July 2020

One down, one to go.

I had the left eye done today, and in two weeks I go back again for the right. All is well.

I thought I’d be able to post something more interesting than a health update like this, but the device they have taped over my eye is so large I can’t get my glasses on. Pfui.

L. V. ROPER – Hookers Don’t Go to Heaven. Mike Saxon #1. Popular Library, paperback original; 1st printing, August 1976.

   The wife of Mike Saxon’s old army buddy was killed in what the police call a hit-and-run accident. Saxon investigates and not too surprisingly concludes it was murder. (The police are dense.) The trail leads to Las Vegas ad the wife’s high-priced call girl past. She also dabbled in blackmail on the side.

   Both the front and back cover invite comparison with Raymond Chandler, but I strongly demur. The plot is straightforwardly sappy, the patter strictly sub-standard, and the attitude and tone are frozen 20 years in the past. With hardcore pornography available now no further than the nearest art theater or one of those bookstores, it’s hard to say what all the excitement’s about.

   The rating below follows because I was able to read this one all the way through with only momentary cringes, but if private eye fare is not usually for you, don’t get within ten feet of this one. What I fear most is that when misrepresentation like this don’t sell, paperback publishers will give up on the real thing as well.

Rating: D

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 1, No. 2, March 1977.


Bibliographic Update: L(ester) V(irgil) Roper wrote five paperback originals for Curtis and Popular Library between 1973 and 1976, then one last book for Dell in 1981. This was Mike Saxon’s only recorded adventure, but two of the other Popular Library books featured another PI known as Jerry “Renegade” Roe. Check out the latter’s page here on the Thrilling Detective website.

ROGUES GALLERY. PRC, 1944. Frank Jenks, Robin Raymond, H. B. Warner, Ray Walker, Davison Clark, Bob Homans. Director: Albert Herman.

   First of all, this movie has nothing to do with the radio show of the same title, the one starring Dick Powell as a tough guy PI by the name of Richard Rogue, which ran as a summer replacement show on NBC for three years, 1945, 46 and 47. Nor does the title have anything to do with movie itself, a happening which was all too common for Poverty Row movie productions such as this one back in the 40s.

   Robin Raymond may have gotten second billing in this one, but she’s really the star of the show. She plays a feisty young reporter named Patsy Clark, hellbent on always getting the big story on the next breaking story. Frank Jenks, her camera-toting partner in crime solving, is there only for comedy relief, as you probably realized as soon as you saw his name in the credits.

   At stake in this otherwise totally unremarkable exercise in detective-comedy movie making, is a device cooked up by a home-based inventor that can eavesdrop on any conversation anywhere in the world.

   Dead is one of the members of the board financing him, but whenever the cops are called in, the body always seems to disappear before they get there. Not once, but twice.

   Pretty ho-hum stuff, you might say, and you’d be right if you did. The mugging act that Jenks puts on gets tiresome after a very short while, but Robin Raymond, who built a career in movies and TV playing uncredited roles over a long period of time, is quite another matter. I used the word “feisty” before, and believe me, she takes no guff from anyone. The way he walks into a room with fast energetic strides,  her elbows pumping, made me smile every time she did.

   It’s curious what catches your attention in small all-but-unknown murder mysteries like this one. Maybe it’s because there’s no real point in following the story itself.

PostScript. I’m spelling the title as it’s shown on the screen, not as you see it on the poster and the newspaper ad.




JOHN MASTERS – The Breaking Strain. Michael Joseph, UK, hardcover, 1967. Delacorte, US, hardcover, 1967. Dell, paperback, January 1968.

   The Thames flowed close by at the foot of the embankment wall, but no sound came up to tell them whether the tide raced, straining, past buoys and bridge abutments, or whether the water lay slack and still. No ship moved on the river. In the roadway no wheeled traffic moved. For a long time they had met no other pedestrians. The fog lay deep, yellow, cored with black, over London.

   They are sportsman V. K. G. Hawker (the thin high bridged nose gave him the look of pale eagle) and his beautiful and innocent younger sister Anne (she was tall for a woman and steady eyed), a pair with seven league boots, each other all either has in the world, on the way to Scotland for a bit of salmon fishing, neither really bound by anything save each other and the pursuit of distraction.

   “At any moment Sherlock Holmes will loom up, hypodermic at the ready. But first we’ll hear his fiddle and smell his vile shag tobacco.”

   They are about be thrown into a bit of international intrigue that even Holmes might pale at,

   Out of the fog they spy a group of men throwing a bound young woman (She was not quite young, dark haired, voluptuous …) over the embankment into the river. Anne dives after her, and V. K. brandishes the blade in his sword stick. Luckily for him two other men arrive to help, a fat Frenchman named Robert de Guise and an American named Bill Hammond (a sort of black haired Gary Cooper), son of a wealthy industrialist whose overbearing father left him with a pronounced stutter despite his physique and good looks.

   They rescue the girl, a beautiful sensual European named Ingrid, who coincidentally is staying at the same hotel, the Savoy of course, as all four of them, and when they deliver her home they get a shock, because waiting for her in her room is Lord Redmond, a famous physicist, Joseph Webber of “the Department of Agriculture” (aka the CIA), and her father, Sigurd Tellefsen. The latter has just defected to the West from the Soviet Union and is on his way to New Mexico to work on a clean nuclear energy project that could make the West and the world independent of all other energy sources. Hawker and Hammond are both more than a little cynical that is all his project will be used for despite protestations to the contrary.

   The men trying to kill Ingrid were members of HPS (the Russian Department of Health and Sanitation aka the KGB), men who had exceeded their orders, given by their boss, Gregory Parkezian (“Head of their Security Police … Hoover and our Director combined…”).

   And just whose side de Guise will end up on is up for grabs, since he is working for Parkezian, but not a fanatic about it.

   In short order the Tellefsens’ trip to New Mexico is sidelined for a bit of salmon fishing with Hawker, Hammond, and de Guise as bodyguards at Hawker’s friend Sir Alan Gobhair’s Scottish castle. (The northward view swept down to Loch Tumel, then rose past Tulach and the cleft of Glen Garry to the purple haze of the Forest of Atholl.)

   But when HPS shows up there it is decided the Tellefsens must be dispatched to New Mexico and Hawker (You felt that if you offered him something to eat you better pull your hands back quickly.), who now has eyes for Ingrid, his sister, and Hammond accompany them.

   Admittedly up to this point it is more John Buchan, with sex, than Ian Fleming and James Bond, but when Tellefsen is kidnapped and the Hawkers and Hammond set out to retrieve him under Webber’s orders Hawker and Hammond’s tensions will come to a head, passions (Hammond and Anne much to Hawker’s disdain), and other things will boil over, and it all ends in a tense flight over the Atlantic pursued by Russian long range bombers with them caught in their electronic sites.

   The plot and characters are well drawn, the latter complex human beings with warts, hangups, and flaws that threaten them all.

   You are in the sure hands of a master here, having a little fun in a mix of Robert Ruark and Ian Fleming. John Masters was a major bestselling novelist best known for his books about India in the Savage family chronicles that followed one family from their first adventure in India in the 17th Century (Coromandel) to the last days of the British Raj (Bhowani Junction and To the Coral Strand).

   Along the way he wrote books like The Deceivers (a fictional account of the destruction of Thugee in India), Lotus in the Wind (the Great Game in late 19th Century India on the Northwest Frontier), Bhowani Junction (about race in post War India and a foiled attempt to kill Ghandi), The Venus of Kompara (sensual adventure excavating an idol in the jungle), and The Himalayan Concerto (a spy novel set at the roof of the world). Fairly late in his career he also wrote big best selling doorstop novels like The Rock (Gibraltar), a WW I trilogy beginning with Now God Be Thanked, and The Ravi Lancers (about Indian soldiers serving in the First World War).

   Masters was known for his vivid novels full of visceral sex and violence, his lean prose, and his expertise as both a former soldier in India in WW II (he wrote two non-fiction works about his adventures) and himself an Englishman who considered India his home. From Nightrunners of Bengal (about the 1857 Mutiny) on he was a frequent name on bestseller lists around the world.

   The Breaking Strain ends with Hawker and Hammond reconciled and teaming up as sort of roving amateur agents for Webber useful where other agents might fail. Alas there is no second book in the series, so we never find out where they end up. A shame, since “International Sport … sex … violence and high adventure …”, as the San Francisco Chronicle praised the book, was a pretty heady mixture in 1967, and a pleasant distraction from the lesser Bond imitations.

   It’s not bad now either.

FRANKIE DRAKE MYSTERIES. “Mother of Pearl.” CBC, 06 November 2017 (Season 1, Episode 1.) Lauren Lee Smith as Frankie Drake, Toronto’s first female private detective (in the 1920s) and the owner of Drake Private Detectives, Chantel Riley as Trudy Clarke, Frankie’s partner; Rebecca Liddiard as Mary Shaw, a morality officer in Toronto’s police force who often helps Frankie; Sharron Matthews as Flo Chakowitz, a pathologist at the Toronto City Morgue. Recurring: Wendy Crewson as Nora Amory, Frankie’s mother and a con artist; Steve Lund as Ernest Hemingway, a reporter for the Toronto Star. Director: Ruba Nadda.

   You can’t tell the players without a scorecard, especially when there are as many players as this. Thanks go to Wikipedia for providing all the names above and who they are. This first episode shows exactly how a pilot should be done: introduce the characters while at the same time building  a story around them doing just that and managing to be entertaining on its own.

   In this case, the story begins with a valuable diamond necklace being stolen from the hotel room of a wealthy steel magnate visiting from Pittsburgh. Curiously the thief leaves in its place a single duck’s feather – or more specifically, a drake’s feather – somehow bringing suspicion directly to Frankie’s door.

   This may be more than I’d usually tell you in a review, but things do get complicated from this point on. It seems that the steel man’s wife is none other than Frankie’s mother, who abandoned her and her father when she was but a child. As the story progresses, Frankie Drake (a shortened version of Francis Drake) learns more about her father as well.

   The tone is definitely light-hearted. I don’t believe that “dark streets” is anything close to what the producers of the show have in mind. The reception to the series has been such (quite favorable) that it is scheduled to start its fourth season next year. The ambience is everything it should be, the acting, so far, is adequate. Frankie herself seems, unfortunately, rather plain and and ordinary, especially compared to her flamboyant mother and her young sassy assistant.

   I’d have to see another episode, one that involves a much more ordinary, less personal case, to be able to say more. Based on this, the first installment, I found it entertaining enough to say that I will.




AND SOON THE DARKNESS. EMI/Warner-Pathé, 1970. Pamela Franklin, Michele Dotrice, Sandor Elès, John Nettleton, Clare Kelly. Story and screenplay: Brian Clemens & Terry Nation. Director: Robert Fuest.

   In 1970, one year before he worked with Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (reviewed by me here), Robert Fuest directed And Soon The Darkness, a lesser known, but occasionally effective little thriller. Minimalist at its core and with a score reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann, the movie is a slow burn. So much so that, one is tempted to give up after twenty minutes or so. The movie just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. But it eventually reveals itself to be a solidly constructed, if haphazardly edited, psychological thriller. One that relies far more on atmosphere and an overarching sense of dread than on violence and gore.

   The plot follows two twenty-something British woman on holiday in rural France. Bicycling their way through the sparsely populated countryside, the two eventually become the unwitting prey of a sexually deviant killer in the surrounding area. When Cathy (Michele Dotrice) and Jane (Pamela Franklin) stop in a café for a drink and some rest, they see a handsome stranger (Sandor Elès) a few tables away. They eventually continue on and decide to take another break in the woods. That’s where the two have a bit of an argument, with Cathy deciding that she wants to just stay put and sunbathe. Jane decides, with more than a little nudging on Cathy’s part, to ride on and makes her way to the next village.

   But Cathy never shows up. What happened to her? Jane doesn’t know, but she is determined to find out. That handsome stranger from the café shows up and introduces himself as Paul. He also says he works in law enforcement and is down in this area because of a murder of a female tourist a while back. He has an obsession with the crime. There’s something not right about Paul, though. He seems to be holding something back. Still, he is willing to help Jane look for Cathy.

   The story follows Jane as she tries to navigate the perils of being lost and confused in a strange land. Not all of the locals speak English very well, but one of them knows enough to tell her that the local gendarme is trouble. There’s a middle-aged English woman who lives alone out here. Who is she? Why is she here? And the gendarme’s father, a deaf World War I veteran, seems to have a few screws loose.

   There’s a natural sensibility to the movie, one that doesn’t rely on special effects or gimmicks. One intuitively feels the danger lurking behind the bucolic farmland. On the surface, everything seems so perfect, so charming. Baked under the warm French sun, the landscape radiates with warmth and community. But beneath this façade is something much more sinister. Something Jane will confront when she stumbles upon a decaying trailer park, one that serves as a most vivid contrast with the splendor of the natural world.

   Although the film plays with the viewer’s expectations, it is never overtly manipulative. Still, there is something almost artificial about the ending. As if the viewer has been slightly cheated out of a comprehensive explanation for everything that has occurred. What the film lacks is a theme. There’s no coherent underpinning to the whole enterprise. Yes, you’re thrilled. And the chills are real. But to what end?


   I’ve sent most of today dealing with a bad mouse, or so it appears. It started gradually, but I spent over 45 minutes last night getting Ray’s review posted, a job that should have taken half the time, and today the problem was even worse.

   The mouse seemed to scroll OK, but whenever I tried to highlight a section of text, it seemed to go all over the place, jumping left when I wanted to go right, skipping over text, then deleting and pasting in the original, making a complete jumble of it.

   The mouse I had been using was wireless, so after wasting too much time trying to find out what setting had gone wrong, I finally located the old mouse on a cord I used to use, and while there are some very small problems with it, highlighting is a breeze now, as opposed to what was driving me crazy with the newer one.

   After the earlier adventures I’ve had this year, upgrading from Windows 7 to 10, then the fear of losing everything on this blog a few months back, I was hoping that the second half of the would be free of computer problems, but no, it was not to be.

   I’ll be back with a real post tomorrow, fingers crossed!



DEAN R. KOONTZ – Midnight. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, 1989. Berkley. paperback, 1989.

   Thomas Shadduck, owner of New Wave Microtechnology, dreams of turning Mankind into a race of emotionless logicians — Vulcans, to you Trekkies out there. Toward this end, he has administered most of the leading citizens of Moonlight Cove, California, with a fluid which will make them stronger, smarter, and virtually invulnerable. Unfortunately, as they say in Sci-Fi, there are Side Effects: some of the converts have chosen to make frequent regressions turning themselves into animals and killing anything in their way.

   Now, as Shadduck plans to convert the rest of Moonlight Cove, four people struggle to survive and get help: Sam Booker, an FBI agent sent to investigate the sudden rash of violent crime; Henry Talbot, a crippled Vietnam Vet; Tessa Lockland, whose sister supposedly committed suicide a few weeks earlier; and Chrissie Foster, who caught her parents regressing and escaped when they tried to inject her with the fluid.

   Koontz throws in elements from various sources, which he freely Acknowledges: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Island of Doctor Moreau, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and even Aliens. Chrissie seems inspired by the Space Orphan in that film, and Koontz throws in a scene where her Parish Priest transforms into the Alien monster.

   Though hardly a master craftsman, Koontz makes you care about bis characters and he writes a story that propels the reader helplessly, gladly along with it.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #66, July 1994.

RAOUL WHITFIELD “Mistral.” Short story. Anonymous (“Benn”). First published in Adventure, 15 December 1931. Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, 22 April 1981, and in Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories, edited by Bill Pronzini & Jack Adrian (Oxford University Press, 1995).

   The unnamed narrator of this short but very tough, hard-boiled tale is an European operative for an international detective agency based in Paris. After finishing one job in Genoa, he heads west along the Riviera coastline to Monte Carlo, Nice and Cannes. Along the way his path keeps crossing that of another man, one with a red and very visible scar on his neck. The man is almost certainly an American. He is unfamiliar with European customs, but he seems to have money, spending one night in a casino playing with thousand-franc chips.

   The narrator is intrigued, but is nonetheless surprised when a bulletin from his home office informs him that a client is on the lookout for him. Reporting in, he is told to back off, and that the client will handle things from that point on. Telling the man, whom he has taken something of a liking to, that his name is Benn, most probably not his real one, and what the score is, he then lets events take their own course from there.

   Telling the story tersely against a backdrop of a continually rising wing (a mistral), Whitfield keeps the tension rising right along with it, to an absolute knockout of an ending. Other than the Pronzini-Adrian anthology, this story may be hard to find, but it’s well worth the effort.



McMILLAN & WIFE “Murder by the Barrel.” NBC, 29 September 1971 (Season 1, Episode 2). Rock Hudson (Police Commissioner Stewart McMillan), Susan Saint James (Sally McMillan), John Schuck (Sgt. Charles Enright), Nancy Walker (Mildred). Guest Cast: Kenneth Mars, David Huddleston, Vito Scotti. Director: John Astin.

   According to Wikipedia, this second episode of the series was preceded by the pilot “Once Upon a Dead Man” on 17 September 1971, while IMDb calls this the first episode. (The pilot they call episode 0.) The pilot was two hours long; the episodes of the series itself varied between 90 minutes or two hours long; this one runs 90 minutes, including commercials. I’m not sure how long it lasted as part of NBC’s Mystery Movie wheel series, but at least at the beginning, it ran in rotation with Columbo and McCloud.

   “Murder by the Barrel” begins with the McMillans moving into their new home, but with Mac having left for the office, Sally finds a body in one of the barrels, one that her grandmother’s best china is supposed to be in. Of course, when Mac and Sgt. Enright get there, the body is gone. What follows is a hearty mixture of laugh-out-loud comedy and detective work that’s at least adequate, split about fifty-fifty.

   There are a lot of suspects – everyone that the three leads comes across is somehow connected with the case, which of course begins with the moving company as the focus of all their attention. Even though Rock Hudson had the bigger name at the time, I think that the more than outgoing Susan Saint James is the real star of the show – a throwback to days of Nora Charles and Pam North and lots of other female halves of many many other detective duos, each in their own distinctive way, of course.

   Wordplay is a strong key to the comedy. A full minute is spent, for example, with the three of them in a police car riffing on the difference between shipping barrels and storage barrels: You can ship in a shipping barrel and store in a storage barrel, and you can store in a shipping barrel, but you can’t ship in a storage barrel.

   Well, I thought it was funny.

   It is no wonder that the series was on for six years. The last season was a dud, though. Because of a salary dispute with Susan Saint James, Sally McMillan was killed off, and the show tried to go on without her, emphasis on the word “tried.”


   For as long as it stays up on YouTube, here’s a video of this particular episode:

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