Bibliographies, Lists & Checklists

KATHLEEN MOORE KNIGHT – Three of Diamonds. Elisha Macomber #15. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1953. Detective Book Club, hardcover, three-in-one edition.

   The detective of record in Three of Diamonds is one Elisha Macomber, chairman of the Board of Selectmen of Penberthy Township, Penberthy Island, Massachusetts, a man perhaps in his 70s. Although there is a Chief of Police on the island (think Nantucket), whenever there is a serious crime (murder, for example), he is the one who is charge of the investigation that follows, and over the years, there were quite a few. (See the list below.)

   He’s off stage for much of this one, however. The action centers instead around the Crockett family, long time residents of the island, an older woman who lords it over a young sister and brother, both used to living under her thumb all their lives. In a pottery barn out back live a husband and wife, plus a young female assistant, not, as it turns out, all that harmoniously

   It is the younger brother Titus, not generally considered to be the smartest whip in the barrel, who finds the body, shot between the eyes. But when others go to find it, the body is gone. At the scene of the “crime,” however, is a playing card. The three of diamonds.

   It is difficult to solve a murder, obviously, when there is no body to be identified, if indeed there was a body. Macomber is convinced, however, and does more than due diligence to determine what indeed had happened. The case also involves some recent strangers on the island, who may be connected with some jewel robberies up in Boston,

   There is a chapter or two soon before the ending in which all of the participants in the tale spend their time skulking around in the dark, following each other at times, and in at least one instance, one hitting another over the head. The ending itself is one of those all of the suspects together kind of affairs, in which the obvious suspect sits there with Elisha in charge with a entire collection of least likely suspects.

   One might suspect that author Kathleen Moore Knight would things index control at this point, but she does not. What follows is a fast-paced mixture of confusion and chaos that could easily boggle your mind, if you were to let it. It is better just to sit back and fasten your seat belts. The ending of this one is a doozie!

      The Elisha Macomber series —

Death Blew Out the Match (1935)
The Clue of the Poor Man’s Shilling (1936)
The Wheel That Turned (1936)
Seven Were Veiled (1937)
Acts of Black Night (1938)
The Tainted Token (1938)
Death Came Dancing (1941)
The Trouble At Turkey Hill (1946)
Footbridge to Death (1947)
Bait for Murder (1948)
The Bass Derby Murder (1949)
Death Goes to a Reunion (1952)
Valse Macabre (1952)
Akin to Murder (1953)
Three of Diamonds (1953)
Beauty Is a Beast (1959)

W. T. BALLARD – Pretty Miss Murder. Max Hunter #1. PermabookM-4228, paperback original,; 1st printing, December 1961. Never reprinted.

   Back when this book was published, I’m going to assume that Ballard was correct and that in order to get a job working in Clark County, Nevada, and Reno in particular, you had to fill out an application from the sheriff’s office, and be accepted. That’s where Lt. Max Hunter first encounters a vivacious young brunette who’s hoping to start working at a local casino as a cigarette girl while in the state seeking a divorce.

   The attraction is immediate, and is only doubled when he meets again on the job. (As described, she looks exactly like the girl on the cover. (*)) Any further relationship is nipped in the bud, however, when the girl’s body is found later dumped beside a highway leading out of town.

   Hunter takes her death personally, of course, but what he learns is both surprising and disturbing, to say the least. All her life she has been known for leading men on and as a conniving (I can’t use the word) and has even been disowned by her aunt and uncle who raised her.

   Even though thoroughly disillusioned, Hunter continues on the case anyway, which, as it turns out, involves a well known racketeer who is trying to track down the girl’s husband, who has gone missing with $250,000 of the gang boss’s money. As an unexpected twist in the plot at the time, Hunter and Johnny Blessing find it mutually worthwhile to team up together, if only for a while.

   It’s a fun, fast-moving story, the only flaw in which is Ballard describes his characters so well that … well, in my opinion, when they act out of character, something’s wrong. Hunter ought to have trusted his instinct more. I knew exactly what was happening, even as all the while Ballard, as the man in charge of telling the story, was doing his best to divert attention away.

   You might think this would take away the enjoyment of reading to learn how things work out, which they do, but it doesn’t, and all of the threads are tied up tightly at the end. It’s a smooth professional piece of writing, produced by a longtime pulp writer  who didn’t dry up and quit when the pulps died. It’s not really a hardboiled novel, only medium boiled at best, but on that basis, of you’re still with me, I’d say you’d have fun with this one, too.


(^) The cover shown is that of the copy I own, which Ive had for a very long time. Amusingly enough, while I’m not sure you can make it out, but what the girl is selling are spelled out as “cigaretts.” Also note the mutilated cover, with the upper right corner clipped off. This is was often done by those paperback swap shops commonly found almost everywhere a few years back so that books deemed unworthy could not be used to be traded back into the store again. The book cost me ten cents, which to me was a dime well spent, now finally at last.

         The Max Hunter series —

Pretty Miss Murder (1961)
The Seven Sisters (1962)
Three for the Money (1963)

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Art Scott


MALCOLM DOUGLAS – The Deadly Dames. Gold Medal #614, paperback, 1956. Reprinted by Stark House Press in a 2-for-1 edition with A Dum-Dum for the President, trade paperback, 2015, as by Douglas Sanderson.

   There were innumerable private-eye novels that saw print as paperback originals in the Fifties and Sixties. While many, perhaps most, were routine and forgettable, the intrepid reader will occasionally come across a real sleeper, like this book by the Canadian writer Douglas Sanderson, writing as Malcolm Douglas.

   Bill Yates. easygoing Montreal private eye, takes on what looks to be a simple case of spy-on-the-straying-spouse. But before he even starts work, the client’s rich aunt tries to buy him off, and she promptly goes down under the wheels of a streetcar. Not long after that. two emissaries from the local gambling czar stick him up in his office, looking for a missing will. One day and three or four corpses later, Yates is being pursued by the crooks, the cops, several double-crossing dames, and an Amazon Russian housemaid with romantic notions.

   The action is furious and headlong, culminating with a naked Yates being chased through the Canadian woods while being eaten alive by swarms of mosquitoes. Along the way. Yates sets the world record for the greatest number of people to get the drop on a private eye in the course of a Gold Medal paperback.

   Douglas’s style is classic don’t-take-it-seriously private-eye material: wry, observant. and a bit gaudy — and perhaps just on the edge of parody. Radio detective fans will find it reminiscent of the marvelous scripts Richard Breen used to write for tough guy Jack Webb in Pat Novak for Hire. Exceptionally entertaining.

   The other Malcolm Douglas Gold Medal originals — Rain of Terror (1956), Pure Sweet Hell (1957), and Murder Comes Calling (1958) — are less successful but still good reading. The best of Sanderson’s novels under his own name is probably Mark It for Murder (1959).

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.


Bibliographic Update: Technically this was the only book Sanderson wrote about Montreal-based PI Bill Yates, but on his Thrilling Detective website Kevin Burton Smith points out that Sanderson wrote three other novels about Yates as Martin Brett, except that in those books, Yates was called Mike Garfin. Here’s the tally:

      The Mike Garfin series —


Hot Freeze (1954)
The Darker Traffic (1954)
The Deadly Dames (1956; by Malcolm Douglas) Mike is called Bill Yates in this one, for contractual reasons.
A Dum-Dum for the President (1961)

SAMUEL HOLT – What I Tell You Three Times Is False. Sam Holt #3. Tor, hardcover, 1987; paperback, 1988. Felony & Mayhem, softcover, 2006, as by Donald E. Westlake writing as Samuel Holt.

   Former TV star Sam Holt and three other actors and actresses typecast in their roles of fictional detectives, along with assorted wives, lovers, and so on, are trapped on an isolated Caribbean island with a killer who seems intent on being the last one left alive.

   After a slow start, setting the scene, the mystery revs into high gear, with the killer and the detectives  squaring off in a long, complicated game of murder, somewhat reminiscent of Ellery Queen, but by a noticeable hair, not quite as clever as the master.

(*) Original footnote: If anyone know who Samuel Holt is, let me know. (And note that the similarity on plotting to EQ’s work is matched by the pseudonymous author-character relationship. It couldn’t be just a coincidence, could it?)

– Reprinted from Mystery.File.6, June 1988.

      The Sam Holt series –

1. One of Us Is Wrong (1986)
2. I Know a Trick Worth Two of That (1986)
3. What I Tell You Three Times Is False (1987)
4. The Fourth Dimension Is Death (1989)

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Crider


ROBERT DIETRICH – Murder on the Rocks. Steve Bentley #1.  Dell First Edition A141, paperback original, 1957. Cutting Edge, trade paperback, 2020.

   Steve Bentley, series fiction’s toughest tax accountant, was the creation of Robert Dietrich. better known by his more famous (or infamous) real name of E. Howard Hunt. Because he was employed by the CIA, Hunt used pseudonyms for much of his paperback writing in the 1950s and 1960s; the Dietrich name was used first for Dell Books and later for Lancer.

   In Murder on the Rocks, the first book in the series, Bentley is asked by the beautiful daughter of a South American ambassador to investigate the theft of an emerald worth over $ I million. Instead of the emerald, Bentley finds a corpse, and the case becomes even more complicated when the emerald is apparently returned.

   Another murder takes place; Bentley is threatened by gangsters; and the ambassador’s other daughter, even more beautiful than her sister, practically proposes to him. Eventually Bentley, functioning much like any hard-boiled private eye, sorts things out and deals out a bit of his own kind of justice.

   This is one of the better books in the Bentley series, and most of the tough narrative rings true. How tough? Here’s an example: “When Cadena was a tank sergeant on Luzon he had pulled the head off a dead Jap to win a ten-cent bet.” The Washington setting is described with easy familiarity and the characterization is adequate, although readers may be put off by Bentley’s frequent disparaging comments about homosexuals, which are entirely unrelated to the book’s plot.

   Readers looking for more of Bentley’s adventures should also enjoy End of a Stripper (1960). Perhaps Hunt’s best book as Dietrich, however, is a non-series work, Be My Victim (1956).

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.

      The Steve Bentley series

Murder On the Rocks (1957)
The House on Q Street (1959)
End of a Stripper (1960)
Mistress to Murder (1960)
Murder on Her Mind (1960)
Angel Eyes (1961)
Calypso Caper (1961)
Curtains for a Lover (1962)
My Body (1973)



MARELE DAY – The Disappearances of Madalena Grimaldi. Claudia Valentine #4. Walker, hardcover, 1996. First published in Australia by Allen & Unwin, paperback, 1994.

   I missed the first of these (*), which won a 1993 Shamus —The Last Tango of Delores Delgado.   The title deserved an award, anyway. Claudia Valentine is an Australian Pl operating out of Sydney, though a good bit of the action takes place in Melbourne.

   Claudia Valentine has just found out that her father, who deserted her mother and her when she was a child, died a derelict a decade ago. At about the same time she takes the case of a runaway and missing 15 year old child. The father is an intemperate and maybe brutal man, the mother emotionally (at least) bruised. So Claudia has two cases, though she’s only getting paid for one: find the missing girl, and a dead father she didn’t know she’d missed, but who now obsesses her.

   There are two stories here, obviously, and I’ll save you some suspense and tell you that they’ re not connected. The personal search is the primary story; indeed, I found the putative main plot to be almost an afterthought, and not that interesting. Which isn’t to say it was a bad book — it wasn’t. Day writes very readable first-person prose, and Valentine is a believable and likable character

   Still, here’s another not-too-thick “mystery” that without a sub-plot wouldn’t be a book, only partially redeemed by the fact that the subplot does involve detection.

(*) Steve here. The books were apparently published out of order in the US, if at all. Here’s a list of all four books as (I assume) they appeared in Australia:

1. The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender (1988)
2. The Case of the Chinese Boxes (1990)
3. The Last Tango of Dolores Delgado (1992)
4. The Disappearances of Madalena Grimaldi (1994)



DAVID DANIEL – The Skelly Man. Alex Rasmussen #2. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1995. No paperback edition.

   I thought Daniel’s The Heaven Stone, winner of St. Martin’s 1993 Best First Pl Novel contest, wasn’t really of award quality, though it wasn’t actually bad. I got a copy of this when it came out, but just now got around to it.

   A famous homeboy, the king of late night TV, is returning to Lowell, Massachusetts, and may be bringing trouble with him.. He’s coming to town to kick off a proposed new show, but not everyone’s thrilled. He’s been receiving cryptic threatening messages, and he wants PI Alex Rasmussen to find out who and why, and stop them. The answer is somewhere in the man’s past, but where? And can it be found in time?

   I closed the review of Daniel’s first book with this:  “… but I guess the main problem was that it’s the same old recipe, and the ingredients weren’t special enough to make the end product anything really out of the ordinary.”

   The same could literally be said of this one, but while the earlier review was mostly damning with faint praise, I liked this book somewhat better. It still isn’t anything really exceptional, but it is solid genre fiction. with a decent lead, good first-person prose and narrative, nice sense of place and an adequate plot.

   Bigger names among PI writers haven’t always done that well these last few years.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #25, May 1996.

      The Alex Rasmussen series —

1. The Heaven Stone (1994)
2. The Skelly Man (1995)
3. Goofy Foot (2004)
4. The Marble Kite (2005)

   Even though Kevin Burton Smith says that I assisted him in putting this list of one-and-done PI novels together, it must have been done a while ago, since I don’t remember doing so. I just came across it again this afternoon while scouting around for something else, as one does while wasting Googling away an hour or so online.

   As far as I know for sure, I’ve read only seven of these. What about you? Everyone reading this has read the first three, right? Of the others, which ones have you read that you can recommend? Have any suggestions as to good ones Kevin may have missed?

   Here’s the link:  Do take a look. Lots of cover images to go with it.

Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930)*
Ben Jardinn in Death in a Bowl by Raoul Whitfield (1931)
Karl Craven in Solomon’s Vineyard by Jonathan Latimer (1941)
John J. Shannon in The Private Eye by Cleve F. Adams (1942)
Walter James in Deadly Weapon by Wade Miller (1946)
Steve Lawson in Hard and Fast by U.S. Andersen (1956)
Murray Kirk in The Eighth Circle by Stanley Ellin (1958)
Max Raven in Cain’s Woman by O.G. Benson (1960)
Neal Fargo in Interface by Joe Gores (1974)
The Eye in The Eye by Marc Behm (1980)
Cody in Texas Wind by James Reasoner (1980)
Ralph Poteet in Peeper by Loren Estleman (1989)
Bernardo Thomas in Tropical Murder by Louis Williams
Fritz Brown in Brown’s Requiem by James Ellroy (1981)
“Peekaboo” Frankie Fagan in Bohemian Heart by James Dalessandro (1993)
Ernest DeWalt in An Ocasional Hell by Randall Silvis (1993)
Reno Sloan in The Asylum by John Edward Ames (1994)
George Webb in The Light of Day by Graham Swift (2003)

LIA MATERA – A Radical Departure. Willa Jansson #2. Bantam, paperback original; 1st printing, March 1988. Ballantine, paperback, 1991.

   I reviewed lawyer Willa Jansson’s first brush with mass murder in M*F 4, a book called Where Lawyers Fear to Tread, which took place while she was still in law school. It’s now two years later, and she is a junior associate (not partner) in a liberal law firm.

   And people start being killed all over again. The case is intimately connected with left-wing politics, most of which has been left over from the ’60s. Willa’s mother is also involved. Still intense and cluttered, but well-clued, with a nicely appropriate ending.

– Reprinted from Mystery.File.6, June 1988.


Bibliographic Update: There were seven books in Matera’s Willa Jansson series, published between 1987 and 1998, plus five in a series starring Laura Di Palma, another young lawyer. These appeared between 1988 and 1995. Matera also has had two collections of short stories published, the first in 2000, the other in 2012.

CATHERINE DAIN – Bet Against the House. Freddie O’Neal #5. Berkley, paperback original; 1st printing, February 1995.

   In the wake of such trailblazers as Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller and (of course) Sue Grafton, all with well-known, successful female PI characters, there came a small flood of other authors and female PI creations, few of which turned out to be either well-known or terribly successful as the ones previously cited.

   But Catherine Dain’s series if Reno-based female PI Freddie O’Neal novels lasted for seven, and as they say, that ain’t nothing. Freddie is more in the Kinsey Millhone mold, which if you’re going to be in the mold of someone, you can’t do much better than that.  She’s independent, not presently attached, and with a bit of sass to her.

   In this one she’s hired to dig up dirt on her client’s mother, who’s inherited all her father’s holdings in a computer chip company, to the dismay of the client and her two brothers who put a lot of effort in making the company what it is today: very very profitable.

   Freddie’s problem is that once she meets the mother, who agreed is a little flaky, she likes her. The bigger problem is that when the mother is killed, she finds herself investigating her death, in spite of her usual avoidance of cases where the police are involved.

   Dain has a good way with words, which helps the reader immensely in following a case in which the number of possible suspects is really very limited, with the weakest part of the Freddie O’Neal’s investigation being the ending. Oops, you might say, but the fun in this one is in getting there. This one wasn’t a bestseller, but as far as lesser known detective novels with female PI’s go, this one’s one of the better ones.


      The Freddie O’Neal series –

1. Lay It on the Line (1992)
2. Sing a Song of Death (1993)
3. Walk a Crooked Mile (1994)
4. Lament For a Dead Cowboy (1994)
5. Bet Against the House (1995)
6. The Luck of the Draw (1996)
7. Dead Man’s Hand (1997)

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