1001 Midnights


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

   

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.

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.

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