THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


FRANCES & RICHARD LOCKRIDGE – The Judge Is Reversed. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1960. Pocket, paperback, 1983.

   With the period of mourning for Pete, the Norths’ first cat, nearing its end, it was time for Pam to have another cat to talk to. At a cat show she finds a judge being criticized harshly. Attending a tennis tournament later, she and Jerry discover that same judge being criticized harshly.

   Still, despite his flaws as a judge, did someone have to hit him a killing blow in the back of the head, maybe with a cat’s scratching post? Did a cat breeder do it? The foot-faulting tennis player? Or the chairman of the committee against cruelty to animals who tries to kick cats?

   Not a great mystery as such, but Pam North always amazes and amuses, particularly when she is looking for a Siamese whose face doesn’t come to a point.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 6, No. 4, Winter 1990, “Beastly Murders.”

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


JOHN BUCHAN – John Macnab. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1925. Houghton Mifflin, US, hardcover, 1925. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and paperback.

   “… I don’t care a tinker’s curse for success, and what is worse, I’m just as apathetic about the modest pleasures which used to enliven my life … I tell you what I’ve got, It’s what the Middle ages suffered from — I read a book about it the other day — and it’s called Taedium Vitae. It’s a special kind of ennui … I find ‘nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting moon.'”

   So speaks Sir Edward (Ned) Leithen, successful solicitor and political figure in the opening chapter of John Buchan’s novel John MacNab. It is a condition not unknown in England following the Great War. He’s suffering from the middle age blahs as well, tired of work, bored with play, sick of hunting and fishing, looking for something to enliven him to breathe life back into existence. Acton Croke (Buchan was superb at the naming of names of fictional creations and places), the surgeon Leithen consults, has a prescription for what ails him too: “If you consult me as a friend, I advise you to steal a horse in some part of the world where a horse-thief is usually hanged.”

   Soon, with his friends Charles, Lord Lamancha, and John Palliser-Yeates, he will take up Sir Archibald Roylance’s offer of his house in Scotland at Crask (“Crask’s the earthenware pot among the brazen vessels–mighty hard to get to and nothing to see when you get there.”) and put Acton Croke’s prescription to the test, with the birth of the poacher, they call John Macnab.

   Only in Buchan would a vacation involve physically and mentally pushing yourself to your very limits.

   Most writers at the time did not tie their created worlds together, so that there is no mention of the Scarlet Pimpernel in Baroness Orzcy’s tales of the Old Man in the Corner or Lady Molly and the Old Man, or his Watson Polly Burton never meets Lady M, and Manly Wade Wellman aside, Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger might as well exist on different planets, moreso Brigadier Gerard.

   True, Ayesha runs into Allan Quatermain, but then it was almost impossible for anyone to not run into Quatermain in Haggard’s fiction, even if it was only in a vivid dream. Edgar Rice Burroughs does have Tarzan visit Pellucidar, but he never meets David Innes, and all his fiction is only loosely tied by Jason Gridley and his Gridley wave by which they communicate their tales to Burroughs.

   The Count of Monte Cristo never casually thinks about the Three Musketeers; Jane Austen’s heroines don’t seem to be overly neighborly, Pride never meets Senibility; David Copperfield never stumbles across Fagin or Little Nell; Rochester never discusses brutish behavior and romantic lassitude with Heathcliffe.

   But John Buchan’s creations inhabit the same world and class system. They literally belong to the same club (The Rungates Club, also the title of a collection of short stories where they share adventure tales). Richard Hannay knows Lamancha and Leithen and Palliser-Yeates, Ned Leithen knows Archie Roylance from Mr. Standfast and The Courts of Morning, Archie Roylance knows Dickson McCunn from Huntingtower.

   It may be the most extensive shared fictional world of its time in that sense. Even in Sapper and Yates only one character connects the different worlds (Ronald Standish in Sapper, Jonah Mansel in Yates). Buchan’s world is unexpectedly cozy, if a bit tweedy and closed. It’s as if Lamont Cranston and Richard Wentworth both knew Doc Savage and belonged to the same club.

   Crask is small, remote, and ideal for the game the three gentleman decided to play to treat what ails them, but not without complications. Archie has three chief neighbors in the region, Claypool, the Radens (cursed with daughters), and the American’s the Bandicoots. The three friends will write a letter to each of the landowners declaring their intention to poach on a specific night and time and sign it John Macnab and then set the game in motion.

   In other hands, this would play out obviously. The canny old highlander would prove the most difficult, one of the trio would fall for one of the Raden’s daughters, and the American would show off a bad sport and have to be dealt with, but Buchan is too a good a writer for that, and while I won’t give too much away readers of Buchan know what a force of nature Janet Raden is when she becomes Archie Roylance’s wife.

   In fact what sets this apart is how it plays with your expectations. Characters show depth and unexpected growth. Nobility sprouts in ignoble ground, and at the moment that John Macnab threatens to blow up in everyone’s face, a slip of a girl and a man of lesser class with an unexpected sense of honor and humor saves them all.

   You might not think a novel about poaching would amount to much in terms of suspense, but you would be wrong. Buchan’s splendid feel for the outdoors, and especially the highlands, his characters almost spiritual connection with both nature and nature’s darker side, all make this as suspenseful and meaningful as any thriller.

   Then the mist came down again, and in driving sleet Leithen scrambled among the matted boulders and screes of Bheinn Fhada’s slopes. Here he knew he was safe enough, for he was inside the Machray march and out of any possible prospect from the Reascuill. But it was a useless labour, and the return of the thick weather began to try his temper. The good humour of the morning had gone, when it was a delight to be abroad in the wilds alone and to pit his strength against storm and distance. He was growing bored with the whole business and at the same time anxious to play the part which had been set him. As it was, wandering on the skirts of Bheinn Fhada, he was as little use to John Macnab as if he had been reading Sir Walter Scott in the Crask smoking-room.

   I’ve always thought of this in cinematic terms, an Ealing comedy though with a more extensive cast and across time. Basil Rathbone or Ronald Colman for Leithen, Patric Knowles for Lamancha, and Kenneth More for Palliser-Yeates, David Tomlinson for Archie, Jean Simmons or Glynis Johns as Janet, Edmund Gwenn as the gillie Wattie Lithgow, Margaret Rutherford for Lady Claypool with her yappy dog, and so on.

   John Macnab proved popular and interesting enough that a sequel, and a good one, The Return of John Macnab by Scottish novelist Andrew Greig came out in 1996, a critically acclaimed work in which a group of friends set out to recreate the legendary John Macnab’s exploits in a modern setting. It’s a different and more serious work than the original but every inch its equal with its own splendid feel for the Scottish landscape.

   This is a different Buchan perhaps than what you may know from the Richard Hannay series, different still from the more obvious humor of the tales of grocer Dickson McCunn and the Gorbals Diehards. The books featuring Ned Leithen, the most autobiographical of Buchan’s creations, are unique among his output: The Power House, the first modern spy novel from 1910 predating the more famous Thirty Nine Steps; The Dancing Floor a near supernatural novel about middle age romance and adventure; and Sick Heart River Buchan’s own rough country version of Hilton’s Shangri-La and an elegaic farewell to his readers, full of duty and sacrifice and the hard won rewards and cost of honor. Leithen is a far more complex character than Hannay as Buchan himself was.

   John Macnab is not the best place to start reading Buchan, but it is a perfect place to end up. It’s a rare thing, an adventure novel full of physical action but little violence, a thriller where no one dies and nothing more important than a man’s honor and reputation is at stake, and a novel of ideas and heart about something as ignoble as poaching. It is a book well loved and appreciated by his readers, and one I wholeheartedly recommend you get around to, but only after some of the other better known works so you fully appreciate its charms.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:


LADY ON A TRAIN. Universal Pictures, 1945. Deanna Durbin, Ralph Bellamy, Edward Everett Horton, Allen Jenkins, David Bruce, George Coulouris, Patricia Morison, Dan Duryea, William Frawley. Based on an original story by Leslie Charteris. Director: Charles David. Shown at Cinevent 16, Columbus OH, May 1984.

   If She [reviewed here ] satisfied our taste for romantic adventure, several films were of interest to the crime addict. The first film of the weekend was Universal’s Lady on a Train, a somewhat ill-fated at tempt to create a sexier, more adult image for Deanna Durbin.

   She’s a rich girl from California who sees a murder from the window of her train and spends the rest of the movie tracking down the victim and then, the killer. Universal kept a number of good contract players busy trying to distract the audience from the fairly irritating Nancy Drewhistronics of star Durbin, but the chief distinction of the film is probably the fine score by Miklos Rosza and the handsome photography.

   This is a classy production, and it’s never classier — and phonier — than in the carefully staged musical interludes, one of which accomplishes the not inconsiderable feat of eroticizing a performance of “Silent Night” by Durbin.

   The plot is devious, and there are several boxes to be opened in this Chinese puzzle before the final revelation. Add a mystery writer with a tin ear for language, Edward Everett Horton looking puzzled at finding himself playing second-banana to Durbin, and Dan Duryea and Ralph Bellamy as candidates for unlikely suitors of the year. Neither one of them approaches his role with any conviction, but Duryea displays an appealing off-hand, casual charm. The script is based on a story by Leslie Charteris.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


WALTER SATTERTHWAIT – A Flower in the Desert. Joshua Croft #3. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1992. Worldwide Library, paperback, 1993. University of New Mexico Press, trade paperback, 2003.

   Besides the three Joshua Croft books, Satterthwait has also written a historical mystery featuring Oscar Wilde, Wilde West. It received mixed reviews, but I liked it considerably, as I have the previous two Croft books.

   Croft and his partner, the crippled Rita Mondragon, are hired to find the (divorced) wife and child of a well-known TV actor. The case is complicated by the fact that the actor was charged with child abuse, though cleared of the charges.

   The missing wife had worked in LA for a group aiding Salvadorian refugees; her sister living in LA has just been murdered. Connections? There is an ongoing subplot concerning Croft’s so far unrequited passion for his partner.

   Croft, wisecracking but caring, is a member in good standing of the PI fraternity and represents it well. It really isn’t a regional mystery, as much of the book takes place in LA, but still gives a nice feel for Santa Fe. I think Satterthwait one of the better of the new PI writers, and look forward to his books. This one is good, but not great.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #5, January 1993.


       The Joshua Croft series —

Wall of Glass (1987)

At Ease With the Dead (1990)
A Flower in the Desert (1992)
The Hanged Man (1993)

Accustomed to the Dark (1996).

LAWRENCE BLOCK – The Sins of the Fathers. Dell 7991, paperback original, 1976.

   This is the first book appearance of Matt Scudder. ex-cop and unlicensed New York City private operative, and the title, saying as it does something about the private detective business in particular, fits perfectly.

   Dead is a Greenwich Village prostitute, and also dead is the accused, her roommate, the homosexual son of a Brooklyn minister. Since he hanged himself in his cell, the police have closed the case, but the girl’s father hires Scudder in a last attempt to learn to know more about the daughter he lost some time before.

   Scudder’s world is authentically rough and crude, not Miss Marple’s corner of the universe at all, but surprisingly Scudder manages the same sensitivity to his fellow world inhabitants, belying the unnecessarily crass blurb on the back cover.

Rating: B.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 2, No. 4, July 1978 (slightly revised).

From this blues & soul group’s 2012 CD Soul Flower, a song written by Frank Sinatra:

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:


SHOTGUN. Allied Artists, 1955. Sterling Hayden, Yvonne De Carlo, Zachary Scott, Guy Prescott. Screenplay: Clark E. Reynolds & Rory Calhoun. Director: Lesley Selander.

   When I recently discovered a DVD copy of Shotgun at a used record store, my first thought was: count me in! After all, I’m a fan of Sterling Hayden and definitely appreciate Zachary Scott’s presence in Westerns, particularly those where he portrays a slimy, half-good, half-bad character. Plus with Yvonne De Carlo as the female lead, I thought I’d stumbled upon a minor gem that I hadn’t heard of before.

   Alas, it was not to be. Shotgun is, in many respects, a complete misfire. It’s not that the movie doesn’t have some solid acting, and it’s not as if the script is a total disaster. It’s just that the film really has no particular cinematic presence, aside from being just another mid-1950s genre movie with mid-level star power. Simply put, there’s nothing new under western skies in this movie that you haven’t seen before.

   Hayden portrays the laconic Clay Harden, outlaw-turned-lawman. After his the shotgun-wielding outlaw named Ben Thompson (Guy Prescott) mows down his friend and colleague, Harden takes it upon himself to exact bloody revenge. He sets out, shotgun in hand, to Apache Territory to find Thompson.

   Along the way, he encounters the enigmatic but sexy wildcat Abby (De Carlo) and bounty hunter Reb (Scott), a man he knows from his past. There is romance, Apaches on the warpath, gun running, and a final duel. Some of it’s worth watching, but a lot of it feels like it’s all by rote and checking off boxes. Western tropes come flying like a shotgun blast in this one.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


RICHARD STARNES – Another Mug for the Bier. Lippincott, hardcover, 1950. Pocket #858, paperback, 1952.

   While Senator Philander Chance is on the Senate floor trying to get a natural gas pipeline bill enacted, Courtney Mandrel, gossip columnist and TV and radio newscaster, is at the U.S. Capitol preparing to unleash scandal about the bill. Someone on the Hill then puts an end to Mandrel’s muckraking.

   Barney Forge, reporter for a wire service, finds Madrel’s body and moves it so a good guy won’t be accused. Forge then hies himself to Alexandria, Va., to consult Dr. St. George Peachy, elderly pathologist. In a complicated case with several other deaths occurring, one right in front of him that he was supposed to prevent, Peachy clears things up. Well, except for one or two details that I am still puzzling about.

   I don’t know how good a reporter Forge is, but he is a delightful character, as are his wife; Haggis the Airedale; and Ewe-All the goat.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 6, No. 3, Fall 1990, “Political Mysteries.”


      The Barney Forge & Dr. St. George Peachy series

And When She Was Bad She Was Murdered. Lippincott, 1950.
Another Mug for the Bier. Lippincott, 1950.
The Other Body in Grant’s Tomb. Lippincott, 1951.

MAE WEST IN THE MOVIES
Some Thoughts by Dan Stumpf


   I recently got me to watching some of Mae West’s old Paramount movies, and for a fat girl, she don’t sweat much. Even in a post-code vehicle like Klondike Annie (1936) she manages some saucy one-liners (a prim cabin-mate asks Mae if she snores, and she replies, “I never had any complaints.”) and when let go full-throttle in Belle of the Nineties (1934), the results are fine indeed.

   Directed by Leo McCarey in one of his Duck Soup moods, Belle features a sensuous musical montage at set at a revival meeting that I still don’t believe: one of those surprising moments of perverse genius that are why I watch movies.

   Mae’s film debut was in an odd little gangster flick called Night After Night (1932), based on a Louis Bromfield story, “A Single Night.” (There’s a quip there somewhere.)

   Directed with surprising competence by Archie Mayo, this offers Mae West in a picture-stealing supporting role as a former girlfriend of George Raft. Raft runs a classy speakeasy in the mansion formerly owned by neuveau-poor Constance Cummings, who is planning to marry Louis Calhern for his money, and obviously the accent here is more on romance than anything criminous, but there are some surprisingly edgy moments between Raft and a competitor who wants to “buy” him out, carried off neatly by`the actor’s casual flair for that sort of part.

   And there’s an odd, moving moment when Raft realizes just how little he means to Cummings that carries a dramatic punch almost amazing, coming from a shallow actor like this and a flat-footed director like Mayo. Add the effect of a brand-new Mae West sashaying around tossing off her own one-liners, and you get quite a nice little movie indeed.

   But alas. Alas I say. Since Mae West’s first film was in support of George Raft, I thought I’d follow it be watching her last film Sextette (1978) in which Raft has a cameo — along with Tony Curtis, Ringo Starr, Walter Pidgeon, Alice Cooper, Keith Moon and Rona Barrett. They’re the lucky ones: poor Dom Deluise and Timothy Dalton have to stick around for the whole picture.

   This is quite simply a bad movie. No, not simply Bad, but garishly, ennervatingly, appallingly awful and not even worth watching for its badness. The conceit here is that Mae West — eighty years old and looking every nano-second of it in makeup thick enough to embarrass Tammy Faye — is about to marry Timothy Dalton but is lusted after by hordes of handsome young men who keep rushing in and dancing around her.

   Meanwhile, Deluise tries to get her to make love to the Russian ambassador for World Peace and Dalton sings “Love Will Keep Us Together” while Mae looks off camera and reads her lines from a cue card. Her timing is shot, the wit is gone, and the whole sad effect is like watching the last appearances of once-snappy performers like Bob Hope or Muhammad Ali.

   This is a film you should cross the street just to keep from seeing, and one that will plague my mind in those long dark nights of the soul.

SELECTED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


   Japanese animation, better known as anime, is a favorite of mine for many reasons, one of which is the music. An OP is the opening theme for the series. Check out four of my favorites opening themes (each under 2 minutes long).

MACROSS PLUS. (1994-95) English version. Performed by Michelle Flynn; composed by Yoko Kanno.

   No list of anime op should be without Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop). This is from popular anime series that was a sequel to TV series Macross. The four part OVA (original video animation) and movie tell the story of three childhood friends that had grow apart. The two men rivalry grows when the female friend returns.



BACCANO! (2007) “Guns and Roses.” Performed by Paradise Lunch; omposer: Makoto Yoshimon.

   Anime TV series adapted from series of novels by Ryohgo Narita. Set for the most part in prohibition-era America with multiple storylines told in a chaotic fashion.



TRIGUN (1998) “H.T.” Composed by Tsuneo Imahori.

   This comedy-Western is the story of Vash the Stampede “The Humanoid Typhoon” and his adventures on the planet Gunsmoke with a 60-billion double-dollar bounty on his head.


R.O.D. – THE T.V. (Read Or Die). (2003) Composed by Talu Iwasaki.

   Like many anime series the series exists in many forms – novels, manga, OVA, TV series, and films. The various versions often have the same characters but in different situations. In this version three paper-manipulating sisters are bodyguards to a famous writer.



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