July 2017

BILL PRONZINI – Quincannon. John Quincannon #1. Walker, hardcover, 1985. Berkley, paperback, September 2001.

   When readers of this blog see Bill Pronzini’s name, I’m sure that most of them will immediately think of his Nameless PI series, and rightfully so, since there are over 40 of them. A good percentage of these readers will also know him as the author of a large number of straight suspense novels. Relatively fewer will associate him with an additional 8 or 10 western novels, however, some published under other names.

   What you can count on with a Pronzini book, though, no matter what genre, is one that is is well-researched, will-plotted, and above all well-dialogued (if such is actually a word). Quincannon is actually a hybrid, a crossover between a western and a detective novel. The leading character is John Quincannon a longtime agent for the Secret Service in the 1890s, based in San Francisco. The case which he’s assigned to in this, his first recorded adventure, is finding out who’s flooding the West Coast with phony currency and counterfeit silver eagles and half-eagles.

   The trail leads him to a small mining town in Idaho, but unfortunately Quincannon is suffering from a bad case of the whiskey blues. If the word alcoholic was in use then, he would be one. His present is constantly clouded by the memory of the young pregnant woman he accidentally killed on on earlier assignment.

   But completely sober or not, in the guise of a patent medicine salesman, he’s still capable of doing the detective work needed to crack the case. Of even more importance, perhaps, is that in doing so, his path crosses that of a young independent woman named Sabina Carpenter, who has an uncanny resemblance to the woman whose death he was responsible for. And more, she also does not seem to be whom she claims to be.

   That they end up working together is a fact that followers of their combined careers already know. At the end of the book there is a strong hint that they will continue to be partners in a San Francisco-based private investigation business, which of course they did.

Bibliographic Notes:   Following this book, Quincannon next appeared in Beyond the Grave (1986), co-authored with Marcia Muller. Carpenter and Quincannon then appeared in a long list of short stories, some co-written by Myarcia Muller and most if not all collected in:

Carpenter & Quincannon, Professional Detective Services (1998).

Burgade’s Crossing (2003).
Quincannon’s Game (2005).

   Eventually the pair began appearing in book form, in the following list of novels, under the combined byline of Muller and Pronzini:

The Bughouse Affair (2013).

The Spook Lights Affair (2013).
The Body Snatchers Affair (2015).
The Plague of Thieves Affair (2016).
The Dangerous Ladies Affair (2017).

X. American International Pictures, 1963. Also released as X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. Ray Milland, Diana van der Vlis, Harold J. Stone, John Hoyt, Don Rickles, Dick Miller. Screenplay: Robert Dillon and Ray Russell, based on a story by the latter. Director: Roger Corman.

   Refused an extension of a medical grant for his research on enhancing human vision, a doctor (Ray Milland) decides to carry on on his own, using himself as the first subject. Things, of course, do not go well, as per the alternative title for this rather well-done sci-fi movie.

   If you had x-ray vision, what would use it for? Go to a party, of course, where you can see all of the dancers au naturel. Or if in your haste to continue your experiments, you accidentally push a colleague out of a window to his death, what would you do then?

   Become a blindfolded swami in a carnival act, one supposes. Or if your barker (Don Rickles) sees dollar signs, open a free clinic for people to have their ailments diagnosed. Or if still on the run, head for Nevada to make a real fortune (though I don’t understand the business with a slot machines, looking inside to see a big payoff coming in two more plays).

   Don’t get me wrong. The movie is well done, and everybody plays it straight, except for maybe a short bit between Don Rickles and a heckler (Dick Miller) while Dr. Xavier is doing his carney act. There’s no big message, except perhaps scientists ought be careful how far they go, and the 80 minutes of playing time go by very quickly.

Hi Steve

   Martha Mott Kelley (sometimes misspelt Kelly) was an early co-author of Richard Webb Wilson writing as Q. Patrick, for Cottage Sinister (1931) and Murder at the Women’s City Club (1932; published in the UK as Death in the Dovecote). Searching on the internet, little seems to be known about her except she was born New York in 1906 (a date confirmed in records) while her date of death is often said to be 2005.

   I can now confirm that that date of death is incorrect. On Ancestry, there is a section for ‘US Consular reports of births 1910-1945’ which has a form dated London May 3 1937 for the birth of Sarah Mott Wilson, daughter of Martha Mott Wilson, nee Kelley, born 30 April 1906 in New York, and Stephen Shipley Wilson aged 32 who were married in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, April 26 1933. They were then living at Villas on the Heath, London.

   Unfortunately the GRO Death registration has made a typo of her middle name, though it would be found by searching for Martha Wilson and her date of birth, listing her as Martha Matt Wilson. And a search of the (UK) Probate Index finds a Martha Mott Wilson of 3 Willow Rd, London who died 17 November 1989.

   All this can be found by diligent searching on Ancestry etc. Most of the records with incorrect date of death of 2005 give no indication of her marriage. In fact very little seems to be known about her according to the Internet. So I hope this will help to at least fill a couple of gaps in our knowledge of her. Perhaps the lack of information about her marriage to Stephen Wilson has caused some guesswork about her death. Does anyone know the origins/source of her supposedly dying in 2005, or even 1998 as the odd website says?

   Incidentally, Stephen Shipley Wilson was born 4 August 1904 in Birkenhead, Cheshire and died 16 September 1989 (living 3 Willow Rd, London). He worked for the Public Record Office and Ministry of Transport, becoming Keeper of the PRO 1960-1966 when he retired.

ERIC JAMES STONE – Unforgettable. Baen, trade paperback; January 2016; mass market paperback, May 2017. Previously published in ebook form, December 2015.

   Not too many science fiction novels take place in the present, but as I far as I can tell, this one does. There is only one aspect of it that makes it sfnal, and that is the fact that, since birth, Nat Morgan has had a unique talent: once out of sight of anyone, that person will forget everything about him in exactly sixty seconds.

   The same goes for computers and digital cameras, too. Anything in writing, fine, and (if I understand it correctly) photographs, the old-fashioned kind, if they’ve been printed out on paper they will continue to exist. It’s a tenuous hold on life, and it takes a lot of effort on Nat’s part just to survive.

   But who do you think he works for? The CIA, of course.

   And during the course of this current assignment, he’s finally given an explanation. Quantum physics, in other words, and Stone, as the author of this high-tech lighthearted thriller, somehow manages to convince me that it’s possible as well or better than any author could. (Store the information away along with intergalactic wormholes , faster-than-light drives and transporter beams. All I need is the basic concept and I say yes, OK, that makes sense, and now tell me a story about it.)

   And in this case the problem that Nat finds himself working on is how to stop a madman from building a quantum supercomputer so powerful that is can cancel out probability itself, and therefore control the fate of the entire planet. Aiding him in this effort is a female Russian agent who, as things progress, becomes the only one who does not forget him as soon as he steps out of the room. (If captured, stopping in a bathroom stall is a good way to elude his enemies.)

   It’s a one-note story, to tell you the truth, but it’s also a lot of fun. I’m not sure that Stone has yet mastered all of the maneuvering you could do in life to both do good and to escape your would-be captors, but he’s thought of a lot of them. I enjoyed this one.


MAD LOVE. MGM, 1935. Peter Lorre, Frances Drake, Colin Clive, Ted Healy, Sara Haden, Keye Luke. Based on the novel Les Mains D’Orlac by Maurice Renard (The Hands of Orlac). Director: Karl Freund.

   Directed by Karl Freund (The Mummy), Mad Love may not be the greatest horror movie released in the 1930s, but it’s a must-see for Peter Lorre fans. In his Hollywood debut Lorre portrays Dr. Gogol, a strange bald man fixated on Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake) an actress at a Grand Guignol-type Parisian theater. His romantic infatuation with the married Yvonne will plunge him deep into a living nightmare, one in which he will commit coldblooded murder to possess her like an object.

   Adapted from Maurice Renard’s Les Mains d’Orlac (1920), the plot follows Dr. Gogol’s attempt to win Yvonne’s affections by performing a radical experimental procedure on her husband, Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive). Orlac, a concert pianist, had his hands crushed in a train accident. So Gogol, in hoping that he can win Yvonne’s heart by performing surgery on her husband’s hands, does the unthinkable. He replaces Orlac’s hands with that of a newly deceased convict, one whose life has recently been taken by the guillotine. As one might imagine, this does not work out well for Stephen Orlac. Having the hands of a murderer isn’t exactly conducive toward rebuilding his career as a musician.

   But it’s not the plot that makes Mad Love worth a look. Rather, it’s Lorre’s performance, coupled with Freund’s direction and the general atmosphere of creepiness and dread that permeate the film’s aesthetic. Between light and shadow and close ups of Lorre’s deranged facial expressions, this movie captures what psychological horror ought to look like on screen.

   Although there’s some lighthearted relief in the form of Dr. Gogol’s inebriated housekeeper, the movie takes place in an off-kilter world, a land of mirrors and madness. Call it post-German Expressionism or proto-noir, if you will. And Lorre, as in Fritz Lang’s M (1931) and John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1941), gives an unforgettable performance.

Reviews by L. J. Roberts

ALEXIA GORDON – Death in D Minor. Gethsemane Brown #2. Henery Press, hardcover, July 2017.

First Sentence: He showed up two days after Christmas.

   Conductor and violinist Gethsemane Brown loves the cottage in Ireland where she lives, and is determined to save it from the hotel developer working hard to buy it. Were that not enough, her museum curator brother-in-law is coming for a visit hoping to buy a unique American cross-stitch sampler. Instead, he ends up dealing with the world of fake and stolen antiques and accused of theft, and possibly of murder. Hoping for help from her favorite ghost, Gethsemane accidentally, or not, calls up the spirit of an 18th century sea captain who once knew the girl who stitched the famous sampler.

   Gordon’s style and voice are such a pleasure to read. She doesn’t take one’s time up with an unnecessary prologue, but starts the story at the start. She doesn’t fill space with pages of background exposition, but provides the information as part much of the information as part of an early conversation, and as the story progresses.

   Her introduction of characters makes them come to life— “Gethsemane recognized the baritone and greeted An Garda Síochána Inspector Iollan O’Reilly. His trademark stingy-brimmed fedora pulled low against the wind, obscured his salt-and-pepper hair.” Her introduction of Gethsemane’s brother-in-law also leads to a conversation about a letter providing background of the crime.

   The dialogue is sharp, natural— “Being out here’s not so bad. Fresh air, beautiful view. And it could be worse. I could be playing flunky to a megalomaniacal narcissist with the aesthetic sensibility of a toddler beauty pageant coordinator.” –and immediately informs one that this is not, in fact, a cozy, but a traditional mystery.

   For those who do needlework, the story will bring joy to the heart— “Textiles belong in the fine art realm as much as paintings do, even if they don’t get nearly the same respect…. People don’t appreciate the quality because the stitching was often done on utilitarian items.”

   There is also an interesting comparison of Irish history to black history. These are only small pieces of things one learns through Gordon. One might wish Gordon to be more specific as to which movement of Beethoven’s “Pathétique” Gethsemane hears in her head as a warning of trouble, but that’s being very picky.

   Death in D Minor is a delightful read. But then, how can one go wrong with music, murder, art, and a ghost.

Bibliographic Note:   Alexia Gordon’s first book, Murder in G Major (2016) won the Lefty Award for Best Debut Novel and was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

— For more of LJ’s reviews, check out her blog at : https://booksaremagic.blogspot.com/.


FLORENCE STEVENSON – Mistress of Devil’s Manor. Kitty Telefair #4. Award AN1130, paperback original; 1st printing, 1973.

   Florence Stevenson, the author of the short-lived Kitty Telefair psychic detective series, of which this is the fourth, seems to have been published only in paperback originals. I loved the first one I read, Altar of Evil, and knowing of my fondness for these marzipan confections, a good friend recently sent me this one and The Sorcerer of the Castle.

   In Mistress, Kitty goes off to a resort hotel to find out what has happened to her friend, Gillian Bond, who has disappeared on a honeymoon trip to a Western ghost town. The ghost town is, of course, inhabited by something more frightening than Patrick Swayze, and even Kitty’s psychic powers seem, for a time, perhaps not equal to the horror she find there.

   But our girl, outfitted in silk shorts, Levis and riding boots, wins out, although her powers are somewhat diminished by a roll in the hay with Professor Darius Flynn, a hot-blooded Irish academic.

   The moral dilemma posed by Kitty’s betrayal of her relationship with her fiance is neatly disposed of in the last paragraph. I like Kitty a lot. She’s not the fainting type, has a healthy appetite, and buys clothes that flatter her figure: “At about four in the afternoon I drove to Goldwater’s Department Store and bought three pant suits of the thinnest nylon I could find; I also bought Levis, riding boots and a white Stetson that probably spelled ‘dude’ in mile-high letters across the hat band, but since it was madly becoming, I did not care.” Right on, Kitty.

   And right on, Florence Stevenson, too. She probably dashed these off for the public’s sweet tooth, but she has a sharp eye for telling detail and the story generates suspense and a goosebump or two. Oh, and by the way, there’s a treasure map and a lost cave in a forbidding mountain range, guarded by … but why don’t you look this one up and find out?

      The Kitty Telefair series —

The Witching Hour. Award A868, 1971

Where Satan Dwells. Award A883, 1971
Altar of Evil. Award AN1107, 1973
Mistress of Devil’s Manor. Award AN1130, 1973
The Sorcerer of the Castle. Award AN1219, 1974
The Silent Watcher. Award AQ1413, 1975

The Horror from the Tombs. Award AD1658, 1977.

EDITORIAL UPDATE:   That last line, as it has turned out, is quite a teaser. This review first appeared in Walter’s DAPA-Em zine for September 1990, and in the meantime, copies of this particular paperback have all but disappeared. There is only one to be found for sale on the Internet, and that one in the $40 range. Of some of the others, there are only one or two copies, often in only fair to good condition, with none at all of Altar of Evil or The Horror from the Tombs. In fact, of the latter, it was not known to Hubin until now that Horror was a Kitty Telefair novel.

   Thanks to Ken Johnson and his online Fantasy Gothic checklist for assisting on the bibliographic data above. Covers to all may be found there as well.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

FREDRIC BROWN Night of the Jabberwock

FREDRIC BROWN – Night of the Jabberwock. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1950. Paperback editions include: Bantam #990, April 1952; Morrow-Quill, 1984. Based on two pulp stories: “The Gibbering Night” (Detective Tales, July 1944) and “The Jabberwock Murders” (Thrilling Mystery, Summer 1944).

   This entertaining novel, which takes place in one bizarre night, is a perfect example of Fredric Brown’s somewhat eccentric view of the world. Doc Stoeger, editor of the Carmel City, Indiana, Clarion, sometime philosopher and devotee of the works of Lewis Carroll, has just put the small-town paper to bed. He has a drink in his office, wanders over to Smiley’s Tavern for a couple more, and laments the fact that nothing ever happens in Carmel City.

FREDRIC BROWN Night of the Jabberwock

   What wouldn’t he give, Doc says, for just one important story? Then, just as he is about to go home, things start to happen. At first they are mundane: Tuesday’s rummage sale is canceled and there is now a nine-inch hole in the front page; a messy divorce story needs to be rewritten because the charges against the husband were not true. But these are nothing like the surprise that visits Doc later at home.

   The surprise is a man with the unlikely name of Yehudi Smith, who claims to be a member of a group of Lewis Carroll enthusiasts called the Vorpal Blades (a name taken from Through the Looking Glass). Smith invites Doc to a midnight meeting in a haunted house, and Doc is fascinated enough to accept. However, other events intervene: Doc’s best friend is injured in an accident and no one can find out what happened; the bank is robbed in a strange way; an escaped lunatic is run to earth; and big-time criminals are on the loose.

   By the time Doc keeps his appointment with Yehudi Smith and the Vorpal Blades, he has covered and, for various reasons, had to suppress more major stories than most editors do in a year. And when he and Smith go to the haunted house, Doc is embroiled in an Alice-like adventure that leads him not down a rabbit hole or through a looking glass, but to the sheriff’s office.

    Night of the Jabberwock is definitely not a novel for reformed alcoholics or those with strong principles against the consumption of alcohol. Doc partakes of enough drink so that, in reality, he would have passed out by chapter 3. In spite of that — and the fact that there are enough holes in the plot to drive a liquor truck through — no reader will ever forget this one astonishing night in Carmel City, Indiana.

   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.


THE TERMINAL MAN. Warner Brothers, 1974). George Segal, Joan Hackett, Richard Dysart, Donald Moffat, Michael C. Gwynne, Jill Clayburgh, James Sikking. Based on the book by Michael Crichton. Producer-director-screenwriter: Mike Hodges.

   Adapted from Michael Crichton’s 1971 novel, The Terminal Man is an auteur project the likes of which could never be released by a mainstream film studio today. Written, directed, and produced by Mike Hodges, this offbeat science fiction thriller features George Segal as Harry Benson, a man suffering from a form of psychomotor epilepsy that causes him to occasionally fly into uncontrollable violent rages. A genius computer programmer, Benson was in a car accident that left him with a seizure disorder that has crippled his life. Not only does he experience auras and seizures, he also now has delusions that computers are going rise up and control humanity.

   Benson decides that he wants to volunteer for an experimental medical procedure, one in which electrodes are implanted in his brain. If his disorder makes him violent, he figures he would rather give over what is left of his free will to a computer if that will prevent his violent behavior. The irony of a man afraid of computers rising up against humanity agreeing to such a procedure is not lost on his psychiatrist, Janet Ross (Joan Hackett). A moral, humanist voice, she urges her colleagues not to go through with this procedure. But to no avail. As you might imagine, the surgery doesn’t go quite as planned and it is only a matter of time before Benson escapes from the hospital and begins a murderous rampage.

   That the movie’s plot. But this isn’t really a plot driven film. It’s a visual experience, more arthouse than grindhouse. It’s one in which symbolic imagery and set designs in stark hues of blue and gray are utilized to convey meaning. It is a stark, dehumanizing world. The essence of what it means to be fully human is explored not so much through dialogue, but through shots of bleak, empty hospital hallways, a brightly lit tunnel, and a graveyard.

   For a movie that deals with cerebral topics – both literally and metaphorically — The Terminal Man isn’t a film that was made to make viewers think so much as to feel. Perhaps that was the whole point.

AGATHA CHRISTIE – Appointment with Death. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1938. US paperback reprints include many editions from both Dell and Berkley over the years, as well as other publishers. First published in the UK: Collins, hardcover, 1938. Published play: French, softcover, 1956. Film: Cannon, 1988 (with Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot & Lauren Bacall). TV movie: ITV, 22 September 2008 (Season 11, Episode 4, of the series Agatha Christie’s Poirot; with David Suchet as Hercule Poirot).

   The book opens thusly, with a quiet gentleman standing unseen in an open window above the following snippet of conversation:

      “You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?”

   It is night, the setting is Jerusalem, and among a group of tourists is the man who accidentally overhears this cry for help — for that is what it is — none other than Hercule Poirot. Among the other travelers are the domineering aged mother of three grown stepchildren, the wife of one, and a young daughter of her own. She is hated by all of them, but they are totally dependent on her psychologically as well as financially, and they cannot break away from her.

   A recipe for disaster, you think, and you would be right. The most common means of murder in Agatha Christie’s novels is poison, I suspect, and so it is here. A close reading of the timetable that Poirot puts together (pages 146-147), plus a list of ten Significant Points (page 180), along with a keen ear for the clues he gathers from everyone involved, and you may solve the mystery as quickly as he. Or not, as the case may be (mine).

   One by one each of the possible suspects are interviewed, and one by by one, each of the suspects is eliminated — or are they? From the facts, it is impossible for anyone to have killed her, but the primary fact is that the idious old woman is dead.

   What makes this particular case to be solved by M. Poirot so clever is that it turns out to be so simple — after he explains. Did I name the killer? No, but I did come close! I think this short novel (only 212 pages in the Berkeley paperback) qualifies as the best detective puzzle I’ve read all year. And it bears repeating. There’s nothing cozy about an Agatha Christie murder mystery. She was a keen sharp-edged observer of the human race, and she had the knack of making her characters as real as the people you see around you every day.

   Not only that, but she sure knew her poisons, too!

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