending habits that the father (Walter Connolly as patriarch Daniel Van Dyke) would rather go to prison than have to deal with their debts any longer.

   And jail, as it turns out, suits him well, and it is where he meets former bootlegger and racketeer Spot Ricardi (George Raft), whom be befriends and on his deathbed, makes hm the guardian of the family. The comedy comes into full play then, and so does the romance, as Ricardi falls in love with daughter Carol Van Dyke, most fetchingly played by a young and very lovely Joan Bennett.

   The criminous aspect of this film comes when Carol, in order to have some money to spend, arranges with a rival of Ricardi’s (Lloyd Nolan) to have herself kidnapped so she and he can split the ransom. Naturally things do not work out nearly as well as she planned. Very badly, in fact.

   What takes place on the screen during this movie is obviously very contrived and the story does not flow as well as it should as a result, but as I say, Joan Bennett is always worth watching, and even George Raft turns in a performance in which he seems to be much more relaxed than he was in later films. Available on YouTube for free (see below), at least for now, this is far from being a “must see” film, but you may find as many moments worth watching as I did.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


JANE HADDAM – Murder Superior. Gregor Demarkian #8. Bantam, paperback original, 1993.

   I feel sort of like I shouldn’t like this series, but however unaccountably, I do. Gregor Demarkian, the retired head of the FBI’s serial killer unit, now known due to his success in several cases he has been drawn into and much to his dismay as the “Armenian Hercule Poirot,” is a character I enjoy.

   A group of nuns are having a convention in Philadelphia, among them a number whom Demarkian had met in a previous case. A reception and buffet dinner includes among its invitees not only Demarkian and several members of Philadelphia’s Main Line, but a controversial local radio show host and the head of a local construction firm who is donating a good deal of labor to one of the nuns’ construction projects.

   There are a lot of animosities floating around amid both the nuns and the secular groups, but everyone is surprised when one of the best-liked nuns drops dead at the banquet, poisoned. The situation is complicated by one of the most over-done incompetent cops I’ve come across.

   This is a typical Demarkian tale, with a longish introduction that sets the stage before bringing Demarkian to the fore to puzzle things out when the crime occurs. There have been those who called these stories boringly slow, but I prefer to think of them as leisurely paced. We’d all agree that they aren’t really exciting. They’re cozies, but they are well done, and I like the characters. Haddam is a competent writer, though not at all flashy. What can I say? I like ’em.

   It’s interesting that after a couple of hardcovers in what was a paperback original series, we’re back to a paperback original. I don’t believe these could carry a hardcover price.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #7, May 1993.


Bibliographic Note:   There are now 29 books in the Gregor Demarkian series, certainly one of the longer lasting ones of recent years. The most recent one, Fighting Chance, appeared in 2014.

GEORGE BAXT – A Parade of Cockeyed Creatures, or Did Someone Murder Our Wandering Boy? Random House, hardcover, 1967. International Polygonics, paperback; 1st printing, December 1986.

   This is the first of three appearances of the crime-solving team of New York City cop Max Van Larsen and Jewish high school teacher Sylvia Plotkin, not that the latter has much to do in this one, their having just met and all, but she in love with him at first sight, and by book’s end she is promising him a home-cooked meal, complete with chicken soup.

   He accepts, gladly. He is attracted too. There’s only one problem. He hates chicken soup.

   But, as I say, they have two more mysteries to solve together: “I!” Said the Demon (Random House, 1969) and Satan Is a Woman (IPL, 1987), so the chemistry they have together is obviously more than of the minor league variety.

   Max works for the Missing Persons Bureau, and Parade opens with a married couple coming in to have the police look for their son, who has been missing for five days. Why have they waited five days, Max asks. They equivocate. It is obvious that there are huge differences between the couple and their son, no to mention between husband and wife as well.

   Max is having his own problems. His wife and son have just died in a fiery automobile accident, and he wonders why he can’t find it within himself to mourn them. It’s that kind of book, brightly and wickedly humorous on the surface, but underneath, full of sorrow, and all the while mocking the foibles of the world, and the people in it — the “cockeyed creatures” of the title, most of them buoyantly over the top. Manhattan in the late 60s — the time of drugs, free love, and the peace movement — was the place to find characters such as the ones you will find in this book, and there are dozens of them.

   Another contradiction: the book is compulsively readable, but after a while the characters prove to be shallow and dull, and the mystery is weak. I probably won’t read another.

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