Characters


REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:

   

LINDA GRANT – Lethal Genes. Cat Saylor #5. Scribner, hardcover, 1996. Ivy, paperback, 1997.

   With her four previous books Grant has become one of my favorite female authors. She isn’t a glib as Grafton, or as intense and angst-ful as Paretsky, or as focused on relationships as Muller, but her stories have substance and well-developed characters, and are very well written. Her business-world settings are a refreshing change, too.

   San Francisco Pl Catherine Saylor steps into a new world when she takes a case involving a biotech lab at the University of California. Someone is sabotaging experiments in cutting-edge dot com gene research, and no one there can figure out why, much less who.

   Cat finds a fair amount of academic jealousy, and some pretty lax security procedures, but the culprit and a motive prove more elusive. Then someone dies, and someone else is killed, and the com patch becomes a deadly place.

   My only cavil first off: the villain as eventually revealed wasn’t totally convincing to me, because I didn’t think the character and motivation were nearly well-enough established. That out of the way, I thought  this was Grant’s usual excellent job. She focuses more on the crime and less on the personal life of the protagonist than do most of the female, authors, which is at all to say that Saylor is not a well-drawn and engaging character — she is. Grant’s first-person narration is smooth and paced nicely, and her prose straightforward. She remains one of my favorites.

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

    

      The Catherine Sayler series

1. Random Access Murder (1988)
2. Blind Trust (1990)
3. Love Nor Money (1991)
4. A Woman’s Place (1994)
5. Lethal Genes (1996)
6. Vampire Bytes (1998)

RICHARD ABSHIRE – Dallas Deception. PI Jack Kyle #3. William Morrow, hardcover, 1992. Penguin, paperback, 1993.

   Jack Kyle is one of those oh-so-common PI’s who’s barely squeaking by. He sleeps in his office, for example, and his secretary (named Della) works for the occupants of all the offices on the same floor as his. He’s hired on this case (pro bono) on behalf of a cop friend who’s currently laid up in the hospital. It seems that the daughter of the latter’s very close lady friend has been caught on videotape in some very X-rated activity, and not voluntarily.

   Kyle makes with the rough tough scene, gets the tape, makes sure it is the original (but of course the number of copies can’t be determined for sure, but the frightened Freddy, who orchestrated the scene, tells Kyle that that’s all there is. Maybe, maybe not, but Kyle later finds he has a problem to deal with when he finds Freddy dead, with the very naked daughter in the same room.

   That’s pretty much it. The basic plot line. When spelled out like that, it doesn’t seem like much — not to fill nearly 300 pages of small print in the paperback edition — but I haven’t yet gone into the motive, which verges into very nearly science fiction territory, of the “mad doctor” variety, or at least it was back in the early 1990s, and personally, I didn’t find it very interesting, I have to admit, though, it was certainly different.

   Jack Kyle, who tells the story in good old-fashioned first person, is a likeable lunk of a guy. When he’s actually working on the case, the action scenes are well-described and orchestrated, but the banter between Kyle and his friends and associates often come off as forced and lame. Maybe it was just me, but the best I can do on my H/B scale is a meager 4.7.

   That’s out of 10.
   

      The Jack Kyle series
1. Dallas Drop (1989)
2. Turnaround Jack (1990)
3. The Dallas Deception (1992)
   

[NOTE]: This is the last 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.

ZELDA POPKIN – Death Wears a White Gardenia. Mary Carner #1. J.B. Lippincott Co, hardcover, 1938. Dell #13, paperback (mapback edition), circa 1943.

   Although she may come close to being a PI (see comment #1), when it comes down to it, Mary Carner probably shouldn’t really be tagged as one. As Death ears a Gardenia begins, she’s the assistant to the on-staff detective at a major department store in the center of Manhattan, and her expertise is not wayward spouses nor missing heirs. It is instead shoplifters and shoplifting, a profession and occupation that’s been around as long as there have been department stores.

   But when murder occurs during a giant anniversary sale, she’s on hand throughout, offering opinions and interviewing suspects right along with the police. She’s slim and pretty, but tough-minded, and her opinions and questions are right on target, as if she’s been doing it all her life.

   Dead is the store’s credit manager, and Zelda Popkin, the author, must have had some experience working behind the scenes in such an establishment is described in picturesque detail, and is a solid part of the tale’s background. Personal relationships, and the secrets the employees have from each other and (they hope) the world as well are revealed to all in the course of the investigation.

   Popkin was a very good writer, with good insight as to how real people think and behave, but in this first book in the series, she doesn’t seem to have gotten the hang of portraying a book-length investigation and keeping things moving. The middle portion of the book deals with the ups and downs of the building’s elevators the night before, details of which are, well, boring. More attention should have been spent on the gardenia in the dead man’s hand. (Not a floor manager’s carnation.) This is what’s really important, and if they’d only asked the poor flower seller outside the store what she knew a lot earlier, the book would have been over in a third of the time, if not less.

Rating (on my well-tested HB Hardboiled scale): 2.5 (out of 10).
   

      The Mary Carner series —

Death Wears a White Gardenia (1938)
Time Off for Murder (1940)
Murder in the Mist (1940)
Dead Man’s Gift (1941)
No Crime for a Lady (1942)

REVIEWED BY MIKE TOONEY:

   

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Exploits of the Patent Leather Kid.  Crippen & Landru Publishers, 2010. Edited and introduced by Bill Pronzini. 13 stories.

THE PATENT LEATHER KID Erle Stanley Gardner

   When most people hear the name Erle Stanley Gardner, they immediately think of his most famous character creation, Perry Mason, but he was also an incredibly prolific pulp fiction writer. One of the characters Gardner created for the pulps was The Patent Leather Kid, an unoriginal amalgamation of Zorro, Raffles the Gentleman Thief, and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

   Gardner’s principal contribution to this style of hero — the effete, indolent society fop he pretends to be while his alter ego tirelessly fights criminals and the official authorities when necessary — was to infuse his stories with the hardboiled sensibilities of Depression Era America. Even so, Gardner never let his Patent Leather Kid’s exploits veer into sadism: The Kid was always on the side of right, and the reader knew it.

   Thanks to Doug Greene at Crippen & Landru for bringing back The Patent Leather Kid and other pulp heroes from their undeserved oblivion.

      The stories:          [All originally published in Detective Fiction Weekly.]

(1) “The Kid Stacks a Deck” (1932): A local criminal gang really has it in for The Patent Leather Kid and sets up an ambush. The Kid, meanwhile, sets out to prove that robbing a jewelry store equipped with the most up-to-date alarm systems isn’t, as the store’s owner boasts, “impossible” after all.

(2) “The Kid Passes the Sugar” (1932): Someone’s gunning for The Kid but kills the wrong person. The Kid sets a trap with a shiny platinum watch as bait and an abused wife as a means of bringing the killer to justice.

(3) “The Kid Wins a Wager” (1932): The Patent Leather Kid sets out to help a woman in trouble with her boss, only to come up against another burglar who’s quite capable of framing The Kid for his own crimes. If he’s clever enough, The Kid might be able to escape the frame — and collect a large bet in the bargain.

(4) “The Kid Throws a Stone” (1932): Somebody’s running around pretending to be The Patent Leather Kid, pulling off robberies in fancy Chryslers and making no effort to be subtle about it. The Kid must lay a trap for his doppelganger that, if successful, will not only clear him with the police but also aid a distressed damsel he’s never met.

(5) “The Kid Makes a Bid” (1933): After several attempts at robbing a jewelry store, a thief apparently succeeds, taking some stones and cash with him and leaving two of the store’s assistants hog-tied with ropes and handcuffs. The Kid’s suspicions are aroused by the way the crime was committed, and he performs a rough “experiment” on an unscrupulous businessman, thereby thwarting two crimes simultaneously.

(6) “The Kid Muscles In” (1933): A doctor is murdered, and the prime suspect — a young man in love with the victim’s niece — can’t explain away his presence at the crime scene or his fingerprints on the murder weapon. It falls to The Patent Leather Kid to exonerate the falsely-accused in the way he knows best, breaking and entering with intent to catch the real bad guys.

(7) “The Kid Takes a Cut” (1933): An ex-con gets the blame for a jewel robbery he didn’t commit. His alibi — that a woman gave him the stones as a reward for a good deed — is, let’s be frank, flimsy at best. Only the ex-con’s wife can corroborate his story, but the police won’t believe a word of it. The Kid must contrive an elaborate scheme involving matching train schedules to prove the man innocent, for otherwise the real thieves will soon be on their merry way.

(8) “The Kid Beats the Gun” (1933):  A famous — and vastly overrated — criminologist fingers the butler of a rich couple as the one who stole valuable jewels from them. The butler finally confesses, not to the theft, but simply to following orders. The Patent Leather Kid must intervene to prevent a miscarriage of justice and experiences the triple satisfaction of exposing a fraud, deflating an egomaniac’s pomposity, and seeing an innocent man cleared.

(9) “The Kid Covers a Kill” (1933): The man often referred to as The King of the Underworld operates almost entirely with impunity, unhindered by the police. To him, the lives of his victims don’t mean very much. But when he brutally murders the sister of one of his underlings, The Patent Leather Kid gets involved — and for The King of the Underworld, that’s a very unhealthy development.

(10) “The Kid Clears a Crook” (1934): A small businessman with a criminal record tries to go straight but runs afoul of organized crime; they get him framed for a jewelry theft — enough of an injustice to attract The Kid’s indignant notice. Before it’s all over, The Kid will have fenced some hot ice, dodged numerous submachine gun bullets, and tickled a butler.

(11) “The Kid Clips a Coupon” (1934): A wealthy elderly woman has been murdered — by a tramp, according to the police — but The Kid doesn’t think so. The whole thing smacks of an inside job — a case of discovered embezzlement — and The Kid must be proactive to head off another murder, even if it means kidnapping someone himself.

(12) “The Kid Cooks a Goose” (1934): The underworld and the police have a common nemesis — and common cause to rid themselves of him — namely The Patent Leather Kid. The cops have let it be known — through unofficial channels, sub rosa, you understand — that if the criminal class terminates The Kid, they’re willing to cut the crooks some slack. When The Kid receives news of this ad hoc arrangement to bump him off, it’s without joyful enthusiasm. His characteristic response is to devise an impromptu plan that will not only clear him of a murder frame, neutralize several underworld kingpins, and save a woman’s life, but also give a guinea pig his big chance to be a crime buster.

(13) “The Kid Steals a Star” (1934): During the course of a robbery at a jewelry store, a policeman is killed and the night watchman gets the blame. It gets worse for him when he foolishly tries to skip town; actually, he’s been perfectly framed by the clever boss of a criminal gang. In order to clear the watchman and catch the crime boss in the act of swindling a jeweler, The Kid, with the able assistance of his bodyguard and an admiring telephone operator, must concoct a three-act “play” starring gangsters, gemstones, guns, and — if everything goes according to plan — a happy ending.

         Random notes:

   Unlike Sherlock Holmes, The Kid does see it as his duty to correct the deficiencies of the official police. — All of the members of the gentlemen’s club are stereotypes. — Gardner always uses the word “conservative” with negative connotations. — These stories aren’t mysteries in the traditional sense: The fun is watching The Kid improvising his way out of tight situations. — There’s a lot of 1930s gangster slang. — The reader shouldn’t try to read more than one story at a time: Gardner was clearly writing to a formula. Read one every few days to avoid tedium.

   For even more about The Patent Leather Kid, see Monte Herridge’s Mystery*File article here: https://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=13823.

KATHLEEN MOORE KNIGHT – Three of Diamonds. Elisha Macomber #15. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1953. Detective Book Club, hardcover, three-in-one edition.

   The detective of record in Three of Diamonds is one Elisha Macomber, chairman of the Board of Selectmen of Penberthy Township, Penberthy Island, Massachusetts, a man perhaps in his 70s. Although there is a Chief of Police on the island (think Nantucket), whenever there is a serious crime (murder, for example), he is the one who is charge of the investigation that follows, and over the years, there were quite a few. (See the list below.)

   He’s off stage for much of this one, however. The action centers instead around the Crockett family, long time residents of the island, an older woman who lords it over a young sister and brother, both used to living under her thumb all their lives. In a pottery barn out back live a husband and wife, plus a young female assistant, not, as it turns out, all that harmoniously

   It is the younger brother Titus, not generally considered to be the smartest whip in the barrel, who finds the body, shot between the eyes. But when others go to find it, the body is gone. At the scene of the “crime,” however, is a playing card. The three of diamonds.

   It is difficult to solve a murder, obviously, when there is no body to be identified, if indeed there was a body. Macomber is convinced, however, and does more than due diligence to determine what indeed had happened. The case also involves some recent strangers on the island, who may be connected with some jewel robberies up in Boston,

   There is a chapter or two soon before the ending in which all of the participants in the tale spend their time skulking around in the dark, following each other at times, and in at least one instance, one hitting another over the head. The ending itself is one of those all of the suspects together kind of affairs, in which the obvious suspect sits there with Elisha in charge with a entire collection of least likely suspects.

   One might suspect that author Kathleen Moore Knight would things index control at this point, but she does not. What follows is a fast-paced mixture of confusion and chaos that could easily boggle your mind, if you were to let it. It is better just to sit back and fasten your seat belts. The ending of this one is a doozie!
   

      The Elisha Macomber series —

Death Blew Out the Match (1935)
The Clue of the Poor Man’s Shilling (1936)
The Wheel That Turned (1936)
Seven Were Veiled (1937)
Acts of Black Night (1938)
The Tainted Token (1938)
Death Came Dancing (1941)
The Trouble At Turkey Hill (1946)
Footbridge to Death (1947)
Bait for Murder (1948)
The Bass Derby Murder (1949)
Death Goes to a Reunion (1952)
Valse Macabre (1952)
Akin to Murder (1953)
Three of Diamonds (1953)
Beauty Is a Beast (1959)

W. T. BALLARD – Pretty Miss Murder. Max Hunter #1. PermabookM-4228, paperback original,; 1st printing, December 1961. Never reprinted.

   Back when this book was published, I’m going to assume that Ballard was correct and that in order to get a job working in Clark County, Nevada, and Reno in particular, you had to fill out an application from the sheriff’s office, and be accepted. That’s where Lt. Max Hunter first encounters a vivacious young brunette who’s hoping to start working at a local casino as a cigarette girl while in the state seeking a divorce.

   The attraction is immediate, and is only doubled when he meets again on the job. (As described, she looks exactly like the girl on the cover. (*)) Any further relationship is nipped in the bud, however, when the girl’s body is found later dumped beside a highway leading out of town.

   Hunter takes her death personally, of course, but what he learns is both surprising and disturbing, to say the least. All her life she has been known for leading men on and as a conniving (I can’t use the word) and has even been disowned by her aunt and uncle who raised her.

   Even though thoroughly disillusioned, Hunter continues on the case anyway, which, as it turns out, involves a well known racketeer who is trying to track down the girl’s husband, who has gone missing with $250,000 of the gang boss’s money. As an unexpected twist in the plot at the time, Hunter and Johnny Blessing find it mutually worthwhile to team up together, if only for a while.

   It’s a fun, fast-moving story, the only flaw in which is Ballard describes his characters so well that … well, in my opinion, when they act out of character, something’s wrong. Hunter ought to have trusted his instinct more. I knew exactly what was happening, even as all the while Ballard, as the man in charge of telling the story, was doing his best to divert attention away.

   You might think this would take away the enjoyment of reading to learn how things work out, which they do, but it doesn’t, and all of the threads are tied up tightly at the end. It’s a smooth professional piece of writing, produced by a longtime pulp writer  who didn’t dry up and quit when the pulps died. It’s not really a hardboiled novel, only medium boiled at best, but on that basis, of you’re still with me, I’d say you’d have fun with this one, too.

         —

(^) The cover shown is that of the copy I own, which Ive had for a very long time. Amusingly enough, while I’m not sure you can make it out, but what the girl is selling are spelled out as “cigaretts.” Also note the mutilated cover, with the upper right corner clipped off. This is was often done by those paperback swap shops commonly found almost everywhere a few years back so that books deemed unworthy could not be used to be traded back into the store again. The book cost me ten cents, which to me was a dime well spent, now finally at last.
   

         The Max Hunter series —

Pretty Miss Murder (1961)
The Seven Sisters (1962)
Three for the Money (1963)

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Art Scott

   

MALCOLM DOUGLAS – The Deadly Dames. Gold Medal #614, paperback, 1956. Reprinted by Stark House Press in a 2-for-1 edition with A Dum-Dum for the President, trade paperback, 2015, as by Douglas Sanderson.

   There were innumerable private-eye novels that saw print as paperback originals in the Fifties and Sixties. While many, perhaps most, were routine and forgettable, the intrepid reader will occasionally come across a real sleeper, like this book by the Canadian writer Douglas Sanderson, writing as Malcolm Douglas.

   Bill Yates. easygoing Montreal private eye, takes on what looks to be a simple case of spy-on-the-straying-spouse. But before he even starts work, the client’s rich aunt tries to buy him off, and she promptly goes down under the wheels of a streetcar. Not long after that. two emissaries from the local gambling czar stick him up in his office, looking for a missing will. One day and three or four corpses later, Yates is being pursued by the crooks, the cops, several double-crossing dames, and an Amazon Russian housemaid with romantic notions.

   The action is furious and headlong, culminating with a naked Yates being chased through the Canadian woods while being eaten alive by swarms of mosquitoes. Along the way. Yates sets the world record for the greatest number of people to get the drop on a private eye in the course of a Gold Medal paperback.

   Douglas’s style is classic don’t-take-it-seriously private-eye material: wry, observant. and a bit gaudy — and perhaps just on the edge of parody. Radio detective fans will find it reminiscent of the marvelous scripts Richard Breen used to write for tough guy Jack Webb in Pat Novak for Hire. Exceptionally entertaining.

   The other Malcolm Douglas Gold Medal originals — Rain of Terror (1956), Pure Sweet Hell (1957), and Murder Comes Calling (1958) — are less successful but still good reading. The best of Sanderson’s novels under his own name is probably Mark It for Murder (1959).

         ———
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: Technically this was the only book Sanderson wrote about Montreal-based PI Bill Yates, but on his Thrilling Detective website Kevin Burton Smith points out that Sanderson wrote three other novels about Yates as Martin Brett, except that in those books, Yates was called Mike Garfin. Here’s the tally:

      The Mike Garfin series —

   From https://thrillingdetective.com/2020/10/07/mike-garfin/

Hot Freeze (1954)
The Darker Traffic (1954)
The Deadly Dames (1956; by Malcolm Douglas) Mike is called Bill Yates in this one, for contractual reasons.
A Dum-Dum for the President (1961)

SAMUEL HOLT – What I Tell You Three Times Is False. Sam Holt #3. Tor, hardcover, 1987; paperback, 1988. Felony & Mayhem, softcover, 2006, as by Donald E. Westlake writing as Samuel Holt.

   Former TV star Sam Holt and three other actors and actresses typecast in their roles of fictional detectives, along with assorted wives, lovers, and so on, are trapped on an isolated Caribbean island with a killer who seems intent on being the last one left alive.

   After a slow start, setting the scene, the mystery revs into high gear, with the killer and the detectives  squaring off in a long, complicated game of murder, somewhat reminiscent of Ellery Queen, but by a noticeable hair, not quite as clever as the master.

(*) Original footnote: If anyone know who Samuel Holt is, let me know. (And note that the similarity on plotting to EQ’s work is matched by the pseudonymous author-character relationship. It couldn’t be just a coincidence, could it?)

– Reprinted from Mystery.File.6, June 1988.

      The Sam Holt series –

1. One of Us Is Wrong (1986)
2. I Know a Trick Worth Two of That (1986)
3. What I Tell You Three Times Is False (1987)
4. The Fourth Dimension Is Death (1989)

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Crider

   

ROBERT DIETRICH – Murder on the Rocks. Steve Bentley #1.  Dell First Edition A141, paperback original, 1957. Cutting Edge, trade paperback, 2020.

   Steve Bentley, series fiction’s toughest tax accountant, was the creation of Robert Dietrich. better known by his more famous (or infamous) real name of E. Howard Hunt. Because he was employed by the CIA, Hunt used pseudonyms for much of his paperback writing in the 1950s and 1960s; the Dietrich name was used first for Dell Books and later for Lancer.

   In Murder on the Rocks, the first book in the series, Bentley is asked by the beautiful daughter of a South American ambassador to investigate the theft of an emerald worth over $ I million. Instead of the emerald, Bentley finds a corpse, and the case becomes even more complicated when the emerald is apparently returned.

   Another murder takes place; Bentley is threatened by gangsters; and the ambassador’s other daughter, even more beautiful than her sister, practically proposes to him. Eventually Bentley, functioning much like any hard-boiled private eye, sorts things out and deals out a bit of his own kind of justice.

   This is one of the better books in the Bentley series, and most of the tough narrative rings true. How tough? Here’s an example: “When Cadena was a tank sergeant on Luzon he had pulled the head off a dead Jap to win a ten-cent bet.” The Washington setting is described with easy familiarity and the characterization is adequate, although readers may be put off by Bentley’s frequent disparaging comments about homosexuals, which are entirely unrelated to the book’s plot.

   Readers looking for more of Bentley’s adventures should also enjoy End of a Stripper (1960). Perhaps Hunt’s best book as Dietrich, however, is a non-series work, Be My Victim (1956).

         ———
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 Steve Bentley series

Murder On the Rocks (1957)
The House on Q Street (1959)
End of a Stripper (1960)
Mistress to Murder (1960)
Murder on Her Mind (1960)
Angel Eyes (1961)
Calypso Caper (1961)
Curtains for a Lover (1962)
My Body (1973)

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:

   

MARELE DAY – The Disappearances of Madalena Grimaldi. Claudia Valentine #4. Walker, hardcover, 1996. First published in Australia by Allen & Unwin, paperback, 1994.

   I missed the first of these (*), which won a 1993 Shamus —The Last Tango of Delores Delgado.   The title deserved an award, anyway. Claudia Valentine is an Australian Pl operating out of Sydney, though a good bit of the action takes place in Melbourne.

   Claudia Valentine has just found out that her father, who deserted her mother and her when she was a child, died a derelict a decade ago. At about the same time she takes the case of a runaway and missing 15 year old child. The father is an intemperate and maybe brutal man, the mother emotionally (at least) bruised. So Claudia has two cases, though she’s only getting paid for one: find the missing girl, and a dead father she didn’t know she’d missed, but who now obsesses her.

   There are two stories here, obviously, and I’ll save you some suspense and tell you that they’ re not connected. The personal search is the primary story; indeed, I found the putative main plot to be almost an afterthought, and not that interesting. Which isn’t to say it was a bad book — it wasn’t. Day writes very readable first-person prose, and Valentine is a believable and likable character

   Still, here’s another not-too-thick “mystery” that without a sub-plot wouldn’t be a book, only partially redeemed by the fact that the subplot does involve detection.
         —

(*) Steve here. The books were apparently published out of order in the US, if at all. Here’s a list of all four books as (I assume) they appeared in Australia:

1. The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender (1988)
2. The Case of the Chinese Boxes (1990)
3. The Last Tango of Dolores Delgado (1992)
4. The Disappearances of Madalena Grimaldi (1994)

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