May 2018

FLOYD MAHANNAH – The Broken Angel. Macrae Smith, hardcover, 1957. Condensed version published in Mercury Mystery Book Magazine, January 1958. Pocket #1231, paperback, 1958. Stark House Press, softcover, March 2018, combined in one volume with Backfire and Other Stories; introduction by Bill Pronzini.

   In spite of owning all five of the mystery novels published by Floyd Mahannah in his relatively short lifetime, I’d never read any of them until now. My mistake, but thanks to the folks at Stark House Press, I’ve rectified it.
   The Broken Angel is pure noir, through and through. It begins with two main characters, newspaper editor/writer Roy Holgren and his secretary, Sara Martin, having a one-sided affair — the kind in which he is more in love with her than she is with him, but the sex is good.

   But the lady has a past, and when it catches up with her, it is with a bang. When Roy rescues her from the hospital in which she ends up, it is he who convinces her that he can help. When at last she admits to committing a murder before she came to work for him, he stays with her, but there are times in The Broken Angel when he wishes he hadn’t.

   Think, perhaps of pairing William Hurt with Kathleen Turner, if you were to make a movie of this, or Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and I’d go see it, that’s for sure.

   The book itself slows down a bit a bit about two-thirds of the way through. There is an overabundance of characters, all with there own secrets, and it becomes more difficult than it should be to figure out who is blackmailing who, and why.

   But the ending is a rip-roarer of one, and Roy at last learns whether she loves him or not, or perhaps of even more importance, did she kill the wife of the doctor she worked for or not? Some detective work on Roy’s part answers the second question, but on balance, there may be more tension involved before the first one is answered.

      Bibliography: FLOYD MAHANNAH (1911-1976) —

The Yellow Hearse. Duell 1950; Signet 1951, as No Luck for a Lady.
The Golden Goose. Duell 1951; Signet, 1952, as The Broken Body.
Stopover for Murder. Macrae-Smith 1953. Signet, 1956.
The Golden Widow. Macrae-Smith 1956. Permabook, 1957.
The Broken Angel. Macrae-Smith 1957. Pocket, 1958.

   Backfire and Other Stories appears to be an original collection, consisting of five stories from Manhunt and one from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.


DUDE RANCH. Paramount, 1931. Jack Oakie, Stu Erwin, Eugene Pallette, Mitzi Green, June Collyer. Written by Milton Krims, Percy Heath and Joseph L. & Herman J. Mankiewicz. Directed by Frank Tuttle.

   The first of the films I brought home from Cinevent, and what a treat!

   Stu Erwin plays the owner of a Dude Ranch where things are so dull the tour guide falls asleep in mid-sentence. As one departing guest observes, “Wild West? The wildest thing I saw out here was a wildflower — and it was a pansy!”

   As the guests prepare to depart en masse, a down-at-the-heels-and-soles troupe of traveling players (Oakie and Pallette, marvelously hammy, abetted by Mitzi Green as a professional orphan and Ms Cecil Weston as her chronically long-lost mother) stumble onto the scene, and quickly conspire with Stu to liven things up with a bit of full-blooded melodrama.

   Thus Jack Oakie becomes Vance Kilroy, hero of the plains; Eugene Pallette morphs into Black Jed, wife-beater, child-starver, and all-purpose blackguard, menacing Mitzi and Ms Weston as mother-and-daughter recently escaped from Injuns. A bit of drama, some fisticuffs, and the guests (except for the lovely Ms Collyer) eat it up with a ladle.

   This is the meat of the film: Jack Oakie, preening and posing as only he could, Eugene Pallette huffing, puffing, and stuffing his mouth, and little Mitzi wrenching tears of sympathy from all & sundry. The written word doesn’t do her justice. You just have to watch the scene where a kindly old lady asks her what tribe captured her, and she rolls her eyes heavenward and sighs, “They was Cleveland Indians, Ma’am!”

   As an aside, I really think Jack Oakie developed the Bob Hope Persona before Hope himself did: Soft of heart and head, cowardly, vainglorious, yet somehow likeable—and most important, Fun-nee!

   But to get back to the story: More plot quickly ensues as a quartet of genuine tough guys arrive, intending to use the dude ranch as a base of operations for a bank job—a plot that gets no more attention from director Frank Tuttle than it merits, as we race through the usual complications, enlivened with some funny pratfalls and cutting wordplay, then up to the Big Chase Finale, with thespians, guests, Stu Erwin and the law in pell-mell pursuit of the baddies and a captured heroine.

   And I have to say that this chase seems to have been the inspiration for much of Raiders of the Lost Ark, as Jack Oakie’s stunt double leaps from car to truck, swings off the roof and into the cab, kicking the driver out, and gets into a wild donnybrook with the baddies while the truck is stalled on a railroad track with the Superchief bearing down on them. Tuttle gears this bit for thrills, and produces a breathtaking and suspenseful few minutes that left me marveling in its wake.

    Dude Ranch didn’t win any awards, and it’s completely forgotten these days, but the talents involved put a lot into it, and it paid off handsomely for any viewer who chances to discover this gem.

ROBERT CAMPBELL – Thinning the Turkey Herd. Jimmy Flannery #4. New American Library, hardcover, 1988. Signet, paperback, August 1989.

   Jimmy Flannery is not a private eye, but when it comes to doing favors for people, he may as well be. Basically he works for the Sewer Department for the city of Chicago, but in reality he spends far more of his time as the Democratic party precinct captain for the neighborhood in which he and and his wife Mary live. And as I say, doing favors for people.

   The title comes from a bit of black humor. The turkey herd refers refers to the horde of young girls who come to the Windy City every year hoping to become models. And three so far have been killed. The police have no suspects, and the local alderman, Janet Canarias, a Puerto Rican and a lesbian, asks Jimmy to look into in.

   And the next time she comes knocking on his door, her distress is personal. The girl who was going to move in with her has disappeared, her suitcase in Janet’s apartment, but with no sign of her. It us too soon for the police to investigate. Canarias once asks Flannery again for assistance.

   And with a caveat or two, Flannery’s low-keyed look into matters is a pleasure to read. As the author, Campbell seems to have known Chicago politics from the ground up — almost all the way up, as certain political figures try to maneuver their friends (or even themselves) out of the way of Flannery’s investigation.

   Caveats. Campbell is far better at describing life in Chicago as it is (was) lived at the neighborhood level than writing a detective story. Flannery should have put two and two together much faster than he did, and when he does, it is almost like pulling a rabbit out of a hat with only a chapter or two to go. Flannery spends far more time with Willy Dink, a independent one-man pest control man in the dead girl’s building, complete with dog, chicken, snake, and an armadillo, than he does in finding the her killer.

   Here’s a book, in other words, that was fun to read, but in the end, not nearly as solid as it could have been.

       The Jimmy Flannery series —

1. The Junkyard Dog (1986)
2. The 600 Pound Gorilla (1987)
3. Hip-Deep in Alligators (1987)
4. Thinning the Turkey Herd (1988)
5. The Cat’s Meow (1988)
6. Nibbled to Death by Ducks (1989)
7. The Gift Horse’s Mouth (1990)
8. In a Pig’s Eye (1992)
9. Sauce for the Goose (1994)
10. The Lion’s Share (1996)
11. Pigeon Pie (1998)

DOROTHY GILMAN – Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle. Mrs. Pollifax #8. Doubleday, hardcover, 1988. Fawcett Crest 21515, paperback, March 1989.

   A confession. Dorothy Gilman has been writing these adventures of part-time CIA operative Mrs. Pollifax for some time now, and I’ve always considered them to be of the humorous “Miss Seeton” variety. Not so, and I apologize. I’m a convert, as of right now.

   Here she’s asked to deliver a small package in Thailand, a minor job, but then she’s forced to spend the next five days in the jungle searching for her kidnapped husband. Exotic countryside and espionage on the personal level, mixed together in solid, convincing fashion.

— Reprinted and very slightly revised from Mystery*File #21, April 1990.

Bibliographic Note:   Dorothy Gilman wrote a total of 14 spy adventures of Mrs. Pollifax between 1966 and 2000. In 2010 she was was awarded the annual Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America.


LESLIE CHARTERIS – The White Rider. Ward Lock, UK, hardcover, 1928. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover, 1930. Reprinted in Detective Classics, US, February 1931 and later serialized in Detective Weekly, UK. February 25 through June 24, 1933.

   Lestrange played half a dozen bars of “Annie Laurie”; and then, tothat tune, he commenced to improvise cheerfully.

“Oh Wiltshire’s braes are bonnie,
Where sadly fails the ’tec —
But he never finds out nothing;
He’s just a rubberneck,
He’s just a rubberneck,
Is Mister Kenned-ee,
And to lay his hands on the Rider,
He would lay-ee him down to dee.”

   There may not be anyone named Templar about, but I would lay odds just about any thriller fan or fan of popular literature in general could identify the author of that immortal bit of musical doggerel at thirty paces in the worst London fog in history.

   The White Rider is Leslie Charteris second novel of derring do and his first to feature an outright bandit hero. (His previous protagonist, Terry Mannering, X Esquire, was more in the Bulldog Drummond mold, right down to throttling deserving villains in his strong hands.)

   Peter Lestrange, who likes to play the piano and lounge about being witty is made of the same steel, but with a decidedly lighter touch. Not that he is quite Saintly material, in fact he often drips of Dornford Yatean seriousness, but even the Saint never galloped about the Wiltshire countryside dressed in white on a gray horse to battle crime.

   As our adventure opens, one Selden, the dope king, has died, and rumor has it somewhere on his estate Sancreed, most likely in the manor house, there lies the remains of his ill gotten gains, which sweet and lovely stepdaughter Marion wants none of. Into this comes waltzing Bill Kennedy of the Yard (“one of the big four” in his previous appearance in X Esquire) with American cop Jimmy Haddon in tow.

   Peter Lestrange is the lounging neighbor with eyes for Marion, who thinks he is better suited to save the day in the guise of the White Rider than any policemen, and this being Charteris, he’s right, though Kennedy has more than a few IQ points on Claude Eustace Teal.

   Three deaths happen in short order as the gangs gather to loot the spoils. Bracebridge, a fence, Henderson one of Kennedy’s men, and notably the disreputable scientist Chatham, who took orders from a mysterious voice on the phone and took it upon himself to kidnap and torture Marion, only to pay for his over enthusiasm when Marion is rescued by the Reverend Theophilius Gregory, who is doing a bit of amateur crime detection too (a good paper is yet to be written about the role of good reverends in popular fiction of the Twenties and early thirties — from Carl Peterson on, they are seldom up to any good or like Russell Thorndyke’s Dr. Syn they are decidedly unreverend like in action).

   This is very much Charteris feeling his way toward an epiphany, and he still doesn’t get it quite right in the next novel, Meet the Tiger, that serves to introduce us to the Saint, but not quite. Another hero followed in The Bandit, a colorful South American type, Ramon Francisco de Castilla y Espronceda Manrique (we can all be grateful he failed — imagine trying to crowd that on a paperback cover) before 1930 and the very original true Simon Templar took the field in the pages of The Thriller and then those yellow covered Ward & Lock editions.

   Peter Lestrange is a nice try, but no cigar. The White Rider has its moments, but the hero is offstage being mysterious too often, and I never did quite understand what the purpose of the White Rider business was in 1920’s England save the hero had a gray horse and couldn’t lounge and play the piano all the time. There were enough perfectly good roads and fog to make a white roadster more practical, and Peter could have gotten just as good results as an insulting amateur sleuth than as a masked bandit.

   Historically this novel is significant, as entertainment it is fair, as Charteris it is minor, and as a harbinger it is practically prophetic, but I wouldn’t really suggest anyone add it to their essentials list save collectors and completest. Far better to dip into the Saint saga at your favorite point and again experience the one and only.


STEWART EDWARD WHITE – The Killer. Doubleday, hardcover, 1920. Previously serialized in The Red Book Magazine, December 1919 through March 1920. Many reprint and Print on Demand editions available.

MYSTERY RANCH. Fox, 1932. With George O’Brien, Cecilia Parker, Charles Middleton, Charles Stevens and Noble Johnson. Screenplay by Alfred A. Cahn, from the novella “The Killer” by Stewart Edward White.

   I picked up Stewart Edward White’s The Killer on a whim and found it an interesting hybrid of a book: the first third is a longish novelette from which the tome draws its title — about which more later — while the rest of the near-350 pages is a series of lengthy stories and true anecdotes (true-sounding, anyway) about working life on the plains in in the early 1900s: some quite amusing while others read like Hemingway before there was Hemingway.

   But the opening piece, The Killer, is a genuine blood-and-thunder Old Dark House chiller transplanted out west, and grown quite well, too. White sets the mood very capably and once he’s got the background fraught with palpable menace, he proceeds to build a simple but impressive little story filled with mad killers, drug addicts, distressed damsels and doughty do-gooders — all put through their pulp-paper paces with the kind of innocent gusto that typified thrillers of the time, a tale told with charm that writers since have never quite re-captured.

   As for the anecdotes that follow, perhaps they can be best exemplified by:

   â€œAnd I don’t need no gun to do it, neither,” he said, as though concluding a long conversation.

  “Shore not, Slim,” agreed one of the group, promptly annexing the artillery. “What is it?”

  “Kill that ____ ____ _____ Beck,” said Slim, owlishly. “I can do it; and I can do it with my bare hands, b’ God!”

   He walked sturdily enough in the direction of the General Store across the dusty square. No one paid any further attention to his movements. The man who had picked up the gun belt buckled it around his own waist. Ten minutes passed. Back across the square drifted a strange figure. With difficulty we recognized it as the erstwhile Slim. He had no hat. His hair stuck out in all directions. One eye was puffing shut, blood oozed from a cut in his forehead and dripped from his damaged nose. One shirt sleeve had been half torn from its parent at the shoulder. But, most curious of all, Slim’s face was evenly marked by a perpendicular series of long, red scratches as though he had been dragged from stem to stem along a particularly abrasive gravel walk. Slim seemed quite calm. His approach was made in a somewhat strained silence. At length there spoke a dry, sardonic voice.

   “Well,” said it, “did you kill Beck?”

   â€œNaw!” replied Slim’s remains disgustedly, “the son of a gun wouldn’t fight!”

   The Killer was made into a film in 1932, Mystery Ranch, and they did a nice job of it, with fast-paced direction, atmospheric photography by Joe August (Who cut his teeth on the early films of William S. Hart) and spirited playing from George O’Brien, Celia Parker, Noble Johnson and especially Charles “Ming” Middleton as the mad killer.

   And though Middleton gets all the best lines, I have to say he wouldn’t have been nearly so menacing without Charles Stevens (Who made a cottage industry out of playing “Indian Charrlie” in various films of the Wyatt Earp legend) and Noble Johnson skulking about in the background.

   Best of all, it seems everyone involved wisely decided to eschew typical B-movie complications and produced a film with the simplicity of a ballad, just under an hour of solid fun. Existing prints are a bit choppy, but they can’t obscure the streamlined beauty of a film like this.

  SCOTT CAMPBELL “The Case of the Vanished Bonds.” Felix Boyd #1. The Popular Magazine, February 1904. Collected in Below the Dead-Line (Street & Smith, paperback; 1906; G. W. Dilingham Co., hardcover, March 2006). Currently available in various Print on Demand editions. Silent Film: Edison, 1915, with Robert Conness as Felix Boyd.

   The foreword to the hardcover edition credits New York City police inspector Thomas Byrne for creating the phrase “below the deadline” referring to “the immediate arrest of every crook found day or night in that part of the metropolis lying south of Fulton Street.” This includes (I am told) Wall Street and the location of the fabulous diamond houses of that era.

   Felix Boyd is something of a mystery man. He is hired by a distraught banker whose shipment by single messenger of valuable bonds has gone missing en route to the sub-treasury where they were being sent. But when the case is solved, he refuses payment for succeeding, remarking that he is paid by the year, not the job, evidently by some third party not yet identified.

   The messenger, quite trusted, it seems went straight from the banker’s office to the sub-treasury, but when he arrived, the bonds were gone from his bag, but the gold inside still there.

   Some investigation on Boyd’s part, however, reveals that he did stop once, to talk to an acquaintance on a doorstep with the bag on the ground. The solution from there is easy enough, but it does require Boyd, described as an American Sherlock Holmes, to disguise himself as a Jewish gentleman to elicit information from the foreman of the work crew inside the building where the messenger had stopped.

    Ordinarily this statement may fall into the category of too much information, but since you nor anyone else is likely to read this story any time soon, it is not likely for me to lose any sleep over it.

   I have not yet read any of the other stories in the book, of which there are eleven more, but I enjoyed this one enough that I will, even though the detection is, shall we say, rather rudimentary. But besides a mystery boss for Mr. Boyd, there is a mystery mastermind behind the theft of the bonds, but he gets away, only to be behind the scenes again in upcoming adventures.

See if you can sit perfectly still through this one:

by Michael Shonk

   I have a fondness for the unusual in fiction. Mainstream popular fiction bores me. Take me somewhere I didn’t expect to be or have never been, and I will forgive the creative talent for a lot. Below are four crime-fighters that may not be the greatest radio detectives but are worth listening for their attempt to be different.

JOHNNY FLETCHER MYSTERY – “Navy Colt.” NBC, March 28, 1946. Written by Frank Gruber, based on the Frank Gruber novel of the same title. Cast: Albert Dekker as Johnny Fletcher, Mike Mazurki as Sam Cragg. *** Johnny and Sam are working a book scam when a beautiful young woman hires them to punch a man in the nose. Soon Johnny and Sam find themselves wanted by the police for murder.

   The script in this complex mystery is filled with wisecracks and an occasional clue, making for a fun listen.

   Pulp, mystery and western fans most likely recognize the name Frank Gruber, and maybe have read one or more of the fourteen comedy-crime books in the Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg series.

   The books not only led to this radio audition episode but also a Republic studio film in 1946 with the same cast. While this episode mentions a second episode for this proposed NBC radio series there is no evidence it was ever made.

   There was a radio series with Johnny and Sam on ABC (1948) with Bill Goodman as Johnny and Sheldon Leonard as Sam.

TALES OF FATIMA. – “A Time to Kill.” CBS, May 28, 1949. Written by Gail Ingram. Cast: Basil Rathbone as himself, Francis DeSales as Police Lieutenant Farrell. Basil’s plans for a weekend break from his role in a Broadway play are spoiled when someone tries to kill him.

   The story is full of twists including Basil hearing a murder over the phone as well as a radio announcement that Basil was dead. It makes the plot confusing, but the series’ appeal is its humor.

   It is also one of two radio detectives to have a voice from beyond help solve the mystery. Here the ancient spirit of Fatima gives Basil and the audience a clue (the other was Rogues Gallery where Eugor talks to Rogue as the PI recovers from being knocked out).

   Basil Rathbone shows his sense of humor in this series that smashes the fourth wall to tiny tiny little bits. Not only is Fatima an ancient Spirit who helps the audience and Basil solve the case, but Fatima is also the name of a cigarette and the series sponsor.

   This recording is from the podcast Great Detectives of Old Time Radio and worth a visit for any radio fans.

THE WHISPERER -“Policeman In Danger” NBC, July 29. 1951) Written by Jonathan Price. Cast: Carleton G. Young as Philip “The Whisperer” Gault, Betty Moran as Ellen Norris, and Paul Frees as Lt. Denvers. *** The Whisperer relays “The Syndicate” orders to local gang member to kill the bothersome Police Lt. Denvers. Gault and Ellen know and like the detective rush to save him.

   The Whisperer was a summer replacement series based on the characters and stories by Dr. Stetson Humphrey and his wife Irene.

   While playing college football Philip Gault was injured, leaving his voice a gruesome whisper. Gault decided to go undercover in the local Central City syndicate and destroy it. Then Doctor Lee with his nurse Ellen was able to restore Gault’s original voice. Gault decided to stay The Whisperer and use the information he learns to continue his fight against organized crime.

   Each week The Whisperer would relay “The Syndicate” orders to the local Central City gang then Gault with Ellen at his side would prevent the Mob’s plans from succeeding.

   The show played its strange premise straight with dialog that could be witty or awkwardly out of date. Uneven but fun, The Whisperer remains an odd crime-fighter worth a listen.

A VOICE IN THE NIGHT – “Case of the Worried Detective” Mutual, August 8, 1946. Written by Bob Arthur and David Kogan. Cast: Carl Brisson as himself. *** Carl’s weakness for beautiful women and a need to find a place to stay lands him in the hands of a Mob boss who demands Carl solve the murder of one of the Boss’s gang members.

   Only two episodes are known to exist and both are terrible. Little is known about A Voice in the Night beyond that it is one of radio’s strangest PI’s.

   International star Carl Brisson plays himself as the Golden Oriole nightclub owner and singer. The series’ focus is on Carl singing for the nightclub audience. Eventually Carl takes a break to share one of his crime-solving cases.

   Nothing really works in this series that mashes together the music series and the mystery. The acting and writing is awful and seems unsure whether to take Brisson tales of crime solving seriously.

   One of the appeals of mystery and crime fiction is the range of the protagonist, from brilliant to lucky, from serious to comedic. I will always have a weakness for the odd and different.

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