December 2019

JAMES MITCHELL – Smear Job. David Callan #4. G. P. Putnams Sons, hardcover, 1977. Berkley, US, paperback, 1978. Previously published in the UK by Hamish Hamilton, hardcover, 1975. Corgi, UK, paperback, 1977. Ostara Publishing, UK, softcover, 2016. Note: Although there were only four books in the series, they were the basis for four British TV series starring Edward Woodward between 1967 and 1972, plus a film in 1974 and a TV movie in 1981.

   No matter how reluctantly he serves, Callan is British Intelligence’s most effective agen, but not even he can see the connection between the paperback edition of Das Kapital he is ordered to steal in Italy and a German girl strung out on LSD and sex in Ls Vegas.

   The answer is an inverted sort of public relations ploy, one that’s expected to be very useful in making an official in another country’s government see things a little differently.

   While all the details tend to make the suspense grow but slowly, a sub-plot involving a poeer-hungry US congressman and his partly alienated daughter does much to liven things up. Equally involved are the manipulations of individuals and governments that can’t help but leave behind the usual sour taste required by this sort of spy fiction.

–Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 2, No. 3, May 1978.

   Foxes and Fossils is a group brand new to me, but their version of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” is one I’ve already listened to several times over:

by Dan Stumpf


   The highlight of my recent reading has been Way of the Lancer (Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1932) by Richard Boleslavsky and Helen Woodward, an autobiographical novel of Boleslavsky’s experiences (and, I suspect, those of man others that he incorporated and told as his own) for — and against — Russia in the first World War.

   It’s an intriguing account, Boleslavsky was not a Russian but a Pole; his nation had been dominated by Russia since about 1750, and when the Great War got serious, Russia promised Freedom to Poland if her sons would fight for Russia. Austria promised roughly the same thing, so regiments of Poles fought for both sides, against enemies who were often their brothers.

   Boleslavsky describes an interesting vignette off weary, “victorious” Poles escorting even wearier defeated Austrians to POW camps and finding relatives in their midst, tiredly catching up on the news as they slog through the mud to no place in particular.

   Boleslavsky, incidentally, was a Polish soldier, but not a Lancer. He passed the war as a film-make, attached to the Lancers, doing semi-documentary propaganda films. After the War, he gravitated to Hollywood, where he directed some truly remarkable movies, like The Garden of Allah, with Dietrich and Boyer, and the cynical, moving 1936 version of Three Godfathers, and others.

   His Hollywood debut was Rasputin and the Empress (a portrait of the breakdown of Imperial Russia that must have seemed very real to him), the only film to star all three Barrymores. It’s an interesting show, but not a great one. John seems ticked off that he didn’t get to play Rasputin, and sulks through the whole movie with marked disinterest until the scene where he gets to kill Lionel, which is really quite memorable.

   Boleslavsky also directed one of the two Three Stooges movies you should make an effort to see: Fugitive Lovers (MGM, 1933), a dandy little thing about Robert Montgomery as an Escaped Con being pursued with cold precision by C. Henry Gordon, catching a bus with aspiring chorus girl Madge Evans, who is herself being pursued by dumb, possessive, aspiring gangster Nat Pendleton. Also onn board are Ted Healy and his stooges,whose time onscreen is mercifully brief.

   Boleslavsky fills the film with sudden cuts and jarring camera angles that seem avant-garde even today, and make Citizen Kane look antiquated before its time. And he maintains the pace and drama quite nicely throughout, right up to a howling blizzard that had my teeth chattering despite the fact that it was done entirely inside a studio. You should look for this one.

— Reprinted in shortened form from Shropshire Sleuth #71, May 1995.


PAUL BISHOP “Bandit Territory.” PI Blue MacKenzie. Novelette. First published in Paul Bishop Presents… Bandit Territory: Ten Tales of Murder & Mayhem, edited by Paul Bishop (Wolfpack Publishing, paperback, 2019).

   What I cannot tell you, first of all, is whether or not this is Blue MacKenzie’s first appearance in print, or if it so happens that it is, whether there are or will be future cases for him to tackle.

   Blue may be the first fictional PI to also be a bodybuilder, as well as a Vietnam veteran and a former CIA agent. Now at a formidable 275 pounds of pure muscle, he certainly isn’t the kind of guy I’d care to have been hired to track me down.

   In “Bandit Territory,” the lead story in the anthology edited by Bishop with the same name, he’s been hired by a music producer to find his number one client, a singer by the name of Charity Ross. Her latest CD is almost ready to released, but she’s disappeared and is now completely out of sight.

   The trail leads Blue to a defunct bodybuilding outfit being investigated for fraud by the FDA. While the connection is not clear, the owner has disappeared the same night as Charity. No coincidence that.

   Paul Bishop, the author and a 25 year veteran of the LAPD, has also written a number of full length crime novels, and his smooth, easy style of telling a tale, even short ones, goes down well, with an every so often knack of coming up with an especially pungent observation or clever choice of phrasing. If there are other stories about Blue MacKenzie, I’d definitely like to know about them.

WAGON WHEELS. Paramount Pictures, 1934. Randolph Scott, Gail Patrick, Billy Lee, Monte Blue, Raymond Hatton, Jan Dugganq, Leila Bennett, Olin Howland Based on the novel Fighting Caravans by Zane Grey, serialized in Country Gentleman between November 1928 and March 1929. Director: Charles Barton.

   This is a remake of the 1931 film Fighting Caravans starring Gary Cooper, with stock footage taken from the earlier film, or so I’m told. And at a running time of less than 60 minutes, some of it is taken up by the time it takes to sing several songs, “Wagon Wheels” being one of them, there’s not much space left to tell a story.

   Which is that of a wagon train of settlers heading for Oregon Territory to begin new lives, if they can make it. Indians, snow-covered mountain, wide rivers and more all lie ahead of them, complicated by the nefarious plot against them by a fur dealer who would like to delay the settling of the new land for several more years.

   Randolph Scott is the head scout for the party, while Gail Patrick is the love interest, a widow with a small boy (five year old Billy Lee, who in several ways nearly steals the show). Scott repeatedly tries to warn her off from going, but she manages to thwart all his efforts to do so.

   There’s not much more to this movie than this, but Randolph Scott was Randolph Scott, even some 85 years ago at the age of 36.


MIKE LUPICA – Jump. DiMaggio #1, Villard, hardcover, 1995. Kensington, paperback, 1996. Pinnacle, paperback, 2002.

   I like Lupica’s crime novels, and his sportswriting as well. He’s not bad on ESPN, either. He’s written three novels inn the [investigative TV journalist] Peter Finley series, and this has the feel of a series as well.

   DiMaggio has an illustrious last bane (if he has a first nae I missed it) and had a much less lustrous career in baseball than his namesake. now he’s a lawyer, and specializes in investigations involving sports figures — at which trade he’s de Man.

   He’s got a dandy coming up. The young, black successor to Michael Jordan has just been accused, along wth a white teammate, of raping a white woman. The accuser waited a year to come forward, and the team’s owners want Dimaggio to find out the truth, preferably that she’s lying.

   As he starts sorting through everyone’s dirty laundry, he finds that no one is clean and pure, and that to some there are secrets worth killing for.

   Lupica is a smooth, facile writer. A pro. He has the good sense to write what he knows, sports, and his knowledge and insight deepen the book considerably. The story is told from multiple viewpoints — DiMaggio, the accused, the accuser, a sleazy tabloid journalist — and told very effectively.

   The book paints a telling portrait of big-time athletics and athletes, and is far from one-sided in its depictions. It’s an easy read but a good one, and I hope he does more DiMaggios.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #19, May 1995.

Editorial Update:   It is not easy to say for sure, but I do not believe that Mike Lupica wrote another DiMaggio novel. He’s written several dozen books, almost all involving sports, including a series of YA mysteries, but Jump appears to have been a one-and-done for DiMaggio as a series character.

   The first post on this blog was 13 years ago today. That seems like a long time ago, and yet it seems like yesterday.

   Here’s the link:

   Since WordPress itself has changed over the years, I decided to do some very minor re-formatting, otherwise all is the same as it was 13 years ago.

   Since than there have been 7,281 posts, 39,704 comments approved, and 8,956,901 spam comments foiled.

   Thanks to all who’ve stopped by, left comments, and even many of you who have contributed. I couldn’t have done this without you!

THE ROCKFORD FILES “Caledonia – It’s Worth a Fortune!” NBC, 06 December 1974 (Season 1, Episode 11). James Garner (Jim Rockford), Shelley Fabares, Ramon Bieri, Richard Schaal, Sid Haig. Teleplay: Juanita Bartlett, based on a story by John Thomas James (Roy Huggins). Director: Stuart Margolin.

   Rockford is hired by Shelley Fabares as the wife of a critically ill penitentiary prisoner who whispers to her the location of a hidden fortune in collectible stamps, but she needs help in actually digging them up. For a percentage of the find, Rockford readily agrees.

   But also on their trail are the convicted man’s former partner, who is also the man the woman was having an affair with, as well as two hoodlums who turn out to have been in the same cell block as the imprisoned man. The big stumling block as far as Rockford and his client are concerned is that they only know the town to start their hunt in (Caledonia). The ex-partner has the only set of directions.

   And why is local sheriff so intent in running them all out of town?

   If this all sounds very complicated, it is, but there’s still plenty of time to be spent on watching cars drive up an down the local highways, including at least one reckless chase or two.

   The overall tone is light and breezy, though, with good rapport between James Garner and his lady co-star, making it very easy for the viewer (me) to safely sit back and enjoy watching this first season episode with no effort at all.

JOHN L. FRENCH “Message in the Sand.” PI Matthew Grace. First published in the collection Past Sins: The Matthew Grace Casebook (Padwolf Publishing , paperback, March 2009).

   The collection Past Sins that includes this story contains 17 stories about Matthew Grace, but in how many of them he’s working as a PI, I do not know. In the first few I skimmed through, he’s a crime scene investigator for the Baltimore police department.

   Since that the job that the author also has had for many years, I’m sure the details are right, and that’s the expertise that carries over to the cases that Grace is involved in when he starts his new career as a PI.

   This one begins with the discovery of the arm (only) of a notorious gangster buried in the sand along a stretch of the Maryland shoreline. That has nothing to do with the case that Grace is hired to work on, that of a missing daughter working a summer job in the same area before heading off to college in the fall. Or does it, as you may very well ask.

   It’s by the numbers from this point on, but sometimes the numbers add up to a very good story, and that’s what we have here, one on the grittier side. Grace has the right connections to do the job well, and is more than tough enough when the going gets a little rough. You can’t ask for much more from PI story, can you?

C. L. GRANT – The Hour of the Oxrun Dead. Oxrun Station #1. Doubleday, hardcover, 1977. Popular Library, paperback, 1979; To, paperback, 1987.

   According to what you may have read in recent fiction, New England must be full of towns such as this: peacefully serene in the daytime, but once after dark, horribly vulnerable to supernatural forces that can swallow them up overnight, with none of the inhabitants any the wiser.

   In Oxrun Station, only two people are aware that anything is wrong, and both are newcomers, one an assistant librarian recently widowed under strange circumstances.

   This is Gothic horror at its finest. Half of it is unmitigated nonsense, but if you’re the sort of person who believes that there may be unexplained things that inhabit graveyards at midnight, the other half will have you double-checking the locks on your doors before going to bed.


–Reprinted in slightly revised form from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 2, No. 3, May 1978. Previously published in the Hartford Courant.

      The Oxrun Station novels —

The Hour of the Oxrun Dead (1978)
The Last Call of Mourning (1979)
The Sound of Midnight (1979)
The Grave (1981)
The Bloodwind (1982)
The Soft Whisper of the Dead (1982)
The Dark Cry of the Moon (1986)
The Long Night of the Grave (1986)

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