February 2019

GEORGE HARMON COXE “Murder Picture.” Novelette. “Flash” Casey #8. First appeared in Black Mask, January 1935. Reprinted in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime, softcover, November 2007).

   The count above is of Casey’s story appearances in Black Mask. The first novel he appeared in didn’t come out until 1942 when Silent Are the Dead was published by Knopf in hardcover.

   I imagine quite a few of you already know that Casey was a news photographer and that he was sometimes also known as “Flashgun.” He was a rough-edged kind of guy, though. He may have been the only news photographer who carried a gun — not all the time, mind you. Only when the occasion called for it, and that it definitely does in this story when his assistant named Wade is kidnapped by a gang of thugs as a means of getting their hands on a photograph Casey has taken.

   There are too many people in the story, both good and bad, and not many who are in-between. We don’t get to meet the girl Wade is soft on, however, one who Casey thinks is up to her neck in the criminal activities the people she works for are involved with, and that’s too bad, as she’s the only whiff of a feminine presence anywhere in the story.

   I confess that I didn’t (couldn’t) follow the plot all that well, but I didn’t have to in order to enjoy all of Casey’s fast-thinking maneuvers he uses to learn where Wade is being held, and from there on, it’s fast-paced action all the way.


CHARLES WILLEFORD – The Way We Die Now. Hoke Moseley #4. Random House, hardcover, 1988. Ballantine, paperback, 1989.

   The last of the Hoke Moseley series unless a manuscript turns up among Willwoford’s papers. (*) This is not the most glorious of exits for wither Moseley or Willeford. The detective work is minimal since Moseley spends most of his time moping around the house after Donald Hutton, whom Hoke thought he had put away for a while, moves into the house across the street.

   Moseley closes the books on an unsolved case, and goes undercover on another case, but nothing really gets in the way of his general dissatisfaction with the way things are going in his personal life.

   Willeford is, I think, incapable of writing a novel that does not capture the reader’s interest, and his characterizations are as sharp as ever, but I found this meandering and somewhat shapeless. So is life, but I like to see more point to the fiction I read than to the life I see people living.

— Reprinted from The French Connection #75, November 1989.

(*) Editorial Note: Taken from Wikipedia: Grimhaven is the manuscript for an unpublished book by hard-boiled crime writer Charles Willeford. Originally intended as Willeford’s sequel to Miami Blues, the novel was deemed too dark for publication, and his agent refused to send it on to the publisher. The novel New Hope for the Dead was later written and published as the second book in the Hoke Moseley series.”


  DEBORAH CROMBIE – Leave the Grave Green. Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James #3, Scribner, hardcover, 1995. Berkley, paperback, 1996. Avon, paperback, 2005.

   I like Crombie’s books. They strike me as crosses between village mysteries and British cozies, and I think they’re well done.

   [Detective Superintendent Duncan] Kincaid and [Sergeant Gemma] James are dispatched from Scotland Yard to handle a politically sensitive case a little way down the Thames. The so-in-law of two titles personages who are major figures in British opera has been found washed up in a lock, and it appear that murder is a possibility.

   The family is an odd one; the daughter lived with her parents rather than her deceased husband, while he continued to occupy their flat. No one seems terribly cut up about it all, and clues are scarce. Nothing to do but get out the spades and start digging, so they do.

   I commented about a previous book in the series that I thought Crombie overdid having Kincaid lust after every woman in the story, and that hasn’t changed. WARNING: PLOT ELEMENTS REVEALED. Some readers seem to prefer their fictional heroes with large warts. but I don’t. Crombie puts a couple of dandies on Kincaid here, and it lessens his appeal to me as a protagonist. Simply if inelegantly put, he screws both a suspect and his comely Sergeant, and that doesn’t make him more human, it just makes him stupid. Well, maybe that’s the same thing. END WARNING.

   Aside from all that, this was a piece with the two previous books: well written, nicely characterized, decently plotted, and an enjoyable read.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #18, February-March 1995.


EDGE OF DOOM. Samuel Goldwyn, 1950. Released in Britain as Stronger Than Fear. Dana Andrews, Farley Granger, Joan Evans, Robert Keith, Paul Stewart, Mala Powers, Adele Jergens, Harold Vermilyea, Douglas Fowley and Ray Teal. Screenplay by Charles Brackett, Ben Hecht and Philip Yordan, from the novel by Leo Brady. Directed by Mark Robson.

   A powerful and moving film noir despite some pasted-in tampering.

   Farley Granger stars as Martin Lynn, a hard-working young man up against it: low-pay, a sick mother, and in love with a woman he can’t afford to marry. He has also carried a grudge against the Catholic Church ever since his father’s death by suicide years earlier.

   Brackett, Hecht and Yordan sketch out his dilemma in a few pungent scenes as Martin frets over his mom, all but begs for a raise to move her to a healthier climate — and gets warmly refused. Director Robson handles it quickly, in a prosaic, sunlit style, contrasted with Granger’s politely controlled desperation, then moves to moodiness when Mom dies, leaving Martin shadowed in guilt—and determined to give her a fine funeral.

   Things progress with a fine scene, written and played perfectly as Martin argues with the parish priest over what is clearly going to be a charity job. He’s up against Harold Verrmilyea, who had a good line in bent lawyers and venal medicos in those days. Here he’s cast as a burned-out priest who has lost the warmth and care Martin so badly needs. His dour refusal clashes with Martin’s growing angst and the young man’s well-bred manners visibly disintegrate when Vermilyea tosses him a buck for cab fare; more frustrated than angry, he clubs the priest to death with a heavy metal cross.

   From here on, Edge of Doom moves solidly into noir territory, following Martin through a nightmare of suspicion, dread and guilt like a tortured Raskolnikov, harassed by hard cops (Robert Keith, Douglas Fowley and Ray Teal at their nastiest) befriended by Dana Andrews as Vermilyea’s compassionate successor, and tempted by sardonic Paul Stewart as a petty crook.

   Edge is well played and poignantly written, but what struck me most was the steep visual style imparted by director Robson and photographer Harry Stradling. Together they fill the frame with vertical lines: tall buildings, high windows and elongated door frames, imparting a unique and evocative look to visually reinforce Edge’s themes of alienation and redemption.

   Vertical lines serve to isolate Farley Granger’s character on the screen, and suggest oppression. But they also convey salvation. The great cathedrals and many other religious structures are traditionally designed with strong vertical lines, lifting the eye upward to the heavens. And so it is here, as the viewer sees on a subconscious level that Martin has a chance to rise from the mess of his life… and wonders if he’ll take it.

   I’ll just add here that after some negative preview feedback — and, I suspect (but have no evidence for) pressure from the Church — producer Sam Goldwyn ordered Dana Andrews back for some additional scenes, showing him as a knowing but compassionate priest to further counterbalance Harold Vermilyea’s unsympathetic portrayal. They also added a prologue and epilogue to show us everything’s just fine, go home folks, and don’t worry, your Priest knows best.

   And I won’t comment on that except to say it doesn’t spoil a gripping and eloquent film.

Ken Nordine (April 13, 1920 – February 16, 2019) was the best spoken word jazz musician in the world, bar none:

Hi Steve

   Can you tell me about the two Thursday short stories/novelettes?

   â€œMurder Has Girl Trouble” Mystery Book Magazine, Spring 1950


   “The Corpse Walked Away” Two Complete Detective Books, January 1951


   Are these stories different from the stories in the six novels? Or were they later expanded into two of the six novels?

           Thank you,


  LESTER del REY, Editor – Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Second Annual Edition. E. P. Dutton, hardcover. 1973. Ace, paperback, December 1975.

   #5. FREDERIK POHL & C. M. KORNBLUTH “The Meeting.” Short story. First published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1972. First collected in Critical Mass by Frederik Pohl & C. M. Kornbluth (Bantam, paperback, 1977. Co-winner of the 1973 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.

   Most science fiction readers of his era considered Cyril Kornbuth to be of the most gifted writers of them all — myself included — and considered his early death in 1958 at the age of 34 to be an absolute tragedy. He was known largely for his short fiction, starting at the age of 15, but before his death he wrote two novels on his own, plus several more in collaboration with others. “The Meeting” was a story that was finished by Frederik Pohl, working from notes Kornbluth left behind.

   A married couple named the Vladeks have a young boy with severe developmental disabilities, and they have just moved to a new town to find a school specializing in students like him. Most of the story takes place during the first PTA meeting of the year, after which Mr. Vladek has a brief moment to talk to the principal about how nine-year-old Tommy is doing. His wife had to stay home, as Tommy has too many emotional issues to be left with a baby sitter.

    What makes this a science fiction story comes very nearly at the end. There is a possibility that an experimental brain transplant procedure will solve Tommy’s problems, but a decision has to be made right away. The story ends with Mr. Vladek reaching for the telephone to tell the doctor what they’ve decided.

   I don’t think anyone has had any doubt what that decision was going to be. This is a very sentimental, old-fashioned story — the portion that Kornbuth wrote was written in the 50s, after all, with Pohl finishing and polishing it up in 1972. It’s a good, well-structured story and was awarded a Hugo at the time, but I don’t believe it would today.


Previously from the del Rey anthology: ISAAC ASIMOV “The Greatest Asset.”


LAWRENCE BLOCK – When the Sacred Ginmill Closes. Matt Scudder #6. Arbor House, hardcover, 1986. Charter, paperback, 1986. Jove, paperback, 1990.

   I have just finished reading When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, in which Matt Scudder remembers a couple of ten-year-old cases that he worked on during his drinking days. I finished this in a rush of adrenalin produced by the excitement a perfect ending always produces in me.

   So when I look ten years into the past I can say that I would very likely have handled things differently now, but everything is different now. Everything. All changed, changed utterly. I live in the same hotel, I walk the same streets, I go to a fight or a ball game the same as ever, but ten years ago I was always drinking and now I don’t drink at all. I don’t regret a single one of the drinks I took, and I hope to God I never take another.

   Because, you see, is the less-traveled road on which I find myself these days, and it ha made all the difference. Oh, yes. All the difference.

   The reflective, wry meditation on life lived and life changing (but perhaps, not all that much) is an appropriate ending for a novel of reflection on decade-old events. This inevitable conclusion (but inevitable only to a writer of Block’s gifts) is an example of perfect pitch in structure and tone.

   It also reminds me of a moment in a recent episode of Inspector Morse (“Cherubims and Seraphims”) in which Morse’s niece, still caught up in the ecstasy of a drug-induced “perfect moment,” comments that life can never be again like that moment. She is short to kill herself, precipitating a search by Morse for answers to a death that has no answers.

   I don’t think that Block necessarily had any sense that he had created something he could never achieve again. He’s continued to write, with great success, and probably never greater than in his Matt Scudder series, although this novel seemed to have a resonance that I don’t remember in any of the others. Let’s just say that my imperfect pitch, which certainly varies from one minute to the next, was at that moment in time in perfect tune with Block’s pitch.

   However, I don’t feel that this is an experience I won’t have again, although the correspondent for it may be a musical composition, a film, a meal, a moment in a personal relationship. I come down from the highs, but the fall isn’t that intense, and the sense of loss isn’t that devastating. Oh, no. Not at all.

   Also, if the ending to this particular Block novel seemed especially satisfying, it’s not profoundly apart from my usual reaction to Block’s work. My experience with mystery fiction is very limited these days, but Block has established in the Scudder series a consistently recognizable style that distinguishes it and him.

— Reprinted from Walter’s Place #106, March 1995.

I’ve just updated my website where you can find a list of mystery paperbacks I have for sale on Amazon. If you buy them directly from me, however, I can offer a 30% discount. This list is larger by a third than the one I linked to over a year ago now.

Included is a large collection of Black Lizard “noir” paperbacks from the 1980s. Authors such as David Goodis, Jim Thompson and Charles Willeford. Lots of cozies, too, and everything in between.

Mystery Paperbacks

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