April 2018

CBS SUMMER PLAYHOUSE “The Saint in Manhattan.” CBS, 12 June 1987. Season 1, Episode 1. Andrew Clarke (Simon Templar), George Rose, Kevin Tighe (Insp John Fernack), Liliana Komorowska, Holland Taylor, Caitlin Clarke, Michael Lombard. Based on the character created by Lesllie Charteris. Director: James Frawley.

   One way that CBS found to get some mileage out of pilots for TV shows that failed to find a home there was to play them as an anthology series over the summer when they assumed that no one was watching anyway. The Playhouse lasted for three years, but the basis of watching only this one, I’m going to say that it may have been one of the better ones.

   I hadn’t heard of its star, Andrew Clarke, before watching, and in fact this may be one of the few times this Australian actor may have appeared on US TV. He may also have been the only actor with a mustache (a bushy one) to have played the Saint, but I could easily be wrong about that. He also had a wide brash smile with lots of teeth.

   As the title indicated, the would-be series was to have taken place in New York City, with the Saint constantly bedeviling Inspector Fernack as they clash heads while solving murder cases together (in a matter of speaking). In this one, though, it is the theft of a valuable tiara from the head of the lead ballerina during a dance recital that brings the old foes together. Someone has framed Simon Templar for the job!

   The production values are very good, and Clarke, although initially far from my idea of what the Saint looks like, gradually became easier to watch in the role.

Much of the story line is played for light comedy — to the detriment of any fair play detective work, which is hinted at but never quite delivered upon. If I’d known about it at the time, however, I’d definitely have watched this pilot. — and the series as well, if there had been one.

Reviews by L. J. Roberts

BRANDON DEBOIS – Hard Aground. Lewis Cole #11. Pegasus Crime, hardcover, April 2018.

First Sentence:   From the vantage point of my bed, I looked out the near window to a cluster of rocks and boulders, which had been tossed and turned over the years by storms and long-ago glaciers.

   Recovering from surgery, magazine journalist Lewis Cole is housebound and in pain. When a couple show up on his doorstep wanting to tour the inside of his home for its historical significance as a former coast guard station and a housing facility for Navy corpsmen during the Korean War, it is initially annoying, but their persistent visits escalate.

   Cole believes he hears someone in his house at night but can’t find evidence of it during the day. Lewis’ friend Felix Tinios had taken a silver bowl to Maggie Tyler Branch, a descendant of the town’s founder, for her to appraise. When Maggie is murdered and the bowl missing, Felix Is committed to finding both his bowl and the killer.

   Dubois’ opening is twinge-worthy. It is also informational. The author does a nice job of introducing the protagonist and providing new readers with his background as well as reminding series readers as to why he is in his present situation. Felix is one of those wonderful characters you’re almost glad isn’t the primary protagonist as that would remove some of the mystique about him. He is also someone one would be glad to have as a friend, particularly if he’d cook for you— “Dinner is fettuccini Alfredo with lobster and salad…,” –and would never want as an enemy.

   Dubois does write characters who are interesting and believable. The women are smart, strong, and very capable; journalist Paula Woods, Cole’s lover, and Det. Sgt. Diane Woods who is about to marry her partner, Kara.

   There are delightful touches of humor— “Fortune sometimes favors the brave, the lucky, and those too dumb to know what they have.” —but also moments which touch your emotions— “Alice moved in with a niece over in Worcester…and got Alzheimer’s, that nasty bitch of a disease. Suffered with that for years, and died two years back. By then, it was a mercy.” Lewis has experienced his own tragedy. Anyone who has lost someone they truly loved can associate with Lewis.

   Dubois’ writing captures people, places and emotions well. There is one very effective scene which serves to remind us that everyone is a human, and everyone has their own story and problems. On the negative side, there are also some really annoying portents. The third, which is late in the book, is not only completely unnecessary — after all, it’s not as though one wouldn’t keep reading at this point — but it vastly diminished the suspense of what was to follow.

   Hard Aground with a protagonist unable to leave his house is clever and engrossing. There are twists, suspense, a wonderful rescue, and an all-round excellent ending.

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

      The Lewis Cole series —

1. Dead Sand (1994)
2. Black Tide (1995)
3. The Shattered Shell (1999)
4. Killer Waves (2002)
5. Buried Dreams (2004)
6. Primary Storm (2006)
7. Deadly Cove (2011)
8. Fatal Harbor (2014)
9. Blood Foam (2015)
10. Storm Cell (2016)
11. Hard Aground (2018)


REGINALD HILL – Blood Sympathy. Joe Sixsmaith #1. St. Martin’s, US, hardcover, 1994. Worldwide Library, US, paperback, 1996. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1993.

   Hill has long been one of my favorite authors with the Dalziel & Pascoe books, and I think he’s one of the finest crime writers now practicing. His new series looked to be a big departure for him, and I approached it with mixed anticipation.

   Joe Sixsmith is short, black, balding and a made-redundant lathe operator turned PI in Luton, Bedfordshire, but not a wildly successful one, mind you. He’s single, too, with an odd aunt determined to change that state. His troubles start when a man comes to him with the story of a dream wherein he finds his family murdered; then the family is murdered, just so. They intensify when an effort to help an Indian lady lands him in trouble with both the drug cops and the drug dealers. And there’s a little episode with a millionaire businessman who’s also a witch. Mix it all together and Joe has a busy book.

   It’s a real change of pace for Hill, and how well you like it will depend on how well you like the type; it goes almost without saying that Hill does it very competently. It’s a cozy kind of story, light for all its subject matter, and with little of Hill’s customary bite. Sixsmith is a likable character, though I have some trouble anytime a white man attempts to write from a black’s viewpoint, and particularly so when he makes him as impervious to racial slurs and slights as Hill does Sixsmith.

   There were a few too many plot threads for me to maintain real focus, too. It’s not really my kind of book, well done or not, and I hope Hill doesn’t take too much time away from Dalziel and Pascoe to write more of them.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #15, September 1994.

       The Joe Sixsmith series —

Blood Sympathy (1993)
Born Guilty (1995)
Killing the Lawyers (1997)
Singing the Sadness (1999)
The Roar of the Butterflies (2008)

BANDIT QUEEN. Lippert Pictures, 1950. Barbara Britton, Willard Parker, Phillip Reed, Barton MacLane, Martin Garralaga, Angelo Rossitto (as Angie). Director: William Berke.

   I know Barbara Britton almost exclusively for her role as Pam North in the Mr. & Mrs. North TV series on 1952-54, but she was in a long list of movies before that, most of which I have never seen. Champagne for Caesar is one exception, but to be honest, I don’t even remember her role in it.

   Those earlier movies included comedies, pirate movies, and surprisingly (to me) quite a few westerns. Her role in Bandit Queen, in other words, was not the anomaly I thought it was when I placed the DVD into the player and sat down to watch.

   She plays Zara Montalvo in this film, a young woman who comes to visit her parents in Spanish California around the time of the Gold Rush, only to watch a gang of ruthless outlaws murder them in front of her eyes for their land and money.

   Revenge being the order of the day as far as she is concerned, she is taught how to crack a whip by none other than the infamous rebel leader Joaquin Murietta, blandly played by Phillip Reed. She lives in a Spanish mission under the name Lola Belmont (from Detroit); he is incognito as Carlos Del Rio. Neither knows who the other is, but once Zara’s name becomes known as a Robin Hood-style bandit, he catches on more quickly than she does.

   A better-than-average Lippert film, but that’s a distinction that makes this no more than a run-of-the-mill western. Save for our daring heroine, the bad guys are by far the better actors. (Not more interesting, just better actors.) As for the story, there’s nothing more to it that I haven’t already alluded to.

Live from Austin City Limits:


THIS SIDE OF THE LAW Warners, 1950. Viveca Lindfors, Kent Smith, Janis Paige, Robert Douglas and John Alvin. Written by Richard Sale and Russell S. Hughes. Directed by Richard L. Bare.

   Another bonus disc thrown in by a generous dealer, a film I didn’t know I had, and one I never heard of before. Turned out to be a Warners B movie made in 1948 but not released till 1950.

   Top-billed Viveca Lindfors actually has little to do here except look pretty and puzzled while Kent Smith carries the bulk of the plot as a down & out drifter hired to impersonate a lookalike millionaire who has been missing for almost seven years and about to be declared legally dead.

   Smith is recruited by the dead man’s lawyer (played by that perennial movie schemer Robert Douglas) for reasons of his own. And I think I’ve mentioned before that in the movies when you assume someone else’s identity, it’s always a flying leap from the frying pan. In this case, it turns out that the ancestral manse is a hotbed of domestic intrigue, including the fetching Ms. Lindfors as his bewildered and broken-hearted wife, John Alvin as a resentful weakling brother, and Janis Paige as his sister-in-law, a femme fatale in the Audrey Totter /Ann Savage mode.

   One of these characters may have murdered the missing man, and it turns out the lawyer wants Smith to find out which one – or does he?

   It’s all handled efficiently, but by 1948 they were making some films noirs by rote, and this is a good example. It’s told in flashback, with lots of shadows and shady characters, but they all seem a bit perfunctory, without the resonance that typifies contemporaries like The Big Clock and Cry of the City.

   Richard Sale, the author of the piece, wrote the brilliant metaphysical novel Not Too Narrow, Not Too Deep, which became the movie Strange Cargo. He also wrote a whole lot of sub-standard pulp fiction and forgettable screenplays, which always puzzled me. I mean, I can almost understand someone like Harper Lee or J.D. Salinger writing a remarkable book and then leaving it alone, but how anyone can turn out a single great book smack in the middle of a career devoted to mediocrity mystifies my mind—much more than this movie did.

   Similarly, director Richard Bare was a low-level fixture at Warners, doing shorts and occasional B features. When Warners went into Television in the 50s, Bare went along, lending his trademark anonymity to just about every Western and PI show Warners produced in those days. And so much for him.

   Janis Paige got tired of nothing parts in Hollywood, and went to Broadway where she became a big star, then returned to the movies for an occasional character part, like the Hollywood Star making a musical version of “War and Peace” in Silk Stockings, where she gets a great number with Fred Astaire.

   As for This Side of the Law, it’s painless & watchable, done with the Warners polish of the 1940s, and while I won’t go so far as to recommend it, I will admit it made for a pleasant evening.

   Well anyway, you could do worse.

A. S. FLEISCHMAN – Counterspy Express. Ace Double D-57. paperback original, 1954. Bound back-to-back with Treachery in Trieste. by Charles L. Leonard.

   A matter of a defecting Russian scientist, temporarily missing somewhere in Italy, Austria or France, with CIA agent Victor Welles (aka Jim Cabot) on his trail. There is a girl involved, or more precisely, two, as well as a slew of various Communist agents.

   A minor affair, easily read, easily forgotten, I amused myself by wondering if I could make a movie out of it, and I can. My version would star none other than Alan Ladd, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, Sydney Greenstreet and Orson Welles. How’s that?

PostScript:   I’d have to do some rewriting though, if I’d like to avoid some of the more obvious cliches of the trade. Such as, why on earth does every hard-nosed agent you come across (or every cheap imitation hard-boiled PI, which is very nearly the same thing) in every book that every instinct should warn him against, but whom he falls in love with anyway?

   “Cabot” is even warned by the advance agent on the scene. The man is dying or severely wounded by shots fired from the taxi that sped around the fountain in the center of the piazza, but he manages to get these words out: “Don’t get mixed up with a woman. My mistake.” Does Cabot pay any attention? Are you kidding? Is the Pope Polish?

— Reprinted (and somewhat revised) from Mystery*File #21, April 1990.

SHATTERED. MGM, 1991. Tom Berenger, Bob Hoskins, Greta Scacchi, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Corbin Bernsen. Screenplay: Wolfgang Petersen, based on the novel The Plastic Nightmare (Ace, 1969), by Richard Neely. Director: Wolfgang Petersen.

   I missed this one when it first came out, but I read the book, and it knocked my socks off. The movie’s just as good, I think, and based on reading the reviews and comments you can find on IMDb now, the twist at the end has apparently knocked the socks off everyone who’s seen at as well.

   But not always in a good way. Some have gone so far as to point out that the twist at the end simply doesn’t make any sense, and to tell you the truth, they’re not so very far from wrong. This is the kind of twist, though, that a reviewer can’t talk about without revealing the whole point of the movie, not without spoiler warnings, and I’ve decided not to do that, in case you haven’t seen the movie and there’s a more than even chance that someday you will.

   And I think you should.

   Here’s the basic story, though. As it so happens very often at the beginning of many a noir or neo-nour movie, a car goes off a cliff with two people inside, a husband and wife. Miraculously both survive, she with barely a scratch, he with severe injuries, including massive overall body trauma. She nurses him back to health, with the aid of hordes or doctors and surgeons.

   Unfortunately, he has a certain kind of amnesia that affects only his personal memories. He know how to do everyday kinds of things, but he can’t remember anything personal about himself nor about the people he should know, including his wife, his job, his colleagues, his friends. Nothing.

   All seems well, though, until certain incongruent details start coming to the surface. Their marriage, he is reluctantly told, was on the rocks. She was suspected of having an affair, they were constantly fighting, and he himself may have had a thing with his partner’s wife.

   He even discovers that he had hired a private detective (Bob Hoskins) to spy on his wife, and he tells the husband that perhaps that perhaps the accident was no accident at all.

   There you have it. Complicated? In a word, yes, but I *think* the details fit the ending. I will have to go back and watch this movie again to see. This is a handsome production and getting to the ending is fine — fun, in fact. But in the end it’s the ending that will make or break how you feel about this movie. If you can swallow it, you’re fine. Otherwise, not.


STEPHEN GREENLEAF – False Conception. John Marchall Tanner #10. Penzler Books, hardcover, November 1994. Pocket, paperback, March 1997.

   Greenleaf has been one of the best known and regarded of the hardboiled PT writers over the last decade or so, and one of my personal favorites, albeit one whose last few books have disappointed me anywhere from a little to a lot. This is his first book for Penzler after a number of years with Morrow.

   Tanner is hired by a high-powered lawyer for whom he’s done occasional work to check out the background of a potential surrogate mother. She’s to be surrogate for the wife of a scion of a wealthy San Francisco family, and they have many natural concerns. The job itself seems relatively straightforward, but Tanner finds his own ideas surrogacy not as clear as he thought, and his own life throwing up a few parallel complications.

   The surrogacy contract is signed, and the woman impregnated, but then things go bad. Tanner begins to sift through the lives of all concerned, and — surprise! — it turns out that the past haunts the present, and everyone is wearing a mask.

   Though all but the frothiest of crime fiction deals with moral and philosophical issues, Greenleaf’s tales usually do so with less concession to conventions of action and violence. Whether this is good or bad depends on your tastes, but it’s something to be aware of.

   The appeal of the series has always been to me grounded both in Greenleaf’s excellent prose and the attractiveness of the aging Tanner as a believable, sympathetic human being, and is still. I think this is one of his best books of recent years. It breaks no new ground; he’s been compared frequently to Ross Macdonald, and I see the influence strongly here, though Tanner has always been less the untouched recorder than was Archer.

   The plot is complex. I’m not sure all the pieces fit perfectly together at the end, but it was an end I had no trouble accepting, and a book I enjoyed.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #15, September 1994.

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