1001 Midnights


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by John Lutz

   

LEN DEIGHTON – The Billion Dollar Brain. “Harry Palmer” #4. Jonathan Cape, UK, hardcover, 1966. Putnam’s, US, hardcover, 1966. Dell, US, paperback, 1967. Film: Lowndes, 1967 (with Michael Caine as Harry Palmer and Karl Malden as Leo Newbigen).

   Len Deighton’s first novel, The Ipcress File (1962; later filmed with Michael Caine), marked the debut of one of the major stars of espionage fiction. Since then this former photographer, illustrator, teacher, and occasional cookbook author has written a string of stylish and tightly plotted espionage novels that are thoughtful commentaries and reasoned examinations of society as well as first-rate thrillers.

   One of Deighton’s chief concerns is the morality of the world of espionage, but his treatment of this theme is never ponderous or heavy-handed. Instead he chooses to examine the ethics of the characters about whom he writes with an ironic wit; his prose has a lightness that further leavens this rather weighty subject. The books are also full of vivid description — of places, people, meals, natural wonders — that give the stories an air of authority; his use of documents and appendixes further convinces the reader that the espionage world is really as described. Along with John LeCarré, Deighton is one of our foremost contemporary writers of espionage novels.

   The billion-dollar brain of this novel’s title is a remarkable computer owned by a Texas mogul who has assembled his own private espionage network. This wild-card covert agency poses a grave threat to just about every government on earth, and what makes it tick is the incredibly complex computer, the quintessential technical-wonder successor to man’s own reason and self-asserted destiny.

   Deighton’s insubordinate, deceptively tough, unnamed first-person spy is given the task of neutralizing this menace, and along the way meets some fascinating characters. There is sensuous, champagne-swilling Signe Laine, a Finnish beauty who favors expensive underwear and has a knack and passion for besting males; Dawlish, the fumbling Intelligence chief who runs the show; Colonel Stok, of Red Anny Intelligence; Harvey Newbegin, the neurotic American agent who is in on the chase; and the maniacal General Midwinter. The action is on an international scale, swinging from Helsinki to London, Texas, Leningrad, and New York.

   This is a tightly constructed, imaginative, high-tech sort of thriller. Space Age espionage, in which Colonel Stok makes the disturbingly relevant observation “Two not very clever men will have to decide whether to extend a hand or pull a trigger.”

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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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

   

MIRIAM ALLEN deFORD – The Theme Is Murder. Abelard Shuman, hardcover, 1967.

   Miriam Allen deFord is best known for her scholarly works on a variety of historical subjects, and for her true-crime studies — the full-length books, The Overbury Affair (for which she was awarded an MWA Edgar in 1961) and Ma Barker (1970), and the collection of short pieces, Murderers Sane and Mad (1965).

   But she was also an accomplished writer of short stories, both mysteries and science fiction (and in some cases a combination of the two); beginning in 1944, she published an aggregate of more than 1O0 until her death in 1975 at the age of eighty-seven.

   The Theme ls Murder is her only criminous collection, and a first-rate gathering it is. There are seventeen stories here, most of which first appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; others were originally published in such diverse publications as Shadow Mystery Magazine, the Sixties men’s periodical Dude, and Windsor Quarterly. Most are of the quiet variety, with emphasis on character and unusual backgrounds (an actual homicide case preserved on a cuneiform tablet from 1850 B.C., for instance, in “The Judgment of En-Lil”; or Ancient Rome in “De Crimine”).

   One of her favorite themes is familial strife that builds into violence, as in such stories as ”Beyond the Sea of Death,” “The Oleander’ and “A Death in the Family.”

   Each of these seventeen tales is finely crafted and thought-provoking — a single-volume legacy from a gifted spinner of mysterious webs. Recommended.

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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.

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).

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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

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Julie Smith

   

WILLIAM L. DeANDREA – Killed on the Ice. Matt Cobb #4.  Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1984.  Mysterious Press, paperback, 1987.

   William L. De Andrea’s career started off with a bang when his first book, Killed in the Ratings, introducing sleuth Matt Cobb, won an MWA Edgar for Best First Novel of 1978. The very next year, his second book, The Hog Murders, won the Edgar for Best Paperback. Since then, his career has continued to blossom, with a couple of historical mysteries, a thriller, and three more Matt Cobb books.

   Matt is an engaging chap who works as a troubleshooter for a TV network; he’s gentle with women (who don’t always return the courtesy) and a good friend to his constant companion, Spot, the attack-trained Samoyed. If DeAndrea’s fans are fond of Matt, they positively adore Spot, the most appealing little scene-stealer since Asta.

TECH DAVIS

   In Killed on the Ice, Dr. Paul Dinkover, “perhaps the most renowned American psychiatrist alive,” is found sprawled on the ice of a Manhattan skating rink, his stomach thoroughly ventilated with a hunting knife. The ice rink is the one where Matt’s network is filming a special on Olympic skater Wendy Ichimi. Wendy has a motive, and also a good start on capturing Matt’s ever-vulnerable heart.

   When she begins to look like a potential victim herself, he has more than a professional interest in finding the murderer. Along the way, he encounters (as usual) Detective Lieutenant Cornelius Martin, Jr., the black cop from Matt’s old neighborhood, and an intriguing new character — the Frying Nun, an assistant D.A. who left the convent for law school. Also offering a good dying message, interesting murder method, and a clever ruse during the climactic fight, Killed on the Ice is up to DeAndrea’s usual high standard.

   Matt Cobb’s other amateur investigations include Killed in the Act (l981) and Killed with a Passion (1983).

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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 complete Matt Cobb series —

Killed in the Ratings. Harcourt 1978.
Killed in the Act. Doubleday 1981.
Killed with a Passion. Doubleday 1983.
Killed on the Ice. Doubleday 1984.
Killed in Paradise. Mysterious Press 1988.
Killed on the Rocks. Mysterious Press 1990.
Killed in Fringe Time. Simon 1995.
Killed in the Fog. Simon 1996.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

   
TECH DAVIS – Full Fare for a Corpse.  Aubrey Nash #2. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1937. No paperback edition.

TECH DAVIS

   The central premise of Full Fare for a Corpse is irresistible: Four days after Christmas, a transcontinental Union Pacific passenger train runs into a blizzard on the Wyoming Great Divide and comes up snowbound at a whistle-stop station in the middle of nowhere. Snowbound with it is a freight full of supplies, and nearby is a sheep ranch, so the 130 passengers and crew on board the ten-car train don’t need to worry about provisions.

   What they do need to worry about is that one of their number is a murderer. (If this premise sounds familiar, it may be because you — and Tech Davis — happened to read Agatha Christie’s  Murder on the Orient Express, which is about murder on a snowbound train in Yugoslavia and was published three years earlier than Full Fare for a Corpse.)

   Victim number one is an unidentified stranger who isn’t even on the passenger list, but is found in his robe and slippers in one of the compartments, shot to death under very unusual circumstances. Victim number two turns up not quite dead in the baggage car, laid out next to the remains of number one. There is also a victim number three. The task of unraveling all these events falls to suave, “semiprofessional” New York sleuth Aubrey Nash, with the help of an ex-Wyoming sheriff named Sargent. And unravel them they do, but not before the murderer strikes again at an impromptu New Year’s Eve celebration put on by the passengers to “ease the tension.”

   The handling of all this isn’t bad, although the novel does have its drawbacks: Davis’s prose is somewhat overblown, full of words like parturition and expatiated; Nash owes his origins (and methods) not to Hercule Poirot but to Philo Vance, though without Vance’s more obnoxious qualities; and more could have been done with the howling blizzard outside the train.

   On the plus side, the plot is tricky enough to keep one reading and guessing, and Nash’s piecing together of the puzzle is logical and well clued. There are also some good characters, some witty dialogue, and more action than you might expect in this type of whodunit. The whole thing is reminiscent of the better of those delightfully campy B-movie melodramas of the same period .. A good evening’s entertainment.

   Davis published two other novels featuring the exploits of Aubrey Nash: Terror at Compass Lake (1935), which has an upstate New York setting; and Murder on Alternate Tuesdays (1938), set in New York City.

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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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

   

NORBERT DAVIS – The Mouse in the Mountain. Doan and Carstairs #1. Morrow, hardcover, 1943. Grosset & Dunlap, hardcover reprint, 1944.Handi-Books #40, paperback, 1945, as Dead Little Rich Girl.  Rue Morgue Press, trade paperback, 2001.

   Norbert Davis was among the most talented of all the writers who specialized in pulp fiction in the Thirties and early Forties. Although he was primarily a magazine writer (he graduated from the pulps to such slicks as The Saturday Evening Post in 1943, he published three mystery novels featuring the detective “team” of Doan and Carstairs. Each of these is fast-paced, occasionally lyrical in a hard-edged way, and often quite funny. Davis, in fact, was one of the few writers to successfully blend the so-called hard-boiled story with farcical humor.

   The Mouse in the Mountain is the first of the adventures through which Doan and Carstairs prowl and howl. Doan is a private eye who looks fat but isn’t, and who, despite a great fondness for booze, has never suffered a hangover; Carstairs is an aloof, fawn-colored Great Dane whom Doan won in a crap game and who considers Doan a low, uncouth person, not at all the Sort’ he would have chosen for a master.

   The scene is Mexico, where Doan has come to persuade a fugitive crook not to return to the United States and give himself up, At least, that is what he tells the heroine of the piece, Janet Martin, a shy (at least in the beginning) schoolteacher in the Wisteria Young Ladies:Seminary; Doan, like Sam Spade, isn’t really as corrupt as he sometimes pretends.

   Things begin to happen at a fast and furious pace even before Doan and Carstairs arrive in the picturesque little village of Los Altos: A famous Mexican bandit named Garcia is on the loose and causing a great deal of consternation among the local authorities. But what happens later causes considerably more consternation: the town; s first earthquake in 150 years, which results in widespread destruction and chaos, and precipitates three cold-blooded murders.

   Doan solves the murders, of course, and restores peace and harmony to Los Altos-with not a little help from Carstairs and Janet Martin (who has also been kept busy falling in and out of love with a handsome but exasperating Mexican Army officer, Captain Emile Perona). Great fun from first page to last.

   The other two Doan and Ca (1946), which has a college setting and a scene in which Carstairs wreaks havoc in Heloise of Hollywood’s beauty salon that will have you laughing out loud.

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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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

   

KENN DAVIS – Words Can Kill. Carver Bascombe #5. Fawcett Gold Medal, paperback original, 1984.

   Black San Francisco private eye Carver Bascombe just can’t seem to decide what he wants to be when he grows up. On the one hand, he’s merely doing detective work for the money, to get through law school and “be able to help others.” On the other hand, he enjoys “the hunt.” It’s “something he can sink his teeth into,” a deeply ingrained part of him since he was a kid in the ghetto of Detroit.

   So Carver carries on as a private eye, worrying about his overdue tuition and term papers — even worrying about completing his income-tax forms, for heaven’s sake. And because he’s a part-timer, a man sitting on the fence, he’s not all that effective at his work.

   In this case, Carver receives a visit from old Vietnam buddy Jackson Fayette. Fayette is now the author of the “definitive;’ Vietnam novel, a celebrity very much. in the public eye. Fayette’s mentor, Ed Colfax, was shot to death in nearby Sausalito the previous night; he wants Carver to find out why; Carver plunges into the world of Marin County writers and rare-book collecting (the latter described with dubious accuracy; one would never, for instance, display copies of rare books in a store window, where their dust jackets would fade).

   On the dead man’s houseboat, he discovers a manuscript that indicates Colfax may have coauthored Fayette’s book but received no credit for his part. Carver meets other writers, friends of Colfax’s. He goes to a party, gets drunk, blurts out too much information about what he is investigating, and then almost loses his life in a fire on Colfax’s houseboat. And he continues on his way, always worrying: When will he complete his overdue term paper? Does he even want to? What about his taxes? What’s going on anyway?

   Well, what’s going on becomes pretty obvious to the reader, long before it becomes obvious to Carver. Still and all, there’s something appealing about Carver Bascombe; something that makes this reviewer want to read more of these novels and perhaps find out the answer to that all important question: What will Carver decide to be when he grows up?

   Among Davis’s other Carver Bascombe novels are The Dark Side (1976, in collaboration with John Stanley) and The Forza Trap (1979).

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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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

   

FREDERICK C. DAVIS – Deep Lay the Dead. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1942. Thriller Novel Classic #26, digest paperback, circa 1946.

   An extremely prolific contributor to the pulp magazines, where he published at least 1000 stories (among them dozens of the Operator #5 “hero pulp” adventures), Frederick C. Davis began publishing mystery novels in 1937. He produced close to forty books over the next four decades — sixteen under his own name, one as by Murdo Coombs (A Moment of Need, 1947), and the balance under the pseudonym Stephen Ransome.

   His fiction was among the most literate and entertaining of its day (if sometimes a little too casually paced), and stands up well to the test of time.

   Deep Lay the Dead is arguably his best novel. Ex-Dartmouth mathematics professor, cipher addict, and mountain climber Rigby Webb comes to an isolated corner of eastern Pennsylvania to confront a retired doctor named Chandler, whom he suspects of pulling strings to first get him fired from Dartmouth and to then keep him out of the army.

   His suspicions are accurate, but Chandler’s reasons are noble: He is working for the State Department and General Staff, attempting to design an “indecipherable cipher” so as to win supremacy over the Axis in signal communications. Getting Rig fired was the first of several tests of Chandler’s loyalty, all of which he has passed in admirable fashion.

   Rig agrees to work on the cipher project  with the doctor, but they don’t get very far with their collaborative efforts: One of the guests invited to Chandler’s country estate by his wife, Claire, is an enemy agent. Murder strikes, a howling blizzard renders the house party snowbound, and tensions escalate to a fever pitch as more violence erupts. Rig eventually unmasks the traitor and saves the day, and in so doing gets to use his mountain-climbing skills (but not in the way you might think).

   This is a tightly plotted, suspenseful novel built around a classic mystery situation. There is also some intriguing background information on codes and ciphers. (Another of· Davis’s strong suits was his ability to weave information on unusual and/or esoteric topics into his narratives.) Davis did have a tendency to truncate his action scenes, and the climax, while exciting, is much too abrupt; but the book’s strengths more than make up for this and a few other minor weaknesses.

   Davis created numerous series characters, for both his pulp stories and his novels. Professor Cyrus Hatch uses scientific methods and ratiocination to solve baffling crimes in several early novels, among them Coffins for Three (1938), Let the Skeletons Rattle (1944), and Thursday’s Blade (1947). And the semi-hard-boiled detective team of Schyler Cole and Luke Speare, who operate out of New York, is featured in such titles as The Deadly Miss Ashley (1950) and Drag the Dark (1953).

   Deep lay the Dead is the only non-series novel to appear under Davis’s own name; several others were published as by Stephen Ransome. Ten of his Operator #5 pulp novels were reprinted in the Sixties and Seventies under the house pen name of Curtis Steele; these carry such titles as The Invisible Empire and Blood Rein of the Dictator and provide plenty of campy fun.

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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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

   
DOROTHY SALISBURY DAVIS – Tales for a Stormy Night.  Foul Play Press, hardcover, 1984. Avon, paperback, 1985.

   In this collection, which spans more than thirty years, Davis draws heavily upon her country childhood, as well as the city streets of her longer fiction. Her younger years on Midwestern farms provide rich material, which Davis details in her informative introduction, also acknowledging the part that youthful crisis plays in shaping a writer’s work: “The soul is marked with childhood’s wounds, and I am grateful for mine. As a writer, I don’t know what I’d have done without them.”

   Those wounds, perhaps, are why these stories show such depth; the characters and settings. are fully developed, and the endings, while offering clever twists, are entirely plausible. “Backward, Turn Backward,” for instance, is about the investigation of a murder; only two suspects exist, and the solution must come directly from the character of one or the other of them. In “Spring Fever,” Davis gives us a haunting picture of a woman on the desperate brink of middle age and shows how such restlessness as hers can indeed become deadly. “Old Friends” reminds us how little we may know of those closest to us.

   While these three stories are set in the country, Davis has not deserted her “mean streets” in her short fiction. “Sweet Wilham” takes a whimsical look at what can happen to foreigners caught up in the vicissitudes of Manhattan living. And while the heroine of”The Purple Is Everything” is described as living in a “large East Coast city,” one is certain the peculiar events that happen to her could occur only in New York.

   This is a well-balanced, entertaining, and sometimes chilling collection that shows the best of Davis’s work over her long and distinguished career. Three of the stories included here were nominated for Edgars: “Backward, Turn Backward,” “Old Friends,” and “The Purple Is Everything.”

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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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

   

 LIONEL DAVIDSON – The Rose of Tibet. Gollancz, UK, hardcover, 1962. Harper & Row, hardcover, 1962. Reprinted many times (and still in print).

   Like Mark McShane, Lionel Davidson is one of those talented writers who possess a knack for seldom if ever repeating themselves from book to book. His first novel, The Night of Wenceslas (1960), is a tale of espionage set in Czechoslovakia (which won a CWA Golden Dagger, the first of three garnered by Davidson); The Menorah Men (1966) is a thriller with political overtones that takes place in Jerusalem; Murder Games (1978) is a whodunit laid in London’s bohemian art world; and The Rose of Tibet is a magnificent “quest” novel of suspense and high adventure reminiscent of the work of H. Rider Haggard.

   Set in 1950-51, The Rose of Tibet covers the perilous seventeen-month odyssey of Charles Houston. It begins in England, where Houston learns that his brother and other members of a group sent to northern India to film mountain climbing have mysteriously disappeared. At the request of the film company, he travels to India to search for information about his brother, alive or dead.

   In Calcutta, where his quest is apparently at an end, he hears talk of a Tibetan monastery that might hold the key — but the Chinese Communists have only recently seized control of Tibet, and no foreigners are being allowed into the country. Houston is not to be thwarted; he travels to Kalimpong and soon hires a Sherpa guide named Ringling, who leads him through Sikkim and Nepal, across the mighty Himalayas, and into the fabled Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

   Danger after danger plagues them en route and after they arrive at the temple of the Monkey God. But Houston survives “to enjoy the love of a goddess and to live through adventures so bizarre that almost no other man-perhaps no other man at all-has equaled them.”

   This is superb entertainment, utterly mesmerizing from first page to last. It is difficult to imagine any novelist more vividly evoking the awesome splendor of the Himalayas or the exotic people and landscapes of Tibet. High adventure as only the British can write it, and not to be missed.

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   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.

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