November 2016

GEORGE HARDINGE, Editor – Winter’s Crimes 9. St. Martin’s Press, US, hardcover, 1978. First published in the UK by Macmillan, hardcover, 1977.

   The contents page, and for that matter, the front cover, is a veritable who’s who of contemporary British mystery writers. Not all of these authors are well known in this country, yet, but along with the less familiar names are ones like Geoffrey Household, Patricia Highsmith, and Ruth Rendell that are known to mystery readers everywhere.

   The twelve stories here are originals, written especially for this collection, but even if they had been scoured up as the best of the year from everywhere else, they could hardly be of any greater quality. What we’re given is in fact a cross-section of current crime fiction, with tales ranging from the pure detective puzzle proposed by Colin Dexter to the subtle domestic affair tinged with bitter irony that James McClure writes about, in which crime has only the most tenuous connection.

   A definite must for fans of the short story.

NOTE: For the record, the other authors are: Celia Dale, Elizabeth Ferrars, Derek Robinson, John Wainwright, Martin Woodhouse, Margaret Yorke, and P. B. Yuill.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 3, No. 1, Jan-Feb 1979.


THE HURRICANE EXPRESS. Mascot Pictures, 12 chapter serial, 1932. Tully Marshall, Conway Tearle, John Wayne, Shirley Gray, Edmund Breese, Lloyd Whitlock. Directors: J. P. McGowan & Armand Schaefer.

   Speaking of Serials (here and here), I did spend four hours and twenty minutes watching The Hurricane Express, a Twelve chapter 1932 release of somewhat modest dimensions from the folks at Mascot, whom I mentioned some time ago in connection with The Last of the Mohicans.

   Hurricane Express would probably be pretty much forgotten today, except that it starred an overgrown athlete of exceptional thespic incompetence (in those days) named John Wayne. Wayne had just come off the biggest commercial flop of his career, The Big Trail, and found himself sudenly a Star with nowhere to go; the closest contemporary comparison would probably be Klinton Spillsbury.

   Anyway, for the next few years Wayne would shift uneasily between minor parts at Major Studios and Star Turns on Gower Gulch, until the years somehow turned him into a seasoned performer. Hurricane Express is one of the happier steps in his apprenticeship, a film that enabled him to show off his natural athleticism while avoiding the Big Dramatic Scenes that he was as yet woefully ill-equipped to handle.

   The Plot, such as it is, deals with Young Duke’s efforts to catch The Wrecker, a Pulp-style Master of Disguise who goes around smashing toy trains (the miniature work/special effects in this are about on a par with The Claw Monsters) and is responsible for the death of Wayne’s Dear old Dad in an HO scale pile-up. Writer/Director Armand Schaefer puts some nice touches in, though, and even manages a Real Thrill from time to time, what with folks jumping on and off speeding trains, shooting down airplanes, stealing the Gold Shipment and gosh-all.

   There’s also a nifty bit involving the Wrecker’s Secret Identity: He apparently has detailed life-masks of everyone in the cast, and goes around impersonating them for his own evil ends. What this means in practical terms of course, is that Wally The Brakeman, who’s been acting sort of suspicious for the last few chapters, will suddenly do something overtly criminal, then sneak out of sight, clinching everyone’s suspicions that he’s actually the Wrecker. Then the actor playing him will reach behind his own neck the camera pans to his feet, and a mask of Wally’s face drops to the floor -neatly confounding our suspicions and eliminating the necessity of paying another player.

   So who is the Wrecker? Well, I had a good hunch by Chapter 2 and was pretty well sure of it by Chapter 4. He’s the one who acts normal; the one without an obsession over something-or-other; the fellow who tries to be helpful and counsels everyone to take the path of least resistance. A man, in fact very much like you or me. Or like me, anyway.

   I’ve mentioned this before, but I always thought it should be a sign of Literary Sophistication not to be able to pick out the Mystery Villain in one of these things. I mean, when we get to the scene where they’ve tied up Dick Dauntless and are torturing Helen Heroine, and Freddy-who’s-been-hanging-around-all-movie-for-no-apparent-reason pipes up, “Oh for Gawd’s sakes, Helen, tell them where the Map is!” the Truly Discerning Viewer should think he’s supposed to identify with this guy: “Obviously, the writers put him in to add a touch of Evelyn-Waugh realism to the Characterizations, someone to take our minds off the cardboard protagonists and their pulp-paper problems. A Henry James Everyman to provide a touchstone of emotional verisimilitude. What? You mean he’s the Villain? How utterly crass!”

LUCY CORES – Corpse de Ballet. Duell Sloan & Pearce, hardcover, 1944. Collier, paperback, 1965 (shown). Rue Morgue Press, trade paperback, 2004.

   The threesome of detectives who work together in this book to solve the murder of a male ballet star on the night of his comeback also appeared in one earlier novel, Painted To Kill (Duell, 1943). The occupations of two of them, however, have changed. Lt. Andrew Torrent is still a homicide detective, but Eric Skeets has become a lieutenant in the army, and Toni Ney is now a newspaper reporter, albeit only a daily exercise columnist who sometimes also covers the world of ballet.

   I am not ordinarily a fan of ballet, but Miss Cores’ depiction of what goes on behind the scenes, either in rehearsal or the actual performances themselves, is fascinating. Jealousy and competitive rivalry being what it is, there is no shortage of suspects in the death of the famed choreographer and dancer Izlomin, and it takes quite a while (over 220 pages) to sort out who was where when and why they might want to see him dead.

   Damping my enthusiasm a tad, though, is the complicated nature of the means, requiring five jam-packed pages for the final full explanation, parts of which require a sizable suspension of disbelief, at least on my part. The attraction of Toni to one of the suspects, seriously threatening her unofficial engagement to Lt. Skeets, also seemed to have been added as an edgy distraction I’m not sure the story really needed.

   It all ends well, however, and thankfully so, as this was our protagonists’ last recorded adventure together.

Monk’s first album for Columbia, 1963. Personnel: Thelonious Monk – piano, Charlie Rouse – tenor sax, John Ore – bass, Frankie Dunlop – drums.

BANK SHOT. United Artists, 1974. George C. Scott (as Walter Upjohn Ballentine), Joanna Cassidy, Sorrell Booke, G. Wood, Clifton James, Bob Balaban, Bibi Osterwald, Frank McRae, Don Calfa. Based on the novel by Donald E. Westlake. Director: Gower Champion.

   The names have been changed to protect … who? In the book the leader of a hapless gang of crooks who try to rob a bank by stealing the whole bank is named John Dortmunder, whose exploits filled the pages of several of Donald Westlake’s comic crime novels, with emphasis on the “comic.”

   Why he becomes Walter Upjohn Ballentine in the movie is a mystery to me, one that I’m hoping that someone reading this will come along and explain.

   And while you’re at it, tell me why someone thought George C. Scott has any business playing Dortmunder. I just don’t see it, even with the bushiest caterpillar eyebrows you’ve ever seen on a big time movie star.

   Let me explain about the bank. It’s only a temporary one — a trailer filled with guards overnight, but just begging to be put on wheels and towed away. The movie was intended to be a comedy, but I found myself very quietly not laughing almost all the way through. I permitted myself a few smiles now and again — Scott is a very good actor, and while I don’t believe he did comedies very often, once in a while the perpetrators of this movie came up with a scene that worked.

   See this for the presence of brassy redhead Joanna Cassidy, whose character is financing the deal and who is (unaccountably) madly in lust with Walter Upjohn Ballentine. The rest of the cast, a motley crew at best, I could easily have done without.


B. J. OLIPHANT – Death and the Delinquent. Shirley McClintock #4. Fawcett, paperback original, 1993.

   I like Sheri Tepper whatever name she writes under. At least I think I do; I haven’t read any of her A. J. Orde books, though I’ve got one waiting. I do like the Shirley McClintock series a lot and think they’re good enough for hard covers.

   Shirley and her foreman/companion vacationing in the mountains of New Mexico after the traumatic events in the last book with her daughter Allison and Allison’s schoolmate April. April isn’t working out too well. She’s nosy, neurotic, and thoroughly obnoxious, and Shirley has decided to send her home when a sharpshooter wounds Shirley’s mule and kills April. Accident? Hard to see how it could be.

   Some strange items are found in April’s belongings, and then a newborn is stolen from a hospital nursery. Of course it all fits together but Shirley-on-crutches is damned if she sees how.

   Tepper/Oliphant/Orde’s strength has always been her characters, whether they’re cat-like aliens or independent Colorado ranch ladies. Shirley McClintock is one of the stronger and more realistic, and an altogether appealing heroine. I haven’t found anything to dislike in this series. The writing is good, the characterization excellent, and the plots haven’t strained my credulity. All of the regulars have become real people, and I look forward to seeing more of them.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #7, May 1993.

       The Shirley McClintock series —

Dead in the Scrub. Gold Medal, 1990.

The Unexpected Corpse. Gold Medal, 1990.
Deservedly Dead. Gold Medal, 1992.
Death and the Delinquent. Gold Medal, 1993.
Death Served Up Cold. Gold Medal, 1994.
A Ceremonial Death. Gold Medal, 1996.
Here’s to the Newly Dead. Gold Medal.

   Sheri S. Tepper also wrote six mysteries as A. J. Orde, the leading character in these being Jason Lynx, an antiques dealer based in Denver CO. Under her own name, however, she was far better known as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, as you can see from her bibliography here. She died last month, on October 22, 2016, at the age of 87.

Marie Queenie Lyons released one excellent LP in 1970 then seemingly disappeared without a trace. Recently re-released on CD, now also very pricey, Soul Fever is considered “one of the rarest and most prized Southern soul albums” ever.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU. Columbia Pictures, 1957. Gregg Palmer, Allison Hayes, Autumn Russell, Joel Ashley, Morris Ankrum, Marjorie Eaton, Gene Roth. Director: Edward L. Cahn

   Zombies of Mora Tau is best thought of as two distinct movies in one: an enjoyable, if not overly imaginative, B-horror film and a clumsy, downright boring crime drama with supernatural elements thrown into the mix. Directed by Edward Cahn, Zombies of Mora Tau had the potential to be a guilty, campy pleasure. But it just ends up as a rather forgettable low-budget horror movie, one that was churned out for audiences without much thought to either characterization or coherency.

   One thing is for sure. The movie doesn’t waste any time getting to the heart of the matter. The film opens with a scene in which a chauffeur (Gene Roth) is driving the young, beautiful Jan Peters (Autumn Russell) to her grandmother’s house in Africa. Along the way, he runs over a man standing in the middle of the road. But he insists that it’s fine because it wasn’t a really a man. It was a zombie!

   You see, Grandmother Peters (Marjorie Peters) has set up a homestead in Africa to be close to her “deceased” husband, a sailor who is one of the living dead that haunt the region. Jan doesn’t believe her grandmother’s voodoo hokum.

   That is, until a group of conniving diamond thieves show up to retrieve treasure from a sunken vessel – the very same boat that Grandmother Peter’s husband was on. Apparently, there is some curse that keeps the zombie sailors in a state of living death.

   As I mentioned previously, the movie had all the makings of a solid B-movie. After the first act, the movie unfortunately transitions into a third-rate crime film in which the diamond hunters battle both amongst themselves and against the zombies, all for the sake of sunken treasure in a remote corner of Africa. One wonders if the gang would have been better off by robbing a jewelry store back home.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

ANTHONY BERKELEY – The Poisoned Chocolates Case. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1929. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1929. Paperback reprints include Pocket #814, US, 1951; Dell/Scene of the Crime #8, US, 1983.

   Anthony Berkeley (a pseudonym for A.B. Cox, who also wrote as Francis Iles) had an excellent ability to characterize, as is demonstrated in this novel in which the members of London’s Crime Club — a carefully chosen group of armchair detectives — match wits to solve the murder of Mrs. Graham Bendix. Mrs. Bendix died after eating poisoned chocolates that were apparently intended for Sir Eustace Pennefather, dissolute member of the aristocracy whom many had reason to kill.

   The police have found no solution to the problem of who sent the chocolates to Sir Eustace (who seems to have innocently passed them on to Mrs. Bendix), and Roger Sheringham, somewhat pompous founder of the Crime Club, has volunteered the assistance of his learned members. Although Detective Inspector Farrar of Scotland Yard appears to think this an idle amusement, nonetheless he agrees to brief the club on the case.

   The members — each characterized in all his or her eccentricities — agree to present their solutions on different nights. And it is no surprise when suspicion falls on one of their number. As theories and evidence pile up, the facts of the case unfold, and the cumulative work of the members — each of whom has his own particular sphere of knowledge, each of whom is certain of the correctness of his solution — leads to the logical but surprising conclusion.

   This is a talky novel, with little action or movement. But it should appeal to those who like the combination of good characterization and armchair detection.

   Other novels featuring the learned Roger Sheringham include The Layton Court Mystery (1929), The Second Shot (1931), Jumping Jenny (1933), and Panic Party (1934).

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Case of the Careless Cupid. William Morrow, hardcover, 1968. Pocket, paperback, November 1969. Ballantine, paperback, 1989.

   Both author Erle Stanley Gardner and character Perry Mason are in fine form in this relatively late entry in the series. (Gardner died in 1970, but as I recall, there were several books written but as yet unpublished at the time of his passing.) It’s a slim book, only 181 pages in the Pocket edition, but there’s still plenty of space for all of the usual ingredients, including a trial in which Hamilton Burger is left dumbfounded (again) and Perry’s client is cleared (again!).

   This time around his client is a widow who would like to marry the man at whose home her husband unfortunately died of food poisoning, or so the death certificate says. There are members of the man’s family, however, who think their chances of receiving their full inheritance if the marriage goes through, and their suggestion that something was fishy about the death is starting to attract the attention of the authorities.

   One way Perry goes about protecting his client in this book is to have her undergo a lie detector test, which gives author Gardner a large opportunity to expound on what a polygraph can or cannot do, and why defense attorneys should use them more often. It helps, though, if the client is innocent. This one reads very quickly.

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