1001 Midnights

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Kathleen L. Maio


HOWARD ENGEL – The Suicide Murders. Benny Cooperman #1. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1984. Penguin, paperback, 1985. Adapted for radio (CBC) and TV (CBC, 1985), with Saul Rubinek starring in the latter as Benny Cooperman.

   Until the 1980s, Canada was not known for its native detective fiction. The Benny Cooperman novels by Howard Engel — along with the work of Eric Wright and Ted Wood — represent the beginnings of a vital new school of crime writing in Canada.

   The Suicide Murders is the first of a series of mysteries starring Benny Cooperman, private eye. Benny is a nice Jewish guy who makes his extremely modest living as a detective in his hometown of Grantham, Ontario. He still goes home to have dinner with his elderly parents at least once a week. He possesses intelligence enough. and the requisite amount of determination. Still, life or a case too often forces him lo play the schlemiel.

   The novel opens with the classic scene of a beautiful woman entering his office and enlisting his aid. Myrna Yates thinks her successful husband may be cheating on her. She hires Benny lo trail him. This simple assignment becomes much more complicated when the seemingly faithful Mr. Yates dies of a gunshot wound to the head soon after buying himself an expensive new bike. The police say suicide. Benny disagrees. His investigation continues. as do the murders, until he brings the case to its sad, satisfying conclusion.

   Benny’s mean streets may be in Ontario and not L.A., but his adventures are still reminiscent of the classic American private eye. He is no tough guy, but he is strong as well as compassionate. The supporting cast of characters, including the murderer, arc also nicely realized.

   Benny Cooperman returns in The Ransom Game (1984), Murder on Location (1985), and Murder Sees the Light (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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Newell Dunlap


DAVID ELY – Seconds. Pantheon, hardcover, 1964. Signet P2507, paperback, 1964. Harper Voyager, softcover, 2013. Film: Paramount, 1966 (director: John Frankenheimer).

   A prosperous banker leaves his New York office at noon, knowing full well he may never see it again. Following an address on a slip of paper, he takes a cab to a run-down laundry in a slum area of the city. From there. he is directed to a warehouse. From the warehouse. he is taken in the back of a truck to a large office building, and it is here the transition process begins.

   For the banker (soon to be a painter known as Wilson) has elected literally to change his life and be “reborn” as a new man. A surgically altered cadaver shows up in a hotel room and the banker is officially pronounced dead of a heart attack. Meanwhile, we follow Wilson through his own surgical alterations, and before you know it, he has been relocated to California and lo the life of a single. moderately successful painter.

   Wilson cannot relax and enjoy himself, though. His new life strikes him as shallow and meaningless, and he feels an overwhelming desire to visit his wife and daughter. This he does, going against numerous warnings from representatives of the company that gave him his new identity. The company, it seems, creates about 3000 new identities each year, so it has a stake in seeing that no one jeopardizes its operation. Obviously Wilson is one of those people who will never make the transition properly, so he is brought back for further “processing.”

   Few books can match the suspenseful beginning of Seconds, as the reader wonders what in the world is going on. The suspense tapers off when we learn what is going on. but increases again as we begin to wonder what the company will do with the renegade Wilson. As it turns out, Wilson is not the only man who has made an unsuccessful transition-and from a business standpoint, the company’s disposition of these failures makes perfect sense.

   This unusual and nightmarish novel was made into an equally suspenseful John Frankenheimer film in 1966, with Rock Hudson and Salome Jens.

   David Ely has made a career of producing offbeat suspense fiction, both novels and short stories for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and such slick magazines as Cosmopolitan. (One of his Cosmo stories, “The Sailing Club,” was the recipient of the 1962 Best Short Story Edgar.) Among his other novels are Trot ( 1963), The Tour (1967), Poor Devils (1970), and the eerie Mr. Nicholas (1974).

   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 PI Review
by Robert E. Briney


STANLEY ELLIN – The Specialty of the House and Other Stories: The Complete Mystery Tales, 1948-1978. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1979.

   Stanley Ellin made his first impact on the mystery field as a writer of short stories; and in spite of more than a dozen highly praised novels, it is still as a short-story writer that many readers think of him. This hefty collection contains, in chronological order, all thirty-live of the stories written during the first thirty years of his writing career. All but one of them originally appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, where the author’s “annual story” is still an eagerly awaited event. The first seven stories in the collection, starting with the title story (surely one of the most impressive debuts in the field), were prizewinners in the annual Ellery Queen contests.

   Here we have “The Betrayers,” in which a young man constructs an air-tight solution to the wrong crime; the Edgar-winning fantasy “The House Party”; a second Edgar winner, “The Blessington Method,” with its unique approach to gerontology; “You Can’t Be a Little Girl All Your Life,” the story of a rape and its aftermath; “The Crime of Ezechicle Coen,” with its roots going back to the German occupation of Rome in World War II; “The Twelfth Statue,” a novelette of murder in a Rome film studio; “The Corruption of Officer Avakadian,” concerning doctors who ref use to make house calls; and “The Question,” in which the whole point of the story is compressed into a single devastating three-letter word in the final sentence. The stories vary widely in theme and setting. but exhibit the same polished craftsmanship.

   In his introduction to the volume, speaking of another master of the short story, Guy de Maupassant, Ellin wrote: “Here was a writer who reduced stories to their absolute essence. And the ending of each story, however unpredictable, was, when I thought of it, as inevitable as doom.”

   These words might have been written about Ellin’s own work. When Ellin’s first ten stories were issued in book form under the title Mystery Stories in 1956, the book was praised by Julian Symons as “the finest collection of stories in the crime form published in the past half-century.” With the addition of twenty-five stories and twenty years, the judgment still stands.

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 PI Review
by Robert E. Briney


STANLEY ELLIN – The Dark Fantastic. John Milano #2. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1983. Berkley, paperback, 1985.

   Stanley Ellin is one of the most honored of contemporary writers of mystery fiction. Beginning with his first story in 1948, he consistently won prizes in the annual short-story contests run by Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. He is a three-time winner of the Edgar Award of the Mystery Writers of America: for Best Short Story in 1954 and 1956 and for Best Novel (The Eighth Circle) in 1958. Four other stories (the most recent in 1983) and one novel have appeared on the short list of nominees for the Edgar. His novel Mirror, Mirror on the Wall ( 1972) was awarded France’s Grand Prix de Littdrature Policifte in 1975.

   He was elected president of the Mystery Writers of America in 1969, and in 1981 received that organization’s Grand Master Award honoring his lifetime achievement in the mystery field. The point of this litany of awards is that they are all deserved. As a careful craftsman with an ear for language and a deep concern for its proper use, as an acute observer of the human condition, and as an inventive plotter with a flair for the unexpected, Ellin has maintained a consistent level of quality that makes him indeed a grand master of his art.

   A string of awards and a proven track record do not, however, guarantee that publishers will jump to accept a book with potentially controversial elements. The Dark Fantastic was rejected by several major publishing houses before being picked up by a relatively small specialty publisher. It subsequently gathered a stack of favorable reviews in the United States, sold to a major British publisher, and has become a feather in the cap of the Mysterious Press.

   The story alternates between two viewpoints: that of Charles Witter Kirwan, a retired college professor with madness eating at his brain just as cancer is eating at his body; and that of John Milano, a private detective first introduced in Star Light, Star Bright (1979), who specializes in the recovery of stolen works of art. Kirwan, reluctant landlord of an apartment building in a black neighborhood in Brooklyn, plans to blow up the building with himself and his black tenants inside. Among the tenants are the family of Christine Bailey, who works as a receptionist in a Manhattan art gallery currently under investigation by Milano.

   From this tenuous connection, the paths of Kirwan and Milano are drawn inexorably together. Ultimately, Milano is the only person who has a chance to uncover Kirwan’s plot; but can he stop it in time? Ellin tightens the screws expertly. and the suspense intensifies up to the very end.

   Kirwan’s chapters are in the form of transcripts of a tape-recorded journal in which he attempts to explain the reasons for his destructive plan, while recounting the day-to-day progress toward its accomplishment. The transcripts are studded with racial invective-not mere ethnic name-calling, but the type of inventive viciousness that an educated mind can apply to the expression of its prejudices.

   These passages make uncomfortable reading, especially in view of the skill with which Ellin takes us into Kirwan’s mind and makes us understand the familial and societal roots of his attitudes. Another source of discomfort for some readers lies in the explicit descriptions of Kirwan’ s sexual victimization of Christine’s teenaged sister.

   But Ellin handles this highly charged material with assured skill and without a hint of sensationalism. The book is a serious psychological study, a detective story, an unusual love story, and an exercise in down-to-the-wire suspense: a worthy addition to the author’s already impressive body of work.

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 Karol Kay Hope


AARON ELKINS – Fellowship of Fear. Gideon Oliver #1. Walker, hardcover, 1982. Popular Library, paperback, 1986. TV series: Quoting from Wikipedia “Gideon Oliver is a prime time television series that ran on the ABC television network between February 1989 and May 1989 as part of the ABC Mystery Movie rotation, along with B.L. Stryker, Kojak and Columbo. On the air for only five episodes, the series starred Louis Gossett Jr., and was created by Dick Wolf.”

   The early 1980s spawned a great many new mystery writers, and Aaron Elkins is one of the best of them. This first novel introduces us to Gideon Oliver, a young anthropology professor (Elkins himself teaches anthropology in northern California) who signed up for a summer teaching stint in Europe with the U.S. Overseas College. He’s recovering from the death of his beloved wife the year before and needs a break from that reality. And he’s never been to Europe.

   Oliver gets a change of pace, all right. Far from the confines of academic life, he’s cast as the main character in an international spy ring — but not until he’s been robbed, attacked, and followed all over Europe does he take it seriously. He then teams up with John Lau, a U.S. security officer, who’s not quite so naive about these matters. After being suitably impressed by Oliver’s fine investigative mind — he is a physical anthropologist, after all, and used to solving mysteries with little more than a sliver of bone and some ash for evidence — Lau teams with him and they attack the spy operation with fresh enthusiasm.

   Elkins has a good sense of contemporary character, dialogue, and plot. Gideon Oliver is a good man, and Elkins is good, too. He writes sparsely, to the point, and is cagey enough to keep us wondering until the very end.

   Elkins’s second novel, The Dark Place ( 1983), also features Oliver and is set in the Olympic National Park in Washington State. It also has the distinction of being the first mystery to involve the ongoing hunt for Sasquatch, otherwise known as Bigfoot.

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 Gideon Oliver series

1 Fellowship of Fear (1982)
2 The Dark Place (1983)
3 Murder in the Queen’s Armes (1985)
4 Old Bones (1987)
5 Curses! (1989)
6 Icy Clutches (1990)
7 Make No Bones (1991)
8 Dead Men’s Hearts (1994)
9 Twenty Blue Devils (1997)
10 Skeleton Dance (2000)
11 Good Blood (2004)
12 Where There’s a Will (2005)
13 Unnatural Selection (2006)
14 Little Tiny Teeth (2007)
15 Uneasy Relations (2008)
16 Skull Duggery (2009)
17 Dying on the Vine (2012)
18 Switcheroo (2016)

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


LESLEY EGAN – A Case for Appeal. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1961. Popular Library, paperback, date?

   Lesley Egan is a pseudonym for Elizabeth Linington, who also writes under the name of Dell Shannon. The author is well known for her three series of police procedurals done under these names, and while the procedure is very sound, it is interest in the recurring characters’ lives and personal problems that seems to draw readers to these popular books.

   A Case for Appeal introduces Jewish lawyer Jesse Falkenstein and his policeman friend Captain Vic Varallo. Varallo has called Jesse away from Los Angeles to the little southern California valley town of Contera to defend accused murderess Nell Varney — a woman Varallo has arrested, but whose guilt he doubts. As the story opens, Nell has just been convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of two women upon whom she supposedly performed illegal abortions. Jesse — who was called in too late to do any investigation or prepare a solid defense- intends to appeal the case. But to make a case for appeal, he must find the woman resembling Nell who really performed the abortions.

   With Varallo’s help, Jesse gets to know the families of the victims and the town of Contera itself — no small chore for a Jewish lawyer from the big city. And as he sifts through the testimony, it becomes apparent that deathbed statements from the aborted women can be taken in more than one way, and that someone is manipulating the interpretation of them. A nice romance between lawyer and client, plus Varallo’s conflict about staying in this town where he has come because of his family, a reason no longer valid — provide the provocative personal background that is typical of Egan.

   Falkenstein has an odd style of speaking that at first is confusing, but once the reader becomes familiar with it, the story — told largely through dialogue — moves along nicely.

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 Newell Dunlap & Bill Pronzini

WESSEL EBERSOHN – Divide the Night. Pantheon, 1981. Vintage Books, softcover, 1982.

   It must be strange to have one’s books banned in one’s own country, but such is the case with Wessel Ebersohn, a native and resident of South Africa who records that society as he sees it, blemishes and all. Consider his description of Johannesburg’s citizens:

   “There were the super-liberals who almost felt ashamed to be white. There were the most violent and desperate racialists who would willingly kill to protect a position of privilege. There were artists and railway workers, Jews and anti-semites, nuns and whores, millionaires and the dispossessed …”

   Divide the Night is an intelligent and provocative novel featuring Yudel Gordon, a prison psychologist who also treats private patients. One such patient is a man named Johnny Weizman, who has the rather antisocial habit of leaving his storeroom door open all night and shooting any intruder — usually blacks, of whom he has already killed eight. As far as Yudel is concerned, Weizman is a fanatic and psychotic racist; the Special Police, however, consider him a patriotic citizen, and are much more interested in a fugitive black leader named Mantu Majola who witnessed Weizman’s last murder and who just might (the security police hope) return to settle the score with the racist shopkeeper.

   Caught up in the middle is Yudel, who has troubles of his own-primarily a nagging wife who feels he does not have the proper attitude toward money. Yudel is a highly sympathetic character, well drawn and very human. Similarly, Ebersohn’s other characters come across as real people, which makes us care about the things that happen to them in, and as a result of, the restricted society in which they live.

   The New York Times Book Review called Divide the Night “a powerful book and a well-written one that just happens to fall within the genre of the police procedural.” The same could be said of the first Yudel Gordon suspense novel, A Lonely Place to Die (1979). Also impressive is Ebersohn’s non-series suspense novel, Store Up the Anger (1980).

   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


MIGNON G. EBERHART – The Patient in Cabin C. Random House, hardcover, 1983. Warner Books, paperback, 1985.

   This recent Eberhart novel is typical fare. Sewall (“Sue”) Gates, a young upper-class lady whom financial reverses have forced into nurse’s training, is plucky, determined, and genuinely likes being a nurse; but now she is offered the opportunity to gain financial security for herself and her harmlessly alcoholic aunt Addie by marrying wealthy Monty Montgomery.

   Monty. an entrepreneur who describes himself as a “peddler,” is only mildly alcoholic (compared to Addie) and quite well meaning, but Sue is not at all sure she wants to marry him. And she is still undecided when she and Addie board his yacht, the Felice, for a cruise that Addie believes is planned as a celebration of his engagement to Sue.

   The yacht — a sort of seagoing version of the country estate — has a full complement of passengers: Monty’s younger half sister, Lalie, a budding alcoholic herself; Sam Wiley, a man with heart trouble from whom Monty bought the yacht; Dr. Smith, head of the hospital where Sue took her training and apparently Wiley’s personal physician; Lawson, Monty’s attorney; Juan, the steward, who is not the deferential Chicano he seems to be; and two others, whose presence is ill-advised-Stan Brooke, Sue’s former heartthrob, whom Monty hired on impulse to skipper the yacht; and Monty’s former mistress, Celia Hadley. It is a menage just made for murder — and indeed, as soon as the Felice sets sail in a thick fog, mysterious events begin to happen.

   First Monty falls overboard, and swears he was pushed.

   Sue sees the steward sharpening an evil-looking hatchet. The ship’s engines quit. The steward disappears, leaving a trail of bloodstains. Monty remakes his will in Sue’s favor and begins talking monotonously and ominously about someone being out to get him. Addie remains foolishly drunk. A storm is brewing; Sue thinks of shipwrecks and sinkings, and Addie begins seeing things that may be more than just the product of the DT’s. Finally Sue, typical Eberhart heroine that she is, begins to detect-with the usual satisfying results.

   Like all of Eberhart’ s novels, this one is well crafted and well plotted, and her fans will feel right at home with the characters and situation. Sue Gates is not very different from Eberhart’ s heroines of the 1940s, and there is a curious, somewhat refreshing innocence to this seafaring tale. Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Patient in Cabin C is that it was written in the 1980s, rather than in those more gentle days.

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 Crider


JACK EARLY – A Creative Kind of Killer. Fortune Fanelli #1. Franklin Watts, hardcover, 1984. Carroll & Graf, paperback, 1995, as by Sandra Scoppettone (the author’s real name).

   Fortune Fanelli, the first-person narrator of A Creative Kind of Killer, is a former cop who inherited money, made a lucky investment, and left the force. He’s now a private investigator, but not exactly the usual kind. He’s a single parent, trying to bring up his two teenage children and work on murder cases at the same time.

   His ex-wife, a soap-opera producer, has no real interest in raising children, so Fortune gets the job. He lives in New York’s SoHo district, and the first murder in the book takes place right in his neighborhood. The killer is “creative,” posing the corpse in the window of a boutique so artfully that Fanelli himself admits he must have passed the body six limes without noticing it.

   His investigation of the case leads him both into the arty crowd and into the more sordid world of runaways and kiddy porn.

   A Creative Kind of Killer is a promising debut. Fanelli is an interesting character, and his relationship with his children makes for a different kind of subplot. The love interest is provided by a young woman who is a dead ringer for Meryl Streep; and Father Paul, the handsome local priest. is a strong character.

   Early is particularly good in his descriptions of SoHo, and Fanelli’s feelings about the changes in his old neighborhood are an effective commentary on one man’s desire to remain involved in his community. The mystery is a good one, too, and the resolution satisfactory. It seems likely that Fanelli will appear in other cases in the near future.

   Early’s second novel, Razzamatazz (1985), is a straight thriller sans Fanelli, however.

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.

[UPDATE]: In spite of Bill’s suggestion that it might happen, a second recorded case for Fortune Fanelli never occurred.

[ADDED NOTE]: This is the first 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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Julie Smith


DOROTHY DUNNETT – Dolly and the Bird of Paradise. Johnson Johnson #6. Michael Joseph, UK, hardcover, 1983. A. A. Knopf, US, hardcover, 1984.

   Dorothy Dunnett’s “Dolly” series is about spy Johnson Johnson, skipper of the yacht Dolly. Each novel is titled for the “bird” (British slang for woman) who narrates it. The “bird” in this case is Rita Geddes, a punked-out young makeup artist with blue and orange hair who is hired to travel with a client, TV personality Natalie Sheridan. In Madeira, however, Rita is severely beaten and then her friend, Kim-Jim Curtis, another makeup artist, is killed. The nefarious doings seem to involve drugs, but in fact, much, much more is going on.

   As must all Dunnett’ s “birds,” Rita becomes professionally involved with Johnson Johnson, who, in addition to being a yachtsman and sort of spy, is a famous portrait painter.

   Johnson enlists Rita’s aid in running to ground the drug smugglers, but she really wants to avenge Kim-Jim, for reasons that she withholds from the reader. Though Rita is the narrator, Dunnell (a pseudonym of Dorothy Halliday) skillfully sees to it that she withholds any number of pertinent details-including the fact that she has a serious disability. The real mystery, locked within Rita herself unfolds satisfyingly and amid plenty of action, including piracy on the high seas and a rip-roaring hurricane.

   Dunnett, also a noted author of historical fiction, is a very deft, very literate writer; Johnson is a sardonic, quasi-hero who grows on the reader as he grows on the birds on whom he tends to make poor-to-awful first impressions. Other titles in this series include Dolly and the Singing Bird (1982; original 1968 title, The Photogenic Soprano); Dolly and the Cookie Bird (1982; original 1970 title, Murder in the Round); Dolly and the Starry Bird (1982, original 1973 title, Murder in Focus); and Dolly and the Nanny Bird (1982).

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: Omitted from the list above of other books in the series are Dolly and the Doctor Bird (1971) and Moroccan Traffic (1991).

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