HENRY WILSON ALLEN – Genesis Five. William Morrow, hardcover, 1968. Pyramid T-2162, paperback, 1970.

   Somewhere in the deepest frost-bound hell of the Polar Icecap there sleeps beneath the eternally frozen Sea of Tursk an island once called Okatrai.

When I realized who Henry Wilson Allen was (and I’ll reveal that as this review progresses for anyone as ignorant as I was) I knew I had to read this 1968 near future Science Fiction/Horror Thriller somewhat in the Michael Crichton tradition, but with far deeper pulp roots.

I’ll say this, for all its flaws as scientific speculation or true SF, it is delightful barn=burner of a novel full of enough sturm n drang for a dozen longer books, and oddly looks forward to the kind of not quite SF speculative thrillers that often top today’s bestseller lists from James Rollins, Clive Cussler, and Andy McDermott.

It is well written, playful, and if closer to SF movies or the kind of “Monster” thriller from television thrillers by Nigel Kneale or episodes of Doctor Who, and Outer Limits, it is still for all that great fun. The “monster” here is a good one.

It is not Helnlein or Asimov and John Campbell wouldn’t recognize it, but it is a slam bang thriller.

As we are told the book is taken from The Suntar Papers found at the crash site of a Russian ship and recounts in the words of the papers author, Yuri Suntar, the events surrounding the The Siberian Center for Genetic Studies, known by its code name Genesis Five.

Whether this controversial journal is authentic or the bizarre creation of some deranged hoaxer must remain the subject of another time.

That rather Victorian disclaimer aside we plunge right in, and there is hardly time to catch a breath beyond that point.

Yuri Suntar, our narrator, is the half Mongol son of an American spy and a Soviet citizen, a blonde blue eyed Mongol distrusted all his life and always in the shadow of his brother Yang, Olympic athlete, physical giant, and perfect specimen of Mongol manhood. As the novel opens the security services have shown up at Yuri’s doorstep and he is none too sure whether he is under arrest or being offered a job.

   “You are the state police,” I asked.

“Let us say that is not the question.”

Whisked off across country Yuri is soon introduced to the exotic and beautiful Chandra Maringa, the lilac-eyed daughter of a Chinese woman and a Masai scientist, and the granddaughter of the Soviet Union’s most famous scientist the pure Mandarin genius Dr. Ho Wu Chen.

Entranced by Chandra (who has little use for him), frightened and impressed by Dr. Ho, and by no means certain of himself Yuri discovers that the doctor runs a vast underground scientific research station beneath Okatrai Island in the Arctic wastes where Yang, his brother, has been given the job of master of the savage wolves used for experiment at the facility. Yang asked for Yuri, and Yang gets what he wants.

Arriving at the bizarre underground base Yuri soon encounters Yang and his wolves, and they are not the three little pig kind. What they are is what some Cockney in every British horror movie ever made inevitably calls “an ’orror, Guv’nor, It were an ’orror!”

A hybrid of man and wolf with insect larva that allows Dr. Ho to bind them together they are strong, fast, smart, and murderous of fang claw and fatal stinger.

   The Chinese biochemist eyed me unblinkingly.

“…What we shall create here is the flawless shell of the human species programmed genetically for pack law behaviorism.”

“Programmed for what, Doctor?”

“To kill without conscience, hence without memory.”

“Men with the morals of a wolf superimposed with the work habits of the honeybee, it would have brought forth the work-troops of the new world…” He further informs Yuri.

In short, “It were an ’orror!”

Yuri wants out of the madhouse naturally. And to that end he discovers Ho has secrets of his own including having stored Chandra’s father in hyper-sleep and telling her he is dead. With Joseph Maringa’s help, and few allies, and Chandra won over to his cause Yuri sets out to let the world know what Dr. Ho plans, but things don’t go smoothly…

And thereby hangs a tale, as they used to say.

   Behind us Okatrai went up in a sucking spume of atomized rock, water, ice, of all living and nonliving that had been the vanished Island of Genesis Five.

Shades of Jules Verne.

You will have noted by now it is a “Yellow Peril” novel in many ways, with Dr. Ho in the Fu Manchu mold, but canny enough to do so with mixed race hero and heroine and a cast of good and bad Chinese and Russians. The author also shows he did his research in his study of Mongol culture and Yuri is both believable and admirable, but then the author has a pretty good history of writing sympathetically about races other than his own with insight and significant research.

I’ll tease a bit first, because readers of this blog know who Henry Wilson Allen is on multiple levels. First you know him because for ten years he worked at MGM animation studios as a gag man under the name of Hec Allen, and wrote almost all of the classic Tex Avery cartoons between 1944 and 1954 that have become the stuff of animation legend. He’s that Henry Wilson Allen.

Still, that would not explain his gift for research and writing about other races. He earned those spurs literally writing under two other better known names as my favorite Western writer of all time, Will Henry and Clay Fisher.

You know, McKenna’s Gold, Who Rides With Wyatt, Yellowstone Kelly, Pillars of the Sky, The Tall Men, Santa Fe Passage, I Tom Horn, From Where the Sun Now Stands, No Survivors, North Star, those Westerns, many of which were also movies.

I won’t pretend Genesis Five is politically correct in any way, but it is entertaining and well written, and for its time closer to Richard Condon teasing old pulp traditions (the villains in Whisper of the Axe are the PRC sponsoring terrorism and the villain and hero both ethnic minorities) than the last legs of the Sax Rohmer style Yellow Peril threat to the Western White world plots of old.

In 1968 Nixon had yet to go to China, and China was on the way to replacing the Soviets as the favorite villain of thriller fiction. Its no excuse, but you can see Allen trying to have it both ways, and almost getting away with it by making Yuri and Chandra attractive near superhuman heroes struggling against not just Ho’s madness, but a society and government who would employ him.

Read in context he succeeded, though not so much from a more modern view.

Knowing that, accepting its limitations, it makes for an interesting side light on the better known careers of Hec Allen, Will Henry, and Clay Fisher. There are stylistic touches, and moments when he gets in Yuri’s head that will remind you of some of his Western novels, and whatever else it is a rip roaring thriller.

   …this was the moment beyond which that stillness lit by strange lights and tolled by mute sounds of darkness, and for the space of time unknown.


KURT STEEL – Judas, Incorporated. Hank Hyer #6. Little Brown, hardcover, 1936. Dell 244, paperback, mapback edition, 1948.

   Homer Valliant invented a kind of electrical doodad that made him a small fortune by manufacturing it himself via Valliant Electrical Works. He made a factory town out of his hometown in upstate New York.

   When the Depression hit, he refused to cut wages and only laid off the most able bodied and youthful of his employees. He always hated unions — but he was a kindhearted boss. This kind of generosity didn’t sit well with the board of directors — so Valliant ended up losing control of his own company, getting bought out by a conglomerate (Ledco) and demoted to plant manager.

   Ledco was cutthroat towards labor. Wages were sliced, aging long time employees were canned, and working conditions were oppressive. To keep your job you had to work more hours for less pay and act happy about it.

   In reaction to worsening working conditions, the employees at Valliant Electrical decided to unionize. Homer Valliant, who’d always been a staunch opponent of unions, began to soften his stance when his pleas to new ownership went unheard.

   Homer Valliant’s beautiful daughter Madeline is married to the CEO of Ledco, Curtis Tower, and they began getting into vicious arguments about the state of labor strife at Valliant Electrical.

   Then Homer Valliant is shot dead in his office at the factory. The police arrested the two leaders of the union effort, and charged them with the murder.

   Homer Valliant’s daughter Madeline does not believe for a second that these two employees of her father who had worked hand in hand with him for years would murder him. It doesn’t make any sense. But local law enforcement is captured by Ledco interests, so there’s no way to get the police to investigate any other leads.

   This leads Madeline Valliant to the offices of our hero, private detective Henry Hyer of Manhattan. For $10,000 contingent on finding the real killers, Hank Hyer agrees to take the case.

   When Hyer gets to town, he immediately runs into two competing big private detective firms from NYC. One of the firms was hired to keep labor in check. The other was hired by the CEO, Curtis Tower, to keep tabs on the other firm.

   But this contract as the union-busting detective firm is worth an awful lot of dough. So it’s in the interest of each of the detective agencies to make the other look bad. While labor strife would cause one firm to lose their contract, it would cause the other to gain it. A zero sum game. So when Hyer shows up, the other two agencies figure he’s just another dog after the same bone: the big money of union busting.

   It’s all a bit complicated. But in the end of this 287 pager (in the Dell mapback edition), every page is needed as Hank Hyer navigates his way through the rough and rocky waterways of union leaders, labor spies, Pinkertons, and corrupt cops.

   Hyer does an excellent job of pitting all the forces against each other, getting the State Police and out of town media on his side, and doing fairly scientific detective work tracking down the bullet’s source, evaluating the typography of incriminating papers, bribing the right bribees, and punching out the rest with his pugilist fists.

   There’s even a funny bit where Hyer makes fun of the mediocre pulpster Kurt Steel who always exaggerates Hyer’s heroism in his novels. You can’t believe everything you read, he assures a hero-worshipper.

   All turns out well in the end. He gets the bad guys, Madeline Tower and the CEO part ways, and the beautiful, rich divorcee has the hots for Hyer. He’ll let her chase him back to NYC. He’s got no time for Hickville, with or without a beautiful rich divorcee.

   It’s a very enjoyable detective novel. Original, well done, with a likeable detective, some good witty patter, and a captivating story. It ended credibly, the many strings all tied up in a tidy bow. If you’re looking for another good 30’s detective novel after having read all the Hammetts and the Whitfields, you should check it out. Note that Chandler’s Big Sleep was also published in 1939  —  but while that is Marlowe’s first adventure, this appears to be Hyer’s sixth. More on Hank Hyer here at the Thrilling Detective website.

      The Hank Hyer series —

Murder of a Dead Man (n.) Bobbs 1935
Murder for What? (n.) Bobbs 1936
Murder Goes to College (n.) Bobbs 1936
Murder in G-Sharp (n.) Bobbs 1937
Crooked Shadow (n.) Little 1939
Judas, Incorporated (n.) Little 1939
Dead of Night (n.) Little 1940
Madman’s Buff (n.) Little 1941
Ambush House (n.) Harcourt 1943

BRUNO FISCHER – The Flesh Was Cold. Ben Helm #4, Signet $833; paperback, January 1951.  Previously published as The Angels Fell (Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1950).

   When Flagg finds the body of his ex-wife’s new husband in his closet, he doesn’t know if she’s trying to frame him or if she’s in even worse trouble. But what is troublesome is a missing briefcase, one important to too many people, including both gangsters and congressmen.

   Private eye Ben Helm has a bit part that almost steals the show, but it’s Flagg’s own perverse nature that most impresses. He hates ambitious women, but he may be falling in love with another. He refuses bribes, and refuses political pull in his behalf. Martha, his boss, loves him, and he tolerates it.

   A most· frustrating character and some unusual developments, to say the least, add immensely to an otherwise ordinary detective story.

Rating: B plus.

– Slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, January 1977 (Vol. 1, No. 1)


THE UNDYING MONSTER. 20th Century/Fox, 1942. James Ellison, Heather Angel, John Howard, Bramwell Fletcher, Heather Thatcher, Aubrey Mather. Based on the novel (1922) by Jessie Douglas Kerruish. Director: John Brahm.

   The Undying Monster offers that archetypal cowboy of the Hoppy films, Jimmy Ellison, as a Scotland Yard forensic investigator (!) assisted by Heather Thatcher as a distaff Watson, looking into the Mysterious Curse that haunts John Howard (a Ronald Colman look-alike who starred in Paramount’s Bulldog Drummond series) and his sister, Heather Angel.

   This is an oddity: A Werewolf movie almost totally lacking in excitement. It’s directed by John Brahm, a director who had his moments (Hangover Square, The Lodger, Guest in the House),  so it’s not without some atmosphere and plenty of nifty camerawork, but overall, there’s just too little going on to sustain it.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #78, July 1996.



ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE April 1967. Overall rating: ***

JULIAN SYMONS “The Crimson Coach Murders.” Novelette. First published in The Evening Standard, 1960, as “The Summer Holiday Murders.” A detective story writer seeking background material takes a tour through southern England. Murder gives him a chance to try his abilities. (3)

ROBERT BLOCH “The Living Dead.” A World War II vampire story; not too imaginative. (2)

EDWARD D. HOCH “The Spy Who Came Out of the Night.” Rand of Double-C is sent to Berne to decode a message. His bitterness is forced to light. (3)

JACQUELINE CUTLIP “The Trouble of Murder.” A murderer burns down his inheritance unknowingly. Dry and confusing writing, but ending is good. (4)

CORNELL WOOLRICH “The Talking Eyes.” Novelette. First published in Dime Detective Magazine, September 1939, as “The Case of the Talking Eyes.” A paralyzed woman, able to communicate only wth her eyes, overhears her son’s wife plotting to kill him. Unable to stop the murder, she manages to avenge his death. Who else could attempt such a story? (4)

RHODA LYS STOREY “Sir Ordwey Views the Body.” Anagram-pastiche [by Norma Schier] of [Dorothy L. Sayers’] Lord Peter Wimsey. (1)

DOROTHY L. SAYERS “The Queen’s Square.” First appeared in The Radio Times, December 23, 1932. Lord Peter Wimsey solves a murder no one could have committed. A red costume in red light would appear white. (3)

JIM THOMPSON “Exactly What Happened.” Man disguised as another is killed by the other disguised as him. (1)

H. R. WAKEFIELD “The Voice of the Inner Ear.” First appeared in The Clock Strikes Twelve by H. Russell Wakefield, Herbert Jenkins, 1940, as “I Recognised the Voice.” A “psychic” detective solves mysteries. (2)

L. J. BEESTON “Melodramatic Interlude.” Revenge is thwarted by the victim’s wife. Obvious but still exciting. (3)

CHRISTOPHER ANVIL “ The Problem Solver and the Burned Letter.” Richard Verner reads a clue from a typewriter ribbon. (2)

LAWRENCE TREAT “P As in Payoff.” Mitch Taylor of Homicide Squad solves a hotel robbery as he tries to gain a favor. (3)

–January 1968


CORNELL WOOLRICH – Manhattan Love Song. Gregg Press, hardcover, October 1980. Pegasus Books, paperback, 2006. First published by William Godwin, Inc., hardcover, 1932. Film: Monogram, 1934.

   The first-person narrator, Wade, has been married to Maxine for eight years and suddenly becomes enamored of one Bernice Pascal. He destroys everything, including himself, in his quest to make her his own. Wade is what was once popularly known an a cad as far as his doting wife is concerned, planning to take all their savings and leave her behind for another woman.

   What he is unable to discover is why Bernice is being kept in her sumptuous apartment, and by whom. What is her secret, and why does she suddenly become so frightened and fear for her life? The inevitable murder leaves Wade the perfect patsy.

   Woolrich’s sixth novel contains the element of suspense which was to characterize his later novels, starting in 1940 with The Bride Wore Black. There are also many other Woolrichian hallmarks present in this early work, such as the use of the small apartment atmosphere, the important play of light, and the pervasive background music of the period (“Why Was I Born?” is an example here). And no one — but no one — can evoke the early New York subways like Woolrich.

   This beautiful photographic Gregg reprint of the original novel contains a valuable introduction by Woolrich admirer and authority, Francis M. Nevins, Jr., who is no stranger to readers of The Poisoned Pen.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 4, Number 3 (June 1981).


Reviews by L. J. Roberts


C. J. BOX – Shadows Reel. Joe Pickett #22. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, March 2022; paperback, August 2022. Setting: Contemporary Wyoming.

C. J. BOX Joe Pickett

First Sentence: Lorne Trumley had called dispatch to report a dead moose on his ranch.

   Game Warden Joe Pickett goes to the scene where allegedly a moose has been burned. Instead, he finds the tortured and burned body of a local fishing guide. Librarian Marybeth Pickett receives an anonymous package containing the photo album of a former Nazi officer. The Pickett’s friend, falconer Nate Romanowski, is tracking the man who attacked his family and stole his falcons. “This won’t end well.”

   It is challenging when an author whose entire catalogue of books one has loved, writes one that is painful to read, and not in a literary sense. All the elements one normally loves seem to be missing. What happened to the warm, supportive relationship between Joe and his wife, Marybeth? Where is the subtle humor that has been a trademark of Box’s writing?

   Political viewpoints seem to be the theme de jour and certainly not everyone will agree with various points of view. However, a writer is usually expected to maintain some degree of objectivity or, at the very least, do their research. Box missed both these marks by an extremely wide margin. The author’s usual high-quality storytelling is painfully absent. The crass, sexist descriptions of the woman in the bar would embarrass pulp fiction authors of 1940s.

   Shadows Reel could have been a good book with an intriguing plot, particularly as related to the photo album. The one and only bright spot was the Pickett daughters. Unfortunately, there was so much about this book that was cringeworthy, it wasn’t worth spending the time to finish. The worst part is that it causes one to question even reading the next book.

Rating:  DNF (Did Not Finish).



CHARLES WILLEFORD – Kiss Your Ass Goodbye. Dennis McMillan, hardcover, 1987.

   What Willeford left us with is a series of novels demonstrating the psychopathology of everyday life. The anti-heroes that populate his books aren’t weirdos. They are more often than not quite socially acceptable. Even exemplary. They’re not the ex-cons of Jim Thompson who the reader can always dismiss with a: “well — of course there ARE psychos out there—I’m just lucky I’ve never met one of these crazy people.” Willeford’s psychopaths are frequently very successful in business: art critics, pharma executives, preachers, used car salesmen. Even the most successful.

   Add to this that unlike Jim Thompson’s anti-heroes, who nearly always perish at the end (with a nod to the Hays Commission) — Willeford’s psychos are frequently still out there. There’s no justice in Willeford’s world. Just ick. You’d better watch your step.

   Willeford shows us that rather than being the exception to the rule; rather than being a hindrance to social climbing — sociopathology is a time-worn path to success. And it’s out there. Objects appearing in the mirror are closer than you think.

   Here Willeford excerpts and amends Hank’s story from The Shark Infested Custard. Where Custard is a woven narrative of four friends in Miami and the dark side of the wild oats they sow, Kiss Your Ass Goodbye focuses only on one of the players: Hank. My understanding is that Willeford was having trouble finding a publisher for Custard — so this constitutes a pared down version (in word count — not misanthropy) for Dennis McMillan Publications.

   It’s got a great first paragraph:

   “I had been running around with Jannaire for almost six weeks before I found out that she was married. At ten p.m., Sunday night, when I started to leave my apartment house, planning to buy the early edition of the Monday morning Miami Herald at the 7/Eleven store a block away, I knew that her husband, Mr. Wright, meant to kill me.”

   When Hank, a highly successful big-pharma sales rep (and renowned cocksman) first encounters Jannaire he finds himself ineluctably drawn to her reek “of primeval swamp, dark guanoed caves, sea water in movement, armpit sweat, mangroves at low tide, Mayan sacrificial blood, Bartolin glands, Dial soap, mulberry leaves, jungle vegetation, saffron, kittens in a cardboard box, YWCA volleyball courts, conch shells, Underground Atlanta, the Isle of Lesbos, and sheer joy”.

   Jannaire has a big surprise for Hank, however. And not the kind he’s hoping for.

   It’s very Willefordian. But it’s not my favorite of the Willefords just because Hank is so unlikeable. I felt the same as I did reading Custard awhile back. I grew up in Miami in the 80’s and I knew these guys and I hated them then. I hate them now. I hate that there’s frequently no justice in this world and this book only serves to remind me. None of the characters are likeable. I’m rooting for no one. And I’m left not giving a shit one way or the other.

   Which probably is just the way Willeford wanted.



NEVADA BARR – Firestorm. Anna Pigeon #4. Putnam, hardcover, 1996. Avon, paperback, 1997.

   Barr is one of those authors who seems to have taken the field more or less by storm, and whose first novel commands a ridiculous price from dealers. I’ve only read one of her previous three books, the second, and thought it was well written prose-wise but had an excruciatingly unlikely plot denouement. I felt sort of sad when I started this, because it was a a book that a god friend had harangued me about reading.

   Forest ranger and EMT Anna Pigeon is attached to a firefighting crew that’s battling a monster blaze in the National Forest and Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California when disaster strikes. Just as the fire appears to be winding down, a change in the weather causes a firestorm and Anna and the crew are caught by it.

   Most survive, but most are burned to one degree or another, and they are isolated from rescue by terrain and weather. When they check for survivors, one of the casualties is not only burned, but stabbed. Those that remain must worry not only about surviving injury and the elements, but the presence of a murderer in their midst.

   I liked this. Anna Pigeon is a very engaging character (at least in this book; I don’t remember liking her as well in the other), and here Barr writes a very lean, straightforward style of prose and tells a hell of a good story. The nearest I’ve come to to fighting forest fires is brush and grassland, but I’ve seen firestorms, and if Barr hasn’t been there and done that, she’s listened well to someone who has. The realism of the fire scenes is astounding.

   Barr did a good job with the supporting cast and the mystery was adequate, but this was as much about coping and survival as anything else, to me. Good book.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #24, March 1996.

      The Anna Pigeon series —

1. Track of the Cat (1993)
2. A Superior Death (1994)
3. Ill Wind (1995)
4. Firestorm (1996)
5. Endangered Species (1997)
6. Blind Descent (1998)
7. Liberty Falling (1999)
8. Deep South (2000)
9. Blood Lure (2001)
10. Hunting Season (2002)
11. Flashback (2003)
12. High Country (2004)
13. Hard Truth (2005)
14. Winter Study (2008)
15. Borderline (2009)
16. Burn (2010)
17. The Rope (2012)
18. Destroyer Angel (2014)
19. Boar Island (2016)



BEN BENSON – Beware the Pale Horse. Captain Wade Paris #2. Mill, hardcover, 1951. Unicorn Mystery Book Club, hardcover, 4-in-1 edition. Bantam #1070, paperback, 1953. Wildside Press, softcover, 2018.

   Competent, well clued and thought out police procedural starring State Detective Wade Paris. Paris’s difficulties stem not only from trying to find out who killed both a police colleague and oriental art collector, Charles Endicott, but also from the political pressures that are put upon him to wrap things up quickly and successfully.

   This political angle is brought in most convincingly and the investigation itself is logical and systematic. The clues are spread with care and cunning and the main one I should have spotted deceived me

   Short on humour but otherwise I can find nothing to complain of in this very professional job. A pity (from my point of view) as it’s the first I’ve read of half a dozen Benson’s I own, and I was looking for an excuse to make a small reduction in the overcrowding on my shelves. Now I’ll be looking for even more Bensons!

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 4, Number 2 (April 1981).

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