September 2015

POUL ANDERSON – Mayday Orbit. Ace Double F-104, paperback original, 1961. Published back-to-back with No Man’s World, by Kenneth Bulmer. First appeared in Fantastic Science Fiction Stories, December 1959, as “A Message in Secret.” Reprinted in several Poul Anderson collections.

   This is one of Poul Anderson’s long-running series of stories about Captain Sir Dominick Flandry, a field agent of the Naval Intelligence Corps of the Terrestrial Empire, or at least that’s his rank this time around. I’ve read quite a few of his adventures over the years, but without regard to chronology or trying to read a whole lot of them at once.

   Which can be done and very easily. Both Ace and Baen Books have published large collections of the Flandry stories as well as other of Anderson’s other series, including those about the Psychotechnic League. I’ve tried to keep up, but there are too many stories, including full-length novels, for one person to read them all and have time to read something else as well.

   Mayday Orbit turns out to be a puzzle story and well as a good old-fashioned space opera yarn. Flandry is working undercover on an isolated planet that’s in a buffer zone in space between the rival realms of Terra and Merseia. Each empire is always on the lookout for suitable outposts to place their ships and troops.

   His cover doesn’t last long, however, and he’s soon on the run with a female slave whom he helps escape the ruling power of the planet. Most of the book is spent following the couple’s path to safety, which at one point requires Flandry to set a huge plain of dry grassland on fire.

   Where the puzzle comes in, though, as far as Flandry is concerned, is how does he get word off-planet to the Terran forces to let them know what nefarious activities are going on? The cover pretty much gives it away, in a way, but Anderson does his best to prolong the solution for as long as possible.

   It’s an average story at best, only 126 pages long, but Anderson does keep things moving at a brisk pace. As a writer, he was much better at writing descriptive passages than he was at portraying characters with any kind of depth. At least in this one he doesn’t need to spend too much time having his characters explain to each other what each other should already know.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          

BLAKE AND MORTIMER: THE ANIMATED SERIES. Ellipse (France), 1997. 26 episodes, consisting of 13 two-part stories. Based on “Blake et Mortimer” created by E.P. Jacobs, with four original stories. Originally appeared in Tintin magazine in serial form.

    “Blake and Mortimer” is among the oldest and best loved comics in Europe, second only to Herge’s “Tintin” in longevity and popularity among adventure strips. Created by E. P. Jacobs, and drawn in the same simplified realistic style as the more famous “Tintin” (in Europe it is pronounced Tonton, and yes, Rin Tin Tin, discovered in WWI France, was originally Rin Ton Ton too) strip, it recounts the adventures of handsome blonde mustachioed Captain Francis Blake of British Intelligence and bearded red haired Scottish Professor Philip Mortimer (“By the arms of clan McGreggor!”), a pair of friends who find themselves battling scientific menaces somewhere between Professor Quatermass and James Bond while globe trotting from modern Egypt to the Middle Ages.

    Unlike Tintin, who debuted in the Thirties iu France, Blake and Mortimer appeared post-war in the bestselling Belgian magazine Tintin, named for Herge’s famous boy reporter. There they rivaled the magazine’s namesake in popular adventures, taking them around the world battling everything from mad scientists to aliens and from time travel to UFO’s.

    It was natural after the success of the animated adventures of Tintin, shown here on HBO, that Dargoud, Tintin’s publisher, would try to replicate the flagship titles success and so an animated series adapting the Blake and Mortimer albums was done with the same style and faithfulness as the Tintin series. If they aren’t quite up to the same quality it is only because Tintin is a work of genius that has managed to entertain children across the world for decades, and good as Jacobs work is, it is not quite in that class — few works of popular fiction are in terms of success or sales.

    Like “Tintin,” these were adapted in English, though as far as I know never shown in the American market, and until they showed up on YouTube unavailable to Region 1 DVD players. (I think one or two were available on VHS if you could find them.) Like “Tintin” they consist of half hour episodes, each album complete in two episodes. Though the books are known and loved around the world, they are still, a bit like “Tintin” itself despite the Spielberg film, not that well known in this country.

    Titles like “The Mystery of the Great Pyramid,” “The Secret of Easter Island,” “The Yellow Mark,” “The Infernal Machine,” and “The Atlantis Enigma” give a fair idea of the material, which tends to be better written and developed in terms of character and plot than the average animated fare thanks to Jacob’s well done albums. The adventures, like “Tintin” before them, are faithful to the look and period of the original, and just about as perfect a translation from printed page to screen as you could ask for.

    Of course it all depends on your tolerance for animated adventure fare, but these are a classy production handsomely adapted and faithful to the entertaining originals in all ways. There are a handful of European animated series around well worth a look, including “Corto Maltese,” based on Hugo Pratt’s work about a Conradian early 20th century adventurer, “Belphegor: the Phantom of the Louvre” (which was originally a novel and source for several movies and television series in France), Henri Verne’s “Bob Moraine” (originally the hero of a series of juvenile novels Moraine has appeared in comics and both live action and two animated series and films), Leo Malet’s private eye “Nestor Burma” (live action films and television series, graphic albums and animation based on the design of Jacques Tardi though whether the series ever aired, I’m not certain), the laconic satiric cowboy “Lucky Luke” (who also appeared in two live action films with Terence Hill, and more recently Oscar winning Jean Dujardin), and “Valerian and Laureline,” an intelligent space opera series based on yet another long running popular comic creation. Not all of them are available in English or subtitled, but “Blake and Mortimer” is well worth the effort.     (*)

    Anyone who enjoyed the HBO “Tintin” episodes should at least check this series out. The same imagination and love of the material that marked those adaptations has been shown here.

(*)    Episodes of all those series mentioned save “Nestor Burma” can be found on YouTube, some in French, but a few in English dubbed versions.

Rhiannon Giddens is the lead singer of the Grammy-winning old-time country and blues band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Here is the title track of her first solo CD:


BRUCE HAMILTON – Hanging Judge. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1948. Hillman #15, paperback, 1949. First published in the UK as Let Him Have Judgment: The Cresset Press, hardcover, 1948. Also: Pocket B-29, UK, paperback, 1950. Stage play: “The Hanging Judge” (the only play ever written by actor Raymond Massey; produced and directed in the UK by film director Michael Powell). Radio play: “The Hanging Judge” on The Play of His Choice, UK, December 1953, starring Boris Karloff. TV adaptation: “The Hanging Judge,” a second season episode of Climax! (CBS, 12 January 1956; director: John Frankenheimer).

   One of the great pleasures of attending PulpFest is pawing through the cheap-o boxes and coming across something you never heard of that piques your interest; maybe it’s the cover or blurb or just the title, but you say, “Aww what the hell, why not?”

   Then when you get around to reading it, you discover something really fine ….

   Hanging Judge opens in England, sometime around 1936 with young Harry Gosling about to be hanged for a crime he didn’t commit. On the eve of his execution, Sir Francis Brittain, the judge whose damning summary to the jury ensured Gosling’s conviction, delivers a smug after-dinner speech to the effect that the British system of justice is perfectly infallible. And on the morning of Gosling’s execution, Brittain enjoys a good breakfast and goes back to the bench to spew out more self-righteous venom, a satisfied man

   But Harry has managed to smuggle a letter out of prison, and shortly thereafter a man calling himself Teal shows up in London looking for Judge Brittain — too late, it seems because Brittain has just left for a few weeks holiday in the quaint little sea coast village of Moxton.

   At this point Hanging Judge turns into a Cozy mystery, with a cast of colorful village folk and a redoubtable local constable. Teal shows up here, but instead of looking for Judge Brittain, he seems more interested in another visitor there named Willoughby. Willoughby has an unsavory reputation thereabouts, but he’s a frequent if irregular resident, apparently a man of some importance, and part of the local scene. So when Teal goes to visit him one evening and never returns, suspicions arise.

   Still in the Village Cozy mode, author Hamilton limns an engrossing tale of investigation and growing suspicion, as the local constabulary find their efforts blocked by class distinctions — a theme prominent in the works of Anne Perry — mainly Willoughby’s aristocratic equivalent of get-the-hell-off-my-lawn. Then Willoughby himself disappears, and it dawns on the townsfolk that no one knew anything about him — including where to find him when Teal’s body turns up in his well.

   Right about here Hanging Judge shifts gears and becomes something of a political thriller as the wanted man (who is not Willoughby!) and various interested parties use their considerable influence to see that he evades justice, first by a rigged inquest and then with an absorbing escape attempt.

   At which point we shift gears yet again, as the book becomes a tense courtroom drama, a sort of quickie equivalent of Anatomy of a Murder as arguments and rebuttals fly about the courtroom and the jury sways this was, then that, culminating in an ironic and highly satisfying conclusion.

   I have to say that shortly after I closed this book with a satisfied smile, it struck me that the whole thing hinged on a couple of coincidences that it seemed the author went a long way to fetch back. But he did such a fine job of papering over them that I barely noticed at the time, and even on reflection they didn’t dampen my enjoyment a bit.

Editorial Note:   There is a quote from Erle Stanley Gardner on the front cover of the Hillman paperback. In case it is too small to make out, he says: “This book is in my opinion a mystery masterpiece.”

Colleen Green is a “DIY grunge-popper” from Boston, whatever that means. “Taxi Driver” is a song from her CD Sock-It-to-Me.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

DRUMS ACROSS THE RIVER. Universal International, 1954. Audie Murphy, Walter Brennan, Lyle Bettger, Lisa Gaye, Hugh O’Brian, Mara Corday, Jay Silverheels, Regis Toomey, Morris Ankrum, Bob Steele. Story & screenplay: John K. Butler. Director: Nathan Juran.

   If you’re looking for a Western of economical running time that nevertheless manages to squeeze in a many of the genre’s most durable tropes, look no further than the little known Drums Across the River. You’ve got a father-son conflict; scheming bad men, working at the behest of big city folks, trying to stir up a race war between Whites and Indians; a town filled with people eager for quick and swift justice; a man bitter at the Indians, blaming them for the death of his mother; and a plot to steal a safe.

   All in less than 80 minutes. But you know what, for the most part it works quite well.

   Directed by Nathan Juran, this surprisingly effective Universal-International movie stars war hero-turned-actor Audie Murphy as Gary Brannon, a man caught up in a scheme to illicitly access gold mines on Ute territory. Against the wishes of his father, Sam, portrayed effectively by character actor Walter Brennan, Gary (Murphy) sets out with Frank Walker (Lyle Bettger) and his gang to get the gold, as it were. Soon enough, he realizes that Walker may not be all that he seems.

   The rest of the film follows Gary as he tries to rebuild his relationship with his father, make peace with the Utes, and stop Walker’s men from inciting racial violence. Look for Hugh O’Brien as Morgan, a truly evil henchmen and killer that Walker hires to threaten Gary. With some beautiful cinematography and outdoor scenery, this one is worth seeking out.

40 GUNS TO APACHE PASS. Columbia Pictures, 1967. Audie Murphy, Michael Burns, Kenneth Tobey, Laraine Stephens, Robert Brubaker, Michael Blodgett, Michael Keep. Director: William Witney.

   Although he wasn’t nearly the screen presence as was Randolph Scott, war hero-turned-actor Audie Murphy, particularly in his later films, began to emerge as a more than capable actor to portray a flawed protagonist or an anti-hero.

   That’s certainly the case for 40 Guns to Apache Pass, Murphy’s final movie appearance. Directed by William Witney, this surprisingly effective and visually captivating Western has Murphy portraying U.S. Army Captain Bruce Coburn, a man with anger issues and an impossible mission: secure the shipment of 40 rifles before the Apaches attack and kill every last settler in southern Arizona.

   Filmed almost exclusively outdoors, this taut and gritty Western dispenses with many of the lighthearted moments that permeated many of Murphy’s 1950s films. It’s a bloody and dusty world out West, and Bruce Coburn is more than willing to beat and berate his men into submission. Not only does he make an enemy in one of his subordinates, a scheming Corporal Bodine (Kenneth Tobey), he also ends up driving a young man into the ranks of outlaws and traitors.

   It’s Coburn’s impetuousness and his inability to think through how his behavior affects his men that ends up causing him the greatest amount of distress. As such, 40 Guns to Apache Pass can well be categorized as a minor classic in the psychological Western genre, an otherwise little known film that is skillfully directed and, while not having the most original plot in the world, is nevertheless a pleasure to watch.

William F. Deeck

ANTHONY BERKELEY – Mr. Priestley’s Problem. Collins Crime Club, UK, hardcover, 1930. Originally published as by A. B. Cox: Collins, UK, hardcover, 1927. Penguin, UK, paperback, 1948. Doubleday, US, hardcover, 1928, as The Amateur Crime, as by A. B. Cox.

   Practical jokers are the bane of civilisation. Their only purpose seems to be to present a persuasive argument for retroactive abortion. Still, they are tolerable if confined in the pages of a novel, where no one real is likely to suffer from their untender ministrations. And in this novel it may be that the biter gets bit.

   Matthew Priestley, age 36 but seemingly a great deal older than that to his friends, is content with his Greek and Latin studies, his books, china and collection of snuffboxes. A friend argues that Priestley only thinks he’s happy, though if that is good enough for Priestley it should be good enough for anyone.

   In order to get Priestley out of his dull and stodgy ways, and also to do a psychological study of the reactions of a good man who inadvertently commits a murder, Priestley’s friend and some of the friend’s colleagues set up a drama in which Priestley seems to kill a man. Things, of course, go wrong for the plotters.

   The young lady who lures Priestley to the scene of the crime-to-be gets handcuffed to him by a constable who arrives quite unexpectedly after the fake murder. This young lady is the perfect example of the ‘modern girl’ of the 1920s. Everything is lots of fun as long as someone else is having problems; when she begins to be hoist by her own petard, she longs to return to the old standards.

   Meanwhile, the chaps who set up the fake murder find themselves confronted with a bit more than just the dim local constabulary. They appear to enjoy themselves as the situation becomes more complicated, but it is obvious that the strain is beginning to tell.

   The whole thing is, one hopes, totally preposterous, but it is also great fun, as long as one isn’t Priestley, and maybe even if one is. Suspend disbelief and enjoy Anthony Berkeley at his wildest, though arguably not at his best.

— Reprinted from CADS 20, 1993.

NOTE: Thanks to Geoff Bradley, editor and publisher of CADS magazine, for offering me the use of the reviews that Bill Deeck did for his magazine, an offer which I immediately accepted. This is the first of these. Along with Bill’s reviews from Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Readers’ Journal, you can expect to see his byline on this blog for some time to come. You can email Geoff for subscription information for CADS by clicking the link. (Tell him I sent you.)

From this country singer’s CD Welder, which ranked #23 on Rolling Stone‍‘​s list of the 30 Best Albums of 2010:

“The Monster of Peladon.” A serial of six episodes from Dr Who, BBC, UK, 23 March to 27 April 1974. (Season 11, Episodes 15-20). Jon Pertwee (Doctor Who), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Donald Gee, Nina Thomas, Frank, Rex Robinson, Alan Bennion. Writer: Brian Hayles. Script editor: Terrance Dicks. Director: Lennie Mayne.

   This six-episode sequel to “The Curse of Peladon” (Season Nine, 1972) takes place 50 years later, with the Doctor and Sarah Jane discovering that the planet Peladon’s decision to join the Galactic Federation is not going so well.

   The trisilicate miners are demanding better working conditions, but keeping them under their rulers’ thumb is a phantom replica of Aggedor, the royal beast, who starts appearing in the mines and using a heat ray to disintegrate rebellious miners. The politics of the situation are not only local. There are also intergalactic considerations at play as well, and the Doctor and Sarah Jane land the Tardis right in the middle of them.

   Not one of the better serials, I’m afraid. All of the action takes place in a underground rooms connected by dark torch-lit passageways, with a lot of fur-haired miners running back and forth (and probably in circles) to mostly no avail.

   Episodes two and three cover mostly the same ground and could easily have been combined into one. It isn’t until episode four, when Commander Azaxyr and a force of Ice Warriors come to take over the planet in the name of the Federation, that anything other the same old, same old happens.

   There is a surprise twist or two in the final two episodes that almost (but not quite) makes this serial stand out above the mediocre. There is a brief attempt by Sarah Jane to convince the Queen of Peladon that she should stand up more herself, but not too long afterward, the latter is dragged along as a hostage just as damsels in distress always did, long before women’s lib came along.

   It should be noted that Commander Azaxyr’s full-face helmeted and caped garb, along with his heavy breathing while talking, is unmistakably an early prototype of Darth Vader, well before the latter showed up in a totally different setting.

“Big Swing Face,” by the Buddy Rich Big Band, from the LP of the same name. Recorded live at the Chez Club, Hollywood, California, 1967. The CD released in 1996 has six additional tracks.

UPDATE: This new video, for as long as it stays up, should play directly, instead of diverting you to YouTube. It consists of the entire original LP, starting with “Norwegian Wood.”

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