November 2009

Capsule Reviews by ALLEN J. HUBIN:

   Commentary on books I’ve covered in the New York Times Book Review.   [Reprinted from The Armchair Detective, Vol. 1, No. 4, July 1968.]

    Previously on this blog:
Part 1
— Charlotte Armstrong through Jonathan Burke.
Part 2 — Victor Canning through Manning Coles.
Part 3 — Stephen Coulter through Thomas B. Dewey.
Part 4 — Charles Drummond through William Garner.
Part 5 — Richard H. Garvin through E. Richard Johnson.
Part 6 — Henry Kane through Emma Lathen.

NORMAN LEWIS – Every Man’s Brother.   William Morrow, US, hardcover, 1968. UK edition: William Heinemann, hc, 1967. Bron Owen, an epileptic released from a prison sentence served for unremembered crimes, runs unresistingly into a murder charge in this compelling novel set in Wales.


ROBERT MacLEOD – The Iron Sanctuary.   Holt Rinehart & Winston, US, hardcover, 1968. UK edition: John Long, hc, 1966, as Lake of Fury. This is a cut or two above the run-of-the-trenchcoat spy story, featuring Talos Cord’s second peace-keeping mission for the UN, this time in East Africa where rumbles of arms buying have been heard.


A. C. MARIN – The Clash of Distant Thunder.   Harcourt Brace & World, US, hardcover, 1968. Paperback reprint: Pinnacle, 1971. UK edition: Wm. Heinemann, hc, 1969. This is a compelling first novel, a vividly believable search for revenge for an ancient wrong and the resulting encounter with some contemporary Nazis in Europe.


STEPHEN MARLOWE – Come Over, Red Rover.   Macmillan, US, hardcover, 1968. A splendid novel about a double agent, a willful daughter and East German machinations, with the added treat of fine characterizations.

Editorial Comments:   Three cover images out of four this time, and which was the one I was sure was going to be the easiest to find? Right.

    Norman Lewis, no relation, I’m sure, wrote 15 espionage and adventure thrillers between the years 1949 and 1987, five of them listed as marginal in the Revised Crime Fiction IV. He’s a brand new name to me, though, until today.

    Nor had I heard of Robert MacLeod, or so I thought until I looked him up in CFIV. MacLeod is a pen name of the much more well-known (and extremely prolific) Bill Knox, who also wrote as Michael Kirk and Noah Webster. This is the second of six recorded adventures for Talos Cord, out of some 24 mysteries written by Knox under this name.

   Another pseudonym is A. C. Marin, whose real name was Alfred Coppel. After three books as Marin, Coppel had another eight books in CFIV under his own name, all apparently thrillers of one subgenre or another.

   Collectors of vintage Gold Medal paperbacks will certainly recognize Stephen Marlowe‘s name, as he wrote a long list of “Chester Drum” detective and spy novels for them between 1955 and 1968. When paperback series spy fiction showed signs of slowing down, he switched over to hardcover thrillers like this one. A tribute to Stephen Marlowe by Bill Pronzini appeared here on this blog at the time of his death.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Crider:

PETER RABE – Kill the Boss Good-By. Gold Medal #594, paperback original; 1st printing, August 1956. Reprint edition: Black Lizard, pb, 1988.

   Kill the Boss Good-By is typical of Peter Rabe’ s best work. Fell, boss of the San Pietro rackets, has mysteriously dropped from sight. In his absence, his number two man, Pander, decides to take over and run the show.

PETER RABE Kill the BOss Good-By

   Naturally, Fell returns, but he returns from a place where racket bosses seldom go — a sanatorium where he has been under treatment for manic psychosis.

   The rest of the novel, although it contains the necessary paperback-original action and scenes of sharp, effective violence, is really a psychological study of Fell’s gradual decline into genuine madness.

   As he begins to lose his tenuous hold on reality, becoming more and more confident of success as his mental powers decline, he destroys himself and most of those around him.

   Like many of Rabe’s novels, this one builds to an emotionally shattering climax. Rabe is one writer who always delivers where it matters most — on the last page.

   Notable among Rabe’s other non-series softcover originals are Benny Muscles In (1955), A Shroud for Jesso (1955), Journey into Terror (1957), Mission for Vengeance (1958), Girl in a Big Brass Bed (1965), and Black Mafia (1974).

   Also excellent is his only hardcover, Anatomy of a Killer (1960), a tale of unflagging tension and psychological suspense about a “jinxed” hit man named Sam Jordan.

   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:

PETER RABE – Dig My Grave Deep. Gold Medal #612, paperback original; 1st printing, October 1956. Reprint: Black Lizard, pb, 1988.


   Contemporary reviewers compared Peter Rabe favorably with both Chandler and Hammett, and with some justification. Rabe’ s best work achieves a harsh objectivity that is typical of Hammett in such books as The Glass Key.

   Rabe’s specialty was the hard-boiled gangster novel, though he also published a series of comic spy novels in the 1960s, a fine “mad avenger” book, and a truly offbeat novel about an American gangster in a foreign environment, as well as a series of novels about a “retired” gangster named Daniel Port, beginning with Dig My Grave Deep.

   In theory, of course, no one retires from the rackets and lives to tell the tale, but Port is intelligent as well as tough; he has a plan that will allow him to leave alive. But first, out of loyalty to his old boss, Port decides to help fight off the challenge of the so-called Reform party, a group that is trying to achieve political as well as criminal power in Port’s city.

   He does so with brains as well as violence, though there is certainly violence in this book. Rabe’s matter-of-fact, understated style is particularly well adapted to describing violent encounters, including violent sexual encounters, and he does a quietly effective job of doing so in Dig My Grave Deep.


   What is unexpected in the book is its humor, of both the tongue-in-cheek variety (Rabe’s character names are always worth a second look) and off-the-wall variety (Port’s bodyguard is involved in several hilarious incidents).

   The successful mixture of violence, humor, and effective storytelling makes one realize that Rabe’s works are worthy of more attention than has been accorded them in recent years.

   Other books in the Daniel Port series, all worth seeking out, are The Out Is Death (1957), It’s My Funeral (1957), The Cut of the Whip (1958), Bring Me Another Corpse (1959), and Time Enough to Die (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.

Editorial Comment:   On the primary Mystery*File website is an lengthy interview that George Tuttle did with Peter Rabe not too long before his (Rabe’s) death. Following their conversation is a complete bibliography I did of all of Rabe’s fictional work, including plenty of cover images.


PETER RABE Stop This Man

  PETER RABE – Stop This Man! Gold Medal #506, paperback original; 1st printing, August 1955. Reprint editions: Gold Medal #763, circa 1957; Hard Case Crime, July 2009.

   For reasons best known to themselves, Gold Medal packaged Peter Rabe’s Stop This Man! to look like one of their rustic melodramas (Hill Girl, Swamp Hoyden) when in fact it’s a savvy, mostly urban tale of a robbery and its aftermath that prefigures the best of Westlake/Stark’s “Parker” novels.

   Catell, the more-or-less hero of the piece, is a career criminal very much in the tough, calculating Parker mold, before there was a Parker mold to fit into, and Stop This Man! deals with his efforts to get away with a brick of radioactive gold and somehow dispose of it at a profit.

PETER RABE Stop This Man

   Rabe knows how to do this thing right: straight-up and savage, with that paperback toughness that typifies the best of the hard-boiled writers.

   The action scenes are fast and inventive, the characters engagingly seedy, and the plot controlled and energetic as a race-horse.

   If there’s any problem at all, it lies in the mood of the times, when an informal censorship mandated that Justice Must Triumph in this sort of thing, and Rabe is clearly more interested in his small-time hoods, strippers, lushes and oily promoters than in the lawmen who put in token appearances like time-out-for-a-word-from-our-sponsor.

   The result is a rather contrived ending, but it comes late in a book that is mostly pretty enjoyable.

William F. Deeck

ANTHONY GILBERT Death in the Blackout

  ANTHONY GILBERT – Death in the Blackout. Smith & Durell, US, hardcover, 1943. Paperback reprint: Bantam #51, 1946. Previously published in the UK as The Case of the Tea-Cosy’s Aunt: Collins Crime Club, hc, 1942; Collins White Circle, pb, 1944.

   It has been twenty years or so since I read an Arthur Crook novel by Anthony Gilbert, and those I had read had been from (I shall use the masculine gender to avoid confusion, though Gilbert was, of course, a female) his later period. The novels were supposed to be amusing, and I seldom found them so. Gilbert apparently did better in his earlier works.

   Death in the Blackout is one of the early cases of Arthur Crook, lawyer. Whether Crook is a solicitor or a barrister, should anyone be curious, is information not provided by the author in this novel. Frankly, I don’t recall his ever appearing in court; he seems to be primarily an investigator.

   Crook’s flat is in a building with several other occupants who are almost as strange as he is. A woman who sees spies in the most improbable disguises occupies the ground floor and basement, while flat No.3 boasts the presence of T. Kersey, whom Crook immediately begins calling “Tea-Cosy” and who is a bit unsteady when it comes to the nature of time. Flat No.2 is unoccupied.

ANTHONY GILBERT Death in the Blackout

   Tea-Cosy asks Crook to help him check out his flat when he finds his key is missing. Therein he and Crook find a hat of sort that could belong only to Tea-Cosy’s aunt, but the aunt is not there. Later on, a young lady checking out the unoccupied flat in the hope of renting it discovers the aunt’s body.

   Tea-Cosy disappears before the body is found. Since Crook has adopted Tea-Cosy as a client, and Crook’s clients are always not guilty even when they are, Crook begins investigating. Even when Tea-Cosy, or someone dressed to look like Tea-Cosy, nearly kills the young lady who comes back to the supposedly unoccupied apartment a second time, Crook knows that Tea-Cozy is innocent.

   And, of course, Crook is right. Since there are only a few suspects, the guilty are rather evident, but it is quite interesting, and occasionally amusing, how Crook works it all out from the author’s fair clues.

From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1987.

Reviewed by DAVID L. VINEYARD:         

JOHN CREASEY Meet the Baron

ANTHONY MORTON (JOHN CREASEY) – Meet the Baron. Harrap, UK, hardcover, 1937. US title: The Man in the Blue Mask, Lippincott, hc, 1937.

   As 1935 rounded to an end, John Creasey was broke and out of work — not unusual in those days — but there was a writing contest offering a handsome prize, and Creasey had his eyes on it.

   He had already had some success with the adventures of Gordon Craigie of Z5 and the Toff at Monty Hayden’s Thriller , and he knew he could win that prize if he could finish the book he had in mind.

   But he only had six days left.

   For anyone else this might have been hopeless, but we are talking John Creasey, so I can’t wring much suspense from that end.

   What’s remarkable is the book he churned out in those six days.

   John Mannering, the Baron, is perhaps the most unusual of the gentleman crooks who dominated British thriller fiction between the wars. He is no swashbuckling Saint or decadent Raffles. He has a code, but it is unique to him, as is his sense of justice. He is the only one of the gentleman crooks who would have been perfectly at home in Black Mask (though The Saint did make it there, he didn’t really fit) along side Erle Stanley Gardner’s Phantom Crook, Ed Jenkins.

JOHN CREASEY Meet the Baron

   John Mannering stole for one very simple reason — he needed the money. He is an upper middle class gentleman who has a small income and a little land, and he would like to keep his comfortable life exactly as it is.

   He could never find a job that would support that lifestyle, but crime… And true to his nature, he pursues his new career with a practical and no nonsense application of common sense.

   No avenger he, though he does have a sense of justice that will give him trouble at times.

   Mannering had been engaged to a well-to-do socialite, but when his money ran out she dumped him peremptorily without a second thought. Something changed in John Mannering, and the Baron was born.

   The Baron began his new career even while he was hunting down old lags to teach him the skills he would need. He preyed only on those who could afford the loss, but unlike Raffles he didn’t mind stealing from his host. In fact it was a specialty of his. He even robs his ex-fiancee. At one point he steals a valuable wedding present, and then reminds the policeman guarding it to check the gifts while he tells the host.

   The Baron persona is only born when an innocent man is accused of one of Mannering’s crimes. He writes the police a hectoring letter in the style of Arsene Lupin, and signs himself the Baron. Then he strikes again to prove his point.

JOHN CREASEY Meet the Baron

    Scotland Yard in the form of Bill Briscoe is drawn in. Briscoe is no helpless Ganimard (Arsene Lupin’s nemesis) or Claude Eustace Teal. He is a bright policeman, and he is soon on the trail of the Baron — whom he suspects is his friend Mannering.

   Thus begins a long history of suspicion. Even in later years when Briscoe leaves the Yard to work for Mannering at Quinns, the exclusive auction house the Baron acquires after marrying his love, the portrait artist Lorna, and going straight, he still suspects his old friend of being the notorious Baron.

   But he never proves it, despite Mannering’s seeming inability to stay out of trouble and his insistence on using the skills of the Baron to extricate himself and others from danger. Even at the end of Meet The Baron, when Mannering is wounded and risks his neck and freedom to rescue Briscoe, he manages to keep the Baron’s secrets.

   Most of the gentleman crooks went into intelligence work when WW II came along. Mannering was a desk sergeant at an RAF base. It somehow seems fitting.

   The Baron was the first of Creasey’s heroes to reach the American shores — for some reason called Blue Mask here — and a huge success in France and Italy where he became film auteur’s Jean Cocteau’s favorite crime fiction character. Umberto Eco made a special nod toward the Baron in his recent novel The Mysterious Flame of Queen Lorna (2005).

JOHN CREASEY Meet the Baron

   The ITV television series The Baron had little to do with Creasey’s creation, with Mannering becoming American oil baron Steve Forrest who acquires Quinns and is drawn into adventures via that. Sue Lloyd and Barry Morse co-starred.

   A forty year run is pretty good for any gentleman crook, forty seven outings from Meet the Baron (1937) to Love for the Baron (1979).

   Creasey always seemed to put a little extra effort into the Baron’s adventures. Mannering reformed, but he never felt any angst or guilt about his past, and he was always willing to break out the Baron’s bag of tricks in the pursuit of justice — not terribly patient with police work, this fellow.

   Meet the Baron by all means. He’s something a bit different from the usual run of gentleman crooks. But be warned, like candy, one calls for another, and there are forty-two years of adventures to catch up with.

   In my comment following Marv Lachman’s review of Nicholas Blake’s Malice in Wonderland, I pointed out that the book had, over the years, been published under four different titles:

      1) Malice in Wonderland (Collins)
      2) The Summer Camp Mystery (Harper-US)
      3) Malice with Murder (Pyramid-US)
      4) Murder with Malice (Carroll & Graf-US)

   I also wondered whether or not this was a record for the most titles one mystery novel has been published under.

   A few days ago I received the email below from British bookseller Jamie Sturgeon. This is not a contest, since while he didn’t quite give the answers, he revealed enough so that anyone with access to Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV will be able to discover what he came up with right away. But for the sake of anyone who doesn’t have a handy copy of CFIV or who’d like to give it a try on their own, I’ll wait to reveal all until the first comment to this post.

Hi Steve,

   I’ve not managed to come up with a book with five titles but there are two John Creasey Inspector West books that both have four different titles.



Some Mixed Hybrids [1982], Part 1

    Mixing genres is a risky enterprise, and the works I’ll be reviewing in this series blend mystery and science fiction/fantasy with mixed results.

1.)   RANDALL GARRETT – Lord Darcy Investigates.

Ace, paperback original; 1st printing, September 1981.


   Randall Garrett has been writing about Lord Darcy, Chief Investigator for the Duke of Normandy, since 1964. Lord Darcy investigates impossible crimes but the twist is the setting of the stories: an alternate world where magic works while science is looked upon with suspicion.

   The “magic” is actually psi powers developed by the Laws of Magic. The semi-medieval, twentieth-century civilization Garrett develops is convincing both for the primitive science the aristocratic society scorns and for the sophisticated magic most characters possess.

   The interesting point here is that Lord Darcy possesses no psi powers — for that he relies on his sorcerous assistant, Sean O’Lochlainn. Instead, Lord Darcy uses induction and deduction to pull off amazing Sherlockian solutions to the incredible puzzles Garrett presents him with.

   Lord Darcy Investigates is a collection of four novelettes: “A Matter of Gravity,” “The Ipswich Phial,” “The Sixteen Keys,” and “The Napoli Express.”

   In “A Matter of Gravity,” Lord Darcy solves a locked-room murder with a double twist ending. In “The Ipswich Phial,” Lord Darcy becomes involved in an espionage mission featuring a beautiful Polish spy, a murdered British agent, and a missing secret weapon. This is the best story in the volume.


    “The Sixteen Keys” presents the puzzle of a dead man in a house with sixteen locked doors. And “The Napoli Express” has more deception than Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.

   I highly recommend Lord Darcy Investigates and the other Lord Darcy volumes, Too Many Magicians (Doubleday, 1967; Ace 1981), a novel, and Murder and Magic (Ace, 1979, 1981), a collection of four more novelettes.

From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 2, March/April 1982

      The Lord Darcy series

* Randall Garrett:

     Too Many Magicians (n.) Doubleday, hc, 1967.
     Murder and Magic (co) Ace, pbo, 1979.


     Lord Darcy Investigates (co) Ace, pbo, 1981.
     Lord Darcy (co) SFBC, 1983. [A omnibus edition containing all of the above plus additional short stories.]

* Michael J. Kurland:

     Ten Little Wizards (n.) Ace, pbo, 1988.

MICHAEL KURLAND Study in Sorcery

     A Study in Sorcery (n.) Ace, pbo, 1989.

MICHAEL KURLAND Study in Sorcery

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Crider:

JIM THOMPSON – The Killer Inside Me. Lion #99, paperback original, 1952. Reprinted many times since. Film: Warner Bros., 1976; with Stacy Keach, Susan Tyrrell, Tisha Sterling, Keenan Wynn; director: Burt Kennedy.

JIM THOMPSON - Killer Inside Me

   The back cover of this paperback original has the following statement from the publishers: “We believe that this work of American fiction is the most authentically original novel of the year. The Killer Inside Me is Lion Books’ nomination for the National Book Award of 1952.”

   Lion was not a major publisher, even in the paperback field, and their novel had little chance to win. But there are those who believe it should have, because Thompson’s book is one of the most powerful and frightening looks into a madman’s mind that has ever been written.

   Lou Ford, the narrator, is a deputy sheriff in a small west Texas town. He is a “good old boy,” well liked by everyone. He is also a psychopathic killer. Two men in one body, trapped by “the sickness,” he is set off on his trail of murder by a prostitute. Before he is done, he has killed or caused the death of everyone he cares for.

   It takes a tough mind and a strong stomach to read this book, but the amazing thing about it is that Thompson manages to make his monster sympathetic, and that the sympathy comes from understanding. The reader is made to feel what it must be like to be Lou Ford, and the tortured violence of the book clearly reflects the tortured nature of Ford’s soul.

   One thing that can be said about few books can be said with certainty about The Killer Inside Me: No one who reads it will ever forget it.

   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.

Reviewed by GLORIA MAXWELL:         

JIM THOMPSON – The Killer Inside Me. Quill Mysterious Classic (Morrow), 1984. First
publication: Lion #99, paperback original, 1952. Reprinted many times since.

JIM THOMPSON - Killer Inside Me

Films: Warner Bros., 1976; with Stacy Keach, Susan Tyrrell, Tisha Sterling, Keenan Wynn; director: Burt Kennedy. In production for 2010: with Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Simon Baker, Casey Affleck; director: Michael Winterbottom.

   If you like first person psychopathic killer stories (which this reviewer does), then this is a marvelous little mystery to pick up. What makes the story even more chilling is the fact that Lou Ford (narrator/perpetrator) is a deputy sheriff in a small Texas town. He refers to his problem (killing) as “the sickness.”

   His first killing was covered up by his father, and Lou’s foster brother, Mike, took the blame, and the prison sentence, for him. Since it was a very heinous crime (the sexual assault and murder of a young girl), an influential townsman arranged for Mike to be murdered upon his release from prison.

   After several years have passed, Lou decides to avenge Mike’s murder. And therein lies the plot of this book. That is, who, how, where and when he takes his revenge.

   An unusual, fascinating mystery, off the beaten path of more traditional ones.

Reprinted from The Poisoned Pen, Vol. 6, No. 4, Fall 1986.

Editorial Comment: For whatever reason, and it was obviously not a good one, I’d not known of the 1976 film version until now. I’ve just ordered it on DVD. And for Jessica Alba fans, here’s what you’re waiting until some time next year for:

JIM THOMPSON - Killer Inside Me

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