Books Noted


WILLIAM F. NOLAN – The Black Mask Murders. Black Mask Boys #1. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1994. No softcover edition.

   There’s probably no one better suited to do a novel featuring Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner as detectives than Nolan, a Hammett expert of the first order and [editor] of The Black Mask Boys (1985), a homage to the pulp. This, the first book in a projected series, is narrated by Hammett, and plans call for the narration to rotate among the three in future volumes.

   I’m not going into the plot any more than to tell you it involves gangsters and a maguffin, as I didn’t enjoy the book enough to finish it. Though obviously a labor of love on Nolan’s part, I couldn’t reward it with the same feeling.

   It isn’t badly done, I just don’t particularly care for the type, and using mystery writers for the characters didn’t change my feelings as I’d thought it might. Nolan’s a competent writer, and if you like Kaminsky’s Toby Peters books I think you’d like this too.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #13, June 1994.

             The Black Mask Boys series —

The Black Mask Murders (1994).
The Marble Orchard (1996).

Sharks Never Sleep (1998).

BASIL HEATTER – Virgin Cay [+] A Night Out. Stark House, trade paperback; 1st printing, July 2017. Includes Virgin Cay (Gold Medal, paperback original, 1963) and A Night Out (Popular Library, paperback original, 1956). Introduction by Steve Lewis.

   The book actually needs no introduction, not if you’ve read my reviews of the two paperback novels that comprise this just published reprint of both, here:

and here:

   Of course, you could go back and read both reviews and then buy the Stark House combo, which not too surprisingly, if you think about it, I do recommend.


A Book Note by DAN STUMPF:

ROBERT BLOCH – The Scarf. Dial Press,. hardcover, 1947. Avon #211, paperback, as The Scarf of Passion, 1949. Gold Medal d1727, paperback, 1966.

   Movie-makers aren’t the only ones who commit violence on books. Toward the end of October I was reading a 1966 reprint of Robert Bloch’s first novel, The Scarf. It’s a first-person serial-killer tale, and it’s creepy enough that it probably worried Bloch’s friends and family at the time and still packs a chill or two. And while I was reading this late-40s novel, I came upon a reference to Bob Dylan.

   That got me curious, so I looked up the passage in an earlier edition, and found it had been considerably re-written, either by Bloch himself or by some talented hack at Fawcett who could ape his style. And so it goes throughout the 1966 edition: a train trip becomes a plane ride, a radio is rewritten as a stereo, and there’s even a reference to dancing the Frug. (Ah, who could forget the Frug?) All of which were no doubt intended to make The Scarf pass for a contemporary novel in ’66, but now seem oddly quaint.

BILL S. BALLINGER – The Spy in the Java Sea. Signet D2981, paperback original; 1st printing, September 1966.

   Book five of a five book paperback spy series from the same publisher who made a lot of money printing the James Bond stories. Joaquin Hawks, son of a Nez Perce Indian father and a Spanish mother, is the leading character in each, all I believe taking place in Southeast Asia just before the war in Vietnam.

   The descriptions of the at-the-time exotic locales are done in detail and done well, but if this final tale in the series is an example, the stories are straight-forward, told without any verve I could see, and filled with cliches. In Java Sea, a malfunctioning CPU unit on a new US nuclear submarine has it stranded immobile somewhere at the bottom of the ocean, and both Moscow and Peking are close on Hawks’ trail as he hopes to find it.

   The result? Nowhere nearly as good as James Bond, and it pales completely in comparison to the Quiller spy adventure I read recently. I skimmed ahead to the end of the book to see if anything happened that I didn’t foresee happening. It didn’t, and I basically abandoned this one on page 46. In all honesty, I wasn’t a big fan of these knockoff spy novels back in the 60s, and I guess I’m still not now. You may enjoy this one more than I did.

Available from Stark House Press, Amazon, Walmart and at PulpFest 2016.

KAREN A. ROMANKO – Television’s Female Spies and Crimefighters: 600 Characters and Shows, 1950s to the Present. McFarland, softcover, February 2016.

   The full title of this book is self-explanatory, I’m sure. I’ve only browsed through it myself, so this is not a review, but in my opinion this is a book that every reader of this blog ought be know about, if you don’t already.

   To open the book, author Karen Romanko provides a long and knowledgeable introduction to the overall history of female crimefighters on television, followed in the main portion of the book by a comprehensive alphabetical listing of all relevant TV series and their significant characters, cross-referenced between the two. For example, the TV series Elementary and the character Joan Watson each have their own entries, each mentioning the other in bold face.

   The first entry is Acapulco H.E.A.T., followed by Lydia Adams (Southland); the last two are Roberta Young (Snoops) and The Zoo Gang, a British production that aired in this country on NBC in 1975.

   This is a book that’s easy to get caught up in, following one familiar show to its star and then to others not so familiar, and vice versa for (in my estimation) hours on end.

by Michael Keyton

   I came across Peter Cheyney when I was somewhere between twelve and thirteen. A church bazaar or second hand bookshop, the memory is blurred. What remains clear is that being basically stupid and already with the propensity to read what I wanted to read, I assumed at first the book was a western ‘Peter Cheyenne’ being some kind of cowboy. When it became clear that it wasn’t a western, I put the book down convinced Peter Cheyenne was an American thriller writer.

   I forgot all about him (well almost, the name having some kind of magic) for almost forty years. And this ‘forgetting’ is key to the whole story. Peter Cheyney was the most popular and prolific British author of his day. He was also the most highly paid. His curse perhaps is that he undoubtedly influenced Ian Fleming, for Bond is nothing more than a glamorous composite of the Cheyney ‘hero’. Cheyney created the template that Fleming developed, and the rest is history. Bond got Chubby Broccoli and celluloid fame, Peter Cheyney obscurity and critical censure.

   John le Carre, when asked about spy books that might have influenced him as a child, gave the following response. He duly bowed his head to Kipling, Conrad, Buchan and Greene, and then referred to the: ‘…awful, mercifully-forgotten chauvinistic writers like Peter Cheyney and Co.’

   John Sutherland made a similar point, referring to Cheyney’s Dark Series as the ‘high point of a resolutely low flying career.’ These two, wonderfully pithy, assessments are true to a point. They are also skewed by the cultural background and literary talent of both men.

   Cheyney was chauvinistic, and no great shakes in terms of vocabulary and style, but he shouldn’t be forgotten ‘mercifully’ or otherwise. Cheyney’s success as the most highly paid writer of his time does not necessarily qualify him as a literary giant, but it does show that his work reflected the attitudes and mood of a huge swathe of the population, amplified it and played it back to them. Cheyney talked to the popular mood rather than the concerns of an educated elite. It was ‘everyman’ who bought his work in droves.

   During the dark years of World War II and the austerity that followed, Cheyney’s novels were taken into battlefields, were exchanged for ten cigarettes in POW camps, and at a time when fabric was rationed, women fantasised about the glamorous Cheyney femme fatales in their satin and silks, sheer stockings, ruffles and bows. Read Cheyney and you’re reading violence and brutality set in a fashion catalogue.

   For those jaded by pilgrimages to Baker Street, Cheyney provides a welcome alternative. Most of his many heroes, villains and victims live in a very small area of London. Some are unwitting neighbours, and all jostle each other on the same roads and streets, ghosts in parallel worlds. These are mapped, allowing the reader to go on his or her own ‘Cheyney walk.’

   Cheyney, Behave recaptures a lost world and provides an eye-opening analysis of a popular culture we might prefer to forget. The book examines the importance of cigarettes and alcohol in Cheyney’s world, his attitude to ‘pansies’, racism, women, and the unconscious but jaw-dropping sexism of his age. It analyses the significance of Cheyney’s ‘Dark’ series in terms of war propaganda and how Cheyney accurately captured the effects of war on prevailing morality.

   In his books you will find misogyny, homophobia, racism, sexism and chauvinism and, at their core, idealism and a deep vulnerability. In terms of market forces they reflect a world long past, one far different from ours but fascinating and worth understanding. Read Cheyney, Behave and judge for yourself.

         Links:     Book     Author

   Jonathan Lewis’s book, entitled Ancient Egyptian Supernatural Tales, will be published by Stark House Press this coming July. The work is a collection of stories assembled and introduced by Jonathan and is best described as follows:

   â€œA superb collection of stories in which ancient Egyptian mysticism, mummies, and other supernatural occurrences play a significant role, including tales by Edgar Allan Poe, Louisa May Alcott, Arthur Conan Doyle, Tennessee Williams, H. Rider Haggard, Algernon Blackwood, Sax Rohmer and more.”

   The work also includes a lengthy critical introduction to the ancient Egyptian supernatural tale sub-genre of horror fiction. For those of you interested in purchasing the book, you can pre-order your copy now directly through Stark House Press’s website here.

MAX BYRD – California Thriller. Bantam, paperback original, April 1981. Reprinted several times.

   This is the first of three private eye novels written before the author turned his hand to historical fiction and three well-received novels about three of this country’s presidents: Grant, Jefferson and Jackson. The PI in California Thriller, though, is Mike Haller, who calls San Francisco home, having made the transcontinental trek from Boston some twenty years before.

   When I read this book when it first came out, I recall not caring for it all that much, although I haven’t been able to locate the review I’m sure I wrote about it at the time. I thought the characters too similar to those of a certain Robert B. Parker. Haller has a good lady friend named Dinah Farrell, who is a well-established psychiatrist in town, and while he doesn’t have a good Hawk-like buddy, Haller does have a world-weary fellow working for him named Fred Wrigley, an older fellow whom he can talk the case over with and exchage witty dialogue with each other at the same time.

   Haller is hired to find a missing newspaper columnist in this one, a married man who is probably off on some kind of fling, whch would have been interesting enough, but the more Haller begins to connect the case up with some academic biochemists who have competing theories of how to treat problems with the brain — surgery vs. medical therapy — the more I began to lose interest.

   Then came the thugs working for a big shot in the security business, and a Chinese crime lord who quotes to Haller inscrutable passages from the Koran. I apologize to you by saying that here is where I gave up, after already having worked my way through 100 pages of long, dense and overly descriptive paragraphs. I said to myself, even though this is a private eye novel, this is not the book for me.

   To me, the book simply didn’t flow. Byrd, on this first attempt, doesn’t show the down-to-earth appeal that dozens of paperback PI writers of the 50s and 60s had. Those are the writers whose tales went down the same streets this book tries to do, without succeeding. Not for me, it didn’t.

   On the other hand, California Thriller was awarded a Shamus for Best Paperback novel of 1981.

      The Mike Haller series —

California Thriller. Bantam, 1981.
Fly Away, Jill. Bantam, 1981.

Finders Weepers. Bantam, 1983.

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