August 2012

The surgery of week before last went well, but I had a step backward yesterday. Not a big deal, according to my doctor, but I’ll have to slow down for a few days. I’ve been thinking about this. I’m going to take his advice — that goes without saying — and go a step further and stop posting here until after Labor Day.

I’ve taken an End of Summer break before. It’s always good to take some time off to deal with things that haven’t managed to get done over the summer — nothing too physical this time! — and that’s what I’ll be doing over the next few days.

Best wishes to those of you in the path of Hurricane Isaac. I’ll be watching news reports and thinking about you. Stay safe!

[UPDATE] 08-30-12. Thanks for all the get well notes, especially Randy’s, which gave me a much needed smile yesterday.

I’m on the mend at last, but I still have to take it easy for a few more days.

There is a post on the EQMM site that I’d like to call your attention to, especially if you’re a pulp fan and Black Mask magazine in particular. It’s written by Keith Alan Deutsch and it’s entitled “Black Mask Magazine, Steve Fisher, and The Noir Revolution.” In it he gives a small salute to Fanny Ellsworth, the editor of the magazine who took over from much more well known Joseph Shaw in 1936.

The changes she made to the magazine have never been given much attention before, and the article is well worth your reading:


CHARTER PILOT. 20th Century Fox, 1940. Lloyd Nolan, Lynn Bari, Arleen Whelan, George Montgomery, Hobart Cavanaugh, Henry Victor, Etta McDaniel. Director: Eugene Forde.

   In spite of the fact that a couple of my favorite B-movie stars are in this one, I found myself disappointed for most of the movie’s running time.

   The opening scene showed some promise. Lynn Bari is the scriptwriter for a radio show based on the fictional exploits of air ace King Morgan, played by Lloyd Nolan. In reality, and far from fiction, Morgan is indeed a pilot, but for a commercial airline whose more prosaic tasks include bringing a load of soft-shelled crabs up from Galveston to LA.


   OK. So far, so good, but it turns out that there are romantic complications between the two, and for maybe next 50 minutes or so the movie turns into a comedy of most mundane proportions. He proposes, she refuses until he gives up flying, he gives up flying and goes to work behind a desk, which doesn’t work, in great detail which I shan’t bore you with, but if you were expecting a comedy, you might find this portion of the film amusing, if not out and out funny.


   It also turns out, though, eventually, that there is a bad guy in the background, and the next to final scene, with King Morgan and aforesaid bad guy kicking, wrestling and fist-fighting in the cramped space of a cockpit of a small airplane over the jungles of Honduras, with Lynn Bari screaming behind the controls while live on the air – well, at last the film was worth the money I paid to see it. On a homemade DVD, of course, as almost goes without saying.

   Lynn Bari, of course, is as beautiful as ever, and Lloyd Nolan, while far from beautiful, is, as usual, one of the finer actors ever to be a B-movie star. Watching him rehearse his prepared proposal speech, while working out a whole gamut of ways to present his lines, is like attending a master class in acting, and he does it with ease.


Allen J. Hubin

J. P. HAILEY – The Baxter Trust. Donald I. Fine, hardcover, 1988; Lynx, paperback, 1989.


   J. P. Hailey, “a pseudonym for a bestselling author of crime novels featuring a well-known detective,” introduces Steve Winslow in The Baxter Trust. Winslow is an intriguing chap, and his excellent debut has given me a thirst for more.

   He’s a failed actor who went to law school, passed the bar, joined a conservative law firm, and was immediately fired for his unconservative tactics. Now he advertises his freelance legal services (takers in one year = 0) while driving a cab for a living.

   Until Sheila Benton calls. She’s been charged with murder and picked Winslow (trial experience = 0) out of the yellow pages. Trouble is the D.A. has an ironclad case. And Sheila lies to everyone (including Steve).

   And Sheila has no way to pay Steve: the twenty million dollar trust she’s scheduled to inherit in eleven years won’t allow payments to defend her, and if her various peccadilloes were to become known (as they are almost certain to), she’ll be disinherited anyway.

   Lovely case for Winslow to get his law practice started on. A fresh and polished narrative.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 1, Winter 1989.

Editorial Comments:   My review of The Anonymous Client, the second in the series, can be found here. (I agree wholeheartedly with Al’s assessment.) Included with that review is a complete list of the books in the series, along with the ID of the author’s real name, Parnell Hall, apparently unknown at the time of Al’s comments.

DARK SHADOWS 1991 Revival

DARK SHADOWS. NBC; January 13-14 1991. Premiere of TV series: 4-hour mini-series. Ben Cross, Joanna Going, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jim Fyfe, Barbara Steele, Ron Thinnes, Barbara Blackburn, Jean Simmons. Director: Dan Curtis.

   Part Two of the continuing saga of Barnabas Collins, the 200-year-old vampire whose release from a coffin chains means dire things for the village of Collinsport, Maine. I only occasionally watched the previous TV serial, not making much heads or tails of it when it was on originally. Picking the story up in the middle tends to do that to you.

   Coincidentally, if you remember reading my review of Barbara Hambly’s SF-Fantasy novel, Those Who Hunt the Night, which was posted here on this blog a short while ago, you will recall that the basic premise is the same: that vampirism is a blood disorder that might be curable. Ben Cross plays Barnabas to the hilt, agonized and tortured (and possibly sensuous, but I have seen anything romantic about vampires), while former Italian horror movie starlet Barbara Steele is Dr. Julia Hoffman, the physician who thinks she can cure him. (It looks as though she speaks through clenched teeth.)

DARK SHADOWS 1991 Revival

   The other major plot thread (there are a few other minor ones, mostly of sexual affairs and liaisons yet to come) is the budding romance between Barnabas and the new governess to the mansion, Victoria Winters, played by Joanna Going, who is beautiful, innocent and charming.

   There is a lot of blood — “Where did it all go? If she lost all that blood, where did it go?” — there is at least one stake to the heart, lots of moody atmosphere — caused by lots of fog — and spooky music. Or in other words, the works.

DARK SHADOWS 1991 Revival

   If released as a theatrical movie, this new series would probably be given a PG rating, but it’s not impossible it would be given a PG-13. This may be why, when the series itself started [the following week], it was switched at the last moment to ten o’clock instead of nine. Which is why I missed it, and so (missing an episode) why I probably won’t be watching it on a continuing basis.

   (Network shows are losing viewers left and right, and it’s really no wonder, when you consider that with all the stunting around, no one knows when anything is on for sure.)

   A brief word on the behalf of Jim Fyfe, who plays the semi-demented handyman Willie Loomis. You have never seen a more perfect example of small-town inbreeding, straight from an H. P. Lovecraft novel, perhaps.

   By the way, in case you’re interested, the mini-series is not complete in itself. If the people in charge have their way, the series may never end. I enjoyed it for the two nights it was on, and I may sample the series now and then, but for now, it simply left me — shall I say it? — hanging.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 28,
       February 1991 (slightly revised).

DARK SHADOWS 1991 Revival

[UPDATE] 08-25-12. I have been trying to match up the comments I wrote at the time with the episode list found on IMDB. I think what NBC did was to show the two-hour pilot on January 13th, then combined episodes #2 and 3 and aired them on January 14th.

   The series itself began on January 18th. Interest in the series seems to have faded quickly. There were only 12 episodes in all, including the three that were shown as part of this introductory mini-series. The final one was shown on March 22, 1991.


  KENNETH FOWLER – Jackals’ Gold. Doubleday, hardcover, 1980. Dell, reprint paperback, June 1981.

   I have a few of Fowler’s westerns in paperback, but until I started to do some research about him before writing this review, I did not realize how even more prolific he was writing short stories for the pulps in the 1940s, mostly for titles such as Dime Western, Star Western, New Western, .44 Western, and so on. Of special note in that regard, he was the editor for the first two of these magazines between 1944 and 1946.

   He seems to have written only ten western novels, though, two under the pen name Clark Brooker. The first was Outcast of Murder Mesa, a Gold Medal paperback original under his own name in 1954. Jackals’ Gold was his final novel, published when he was 80, though perhaps it was written earlier, as there is no sign of age at the helm of the rough and tumble western adventure it is.


   It begins as the story of Rachel Carr, who poses as the widow of Brad Gamble, a prospector who hit it rich then died, leaving his wife a small fortune in gold. Unknown to her, however, is that the dead man had two partners, two men whom he pulled a fast one on, and two men who want the gold back.

   Gold, according to the author — and who am I to disagree? — does strange things to people. Added to the mix are several other mysterious riders who follow Rachel and her two “guardians” as they head back to Salt Lake City in a small wagon, or who sniff out their hidden cache along the way.

   It’s a tough trip, and Fowler tells it well, even as the major point of view changes to that of Caine Joritt, one of the dead man’s two former partners — see above — who finds himself keeping a much closer eye on Rachel than he expected. Fist fights, gun shots in the night, crashing rivers and sudden violent death are the order of the day, with little to no dialogue to slow things down even an inch in most of the book’s final eighty pages. Good stuff, and interesting characters, too.

KATHLEEN MOORE KNIGHT – Terror by Twilight. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1942.

CRIME CLUB Doubleday

   A little background first [keeping in mind that this review was first written in 1991]. Doubleday has been publishing “Crime Club” mysteries since 1928, and they’re still producing them [as of] today, making them the longest running line of books published under one specialized logo by any one publisher.

   Several years ago I attempted the rather foolhardy task of collecting them all. (At three or four a month for well over 60 years, that’s several thousand books.) I was doing pretty well when I began to lose interest — too many titles and authors I realized I never intended to read — and I began to break up the collection I had at its peak.

   I still have a large portion of the ones I’d managed to accumulate, but the Edgar Wallace’s are gone, to pick one significant example, but everything I intended to read, I kept, and every once in a while I do, as you’ve seen in these pages, and will again.

   But my good friend Ellen Nehr has decided to do something even more foolhardy, and that’s to write a book that will list and annotate all of the Crime Club ever published over the years. We were talking about it over the phone the other night, discussing authors and so on — I think we’ve decided that Aaron Marc Stein (aka George Bagby) [may have] had the most books published in the line, and that Leslie Charteris’s books were published over the longest span of time — and we began to bring up other authors who must have been very popular in their day, and who are all but forgotten today.

   Which is a long introduction to Terror by Twilight, by Kathleen Moore Knight, and how I recently happened to pick this one out to read. It’s the third of four Margot Blair books — Knight had other series and other characters as well, over 30 books in all — and I think it’s a prime example of a “second tier” detective puzzler, from back in the days when the puzzle was the primary reason of existence for mystery stories. The Golden Age, if you will.

CRIME CLUB Doubleday

   Margot Blair was a partner in the public relations firm of Norman and Blair, unmarried, and in her late 30s. In the course of her job, working for specific clients, she apparently ran into murder on several occasions, and the firm began to act more and more as personal inquiry agents, if not private detectives.

   In this particular case, she has been hired to buy clothes for a wealthy man’s granddaughter, which she’s been doing for over a period of several years, but never meeting the girl in person until shortly after the man’s death.

   The reason the girl has been so carefully sequestered is that she has been suspected of homicidal tendencies, going into almost trance-like states and waking to find small pets killed or other children attacked.

   And when her grandfather is discovered to have been poisoned, suspicion immediately points to her. Luckily Margot is on the scene — in a house crowded with other suspects — and she does not believe for a minute that her client is guilty.

   Lots of suspects, lots of motive, lots of hidden agendas, and they all have to be sorted out. This is all the novel consists of. The only characterization is that which is needed to keep the story going. The puzzle is everything, and I have to confess that Kathleen Moore Knight fooled me rather badly. It’s not exactly fair-play detection — what Margot learns on page 270 is kept from the reader until much later, for example — but there are plenty of other indications as to the killer’s identity before then, and I still didn’t catch on.

   Barzun & Taylor continue to amaze me. They call the Knight stories “feminine” and Margot Blair “featureless,” with no other indication they might actually have read one of them. After the “front tier” of Christie, Queen and John Dickson Carr, there were many detective writers of the 30s and 40s who are still very much readable today, and Kathleen Moore Knight is one I’m glad to recommend to you. It’s too bad that only Ellen and I ever read her any more.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 28,
     (slightly revised).

[UPDATE] 08-23-12.   It was quite a task, but Ellen persevered and the book I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Doubleday Crime Club Compendium 1928-1991, was published in hardcover by Offspring Press in 1992. Over 700 pages long, it also included several pages in color of some of the best of the covers. For more, read J. F. Norris’s fine review of the book here on his blog.


WALLACE SMITH – The Captain Hates the Sea. Covici-Friede, hardcover, 1933. Film: Columbia, 1934. Victor McLaglen, Wynne Gibson, Alison Skipworth, John Gilbert, Helen Vinson, Fred Keating, Leon Errol, Walter Connolly, Walter Catlett, Donald Meek, The Three Stooges. Screenplay: Wallace Smith, based on his book of the same title. Director: Lewis Milestone.


   I can’t find out much about Wallace Smith except that he might have been a newsman in Chicago back in the 1920s — that heady Front Page era — before he graduated to novels and thence to Hollywood where he did about a dozen screenplays, including an adaptation of his own 1933 novel The Captain Hates the Sea, and it was seeing this film that prompted me to seek out the book.

   Well, the novel is a pretty fine job. Smith, obviously day-dreaming in the third-person, spins a tale of an alcoholic Hollywood writer who breaks off a doomed relationship with a movie actress to take passage on a ship bound from California to New York, telling himself he’s going to sober up and write that novel he’s been putting off.


   Also on board are a thief and his moll on the lam with stolen security bonds, a dumb (or is he?) cop who falls for the moll, a reformed floozie and her jealous husband, plus assorted side characters, some colorful and some merely backdrops, but all well thought out. And oh yes, they’re joined halfway through the trip by a hooker who got run out of Panama and seems to be channeling Miss Sadie Thompson.

   With characters like this you wouldn’t need much of a plot, but Smith provides a witty, fast-moving thing, with the stolen bonds turning up yon and hither, a couple of affairs, deceit and treachery, fire in the hold, storm at sea and a suicide. All told with a pleasantly sardonic air that somehow keeps from sounding too snide or too pat. In fact, it’s just right, and I’m going to seek out more by this elusive author.

   The film Columbia made of this in 1934 was directed by none other than Lewis Milestone, legendary director of Of Mice and Men, All Quiet on the Western Front and Ocean’s Eleven, who handled it with the hip wit and snappy pacing typical of 1930s films.

   Adapting his book, Smith did a good job of paring the tale down to its essentials and softening it up just enough to keep the censors mollified without losing the sadder-but-wiser touch he did so well.


   This being a Columbia picture, Director Milestone had to settle for second-string actors — the ship’s band is portrayed by the Three Stooges — but he picked his cast well, with Victor McLaglen outstanding as the dumb cop, Helen Vinson and Fred Keating very smart and sexy and as the thieves, Leon Errol as a comic steward, and especially John Gilbert, that tragic one-time star now on the skids, perfectly cast as the boozy writer.

   Looking at him here, suave and virile, one wonders how Gilbert might have fared had Louis B. Mayer not elected to destroy his career, but we’ll never know; this was his last film. I should also throw a kudo to Walter Connolly as the eponymous Captain, radiating quiet (and quite funny) desperation, dealing out lines like “I feel sorry for the sheep-headed woman or child that tries to get into the very first lifeboat ahead of me!” and generally imparting an air of comic authority to the whole thing. Definitely one to catch.

Editorial Comments:   The video clip shows the first ten minutes of the film, but for some reason we don’t get to see the full screen. A big chunk of the left side is missing. And even though the clip says it’s part 1 of 7, those leaving comments say that part 8 has never been posted.

   The book is not included in Hubin, and the film is categorized on IMDB as a comedy, which is how I’ve tagged it, but there appears to be enough criminous content for Al to include it. (There are two other books by Wallace Smith included in Crime Fiction IV, one marginally.)


PHILIP ATLEE – The Last Domino Contract. Fawcett Gold Medal, paperback original; 1st printing, 1976.

PHILIP ATLEE The Last Domino Contract

   The title has a double meaning. Number one, most of CIA agent Joe Gall’s work in Last Domino takes place in South Korea, swarming with corruption, from President Park on down. It is also a country described on page 68 as “the last Asian domino still standing, for U.S. purposes.”

   Number two, though, and maybe even more importantly, Joe Gall is very bitter at the end of this book, and on page 175 he says, “No, Neal. It’s turned into a dirty business, and I’ve finished with it.” And he meant it. This was the last Joe Gall adventure to date.

   And so I may have made a bad mistake in picking this one up to read. I’ve not read many of the earlier Joe Gall spy novels, and I don’t believe I’ve read any of them in the past 15 years. Whatever changes have occurred to the character over his fictional career, I wasn’t aware of any of them while I was reading this book.

   Trying to summarize how I’d categorize it, before I started this one, I had the series placed solidly between the Matt Helm books and the terminally mediocre Nick Carter stories (the modern ones, not the guy from the dime novels). I wish I’d read more of the Gall series. If I had, then there’s a good chance his final adventure would have meant more to me.

   But standing on its own, as it ought to anyway, I found Last Domino barely worth reading. Atlee’s writing style, at least in this book, carries with it a strange air of unreality, one difficult to explain without delving into his purpose in writing the book, which I am totally averse to doing, even if I were able.

   One does wonder, though, how serious his intentions might be — a thought immediately contradicted , however, by the plot itself, a plot against the entire free world that Gall is trying to uncover and stop, if he can. This is not a light-hearted, semi-mocking James Bondian movie adventure. In many ways it is a chaotic, wholly dreamlike sort of fabrication instead.

   In the early chapters, for example, the scene shifts in a moment from a fatal car accident in eastern Oklahoma, to Gall’s home — a castle nestled somewhere in the Ozarks — and immediately off to Korea, and all of this somehow connected to some missing plutonium. How, it is not at all clear, and somehow it is page 85 before your realize that nothing of any substance has happened.

   Not being a fan of spy fiction in general, I need a little more than this to keep my mind occupied. Authors, beware of wandering minds!

   But I’m not you, you who are reading this review. You may be more experienced with spy fiction than I, and you may be of another mind altogether. At any rate, I think you can safely say that this is not your usual spy adventure story.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 28,
  February 1991 (considerably revised).

[UPDATE] 08-22-12.   I don’t usually revise these old reviews as much as I did this one, but I can assure you I have not changed anything of significance. I could tell I was struggling to put into words what I felt about the book the first time, and not quite coming to grips with it.

   I know I didn’t say very much about the story itself when I first reviewed it, and now over 20 years later, I wasn’t able to add anything in that regard. All I’ve done tonight was to improve the writing (one hopes), change some words and indifferent phrasing, chop out some stuff that no longer seemed relevant, and so on, without trying in any way to second-guess my younger self. This, then, is the result.

by Michael Shonk

STAR TREK. NBC / Paramount Studios, 1966-1969. Created by Gene Roddenberry. Cast: William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, and DeForrest Kelley as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy

   While Star Trek is TV’s most famous science fiction series, many of its episodes can be considered part of the mystery genre:


  ●   “Journey to Babel.” (11/17/67) Written by D.C. Fontana. Directed by Joseph Pevney. Guest Cast: Mark Lenard and Miss Jane Wyatt

   While the episode focuses on the relationship between Spock and his parents, the story’s backdrop of political intrigue, spies, and murder will appeal to those seeking a good TV thriller. The Enterprise is escorting a group of diplomats on their way to an important conference when one of them is murdered and Spock’s Dad (Mark Lenard) is the chief suspect.

  ●   “Conscience of the King.” (12/8/66) Written by Barry Trivers. Directed by Gerd Oswald. Guest Cast: Arnold Moss, Barbara Anderson, and Bruce Hyde.

   A friend tries to convince Kirk that an actor in a touring troupe of Shakespearean actors is the long sought after mass murderer, Kodos the Executioner. When the friend is murdered, Kirk investigates the troupe further. The acting and dialog are too much over the top for my taste, but the final confession scene is worthy of Perry Mason.


  ●   “Court Martial.” (2/2/67) Teleplay by Don M. Mankiewicz and Steven W. Carabatsos. Story by Don M. Mankiewicz. Directed by Marc Daniels. Guest Cast: Percy Rodriguez, Elisha Cook and Joan Marshall.

   Speaking of lawyer Perry Mason, the courtroom was featured in more than one episode of the series. In this episode, Kirk is on trail for causing the death of a crew member. The lawyer (Elisha Cook) was right out of the Perry Mason’s school as he pulled one dramatic trick after another.

  ●   “The Menagerie, Part One.” (11/17/66) Written by Gene Roddenberry. Directed by Marc Daniels (*). “Part Two.” (11/24/66) Written by Gene Roddenberry. Directed by Robert Butler (*). Guest Cast: Malachi Throne and Sean Kenny; from the series pilot, “The Cage”: Jeffrey Hunter, Susan Oliver and M. Leigh Hudea.


   Spock kidnaps invalid Christopher Pike, his former Captain and forces the Enterprise to travel to the off limits planet Talos IV. During the trip Spock is put on trail for mutiny. The courtroom is used as a framing device so the series can save some production time and money and show the series original pilot, “The Cage.”. Spock’s motives and what happened on the original mission supply the mystery for this Hugo award winning two-part episode.

    (*) Robert Butler directed the pilot “The Cage” but was not interested in returning. Marc Daniels directed the new footage and the two split the credit with Daniels getting screen credit for Part One and Butler getting screen credit for Part Two.

  ●   “Wolf in the Fold.” (12/22/67) Written by Robert Bloch. Directed by Joseph Pevney. Guest Cast: John Fiedler, Charles Macauley and Pilar Seurat.

   This is the series’ attempt at a police procedural. During a visit to a planet, Chief Engineer Scott (James Doohan) is accused of being a serial killer. The chief investigator uses the typical procedural methods of fingerprints (Scotty’s fingerprints were on the murder weapon), and questioning witnesses and other suspects, but the story does take a supernatural turn or two CSI might not have taken.


  ●   “The Enterprise Incident.” (9/27/68) Written by D.C. Fontana. Directed by John Meredyth Lucas. Guest Cast: Joanne Linville, Jack Donner and Richard Compton.

   Inspired by the real spy drama of the Pueblo incident. Kirk takes the Enterprise into Romulan (the series other bad guys) Neutral Zone where the ship and crew are captured. Fans of Spock like this one as the female Romulan Captain seduces our hero of logic. The spy thriller plot of obtaining military secrets from the enemy is a strong one.


  ●   “The Trouble with Tribbles.” (12/29/67) Written by David Gerrold. Directed by Joseph Pevney. Guest Cast: William Schallert, Stanley Adams, and William Campbell.

   Perhaps the series’ most beloved episode was also the cutest TV episode ever to be about a terrorist plot to kill millions. Who can forget those non-stop reproducing adorable balls of fur called Tribbles? Love by all, well almost all. And that was the key to foiling the evil scheme and uncovering the villain responsible.


  ●   “A Piece of the Action.” (1/12/68) Teleplay by David P. Harmon and Gene L. Coon. Story by David P. Harmon. Guest Cast: Anthony Caruso, Vic Tayback and Lee Delano.

   The Enterprise’s visit to a planet “contaminated” a century earlier by visiting explorers from Earth leads to a fun comic caper. The planet had adopted an Earth history book on 1920’s Chicago mobs as the basis of their civilization. Someone took a Tommy gun and shot the story full of plot holes, so try not to think too hard and just enjoy this humorous nod to great gangsters movies (there is a scene that mimics Mervyn LeRoy’s Little Caesar).

   Sadly, Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek world was too perfect for any true noir unless you wore a red uniform or was a beautiful woman one of the guys fell in love with, then you were as doomed as any noir character.

NOTE: For more information and endless spoilers I recommend a visit to Memory Alpha at

I’m having some out-patient surgery done tomorrow. Nothing urgent about it, but there’s no reason to delay it either. I’ll be home by dinner time. I don’t know how wobbly in the knees I’ll be afterward, so I thought I’d give myself a longer break and take the rest of the weekend off as well. I’ll be back here by this time on Monday, if not before. See you then.

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