August 2018

DAVID EVERSON – Rebound. Robert Miles #2. Ivy, paperback original; 1st printing, September 1988.

   While Robert Miles is a PI (Mid-Continental Op and Associates), his specialty is political intelligence. Of course you realize that this is as much a contradiction in terms as “student athlete.” which is what this story is all about: an impending basketball scandal.

   Lincoln Heritage University is also where Miles’s wife (separated but amicably so) happens to work. All this background is interesting, but except on occasions mow and then, this is merely adequate PI fare. What Everson has to do is to make it both leaner and meaner.

— Slightly revised from Mystery*File #20, March 1990.

      The Robert Miles series —

Recount (1987)
Rebound (1988)
Instant Replay (1989)
Rematch (1989)
A Capital Killing (1990)
Suicide Squeeze (1991)
False Profits (1992)

    Short stories:

“Catnap” (1991, Cat Crimes)
“Operation: Trojan Horse” (1991, Solved)


MERMAIDS OF TIBURON Pacific Productions, 1962. George Robotham, Diane Webber, Gaby Martone, Timothy Carey, Jose Gonzales-Gonzales, and John Mylong. Written, produced & directed by John Lamb.

   A real oddity, released, re-released and re-edited in sundry permutations (including the title The Aqua Sex) over the years by auteur John Lamb, and a big hit on Army Bases.

   Diver and all-around Deep Sea Honcho Dr. James Samuelson (played by stuntman George Robotham, here under the name George Rowe) is contacted by a mysterious scientist-guy (John Mylong, the scientist-guy in Robot Monster) for help exploring the waters off the island of Tiburon, apparently chock-full of pearls and mysterious sea critters. They arrange to meet in Mexico, but when Rowe gets there Mylong is missing, amid signs of violence in his Hotel Room.

   Enter Timothy Carey as a bad guy in possession of Mylong’s maps and a trunk large enough to hold a body. He charters a boat with skipper Jose Gonzales Gonzales and sets off for Tiburon, right behind our hero.

   At which point the action slows a bit—to put it mildly. Rowe (who also narrates, like Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt) gets there first, and after many long, extended, lengthy, leisurely interminable minutes of looking at water, he comes across a race of Mermaids.

   They’re a diverse lot, these Merladies. Some have fish tails, some wear seaweed bikini bottoms, but all are topless and blessed by nature. No wonder this was popular on Army bases.

   What follows is about twenty minutes of unadulterated ogling, dressed up like exploration, as Rowe follows the Merbabes into their briny homeland. I will say right now that the underwater photography is expertly done, with a professionalism you wouldn’t expect in a low-budget picture like this, and the aquatic toplessness is diverting… for a while. But after a near half-hour of nothing but buoyant boobs, I thought I was seeing double.

   Fortunately about this time we get back to the story, and I was never so glad to see Timothy Carey’s ugly mug or hear Jose Gonzales Gonzales sing off-key.

   Carey gets to show off his nasty side here, and he does it quite well, deep-sixing the trunk with Mylong’s body, dynamiting the water with Rose and the Merwomen underneath, and setting off in ruthless search of giant oysters (they look more like bits of décor swiped from a sea food restaurant) and precious pearls.

   So obsessed is he with loot that he spear-guns a Merlady in a fit of pique, leading to an end unique in the annals of movie villainy that I won’t spoil for you. Suffice it to say (as it usually does) that Mermaids of Tiburon may not be much good, but you’re not likely to see anything else like it.

   One additional footnote. Hero George Robotham spent most of his movie career as a stuntman, including stints in the Mole People, Confessions of an Opium Eater and doubling for Kirk Alyn in Atom Man vs Superman. Somehow Mermaids of Tiburon seems to fit right in.

HAROLD ADAMS – The Man Who Met the Train. Carl Wilcox #7. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1988; paperback, May 1989.

   Although in the past Carl Wilcox has been on both sides of the law, at the beginning of The Man Who Met the Train he is a itinerant sign painter, working his way around 1930s Depression-era South Dakota, making ends meet when and how circumstances allow. When he comes across a one-car auto accident in which three are dead, one is seriously injured and a small four-year-old girl is pulled to safety unscratched, circumstances allow him to put on his favorite guise, that of private detective.

   Working for both the local judge and then the town banker (but not at the same time), Wilcox finds himself more and more the center of both the town’s curiosity and hostility, and as he does so, incidentally solves the murder of the young girl’s father, a genius with numbers who could not hold his liquor and who was assumed to have had a fatal accident or committed suicide (perhaps) by walking in front of an ongoing train not long before.

   Although he had his own distinctive style, Adams wrote as closely in the mode of Dashiell Hammett as any author I can think of. His stories are as definitely hardboiled as they come, but they come fully equipped with an underlying sensibility that shows how deeply he understood people too. And it’s not the plot that’s the key in this one. It’s the people in it that makes this story sing.

        The Carl Wilcox series —

1. Murder (1981)
2. Paint the Town Red (1982)
3. The Missing Moon (1983)
4. The Naked Liar (1985)
5. The Fourth Widow (1986)
6. The Barbed Wire Noose (1987)
7. The Man Who Met the Train (1988)
8. The Man Who Missed the Party (1989)
9. The Man Who Was Taller Than God (1992)
10. A Perfectly Proper Murder (1993)
11. A Way with Widows (1994)
12. The Ditched Blonde (1995)
13. Hatchet Job (1996)
14. The Ice Pick Artist (1997)
15. No Badge, No Gun (1998)
16. Lead, So I Can Follow (1999)


WHITE GOLD. Producers Distributing Corporation (PDC), 1927. Jetta Goudal, Kenneth Thomson, George Bancroft, George Nichols. Director: William K. Howard. Shown at Cinevent 22, Columbus OH, May 1990.

   The notes for the program put it well: “…claustrophobic, oppressive and obsessed with lust and betrayal.” A bride is seen by her father-in-law s coming between him and his son. The father-in-law lies and the woman will not betray the lie, hoping that her husband will believe in her innocence in the face of overwhelming circumstantial evidence to the contrary.

   The scene in which, as the wife leaves the house, she makes a gesture that without a single comment answers all the questions raised in the preceding scene of confrontation, is an unforgettable lesson in narrative economy. I feel as if this film is burned into my mind’s eye. Not to be missed if it’s ever scheduled near you.


FRED MacISAAC – The King Who Came Back. Altus Press, softcover, 2016. Originally serialized in six issues of Argosy between October 24th and November 28th, 1931.

   Hollywood and the pulps had something in common, and that was what I liked to think of as the “Kitchen-sink plot.” The “Kitchen-sink” plot was one where a wide mix of elements from diverse genres and sub genres were stirred into the pot for what was hopefully a healthy stew and not an unholy mess. Cowboys, gangsters, science fiction, lost worlds, lost races … at one time all those combinations saw print or made it to the silver screen. By that standard Fred MacIsaac’s The King Who Came Back is fairly tame fare, but there is still enough of a mix to make for a hearty meal.

   We open South of Ruritania and North of Graustark, just around the corner from Fredonia and the Grand Duchy of Fenwick in the small kingdom of Berania where the peasants are revolting (do your own jokes) and the army traitorous. Our hero, the King, is assured if he will lead the troops against his own people he can stop the revolt, but he does not have the heart to march on his own people (“I do not propose to lead an army from one end of the land to the other over the bodies of multitudes of my subjects. What you gentlemen tell me confirms my own observations. There is a nationwide demand for a republic. Let them have it. I will abdicate.”), which is why King Carlos Aronhof, finds his recent flying lessons come in handy when he has to skip town literally on the fly with his friend the American flyer and diplomatic courier, Will Jevis.

   Carlos finds himself an enemy of the people holed up in Paris with dwindling funds and a bounty on his head from the annoyed revolutionaries he escaped making it difficult for the French to embrace him or the English, both of whom don’t want to start a war with a new government so with Will Jervis help Carlos reinvent himself.

   Finding himself six months later in the United States as a chauffeur in Hollywood working for one Mrs. Mason Sweasy, one of those popular types fiction loves who built her fortune by taking in laundry on land that turned out to have oil under it and now is one of those tough smart plain spoken types usually played by Thelma Ritter, Marie Dressler, or Jessie Royce Landis, Carlos has a new name, face, and a new career.

   Actually, so far the story isn’t all that far fetched. More than a few princes, deposed, imaginary, and not showed up in Hollywood in that era as everything from the owners of famous restaurants to screenwriters. Carlos is now Carl Decker, and employed by the oil rich Mrs. Swasey, her beautiful twenty-five year old daughter Gladys, and son Junior (no good of course), crusty Tom Clancy who works for Mrs. Swasey (see any of a dozen character actors of Irish lineage) and for the first time in a while things are looking up. Carlos is even starting to get over his prejudices about Americans.

   Meanwhile the Americans are worried about having Carlos loose in America. Berania is backward and it would take next to nothing for Carlos to raise and army and return, plus the new Republic is corrupt and less than stable. Carlos presence could be an embarrassment, if they knew where he was. Then Will Jervis stumbles on someone pretending to be Carlos, complicating things farther especially when Count Grandez, the man behind the impersonator, tries to kill him because he knows the impersonator isn’t Carlos.

   Carlos contacts Jervis to apologize for the attack, surmising rightly it was because of him, but remains hidden although the Beranians know he is in California somewhere. Meantime Carlos new job is less pleasing that it seemed thanks to the nasty James Swasey Jr.

   The rescue of a young actress, Dalroa Dawning, from the unpleasant Junior and a chance meeting by Will Jervis on the train to California contribute to the next phase of the plot, the one where Carlos the chauffeur end up as chauffeur to the young actress starring in a movie being made about the King Carlos Aronhof that Will Jervis has just been hired as a technical director on having lost his diplomatic career for rescuing Carlos in the first place…

   Pretty soon Carlos is knee deep in assassins, revolutionaries, Secret Service, a plot to loot the crown jewels of Berania, gangsters, movie types, a romance with Dalroa, the now movie star whose chauffeur he becomes, is framed as a jewel thief, and faces myriad twists and turns before a final triumphal return to Berania to hopefully modernize his backward homeland so a real republic will eventually have a chance under the benevolent guidance of he and Queen Dalroa.

   No surprise Fred MacIsaac among other things had been a concert manager. for the opera since this book is operatic in the best sense. To be fair if you ever stop and think about it things tend to go off rail, but MacIsaac writes painless professional prose and never lets things drag. At each turn he introduces attractive new characters who may or may not be who they seem, and the result despite the serial-like nature of the plot the book is an entertaining and easy read, and an offbeat addition to the Ruritanian subgenre, adding gangsters and Hollywood to the mix created by Anthony Hope and George Barr McCutcheon.

   McIsaac was a staple of many of the better known pulps appearing regularly in Argosy, Detective Fiction Weekly, and others throughout the heyday of the pulps, a featured name on the cover of any issue he appeared in. His may not be a name to conjure with, but he never turned out less than competent prose, and here, at least, outdoes himself.

   The Altus Press edition is attractive and available as a paperback or ebook, a fast moving well written adventure tale you can easily imagine as a film from the era, although Hollywood would no doubt have added singing and dancing and maybe cowboys and rustlers. Even if it isn’t the full kitchen sink it’s enough of it for a delightful mix.

FRANK GRUBER – The Limping Goose. Johnny Fletcher & Sam Cragg #12. Rinehart, hardcover, September 1954. Detective Book Club, hardcover 3-in-1 edition, December 1954. Bantam 1488, paperback, August 1956.

   It is not easy to write a detective novel that’s truly funny and at the same time populate it with all of the clues, alibis and red herrings that make a true detective novel, much less a entire series of them, all with the same characters. One time pulp writer Frank Gruber doesn’t always succeed in this series, but he comes as close as anybody.

   The comedy in the Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg books comes primarily from the pair themselves, and to a lesser extent, the situations they find themselves in. From the cover of the Bantam paperback, illustrated above:

   “The little guy is Johnny Fletcher — he can talk his way out of anything. The big lug is Sam Cragg, ‘strangest man in the world,’ with a muscle-bound brain.” The disparity between the brain power of the two is the basis for most of the humor in their adventures.

   Johnny Fletcher is close enough to being a private eye that he might as well be one, but the true profession of both he and Sam Cragg is that of traveling book salesmen, even though they are so broke at the beginning of The Limping Goose, they have no money to even buy books for sale — usually encyclopedias, as I recall.

   Eating being a very habitual habit of theirs, especially Sam’s, Johnny decides to hire himself out as a skip-tracer. Soon enough, though, he gets himself mixed up in a case of murder, and the story is off and running. The limping goose of the title is a “piggy bank” in the form of a goose with one leg longer than the other, and even though it is filled only with old coins with no particular value, there are plenty of people who seem to want it.

   The explanation of who they are who want it, and why, is, unfortunately, less interesting than the byplay not only between Johnny and Cragg, but also between the pair and the rest of the world. If they ever made any money on the successful outcome of any of their adventures, I’d be surprised to know about it.

   On balance, I’d rate this one as a “C plus” for the detective work, and an “A minus” for the funny stuff, which continues on throughout the book. I need to read more of these.

      The Johnny Fletcher & Sam Cragg series —

The French Key (1940)
The Hungry Dog Murders (1941)
The Navy Colt (1941)
The Gift Horse (1942)
The Laughing Fox (1943)
The Talking Clock (1944)
The Mighty Blockhead (1945)
The Honest Dealer (1947)
The Scarlet Feather (1948)
The Silver Tombstone Mystery (1948)
The Leather Duke (1950)
The Limping Goose (1954)
The Whispering Master (1956)
The Corpse Moved Upstairs (1964)
Swing Low, Swing Dead (1964)



ARROW IN THE DUST. Allied Artists, 1954. Sterling Hayden, Colleen Gray, Keith Larsen, Tom Tully, Jimmy Wakely and Lee Van Cleef. Screenplay by Don Martin (No, not that Don Martin). Based on the novel by L. L. Foreman. Directed by Lesley Selander.

   By 1954, Allied Artists was still trying to shake off its Monogram roots, but not trying too hard. That was the year they released Two Guns and a Badge, the last series Western, but they were still churning out Bowery Boys pictures and “A-Minus” westerns like this, directed by B-Western stalwart Leslie Selander with his usual flair for action and a surprising feel for the quieter moments.

   Hayden is a deserter who masquerades in a major’s uniform and rallies a decimated cavalry unit to help get a wagon train past the injuns. And that’s pretty much it. Arrow incorporates lots of stock footage from Arizona (1940) but someone thought to take the cast out to Sedona and Red Rock, so it matches well, and photographer Ellis Carter blends it seamlessly.

   There’s also a literate screenplay. Hayden’s character matures convincingly, acting and reacting off a rounded cast of supporting players who talk like actual people. Screenwriter Martin even includes the familiar quotation: “A mule is unapproachable in devilment, fathomless in cunning, born old in crime, of disreputable paternity, and incapable of posterity, stolid, imperturbable, with no love for anything but the perpetration of tricks and its daily rations,” and it fits right in.

   There’s a genuine movie moment here where they’re burying dead soldiers while the wagon train pushes on, composed like a Ford film, the wagons rolling endlessly in the background while Hayden recites the 23rd psalm over the fresh graves. No overacting, no arty camera angles, just letting the scene speak for itself and find fitting context in “He leadeth me beside the still waters.”

   But my favorite part (I know you were burning to find out) is a quick-draw like I’ve never seen before: Hayden lays down the law to Van Cleef, and when another owlhoot goes to draw, Hayden pulls his own gun out of his belt, raises it overhead with both hands to cock it, sweeps down, levels and fires faster’n you could say “Sh-t, what was that?” I had to run it over three times just to see if I saw it right.

    Arrow in the Dust is little remembered today, but for fans of the cast and solidly-built Westerns, it’s a must-see.

POWDERSMOKE RANGE. RKO Radio Pictures, 1936. Harry Carey (Tucson Smith), Hoot Gibson (Stony Brooke), ‘Boots’ Mallory, Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams (Lullaby Joslin), Bob Steele, Tom Tyler. Based on the novel by William Colt MacDonald. Director: Wallace Fox.

   Three roving cowboys (not yet called The Three Mesquiteers) come to the aid of a friend (Bob Steele) who’s been thrown in jail on trumped up charges. Tom Tyler is the fast gun hired by the gambler who’s trying to take over Steele’s ranch, and it’s eventually up to Harry Carey to face him down.

   In spite of what was probably an all-star cast in 1935, this is not a very good movie today. It has a lot of the right ingredients, but the art of acting has changed dramatically. I’m no expert on such things, but I think it’s the extra beat everybody takes to react to the line just before.

— Reprinted and very slightly revised from Movie.File.8, January 1990.

KENN DAVIS – Acts of Homicide. Carver Bascombe #7. Fawcett Gold Medal, paperback original; 1st printing, October 1989.

   What makes this adventure of black PI Carver Bascombe a bit different is that he’s introduced into the case as a suspect, not as the detective of record. Dead — in gruesome fashion — is a girl who loved the theater, working for a stage company in her spare time.

   Bascombe also gets involved with the (female) police detective in charge, a first for them both. Unfortunately none of the other people involved in the case are a pleasure to know, and every once in a while Davis lapses into a “gosh-wow” pulpish way of telling the tale.

— Very slightly revised from Mystery*File #20, March 1990.

       The Carver Bascombe series —

The Dark Side. Avon, 1976 [with John Stanley].
The Forza Trap. Avon, 1979.
Words Can Kill. Gold Medal, 1984.
Melting Point.Gold Medal, 1986.
As October Dies. Gold Medal, 1987.
Nijinsky Is Dead. Gold Medal, 1987.
Acts of Homicide. Gold Medal, 1989.
Blood of Poets. Gold Medal, 1990.

      Previously on this blog:

The Compleat Kenn Davis.

My review of The Dark Side (CB #1) by Davis & John Shirley.

A later review of mine of Acts of Homicide, written without remembering I’d done this one earlier.

   A rare instance of this song being sung as an actual lullaby:

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