JOE GORES – Contract Null and Void. DKA #5, Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1996; paperback, 1997.

   I was more than a little disappointing in the last DKA book, 32 Cadillacs.  It was the first in the series in a number of years, and I was really looking forward to it — but it turned out to be a pure caper novel rather than the PI procedural I was expecting, and which earlier DKA books had been. So I started this one a bit apprehensively; not that the last one was bad, but it sure wasn’t what I wanted and expected from a DKA novel.

   DKA stands for Daniel Kearney Associates, a private detective agency run by, logically enough, Dan Kearney- — who is sleeping on an operative’s couch because his wife has kicked him out. For reasons that seemed good at the time, DKA has taken on the job of body-guarding a computer genius at his home because of recent attempts on his life. On his own, Larry Ballard — on whose sofa Kearney is sleeping — is looking into the disappearance of a union official, and this one gets rough in a hurry. And yet another operative is up in redwood country, trying to repo some large tires from a larger Swede.

   Gores and DKA are back to their old form, I’m delighted to report. The ensemble of Kearney, Giselle Marc, Ken Warner, Ballard, and O’Banion are all doing the things real private detectives do, and reinforcing Gores’ reputation as the only writer going who writes “realistic” PI tales.

   It takes an accomplished writer who juggles three stories and a number of frequently shifting viewpoints, but  Gores handles  it with aplomb and panache.  He doesn’t do flashy (at least with DKA), but he does damned good.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #26, July 1996.
From Page to Screen. by Mike Tooney:
DAMON RUNYON “The Lemon Drop Kid.”


DAMON RUNYON “The Lemon Drop Kid.” Short story. First appearance: Collier’s, 03 February 1934.

   Damon Runyon (1880-1946) used to be a household name. He was famous for two reasons: his reportage, often covering some of the most sensational stories of the first half of the 20th century, and his fiction, featuring thinly disguised real people in occasionally outlandish situations, written in a narrative style uniquely his own.

   Nowadays Runyon’s reputation rests almost entirely in his “Broadway stories,” such as Guys and Dolls. People who knew Runyon well claimed his hardboiled exterior concealed a cultured and sensitive interior. In any case, he was friends with the infamous (Al Capone was a neighbor) as well as the famous (in accordance with Runyon’s wishes, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker flew low over Broadway and scattered his ashes over the district).

   One of Runyon’s “ironic mini-comedies” involves a racetrack tout named The Lemon Drop Kid. A tout, for the uninitiated, is a hustler who pretends he has inside information on an upcoming race (when, in fact, he has none), and who by getting some sucker to get in on the betting is able to clear a few “bob” for himself, the sucker usually being happy enough to cut the tout in on the winnings  —  but being very unhappy when the tip doesn’t pay off as advertised.

   This is called “telling the tale,” and The Lemon Drop Kid is normally very good at it.

   But on this particular occasion, The Kid accidentally misdirects his mark, and through a major misunderstanding takes it on the lam to escape what he mistakenly assumes will be retributive justice in the form of The Kid’s tender flesh.

   And so he literally runs away from the racetrack, with his mark in hot pursuit.

   Eventually, The Kid will find love for the first time in his life, but the experience will prove bittersweet . . . .

   Runyon’s story has been filmed twice, once by Paramount in 1934 with Lee Tracy, Helen Mack, and William Frawley (remember the growly landlord in I Love Lucy?); and a second time by Paramount in 1951 with Bob Hope, Marilyn Maxwell, Lloyd Nolan, Fred Clark, and William Frawley again.

   The 1934 version, we are told, adheres more closely to the original story. Those who have seen it say it starts out a comedy and ends up on a more serious note, very much like Runyon’s tale. The claim has been made that Paramount suppressed this film in favor of the remake.

   The 1951 edition takes the idea of The Kid misinforming someone about a bet and runs with it; the whole thing is played for as many laughs as possible (e.g., The Kid initiating a scam on little old ladies, Bob Hope in drag; you get the idea).

   Hope’s film also introduced a song that became an instant Christmastime standard, “Silver Bells.”

   To give you an idea of how much the 1951 movie differed from Runyon’s story, get a load of this list of characters’ names that never appeared in the original tale: Sidney Melbourne, ‘Brainy’ Baxter, Oxford Charley, Nellie Thursday, Moose Moran, Straight Flush, Gloomy Willie, Sam the Surgeon, Little Louie, Singing Solly, The Bird Lady, and Goomba. “Sidney Melbourne” was the moniker they gave The Kid and “‘Brainy’ Baxter” was gorgeous Marilyn Maxwell.

Reviewed by TONY BAER:


WILLIAM FAULKNER – Sanctuary. Harrison Smith, hardcover, February 1931. Modern Library, hardcover, 1932. Random House, hardcover, 1958 (revised and corrected). Reprinted as Sanctuary: The Original Text, edited by Noel Polk (Random House, hardcover). Reprinted as Sanctuary: The Corrected Text (Vintage Books, paperback, 1993; this is the edition currently in print). Film adaptations: The Story of Temple Drake (1933) and Sanctuary (1961).

   Temple Drake is a haughty girl, a naughty girl, daughter of a judge.

   She goes to an all-girls school with annoying rules which she breaks with impunity.

   She has a date with Gowan, a dapper dandy, a University of Virginia graduate with a cute convertible.

   Gowan’s a lush. And he insists on stopping at a still in the sticks for some moonshine. It’ll only take a minute.

   But Gowan gets shitfaced, crashes his car, and strands Temple at the still among the yokels.

   The yokels are fine as long as it’s daytime. But come night, the rapscallions all get drunk, horny and rapacious. No female is safe. Least of all Temple Drake. So she hides, unsuccessfully, from the men.

   One of the men, Popeye, takes her and then takes her away, shooting a competing suitor.

   You think Temple Drake is a helpless victim. A faux vamp scared straight from the depths of human depravity. But you’re wrong.

   Popeye, her abductor, is impotent. And Temple taunts him.

   At the end of the day, Temple is the last one standing. All the yokels go onto their reward. And Temple smirks. Mercilessly.


   The book was a real freakin’ slog, I must say. Lots of technical Fauknerian wizardry, switched up POV’s, mélange of styles, cadence, speech patterns.

   Frankly, mental midget that I am, I found it distracting. My understanding is that No Orchids for Miss Blandish is a blatant rip-off. I can’t remember. Orchids wasn’t that memorable. But I guarantee you James Hadley Chase cut to the chase and told the story straight, leaving out the mumbo jumbo.

   Mumbo jumbo aside, Temple Drake is a great character. The story, when there’s a story being told, is gripping, white knuckling, and fearful. I’ll remember the story too. It’s a good story with a telling that gives you the vision of each character, with all the ramps and curls and squiggly lines of real life consciousness. It just wasn’t that fun deciphering it. It was work. But worth it.

ROLE PLAY. Amazon MGM Studios via Prime Video; 12 January 2024. Kaley Cuoco (Emma Brackett), David Oyelowo (Dave Brackett), Bill Nighy, Connie Nielsen. Directed by Thomas Vincent, written by Seth Owen.

   The Bracketts, Emma and David, are an ordinary mixed-race couple, with a couple of kids, but with a difference. He’s an ordinary husband, but she (Kelly Cuoco, previously of The Big Bang Theory) has a secret. She travels a lot, but she is not taking ordinary (boring) business trips, which is what she tells her husband. No, how she adds to the family’s mortgage account is by being a hitwoman. An assassin for hire.

   So she has a lot of things on her mind. Not only her job, but making sure her husband has no clue what her job is. It is no surprise that when she comes home from one of her “business” trips, she has committed the ultimate sin. She has forgotten their anniversary. Dave is forgiving, but they decide as a couple that their marriage needs some spicing up.

   The idea they come up with to accomplish this is the following plan. They will travel to New York, register separately under different names, planning to meet “accidentally” in the hotel bar, and spent an “illicit” night together.

   This is what is called role play.  You may have indulged in it yourself.

   Things go awry quickly. David is late in arriving, and while Emma is waiting for him in a bar, an elderly gentleman (Bill Nighy) starts chatting her up. In an ordinary way, but gradually with more and more of an edge. Menacing, even. Emma senses something is up, and before the night is over, the elderly gentleman is dead.

   This is maybe 20 to 30 minutes into the movie, no more than that, and from that moment on, the movie has nowhere in particular to go. Billed as an action comedy, it is in fact neither. The two leads have no particular chemistry together, and try as hard as I could, I could not convince myself that Kelly Cuoco (of The Big Bang Theory) is at all convincing as a hit woman for hire. The end result is amusing at best, but far from essential, even for fans of either of the two leading players.

   Your opinion, of course, may differ.

The Amazing Colossal Belgian:
A Quartet of Christie Expansions
Part 3: “Dead Man’s Mirror”
by Matthew R. Bradley


   Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot story “The Second Gong” (Ladies Home Journal, June 1932; The Strand Magazine, July 1932) was collected in The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories (1948). It was expanded considerably as “Dead Man’s Mirror,” which debuted in Murder in the Mews and Other Stories (1937) with three other novellas; Mews was published in the U.S. as Dead Man’s Mirror, initially minus “The Incredible Theft,” restored in 1987. Serialized in the London Daily Express (April 6-12, 1937), “Theft” was expanded from “The Submarine Plans” (The Sketch, November 7, 1923; The Blue Book Magazine, July 1925), originally collected in The Under Dog and Other Stories (1951).

   “Gong” is set on a single night at Lytcham Close, the ancestral home of musician Hubert Lytcham Roche, the last of his line, whose megalomaniacal behavior is either eccentric or certifiable, depending upon who is asked. Among his obsessions is punctuality at dinner, announced with a gong at precisely 8:05 and 8:15 P.M., and woe betide any guest who is tardy.

   It opens as Hubert’s nephew, Harry Dalehouse; Joan Ashby, invited at his behest by the “vague” Mrs. Lytcham Roche; and Geoffrey Keene, Hubert’s secretary, converge in the hall, having heard what Joan insists is the second gong, but although it is now 8:12, butler Digby says it is the first, dinner being delayed for 10 minutes by the late 7:00 train.

   Astounded at this unprecedented departure from tradition, they hear a sound, but cannot agree what it was—a shot, perhaps from a nearby poacher? a car backfiring?—or which direction it came from. They are soon joined by Hubert’s wife; adopted daughter, Diana Cleves, a distant cousin; and friend and financial advisor, Gregory Barling, yet when the second gong sounds, Hubert is not in evidence.

   As the drawing-room door opens at last, it is not he but Poirot who enters, then Digby reports that Hubert came down at 7:55 and entered the study, whose locked door Poirot has Keene and Barling force, revealing him dead of a shot that passed through his head and apparently shivered a mirror on the wall.

   The gun below his hand, locked French window, and paper bearing just a scrawled word, “Sorry,” suggest suicide, the conclusion reached by Inspector Reeves, who amiably says he needs no co-operation from the unconvinced Poirot. Yet his manie de grandeur is not consistent with suicide, and Poirot explains he was summoned by Hubert, who thought he was being swindled, declining to call in the police for “family reasons.”

   Barling says that Hubert was receptive to the idea of Diana marrying him and admits he is in love with her, yet she has “played fast and loose with every man for twenty miles around,” and has been “seeing a lot” of the new estate agent, Captain John Marshall, who lost an arm in the war.

   Di, who says she was in the garden when the shot was heard, calls Barling a crook, while Keene—seen with the “eyes in the back of [Poirot’s] head” picking up something outside the study—states it was a tiny silk rosebud from her handbag, and Marshall confirms that Hubert lost a bundle speculating on Barling’s “[w]ildcat schemes.”

   Poirot finds two pairs of footprints in the garden where Di had picked Michaelmas daisies for the table and later a rose to cover up a grease spot on her dress. Convening everyone in the study, he shows how jarring a loose mechanism can lock the French window from outside, then elicits the terms of Hubert’s will: Di inherits…provided a potential husband takes the family name.

   Yet a recent codicil stipulates that if said husband is not Barling, then Harry inherits, and Poirot “put[s] the case against” Di—who flirted with Keene to deflect attention from true intended Marshall—before he fingers Keene. Shot with a silencer, the fatal bullet hit the gong, heard only by Joan in her room above, and was later retrieved by Keene, who then dropped it under the mirror he’d cracked to help stage the scene, smoothing out Di’s first footprints in the flower bed to conceal his own; he later fired his revolver out the window before dashing from the drawing room into the hall, giving him his alibi for 8:12. Harry generously offers to halve the estate with Diana, disinherited for refusing to wed Barling.

   “Dead Man’s Mirror” features a return appearance by Mr. Satterthwaite, who was usually seen in Christie’s stories of Harley Quin but crossed paths with Poirot in Murder in Three Acts (1934), first serialized in The Saturday Evening Post (June 9-July 14, 1934) and then published in the U.K. as Three Act Tragedy. Adapted by ITV with David Suchet in 1993 for Series 5 of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, “Mirror” backtracks to Poirot receiving the letter in which Gervase Chevenix-Gore imperiously summons him to Hamborough Close. At a duchess’s party, he seeks out Satterthwaite—given neither explanation nor introduction—to pump him regarding the old family (“Sir Guy de Chevenix went on the first crusade”).

   The novella also briefly describes his journey, but beginning with his arrival, many of the mechanics of the story, even specific passages, are anologous, with the usual renaming of characters (if not always in a one-to-one correspondence). Di, Marshall, Digby, Barling, Harry, and Joan are roughly equivalent to, respectively, Ruth, Captain John Lake, Snell, Colonel Ned Bury, Hugo Trent, and his girlfriend, Susan Cardwell. Keene is effectively bifurcated into secretary Godfrey Burrows and research assistant Miss Lingard, assisting Gervase with the family history; newly added lawyer Oswald Forbes notes that “my firm, Forbes, Ogilvie and Spence, have acted for the…family for well over a hundred years.”

   Local law is here represented by Major Riddle, the Chief Constable of Westshire County, whose investigation—with old friend Poirot—puts to shame the cursory one by Reeves, a virtual walk-on. Christie eliminates much of the humor inherent in the collective surprise over the host’s failure to appear for dinner, but compensates with his wife, Vanda, a self-professed reincarnation of Egyptian queen Hatshepsut and “a Priestess in Atlantis,” who claims to see Gervase’s spirit in the study. Forbes explains that although he disapproved of his sister’s marriage, his proposed new will stipulated that Ruth marry Hugo, not Bury, whose ill-advised investment was in the Paragon Synthetic Rubber Substitute Company.

   It is Lingard whom Poirot espies picking something up, which she identifies as a pencil that Bury had made out of a bullet fired at him in the South African War, and murdered Gervase with Ruth—secretly wed to Lake three weeks earlier—as a motive. Bury reveals that unknown to her, she was no distant cousin, but the illegitimate daughter of Gervase’s brother and a typist, who’d “renounced all rights” after he died in the Great War. Poirot’s apparent accusation of Ruth has the desired effect and Lingard confesses, confirming the truth privately to Poirot: she was the typist, who wanted to protect Ruth’s happiness by preventing the new will, and burst a blown-up paper bag to simulate the sound of a shot.

         — Copyright © 2024 by Matthew R. Bradley.

Up next: Remembered Death

      Editions cited

“The Second Gong” in Witness for the Prosecution: Dell (1979)
“Dead Man’s Mirror” in Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories: William Morrow (2013)

Reviewed by TONY BAER:


JIM THOMPSON – The Criminal. Lion #184, paperback original, 1953. Reprinted many times.

   Bob Talbert is 15 years old. He raped and killed his 14 year old neighbor Josie. Maybe.

   There’s not a lot of evidence one way or the other.

   The DA’s about to let him go when he gets a heads up that the paper is about to go crazy about it: ‘DA Lets Killer Loose!’. The DA decides it would be better for job security to go ahead and force out a confession. Which he does.

   The book is a Rashomon-like POV kaleidoscope with the perspectives of the parents, the law, Bob, the witnesses, and the fourth estate each taking a turn at telling their side of the story.

   No conclusion is reached, and you’re left not knowing who committed the crime. Bob’s not even sure anymore.

   All we know is that everybody is corrupt and no one knows truth from fiction.

   At the end, the paper has played out the ‘DA Lets Killer Loose’ angle and is now ready to push a new story: ‘Innocent Youngster Victim of Miscarriage of Justice’.

   There’s no more truth behind one story than another. At the end of the day, it’s all dollar signs and the stench of mendacity.


   The fact that we’re left without a denouement is disconcerting. We’re just left with a bunch of puzzle pieces of different sizes from different angles of the same scene, none of which fit together. On the other hand, I guess that’s the point. That truth is hard to find. For example, Bob names an eyewitness who, once located, says: ‘What do you want me to say and how much will you pay me to say it?’ Bob’s lawyer says: I just want the truth. They respond: I’m having trouble remembering—how much did you say I’d get paid—and who was it I’m supposed to have seen?

   It’s a unique novel and different from the Thompson’s usual pantheon on psychos on perdition’s path. Ambiguity is not something Thompson is known for. But that’s what he serves up here. Here the psychopath is the criminal justice system itself: Damned and it don’t give a damn. I dug it.

Reviewed by TONY BAER:


PAUL BOWLES – Let It Come Down. Random House, hardcover, 1952. Signet #1002, paperback, 1953. Reprinted many times since.

   Nelson Dyar is a bored bank teller in the U.S. of A. Waiting for nothing. An acquaintance has apparently established himself in the International Zone (which Burroughs calls ‘Interzone’) of Tangier and invites Dyar to work at his travel agency. Dyar accepts. Nothing else to do.

   The phrase “Let It Come Down” is from MacBeth. One of the characters is scheduled for a hit. He walks by his hit man, saying: ‘Looks like rain’. The hit man says, swinging his sword upon his neck: ‘Let It Come Down’.

   Dyar arrives and his buddy is not all that friendly. In fact, his buddy is just using him as a money laundering mule. British Sterling is strictly controlled in Morocco. And sneaking it in is worth its weight in silver.

   Dyar suspects precisely what is happening, and lets it happen anyway. Let’s himself be seduced by a countess, let’s himself be taken in by a whore. He had nothing going on anyway. So why not?

   And then he finds himself with a shitload of money. And decides, for perhaps the first time in his life, to do something: He steals it.

   He absconds to a hovel in Spain where he waits, smoking more and more hashish, getting more and more stoned, more and more paranoid. And waits. For it to come down.

   Which it does. Inevitably.


   Starts off promising, ends with a meh. I picked this one because I’d just read Peter Rabe’s The Box which got me in the mood for more North African island intrigue. However, as the book goes on, as Dyar gets more and more stoned, as his attentions start to blur and glaze, the book starts to meander too. Like Dyar. Like the camera’s eye. Which is realistic. Just not enjoyable for this reader.

   So the thing is well executed, I guess. I just prefer straight, hardboiled execution. And when the character and narrative start to fall apart, so did my attention.

   I read that a fan once knocked on Bowles’s door excited to visit Tangier, and Bowles, upon opening the door, responded: If you’d read my books, why would you want to visit Tangier? He paints a portrait where everyone and everything is for sale in the International Zone. That there’s nothing too perverted, for a price.

   It’s a place where, if you have no values, you’ll be sucked into intrigue quicker than a duck in a jet engine. But for me, this book was more quack than pâté. And I never liked pâté anyway.



MICHAEL CONNELLY – Trunk Music. Harry Bosch #5, Little Brown, hardcover, 1996. St. Martin’s, paperback, 1998

   Connelly is to me one of the strongest authors to emerge in this decade, and I am a bit surpassed that he hasn’t been nominated for more awards. The Black Echo did win a Best First Edgar, but what I thought was his best, The Concrete Blonde, went almost unnoticed.

   Harry Bosch is back in homicide, after a disciplinary assignment away from trouble and the limelight His first case after he returns is a sleazy filmmaker’ s body in a trunk, one that has all the earmarks of a Mafia hit. The LA Organized Crime boys want no part of it, though, and this makes Harry a little suspicious. He gets even more so when the trail leads to Las Vegas and some mob figures. He follows it there, and finds a troublesome lady from his past, and more suspicions, and a lot more problems than he wanted, needed, or could comfortably deal with-but that’s par for Harry.

   [A line I spotted:] “He smiled glibly.” I’ve always wanted to do that, but never knew how.

   I think this is the first time I’ve given a Connelly book less than a [double star rating], but this was a very ordinary book for Connelly — which means it was above average, and better than most [authors] can  write.  One of the plot elements — his Achilles heel from the first book — wasn’t believable to me, and there wasn’t anything really exceptional about any part of the story.

   It was nevertheless a good book, because Connelly is good enough to be readable even at half speed,  On the whole, though, it was a little disappointing, if only because of the high standard he’s set.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #26, July 1996.

RICHARD ABSHIRE – Dallas Deception. PI Jack Kyle #3. William Morrow, hardcover, 1992. Penguin, paperback, 1993.

   Jack Kyle is one of those oh-so-common PI’s who’s barely squeaking by. He sleeps in his office, for example, and his secretary (named Della) works for the occupants of all the offices on the same floor as his. He’s hired on this case (pro bono) on behalf of a cop friend who’s currently laid up in the hospital. It seems that the daughter of the latter’s very close lady friend has been caught on videotape in some very X-rated activity, and not voluntarily.

   Kyle makes with the rough tough scene, gets the tape, makes sure it is the original (but of course the number of copies can’t be determined for sure, but the frightened Freddy, who orchestrated the scene, tells Kyle that that’s all there is. Maybe, maybe not, but Kyle later finds he has a problem to deal with when he finds Freddy dead, with the very naked daughter in the same room.

   That’s pretty much it. The basic plot line. When spelled out like that, it doesn’t seem like much — not to fill nearly 300 pages of small print in the paperback edition — but I haven’t yet gone into the motive, which verges into very nearly science fiction territory, of the “mad doctor” variety, or at least it was back in the early 1990s, and personally, I didn’t find it very interesting, I have to admit, though, it was certainly different.

   Jack Kyle, who tells the story in good old-fashioned first person, is a likeable lunk of a guy. When he’s actually working on the case, the action scenes are well-described and orchestrated, but the banter between Kyle and his friends and associates often come off as forced and lame. Maybe it was just me, but the best I can do on my H/B scale is a meager 4.7.

   That’s out of 10.

      The Jack Kyle series
1. Dallas Drop (1989)
2. Turnaround Jack (1990)
3. The Dallas Deception (1992)

[NOTE]: This is the last of four reviews that went missing during the loss of service undergone by this blog over this past weekend. Unfortunately all of the comments for it have permanently disappeared.

Reviewed by TONY BAER:


PETER RABE – The Box. Gold Medal 632, paperback original, 1956 (cover by Barye Phillips). Stark House Noir Classics, softcover, 2003 (published in a 2-for-1 edition with Journey Into Terror).

   Quinn is a mafia lawyer who screws up. Not quite big enough for the long ride, so he’s given an all expenses paid trip around the globe instead.

   The way it works is this: They knock you out and stick you in a box, about the size of a coffin. They fill it with plenty of food and water and put holes in it for air. Then they nail it shut and stick you on a freighter from NY Harbor to NY Harbor, by way of the world entire.

   Somewhere about halfway thru the voyage, the box top breaks and it starts to smell of human filth. A smell the sailors can’t handle — so they dump the box out at tiny harbor port in Northern Africa.

   Quinn’s got amnesia and doesn’t know what the hell is going on. The locals clean him up and go about trying to get some papers from the consulate on him so they can send him on his merry way.

   But soon enough he gets the lay of the land and his gangland persona kicks in. He decides to take things over in this island town and make his own gangland kingdom by the sea.

   The local corruptor in chief (the mayor) doesn’t take too kindly to this outsider coming in and threatening his take. And so the matter comes to a head: the NY gangster enlists some of the local oppressed Arabs against the African mayor and his cronies. And comes the showdown.


   I enjoyed it but it was a bit on the light side in the end. I also didn’t like how hard Rabe tried to push the metaphor of “The Box.” The idea is that humans have “boxes” that they create for themselves. Even with the “benefit” of amnesia, a NY gangster has habits of character created by “The Box” he has caged himself within that will inevitably cause him to become a gangster in whatever environment he finds himself in.

   Not sure I buy it myself. On the other hand, Rabe was a practicing psychologist so he probably knows better than I do. Still, overwrought metaphors are annoying to this boy in the box. I preferred Anatomy of a Killer and Kill the Boss Goodbye.

[EDITORIAL NOTE]: This is the second of four reviews that went missing during the loss of service undergone by this blog over this past weekend. Unfortunately all of the comments for it have permanently disappeared.

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