Reviews


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

THE OUTER LIMITS “The Bellero Shield” ABC. 10 February 1964. Martin Landau, Sally Kellerman, Chita Rivera, Neil Hamilton, John Hoyt as the voice of Bifrost, Vic Perrin the voice of Control. Teleplay by Joseph Stefano. Story by Lou Morheim and Joseph Stefano (Leslie Stevens uncredited). Directed by John Brahm.

   If somehow you have never seen this episode this review contains SPOILERS!

   “… when this passion becomes lust, when it’s flame is fanned by greed and private hunger, then aspiration becomes ambition by which sin the angels fell.”

   
                      — the voice of Control introducing “The Bellero Shield”

   Heady stuff, but pretty standard for The Outer Limits, the SF anthology series taking control of your television set weekly (“We control the horizontal. We control the vertical…”) that took the pretentious voice of Science Fiction Theater (Truman Bradley) and the social awareness of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, the monsters of Boris Karloff’s Thriller, and the sheer oddity of One Step Beyond, and dressed it up with a stronger than usual science fictional dressing (not that it was particularly deep science fiction in most episodes).

   In “The Bellero (pronounced bell-a-ru) Shield” Martin Landau is scientist Richard Bellero who has spent his life seeking the approval of his father cold demanding Richard Senior (Neil Hamilton, who had appeared in another role in the anthology series the week before). Richard is experimenting with a laser from the laboratory in the top floor of his mansion, and as usual has failed to garner his father’s support.

   Senior expects his son to discover something that will make him immortal and cover the Bellero name in glory. Money means nothing.

   Richard is of course upset, but not as upset as his wife Juidth (played with icy femme fatale perfection by Sally Kellerman) who is not content with money. Judith has long dreamed of what she remembers from childhood as “the trembling way,” a metaphor for the Nordic rainbow bridge Bifrost that bridges heaven and earth, not mere wealth (Richard has more than enough of that without his father), but godlike power and prestige.

   Between Senior’s lust for glory and Judith’s passion for power Richard is pretty much screwed, and we mustn’t forget Judith’s almost alien Mrs. Danvers like devoted servant in black the barefoot creepy and unnaturally devoted Mrs. Dane (Chita Rivera, whose bare feet in this episode should get a second credit).

   To be honest, Landau, a first class over actor himself, has little to do here against Kellerman’s cold hearted Randian goddess, Hamilton’s Miltonic patriarch, and Rivera’s satanically devious servant. It may be the only time in his career his is the most normal character in the cast.

   Enter what Stefano, who co-produced the series, called the “Bear,” the thing that made The Outer Limits different than every other similar anthology series, the monster of the week. Of course we aren’t talking your average “bear” (sorry about that, couldn’t resist) in most cases. More often than not the “bear” was the most sympathetic character in any episode and the real monsters wore human skin, and it was always a semi science based monster, no vampires, witches, or werewolves, though BEM’s were welcome.

   Here the “bear” is an alien transported to Earth by Richard’s laser beam. This alien, christened Bifrost (voiced by John Hoyt) is an advanced being who almost immediately has a shared scientific bond with Richard, but Judith is less interested in exploiting the first contact with a creature from another world than getting her hand on the shield that protects Bifrost, an impenetrable protection that can be extended to cover vast areas from a single unit.

   Judith sees the shield as the key to her ambition and pressures Richard to bring back his Father so she can show it to him, but while Richard is gone Bifrost is becoming anxious to return home, afraid he will miss his chance, and after a well written scene where he sums up Judith by “reading her eyes” (“Throughout the Universe all species that have eyes can be understood through them.”), he tries to leave and Judith kills him hiding him in the cellar with Mrs. Dane’s help.

   Richard returns with his father, and Judith shows him the shield, allowing Mrs. Dane to fire a harmless bullet at her and Senior a laser weapon Richard invented, but when she goes to turn the shield off she cannot. She is trapped and nothing can penetrate the shield whose protection projects far into space and deep in the Earth (that Heaven and Hell metaphor is no accident here).

   Meanwhile Senior and Mrs. Dane clash over the body of Bifrost. Senior telling Mrs. Dane who is trying to hide the body: “Great men are forgiven their murderous wives,” when she warns him Richard too will be implicated before Mrs. Dane pushes him down the basement stairs.

   This all owes more to Weird Tales or Unknown than most Science Fiction, more in line with H. P. Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith and the kind of SF represented by William Sloane’s The Edge of Running Water and To Walk the Night, C. S. Lewis That Hideous Strength, Jack Finney’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or John Christopher’s The Psychogeists. It is the dark nightmare edge of Science Fiction, less the literature of ideas than the monsters of the id they set free. Outer Limits avoided the fantasy and whimsy of some Twilight Zone episodes and the cheeky nihilism of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but does lay it on a bit heavy at times. This one just skirts that, finding a solid footing despite all the Gothick trappings and foundation in basic Greek Tragedy 101.

   At times “The Bellero Shield” makes you wonder if writer/producer Stefano happened to read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology the week before while brushing up on his Freud and Jung.

   Bifrost isn’t dead much to Mrs. Dane’s chagrin and we get yet another metaphor, this one Christian as Bifrost sacrifices himself to save Judith who tried to kill him.

   “I expected it to kill me,” Mrs. Dane says, “but it looked into my eyes and I heard myself saying: “Can you help me?”

   And it said: “Can I not?”

   Unlike some of the other series mentioned here The Outer Limits episodes were more likely to end in irony than rough or ironic justice. Here Judith is freed from the shield, but when Richard tries to comfort her telling her it is gone and now they can go to the authorities and try to explain what has happened Judith reveals she has been driven mad and will always be a prisoner of the Bellero shield: “No, it’s here. I can see it. It will always be here. Nothing can remove it. Nothing…Nothing!”

   And as Control reminds us before returning control of your television to you:

   “… when this passion becomes lust, when its flame is fanned by greed and private hunger, then aspiration becomes ambition by which sin the angels fell.”

   

   Boris, Rod, and Sir Alfred couldn’t have said it better.

   

REVIEWED BY JIM McCAHERY:

   

JONATHAN LATIMER – The Fifth Grave. PI Karl Craven. Popular Library, 1950.

   Jonathan Latimer’s The Fifth Grave has an interesting publishing history, having been originally published by Methuen in England in 1941 under the author’s own title, Solomon’s Vineyard. Its first appearance in the U.S. was in Mystery Book Magazine (August, 1946), and [until now] the first and only appearance in book form is the December, 1950 Popular Library edition (#301), with a subsequent second printing in April of the following year. All of Mr. Latimer’s other books appeared first in the U.S. in hardcover editions.

   Narrator and private eye Karl Craven from St. Louis .discovers his partner Oke Johnson shot dead in Paulton where they had come to rescue a client’s niece, Penelope Grayson, -from a religious cult group located near town at Solomon’s Vineyard. The founder, Solomon, lies in state in their imposing white temple — “the temple that bootleg built.”

   The business end of the vineyard is naturally in other than unsoiled hands and Craven has quite a time separating the wheat from the chaff, especially since he must save a seemingly doped Penelope before the impending Ceremony of the Bride, a Walpurgis Night when she is to become the fifth wife of the dead Solomon, with her grave already dug and complete with headstone.

   A far cry from Latimer’s series investigator William Crane, Craven is as hard-boiled as they come. An egoist, he justifies all his actions; anything goes, he feels, when it’s question  of “fighting fire with fire.”  His likes are simple — food, fighting, women, and liquor. Some scenes are definitely  not for those with weak stomachs. like the one in which Craven forces an antagonist’s head through  prison bars, sacrificing some skin in the process.

   On the obese side, Karl Craven becomes an object of worship himself by the masochistic nympho princess residing at the Vineyard.  He narrowly escapes death twice, including a fabulous scene in a steak room. There is quite a bit of action and suspense with more than one surprise before the case is resolved to the mutual satisfaction of Craven and the client. Written in a terse and often brutal language, it has to be a classic of its kind.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 4, Number 3 (June 1981).
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Julie Smith

   

WILLIAM L. DeANDREA – The Hog Murders. Niccolo Benedetti #1. Avon, paperback original, 1979. Intl Polygonics Ltd, paperback, 1999.

   DeAndrea’s second Edgar-winner is a wonderfully old-fashioned puzzle mystery, complete with serial killer and a master detective reminiscent of Nero Wolfe or even the great Holmes himself. The eccentric but brilliant Professor Niccolo Benedetti is assisted by his pupil, Ron Gentry, a young private eye based in snowy Sparta, New York.

   Sparta is being terrorized by a homicidal maniac who, in the tradition of serial killers, writes notes to a local journalist, in this case likable Buell Tatham. He signs himself “Hog,” and the cover of this paperback is a particularly arresting one, showing a stocky man’s upper body topped by the monstrous head of a pig. Hog’s methods are as clever as they’re diabolical; his victims are random and almost invariably innocent — even a child is killed. But Benedetti, of course, is a little too quick for him.

   The solution is truly unexpected, yet really as obvious as who killed Roger Ackroyd; in other words, the reader is fooled but could kick himself for it. Bonuses are the trademark DeAndrea wit and the withholding of the complete solution until the very last sentence.

   In addition to his mysteries, DeAndrea has published a number of non-series suspense novels, including The Lunatic Fringe (1980), which is set in New York City during the Gay Nineties; and Cronus ( 1984), a thriller about an apparent terrorist killing in the sleepy town of Draper, Pennsylvania. DeAndrea has also published one novel to date under the pseudonym Philip Degrave, Unholy Moses (1985).

———
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 Niccolo Benedetti series

The Hog Murders. Avon 1979
The Werewolf Murders. Doubleday 1992
The Manx Murders. Penzler 1994

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

J. B. PRIESTLEY – The Old Dark House. Harper, hardcover, 1928. Published in the UK as Benighted (Heinemann, hardcover, 1927). Films: Universal, 1932; Hammer, 1963.

   It’s been a season for reading some Old Chestnuts, the first of which was J.B. Priestley’s The Old Dark House,  which turned out to be a neatly – perhaps too neatly — constructed variation on the … well, on the Old Dark House theme, with a group of disparate travelers stuck on a dark and stormy night in a remote mansion inhabited by an equally disparate household of lunatics, criminals and potential killers.

   This was hoary stuff even in the 20s, and Priestley’s stated intent was to use the shuddery conventions as a showcase for his talents with Character and Dialogue, which he does — a little too clearly. One is sometimes reminded a bit forcefully that these are all supposed to be Honest-To-Gawd Characters, and their lines intended to be Highly Dramatic and Very Important.

   Still, as a writer J.B. was no slouch, and The Old Dark House does offer its share of clever talk and sho’ ’nuff thrills; indeed, the Chills are cunningly crafted to appear in ascending order, with effective foreshadowing and a resolution that is entirely too pat, but handled rather well.

   There is a very fine scene late in the book, with the surviving characters, exhausted by their Night of Horrors but too wrought-up to sleep, slumped exhausted in musty armchairs, trying to find some meaning in all this as they prepare to face a gray and uncompromising dawn. And if the preceding pages aren’t all up to that level of writing, well, at least they aren’t a chore to get through.

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

   

   

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts

KERRY GREENWOOD – The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions. Phryne Fisher, short story collection. Poisoned Pen Press, hardcover, 2022. Setting: Australia, 1920s.

Opening: Dear Reader, Thank you very much for buying this book (and if you haven’t bought it yet, please do so — I have cats to feed…)

   Only Kerry Greenwood could make an “Apologia” as interesting and delightful to read as the actual stories. Not only do I recommend readers start with that, but also not skip “On Phryne Fisher” which is the author’s introduction. From there, one jumps into the wonderful world of 17 absolutely wonderful short stories. There is also a very helpful Glossary at the end.

   As per usual, one always has favorite stories:

   “Hotel Splendide,” a case of a missing husband and a missing hotel room, starts one off with the perfect amount of information as to Phryne’s background, her style, her ability to take charge, and her enviable sangfroid.

   “The Body in the Library” pairs Phryne and DI Jack Robinson and a not-so-pious reverend.

   “Death Shall be Dead” includes DI Jack Robinson and a dog. How can one resist that?

         and

   “The Bells of St. Paul’s” begins with a tea at the Windsor that leaves one salivating, and a message in the bells.

   One wishes a few of the stories were novellas and a couple would make wonderful full-length novels.

   The book is probably more for fans of Phryne than those new to her. There’s not a lot of introduction to the secondary characters. The settings and the time at which the story occurs also jumps around a bit. Even so, for new readers, this is an excellent way to experience Phryne and her world, and for those who already love Phryne, there is still the overwhelming desire to be her when one grows up.

   The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions is a treat. Some of the stories were previously published, some have been reworked slightly, and four are brand new. They are piquant, thoroughly entertaining, and not overly complicated. One may read one, a few, or all of them at a sitting as reading them may have the effect of potato chips; one just isn’t enough.

Rating: VG Plus.

RICHARD LOCKRIDGE – Dead Run. Inspector Heimrich.  Lippincott, hardcover, 1976. No paperback edition.

   It’s late December, and an ice storm hits New York’s suburban Putnam County. Ah, that brings back memories of slick roads, downed power lines and stranded travelers.  A lawyer friend of Inspector Heimrich is killed by a car in a parking lot, and a witness to the murder is the girl Heimrich’s stepson brought home as an unexpected surprise for the holidays.

   Quite comfortable reading, a pleasure to relax with old friends capable of coping with disrupted routine.

Rating: A minus

– Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, January 1977 (Vol. 1, No. 1)
REVIEWED BY TONY BAER:

   

ROSS THOMAS – Chinaman’s Chance. Arthur Case Wu & Quincy Durrant #1. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1978. Avon, paperback, 1979. Mysterious Press, paperback, 1988.

   A few years ago some dude named Malcolm Jones (who I’ve never heard of) shared his top ten list of crime novels. All the ones I’d already read were great, lending the list some credibility. The ones I hadn’t have been great too. Chinaman’s Chance made the grade. So I was impelled to try it out.

   A ramshackle ramble by the seat of its pants, the story is an entertainment. A wonderful entertainment. And of perhaps all the novels I’ve ever read, it deserves that moniker. It strives to be nothing other than entertainment. And it succeeds. Wonderfully and wonderfully vacuous.

   There are so many plot threads that it will be hard to relay them in linear, straightforward fashion. God knows that Thomas didn’t try to do it. And yet it is the multiple perspectives and slowly eked out details that makes the damn thing so tantalizing, anticipated and delicious.

   I’ve read that Woody Allen only gives his actors their own lines to remember and they have no idea how the whole script fits together. That’s the feeling you get from the characters here. No one has the whole picture. Everyone has just a little piece. And the story reveals itself like a picture puzzle put together, piece by piece, before your eyes. But this picture puzzle you bought came in a blank cardboard box. So you have no idea ahead of time how the thing is supposed to look.

   In fact I’d be surprised if Thomas knew ahead of time how it all was going to fit together. If he did, and outlined it all ahead of writing it, then he’s a freaking genius. If not, then he’s really really lucky. Because all of the pieces in this 5000 piece puzzle fit. Even though it seems like he’s manufacturing the puzzle pieces right before your very eyes.

   But hey. I’ll have a try at linear summary.

   Artie Wu and Quincy Durant are soldiers of fortune. Back when the Vietnam war was petering out, there was money to be made. An associate of theirs at the US Embassy, Reginald Simms, was given orders to burn the 12 million in U.S. currency on hand. He burned 10 million of it.

   The other two mil? Simms and his college roommate, a major mafia figure, ‘buy’ the political machinery of the small broken down coastal town of Pelican Bay in Southern California.

   The dream? To build a red-light district version of Epcot Center: “[S]in without sorrow and thrills without danger…. You can go from Paris to Berlin…. to Singapore to Hong Kong to Marseilles to London’s Limehouse to San Francisco to New Orleans to New York to wherever you have ever dreamed of going. It will all be within this four block square area, and whatever you have dreamed of finding in those places you will find here — carefully sterilized for safe consumption…. People don’t want the real thing… because the real thing has bad breath, and sweaty armpits, and sometimes steals your wallet and makes you hurt when you pee. What people want is vice and sin that look the way they look in the movies — and that’s exactly what we intend to give them.”

   So what’s wrong with it? Well maybe nothing in principle. But the devil’s in the details. And whether the end justifies the means.

   Part of the means involved screwing over Artie Wu and Quincy Durant back in Vietnam. Including getting Durant’s fiancé murdered by the Viet Cong.

   And part of cleaning out the old Pelican Bay political machinery involves killing a Congressman opposed to graft. And the Congressman’s wife. And the Congressman’s mistress.

   So that’s basically the story. It’s about Artie Wu and Quincy Durant seeking vengeance and a cool $2 million coming up against the mob.

   It’s supremely entertaining. And another thing that surprised me is how Tarantinoesque the thing is. And it predates Tarantino by more than a decade. So the phrase shouldn’t be Tarantinoesque. Tarantino is being RossThomaseque. It’s all there: the combination of brutal violence and slapstick comedy.

   There are a number of great scenes so it’s hard to pick one to illustrate the point. But my favorite involves a couple of hitmen who’ve taken their target in a Winnebago, intending to throw him off a cliff near Pepperdine University. They lecture the murderee on having made bad career choices. Then they are distracted as it dawns on them that Pepperdine’s campus appears in The Six Million Dollar Man! The murderee leverages their distraction by grabbing a can of gasoline and setting them on fire while the Winnebago flies off a cliff.

   So yeah. It’s like that. And if it sounds like your bag, give it a read. It’s a great movie to watch in the theater of your mind. Grab the popcorn.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Crooked Hinge. Dr. Gideon Fell #8. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1938. Popular Library #19, paperback, 1944. Reprinted many times.

   SHADOWS WERE GATHERING ON the lower slopes of the wood called Hanging Chart, but the flat lands to the left of it were still clear and warm. Set back from the road behind a wall and a screen of trees, the house had those colors of dark-red brick which seem to come from an old painting. It was as smoothed, as arranged, as its own clipped lawns. The windows were tall and narrow, with panes set into a pattern of stone oblongs; and a straight gravel drive led up to the door. Its chimneys stood up thin and close-set against the last light.

   No ivy had been allowed to grow against its face. But there was a line of beech-trees set close against the house at the rear. Here a newer wing had been built out from the center—like the body of an inverted letter T—and it divided the Dutch garden into two gardens. On one side of the house the garden was overlooked by the back windows of the library; on the other by the windows of the room in which Sir John Farnleigh and Molly Farnleigh were waiting now.

   A clock ticked in this room. It was what might have been called in the eighteenth century a Music Room or Ladies’ Withdrawing Room, and it seemed to indicate the place of the house in this world. A pianoforte stood here, of that wood which in old age seems to resemble polished tortoise-shell. There was silver of age and grace, and a view of the Hanging Chart from its north windows; Molly Farnleigh used it as a sitting-room. It was very warm and quiet here, except for the ticking of the clock.

   What the Farnleighs are waiting for, though they don’t yet know it, is foul murder, a hint of the supernatural, Satanic cults, possible robot killers (in 1938), and a killer whose lack of genius almost overwhelms the brilliance and eccentricity of Dr. Gideon Fell’s efforts to unravel the mystery.

   But pause a moment to admire the literary skill in this little scene at the start of Chapter Two of The Crooked Hinge, a classic Carr mystery. It not only established Farnleigh Close, which is both the setting and the McGuffin that seemingly sets the action in motion but it sets a mood. Chimney’s are “thin and close,” the woods are called Hanging Chart and shadowed ominously, the “silver of age and grace” lays over a room. A clock ticks at the beginning of the paragraph and is brought in again at the end, establishing a tension. Something is coming. Something sinister though nothing concrete has been said to tell us that.

   Carr does this effortlessly, his use of metaphor and simile as sharp as Chandler, though applied to a different end.

   Even the title, The Crooked Hinge, suggests something sinister about a house, something not quite right about it or the people in it.

   The setting is Kent, where John Farnleigh (“The old-time Farnleighs were an unpleasant lot…”), a survivor of the Titanic lives with his wife in Farnleigh Close, but another claimant has shown up claiming to be the real John Farnleigh and an inquest is scheduled to establish the truth. Carr tries out his own solution to the famous Tichborne Claimant case.

   Then the first Farnleigh is murdered by the pool, his throat slashed in front of three witnesses, and none of them saw anyone do it and the police can’t find the weapon.

   Is it the automaton modeled on Maezel’s Chess Player that reaches out to touch a maid and nearly frightens her to death, and who stole the thumbograph, a device for taking fingerprints, not to mention the suggestion of a cult of Satanists. DCI Elliot (…”youngish, raw-boned, sandy-haired, and serious-minded. He liked argument, and he liked subtleties…”) investigates and calls on Dr. Fell to sort out the sinister goings on, as he points out:

   “But, even believing that this is murder, I still want to know what our problem is.”

   “Our problem is who killed Sir John Farnleigh.”

   “Quite. You still don’t perceive the double-alley of hell into which that leads us. I am worried about this case, because all rules have been violated. All rules have been violated because the wrong man had been chosen for a victim…”

   A ranking of the top ten impossible crime mysteries of all time placed this one number four. It is Fell and Carr at their considerable best. It is dedicated to Dorothy L. Sayers.

   Just why the wrong man was murdered becomes as important as how. Fell cannot quite lay hands on why the murderer struck and why he has not struck again: “This murder is human, my lad. I’m not, you understand, praising the murderer for this sporting restraint and good manners in refraining from killing people. But, my God, Elliot, the people who have gone in danger from the first! Betty Harbottle might have been killed. A certain lady we know of might have been killed. For a certain man’s safety I’ve had apprehensions from the start. And not one of ’em has been touched. Is it vanity? Or what?”

   In finding the solution Fell even calls on S. S. Van Dine and Philo Vance’s favorite work, Criminal Investigations: a Practical Textbook by Hans Gross (The Bishop Murder Case) to explain the esoteric but quite real murder weapon (and true to Carr he has laid the groundwork for the killer’s expertise with the weapon) and in a real twist reveal the killer twice in a single chapter.

   The Crooked Hinge is Carr and Fell at their best. The mystery sparkles with hints of something unhealthy and outside the realm of the possible, with Fell at his eccentric, high handed, and deceptive finest, and full of well-realized characters just the right side of cardboard, neither overwhelming the story nor mere cut-outs to be moved on the board.

   This is a model for the genre, especially that special corner of impossible crime and hints of something sinister and beyond that John Dickson Carr made his own.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:

   

JAMES LEE BURKE – Cadillac Jukebox. Dave Robicheaux #9. Hyperion, hardcover, 1996; paperback, 1997. Reprinted in several editions and printings since.

   Burke is one of the mainstays now, one of those writers who if you haven’t read him you’re either not a real fan of crime fiction, or you like it only on the lighter side. Every generation of crime writers has a few upon whom posterity bestows the tag of “significant,” and I think he’s one of those.

   A former Klansman and forever white trash refugee from the piney woods has finally been imprisoned for the decades-old murder of a black civil rights leader. He swears he is innocent, but no one believes him-except maybe New Iberia cop Dave Robicheaux. A politician who wrote a book about the crime is. about to be elected governor, a film company wants to make a documentary proving the man’s innocence, and a New Orleans hit man accuses Robicheaux of taking a bribe to ignore Crown’s case. Robicheaux had an affair long ago with the politician’s wife, and that just may be the final bit of heat that makes the pot boil over.

   There is no question in my mind that Burke is one of the best pure prose stylists ever to grace our field. The man can, to coin a phrase, write like an angel, and in the alcoholic and angst-ridden Robicheaux h has created one of the genre’s enduring characters. His books are dark, lyrical, and yes, occasionally overwrought, and maybe even sometimes confusing.

   I’ve never read one of his books I didn’t enjoy while reading it, and enjoy a lot; I have finished a few  with some lingering dissatisfaction, particularly those in which indulges his penchant for the supernatural.

   Jukebox possesses all Burke’s virtues, and lacks, thank goodness, any ghosts — though he couldn’t resist a little mysticism. Thus I rate it highly, as it deserves, but I’m left with a lingering uneasiness that Burke has said nothing new in his last few books, nor said it in any new ways. And however unfair it may be, sometimes sameness, however fine a sameness, may begin to pall.

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

THE KENNEL MURDER CASE. Warner Brothers, 1933. William Powell (as Philo Vance), Mary Astor, Eugene Pallette. Ralph Morgan. Robert McWade. Robert Barrat. Based on the novel by S. S. Van Dine. Director: Michael Curtiz. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime (and perhaps elsewhere).

   When a man who is intensely disliked by both his family and friends, it is not big surprise when soon into the movie he’s found dead in his study. What is a surprise is that an examination of his body reveals that not only was he shot, but he was also slugged and then stabbed. At first it is assumed that he committed suicide, especially when his study door has been locked from the inside and the only way to get in (or out) is by breaking the door down.

   Once suicide has been ruled out, the there two questions: who did it (and there are lots of suspects) and how? The latter is answered quickly enough. Philo Vance, who seems to have an in with the D..A. and free rein on the case, [PLOT ALERT] uses a needle and a short length of thread to demonstrate. [END OF PLOT ALERT]

   A dog is eventually used to identify the killer, but even before that, the title of the film is totally justified by it opening scenes, taking place at a championship dog show where all the players seem to have a stake in the action.

   From all accounts, this is a fairly good adaptation of the original Philo Vance novel, and just maybe, too good. It’s not easy getting all the primary plot points of a 300 page book into a movie with only 80 minutes running time, but director Michael Curtiz moves even the draggy bits along at a fast pace. It also does not hurt that all of the players are more than competent in their roles, starting at the top with William Powell who was made to play smoothly urbane roles like this.

   

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