1001 Midnights


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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

   

HAROLD R. DANIELS – House on Greenapple Road. Random House, hardcover, 1966. Dell, paperback, 1969. [See comment #2.] TV movie: Quinn Martin, 1970.

   The “Red Kitchen Murder,” as it came to be known in the press, began when Marian Ord’s nine-year-old daughter returned home from school to find “brown stuff … like paint or when you spill iodine” all over the kitchen of their tract house on Greenapple Road in the small Massachusetts town of Holburn.

   Marian’s sister-in-law, who lived next door, called the police. But there was no body in the house or anywhere else in the vicinity. What had happened in that kitchen? Where was Marian Ord, dead or alive?

   Dan Nalon was in charge of the investigation. Along with his fellow officers, he began probing into Marian Ord’s background-and found a maze of twisted relationships that proved she was anything but an average suburban housewife. Among her “friends” were a phony minister, head of the “Church of Redemption Through Love”; a cruel and selfish ski instructor; a decent young Italian biker; an equally decent young lifeguard at the local country club; a big-shot bookie known to have Cosa Nostra connections; and a succession of men she picked up in bars.

   She was also guilty, Nalon discovered, of passing bad checks, welshing on gambling debts, and stealing money from her tavern conquests.

   When it became apparent that her husband, George, knew of Marian’s sleazy “other life,” and that his alibi for the time of the Red Kitchen incident was not what it first seemed, Nalon’s attention focused on him- But had Ord really killed his wife in a fit of jealous rage? Just what had happened that tragic afternoon in the house on Greenapple Road?

   This is a taut and baffling thriller, told in a semi-documentary, ex-post-facto style that makes excellent use of flashbacks. The characterization, especially of Marian 0rd, is of the first rank; the writing is crisp (and there is plenty of sex to spice the narrative); and the revelations at the climax are surprising, yet fairly clued.The film version, made for TV in 1970 with Janet Leigh and Christopher  George, is faithful to the novel and just as suspenseful as a result.

   Daniels published several other novels of merit in the Fifties and Sixties, all of them paperback originals; the best are The Accused (1958), The Snatch (1958), and For the Asking (1962).

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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 Ellen Nehr & Bill Pronzini

   

ELIZABETH DALY – The Book of the Crime. Henry Gamadge #16. Rinehart & Co., hardcover, 1951. Berkley F-959, paperback, date? Bantam, paperback, 1983. Felony & Mayhem, trade paperback, 2016.

   Elizabeth Daly was sixty-two years old when she published her first novel, Unexpected Night, in 1940. She wrote sixteen more over the next dozen years, all but one of them featuring a low-key, informal (and somewhat improbable) amateur sleuth named Henry Gamadge; The Book of the Crime is the last of her novels, although she lived another sixteen years after it was published.

   Daly’s mysteries are fair-play whodunits concerned with murder among the upper classes, and therefore very much in the British Golden Age tradition: in fact, Agatha Christie once said that Daly was her favorite American detective-story writer.

   Many of her books have integral bibliographic elements; Gamadge is at his best in these, owing to his position as an author and consulting expert on old books, manuscripts, and disputed documents. A man “so well bred as to make Lord Peter Wimsey seem a trifle coarse” (Anthony Boucher), Gamadge works out of his fashionable home in New York’s East Sixties, which he shares with his wife Clara; his young son; an assistant named Harold; and a cat named Martin that prefers petting to being petted.

   In The Book of the Crime, Gamadge undertakes to help young Rena Austen, the bride of an odd, secretive war veteran. For a year she has been living-unhappily with her husband, Gray, and his relatives in a musty old New York house he inherited; and for almost that long she has known that she “made a fearful mistake.”

   That mistake turned to real fear when Gray caught her looking at two apparently harmless old books in a little-used sitting room and, in a reaction both violent and inexplicable, grabbed the books and locked her inside the room. Rena managed to escape and, with the help of a young man named Ordway, ran off to the Gamadge household, where she has been protectively installed in the guise of the family nursemaid.

   To find out the truth behind her husband’s strange actions, Gamadge investigates Gray and his relatives-and soon finds himself enmeshed in a tangled web of murder and larceny on a grand scale . The identity of the two old books plays an important part in the solution to the mystery, as do Gamadge’s many New York connections, both social and official. Along the way there is much bookish talk, homey scenes with the Gamadges, and a new romance for Rena.

   Like all of Daly’s novels, this is a sedate, erudite puzzle that should please fans of Christie and fans of bibliomysteries alike.

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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 Crider & Bill Pronzini

   

CARROLL JOHN DALY – The Snarl of the Beast. Edward J. Clode, hardcover, 1927. Gregg Press, hardcover, 1981. Perennial, paperback, 1992. Lead story in The Snarl of the Beast: Race Williams, Volume 2 (Altus Press, 2016).

   Carroll John Daly was one of the fathers of the modern hard-boiled private eye, a primary influence on such later writers as Mickey Spillane. His style and plots seem dated today, but the presence of his name on the cover of Black Mask in the Twenties and Thirties could be counted on Lo raise sales of the magazine by fifteen percent.

   Daly’s major contribution was Race Williams, the narrator of Snarl of the Beast and the first fully realized tough-guy detective (his first appearance, in the June 1, 1923, issue of Black Mask, preceded the debut of Hammett’s Continental Op by four months). Williams was a thoroughly hard-boiled individual. As he says of one criminal he dispatches, “He got what was coming to him. If ever a lad needed one good killing, he was the boy.” Williams doesn’t hesitate to dole out two-gun, vigilante justice.

   The Snarl of the Beast has an uncomplicated plot: Williams is asked by the police to help track down a master criminal known as “the Beast” and reputed to be “the most feared, the cunningest and cruelest creature that stalks the city streets at night.” Williams is willing to take on the job and to give the police credit for ridding the city of this menace, just as long as he gets the reward.

   Along the way he meets a masked woman prowler, a “girl of the night,” and of course the Beast himself. Daly is not known for literary niceties — his style can best be described as crude but effective — yet there is a certain fascination in his novels and his vigilante/detective. Characterization is minimal and action is everything. “Race Williams — Private Investigator  — tells the whole story. Right! Let’s go.”

   Race Williams also appears in The Hidden Hand (1929) and Murder from the East (1935), among others. Daly created two other series characters, both of them rough-and-tumble types, although not in the same class with Williams: Vee Brown, hero of Murder Won’t Wait (1933) and Emperor of Evil (1937); and Satan Hall, who stars in The Mystery of the Smoking Gun (1936) and Ready to Burn (1951), the latter title having been published only in England.

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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

   

RAOLD DAHL – Someone Like You. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1953. Dell #F139, paperback, 1961. Reprinted many times.

   Roald Dahl’s short stories have been called-among other things — bizarre, comic, horrific, clever, and playful. Dahl depicts a world where things are a little — or sometimes a lot — skewed from the world we know, and the events he chronicles often produce wrenching horror in his reader. But he has also been known to inject a comic twist into his stories, and he toys with the reader, teasing the story line along like a mischievous child until he has us completely fooled.

   Perhaps his most famous story is “Lamb to  the Slaughter.” It begins on a deceptively quiet note, with Mary Maloney waiting in her cozy parlor for her husband to come home from work. Mary is a devoted housewife, six months pregnant, and she takes excellent care of her policeman husband, but tonight she has neglected to take anything out of the freezer. And when she does, after her husband makes a startling announcement, a leg of lamb seems quite appropriate …..

   “Taste” likewise deals with food. Mike Schofield, a London epicure, is giving a dinner party to which he has invited a famous gourmet. Mike is proud of his wine cellar and anxious to trip up his guest on his knowledge of fine but obscure vintages. In fact, he is so sure of his ability to do so that he makes a most dangerous wager.

   These first two stories are examples of Dahl’s lighter work. On the more serious side is “Man from the South,” which concerns a different, more deadly wager. In “The Soldier,” Dahl makes a subtle statement about the aftermath of war. And readers and writers alike will be both amused and shaken at the implications of “The Great Automatic Grammatisator.”

   This collection shows Dahl at his best. Other volumes of his varied and multifaceted short stories include Kiss, Kiss (1960), The Best of Roald Dahl ( 1978), and Tales of the Unexpected (1979). In addition, he has written two novels: Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen (1948) and My Uncle Oswald (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 Crider

   

DAN CUSHMAN – Jewel of the Java Sea. Gold Medal #142, paperback original, 1951. Cover artist: Barye Phillips. Two later printings. Expanded from the short story of the same title appearing in Adventure, October 1948. [See Comment #5.]

   Dan Cushman wrote a number of novels for Gold Medal in the 1950s, most of which were referred to by the publisher as “jungle thrillers.” The books were distinguished for their exotic settings in faraway lands. Jewel of the Java Sea, for example, begins in Borneo, moves to Singapore, and concludes in Sumatra.

   The story involves Frisco Dougherty, who has spent the last fifteen years in the tropics, hunting for a fortune in stolen diamonds. He obtains the first diamond easily because of his slightly shady reputation, and he knows there must be others. If he can find and sell them, he can return at long last to San Francisco and feel the cold fog in his face once more.

   The search is hampered by the presence of other hunters, including Deering, a murderous American, and his Sikh retainer. And of course, as in any good paperback of the time, there are three beautiful women of doubtful loyalties and morality.

   The pace is fast and the local color well done and convincing. The book is slowed somewhat by the dialogue, Dougherty being devoted to reading Boswell’s Life of Johnson and apparently having let his reading affect his speaking, and the relationship between Dougherty and one of the women is a little too spontaneous; but there is a fine treasure story (undoubtedly influenced by The Maltese Falcon), and the ending is satisfactory enough to make one forgive minor quibbles.

   Other Cushman “jungle books” include Savage Interlude (1952), Jungle She (1953), Port Orient (1955), and The Forbidden Land (1958).

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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 & Bill Pronzini

   

E. V. CUNNINGHAM – Samantha. Masao Masuto #1. William Morrow, hardcover, 1967. Popular Library, paperback [date?]. Also published as: The Case of the Angry Actress. Dell, 1984.

   Samantha was a pathetic Hollywood hopeful who ended up on the casting couch with a succession of unscrupulous men. Even then, she failed to land a part. Eleven years later, the men are being murdered, apparently in revenge. Each of them is now married to a woman who just might be Samantha with a new name. Detective Sergeant Masao Masuto of the Beverly Hills Police Force has his work cut out for him.

   This is the book that introduced Masuto, a Zen Buddhist like his creator, who is actually the prolific Howard Fast writing under a pseudonym. A Nisei who lives in a Culver City cottage with his wife, three children, and his beloved rose garden, Masuto is culturally about as distant from the fast-lane denizens of Beverly Hills as a cop can get. Yet he declines to let them rattle him; he doesn’t envy, despise, or judge them.

   His trademark cool — sometimes masking a very human inner turmoil — is as appealing as his sometimes acerbic wit. The Hollywood crowd, not surprisingly, is mystified by him and his Zen ways; he explains himself with a disarming simplicity that leaves them even more baffled.

   The contrast between the two cultures he moves between is the chief charm of this and the other Masuto mysteries, among them The Case of the One-Penny Orange (1977), The Case of the Russian Diplomat (1978), and The Case of the Poisoned Eclairs (1979).

   Before creating Masuto, Fast published, under the Cunningham name, a number of non-series thrillers utilizing the first names of their female protagonists as titles. Some of these have serious themes: Sylvia (1960), Phyllis (1962). Others are comedic in tone: Penelope (1965), Margie (1966). Most have rather outlandish plots that entertain despite putting a strain on the reader’s credulity.

   Fast’s first crime novel, Fallen Angel (1952), originally published under the pseudonym Walter Ericson, was made into the 1965 film Mirage, with Gregory Peck and Walter Matthau; both novel and film are taut and engrossing but suffer from that same lack of believability.

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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 Francis M. Nevins

   

JAMES CRUMLEY – The Last Good Kiss. S. W. Sughrue #1. Random House, hardcover, 1978. Pocket, paperback, 1980. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, paperback, 1988.

   Since the death of Ross Macdonald and on the basis of just three novels, James Crumley has become the foremost living writer of private-eye fiction. Carrying on the Macdonald tradition in which the PI is no longer macho but a man sensitive to human needs, tom by inner pain, and slow to use force, Crumley has moved the genre into the Vietnam and post-Vietnam era.

   His principal setting is not the big city as in Hammett and Chandler, nor the affluent suburbs as in Macdonald, but the wilderness and bleak magnificence of western Montana. His prevailing mood is a wacked out empathy with dopers, dropouts, losers, and loonies, the human wreckage of the institutionalized butchery we call the “real world.” Nobility resides in the land, in wild animals, and in a handful of outcasts-psychotic Viet vets; Indians, hippies; rumdums; and love-seekers-who can’t cope with life.

   Crumley’s detective characters have one foot in either camp. Milo Dragovitch, the protagonist of The Wrong Case (1975) and Dancing Bear (1983), is a cocaine addict and boozer, the child of two suicides, a compulsive womanizer like his wealthy Hemingwayesque father; a man literally marking time until he will tum fifty-two and inherit the family fortune, which his pioneer ancestors legally stole from the Indians.

   Sughrue from The Last Good Kiss has a background as a Nam war criminal and an army spy on domestic dissidents and he’s drinking himself to death by inches. Yet these are two of the purest figures in the history of detective fiction, and the most reverent toward the earth and its creatures.

   Crumley has minimal interest in plot and even less in explanations, but he’s so uncannily skillful with character, language, relationship, and incident that he can afford to throw structure overboard. His books are an accumulation of small, crazy encounters, full of confusion and muddle, disorder and despair, graphic violence and sweetly casual sex, coke snorting and alcohol guzzling, mountain snowscapes and roadside bars.

   When he does have to plot, he· tends to borrow from Raymond Chandler. In The Wrong Case, Milo Dragovitch becomes obsessed by a young woman from Iowa who hires him to find her missing brother, a situation clearly taken from Chandler’s Little Sister (1949). The Last Good Kiss, perhaps the best of Crumley’s novels, traps Sughrue among the tormented members of the family of a hugely successful writer, somewhat as Philip Marlowe was trapped in Chandler’s masterpiece The Long Goodbye (1954).

   In Dancing Bear, which pits Milo Dragovitch against a multinational corporation dumping toxic waste into the groundwater, the detective interviews a rich old client in a plant-filled solarium just like Marlowe in the first chapter of Chandler’s Big Sleep (1939).

   None of these borrowings matter in the least, for Chandler’s tribute to Dashiell Hammett is no less true of Crumley: He writes scenes so that they seem never to have been written before. What one remembers from  The Last Good Kiss is the alcoholic bulldog and the emotionally flayed women and the loneliness and guilt. What is most lasting in Dancing Bear is the moment when Milo Dragovitch finds a time bomb in his car on a wilderness road and tosses it out at the last second into a stream and weeps for the exploded fish that died for him, and dozens of other moments just as powerful.

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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.
     

Bibliographic Note: As good as this book is, there were only two followup novels with Sugrue, those being The Mexican Tree Duck (Mysterious Press 1993) and Bordersnakes (Dennis McMillan 1996). The latter is a crossover with Milo Milodragovitch, who was in two solo adventures.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

   

JOHN CROWE – Bloodwater. Buena Costa County #3. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1974. No paperback edition.

   John Crowe is one of Dennis Lynds’ several pseudonyms — others include William Arden, Michael Collins, Mark Sadler — and his Buena Costa County is fictional, a synthesis of many of the places and characteristics of Lynds’ home state of California. That, however, is as far as unreality figures in these excellent novels. The characters are deeply and well drawn, the procedure is accurate, the plots are plausible and logical.

   A prominent citizen of Monteverde, one of the county’s elegant suburbs, is found dead of gunshot wounds in a seedy motel room. The gun is his own; the name he registered under is not. Detective Sergeant Harry Wood of the Monteverde Police Department has a special interest in the case, since he and the dead man, Sam Gamet, were both on the force together before Garnet climbed through the ranks of the security department to the vice-presidency of a local corporation.

   Wood’s investigation takes him into the homes of the rich and socially prominent of the area; into the offices of powerful corporation executives; and into the past of a family that is desperately attempting to conceal a secret. The satisfying solution links diverse aspects of the case, both from the past and the immediate present.

   Other titles in this series: Another Way to Die (1972), A Touch of Darkness ( 1972 ), Crooked Shadows ( 1975), When They Kill Your Wife (1977), and Close to Death (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.

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