March 2016


DONALD ZOCHERT – Another Weeping Woman. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980. No paperback edition.

   A young woman camper is apparently mauled and killed by a bear. The autopsy establishes that she also had a bullet in her head and that she was dead before either the bullet or the bear got her. A good start, and then it’s downhill all the way.

   The main problem with this book is the style: “The thing I’ll remember most is the car horn. The sound of that car horn just after dawn — filling the little valley with its wounded cry, echoing off those cliffs and rising up the cirque in that cold September air to the face of the Grasshopper itself.” This is the opening paragraph, and the portentous, tense tone is maintained for 262 pages. “The house had been taken over by darkness. The wind cried in through the shattered windows, the wind and the darkness and the night rasping past the teeth of glass that grinned in the wooden frames.”

   This is a desperate, adjective-laden, overwritten novel, and if the angst-ridden symphonies of Mahler or a hysterical guitar savagely resounding in a shadowy, empty hall crouching in a hungry night are your sound, you’ll have a grand time. I’ll have a soda with a twist of lime, thank you, Archie.

   Post-scriptum. In this year of our Lord, 1982, it is still possible to find a novel that features a “Mr. Big.”

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 4, July-August 1982.

Bibliographic Notes:   The detective in this case, which is set in Montana, was a Denver-based PI named Nick Caine. There was a second adventure, The Man of Glass (Holt, 1982), and that was the end of his recorded career. Zochert wrote one other mystery, Murder in the Hellfire Club (Holt, 1978), set in mid-18th century London.


BILL CRIDER – Booked For a Hanging. Dan Rhodes #6. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1992. No paperback edition.

   I like Bill’s P.I., Truman Smith, and I enjoyed The Texas Capitol Murders, but I’m mighty glad to see my old friend Sheriff Dan Rhodes again. There are more and more people mining the rural vein, but nobody does it better than Bill Crider.

   Rhodes is married now, to a lady he met in an earlier case. Otherwise, life goes on pretty much as usual around the Blacklin Country Sheriff’s Department Oh, yes — they do have a new computer, which has been appropriated by Hack the dispatcher, who seems to regard it as he would his first grandchild.

   The book opens with the discovery of the hanged body of a rare book dealer, who owned some buildings in the neighboring small town of Obert. It’s fairly obvious that it’s murder, and as it develops that the dead man was rumored to have possession of an extremely rare book, there’s at least one possible motive. His partner, his lover, and another rare book dealer are present to complicate the case, and before things shake out two more people are dead.

   As always with the Rhodes books, there are numerous other things going on. This time they include a librarian out to save the world from censorship, a semi-naked man inhabiting a local dumpster, and a little minor league cattle rustling. All the regulars are present, including the aforementioned Hack, Lawton, the jailer, and Ruth, the lady deputy introduced a couple of books ago.

   Folks, I was raised in a small Texas town, and I’m here to tell you that he’s got it down. I know the phrase is overworked, but there isn’t a more apt one: these are real people. I do have one small reservation, though — Dan Rhodes is a hell of a lot nicer than any rural Sheriff I ever knew.

   Bill’s style is perfectly suited to the material; wryly humorous, straightforward, and unobtrusive. The atmosphere strikes a nice balance between lighthearted and serious, but you won’t go away from a Dan Rhodes book feeling down. Long may he be Sheriff.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #4, November 1992.


THE BOUNTY KILLER. Embassy Pictures, 1965. Dan Duryea, Rod Cameron, Audrey Dalton, Richard Arlen, Buster Crabbe, Fuzzy Knight, Johnny Mack Brown. Producer: Alex Gordon. Director: Spencer Gordon Bennet.

   A while back, I commented to someone or other that a producer named A. C. Lyles spent the late 60s killing the B Western with Kindness, making incredibly dull, plodding oaters with casts of well-loved veterans of the genre. I also mentioned that at the same time, Alex Gordon was putting out a handful of equally cheap Westerns, with about the same casts, that were, if not exactly classics of the form, at least interesting to look at. I saw one of these again the other night, and while I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly, it deserves at least a passing comment.

   The Bounty Killer is ninety minutes of Western Stalwarts going through their well-worn paces at a reasonable clip, for their collective ages, with some surprisingly good acting, in spots, and a decent script for a change. Dan Duryea (in bad need of a face-lift) stars as an unworldly traveller who befriends a Saloon Gal (Audrey Dalton) and the Village Idiot (Fuzzy Knight) and eventually turns to Bounty Hunting, which takes a grim toll on his character.

   Along the way, he runs up against the likes of Rod Cameron, Buster Crabbe, Richard Arlen, Bob Steele, “Bronco” Billy Anderson, Johnny Mack Brown, and a host of even lesser-known but familiar faces from the golden age of Cheap Thrills, all of whom seem delighted at getting decent, if small, parts for a change.

   In particular, Dalton, Knight and Crabbe add a Little Something Extra to their hackneyed roles as Whore-with-a-Heart, Comical Sidekick and Knife-wielding Nasty, and Richard Arlen, as Dalton’s father, gives a very nicely-judged reading of a line that would have been easy to over-do; Quoth he, disapprovingly to Duryea, “I’m just helping you (milli-pause) out.”

   As for Dan Duryea, well, a lot of folks (just about everyone in North America, in fact) disagrees with me about him in this movie; they all think we’re supposed to Like him. Unh-unh. One of the wonderful things about Duryea as a performer was that he never once made a serious bid for Audience Sympathy, and he doesn’t start here. He goes right from Sanctimonious Naivete to snarling, lethal Self-Pity without ever once engaging our affections.

   Until the Climax. When, with a few deft Directorial Touches — courtesy of Spencer G. Bennett, himself a veteran of the B-Western and Serials — we suddenly wonder if this guy we never liked really deserved to meet such a sorry end. And when you think about it, that’s a pretty interesting concept to build a Western around. Even a B-Western.


MASTER OF THE WORLD. American International Pictures, 1961. Vincent Price, Charles Bronson, Henry Hull, Mary Webster, David Frankham. Screenplay: Richard Matheson, based on the novels Robur, the Conqueror and Master of the World by Jules Verne. Director: William Witney.

   For a film directed by serial and B-film maestro William Witney, Master of the World, the cinematic adaptation of two Jules Verne works, is a relatively tame, if not occasionally sedate, affair. There’s some action, to be sure. But it’s really not all that frenetic or fun. Instead, the viewer has to make do with a perfectly adequate script by Richard Matheson and some enjoyable scenery chewing from Vincent Price and some solid, if not particularly memorable, acting from Charles Bronson.

   Price portrays Robur, a visionary genius and diabolical madman determined to wage war on the very concept of warfare itself. His plan is to traverse the globe in the Albatross, an airship straight out of the imagination of late nineteenth-century fiction, and bomb the heck out of the world’s armies. Along the way, he ends up capturing U.S. government agent Strock (Bronson) and three of Stock’s civilian companions with personalities as exciting as cardboard.

   There’s a lot of dialogue, some of it incredibly tedious, about the morality of destroying the Albatross in order to thwart Robur’s designs. Likewise, the viewer is subject to similar speechifying from Robur. Fortunately, Price is such a unique screen presence that he makes the movie far more enjoyable than it would have been had another actor been cast in the role.

   Master of the World isn’t a total loss. There are some occasionally lighthearted moments and Price seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself. It’s all just rather dated, I suppose. Perhaps it’s a movie than can only really be enjoyed on the big screen on a rainy Saturday afternoon where it’s escapist fun soon forgotten after leaving the theater.


The TV series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is not to my taste but the musical clips from the CW TV series on YouTube are great. From “Sexy French Depression” to my new favorite “I’m the Villain in My Own Story,” the music tempts me to actually watch the show.

The series may be last in Nielsen ratings, but it has been renewed for a second season. Here is “I’m the Villain in My Own Story,” written by Adam Schlesinger and series star Rachel Bloom and performed by Rachel Bloom and Gabrielle Ruiz.

   I have bad news. My wife Judy died this morning. She had been living for the past year and a half in Arden Courts in Farmington, the next town over, a facility designed solely for patients with memory impairment issues. She was diagnosed with dementia two years before that, and her condition, while stable for long periods of time, gradually grew worse as time went on.

   I met her in Ann Arbor when we were both grad students in mathematics at the University of Michigan. She was born and grew up in New York City, I in a small town in northern Michigan, but somehow our paths in life converged at the right place at the right time. Our desks in the teaching fellows’ office were opposite each other. How lucky was that for two people who were meant for each other?

   Our first date was 52 years ago tomorrow, and you would never guess that it was at a hockey match. Michigan was playing Michigan Tech, where I went to undergraduate school, and the final score was 5 to 5. I didn’t really remember the score. I had to look it up online. I have often wondered what she saw in me to say yes when I asked if she’d like to go. She’d never been to a hockey game before in her life. (I don’t remember for sure, but I don’t seem to recall that we ever went to another one.) She must seen something in me that I saw similarly in her. As far as I was concerned, it was love at first sight.

   If we never went to another hockey match — it was the end of the season — we did go to movies and other dates together, more and more often that summer of 1964, and as things progressed, we ended up getting married in December later that year.

   Eventually we moved to Connecticut, where I started teaching at Central Connecticut State — that was in 1969 — while she found a position the following year at the West Hartford branch of the University of Connecticut.

   Two children came along, Sarah, a research librarian who lives in Illinois, and Jonathan, who has been splitting his time as a writer between here and Los Angeles the past few years. He is here with me now.

   There is a lot more to the story, of course. Memories of our life together, 52 years’ worth, have been coming back to me all the while she has been ill. We loved each other for a long time, and I will never forget her. My life would not have been complete without her.

Another of my wife Judy’s favorite songs:

UNKNOWN. Dark Castle/Warner Brothers. Liam Neeson (Dr. Martin Harris), January Jones (Elizabeth Harris), Diane Kruger, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella, Sebastian Koch. Screenplay: Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell, based on the book Out of My Head by Didier Van Cauwelaert.

   Where to begin? I think I’ll start by saying that this film will remind long-time readers of John Dickson Carr of that author’s tremendous gift of sheer story-telling mystery and suspense, while lovers of Cornell Woolrich will be captured at once by the utter audacity of piling on on coincidence after coincidence, pulling the utterly stunned protagonist deeper and deeper into a nightmarish predicament from which he can find no escape — and have the reader (or as in this case, the viewer) believe every minute of it.

   I don’t believe in reviews that tell too much of the story ahead of time — I started watching this one with no idea of what it was about, only that Liam Neeson was in it, nothing more — and if that’s you as well, you can stop reading now and let that first paragraph tell you all you need to know.

   But in case you’d care to read on, please do. I’ll do my best not to to spill any beans you’d rather have left in the pot. A certain Dr. and Mrs. Harris have just arrived in Berlin for a biotechnology conference, where he is to be a prominent participant. At the hotel while she is checking in, he discovers that he has accidentally left a small case at the airport. He grabs a cab without telling her where he is going, but once en route he finds that there is no cell phone service to reach her to tell her where he has gone. On the way to airport an accident on the road flips the cab into the river.

   When he wakes up, he’s in a hospital. He was saved by the quick actions of the young blonde girl taxi driver (Diane Kruger), who then disappeared. The doctor tells him he may have memory problems for a while. What Dr. Harris doesn’t count on is that when he returns to the hotel, not only does his wife not recognize him, but there is a new Dr. Harris with her. After a short confrontation, with the hotel manager watching, the two of them dismiss him with considerable puzzlement and head off to enjoy their stay in Berlin and the conference together.

   There are some pieces of what I said that may have already set off some alarm bells in your head. Of course I don’t know what you’re thinking, but the odds are that you may easily be onto something. On the other hand, you may not. You will have to watch the movie to find out — and not only is it a puzzler of first magnitude, there is also enough car chases and other action in it, explosions and so forth, to make you wonder how on earth they managed to get it down on film.

   Have I convinced you or not? The movie has gotten somewhat mixed reviews — mostly favorable, I hasten to add — but if you were to ask me, I’d have to tell you that this is a movie that’s well worth your time. Even more than that, I thought it was terrific.

The title track from trombonist and big band leader Ryan Haines’ 2005 album New Horizons:


NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER. Columbia Pictures, 1980. James Brolin, Cliff Gorman, Richard Castellano, Linda Miller, Barton Heyman, Sully Boyar, Julie Carmen, Abby Bluestone, Dan Hedaya, Mandy Patinkin. Based on the novel by William P. McGivern. Director: Robert Butler.

   Night of the Juggler isn’t for the faint of heart. While it’s not particularly violent or gruesome, it’s exceedingly gritty and seedy. But that’s what you might expect from a psychological thriller/action film set in the decaying streets of Manhattan and the South Bronx circa 1980.

   James Brolin portrays Sean Boyd, a former NYC cop turned truck driver, as he pummels and punches his way through Times Square and gang-infested streets. All in order to save his teenage daughter from a psychopath who, believing she was the daughter of a wealthy real estate developer, has kidnapped her and is holding her for a million dollar ransom. Brolin’s physicality is on full display here, as he doesn’t so much as act as he becomes a force of nature in the vein of Burt Reynolds or Liam Neeson at their best.

   Brolin’s character is also a Virgil figure, taking the viewer on a journey into Gotham’s most hellish and hopeless spots. It’s a bleak Inferno, one populated by peep shows, violent cops, ruthless street toughs, and crumbling infrastructure. The scenes in the South Bronx are a stark reminder of what that part of the city looked like some three and a half decades ago. As far as Times Square is concerned, the one featured in the film looks nothing like the posh family-friendly Disneyland that it is today.

   As a crime thriller, Night of the Juggler is a perfectly adequate film, but nothing more. As a time capsule into a barely recognizable New York, this somewhat forgotten feature is captivating, if unnerving, to watch.

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