June 2019

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

#9. EDWARD D. HOCH “The Unicorn’s Daughter.” Short story. Simon Ark #? First published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, 06 January 1982. Collected in The Quests of Simon Ark (Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1984).

   The Simon Ark stories make up one of Edward D. Hoch’s strangest series. Ark himself is said to be a two-thousand year old Coptic priest whose mission on earth is to uncover and destroy the devil’s work on Earth, and yet — and I may be wrong about this — most of his investigations usually end with entirely mundane explanations. (I believe I recall earlier stories concluding on ambiguous notes.)

   In “The Unicorn’s Daughter” Simon Ark is called in to find out why a would-be author jumped to his death through a window of a publisher’s office twenty-eight stories high. The only clue is his address on the title page of his manuscript: Catskill NY, which is where the publisher takes Ark, where they find a strange “gingerbread house gone wild,” to quote the narrator of the story.

   An interesting start to what might have been a challenging investigation, but I found the working out of the rest of the story both overplotted and underwhelming, along with yet another mundane solution. You’re going to have to count me as being among the not-so-very-big fans of the Simon Ark stories.


Previously in this Martin Greenberg anthology: JOHN JAKES “No Comment.”


THE WIDOW FROM MONTE CARLO. Warner Brothers, 1936. Warren William, Dolores del Río, Louise Fazenda, Colin Clive, Warren Hymer. Director: Arthur Greville Collins.

   A better than average WB flick is The Widow from Monte Carlo. Good cast, with brightest performances by Hymer (Dopey Mullins) as an American crook “vacationing” in England and Fazenda as a socially ambitious American parvenue who’s not above blackmail to get Del Rio to attend her costume ball.

   William is more interesting when he plays one of his cads, but he makes an amused foil for Hymer and an attentive suitor for Del Rio. A drawing-room comedy based on a play by F. Hugh Herbert (and others). Not memorable but polished and charming.

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

TERENCE KINGSLEY-SMITH – The Murder of an Old-Time Movie Star. PI Pete McCoy #1. Pinnacle, paperback original; 1st printing, August 1983. Cover art by Mark Watts.

   Another one and done as far as Hollywood PI Pete McCoy is concerned, but when you look at where he is when the story’s done, it is not surprising. The tale in The Murder of an Old-Time Movie Star is told in alternating segments, the first taking place in 1935, the second in current day 1983, when the events of 1930s finally catch up with all who were involved, including Pete McCoy himself.

   It begins when McCoy’s replacement cleaning woman, a lady newly arrived from Poland, asks him to find her husband, a man who abandoned her in the old country with her two children to come to America, and Hollywood in particular. It does not take Pete long to find him. He’s a well-known director now, married and living under a new name.

   McCoy makes the mistake of confronting him with head of the studio in tow, however, without a back-up plan in mind. When the cleaning lady is found dead on the sidewalk outside the building where McCoy’s office is, he knows how bad a mistake he made. The year 1935 was part of a time when studio bosses had all the power in Hollywood, especially when it came to protecting the reputations of their stars and their highly-paid directors.

   Terence Kingsley-Smith has a few credits on IMDb, and his mother was screenwriter Dorothy Kingsley, so he knew his way around Hollywood, both old and new, with an especial flair for knowing what was there then and what’s there now — or was in 1983.

   Pete McCoy tells the story himself and does so walking an occasional fine line between being crass and being crude. It’s his style and he’s as non-PC as they come: female readers may find much to object to in this book. Although the jumping back and forth in time may do a lot to conceal it, the plot is a simple one, but anyone enjoying PI stories taking place in Hollywood against a movie-making background may find as much to like with this one as I did.


THIEF OF HEARTS. Paramount, 1984. Steven Bauer, Barbara Wiliams, John Getz, David Caruso, and George Wendt. Written & directed by Douglas Day Stewart.

   A lush romantic fantasy dressed up as a crime film in the bright-pastel Miami Vice mode. So well done that you don’t mistake it for an actual crime film, it’s highly enjoyable on its own terms. And while I will discuss the plot in some detail here, I have to say I’m revealing no more than the original release trailer did.

   Hunky Steven Bauer, he of the chiseled face and biceps, plays a cat burglar extraordinaire, grown rich from preying on the very wealthy. So rich that he can afford a mega-warehouse apartment in San Francisco, a boat at the marina, a fancy sports car…

   You get the idea. This character is to be taken no more seriously than Raffles, Arsene Lupin, The Lone Wolf, or any of those International Jewel thieves who were once played by real luminaries like John Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, or William Powell.

   Getting back to Bauer, though, he starts the film with a raid on an ultra-chic condo owned by John Getz and Barbara Williams, best-selling children’s book author and trendy interior designer, respectively. Writer-Director Stewart generates a certain amount of suspense here, and then…

   And then things take a turn for the Romantic. Amid the loot from the condo is a lock box containing Williams’ private journals, wherein she keeps her innermost thoughts and fantasies—for the millennials out there, that’s what folks used to do with their private thoughts and fantasies before there was Facebook.

   Anyway, Bauer reads the journals, becomes intrigued by the inner woman and sets out to seduce the outer one – a task made easier because he knows which buttons to push, and because her husband is a self-absorbed dullard. Even his publisher (a nice character part by George Wendt) says so.

   The seduction is carried out among the luxurious trappings one associates with old Ross Hunter films (All That Heaven Allows, Back Street, etc.) and if you can enjoy the long romantic scenes, the opulent music and gratuitous nudity (I could and did) time passes pleasantly till things come to a head.

   Getz (If you remember the actor as the nice red-neck bartender in Blood Simple you won’t recognize him here.) awakens to his wife’s new obsession, senses that Bauer is a phony, and sets out to investigate. At the same time, Bauer falls deep in love with Williams but finds himself emotionally crippled because he can’t open up to her. And for her part, Williams becomes increasingly put off by this man with something to hide who has invaded her life by way of her dreams.

   By now you may get the idea that this fantasy romance touches on some very real and complex emotions. It does, and it also works in some nice plot twists, as Bauer’s partner-in-crime (a very young, lean and repellant David Caruso) sees that it’s time to move on and wants to feather their retirement with one last big job: another raid on Getz and Williams’ condo.

   Which leads to a scene that actually got me a little misty, and I won’t spoil it for you. And to a full-blooded romantic conclusion I enjoyed and didn’t buy for a minute.

   Thief of Hearts is very much stuck in the 1980s, with the pounding music, artsy editing and garish décor – what Williams does by way of “decorating” Bauer’s apartment seems like a joke in the worst possible taste — but I found it easy to get around all that and love it for the Rom-Fantasy it is.

   And you might, too.

   In my opinion, this New Zealand born singer sings country music better than most country singers born in this country. But what do I know? I don’t listen to most of the current batch of country singers.

         Saturday, February 14.

  WKRP IN CINCINNATI. “Dr. Fever and Mr. Tide, Parts 1 and 2.” CBS, series. Season 3, episodes 13 and 14. Originally telecast on 07 February 1981. Gary Sandy, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson , Howard Hesseman, Richard Sanders, Frank Bonner, Tim Reid, Jan Smithers. Guest star: Mary Frann. Director: Rod Daniel.

   If you watch this show regularly, you will have seen this special one-hour episode one week before I did. The local CBS station runs them on tape, delayed week, and a half hour later. To me, it’s like wearing hand-me-down clothes, and I don’t usually watch, and there are two good reasons why that surprises me.

   Tonight Dr. Johnny Fever tackled TV, and he lost. Even though he signed a contract to do a live dance party for a local station, the doctor “does not do disco.” The producer did not rock and roll, and the doctor was the one who wound up wearing the funny clothes.

   The writers of the show had a chance here to say some witty things, about how doing things for television always ends up doing them television’s way. Instead, the story line veered off and became an instant analysis of Johnny’s incipient schizophrenic crisis. It turned out to be not nearly as funny as it must have sounded on the drawing board.

   The result was an hour show, all right, but as far as I was concerned, there was considerably less than a half-hour’s worth of laughs. And I was forcing myself, at that.


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

#8. JOHN JAKES “No Comment.” Short story. Original to this anthology. Not reprinted elsewhere.

   This is the story of Slub Canal, a subdivision somewhere close to Buffalo NY and the series of deaths from cancer caused by the ongoing toxic daily waste-dumping pollution from Metrochem. Everyone knows this, or they do as soon as a loved one dies, their limbs glowing greenishly in the dark.

   The company’s continuing response? “No comment,” primarily from spokesman Buddy Wood. One day a long time worker there has had enough, and the conclusion to the story gives a gruesome double twist to the meaning of the title.

   I guess you could call this a “feel good” story on the part of the author, and you have to commend him for that. But as a story, the ending is all too predictable, and the result is little more than a acreed on the behalf of vigilante environmentalism.

   John Jakes wascovered here on this blog not too long ago, as the author of the science fiction story “Half Past Fear,” reviewed here.


Previously in this Martin Greenberg anthology: HELEN NIELSEN “Woman Missing.”

DAY KEENE – Joy House. Lion #210, paperback original, 1954. First published in much shorter form as “She Shall Make Murder,” Detective Tales, November 1949. Expanded manuscript, circa 1952. Revised/edited version published by Lion in 1954. Lancer 72-628, reprint paperback, 1962, published in a 2-in-1 edition with City of Sin by Milton K. Ozaki. Reprinted by Stark House Press, softcover, 2017, in a newly revised edition based on the 1952 manuscript by David Laurence Wilson. This is a 3-in-1 edition with Sleep with the Devil (Lion, 1954; reviewed here) and Wake Up to Murder (Avon, 1952; reviewed here). Film: MGM, 1964; also released as The Love Cage.

   If you ever have the urge to read a real down to earth noir novel, as solid as solid can be, and this one’s handy, look no further. You aren’t gong to find many books, nor authors, better than this one. If you have to go looking, though, you’ll probably need to pass on coming up with the Lion edition. I’ll get back to this, but I just looked, and there’s only one copy offered on abebooks.com right now, and that one has an asking price of $250.

   The book opens with our protagonist — not hero — awakening in a Chicago flophouse following a weeks-long drunken binge. How he made it to Chicago from California Mark Harris does not know. At one time a top notch criminal lawyer, all he remembers now is killing his wife, faking an accident to put the authorities off the trail, and going on the run.

   And here’s what every bum on skid row dreams of. A rich “crazy” lady whose support the mission depends on, sees him and he’s cleaned himself up, asks him if he’d like to be her chauffeur. A widow, Mrs. Hill is blonde, beautiful and still young. Would you say no? Mark Harris doesn’t either.

   He also knows, or strongly senses, that she has an ulterior motive in mind. Alone in a boarded up relic of a house for ten years, with only a black maid for company, indeed she does. The maid knows full well what is going on, and she is quite correct.

   All is well for a while. Mrs. Hill has a past, though, and when a man from that past makes his way into the house, he ends up dead, and it is up to Mark Harris (now Phil Thomas, an “accountant” from Atlanta) to dispose of the body. Even though it is May Hill’s plan for them to get married and escape to Rio, it is downhill all the way from here.

   And if you can stop reading once you’ve gotten to this point, you’re a better person than I am. Keene’s prose may have been pulpish and not always polished, true. It is gritty and fatalistic but never quite salacious — you can use your imagination for that.

   Every word pulls you on to the next, and not always gently. Entire pages will be swallowed up in a gulp, until you’ve reached the last one, when at last you can come up for air and let yourself savor the ending just a while longer.

   If I’ve intrigued you at all, and I hope I have, my suggestion is to obtain a copy of the recent Stark House edition. With two other novels included, all three by Day Keene, it’s quite a bargain.


TOBRUK. Universal Pictures, 1967. Rock Hudson, George Peppard, Nigel Green, Guy Stockwell, Jack Watson. Screenwriter: Leo Gordon. Director: Arthur Hiller.

   You have to review the movie that you watched, not the one you wished you’d seen. Such is the case with Arthur Hiller’s Tobruk, a war film helmed by a director best known for his cinematic adaptations of the works of Paddy Chayefsky and Neil Simon. While it’s a completely solid movie and adheres closes to the tropes of the “North African Second World War desert combat film” sub-genre (I made that up), the plot and dialogue never quite match the unique possibilities offered by the following premise. “A Canadian-British soldier who shuns heroism teams up with an idealistic German-Jewish commando to take destroy the Nazi oil depot in Tobruk, Libya.”

   Sounds like you’d have a good tale to tell, right? How two men from disparate backgrounds must find common ground in order to achieve a greater good that transcends their differences. How one man learns the value of sacrifice and heroism and finds, under the glare of the unforgiving desert sun, what it means to fight a cause worth fighting – and dying – for.

   But no. That’s the film I wish I had seen. Now, there are indeed flashes of potential scattered throughout the movie. There’s a powerful exchange in which Bergman (George Peppard), the German-Jewish commando explains to his Canadian counterpart, Major Donald Craig (Rock Hudson) what the war effort means to the Jewish people.

   And there’s the mention, too often forgotten today, of how Egyptian officers and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem were scheming to team up with the Nazis against the British in Egypt and Palestine. But all of this great material is ultimately wasted as the film bogs itself down in mild, inoffensively didactic lessons about human prejudice.

   Now, you may be asking yourself: why watch Tobruk after everything I just told you? Simple answer: the atmospherics and the combat scenes. Hiller does an exceptional job in staging the latter and gives the viewer a real powerful jolt to the senses.

   There’s the obligatory scene in which our hero (Hudson) attacks Nazis with a flamethrower and there’s also a beautifully crafted scene in which the Allies scare away a band of Arab tribesmen looking to exchange two prisoners for guns. The soundtrack, by Polish composer BronisÅ‚aw Kaper, who also scored Gaslight (1944) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), works seamlessly with this visual material and gives it a gritty, sweaty feeling.


HELL CANYON OUTLAWS. Jarod Zukor Productions/Republic, 1957. Dale Robertson, Brian Keith, Rossana Rory, Dick Kallman, Charles Fredericks, Buddy Baer and Don Megowan. Written by Allan Kaufman and Max Glandbard. Directed by Paul Landres.

   I don’t know about you, but I can’t resist a movie called Hell Canyon Outlaws, and when it was over, I wasn’t even mildly disappointed upon reflecting that there was no actual Hell Canyon in the film itself. Call it Poetic License I guess, but director Paul Landres was doing some interesting movies about this time, and this is one of them.

   It’s easy to look at Hell Canyon Outlaws and say Brian Keith carries it with his off-beat portrayal of Outlaw Leader “Happy” Waters: good-humored, lethal, and pitched on a collision course with steely lawman Caleb Wells (Dale Robertson — And get it? Wells? Waters?)

   But the fact is, some intelligent writing and sure-handed direction went into making the character—and those around him—come alive.

   The film itself balances delicately between cliché and creativity. Robertson’s Caleb Wells is a sure-shot sheriff who cleaned up the town years ago, but things are quiet now. His Deputy—fittingly named “Bear”—is drunk all the time, and the Town Council wants to replace the two of them with something more modern. And of course no sooner do they oust their lawmen than four owlhoots ride into town, obviously wired for trouble, with Brian Keith’s jovial leader keeping a treacherous hand on the switch.

   Standard stuff so far, made even more ordinary by staid Alexander Lockwood as the “modern” replacement lawman, and noisy method-acting Dick Kallman as the local quick-draw kid trying to prove he’s a man. Add Rossana Rory (of Big Deal on Madonna Street) as Dale Robertson’s girlfriend who doesn’t see the need for violence, and you’ve got a pretty cold deck to try and deal a new hand from.

   The wonder is that they do it, and do it rather well, too. Landres and the writers keep things poised on the edge of violence, so that whenever Keith and his overgrown goons (including Buddy Baer and Don Megowan) swagger into a saloon, bank or dry-goods store, they seem just about to take it apart by size alone.

   Contrast this with Dale Robertson, waiting silent and tight-lipped on the sidelines, no longer a lawman, but always just about to spring into action, and you get a very involving movie indeed, particularly when he and Brian Keith circle about each other, talking quietly but both clearly looking for the right moment….

   And when that moment comes, it doesn’t disappoint: An extended shoot-out in a darkened saloon, with Dale and his deputy jockeying for position against the bad guys, who make some smart moves themselves, ratcheting up the tension, even as shots blast and bodies fall all over the place.

   Hell Canyon Outlaws is a low-budget affair, and the DVD I got at Cinevent is a thing of shreds and patches, but it has flair and to spare, plus a few surprises. Recommended.

« Previous PageNext Page »