October 2017

MAXINE O’CALLAGHAN – Hit and Run. Delilah West #3. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1989; paperback, January 1991. Brash Books, trade paperback, February 2015.

   The count above of Delilah West’s does not include the short story “A Change of Clients,” which appeared in the November 1974 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, The date is worth pointing out because what it means that as a modern day female PI, Delilah West came along several years before all of the more famous ones, who showed up later: Sharon McCone (1977), Kinsey Millhone (1982), or V. I. Warshawsky (also 1982).

   In spite of the lack of fame for Mrs. West, the good news is, according to the Thrilling Detective website, “in July 1999, at the Eyecon, held in St. Louis, the Private Eye Writers of America righted that wrong, and very deservedly bestowed The Eye, its Lifetime Achievement Award.”

   Hit and Run was published in paperback by St. Martin’s as part of their “Mean Streets” line of books they were promoting at the time, but I think that’s only because Delilah was a private detective in general, not because she traveled down streets any meaner than any of those the mostly sunny town of Santa Ana in southern California.

   The case begins with her living in her office, business being so bad, and being nearly run down by a young half-Hispanic kid who leaves another man dead in street before speeding off. Thanks to Delilah’s ID of the car he was driving, he is soon arrested for the man’s death.

   Surprisingly enough, hiring Delilah to prove the boy’s innocence is his mother. Demurring greatly, she agrees to investigate and soon begins to suspect that the mean was already dead before he was left in the street to become the responsibility of the next car that drove over him.

   The book is pleasant read for PI fans, and maybe even cozy fans who like just a little more grit in the mysteries they read, but that’s all there is, just a little more grit. The ending is more of the thriller variety than it is a gather-the-suspects-around-the-room sort of detective novel, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

   All in all, a fairly ordinary case for Delilah, and except perhaps for the killer’s identity, not a particularly memorable one. It nonetheless proved to be a most satisfactory way to spend a couple of hours while flying cross country a week or so ago.

      The Delilah West series —


Death Is Forever (1981)

Run From the Nightmare (1982)
Hit and Run (1989)
Set-Up (1991)

Trade-Off (1996)
Down For the Count (1997) .


A Change of Clients and Death Is Forever (1999)
   == Short story “A Change of Clients” [+} novel above.

Bad News and Trouble: The Delilah West Stories (2014)
   == Possibly including the following short stories:
“A Change of Clients”
“Bad News”
“Deal with the Devil”
“Diamonds Are For Never”
“Somewhere South of Melrose”
“Going to the Dogs”
“Belling the Cat”


THE UNSEEN. Paramount Pictures, 1944. Joel McCrea, Gail Russell, Herbert Marshall. Screenplay by Hagar Wilde and Raymond Chandler, based on the novel by Ethel Lina White. Directed by Lewis Allen.

   The sum total of this film adds up to much more than the film itself does.

   To begin with, it is the follow-up to director Lewis Allen’s major surprise hit, the classic ghost story, The Uninvited (reviewed here ), even down to casting perpetual lost waif Gail Russell as the heroine, here a governess in one of those mysterious households dear to the Gothic formula ever since Jane Eyre.

   Then there is the screenplay co-written by none other than Raymond Chandler and based on a novel by Ethel Lina White, who among others wrote the novels which Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes and Siodmak’s The Spiral Staircase were based on.

   Then too, there is a cast lead by Joel McCrea and Herbert Marshall, along with such steadfast character actors such as Norman Lloyd and Tom Tully. Even the children playing McCrea’s daughter and wayward son are good actors.

   The plot is that an old dark abandoned mansion sits next to McCrea’s in the city. McCrea once worked for the late owner, known as the Commodore. Deserted now, McCrea’s children insist they see mysterious lights in the house but no one believes them.

   As the film opens, the children spy an old woman walking by the house one night. She sees lights and a figure in the house, and is chased down by the figure. The next day headlines reveal an old woman was killed in an alley nearby. Meanwhile McCrea’s son finds the old lady’s gold watch outside the old house and conceals it so the police don’t know the connection.

   Governess Gail Russell arrives to the cold McCrea household where he questions her qualifications and motives and tells her his children are impossible. McCrea is bitter over his wife’s death and the suspicion that hangs over him because of it, as his close friend, doctor Herbert Marshall explains.

   Add to the mix the conniving ex-governess who has an almost hypnotic hold on the boy and the Commodore’s nosy widow (or is she), plus a few red herrings, and you should have the makings of at least a competent little Gothic outing.

   Alas, not so. The Unseen is flat, unconvincing, indifferently acted and directed, and the screenplay has little to say that will hold much interest. The motive for all the goings on is absurd, and the finale unconvincing as the sudden romance between McCrea and Russell.

   It is currently available on YouTube in six parts in a rather poor print. Unless you are a completest or a Masochist, I suggest you leave it there.

FELIX FRANCIS – Dick Francis’s Gamble. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, July 2011. Berkley, premium paperback, August 2012.

   I may have the count wrong, but what I’ve come up with is 39 Dick Francis novels, plus one short story collection, followed by four collaborations with younger son Felix, then this one by Felix on his own. This and the later books have done well enough that there are seven under his belt now, as of this year. (It is generally understood that most if not all of the original Dick Francis books were collaborations with his wife Mary.)

   The reason Felix’s books keep coming out — and selling — is a simple one. He has the formula down pat, a formula that has the story’s main protagonist get into a jam, often not of his own making, but fighting back, often requiring considerable physical effort and frightful pain, before coming out on top.

   And in all of them, whether Dick Francis, a former jockey himself, or son Felix, there is a connection to the world of British horse racing. In Gamble the story is told by Nick “Foxy” Foxton, also a former jockey — one who had to retire at an early age because of a fall in his final race, breaking his neck.

   Having to find a new career for himself, Foxton becomes a member of a mid-level investment firm, where he is doing well enough that one day he may make partner. Until page one of this book, that is, which begins, “I was standing right next to Herb Kovak when he was murdered.”

   This is at a race track, but Herb had nothing to do with racing, He is, or rather was, another junior member of Foxton’s investment firm. The killer shoots Herb three times at close range before making a clean getaway. When it turns out that Herb seemed to have had no friends and had named Foxton the heir and executor to his estate, he discovers that the former had a secret life involving 94,000 pounds of unexplained credit card bills.

   This is only part of Foxton’s new set of problems. The other involves what may be a phoney investment deal in Bulgaria involving millions of euros. Either this or Herb’s shady dealings soon has a gunman on Foxton’s trail too.

   A lesser problem, but still extremely worrisome, is that his live-in girl friend suddenly seems to have a secret she is hiding from him. Another lover, he thinks. All this according to formula, and while son Felix isn’t the greatest wordsmith in the world, he knows how to ratchet up the suspense, each and every chapter to the next.

   If one might wish for something in the telling of this tale, one might wish for a protagonist with sharper wits. [WARNING: PLOT ALERT!] When a gym calls asking Foxton to come clean out Herb’s locker, and Foxton knows exactly where the key is, wouldn’t you think … well, come on. No, he doesn’t. One very good excuse is that you don’t want a book as readable as this one is to end all that soon, do you?


ANDREW KLAVAN – Corruption. William Morrow, hardcover, 1994. St. Martin’s Press, paperback, 1995.

   Klavan wrote under the name of Keith Peterson an excellent four-book set about the cynical reporter John Wells. This is the first “Klavan” I’ve read.

   Sally Dawes is a small town journalist. Cyrus Dolittle is a powerful Sheriff. They are bitter enemies of long standing. When a body is discovered in the Hudson River, they are once again drawn into open conflict.

   Dawes, convinced with the fervor of a true believer of the Sheriff’s innate corruption, seeks to uncover the true story. Dolittle, engaged in a political battle that is the culmination of his career, seeks to control this situation as he has all others. Few around them escape being drawn into their destructive orbits, and fewer escape unscathed. Some are destroyed, and some merely die.

   The books Klavan wrote as Keith Peterson were darker than the norm and offered few pat answers. Klavan has not written an easy book here, either. The characters are not stock, though a couple of them are very broadly drawn. The situations are not cut-and-dried, black-and-white, or even always good against evil, though there are examples of each. It’s a book wholly about character, and we learn about theirs as the players do. One judgment I’m comfortable in making is that you’ll remember them for a while.

   It’s not a feel good book, and I don’t know whether you’ll “like” it or not, Hell, I don’t even know if I did. It’s worth reading, though.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #13, June 1994.

LOVE ME TONIGHT. Paramount Pictures, 1932. Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Charlie Ruggles, Charles Butterworth, Myrna Loy, C. Aubrey Smith, Elizabeth Patterson. Music by Rodgers & Hart. Director: Rouben Mamoulian.

   As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the best romantic comedy musicals of all time. The plot is simple. A tailor in Paris (Maurice Chevalier) goes to a castle in the country to be paid for some work he’s done, gets mistaken for a baron, and falls in love with a princess (Jeanette MacDonald).

   Love Me Tonight was one of the first musicals in which the songs are an integral part of the story, in fact moving the plot itself along on more than one occasion. A fact worthy of note, but the cinematography? Perhaps even more astounding. Under Mamoulian’s direction, the camera never stops moving, zooming in and out at will, and using split screens as well as fast and slow motion to both great dramatic and comedic effect. It is difficult to believe that this movie was made in 1932.

   Two long scenes need pointing out in particular: The opening of the movie takes place on a quiet Parisian street at dawn. Then a worker comes out with a hammer to work on the pavement, then a woman comes out of her house to sweep the sidewalk, two other women open their windows to flap rugs against the railings, two shoemakers begin hammering nails into boots in a syncopated counterpoint harmony, and soon there’s a entire cacophony of sounds (and music) showing off life in a big city.

   Later on, the song “Isn’t It Romantic?” begins by being sung by Maurice Chevalier in his tailor’s shop, is picked by a man taking a cab to the train station; on the train a band of soldiers overhear it, and continue to sing it while marching through a forest, where a gypsy hears it and takes it back to his camp, from which the sound is heard by the princess in a balcony of her palace. Wonderful!

   Other songs you may have heard of are “Mimi,” “Love Me Tonight” and “The Son of a Gun Is Nothing But a Tailor.” Of the players, both Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald were made to play their respective roles, while Charlie Ruggles, Charles Butterworth, and C. Aubrey Smith, all resident members of the nobility, are in fine comedic form. There is but one regret in this film. One can only wish that Myrna Loy were on the screen more. Unfortunately several of her pre-Code scenes were deemed too risque when the movie was re-released in the late 1940s, and the shorter version from that date is the only one that still exists.

Dear Steve,

   I remember with delight the correspondence between my late husband, Dennis Lynds, AKA Michael Collins, and you and Ed Lynskey that went into creating the wonderful Dan Fortune page on Mystery*File. It’s an outstanding analysis and resource.

    “Dan Fortune is the sort of guy you’d like to strike up a conversation with late at night or in a bus station. He stays a choice friend from book to book.” Ed wrote that, and I’ve never forgotten it. Ed succinctly and vividly captured the essence of the series.

   With that in mind, I’m thrilled to tell you Dan Fortune is back. The entire 17-book series of private eye novels are available again, for the first time in Kindle and trade paperback. We hope a new generation of readers will discover Dan, and that long-time fans will enjoy rereading the classic tales.

   In addition, we’re offering a $1.99 sale for the Kindle version of the first book, Act of Fear, which won the Edgar Award, to help get folks started. Take advantage here.

   Last week I sent out a newsletter readers might find interesting. Here’s the link.

   Who is Dennis Lynds? A raconteur and Renaissance man, he’s considered among the most important and influential writers of private-eye stories in the past 50 years. Beginning in the late Sixties, he changed the mystery form and along the way created iconic private detectives who won the hearts of readers and the awards of critics. His books remain not only entertaining but relevant, while giving vivid life to the eras in which he wrote.

   And finally, here’s his new, revamped website: www.DennisLynds.com

   Thank you so much for letting me alert readers, Steve. You make many contributions to our industry, and I am grateful.

                  All best,




A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert E. Briney

JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Arabian Nights Murder. Dr. Gideon Fell #7. Harper & Brothers, US, hardcover, 1936. Hamish Hamilton, UK, hardcover, 1936. US paperback reprints include: Hillman #1, 1943; Collier, 1965.

   For more than forty-two years, John Dickson Carr was a skilled and enthusiastic player in what he called “the grandest game in the world”: the construction of ingeniously plotted murder puzzles, set forth with an illusionist’s skill at deception for the bafflement and delight of his readers. Carr, under his own name and especially under the pseudonym Carter Dickson, showed a fondness for stories of impossible crime, particularly locked-room murders. He compiled a longer list of variations on this theme than any other writer.

   Even when no overt “impossibility” is involved, the crimes in Carr’s books often have bizarre trappings. Other characteristics are his use of comedy, his fondness for “bad” women, his expert evocation of eerie and threatening atmosphere, the frequent disquisitions on curiosities of history, and his use of the multiple solutions –the apparently complete explanation of the crime, which is shown to be flawed and is then replaced by a second (and sometimes a third) solution.

   Although Carr was born and educated in the United States (his father was a congressman during the first Wilson administration), he lived for many years in England, and a majority of his books have English settings. He was, however, equally at home on both sides of the Atlantic. He was an officeholder in both the prestigious Detection Club in London and the Mystery Writers of America.

   From the latter organization he received a special Edgar in 1949 for his biography The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and again in 1969 in honor of his fortieth anniversary as a mystery writer. In 1962 he received MWA’s Grand Master Award. In addition to his books, he wrote several dozen short stories (two of which were award winners in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine‘s annual contests) and many radio plays for the BBC in England and such programs as Suspense in the United States. He also reviewed mystery fiction in both Harper’s Magazine and EQMM.

   Carr’s principal series detective, the bulky and bibulous Dr. Gideon Fell, was introduced in Hag’s Nook (1933). He is a retired schoolmaster who serves as an unofficial consultant to Scotland Yard. He has at his command a large fund of miscellaneous facts, a formidable analytical mind, and an ability to notice seemingly minute points and make connections between unlikely pieces of information.

   He is usually on stage for most of a case, stumping around on his two crutch-handled canes, beaming like Old King Cole, asking disconcerting questions, exasperating his friend Superintendent Hadley with his cryptic remarks, and finally gathering the key personnel together for the climactic revelation of the murderer’s identity.

   The Arabian Nights Murder is unusual in that Fell appears only in the few pages of the prologue and epilogue. The main text is taken up by the statements of Detective Inspector Carruthers, Assistant Commissioner Armstrong, and Superintendent Hadley, recounting their investigation of the murder of Raymond Penderel, an actor with an unsavory reputation.

   Penderel had been found inside an Elizabethan coach in a private museum, stabbed with an ivory dagger taken from a locked case nearby. The body was adorned with a set of ill-fitting false whiskers, and was clutching a cookbook in its arms. Suspects include rich Geoffrey Wade, owner of the museum; his wild daughter and ineffectual son; his prospective son-in-law, soldier of fortune Gregory Mannering; and assorted museum employees.

    When the three Scotland Yard men have finished their statements, Fell, in pure armchair-detective tradition, picks out just the right combination of overlooked or misinterpreted facts and hands them the solution to the crime.

   The book’s tour de force of a plot is clothed in Carr’s patented combination of atmospheric description, misdirection, action, interesting characters (including the engaging old financial pirate Jeff Wade), and a touch of romance. It is a prime example of Golden Age detection.

   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.

PATRICIA MOYES – Who Is Simon Warwick? Henry & Emmy Tibbett #14. Collins, UK, hardcover, 1978. Holt Rinehart & Winston, US, hardcover, 1979. Holt/Owl, paperback, 1982.

   Primarily a legal puzzle, this adventure of Henry Tibbett and wife Emmy also has a murder to be solved, as well as some last minute derring-do. At stake is an inheritance of some million pounds or more, and there are two claimants, both with solid evidence of being a long-lost nephew.

   Barzun & Taylor call this a “mediocre tale,” but is quite often the case, I disagree. I enjoyed it immensely, in spite of Moyes’ tendency toward stiff, formal dialogue. Moreover, Barzun & Taylor don’t seem to know who it was who died — they think it was the nephew — but they claim the “gimmick is visible a mile off.” I guess I’m rather unsophisticated about such matters. It never entered my mind. This is finely tuned detective novel, solidly done.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990.


BEAUTY AND THE DEVIL. Franco London Films / Les Films Corona, France, 1950. Original title: La beauté du diable. Michel Simon, Gerard Philipe, Nicole Besnard. Written and directed by Rene Clair.

   It’s not often a genuine masterpiece sneaks up on me anymore. I mean, with all that’s written about movies these days, the fame of any good film — and that of lesser ones as well — generally precedes it, and a really great movie these days carries about as much surprise as sunrise at dawn.

   I can’t even say now what prompted me to pick up this little treasure (on an old VHS with slightly-faded subtitles) but I was only a few minutes into it when I saw this was a work of what academics refer to as “lotsa class.”

   It’s an easier film to watch than to describe. Michel Simon starts out playing Faust, and Gerard Philipe is Mephistopheles, dressed as a young student who mockingly follows the old Professor Faust. He tries to bargain for Faust’s soul, but rebuffed, he makes a counter-offer: he gives him Youth free of charge and departs, telling the handsome young man (now named Henri, and played by Philipe) that if he wants to do any traffic in souls, just ask.

   And Henri quickly discovers that with youth comes health, vigor, love… and poverty. Well at least it’s so with Henri, and now that I look back on it, so it was for me and my friends in college. His education of no use, Henri fails at common work and finds himself ground down and down… and Mephistopheles, now in the form of Faust, played by Michel Simon, keeps dangling temptation….

   And from here on the plot takes dizzying twists and turns that kept me surprised and delighted, every move highlighted with engaging, often hilarious antics from Simon as Faust/Mephistopheles as the tale careens to a final audacious and immensely satisfying flourish.

   To jog your memory (if needed) Michel Simon was a big star of early French Cinema and an exceptional actor; a plump but graceful performer in the W.C. Fields style, which lend his performance a depth and lightness that must be seen to appreciate — my words just won’t do . Simon’s fortunes declined after a stroke and he ended up in the title role of The Head (critics described his performance as “detached”) but he rebounded as the gruff engineer in The Train and in The Two of Us.

   Director Rene Clair has a rep, but the only film of his I ever liked a lot (till now) was And Then There Were None. This, though, is The Goods: Brilliant writing, thoughtful & complex variation on the Faust story, and entertaining thesping from Philipe and especially Michel Simon. Catch it if you can!

Posting from my iPhone while waiting for my laptop to get better. Hopefully this short hiatus won’t last more than a couple of days.

« Previous PageNext Page »