December 2015

WILLIAM HEFFERNAN – A Time Gone By. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 2003. Akashic Books; trade paperback; April 2005.

   As a journalist, investigative reporter and editor, along with many other honors, William Heffernan was nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize. As a crime fiction writer, it’s not clear how many times he was nominated for the MWA’s Edgar, but he won it once, for Tarnished Blue (1995) as the Best Paperback Original.

   He’s also not an author I’ve read before. Looking through the list of 16 books he’s written, it’s not difficult to see why. Most of his books are either gangster (Mafia) fiction or hard-edged police procedurals (his Paul Devlin series), neither of which category have I very actively been adding to my collection.

   In recent years Heffernan has decided to expand his range, making use of his extensive journalistic background. Alternating with books in his Devlin series have come Cityside (1999) a look into the more unsavory aspects of big city tabloidism; and Beulah Hill (2001), which takies place in 1933 Vermont, with a murder of a white boy by a suspected black causing a severe setback to racial relations in the area.

   A Time Gone By is Heffernan’s most recent book, and it’s very much of a tour de force. Switching the time frame of a murder mystery back and forth between 1945 and 1975, and making it seem the easiest thing in the world, never clashing gears once, is a challenge I suspect not many authors would be up to.

   When a crooked judge is murdered in his home in 1945, Jake Dowling was only a rookie cop, and not even with a more experienced partner could they continue fighting forever when they quickly enough discover that the political fix is in. Thirty years later, Jake — who for the most part tells his own story — finally has the clout and — after the death of his wife — the will to see if the case can be closed at last.

   There is a definite noir-ish feel to the scenes that take place in 1945, and of course, there is a woman involved. Even though Jake is married at the time, with a child on the way, he falls deeply in lust (if not love) with the judge’s new widow, a former hatcheck girl who has made good.

   In 1975, Jake knows that the wrong man went to the electric chair. Even though the man had clearly committed other murders, Jake knows that he died for one he didn’t do, but who did? Thus develops a tantalizing interplay between past and present, an enigmatic puzzle that roots itself into the mind of the reader as well, and refuses to become dislodged.

   While the transitions always take place smoothly, meshing into place almost perfectly, I believe the naive Jake of 1945, led around by the young widow by something other than his brain, is better developed than the Jake of 1975. As a chief of detectives for the NYPD, he still seems too callow for the job. How, one wonders, was he able to make all of the advancements he did to come out on top like this? It’s a subtle thing, and maybe it was only me.

   As for the mystery itself, it’s a winner, with – as the veteran mystery reader will suspect all the way through – well, you couldn’t have a detective story written as well as this without having a twist or two along the way, and/or a substantial surprise or three before it’s done, could you?

   I won’t say more. This is my kind of book. If you’re fond of 1940s noir with a slight but appreciable touch of sexual infidelity, you’ll have to read this one for yourself.

— March 2005.


* = Paul Devlin series. Devlin is a detective with the New York City police department. Some descriptions of the books make it seem as though he reports directly to the mayor.

Broderick. Crown Publishers, hc. 1980. No paperback edition.
Caging the Raven. Wyndham Publications, hc. 1981. No paperback edition.
The Corsican. Simon & Schuster, hc. 1983. Signet, paperback, 1987.

Acts of Contrition. New American Library, hardcover, 1986. Onyx, paperback, August 1987.
Ritual. New American Library, hc, 1989. Signet, paperback, 1993.

* Blood Rose. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1991. Signet, paperback, December 1993.
Corsican Honor. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1992. Signet, paperback, March 1993.
* Scarred. Signet, paperback, December 1993
* Tarnished Blue. Onyx, paperback, April 1995. Winner of 1996 Edgar award for Best Paperback Original Novel.
* Winter’s Gold. Onyx, pb, Jan 1997.
The Dinosaur Club. William Morrow, hardcover, 1997. Pocket Books, paperback, December 1998.
Cityside. William Morrow, hardcover, 1999. Akashic Books, softcoverm September 2003.
* Red Angel. William Morrow, hardcover, 2000. Avon, paperback, December 2001.
Beulah Hill. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 2001. Akashic Books, softcover, April 2003.
* Unholy Order. William Morrow, hardcover, 2002. Avon, paperback, December 2002.
A Time Gone By. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 2003. Akashic Books, softcover, Apr 2005.
The Dead Detective. Akashic, hardcover, 2010.

HARDBALL “Till Death Do Us Part.” NBC, 21 September 1989 (Season 1, Episode 1), 90 minutes. John Ashton (Charlie Battles), Richard Tyson (Joe ‘Kaz’ Kaczierowski). Guest Cast: Kay Lenz. Director: David Hemmings.

   The way I heard it, and I don’t remember where, the pair of Beverly Hills police detectives in Beverly Hills Cop played by John Aston and Judge Reinhold made such a big hit that they (someone) decided to make a TV series along the same lines: an older, streetwise and supposedly wiser cop (Aston) is paired up with a more freewheeling and a lot younger partner (Tyson, in the series). Basic themes: Culture clash, hair vs no hair, and a lot of humorous bickering, but at the end the day, a solid friendship (and partnership) is made.

   But “buddy cop” shows have come and gone for quite a while, and this one doesn’t add a lot to the genre. Wikipedia says the series was based on a couple of characters in the “Lethal Weapon” series of movies. I like my version better, even if I’m wrong.

   The series lasted for only one season, 18 episodes in all. It started in September of 1989, with a long break between December and April before ending in June. I think the people who spend their time reading up on old obscure TV shows on blogs like this one are the only ones who might remember it at all. Based on this pilot episode, I kind of wonder how it lasted a full season, more or less, but on the other hand, it could have been a lot worse.

   The story itself isn’t all that new, either. Ashton’s character is about to be forced into a desk job, but when a female witness (Kay Lenz) is about to testify against her gangster husband and needs protection, Ashton and his new partner are it. We’ve all heard that one before, but luckily there is more to the story. Ashton and Lenz’s characters have some history together, and there’s a little boy who bonds with Tyson’s, and if you don’t know he’s going to be kidnapped before the show is over, I apologize for coming right out and telling you.

   One remarkable thing about this show is Tyson’s hair. When he wears it in an unruly ponytail, it’s fine, but when he lets it flow unfettered and free, his head looks three times its usual size. Well, OK, there is one other thing. When Ashton gets desperate for information, I’ll just say he doesn’t mind who he smacks around and leave it at that.

   I have a collector-to-collector set of DVDs of most if not all the series, but with the first episode not really better than average, and a picture quality to match, I may or may not rush into watching more of them. On the other hand, I paid for them, so why not. But unless something happens in one of the later episodes I really want to tell you about, I’m not likely to say anything more than I have here.


JAMES LEE BURKE – A Stained White Radiance. Dave Robieheaux #5. Hyperion, hardcover, 1992; Avon, paperback, 1993.

   Burke is hot right now. There are always writers who catch the critics’ eyes and occasion the tossing around of phrases like “transcend the genre,” and other such inanities. Crumley, Le Carré, James, Leonard, etc., etc., depending on the year and critic, have been so honored, and now Burke. I’m one of those Wrong Thinkers who sees Jacques Barzun as pompous, condescending and generally full of it, and think that talk of transcending the genre is arrant nonsense, but I like James Lee Burke’s writing anyway.

   Here we find Robicheaux, an alcoholic, dry and working as a Sheriff’s Deputy in the Iberia Parish of Louisiana. As if he didn’t have enough problems, his wife suffers from lupus. As the book opens he is called to the house of Weldon Sonnier, a wealthy oil-man. Robicheaux had gone to elementary school with three of the Sonniers, dated one, served in Vietnam with another. They are a strange family, one the wife of a Klansman-cum-politician, yet another a television evangelist. Their family history, besides intersecting his own, is a bit on the Gothic side, and Robicheaux is reluctant to become involved with them.

   For good reason. Weldon is associated with and indebted to a local gang boss, and has had CIA links in the past. Bits of the family’s twisted history surface, the story turns dark and strange, and the plot takes odd — and sometimes dubious — twists. His old New Orleans partner on the police force, Clete, now a private detective, aids him in his struggles.

   From interviews, it’s plain that Burke takes his writing very seriously, and does not see himself as a genre writer. He is a friend and admirer of James Crumley, and indeed they share both virtues and failings in the craft. Both are, for lack of a better phrase, powerful prose stylists; and both are rather muddy plotters, though Burke is much the better of the two. To be fair, I think that both are simply much more concerned with what they have to say about the human condition than they are niceties of plot.

   Burke, to me, has all the prerequisites of the storyteller. a superb skill at putting words together, the ability to bring his characters to life and make you care about them, and a story to tell that holds the interest. He’s one of the few authors I buy in hardcovers, and while Radiance is not his best work, it is nevertheless an excellent one. Highly recommended.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #3, September 1992.

      Eli Wallach would have been 100 today:

   Here’s a link to Jonathan’s review of The Lineup (1958):

      Also 100 today, Leigh Brackett:

      And 105, Louis Prima:

      And many, many others who are well known to readers of this blog, I’m sure.


NORTH TO ALASKA. 20th Century Fox, 1960. John Wayne, Stewart Granger, Ernie Kovacs, Fabian, Capucine, Mickey Shaughnessy, Karl Swenson, Joe Sawyer, Kathleen Freeman, John Qualen. Director: Henry Hathaway.

   Watching Henry Hathaway’s North to Alaska, a comedic Western starring John Wayne, one cannot help but compare it to Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959). Both movies feature a contemporary young musical star (Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo and Fabio in North to Alaska) and a young beautiful actress to portray John Wayne’s love interest (Angie Dickinson in Rio Bravo and French actress Capucine in North to Alaska).

   Similarly, both films are buddy movies, in which the theme of male friendship and loyalty is explored, and battle of the sexes romantic comedies, thematically similar to the British and Italian sex comedies from the same time period.

   Yet despite all the similarities and the fact that North to Alaska is a truly beautifully filmed Cinemascope production, it is not nearly as captivating as Hawks’ masterpiece. That’s not to say that North to Alaska doesn’t have some truly hilarious moments and that Wayne doesn’t give a solid performance. It’s just that there are too many weak, bland scenes in the movie for one to equate it as being remotely on par with Rio Bravo.

   Even so, this enjoyable, if at times bawdy, feature about love in the time of the Alaskan gold rush is still a much better Western than many that came out in the early 1960s. It’s good movie, just not one for the ages.

The complete album, beginning with “Cry Me a River.” This was her first LP.

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF

TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT. Paramount, US/UK, 1960. Gordon Scott, Jock Mahoney, Betta St. John, John Carradine, Lionel Jeffries. Written by Berne Giler and Robert Day, based on the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs Director: Robert Day.

   Basically a Western transposed to Africa, with Gordon Scott instead of Randolph, but fun in its way.

   The Tarzan of Magnificent isn’t the solipsistic jungle man of the early Tarzan films, but more like a Lone Ranger of the bush, going about rescuing folks and catching evildoers, and the plot gets moving when Tarzan (Gordon Scott) captures killer Coy Banton (Jock Mahoney) of the notorious Banton Gang, and tries to bring him to justice, as they say. The Lord of the Apes gets his prisoner to a smallish village, but it seems everyone there has seen High Noon and refuses to help him for fear of reprisal from the Banton Gang, which is headed by patriarch John Carradine, in the manner of Lee J. Cobb in Man of the West.

   Nothing daunted, Tarzan decides to escort his prisoner across the prairie –er— I mean through the jungle, knowing the gang will be dogging his heels and accompanied by a disparate group of hangers-on: shades of Ride Lonesome, or maybe The Naked Spur. There’s some interesting cross-cutting between the good guys and the baddies as the characters try to work out their personal issues along the way, sundry encounters with the local fauna, and a would-be dramatic bit where one of Tarzan’s party turns out to be an ex-doctor who rallies himself to save a life — Stagecoach, anyone?

   All this of course is just filler leading up to the final confrontation between Tarzan and Coy Banton, and when that moment finally arrives, it doesn’t disappoint; we get a lengthy, brutal and highly entertaining hand-to-hand battle between the protagonists across jungle, rocks, waterfalls and what-have-you, and while the outcome is never in doubt, the players and their stuntmen make it well worth your time.

   By and large however, Tarzan the Magnificent isn’t in the same league as any classic western; it’s a nice try and something a bit different, but the writing and directing just ain’t there. And as for the acting…. Well one doesn’t go to Tarzan movies for the acting, but Lionel Jeffries does well in an unrewarding role, Jock Mahoney projects a virile menace, and John Carradine is his reliable self. I just couldn’t help wishing Gordon Scott had a little less dialogue.


STUART M. KAMINSKY – Poor Butterfly. Mysterious Press, 1990; paperback, 1991.

   Toby Peters, Kaminsky’s vintage private eye, is hired to find out who’s attempting to sabotage the reopening of the restored San Francisco Metropolitan Opera house.The year is 1942 and a major player is renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski who’s rehearsing the first production, Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.”

   Toby drives to San Francisco and when it’s apparent he needs backup, he sends for his best friend, midget translator Gunther Wherthman, his chief muscle, ex-wrestler Jeremy Butler, and his landlord, dentist Sheldon Minck.

   To these colorful characters, add the mix at the opera house that includes a murderous Phantom (of the opera), an evangelical minster (Reverend Adam Souvaine) whose minions are picketing the opening protesting the scheduling of an opera with a Japanese subject, and a prima donna for whom Toby falls in a big way.

   This is feather light entertainment that is best savored before, during or after an afternoon nap. Short and light on substance but agreeable for a one time date.

Bibliographic Note:   This is number 15 of 24 books in Kaminsky’s Toby Peters series, written between 1997 and 2004. You can find a complete list here, along with covers for most if not all, along with lists of books in his several other series.

BILL PRONZINI “La bellezza delle bellezze.” First published in Invitation to Murder, edited by Ed Gorman & Martin H. Greenberg (Dark Harvest, hardcover, 1991; Diamond, paperback, February 1993). Reprinted in Scenarios (Five Star, hardcover, 2003).

   The idea behind the anthology Invitation to Murder is to present the reader with a wide variety of stories all based on a single idea: the body of a young girl is found in her apartment. Besides Bill Pronzini’s inclusion, among other authors whose tales are inside are Loren D. Esteman, Joan Hess, Judith Kelman, Nancy Pickard and Andrew Vachss. (Here I’m mentioning only those listed on the front cover of the paperback edition, ones I imagine the publisher assumed would catch a would-be buyer’s eye.)

   Besides settings, genres, moods and presentation, of course as in most collections, the quality of the stories vary widely as well. The detective puzzle stories fare the worst, I’m sorry to say. Joan Hess’s attempt at a locked room mystery, “Dead on Arrival. for example, should have been cleared up in seconds, then a minute more to catch the killer. Well, maybe two minutes.

   The solution to a “dying message” mystery by William J. Reynolds is contrived, and the whole incident would have no chance in the world of ever happening that way. Better are a ghost story “The Life and Deaths of Rachel Long,” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, hauntingly told without quite gelling, and “Darke Street,” by Gary Brandner, a story about an aging cop almost ready for retirement who comes across a strange musty shop on a mostly deserted city street. This is one that could easily have appeared in the pages of the old Weird Tales pulp magazine.

   I especially enjoyed “Invitation to Murder” by Richard Laymon, in which An author with a deadline to write a story for this very same book finds the next door neighbor playing loud music very distracting. The multitude of ideas this writer comes up with before discarding them are better than some of the stories in this book, assuming you can accept the existence of zombies, for example. This one’s a small gem of a tale. I’m not surprised it was used as the title story of the anthology.

   I may have liked Bill Pronzini’s contribution, “La bellezza delle belleza,” even better, however. (Yes, I’m finally getting to it.) Translating the title from the Italian gives us “the beauty of beauties.” This might refer to the granddaughter of an elderly Italian friend of a friend who asks the author’s nameless PI to investigate a money problem she is having with the landlord, but in reality the phrase may apply even more to the changes happening to the city of San Francisco, and the death of the old days in particular. Evocatively done, in terms of both the city and the people in it, and the transition both are forced to undergo.

Added Later:   For what’s worth, the names on the cover of the hardcover edition are Nancy Pickard, Bill Pronzini, John Lutz, and Carolyn G. Hart, authors of the first four stories.

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