May 2019

  LOU SAHADI, Editor – An Argosy Special: Science Fiction. One-shot reprint magazine. Popular Publications, 1977.

#4. JOHN W. JAKES “Half Past Fear.” Short story. First appeared in Super Science Stories, August 1951. Otherwise never reprinted.

   Before John Jakes hit it rich with his Kent Family Chronicles, he was generally regarded as an all-around hack, and rightly so. He wrote a couple dozen sci-fi novels, maybe a dozen more mystery and spy novels, of which his PI Johnny Havoc books may be the best remembered today, and even a half dozen “Man from UNCLE” stories for the magazine of the same name in the mid-60s.

   Of his fantasy and science fiction, his Brak the Barbarian pastiches of Robert E. Howard’s Conan tales are collectable now; the rest are safely forgotten. And the same can be said of “Half Past Fear,” his third to be published short story. In it a family of three takes in a strange traveler as a boarder, only to discover that he came from the past and that he is being pursued.

   Time travel tales are almost always fun to read — they make up one of my favorite subgenres in all SF — but this one is clunky and confusing, with one of the lead characters, unable to explain how things turn out, simply shrugs and calls upon the unexplainable “paradoxes of time travel” to bail out both the author and the story, and not at all succeding.

   One might be forgiven in thinking that this story was chosen for Jakes’ name only, to help sell the magazine, but if you take a look at the image at the upper left, you’ll see that none of the authors are mentioned, only the titles of the stories. A strange marketing device, indeed.


Previously from this Lou Sahadi anthology: LEIGH BRACKETT “Child of the Green Light.”

         Saturday, February 7.

CONCRETE COWBOYS. “Pilot.” CBS, 60m. Season 1, Episode 1. Jerry Reed, Geoffrey Scott. Guest Cast: Billy Barty, Michael Fox, Phil Harris, Belinda Montgomery.

   This is the replacement series for Secrets of Midland Heights, and a greater contrast between two shows is hard to imagine. Stars: Jerry Reed, with Geoffrey Scott, who takes the place of Tom Selleck (now of Magnum, P.I.), who had the part in the made-for-TV movie/pilot for the series.

   If you’ve seen Jerry Reed act before, as in Smoky and the Bandit, the example that comes to mind right away, you know what to expect. He and Scott are a couple of happy-go-lucky guitar-pickin’ good-ol-boys (forgive the hyphens) out on the road, looking for a good time, and good con.

   Phil (“That’s What I Like About the South”) Harris plays an old buddy of Jerry Reed’s, and he has 15 minutes in this opening episode before someone Reed has taken $4000 from in a poker game bumps him off. Why isn’t [it] Reed who is killed is hard to say, except of course it Phil Harris is not the star of the series.

   Part two of our two buddies’ revenge will play next week, but as for me, I’m going to miss Jordan Christopher as the poor little rich girl’s evil Uncle Guy in Midland Heights. Now there was somebody you could really hate!

[UPDATE.]   The series was broadcast on CBS from February 7 to March 21, 1981 and cancelled after seven episodes.


ALBERT DORRINGTON – The Radium Terrors. Eveleigh Nash, UK, hardcover, 1912. Doubleday Pagr, US, hardcover, 1912. W. R. Caldwell & Co., US, Hardcover, ca. 1912. Serialized in The Pall Mall Magazine, UK, January-June 1911, and in The Scrap Book, January-August 1911.

   Beatrice Messonier sat near the window dazed and mystified by her benefactor’s dazzling prophecies. Something in his manner suggested an approaching crisis in his own life and hers. What did his talk of princes and statesmen mean? She would have regarded such an outburst in another as the result of alcoholic excesses. But Teroni Tsarka was not given to the use of stimulants. He abhorred intemperance of mind and body. What he had spoken was the result of his structural philosophy, she felt certain. A tremendous crisis in medical research was at hand. And Teroni Tsarka was the man to sound the trumpet of science to an apathetic civilization.

   Beatrice Messonier is a brilliant oculist whose research was backed by the mysterious Dr. Tsarka, who has helped her learn the secrets of the Z Ray, the powerful result of radium research, and has set her up in a clinic, which has no patients thanks to his insistence on exorbitant fees.

   Just that night she broken her own heart having had to turn down the young detective Clifford Renwick, who was blinded with radium by Tsarka’s own assistant Horubi when Renwick tried to force an interview with Tsarka about the recently stolen Moritz Radium, Renwick being a youthful private investigator eager to make a name for himself.

   And of course we are off in the land of the Yellow Peril novel, serialized in Pall Mall, a popular British magazine on the lines of The Strand, and handsomely illustrated as well.

   Ironically Sax Rohmer had much the same idea in about the same year, with Dr. Fu Manchu making his debut, but even with Rohmer’s rather crude Edwardian style, his work is a far cry from the maudlin at times (the blinded Renwick has a touching moment with his old gray mother after escaping Tsarka — something you can hardly imagine Dr. Petrie or Nayland Smith bothering with) and painfully arch Dorrington.

   The formula here is much the same of the early Fu Manchu books, parry and thrust, chase, escape, and traps to capture Tsarka sharing about equal time with not particularly imaginative deadly traps for young Renwick.

   But the devil in these details is how dated Dorrington’s novel reads compared to Rohmer, who for all his melodrama and atmosphere is practically a minimalist in comparison.

   What with Beatrice Messonier (another difference is that in Rohmer, a Eurasian beauty wins Dr. Petrie’s heart, but in Dorrington, Renwick can’t be involved with a woman much more exotic than a Frenchwoman) unconvincingly posing as a much older woman and forced to seem heartless and cruel to young Renwick, and Tsarka being more interested in profit than world conquest, it is, for all its thrills, pretty pale stuff compared to Rohmer’s unknown poisons, Fu Manchu’s army of dacoit assassins, seductive Eurasian beauties under his spell, snakes, rats, weird poisonous bugs and the like.

   Tsarka, like Fu Manchu, has a daughter, but she is a far cry from Fu Manchu’s child. Rather she is a pale flower whose Japanese artist lover lives with she and her father (Tsarka uses an exhibition of the young man’s work to blind several prominent people who must then seek Madame Messonier’s clinic, the extent of his evil masterplan, a cheap cruel con game to make a few bucks). I suppose the attractive lovers are a step up from Fu Manchu’s evil daughter, but frankly they don’t bring much to the proceedings rather than a bit of humanization to the cruel and crafty Japanese scientist despite his penchant for experimenting on unwilling victims.

   “The scoundrel!” burst from Coleman. “He and his associates appear to have discovered a destroyer of human energy in radium. Personally, I fear that we shall find ourselves unable to cope with this new school of Asiatic criminals who regard the blinding of men and women as a pleasant pastime.”

   Reading this, it doesn’t take much imagination to see Rohmer’s entry in the Yellow Peril stakes for the startlingly new and modern work it must have seemed what with a thin patina of sex, relatively clipped dialogue, and straight forward telling wrapped in the opium fog laden atmosphere of Limehouse out of Thomas Burke and pure imagination. Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” reads as if it might have been written in the early twenties, where Dorrington’s Radium Terrors reads as if it might have been written in the early eighteen nineties.

   The book has its thrills, and while dated, it isn’t badly written, but reading it you can understand what readers noted in better writers of the era, a voice, that beginning with Conan Doyle, was more modern and less given to maudlin sentiment and long winded prose. Reading Rohmer after Dorrington, or around the same time, must have been as refreshing as discovering Dashiell Hammett after a steady diet of Carolyn Wells.

   Reading this can give you a new appreciation for the relative modernity of the more vulgar, and certainly more gifted Sax Rohmer. Tsarka is a mean and constipated villain, vicious, petty, and ultimately ridiculous for all the Victorian language. Rohmer’s Fu Manchu is a Miltonian angel fallen to earth — some recent Asian literary scholars have suggested rehabilitating Fu Manchu for just that reason — because the character has, both in Rohmer’s work and the public imagination, transcended his racist origins becoming an archetype as much as a stereotype.

   Whether there proves to be anything to that view or not the inescapable fact of reading The Radium Terrors is that Rohmer and Fu Manchu ran literary rings around Dorrington and his Dr. Tsarka, and it may just be the difference, aside from Rohmer’s superior storytelling skills, is that Dorrington doesn’t believe in his Japanese pretender for a moment, and Rohmer embraces the his creation with full blooded zeal.

   Fu Manchu lived and breathed. Tsarka lingers like a bad taste.

AARON MARC STEIN – Moonmilk and Murder. Tim Mulligan & Elsie Mae Hunt #18. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1955. Curtis, paperback, 1968.

   Moonmilk consists of the cheesey calcium deposits the form on the surfaces of damp caves before it hardens into limestone, ad unlike archaeologists Tim Mulligan and Elsie Mae Hunt, I didn’t know that either. Here they’re in France, looking for caveman art.

   And they find murder as well. Ten years after the war, passions against collaborators still run high, setting off a complicated puzzle spoiled only slightly by the intrusive smell of coincidence. While the pieces fit nicely, the story doesn’t quite jell.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #14, July 1989.

Bibliographic Note:   This was the last appearance of archaeological partners Tim Mullligan and Elsie Mae Hunt. Their first of eighteen mysteries was The Sun Is a Witness (1940). All eighteen were published under Doubledy’s Crime Club imprint.


NORTHWEST RANGERS. MGM, 1942. James Craig, William Lundigan, Patricia Dane, John Carradine, Jack Holt, Keenan Wynn and Grant Withers. Screenplay by Gordon Kahn and David Lang, story by Arthur Caesar. Directed by Joseph M. Newman (as Joe Newman.)

   MGM’s notorious Manhattan Melodrama, re-made with Mounties.

   Yeah, well, okay so it’s Mounties. I mean if that’s what the kids are doing these days…

   Actually, Northwest Rangers ain’t all that bad except in comparison. It has all the gloss MGM lavished even on its B-pictures, John Carradine and Grant Withers make a fine pair of villains with plenty of screen time, Jack Holt is tough as ever, and Keenan Wynn does well with rather less as comic relief.

   If you’re not familiar with the story, you’ll recognize it right off: two pals, orphaned as boys, are adopted by doughty old Mountie Sergeant Jack Holt. One (William Lundigan) grows up to be a doughty young Mountie, the other (James Craig) makes his way as a gambler and general rakehell, and with all of Canada to bounce around in, they just naturally come into conflict with each other when Craig wins the local gambling hall from John Carradine, and his girl falls for Lundigan. Small world, ain’t it?

   Director Joseph M. Newman had his moments, and he handles this predestined obscurity with more class than it really deserves. The problem here is with the leads.

   In the 1950s, James Craig matured into a pretty good actor in bad-guy parts. But in the 40s he was MGM’s back-up for Clark Gable — or maybe for Gable’s 1st-string back-up — and all he does here is grin and try to look roguish, an effort clearly beyond him at this stage.

   As for William Lundigan, well, he was always William Lundigan.

   With these two carrying the story – unlike William Powell and Clark Gable in Manhattan Melodrama — it’s hard to give a damn, and about the nicest thing you can say about Northwest Rangers is that it passes the time easily and nobody famous got shot leaving the theater.


TUMBLEWEED. Universal Pictures, 1953. Audie Murphy, Lori Nelson, Chill Wills, Roy Roberts, Russell Johnson, K.T. Stevens, Madge Meredith, Lee Van Cleef, I. Stanford Jolley. Director: Nathan Juran.

   Surprisingly stylish for an Audie Murphy oater, Tumbleweed isn’t a particularly well-known Western. Yet it’s a quite watchable movie and one that deserves wider recognition as well as an official stand-alone DVD release. Directed by Nathan Juran, whose significant work in art direction gave him a keen eye for staging scenes, this Universal-International release may not have anything in it that you probably haven’t seen before.

   But that doesn’t mean what it has isn’t solid. There are Indians on the warpath; a White man scheming with them (of course); a seemingly impossible love affair; a man wrongfully accused of a crime; and a sheriff who must face off against the town’s rabble who are determined to exact frontier justice.

   Murphy portrays Jim Harvey, a drifter who takes a job guiding a wagon trail through Yaqui Indian country. When the braves attack the caravan, killing the men, he gets blamed for their deaths. Some seem to think he ran away out of cowardice. Others seem to believe he may have been in cahoots with the Yaqui. After he’s sprung from the town’s jail by a friendly Indian tribesman, it’s up to Harvey to clear his name and find out the real reason the wagon trail was ambushed. Chill Wills and a youthful looking Lee Van Cleef, respectively, portray the town’s sheriff and his deputy. Van Cleef is very good here as the tougher and more brutal of the town’s lawmen.

   Now, I know what you may be thinking. It sounds like every other Western from this period. Well. Yes and No. Juran isn’t often thought of as a Western auteur the way in which someone like Budd Boetticher is. But he definitely has his own particular style, one that is highly notable in two scenes in particular: Harvey’s jailbreak and a fight scene in which our hero takes on the corrupt, greedy White man behind all the recent troubles. Well-staged and filmed with a sharp sense of what makes action scenes invigorating to an audience, they are but two standout moments in a film that punches well above its weight.

Hello Steve. Your blog is great!

I’m on a mission, and it occurred to me that you and your blog followers might be able to assist me. I’m helping someone identify a film they watched on TV many years ago. My efforts so far have failed to find a match, despite the fact that they can recall quite a bit of detail about what they saw. Here is their description:

A sci-fi film (or possibly a TV episode), from the 1970s-1980s.

A woman reporter is recruited into a secret spy organization. The agency is accessed by an elevator where you insert a key and the control panel flips over to a second one.

At the end of the movie/episode, the lead male character bumps into the woman just as the clock strikes the hour, and she suddenly forgets everything that has happened (like ‘Men In Black’, but this was decades before that movie).

The ‘Agency’ is organized by color-coded sections, and I think the black one had the power to make anyone forget their experiences with them.

Seen on Canadian TV (Ontario). Possibly a TV pilot movie, or from a TV series (I believe it’s American), and was definitely live-action. Set in locations that were summer-weather like.

[description ends]

Steve, it sounds like something I would probably enjoy watching myself, so I’m kind of hooked! I’ve been digging pretty deep trying to unearth it, and I feel my best hope now is finding that one human out there who recognizes this – whatever ‘this’ is.

Thank you,

 MARTIN H. GREENBERG, Editor – Deadly Doings. Ivy, paperback original; 1st printing, 1989.

#6. ERIC AMBLER “The Case of the Emerald Sky.” Short story. Dr. Jan Czissar #2. First published in The Sketch, 10 July 1940. Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March 1945. Collected in The Waiting for Orders (Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1993; published in the UK as The Story So Far (Weidenfeld, hardcover, 1993) with one story addded).

   When Asst. Commissioner Mercer receives the following card, he at first refuses to see the man waiting in his outer office:

Late Prague Police

   Now in England, and apparently having plenty of time on his hands, Dr. Czissar has interfered with one of Scotland Yard’s investigations on one previous occasion. That Dr. Czissar was right and Scotland Yard was wrong did not go over well with Asst. Commissioner Mercer, and only a phone call from a superior convinces the letter to let the former in.

   There is no action whatsoever in this short concise tale. The two gentlemen discuss the death of a mean man by arsenic poisoning, and at length, after going through all of the various forms of arsenic and how they affect the human body, Dr. Czissar prevails. Scotland Yard was wrong again! Deservedly so. They did a very inadequate job of investigating.

   And sad to say, this is not a story I can recommend. It’s lifeless and worse than that, it depends far too greatly on esoteric medical knowledge that no amateur armchair detective in the world could be expected to know. I wish I could be more positive, but I can’t.


Previously in this Martin Greenberg anthology: WILLIAM CAMPBELL GAULT “Never Marry Murder.”

        The Dr. Jan Czissar series —

The Case of the Pinchbeck Locket. The Sketch, July 3 1940
The Case of the Emerald Sky. The Sketch, July 10 1940
The Case of the Cycling Chauffeur. The Sketch, July 17 1940; also as “A Bird in the Tree”.
The Case of the Overheated Service Flat. The Sketch, July 24 1940; also as “Case of the Overheated Flat”.
The Case of the Drunken Socrates. The Sketch, Julu 31 1940; also as “Case of the Landlady’s Brother”.
The Case of the Gentleman Poet. The Sketch, August 7 1940

  WYNDHAM MARTYN “The Shadow’s Shadow.” Novelette. Bentley Mayne & Captain Dashwood #1. First appeared in Flynn’s Weekly, 14 May 1927. Probably never reprinted.

   Wyndham Martyn was the pen name that author William Henry Martin Hosken (1874-1963) seems to have used more often than several others. While he produced dozens of short stories for the pulps and other fiction magazines in the teens and 20s, Martyn may be more well known, if at all, for his long series of hardcover thrillers published in the UK featuring a master criminal named Anthony Trent, whose specialty was solving mysteries the police are having trouble with.

   Other than three serialized novels for Flynn’s, Trent appeared in only one pulp magazine story. The private eye in “The Shadow’s Shadow” is a young fellow named Bentley Mayne, who has obtained a fine reputation for cleverness and success for the cases he’s worked on.

   Enter steel magnate John Dawbarn, who has been trying to convince someone in Washington that his new method of processing steel is something our country’s government ought to have. Fearing that the secret may fall instead into enemy hands, Dawbarn calls on Mayne, who is happy to take the case.

   But instead of working on it himself, he assigns an associate named Captain Dashwood to act as Dawbarn’s bodyguard. Dashwood is (um) a dashing Englishman in dapper dress and a monocle, and fits in well with Dawbarn’s society-minded wife’s life style.

   After the secret plans is a master criminal known only as The Shadow (no relation to the fellow who came along later). The problem is, no one knows what he looks like. He could be anyone. Now Dashwood is competent enough, but his eye is as much on Dawbarn’s daughter Betty as on ferreting out who The Shadow might be or where he may strike next, but happily to say, both halves of the story work out well.

   [PLOT ALERT] There is a strange twist in the tale that I ordinarily wouldn’t bring up, but since it may not be easy for yous to obtain the copy of Flynn’s the story is in, I have decided to tell you about it anyway. It seems that Mayne and Dashwood are one and the same. I haven’t decided what purpose the hoax is for — he doesn’t even tell Dawbarn what’s going on — but personally I think Dawbarn is something of a dolt to not to have recognized Mayne’s alter ego almost immediately.

   But now that the impersonation has been revealed, it might explain why this was Bentley Mayne’s first and last appearance. That and the fact that at story’s end, he and Betty seem to be on their way to settling down in fine matrimonial fashion.

CHARLOTTE MacLEOD – The Recycled Citizen. Sarah Kelling (Bittersohn) #7. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1988; paperback, 1989.

   The senior citizens’ recycling center run by Sarah Kelling’s many relatives runs into hard times in this latest adventure. One of the members is a mugging victim, but leaves traces of heroin in his scavenger bag, and unaccountably, a fortune of $41,326.

   In recent books MacLeod has erred badly in assuming that we are all as fond of her characters as she is. Of the 250 pages in this one, 200 are filled with tweedle. Humorous, good-natured tweedle, but still tweedle. The other 50 pages consist of utter nonsense.

[FOOTNOTE.] Would you believe a drug delivery system based on filling empty antique cans of Grapercola soda pop with dope, then dropping them conveniently on the paths of senior citizens supplementing their incomes from retrieving them for salvage? Neither would I. (Yes, I know it’s meant to be funny. Believe me, I wish it were.)

–Reprinted with some mild revisions from Mystery*File #14, July 1989.

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