August 2012

IT’S ABOUT CRIME, by Marvin Lachman

SHELDON JAFFREY Tales of Grim and Grue Horror Pulps

SHELDON JAFFERY, Editor – Selected Tales of Grim and Grue from the Horror Pulps. Bowling Green University Popular Press, hardcover/softcover, 1987.

   A [recent] collection of stories, Selected Tales of Grim and Grue from the Horror Pulps, edited by Sheldon Jaffery, is wonderfully nostalgia-producing. Jaffery has collected eight novelets from magazines of the thirties like Terror Tales and Horror Stories. Some of the big names in the mystery field wrote for weird-menace pulps, including Cornell Woolrich, Frank Gruber, Bruno Fischer, and Steve Fisher.

SHELDON JAFFREY Tales of Grim and Grue Horror Pulps

   Jaffery apparently couldn’t get them, but the writers he does include are probably more representative of the genre. Typical is Wyatt Blassingame’s “The Tongueless Horror” from Dime Mystery for April 1934. Don’t expect a great deal of subtlety, but they’re all readable, and the authors don’t rely on cop-outs. The seemingly impossible is explained rationally, even if the reader’s credulity is stretched a bit.

SHELDON JAFFREY Tales of Grim and Grue Horror Pulps

   The book is loaded with wonderful cliches like the one in G. T. Fleming-Roberts’ “Moulder of Monsters” (Terror Tales, July-August 1937): “Then he turned into the room where horror dwelt.” From Wayne Rogers’ “Sleep with Me — and Death” (Horror Stories, April-May 1938) we read, “Then the shaggy-haired head lifted and I caught a glimpse of a scarred and battered face, hardly recognizable as human — a face in which the eyes of a madman gleamed triumphantly.”

   All stories are reproduced from the original magazines, which means they include the wonderful pulp ads plus the interior illustrations of monsters slavering over scantily clad women. A bonus is a fine introduction and lengthy index by the late Robert Kenneth Jones, one of the real scholars in this aspect of the pulps.

   Who can resist lists of the complete contents of the single issue, in 1937, of Eerie Stories and the five issues of Uncanny Tales published in 1939 and 1940? Certainly not I.

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

SHELDON JAFFREY Tales of Grim and Grue Horror Pulps

JEROME DOOLITTLE – Body Scissors. Pocket, hardcover, 1990; reprint paperback, November 1991.


   On the cover is a quote from the Washington Post, calling this a “riveting political thriller.” Well, I had some doubts, but I read it anyway. What does the Washington Post know? They may think this book is a political thriller, since that’s what they’re looking for, but just between you and me, what this really is is a top-notch PI story instead.

   I admit that it’s a little hard to argue the point, since on page 14, even Tom Bethany says he’s not a PI: “…I’m sort of a researcher, sort of a political consultant.” He works primarily for politicians and campaign committees, apparently, looking for leaks, trying to stop leaks before they start, that sort of thing. His home base is Cambridge, near Harvard Yard, and as you may know, Boston politics do get a little nasty at times.

   He’s hired to check out a prospective Secretary of State in this case, however, to avoid another Eagleton affair, and if the work he does isn’t PI work, I’ll turn in my trenchcoat at once. What strikes his eye first is the unsolved death of J. Alden Kellicott’s daughter, a victim of Boston’s once-notorious Combat Zone.

   That, plus some some niggling doubts about Kellicott’s character, found by industrious research and a knack on Bethany’s part to get people to start talking. Doolittle, whose first novel this is, certainly doesn’t show it. He’s a whiz at dialogue, and he has a tremendous amount of insight into his characters and the relationships existing between them.

   I quibbled a little about this being a political thriller — but as you can see, the statement’s not that far off base — and the adjective “riveting” is well taken. Myself, I’d use the phrase “prose that tingles with anticipation” — it’s that good.

   Unfortunately, Bethany also makes four major errors as the detective in this case. Since Doolittle is ultimately responsible for those as well, maybe I should point them out to you, but of course with the usual [WARNING: Plot Alert!! ]. Here they are, my advice to any new PI’s on the block:

    (1) Don’t leave would-be assassins hanging around at loose ends.

    (2) When you work with guns, don’t forget to check the bottom of the barrel.

    (3) When you bait a trap, don’t let the cheese stand alone.

    (4) When the rat takes the bait, don’t leave the cat on guard.

   There you go. No charge for these. Don’t leave home without them. But now I’m being serious: if you’re a PI fan, don’t miss this book.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #36.

       The Tom Bethany series —

Body Scissors. Pocket, 1990.
Strangle Hold. Pocket, 1991.
Bear Hug. Pocket, 1992.

         JEROME DOOLITTLE Tom Bethany

Head Lock. Pocket, 1993.

         JEROME DOOLITTLE Tom Bethany

Half Nelson. Pocket, 1994.
Kill Story, Pocket, 1995.

         JEROME DOOLITTLE Tom Bethany

by Walker Martin

   As I think back on the many pulp conventions that I have attended, I am reminded of the many friends that I have made and the bookish traditions that we started over the years. For instance, when I was a newly wed collector, my wife and I attended the first four Pulpcons, 1972-1975.

   But then children were born and she had to stay home plus let’s face it, non-collectors eventually get tired of the dealers room and the constant discussion about books and pulps.

   Then I started driving out and sharing a room and expenses with the greatest book and pulp collector that I ever encountered: Harry F. Noble. He was so modest that most collectors really never knew anything about him. But we both lived in NJ and visited each other hundreds of times during our almost 40 year friendship. Since Harry’s death, I’ve been driving out with NYC art dealer, Steve Kennedy.

   That is how this convention started with Steve arriving at my house on Wednesday in order to sleep over so we could leave early on Thursday morning. Another tradition of a few years standing. We started off the festivities with a dinner at the Metro Grill in Trenton and five days later we ended it with another visit to the Grill and I had the same salad, pizza, and beer both times. Guess I’m set in my ways.

   But the greatest tradition in my life is Pulpcon, now known as PulpFest. I do not see a difference in the two conventions. PulpFest is not a different, separate event. It is the natural continuation of Pulpcon. The present committee had the foresight to see that Pulpcon was dying and they broke away and formed a stronger and better convention with a new name and a more enthusiastic approach to collecting. But I still see it as the natural evolvement of the Pulpcon started all those years ago in 1972 by Ed Kessel and continued by Rusty Hevelin.

   We left early Thursday morning at 7:15. We rented a van as usual because a car won’t hold all the pulps and books that will be bought. Ed Hulse was the driver; I was riding shotgun; Steve Kennedy was the official talker, and Digges La Touche, otherwise know as The Major, was laying down in the back row reading. He is not called The Reading Machine for nothing.

   Our attitude was drive hell for leather, PulpFest or Bust, and get to Columbus, Ohio in record time. Ed was willing to do this but the State Trooper on the Pennsy Turnpike took a dim view of our policy.

   Two hundred dollars poorer, we continued our mad rush to financial doom. But my attitude has always been that book collecting is the very best addiction. It won’t ruin your health like smoking, drinking or drugs. It won’t break you like fooling around with women or gambling. In fact, you might even make some money when you sell some of your collection. So I always say to hell with bills and family responsibilities; collect books and pulps instead.

   To give you an example of my madness, just a few days before the convention, my central air conditioner bit the dust after 23 years of loyal service. The repairman said not only did I need a new unit but I needed a new furnace also. I went for top of the line, high efficiency, which cost $12,000.

   Many collectors would say at this point, forget PulpFest, I don’t have the money. But serious collectors who are truly addicted will say full steam ahead, I’m not going to miss PulpFest! To top it off, I had to move dozens of boxes and hundreds of books to make room for the workers to install the furnace.

   Since I am no longer the young collector that I once was, needless to say I injured my shoulder and suffered all through the convention with a twisted and wrenched arm. This didn’t stop me either though it was not fun to try and sleep through the pain. Book collectors must have the attitude that the show must go on.

   I have a theory that collecting books and old magazines keeps you young and interested in life. I wake up each day, eager to read books or pulps from my collection. I’ve been retired many years since quitting my job at age 57 and these years have been the happiest of my life.

   Believe me work is a waste of time if you are a book collector. If you can swing it, sell some of your collection and retire, you won’t regret it.

   Let me give you another example of how book collecting keeps you young. The Major, is 70 years old, yet he had no problem with the cramped quarters in the back of the van. If fact, every time we stopped for gas or food, he leaped out of the van, hopping like the energizer bunny.

   Nine hours later, we arrived at the hotel which looked quite new and not at all like the dump we were in last year. There was an enormous complex of meeting rooms in the Convention Center, along with many stores and a big food court. Many restaurants were in walking distance. The Hyatt was worth the extra money and I gleefully paid the con rate of only $109 per night.

   At first I was stunned to discover that there was no hospitality room. Another tradition I have is after a long, hard day of buying books and pulps, I like to unwind with a nice dinner and have a couple drinks talking to other collectors in the con suite.

   I heard that the hotel wanted too high a price for the room plus they wanted to supply a bartender and the liquor. Whether or not this is all true, I found that the big bar on the second floor was a good substitute. The only problem was the annoying presence of many non-collectors boozing and talking at the top of their voices. I thought about telling them to shut up so we could talk about books, but they were quite younger than me and might injure my other shoulder.

   Speaking of drunks, several people asked me the question, “What is Pulpfest?” I not only wore my con ID badge but I also had my usual pulp t-shirt on. I noticed the Thrilling Mystery cover showing cretins menacing a young girl was especially objectionable to many non-collectors.

   Why, I have no idea. I always responded the same way, that PulpFest was a convention of people who collecting old books and magazines. This always resulted in a puzzled stare at my shirt or plain disbelief. I mean what can you expect from non-collectors.

   But I realized I may have made a serious mistake when I got on the elevator and two drunks who were younger and bigger than me stared at my shirt with angry expressions. Holding the elevator door open to prevent the elevator from moving they asked me in a very confrontational manner, “What the hell is PulpFest?” Only they used a stronger word than “hell.”

   I gave my usual answer about old books, etc. They both cursed at the same time and I figured I better take the stairs. They let me go but were not happy about it. This reminded me once again of that old saying, “the non-collector will never be able to understand the collector.” Most non-collectors may look at your collection with a straight face but they really think you are crazy or a hoarder.

   To avoid mean drunks and non-collectors, I hung out in the dealer’s room just about all the time. Attendance was similar to last year and the room was enormous with 115 dealers. The tables were full of pulps, digests, vintage paperbacks, books, dvds, pulp reprints, and artwork. For a collector, it was as if you had died and gone to heaven. It did appear to be too dark in the room, so hopefully this can be corrected next year.

   One collector I was very glad to see was Gordon Huber. He has been to every single pulp convention either under the name Pulpcon or PulpFest. Since Gordon is in his 80’s, I am always glad to see him walking around. It give me hope that I may survive so long.

   Jim and Walter Albert were there as usual and if you had told me that they would be bringing two long comic boxes filled with Adventure pulps, I would have said no way. But they did, and their table may have been the best one with the hundred issues going back to the teens.

   Also of note were the several tables of SF digests, all priced very low. Forty years ago I did not buy many issues of Fantastic and Amazing but I filled up two large boxes with back issues of these two titles.

   Also present were long runs of the digest Analog, F&SF, Galaxy, etc. And then Art Hackathorn had a 50% off sale on several tables of pulps. These bargains all proved once again that it is worth attending PulpFest even with the extra expense of traveling and room rates.

   The auction consisted of over 300 lots. It began at 9:30 pm and lasted past 1:00 am. In the beginning hours there were many bidders but as the night went on less and less collectors were present.

   I managed to last until about the half way point and then Scott Hartshorn and I went to the Big Bar on 2 for beer. I understand by the end of the auction items were going for very low prices.

   However there were some big items in the early lots. For instance there were four gigantic boxes of PEAPS mailings spread throughout the auction. Each big box contained 25 mailings. PEAPS 1-25 went for around $600; PEAPS 26-50 went for $500. I believe the two later boxes also received high bids. Lot 50 of Leonard Robbins Pulp Magazine Index (6 volumes), went for $600.

   The rest of the auction was mainly items from Al Tonik’s collection, a few pulps and many reference books. His DeSoto cover painting recreation of a Phantom cover went for $900.

   The Guest of Honor was SF author Mike Resnick and following his speech were panels such as “Barsoom and Beyond,” “J. Allen St. John,” and “Tarzan on Mars.” Saturday night we had panels on Robert Howard and “The Illustrated Conan.” Artists Jim and Ruth Keegan and Mark Schultz discussed this last topic.

   There was so much going on that I couldn’t take it all in. One discussion I had to miss was the talk that John Locke gave on pulp magazines. Even Thursday night had interesting panels such as Ed Hulse and Garyn Roberts discussing John Campbell and Astounding, Rick Lai on how French literature may have influenced writers, Henry Franke on “Tarzan: A Hero for the Ages,” and Ed Hulse again, on Burroughs as a movie producer.

   Like last year FARMERCON and the New Pulp movement were present. FarmerCon of course refers to Philip Jose’ Farmer and the New Pulp movement is about new stories and novels dealing with pulp series, etc.

   I mentioned that I bought a couple hundred digests above. But I also obtained many pulp reprints, especially those from Altus Press. I found a few pulps I needed and bought some pulp artwork from Beyond Fantasy Fiction.

   I had my usual dealer’s table and sold some dvds and a near complete set of The MYSTERY FANcier. But my biggest sales continued to be the cancelled checks showing the payment to pulp writers and artists. Talbot Mundy and Walt Colburn checks sold as well as an interesting $2.00 check to an unknown woman for “A Black Mask idea”.

   By the way, after 21 issues Tony Davis will be leaving as editor of The Pulpster. We will all miss him. I do want to correct one thing. Don Ramlow wrote some notes about the final years of Pulpcon, titled “Pulpcon’s Final Chapter.” The subtitle is “The End of the Little Convention That Could.” Pulpcon is not dead; it did not die. It lives on in PulpFest and continues to this day.

   PulpFest gives a nice award each year and this time there were two winners. Matt Moring of Altus Press received the Munsey Award for his line of pulp reprint books. Jack and Sally Cullers received the Rusty Hevelin Service Award for their many years of hard work at the conventions.

   And finally to close out this report I would like to thank the PulpFest Committee for another great convention. Without Mike Chomko, Jack Cullers, Barry Traylor, and Ed Hulse, there would be no pulp convention in the summer.

   I’ve been going almost each summer for 40 years, so I need my fix for my book addiction. These four collectors have put on another excellent event. I hope to attend again next year and hopefully so will everyone reading this report.



ANDY BARKER, P.I. NBC. Red Pulley Production. Conaco, NBC-Universal. Cast: Andy Richter as Andy Barker, Clea Lewis as Jenny Barker, Harve Presnell as Lew Staziak, Tony Hale as Simon, Marshall Manesh as Wally. Created by Conan O’Brien and Jonathan Groff. Music by Adam Cohen. Directed by Jason Ensler.

   Episodes are available on DVD and downloading sites, as well as at where they can be watched for free.

   While Barney Miller remains the greatest ever TV detective comedy, Andy Barker, P.I. may hold that title for TV PIs. But then consider the competition. Generally PI comedies featured a lucky idiot PI (The Michael Richards Show), parodies (Ace Crawford, Private Eye) or gimmicks (Small & Frye, with a six inch PI). What made Andy Barker different was he was a good and dedicated professional at both jobs, CPA and PI.


   Andy lives in a nice middle class home in Fair Oaks, California, with his happy supportive wife and young children. He is a kind, well-mannered, nice guy with a natural talent for solving murders and tax forms. Richter is near perfect as he played his typical role of an average man quick to accept and deal with any strange thing happening around him.

   Andy opened his new accounting business in a local outdoor mall. His first client is a femme fatale looking for help from the office’s former occupant, PI Lew Staziak. Out of boredom and with no other clients, Andy checks out her story. He visits Lew who has retired to a rest home. But after Andy solves the case, Lew decides to keep working as a PI and will from then on take for granted Andy’s help. Lew is as nuts as he is violent.


   Andy’s new business neighbors are not much more stable. Under Andy’s second floor office is “Video Riot”, a video store run by film buff Simon who thinks of himself as Andy’s PI partner. The mall’s restaurant is “Afghan Kebabs” run by Wally an immigrant who, after 9/11, changed his name and covered his restaurant in patriotic American décor with his surveillance camera hidden in the head of a Richard Nixon bust.

   The writing uses the contrast between the fictional PI lifestyle versus reality as a basis for some delightful off beat humor. For example, the cliché plot device of a time limit such as a bomb set to go off at midnight. In “Dial M For Laptop,” Andy has only until midnight to find his stolen laptop with his father-in-law’s tax return or miss the tax deadline (trust me, it’s visually funnier than it reads).

   This was a bad time for NBC. The network had reached new heights in its ability to keep any possible success away from any of their series. Andy Barker, P.I. was too quirky to attract a large audience, but to set it up against events such as NCAA Final Four tournament, and very popular series such as CSI and Grey’s Anatomy was one of NBC’s dumber moves.



● “Pilot” (3/22/07, Thursday 9:30-10pm) Written by Conan O’Brien and Jonathan Groff. Guest Cast: Vanessa Branch, Gary Anthony Williams, Steve Cell, and Nicole Randall Johnson

   Andy Barker, CPA, opens his new business office in a small outdoor mall, but he finds himself helping a client who mistakes him for the office’s former occupant, a hardboiled PI.

Ratings: 6 share versus ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy (23), CBS’s NCAA Basketball tournament (10) and Fox’s rerun of Family Guy (5).

● “Fairway My Lovely” (3/22/07, Thursday (9:30-10pm) Written by Alex Herschlag and Jane Espenson. Guest Cast: Peter Allen Vogt, Margaret Easley, and Nicole Randall Johnson

   When Andy’s gross and massively overweight client dies on a golf course, everyone assumes it was a heart attack, except the man’s wife who hires Andy to prove the man’s mistress killed him.

Ratings: 5 share versus ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy (22), CBS’s NCAA Basketball tournament (13), and Fox’s American Dad (4).

● “Three Days of the Chicken” (3/29/07, Thursday 9:30-10pm) Written by Gail Lerner. Guest Cast: Brian McNamara, Terry Rhoades, Ben Falcone, and Boogie.

   Andy helps Wally who is being shaken down by an evil Chicken cartel.

Ratings: 4 share versus CBS’s CSI (22), ABC’s rerun Grey’s Anatomy (10), and Fox’s rerun Family Guy (5).

● “Dial M For Laptop” (4/5/07, Thursday 10-10:30pm) Written by Chuck Tatham. Guest Cast: David Huddleston, Traci Lords, and Frank Santorelli.

   Andy’s laptop is stolen when Lew’s plan to help a victim of blackmail leaves Andy unknowingly in the middle.

Ratings: 4 share versus CBS’s Shark (17) and ABC’s October Road (9).

● “The Big No Sleep” (4/14/07, Saturday at 8-8:30pm) Written by Josh Bycel. Guest Cast: Jesse L. Martin, Nestor Carbonell, and Kim Coates.

   Lew expects Andy’s help in revealing a woman to be a fraud and adulteress, but Andy has trouble at home. His baby daughter refuses to sleep until he finds her missing stuffed toy, Snowball.

Ratings: 3 share versus CBS’s Cold Case rerun (9), Fox’s Cops (6), and ABC’S Saturday Night Movie (Shark, 2004) (6)

● “The Lady Vanishes” (4/14/07, Saturday at 8:30-9pm) Written by Jon Ross. Guest Cast: Ed Asner, Amy Sedaris, and James Hong.

   Andy finds a decades old lost letter from Lew’s ex-lover claiming she was framed for the murder of her gangster lover. Andy looks into the case, leading to the return of Lew’s evil former partner, Mickey.

Ratings: 3 share versus (CBS’s Cold Case rerun (9), Fox’s second Cops (7), and ABC’S Saturday Night Movie (6).

Source for ratings:


THE PHANTOM EXPRESS. Majestic Pictures, 1932. William Collier Jr., Sally Blane, J. Farrell MacDonald, Hobart Bosworth, Axel Axelson, Lina Basquette, Eddie Phillips. Director: Emory Johnson.

   There are some good moments in this semi-supernatural-thriller-with-a-logical-explanation movie, but they’re separated in the middle by a lengthy scene that makes no sense at all.

   Starting at the beginning, though, an engine with a lengthy component of railroad cars is derailed when it tries to stop too quickly rounding a curve heading straight for what appears to be a train coming directly toward them. Funny thing is, there was no train. None passed the signal posts along the tracks farther down the line, and none was seen by the survivors once the accident happened.


   Two of the survivors are the engineer (J. Farrell MacDonald), who is blamed, and his best buddy, the fireman (Axel Axelson, whose first and only movie this was, and whose Swedish-sounding accent is a delight all the way through). Investigating the crash is the president of the company’s son (William Collier, Jr.) , a ne’er-do-well who decides to change his way once he spots the beautiful girl (Sally Blane) who is the engineer’s daughter.

   There are any number of scenes with the boss’s son working in the railroad yard, making this movie an outright bonanza for fans of old trains. My grandfather and great-grandfather both worked on cross-country trains, so you can count me in as one of those very pleased to see them. No fake sets here. This was the real deal.


   Overall, though, the mix of comedy with tragedy is an uneasy one in this would-be thriller than doesn’t really have many thrills in it. The scene in the middle is a strange one, as a gang of the bad guys attack a couple of signal posts unmasked, tie up the workers inside, and force them to watch as the invisible train zooms by. For what reason, I do not know. No investigation is made of the incident – you’d thing the police would have at least a passing interest in it – and in fact, it is not mentioned again.

   Could the ingenious trick that was played be copied in real life? It’s ingenious, all right, but I wouldn’t go any further than that. Maybe it suffices to say, “Only in the movies!”


RICHARD DEMING’s Manville Moon Series,
by Jon L. Breen


   Richard Deming (1915-1983) was a solid and reliable pro whose crime-writing career extended from late 1940s pulps to early 1980s digests. He also wrote several volumes of popular non-fiction late in his life.

   He is most likely to be remembered as one of the most prolific contributors to Manhunt and the early days of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and as a paperback original writer, sometimes of novels based on TV shows (Dragnet, The Mod Squad, and under the pseudonym Max Franklin, Starsky and Hutch). He was also a frequent ghost for the Ellery Queen team on paperback originals and for Brett Halliday on lead novelettes for Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

   The private-eye hero of Deming’s earliest pulp stories and a number of his Manhunt stories was Manville Moon, who lost a leg in World War II, a disability that slows him down occasionally but not much.


   The four full-length novels about Moon, all reissued as ebooks by Prologue Books and available at Amazon in the three-to-four dollar range, are notable for their uncharacteristic (for Deming) hard covers and (with one exception) their evocative titles. They reveal Deming to be, in common with Rex Stout, George Harmon Coxe, Erle Stanley Gardner, and quite a few others, a writer who drew on both classical and hardboiled conventions.

   In The Gallows in My Garden (1952), Moon tells his story in smooth, relaxed, somewhat Goodwinesque first person. The terrific title comes from G.K. Chesterton’s “A Ballade of Suicide.” The setting is an unnamed Midwestern city, and the author exhibits a comfortable postwar Midwestern sensibility. The book is dedicated as follows: “To my mother, who would prefer me to write innocuous tales about members of Dover Place Church.”


   Though he will go through all the tough-guy paces, Moon is not really such a hardass and certainly a gentleman in his dealings with women. There’s some good character drawing but the secondary regulars (girlfriend Fausta Moreni, an Italian war refugee turned restaurateur; annoying comic sidekick Mouldy Green, a Moon Army buddy; and irascible friendly enemy cop Warren Day) seem made for radio.

   The case is a classical whodunit setup, focused on an inheritance. Moon’s client, a 19-year-old heiress who will not collect her massive fortune until her twenty-first birthday, tells him a series of seemingly accidental close calls have convinced her someone is trying to kill her.

   But it is her brother who becomes a murder victim. Many will share my immediate suspicion that Deming had lifted the plot and its ultimate solution from a very famous Golden-Age detective novel, and even those who do not know the novel in question might see that solution coming.

   Does Deming have a surprise in store? Moon conducts a gathering of the suspects to reveal the generously-clued killer. The devotion to fair play puzzle spinning continues in all four novels, but this first is much the best of them.


   Tweak the Devil’s Nose (1953) begins with the shooting of the lieutenant governor of Illinois outside El Patio, Fausta Moreni’s nightclub and restaurant. Fausta is rich, which is a problem for Manny, a situation similar to those in many of William Campbell Gault’s novels. More of the obligatory gangsters and fight scenes are there to pay Deming’s hardboiled dues. It’s highly readable and entertaining, though not as good as its predecessor.

   Give the Girl a Gun was originally published as Whistle Past the Graveyard (1954), a much better title, though the new one at least fits the story. Central to the plot is a new invention designed to prevent hunters from accidentally shooting each other. Deming inserts fisticuffs and a standard girlfriend in danger suspense sequence not vital to the main plot before another gathering of the suspects clears things up.

   Juvenile Delinquent, published in Great Britain in 1958, apparently never appeared as a complete novel in the United States prior to the Prologue ebook, though it was published in Manhunt (July 1955) in a shorter version.


   It lacks the light touch of earlier books in the series, offering a serious look at the J.D. problem with much preachment and speechifying included. It has a kind of procedural feel early on, reflecting a change of style and fashion in the middle fifties. The serious intent may be admirable, and I would never go so far as to miss the comic relief, but the didacticism makes this generally less successful purely as entertainment.

   Fausta and the utterly unbelievable Mouldy finally appear in the second half, but the change to a lighter tone doesn’t help much. The cop contact is present but more subdued. The mystery plot is on the thin side, though the solution is typically well worked out.

   In sum, Deming is a consistently reliable performer, always readable and entertaining. And admirers of the classical puzzle might see through the fisticuffs to a refreshing adeptness at misdirection.

       The Manville Moon series —

   The Gallows in My Garden. Rinehart & Co., hardcover, 1952. Dell #682, paperback, 1963.
   Tweak the Devil’s Nose. Rinehart & Co., hardcover, 1953. Jonathan Press J-91, paperback, as Hand-Picked to Die, 1956 (abridged).


   Whistle Past the Graveyard. Rinehart & Co., hardcover, 1954. Jonathan Press J-83, paperback, as Give the Girl a Gun, 1955 (abridged).


   Juvenile Delinquent. Boardman, UK, hardcover, 1958. (No US print edition.)



THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. American-International Pictures, 1964. Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Umberto Rau, Christi Courtland. Screenplay: William F. Leicester & Richard Matheson (as Logan Swanson), based on the latter’s novel, I Am Legend. Directors: Ubaldo B. Ragona & Sidney Salkow.

   Speaking of Sublime Cheapies, The Last Man on Earth was on the other night, the first time it’s been aired around here — cable or otherwise — for almost twenty years.

   It was worth waiting for. This film has real seat-of-the-pants tawdriness: a ragged, amateurish improvisational feel that is totally appropriate to the subject. As I watched the over/under-lighted camera-work, listened to the grainy soundtrack, and had my wits challenged by the jagged editing, I had the same eerie feeling I had two decades ago, that this film could have been made by, not about, the last surviving human.


   Needless to say, TLMOE is light years beyond its big-budget remake, The Omega Man, of seven years later.

   In the latter film, we got heroic Charlton Heston living in sybaritic isolation amid mad horde of counterculture late-60s stereotypes, treating the theme with a banality all its own. The picture in The Last Man on Earth is of the ultimate Civilized Man, cooped up in the suburbs, getting by with a jerry-rigged generator and clunky old cars as he copes as best he can with the ultimate in Unreason: Crowds of his former neighbors now turned into zombies.

   The Last Man on Earth also has the distinction of being the most poignant Monster Movie I’ve ever seen.


   In a movie this ragged, the few moments spared for Feeling take on a surprising importance: the torment of parents trying to ignore the cries of a sick child because they’re afraid to call a doctor; Vincent Price crying as he watches old Home Movies; and best of all, his pathetic joy at attracting a mangy, dying dog — all carry an emotional impact one rarely gets from even decently-made films, much less hand-to-mouth cheapies like this one.

   I should add that my esteem for this film is to General Critical Consensus as Perversion is to Love. For the last quarter-century, responsible reviewers have dismissed The Last Man on Earth as a cheap, miscast travesty of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. Perhaps, years from now, Fashion will catch up with it. But I doubt it.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #49, March 1991.


Editorial Comment:   It’s now 20 years after Dan first wrote this review. No longer do you have to wait for the movie to be shown on TV. You can watch it in its entirety on your computer screen whenever you wish. (See above.)

   What’s the critical opinion today? The Last Man on Earth currently has a 6.9 rating out of 10 on IMDB, and there are links to 100 external reviews. Has that last doubt of Dan’s been proven wrong?

IT’S ABOUT CRIME, by Marvin Lachman

MARTIN H. GREENBERG & FRANCIS M. NEVINS, Jr., Editors – Mr. President, Private Eye. Ballantine, paperback original, December 1988. Ibooks, softcover, 2004.


   I have long been fascinated by the “Presidential Connection,” the relationship between the mystery and the office of President of the United States. Following the triple traumas of Dallas, Vietnam, and Watergate, we had a publishing growth industry in which, literally, dozens of novels appeared featuring the President as either victim or villain.

   Now the balance has shifted, and increasingly we find the man (so far) in the Oval Office appearing as detective. In recent years many of these stories have been about real Presidents. Three different authors have even written novels in which Theodore Roosevelt is featured, and he also solves a murder in Mr. President, Private Eye, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Francis M. Nevins, Jr.

   The title is not exactly accurate, but you get the idea. Here are a dozen original stories, in each of which a real President gets to solve a crime. There is some evidence of hurried writing in this book, with anachronisms, always a danger in historical mysteries.

   Also, in two of the weaker stories in the book, there is virtually no detection by Grant and Coolidge, respectively. However, there are also some stories which will give you a great deal of pleasure. Hoch has George Washington leave a dying message clue to a mystery which Abraham Lincoln solves half a century later.

   Edward Wellen’s story about Millard Fillmore is surprisingly funny. Stuart M. Kaminsky’s mystery set in Missouri beautifully captures the simplicity and decisiveness of Harry Truman. Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Hoover detect at a Nevada silver mine in a story by Sharon McCrumb that I found to be the strongest in the book.

   Finally, there is a clever K.T. Anders story about Gerald Ford which will make you clap your hand to your forehead and say, “Of course!”

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

Allen J. Hubin

KINKY FRIEDMAN When the Cat's Away

KINKY FRIEDMAN – When the Cat’s Away. Beach Tree/Morrow, hardcover, 1988. Berkley, paperback, 1989.

   When the Cat’s Away is the third of Kinky Friedman’s novels about “himself.” Friedman the character lives in New York, but what he does there is by no means clear.

   Occasionally he’s drawn into felonious matters, as here when he’s asked by a friend to track down a catnapped feline. The spoor leads to a hotel room, sundry mysterious messages, and a corpse. Kinky also seems to be cast in the unwilling and possibly terminal role of catalyst in the city’s cocaine wars.

   An amusing narrative, with some enjoyably burlesqued characters, but I lost interest and belief in the proceedings along the way.

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

       Previously on this blog:

Elvis, Jesus & Coca Cola   (reviewed by Barry Gardner)

THE NICKEL RIDE. 20th Century Fox, 1974. Jason Miller, Linda Haynes, Victor French, John Hillerman, Bo Hopkins, Richard Evans, Bart Burns, Lou Frizzell. Screenplay: Eric Roth. Director: Robert Mulligan.


   There is a lot of similarity between The Nickel Ride and The Friends of Eddie Coyle (reviewed here ), but one of the differences is that the former takes place in LA and the latter in Boston. That’s only in terms of the weather: almost always sunny and warm in LA vs. crisp and chilly in Boston in the fall.

   But other than that, the lives of the lower and mid-level echelons of the underworld are very nearly the same. Not knowing when their lives are going to be cut out from under them at the whims of anyone at a higher level, for example, or pressured from all sides to close a deal and make the next one; pressures sometimes strong, others only subtle.

   Another big difference is that Jason Miller as Cooper, the man with the keys in The Nickel Ride, while extremely effective, is no Robert Mitchum, the lugubrious star of Eddie Coyle. As a much younger man, Miller has to work harder at it. To Mitchum, by the time he made Coyle, it seemed to come naturally.


   Miller’s career began with The Exorcist, the movie he made just before this one, in which he played Father Damian Karras. He won an Oscar nomination for that particular film, but his career faded badly, and I doubt that even the most ardent of movie fans know his name today.

   I’ll end any other comparisons between the two films here. Cooper is trying to make a deal involving a block of warehouses where stolen goods can be stored, and as hard as he tries, he can’t seem to get the other side to agree to terms, which keep changing. Cooper’s superior, John Hillerman (pre-Magnum) brings in a garrulous rowdy in a buckskin shirt (Bo Hopkins) to keep an eye on him, while Cooper has to keep his cool with his wife and close buddies, including a small-time boxing promoter who can’t follow through and make his protege take a dive.

   The plot seems to have confused a lot of people, basing that statement on the various online reviews and comments on IMDB that I’ve read. It’d true that it’s never quite clear what started Cooper’s downward spiral, you (the viewer) can sense it’s happening just as well as he can.


   This is neo-noir at its finest. Beautifully photographed by Jordan Cronenweth, who later worked on Blade Runner, which is the finest accolade I can give him, and directed by Robert Mulligan, of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, there is a lot to watch and see, and I know I’ll see more the next time I watch this movie.

PostScript:   Thanks to IMDB, I can tell you something interesting. I’ve been watching episodes of Mike Hammer, the 1950s series with Darren McGavin, and while I didn’t recognize him, Bart Burns, the guy who Cooper is trying to negotiate with, also played Captain Pat Chambers on the Hammer show.

PPS.   For an excellent analysis of The Nickel Ride, including details you never see by watching a movie only once, you might want to read Mike Grost’s comments on the film, found online here.

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