August 2019

   Alas, I’ve been jammed up with too many things to do to be able to post Walker’s annual PulpFest report here on this blog in any timely fashion. We’ve asked Sai Shankar whether he’d be willing to post it on his Pulp Flakes blog, and he’s most graciously agreed. More than that, he’s done a masterful job.

   Here’s the link. Enjoy!


THINK FAST, MR. MOTO. 20th Century Fox, 1937. Peter Lorre, Virginia Field, Thomas Beck, Sig Rumann. Based on the novel by John P. Marquand. Director: Norman Foster. Shown at Cinevent 27, Columbus OH, 1995.

   The first of the Moto series, several of which I have on tape but have never watched. I will have to remedy that, since this was a charming 70 minutes, with Lorre in fine form.

   Odd to see Sig Rumann as a villain. I remember him best as the manic impresario in A night at the Opera.

— Reprinted from Walter’s Place #108, July 1995.


MY LIFE IS MURDER. TV series produced by Network 10, Melbourne, Australia. One-hour episodes, starting 17 July 2019. Cast: Lucy Lawless as Alexa Crowe; Bernard Curry as Detective-Inspector Kieran Hussey; Ebony Vagulans as Madison Feliciano; Alex Andreas as George Strathopoulos, the owner of Baristas Café; Dilruk Jayasinha as Dr. Suresh; and Todd River & Elliot Loney as Captain Thunderbolt, Alexa’s pet cat. Producer: Elisa Argenzio; Lucy Lawless, executive producer.

   The cleverest thing about this new detective series is how they integrate the show’s title card into the location shots of photogenic Melbourne; it goes without saying that the most attractive thing about it is Lucy Lawless, formerly a long-haired brunette warrior princess turned short-coiffed blonde; but the least appealing part of the show is the tired plots, too many of which have been done to death.

   Only the backgrounds, the everyday world inhabited by the characters in front of which the series takes place, have anything new about them. And “cozy” is the word here, with the violence content barely moving the meter — but at least the cat doesn’t try to solve the crimes.

   The first episode of ten, “The Boyfriend Experience,” has a young woman dying from a great fall being investigated by Alexa, an ex-cop, at the request of D-I Kieran, who thinks a male prostitute is responsible; the trouble is, the closer she gets to this guy the less she thinks he might be the killer.

   The second show, “The Locked Room,” has an executive being murdered in a locked hotel room. To solve that conundrum Alexa must first establish a motive, but her prime suspects all alibi each other. The locked-room gimmick is far from ingenious, but we’re thinking it just might work.

   Episode three, “Lividity in Lycra,” has Alexa giving up jogging temporarily and taking up endurance bike riding because the victim, while cycling up a mountain, has died of dual traumas in what looks like a heart attack followed by cracking his skull in falling to the pavement; Alexa’s pretty sure she knows who did it, but the problem is determining how, with GPS coming to the rescue.

   The fourth show, “Can’t Stand the Heat,” has Alexa going under cover as a student in a cooking school looking for who might have murdered an aspiring chef.

   In this one, Alexa loses a lot more blood just trying to prepare food than from any bad guys that she’s encountered so far (her bandages, at least, match her outfits). The head chef is hardly a help, being a female version of that “Hell’s Kitchen” guy, complete with high-pressure demeanor and multiple f-bombs.

   One more thing. The character of Ebony Vagulans, Alexa’s Internet cyber-whizkid, undergoes a radical and unexplained attitude change going from the first two episodes, where Alexa could barely get her to do anything, to begging for Alexa’s next assignment — but, with those thick, rapid-fire Aussie accents, maybe we missed something.

FREDERICK NEBEL “Wolves of the Wild.” Novelette. First published in Ace-High Novels, April 1932, Collected in Forbidden River (Black Dog Books, trade paperback, 2014).

   In this tale of the frozen North an old prospector named Shorty finagles the son of a good friend, wasting his life away as gambler in a Yukon saloon, into hitting the trail with him on his next expedition. He needs toughening up, Shorty thinks.

   There’s only one problem. Shorty has come into town with a pouch full of gold, and when others see gold as rich as this, they start thinking that there will be more of it at the other end of Shorty’s trail. They is a girl, too, and even though this is all the story there is, Nebel fills over 40 pages to tell it. Luckily he’s a good enough story teller that you don’t really notice how thin the tale is until 20 minutes later, when you’ve finished it.

   The second story in this same collection, which I’ll stick with for a little while longer, is “A Gambler Passes,” which first appeared in the January 1930 issue of Five Novels Monthly. The latter was an all-purpose magazine, usually with one mystery story, a western, a sports story, and a couple of adventure tales or maybe a romance. Since “A Gambler Passes” is less than 50 pages long in book form, you can easily realize that calling the stories “novels” is really only a case of exaggerated salesmanship.

   That the leading character in “Gambler” is, guess what, s gambler, should come as no surprise. That his name is Jack Cardigan is a bit startling, but only if you know that Jack Cardigan was also the name of his long-running private eye character later on in Dime Detective. In his long, informative introduction to this collection, publisher and editor Tom Roberts seems to suggest that the two are one and the same. They certainly could be, and it’s fun to think so, but without more evidence, I’m inclined to write it off as an author doubling up the use of a name that caught his fancy.

   I could be very wrong about that, and the more I think about it, the more likely I think I may be.

   In this story, the gambler Jack Cardigan is accused of killing the son of the man who has the small mining town of Lodestar. That it was an accident that occurred while the dead man was foisting his attentions too fiercely on the girl Cardigan loves makes no difference to the kangaroo court that is convened, and once convicted, Cardigan has to flee.

   And thus follows a lot of traipsing around in the snow-covered wilderness. One gets the feeling of how bitterly cold the weather that far north can be, but after a while one also begins to wonder how easily the main protagonists run across each other while fighting off blizzards and general fatigue. Still, a good story with a satisfying ending.

   Nebel takes a different approach in “Forbidden River,” reprinted from the June 1930 issue of Five-Novels Monthly. The primary protagonist is a lawyer from Chicago who is making a trip to the North country as part of a hunting vacation with a friend who has a lodge there.

   The trip is by train, and on the train the one other passenger is a young girl who appears to be of French heritage. When his back is turned she pulls the emergency cord, the train stops, and she jumps off. Going to the end of the train, he falls off as the train starts up to look for her, and he’s off and running in an adventure he never in his life dreamed of.

   I’ll not venture further into the plot, but all kinds of factions come into play, including murder and two Mounties, making it a detective story of sorts as well as a tale that once started is difficult to put down.

   There are two more stories in this collection: “The Roaring Horde” (Five-Novels Monthly, April 1932) and “Gold” (North•West Stories, May 1931). I confess that I’ve not read either, I’m sorry to say, but I’m sure I will sometime soon. Nebel was a good writer, and these frostbitten yarns make for perfect reading in these hot and muggy days of mid-August.

MICHAEL CRAVEN – The Detective & the Chinese High-Fin. John Darvelle #2. Harper, trade paperback; 1st printing, 2016.

   I read and reviewed The Detective & the Pipe Girl, the first adventure of LA PI John Darvelle here, way back in March 2015. It was a long review, and if it wasn’t completely a rave review, it was as close to being one as it could get without actually being one.

   This one’s almost as good, and there’s no good reason why it’s taken as long as it has for me to get around to reading it. After a short prologue of sorts, in which Darv finds a old woman’s missing ring. he gets down to real business when a friend of sorts on the police force refers a client to him. A married couple, actually, one whose son was shot and killed in their driveway, and the cops have made no headway on the case.

   The son, unfortunately, was the kind of guy that no one has any use for, once they get to know him, so there’s no shortage of suspects. The problem is that all of them have ironclad alibis, so Darvelle goes fishing on the edge of things, which means checking out a tropical fish business that the dead man had at one time invested in. (Hence the title.)

   Darvelle tells his own story, which means we get his opinions on almost everything, including his own personal philosophy of life. I don’t mean to say that this is a bad thing, but after a while the middle of the book seems to sag a little.

   But around the two-thirds mark, the action picks up again in a most satisfactory way, and as it turns out everything that has come before also comes back into play. At the end of the book Darvelle in fact is given quite a moral dilemma to work his way through. I think he makes the right decision; and if you read the book for yourself, you can see if you agree or not.

   To this date, there has not been a third book in the series. I’d like to think there will be, but it’s quite possible that, for many possible reasons, there won’t. But if that’s the case, then at least we have the two in hand, and that can’t be taken away from us.


KERRY GREENWOOD – Murder on the Ballarat Train. Phryne Fisher #3. Poisoned Pen Press, US, October 2006). Trade paperback, September 2011. Originally published in Australia, 1991. TV adaptation: Season 1, Episode 2 of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, 02 Mar 2012. Essie Davis (Phryne Fisher), Nathan Page, Ashleigh Cummings.

   Fortunately, the Hon. Phryne Fisher was a light sleeper. She had dozed for most of the journey, but when the nauseating odour of chloroform impinged on her senses, she had sufficient presence of mind to realize that something was happening while she still had wits enough to react.

   Reaching over the slumbering form of her maid and companion, Dot, she groped for and found her handbag. She dragged it open, moving as though she were five fathoms under water. The clasp of the handbag seemed impossibly complex, and finally, swearing under her breath and gasping for air, she tore it open with her teeth, extracted her Beretta .32 with which she always travelled, and waveringly took aim. She squeezed off a shot that broke the window.

   This is a not untypical introduction to the remarkable Honorable Miss Phryne (rhymes with Briny) Fisher, modern liberated woman par excellence, 1920’S style: beautiful (she resembles Louise Brooks down to the hair do), smart, a crack shot, expert at self defense, incredibly rich, and a private detective to boot. If you crossed Miss Marple with Honey West and Emma Peel you wouldn’t be far off the attractive Miss Fisher.

   If you don’t know the series (currently running on Netflix, and on Acorn a modern descendant of Miss Fisher is now in her first season) you may well have seen the attractive covers for the books and decided it was yet another cozy series, this one set in Australia in the twenties, but Miss Fisher is anything but cozy.

   With an eye (and more) for an attractive young man, absolute certainty in her chosen crusade, spirit, and brains, this is no blushing shy violet crocheting and quilting while solving crimes with her cats. With her secretary and friend Dot, her two adopted daughters, her two-fisted butler Mr. Butler, her snobbish often appalled Aunt, and her two Union organizer muscle men and operatives Bert and Cec (pronounced “Cease” as in Cecil), Miss Fisher has taken on everything from Union disputes to Antisemitism, sex traffic, organized child molestation, serial killers, bank robbery, murder at the circus, and theatrical murders while romancing pilots, a handsome Chinese silk merchant, and any variety of men and flirting outrageously with the frustrated Inspector Jack Robinson, Miss Fisher triumphs, and on her own terms.

   Here Phryne discovers she and Dot, on the way to a county fair in Ballarat, have been drugged along with the rest of the passengers. After stopping the train and helping administer aid to the others she discovers one young woman was more deeply drugged and her mother, Mrs. Henderson, a difficult woman at best, is missing from the train.

   A brief backtrack reveals Mrs. Henderson, hanging from a water tower, and quite obviously murdered.

   There is no lack of suspects on the train and off, including a harried father and his young son who received mysterious tickets to the fair, the daughter’s Pre Med student fiance Mrs. Henderson disapproved of, and his handsome student friend who might well be counting on his good friend marrying money to cover his gambling debts.

   Then too, just about anyone who ever knew Mrs. Henderson might have murdered her. She was that type of woman.

   There is also a witness, a runaway girl on the train who isn’t talking, and who becomes the chief focus of Miss Fisher’s interest and eventually one of her two adopted daughters.

   Don’t get me wrong, Kerry Greenwood is not Agatha Christie. Most of the mysteries rely more on Miss Fisher’s and companies charm and the well developed social and historical milieu than brilliant mystery plots. They aren’t bad mysteries, but sad to say they won’t exactly tax your mystery solving skills either, though there are well placed and intelligent clues and something very close to fair play.

   What the books are is fun, light, playful, sexy, smart, fast moving, crisply written, and hard to lay down until you have finished. Miss Fisher manages to seem to coexist in a world where you might stumble across Peter Wimsey or Albert Campion and in much the same sophisticated style. If not in a class as a puzzler with Sayers or Allingham, she certainly writes well, and Phryne Fisher is a welcome addition to the great detective class.

   And it is more than a little fun to watch her tweak the nose of stilted 1920’s Australian social mores and attitudes, whether in print or beautifully played by Essie Davis in the popular series. She may navigate the mean streets in a Hispano-Suzia, but she does so in style.

 EDWARD D. HOCH “The Theft from the Onyx Pool.” Nick Velvet #2. First published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, June 1967. Collected in The Spy and the Thief (Davis, digest-sized paperback; 1st printing, December 1971 (Ellery Queen Presents #3) and The Thefts of Nick Velvet (Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1978.)

   The charm of the Nick Velvet stories to me is how clever they are, and in fact, they have to be. Not only does Nick have to figure out how to steal the essentially valueless objects he’s hired to obtain, but he also has to work out why he was hired to steal them in the first place. (In this story originally published in 1967, his fee is $20,000.)

   In this case Nick is hired by a young woman of some beauty and obvious social standing to steal the water from a famous writer’s pool. She does not want the pool drained. She wants him to steal the water. That’s the job. Nick, being am inquisitive fellow, once again needs to know why.

   Two detective stories in one, both cleverly worked out to the finest detail. How did Hoch do it, over and over again, and this time in only eleven pages?


PACO IGNACIO TAIBO II – Leonardo’s Bicycle. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1995; paperback, 1996. Translation of La Bicicleta de Leonardo, Mexico City, 1993.

   The literary equivalent of Pulp Fiction or the Mystery equivalent of Thomas Pynchon’s V. Take your pick.

   The non-linear plot bounces back, forth, up and down the various and variegated stories of:

   — Leonardo da Vinci’s possible invention of the Bicycle four hundred years before its manufacture.

   — A blocked writer in modern-day Mexico City who watches Women’s Basketball on Cable TV and makes up erotic fantasies about the players, then is galvanized into action (maybe) when one of them is kidnapped.

   — An International Criminal Mastermind in 1920s Spain, dogged by a dying journalist

   — A few anarchists

   — And an American Embassy bureaucrat at the fall of Saigon who manages to steal a car full of cocaine.

   All of which sounds quite Keeler-esque, but Taibo puts it across with sly humor and a gift for colorful description that makes Leonardo’s Bicycle much fun to read. I found myself flipping back and forth, keeping track of the wildly gyrating loose ends, and propelled by the narrative tension into reading this long after I should have been asleep.

   I shall definitely be seeking more from this guy.

THE MOB DOCTOR “Pilot.” Fox, 60m, 17 September 2012. Season 1, Episode 1. Jordana Spiro (Dr. Grace Devlin), William Forsythe, James Carpinello, Zach Gilford, Zeljko Ivanek, Floriana Lima, Jaime Lee Kirchner. Created by Josh Berman and Rob Wright , based on the book Il Dottore: The Double Life of a Mafia Doctor by Ron Felber. Director: Michael Dinner.

   As the pilot for the series which lasted less than half a season on Fox (13 episode, 17 September 2012 to 7 January 2013), this first episde works exceedingly well. It doesn’t hurt, though, that premise can be explained in one sentence: To keep her brother from being offed by the local Chicago mob, an extremely competent surgeon, Dr. Grace Devlin, has agreed to do their wished anytime the need comes up.

   There are other sub-stories in this first episode, but the major one, the one that will catch the average viewer’s attention right away, is that she is ordered to let a would-be witness in an upcoming trial die in the operation room. Well, I consider myself an average viewer and it certainly caught my attention.

   It is a dilemma, of course, and it has Grace sweating out how she’s going to get out of the spot she’s in all the way through. It comes out more or less OK, but there is also a twist in the tale that I didn’t see coming, one designed to keep all of us average viewers coming back next week.

   It helps that Jordana Spiro is not a knockout model type. In fact she is suitably harried throughout this entire episode. If she had been wearing the latest slinky dresses and high-heeled shoes, no one would believed it for a minute.

   Where the series is going, besides more of the same, I have no idea, but until it begins to repeat itself one time too many, I’ll keep watching.


   Marvel Comics’ Ghost Rider (2007) was a box office success, and it’s not difficult to see why. It’s fun, energetic, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Plus, at that time, Nicholas Cage was still a major box office draw and not doing the types of indies and direct to streaming features he is doing now.

   The trailer pretty much gives away the whole story, although not some of the more convoluted parts of the often confusing plot. A guy makes a deal with the devil, becomes a successful stunt motorcycle rider, then has to face a group of bad demons and save the world. Got it? Good. I can’t say it’s a good film because it isn’t. The dialogue is pretty atrocious and the special effects look more silly than they do frightening. But seeing the recently departed Peter Fonda portray The Devil incarnate in a motorcycle movie was still worth the ride.

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