November 2018


GAVILAN. NBC/Mandy Films Inc in association with MGM Television. October 26 1982 – December 28, 1982, and March 18, 1983. Cast: Robert Urich as Robert Gavilan, Patrick Macnee as Milo Bentley and Kate Reid as Marion Jaworski. Created by Tom Mankiewicz – Executive Producer:Leonard Goldberg.

   Only ten of the thirteen episodes of GAVILAN aired. The series was a ratings failure from the beginning, finishing last in its Tuesday night timeslot against the CBS Tuesday Movie and ABC’s hits THREE’S COMPANY and 9 TO 5. NBC aired one episode on Friday opposite ABC’s TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY and CBS’s DALLAS where it finished last in that timeslot.

   YouTube has two episodes available for view. Watch the linked episodes below quick, while I was writing this a third episode “By the Sword” was pulled off YouTube. These episodes are from the syndicated (edited for time) version aired on TNT.

   The series featured Robert Urich as Gavilan, an ex-spy now consultant for the Dewitt Institute of Oceanography. Stories usually featured Gavilan working with a gorgeous brilliant woman who was working with the Institute on some project or a beautiful female spy pulling him back into life working for “the Company.”

   The series had its good moments, but it also had many of the flaws of 1980’s television. The plots were better than average but had to really stretch to connect to the Institute. In “By the Sword” the brilliant beautiful woman was a scientist working on a project to study the krill as a food source, but the plot was about an ancient samurai sword she stole from the Yakuza to regain her family honor.

   The stories were entertaining but mindless, predictable and too willing to sacrifice story and character for a joke or twist. In “By the Sword” the female scientist is trained in the martial art and had done something her entire family had not done in over a hundred years, got her family’s ancient honored Japanese sword back from the Yakuza. So in the final confrontation for the sword it is Gavilan – as she watched – who sword fights to the death for the sword and her family honor. Of course Gavilan out duels the unbeatable Master Samurai.

   The series has the sexist outlook that was mainstream thinking in the 80s. Much like Indiana Jones, Gavilan taught a college-level class, and like Indiana many of Gavilan’s students were gorgeous young women with a crush on him.

   There were equal amounts of eye candy – female, male and location. The brilliant independent female beauties would wear string bikinis and revealing gowns while Urich had skintight swim trunks and showed off his bare chest.

   GAVILAN stories didn’t lock him into the overused beachfront scenery of his home in Malibu but would travel the world to exotic locales. Yet while Gavilan might have traveled the world, the filming never convinced us he left Los Angeles or the MGM lot.

   Robert Urich is best known as Dan Tanna (VEGA$) or Spenser (SPENSER FOR HIRE), but he could hold the record as star for the most TV series failures. This fifteen-minute video strings together the theme opening to each of his twelve starring TV series.

   As usual Urich played the bland likable predictable hero, a character without much depth and a few quirks that came and went depending on the episode. In episode “By the Sword” machines hated him. Gavilan would argue, beg, and plead with machines such as his computer and jeep, and they would respond by breaking down when he needed them most (the computer he programmed called him a dummy) and returned to working when the problem passed. Gavilan’s conflict with machines was not mention in either of the other two episodes I have seen.

PIRATES. (11/9/82) Teleplay by Mark Frost.Story by Nicholas Corea.Directed by Clifford Bole. Supervising Produced by David Levinson. Produced by John Cutts. GUEST CAST: Michael Billington, Heather Menzies and Paul Koslo. *** A young naïve beautiful scientist hires the Institute to help her find the long lost treasure of the ship King Midas. A ruthless pirate and his crew learn of their mission and take over.

   Ah, 1980s action TV. The beautiful female scientist (played by Urich’s wife Heather Menzies) has spent years researching the history of the ship King Midas and its treasure of gold. She has a new theory of where the gold may be and she is paying the Institute to help her in her search. Gavilan is there for the Institute and has a “hunch” the gold is elsewhere on the ship. They argue cute. They hate each other cute. Guess how they feel about each other at the end.

   One quick dive and they find the gold where Gavilan’s hunch said it would be. Soon after, the pirates arrive. The highly educated bookworm is wearing a string bikini and yells at the pirates:

   “You can’t do this to us, we’re scientists.”

   The pirate leader responds, “Oh yes we can, we’re pirates,” and he blows up the living area and all the treasure hunting equipment. It didn’t make sense but it made a great break to commercial.

   The story continues exactly as expected. Characters do as the plot demands, things blow up, and there is a chase. The chase is especially 80s.

   Gavilan only has a knife while the bad guys all have guns, but when Gavilan defeats any of them, does he grab their gun? Of course not, Gavilan is outnumbered and all he has is a knife, why would he want their guns?

DESTINATION HERO. (12/14/82) Written and Supervising Produced by Nicholas Corea – Directed by Charles Picerni -Produced by Stephen P. Caldwell – CAST: Michael Ansara, Laura Johnson, and Paul Picerni*** A gorgeous female spy from his past convinces Gavilan to get back in the spy business when his best friend from the spy days – the one who had saved Gavilan’s life – is about to be executed in a Turkish prison.

   The corrupt government official, who belonged in an episode of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, was wasted here as the majority of time featured Gavilan outsmarting the bad guy’s idiot lackeys.

   The beautiful sexy female spy, who Gavilan does not like, wears sexy clothes and can’t make up her mind if she is a femme fatale or on the side of good.

   The script was weak. Just by chance Gavilan bumps into some lovable Greek terrorists and makes the comic relief characters an important part of the plan.

   There was a great twist near the end of the episode that was wasted. It should have ended the third act, with the final act dealing with the fallout and reasons for the twist.

   The direction was also flawed with several reaction shots that made no sense in the situation or with the character.

   Former James Bond writer Tom Mankiewicz (LIVE AND LET DIE) created the series. He and executive producer Leonard Goldberg had recently had success with HART TO HART.

   Reportedly Fernando Lamas was to play the part Patrick Macnee would take over after Lamas death. Milo was a family friend, conman and visitor that would never leave. Milo like any sidekick tried to help but usually got in the way. Macnee played Milo as a well-meaning loyal friend who was also a bumbling conman loser.

   Kate Reid was burdened with the part of Gavilan’s boss. There wasn’t much for her to do beyond remind the audience Gavilan was brilliant, was not a PI, and had a real job when he wasn’t dropping everything to go off on some adventure.

   GAVILAN never stood a chance opposite ABC hit series THREE’S COMPANY on Tuesday or CBS hit series DALLAS on Friday. There was nothing special or original about the series. There are moments that make you think of Magnum P.I. and every other TV action hero of the late 20thcentury, but that was not necessarily a bad thing for GAVILAN. There is a nostalgic charm to GAVILAN. It was supposed to be mindless fun, and for that it succeed more than it failed, but GAVILAN also lacked the substance and originality for it to be missed.

THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD. Lionsgate, 2017. Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Élodie Yung. Director: Patrick Hughes.

   For an action comedy, The Hitman’s Bodyguard has a complicated plot, so let’s start with that, using the cast listing above, and in the same order. Ryan Reynolds is the bodyguard, two years earlier at the top of his game, but fallen into disgrace after he allowed one of his clients, a Japanese arms dealer, to be killed.

   Samuel L. Jackson is his client, a notorious hitman who has agreed to testify against Gary Oldman, the brutal dictator of Belarus, at the International Criminal Court, for crimes against humanity. Salma Hayek is Jackson’s wife, currently in prison, but as a bargaining chip, she will be released once Jackson testifies.

   Last but far from least is Élodie Yung, an inexperienced agent for Interpol whose assignment is to make sure Jackson makes it to the trial on time. To this end she hires Reynolds, an ex-lover, as an outside agent in charge of transport. He demurs but he finally agrees when he is promised his reputation will be restores.

   Almost all of the pieces are in place, but of course there are some twists ahead, as well as lots and lots of bullets, explosions and other spectacular firepower. Lots of chases too, on foot, by car, on motorbike, and around and around the canals of Amsterdam. If you like movies with high body counts, this is the film for you. It is also a “buddy” film, with the hitman and his bodyguard always in wickedly sharp banter with each other as they make one hair’s breadth escape after another.

   But at the heart of the film, though, what it really is, is a love story. Two of them, in fact. Jackson is willing to testify and in all likelihood go to prison, but in exchange for his wife Salma Hayek’s release, it is worth it. Theirs is love-hate relationship, but course we know that love will win out.

   As for Ryan Reynolds, he broke up with Élodie Yung when he became convinced that she had something to to with his big failure two years before, but the torch he carries for her is a mile long. Once again, we the viewer, know that all will end well, and indeed it does.

   Don’t watch this movie if either overpowering but well-filmed mayhem or lots (and lots) of swears bother you, but if not, I think you may enjoy this one as much as I did. It did well enough with audiences last year that a sequel is in the works, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.

KELLEY ROOS – One False Move. Jeff & Haila Troy #10 (*). Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1966. No paperback edition.

   This is a strange one. This was the first new book featuring the mystery-solving team of Jeff and Haila Troy in 17 years, and of all things, in spite of their obvious compatibility in all of their adventures in the 1940s, in One False Move, they’re divorced, and she has absolutely nothing good to say about her ex-husband

   What’s also very strange is that Haila, who tells the story, is only 28 in this one. If story time is the same as real time — and that’s a big “if” — that would make her two years old when the Troys solved their first case together in 1940. (*) The count is probably off up above when I called this number 10 in the series, as this assumes that “Beauty Marks the Spot” is number 9. That was a novella published separately in Dell’s 10-Cent series of paperbacks, but in fact it had been included earlier in Triple Threat, a collection of three tales published in 1949.

   Be all this as it may, if all this inconsistency can be ignored — and I confess I found it difficult — the mystery is a good (but not great) one. Haila is staying with her aunt in a small town in Texas where they are putting on a historical pageant in which Haila has agreed to take part. Dead is one of the crew. It is assumed he was blackmailing someone who finally decided he or she had had enough.

   All of the actors and stage crew are suspects, and all of them, once the investigation begins, are discovered to have been acting furtively and strangely, obviously with secrets to hide.. Overall this is a case in which clearing all of the false trails away is more interesting than the conclusion itself, but as detective stories go, this one is a solid one.

   Do Jeff and Haila get back together? You needn’t ask. In my opinion, though, and I’m only partly joking when I say this, there are times when authors should not be allowed to interfere in their characters’ lives, and this is one of them.

MURDER IN THE FLEET. MGM, 1935. Robert Taylor, Jean Parker, Ted Healy, Una Merkel, Nat Pendleton, Jean Hersholt, Arthur Byron. Director: Edward Sedgwick.

   A new electronic fire-fighting device is being installed on a navy cruiser, and someone is intent on stopping it, to the extent of committing murder. Robert Taylor is in charge of the installation, but as stalwart and handsome as he is, the movie’s still a disaster.

   Less than a quarter of the film is devoted to the mystery. The rest consists of busted romance (Jean Parker, primarily) and slapstick comedy (Ted Healy, minus his Three Stooges, and Nat Pendleton). What’s worse, to tell you the truth, I think I liked the comedy better.

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

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “Where Angels Fear to Tread.” Lee Sparler #1. Novelet. Published in Detective Fiction Weekly, 30 December 1939.

   Even though he got a huge cover blurb, most assuredly on the name value of the story’s author, Erle Stanley Gardner, as a private eye, Lee Sparler turned out to only be a one-and-done. By this time in 1939 Gardner was winding down his pulp-writing career. Perry Mason and the Donald Lam and Bertha Cool books were a lot more profitable, I’m sure.

   As a character, Sparler is worth talking about, though, and I could do no better than to use the words of Theo. W. Garr, president of The Planet Investigations, Inc. Here he is describing the qualities of the operative he plans to assign to a prospective client’s case:

   “He looks like a gigolo. He plays the harmonica. He raises hell with office discipline. He’s found that my old-maid bookkeeper is a romanticist at heart, and capitalizes on that knowledge. He discharges his responsibilities in a thoroughly irresponsible manner. He’s always broke. He plays the race horses. He wastes expense money, and he doesn’t seem to take himself, life, or anyone else seriously. His personality is thoroughly distasteful to me. He’s raising the devil with all my routine. He takes too many chances, and some day he’s going to get himself killed if I don’t fire him first. I have long suspected that he solves his cases by luck more than by brains and application, but the point is he gets results. Now then, do you want us to handle the case, or do you want your check back?”

   I don’t know how often a sales pitch like this would really be effective, but of course the client says yes, maybe a little doubtfully, but yes. His daughter, he believes, is being blackmailed. She’s always broke, and he thinks she’s been pawning her jewelry. Without letting her know she’s being watched, Sparler’s job is find out what’s going on. Which he does, and as it turns out, everything his boss said about him is true.

   I think Gardner had a lot of fun writing this story, and it shows. The twists in the tale that you expect in a Gardner story are only minor ones, however, and in fact, to my way of thinking, the story ends far too soon. I enjoyed it, though. It’s too bad that Lee Sparler had only the one adventure, but we can always hope that he got the girl.


GUMSHOE. Columbia, 1971. Albert Finney, Billie Whitelaw, Frank Finlay, Janice Rule, Fulton Mackay, and Bill Dean. Written by Neville Smith. Directed by Stephen Frears.

   A quirky little mystery/comedy/drama that deserves to be better remembered.

   In the early 1970s, Cinephiles and Cineasts knew all about film noir, and looked back on it with affection. But to ordinary Cinners in the movie-going public, it all seemed a bit passé, and so this clever pastiche went largely unseen and unsung. Too bad, because it’s a dandy little film.

   The story, as far as I can make out, centers on Eddie Ginley (Finney) a failure at 31 who ekes out a living as a Bingo Caller and dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian. His long-time girlfriend (Whitelaw) left him to marry his brother, and he’s seeing a Psychiatrist:

   “Eddie, you know what? You’re a bloody nut!

“I owe it all to you, Doc.”

   For a birthday present to himself, he puts an ad in the paper:

No Divorce Work

   To his surprise, a mysterious phone call summons him to meet with a shady fat man, who gives him an envelope with a picture of a girl, a thousand pounds, and a gun. So the chase is on: to find the girl, learn who wants to kill her, and why—a chase complicated by his ex-girlfriend-now-sister-in-law; a femme fatale (Rule) who wants him off the case; and the real hit man who was supposed to pick up the package Eddie got by mistake.

   If it all sounds complicated, well that ain’t the half of it, and it’s further obfuscated by sudden shifts in tone from action to drama to comedy. This was the first feature film of Stephen Frears (and of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, come to think of it) and he opts for speed, with lines bouncing around like something from a Howard Hawks movie:

Anne: I’m Anne Scott.

Eddie: I’m all shook up.

Anne: What’s your name?

Eddie: Modelling. Clay Modelling.

Anne: I don’t think I fancy you, Modelling.

Eddie: Work on it.

Anne: I like tall men.

Eddie: The Seven Dwarves got Snow White.

Anne: Only because they crowded her.

   The Big Sleep comes to mind, doesn’t it? And like that classic, Gumshoe leaves no time to wonder if it makes sense –which it doesn’t. What it does is provide 86 minutes of laughs, surprises, suspense and drama. And what more could you ask, anyway?


MAX ALLAN COLLINS & MICKEY SPILLANE, Editors – Murder Is My Business. Dutton, hardcover, 1994. Signet, paperback, 1995.

   I do wonder just a bit how large Spillane’s editorial contributions were. God, I’m cynical. Collins’ introduction sheds no light on the subject, though he assures us that he “chatted” with Spillane about it, and that “they” invited writers to submit. This is the first in a projected series of themed collections from Dutton, all with the Spillane imprimatur.

   I usually don’t do anthologies, but I liked the theme of this one — murder for hire — and it looked like it had a decent list of authors, though a few I hadn’t read before. There are 17 stories in all, 16 originals and a 1953 novella by Spillane written for but never published in Colliers, ranging in length from Edward Wellen’s 3-pager to Spillane’s 177.

   [A partial list of other authors: Paul Bishop, Lawrence Block, Collins, John Lutz, Stephen Mertz, Warren Murphy, Carolyn Wheat and Teri White.]

   I’m sure I’m not a good judge of shorter fiction, so take my opinions with a block or two of salt. I was not terribly impressed with the collection. There were a few good stories — Block’s tale of a melancholy killer, Carolyn Wheat’s offbeat story, John Lutz’s lighthearted tale of a retired cop, and Warren Murphy’s Trace story — a raft of so-so’s and a few that I thought were just really bad.

   One of these was by Daniel Helpingstine, and if you said “who he?”, well, so did I, but I won’t be trying to find out more. The Spillane novella was a blast from the past, with all the attendant faults and virtues. I don’t think it’s worth the money, and I like hired killer stories. Check it out of the library.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #17, January 1995.

JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Man Who Could Not Shudder. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1940. UK hardcover: Hamish Hamilton, 1940. Hardcover reprints: P. F. Collier & Sons, no date; Books, Inc., 1944. Paperback reprints: Bantam #365, August 1949; Bantam 1504, 1956; F2837, 1964. Berkley S1941, January 1971. Zebra, paperback; 1st printing, May 1986.

   Unless a reader is less than 40 years old, roughly speaking, here is an author that needs no introduction. If you’re a mystery reader who’s under 40 years old and John Dickson Carr is an author who’s already familiar to you, I have a feeling that you’re in a distinct (but very exclusive) minority. Zebra (or Kensingston) did a series of paperback reprints of many of Carr’s novels in the late 1980s – with very nice covers – but that’s already 20 years ago, and like Ellery Queen, his books are being slowly forgotten.

   But for many of us over 40 (and then some), Carr’s books (and those he wrote as Carter Dickson, whom some believe are even better) are among the best detective stories ever written. Or, speaking personally now, that’s the way I remember them. Does the actuality measure up to the reality? I’m at an age now when I can go back and re-read a book that I first tackled when I was, say, 12 to 15 years old, and see it through completely different eyes.

   Or in other words, I didn’t remember this one at all. The detective who was on hand for most of Carr’s mysteries was Dr. Gideon Fell, a caricature whom some say was based on G. K. Chesterton. I didn’t know this when I was 12 or 15, and since no one knows who G. K. Chesterton is any more either, somehow I do not believe that it helps to point this out to today’s mystery readers, if in fact, any of them are still reading this short essay or long review.

   Suffice it to say that Fell was an unkempt, heavy-set fellow, prone to incisive thinking and frustratingly inclined to stay mum about his thoughts on matters of mystery, expect for the most cryptic utterances when pressed, but of course (I hasten to add) one of the world’s greatest experts on impossible crimes.

   The Man Who Could Not Shudder falls right in the middle of the list of Gideon Fell novels, but chronologically it’s much closer to the beginning of his (and Carr’s) career than to the end, which is all to the good – in one sense, and maybe not in others. More after the list:

Hag’s Nook. Harper & Brothers, 1933.
The Mad Hatter Mystery. Harper & Brothers, 1933.
The Eight of Swords. Harper & Brothers, 1934.
The Blind Barber. Harper & Brothers, 1934.
Death-Watch. Harper & Brothers, 1935.
The Three Coffins. Harper & Brothers, 1935.
The Arabian Nights Murder. Harper & Brothers, 1936.
To Wake the Dead. Harper & Brothers, 1938.
The Crooked Hinge. Harper & Brothers, 1938.
The Problem of the Green Capsule. Harper & Brothers, 1939.
The Problem of the Wire Cage. Harper & Brothers, 1939.
The Man Who Could Not Shudder. Harper & Brothers, 1940.
The Case of the Constant Suicides. Harper & Brothers, 1941.
Death Turns the Tables. Harper & Brothers, 1941.
Till Death Do Us Part. Harper & Brothers, 1944.
He Who Whispers. Harper & Brothers, 1946.
The Sleeping Sphinx. Harper & Brothers, 1947.
Below Suspicion. Harper & Brothers, 1949.
The Dead Man’s Knock. Harper & Brothers, 1958.
In Spite of Thunder. Harper & Brothers, 1960.
The House at Satan’s Elbow. Harper & Row, 1965.
Panic in Box C. Harper & Row, 1966.
Dark of the Moon. Harper & Row, 1967.

   If you are anything like me, the thing that will strike you the most if you were to read any of these, I’m sure, is what a game Carr delighted in when he was telling a mystery. Even well along in his writing career and knowing exactly what he was doing, he always demonstrated the sheer fun of telling a detective story and daring the reader to play along and to see who gets to the ending first.

   The Man Who Could Not Shudder begins in a bar in a gentleman’s club with a number of participants jovially telling each other ghost stories. Only two of people in the bar appear in any of the later chapters: the narrator, Bob Morrison, and his guest at the time, Martin Clarke, who in spite of the story told about Longwood House (or perhaps even because of it) buys it, renovates it, and invites a gaggle of guests down for a weekend.

   What was the story? That twenty or so years ago a butler was found dead in the house, crushed beneath a chandelier that he had (terrified?) jumped up to hold onto and – this is the only explanation possible – swung back and forth on it until it came loose and fell down upon him.

   A ghost story of some magnitude, in other words, and apparently the ghost is still there, in spite of the renovations. A small, mild incident occurs first, that of a mysterious clutching hand that disappears as quickly as it appears. It is not until later that one of the guests, the man who could not shudder, is shot by a pistol which had been set up for display upon some pegs in the wall – but which “jumped off the wall” and was somehow fired while still in the air, with nary a human hand anywhere about.

   Rather fantastic, you may think, but is the atmosphere that Carr creates beforehand that makes this work. Here’s a long quote that will demonstrate, from pages 61-62, on the night previous. Morrison is in bed, trying to fall asleep:

   I put on my slippers and dressing gown. I lit a cigarette, was annoyed at the absence of an ash tray, wondered what to use for an ash tray, and compromised (as we usually do) by dropping the burned match into the soap dish.

   In the raw reaction of seeing light, nerves crawled. I would have given five pounds for A strong whisky and soda, to send me to sleep. There was no reason why I should not go downstairs and get myself one, except that it would be an admission of weakness if anybody saw me, and it seems the height of something-or-other to creep out and take whisky in another man’s house in the middle of the night.

   No: no whisky. Reading might do it. The cigarette smoke rose up blue, tasting thin and bitter. I was going over to the mantel to get a book when I heard, from somewhere down in the house, a heavy thud as though a sofa had been lifted and dropped.

   Then silence.

   Though that noise was not loud, the whole house seemed to vibrate to it; the tingle of the window frames, the jar of the electric bulb, the fancied shift of a plaster ceiling, for the thud had been in my chest as well.

   And here I made a discovery. In the shock of that noise, I think I discovered what is at the root of all the psychology of fear. The hot-and-cold feeling I experienced was one of pure relief. Something had happened: it could be investigated. It was no longer a question of lying supine, between starchy sheets, without shoes or the moral armor of a dressing gown, waiting in the dark for something to come to you. You could go to it. You could face it. And it was thereby shorn of half its terrors. We are frightened of ghosts because, in the literal sense, we take them lying down.

   If preparation is one weapon in Carr’s arsenal of writing tools, misdirection is another. Quite a bit is made of hidden passages (none found), sliding panels (no) and long poles with or without fishing hooks on a line (the opportunity is there, but neither poles nor hooks are to be found). Alibis are questioned, identities are mistaken, people make up tales to protect themselves, but in case you are wondering, as Fell tells Morrison on page 267, “…this is not Roger Ackroyd all over again.”

   Characterization is minimal. I would certainly have to concede that. The plot is everything, and if you don’t pick up on the clues that Dr. Fell spots and bases his solution to the matter upon, then you have no one to blame but yourself. They’re there; there are no two ways about it.

   If you were to persist in pointing out, however, that some of the characters’ actions are doubtful, designed only to further the plot as part of the massive authorial misdirection, I would have to confess that I could not disagree.

   I also confess that when the final denouement finally arrived, I was – not disappointed, but – let down. I was hoping for better – but of course there could be no other explanation, even though (in retrospect) it makes the chances of the events happening that led to the title character’s death slim and (dare I say it?) far-fetched, if not worse.

   Would the book make for a decent movie? Yes, in the 1930s. No, not today. To explain more would mean to explain too much. I’m tempted, but no, I simply can’t do it. There are some very nice twists in the tale, both beforehand and afterward, but I think the audiences of today are too well sophisticated for this particular explanation to have a snowball’s chance of going over and being accepted.

   This is not to say that I did not enjoy the book, for indeed I did. It is a marvelous game that Carr was playing here, and if this particular effort is not up to his best, which was the best there ever was, then so be it. The enjoyment that arises from reading a purely puzzle story like this one, whether it’s successful or not, can come from observing an expert who enjoys what he’s doing and who is careful and methodical about doing it. Even if Carr doesn’t manage to pull this one off, and I don’t think he does, there’s still plenty of pleasure to be found in simply sitting back, watching closely and seeing just what it is that he’s trying to do.

   There are not many other authors who’d even make the attempt, then or now.

— November 2005 (slightly revised)

A CLIMATE FOR KILLING. Black Crow Productions / Propaganda Films, 1991. John Beck, Katharine Ross, Steven Bauer, Mia Sara, Phil Brock. Written and directed by J. S. Cardone.

   I led a sheltered life through the 1990s. Before watching this movie, at the heart of which is a better-than-average murder mystery, I’d heard of only one of the members of the cast. Check the listing above, and you can probably tell which one that was. But between them all, they probably appeared in well over a hundred movies, many of them like this one, most of them without a lot of pretensions and with budgets, shall we say, on the skimpy side.

   The story. Found in the desert in Yuma County, Arizona, is the body of decapitated woman. Her hands have been removed as well, making it difficult if not impossible to identify her. Luckily Grace Hines, the local coroner (played by Katharine Ross), recognizes the birthmark on her thigh. Unluckily she can tell no one but Paul McCraw of the sheriff’s office (John Beck) since she saw the mark while performing an illegal abortion on the woman many years before.

   Which gets us to the core of the matter. Now the problem is the fact that the woman was presumed dead 15 years before. She was presumed murdered by her much older husband, who committed suicide later the same week in a fit of remorse. Written out like this, I think you may be able to put two and two together and get close to four faster than the investigators on the case manage to do, but it’s still an interesting challenge.

   Filling out the running time, though, is a subplot that arises when a young investigator (Steven Bauer) arrives at sheriff’s office tasked by a government office in Phoenix to “modernize” their operations there. Problem is that he’s a “by the books” kind of guy, and McCraw likes to work on “instinct.” Matters get even more complicated when the new guy starts taking out McCraw’s daughter.

   This part of the story is filler at best, but it does add another dimension to it. I watched the movie last week, but I recorded it from Cinemax on a VHS tape some 25 years ago. It has the ambience and basic ingredients of a made-for-TV movie, but it turns out it was not, as evidenced by a topless dancer in a local bar in one scene, and one rather graphic sex scene toward the end of the movie. Both gratuitous? Yes, of course they are.


MIKE BOND – The Last Savanna. Mandevilla Press, paperback, 2013.

   Sunlight had fled to the upper eastern slopes. To the north, across vast, empty Suguta Valley, the sky shifted steadily from cobalt to blood and lavender; doves called from the candelabra euphorbias, “And you too? And you too?” A honeyguide fluttered past the doum palm, alit on a higher branch, and cocked its head expectantly down at the Samburu. “Come with me!” it twittered. “Honey! Honey! Come with me!” A string of puffball cumulus trooped across the eastern sky, nose to tail like elephants, sunset reddening their flanks, as if they’d been rolling, as elephants once did, in the ochre desert dust of the Dida Galgalu.

   Mike Bond’s The Last Savanna more than satisfies two of my favorite genres, the African novel and the classic adventure story as pioneered by the likes of Buchan and brought to its high point in the Post War era by writers like Hammond Innes, Victor Canning, and Elleston Trevor.

   Bond has been writing for a while and producing books of classic adventure that are both modern in voice and story, and beautifully written in prose both as hard as the men he writes about and lyrical as his finely realized settings with titles like Killing Maine, Holy War, and House of Jaguar.

   At issue in this one are the horrors of post Colonial Africa, torn by poverty, war, terrorism, and uncertainty. The plot follows three people, McAdam, a former SAS soldier turned protector of wildlife and hunter of the poachers who are destroying the legacy of African wildlife and funding terrorism with the money they make. Rebecca is a white woman McAdam will encounter as the hunt for the poachers tightens, and one he falls in love for after years of a bitter loveless marriage. Finally there is Warwar, one of the poachers, a young African limited in his choices who becomes hunted and hunter as the harsh landscape turns the tables on the two sides.

   Set on the border between Kenya and Ethiopia, the novel is unrelenting in its portrait of the modern African reality, of what the continent faces and the struggle of human and wildlife to survive the increasingly few resources.

   “We took out seven poachers but three more got away, with the tusks. You know it won’t stop till every elephant is dead. The problem’s Africa: the world wants copper so Africa rips open its belly. The world wants diamonds so Africa sends its young men down mines to die for them. People want ivory and colobus skins and oil and slaves so Africa plunders herself for them!”

   Bond balances his lyricism with hard-boiled writing and an unbiased view of the world, of tough men doing tough jobs and sometimes becoming too hardened to them, of men making wrong choices both because they have to few chances and the lure of easy wealth. It isn’t an easy world or a reassuring one he writes of, and the results aren’t often pretty, but he writes the adventure novel as well as I have seen it written for a while.

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