January 2021

RAYMOND J. HEALY & J. FRANCIS McCOMAS, Editors – Famous Science-Fiction Stories: Adventures in Time And Space. The Modern Library G-31; hardcover, 1957, xvi + 997 pages. First published as Adventures in Time in Space, Random House, hardcover, 1946. Bantam F3102, paperback, 1966, as Adventures in Time and Space (contains only 8 stories). Ballantine, paperback, 1975, also as Adventures in Time and Space.

Part 4 can be found here.

ALFRED BESTER “Adam and No Eve.” The destruction and rebirth of the earth ages ago, with the secret of rebirth the key to the story. (4)

Update: First published in Astounding Science-Fiction, September 1941. First reprinted in this anthology. Also included in Beyond Control, edited by Robert Silverberg (Thomas Nelson, hardcover, 1972). First collected in Starburst (Signet S1524, paperback original, 1958); then in Star Light, Star Bright (Berkley/Putnam, hardcover, 1976). Bester was an extremely well known author in his day, with several classic novels and short stories to his credit, but I think he’s all but forgotten today.

ISAAC ASIMOV “Nightfall.” One of the best known SF stories of all time, about a civilization haunted by fear of darkness, which recurs every 2050 years. (5)

Update: First published in Astounding Science-Fiction, September 1941. Reprinted and collected many times. Every SF reader  and collector  of a certain age must have read it at least once.

HARRY BATES “A Matter of Size.” Novella. A scientist caught up in a mysterious plot is reduced in size. The ratio of one to twelve makes the dimensions come out easy. (1)

Update: First published in Astounding Stories, April 1934. First reprinted in this anthology. Collected in The Day the Earth Stood Still & Other SF Classics (Renaissance E Books, trade paperback, 2008). Bates’ story “Farewell to the Master” (Astounding SF, October 1940) was the basis for the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Bates was also the editor of Astounding in the early 1930s (1930-33).

– July-August 1967



DARK ALIBI. Monogram Pictures, 1946. Also released as Charlie Chan in Alcatraz, Fatal Fingerprints and Fatal Fingertips. Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan, Benson Fong as Tommy Chan, Mantan Moreland as Birmingham Brown, Ben Carter as Benjamin Brown, Teala Loring, George Holmes, Joyce Compton, John Eldredge. Based on the character created by Earl Derr Biggers. Director: Phil Karlson. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

   Charlie Chan is hired in this film by a public defender whose client has been convicted of a murder which happened during a bank robbery. He is scheduled to be executed in ten days, which doesn’t give Charlie, his son Tommy, and his chauffeur Birmingham Brown much time to save him. The damning evidence is the man’s fingerprints at the scene of the crime, even though he swears he was never there.

   The actual detective work takes up maybe 30 minutes of the just over an hour of running time. The rest is all comedy, with Tommy and Birmingham clowning it up together or long portions featuring the latter alone. The suspects all live together in the same rooming house, which makes questioning them very easy. The other major setting is that of a large warehouse filled with what looks like old leftover sets and other spooky material, especially in the dark.

   It is clear from the beginning that the crux of the case is finding out how the criminals were able to leave false fingerprints. I don’t know how, but I fingered the key villain immediately. Maybe he/she was obvious, but I still call it a Good One for me.

   But I can’t end this review here before telling you that Mantan Moreland and Ben Carter do what’s called their “indefinite” routine (*) twice, wherein both men carry on a lengthy conversation with neither one ever quite completing any of their sentences. What’s more they do it again a third time at the end with Charlie himself taking part, leaving son Tommy simply scratching his head.

(*) Changed from “infinite” routine, which is incorrect. See comment 6.

ROGER TORREY “Jail Bait.” Pat McCarthy & Margie Chalmers #1. Published in Black Mask, October 1936. Not known to have been collected or reprinted.

   This is Roger Torrey’s homage to The Maltese Falcon, as you might decide to call it. I lost track after a while, but there are at least four, maybe five, passages where PI Pat McCarthy tells somebody that while he disliked his partner, now dead, he didn’t kill him and he’s obliged to find out who did do it, because … well, for two reasons. The first because it wouldn’t be good if he didn’t, and secondly because to clear his name for good, what better way to do so than to find the real killer.

   McCarthy is the kind of guy who’s left several jobs with other agencies across the country, all because he has a temper and doesn’t necessarily get along with people, especially cops, and he really would like to keep this one, which he bought into as an equal partner. This means looking into the cases that Dakin was working on. The most obvious of these was a case involving city-wide police corruption.

   Where Margie Chalmers comes in is that she was Dakin’s beautiful blonde girl friend, and she introduces herself in this one by coming for him gun in hand. McCarthy escapes a bullet by the narrowest of margins and eventually calms her down, enough so that he manages to persuade her to help in trapping Dakin’s killer. Even so, there’s no indication that the two of them are going to continue as a crime-fighting duo, but apparently it was so, as they appeared together in thirteen more tales, all for Black Mask between this one in 1936 on through to the February 1940 issue.

   All in all, though, this is no more than an average story, well padded with incidental and somewhat repetitive byplay, such as with a pair of cops who hold a grudge against him, and the feeling is mutual. It’s good enough, though, to wish that someone might read this and decide to put together a collection of all the McCarthy/Chalmers stories.

ALAN RIEFE – The Lady Killers. Huntington Cage #1. Popular Library, paperback original, 1975.

   The gimmick here is that super-sleuth New York City detective Hunt Cage has a convenient twin brother in New Jersey, an artist ready to leave his models to take up the chase when needed. This of course causes much confusion to criminals, and to girl friends.

   Girls who are not friends, but are “hit-men” for the Mafia, are the brothers’ target in this adventure. Women’s lib advances. Lots of bullets – mostly between the bad guys’ eyes – but there is a light touch to be found here and there midst the shootings. I think it safe to say that you can read this at the same time as chewing gm, or even watching TV.

   There are already four more on the stands.

Rating: C.

— Slightly revised from The Mystery Nook, Vol. 2, No. 2 (whole #8), 15 December 1975.

      The Huntington Cage series –

1. The Lady Killers (1975)
2. The Conspirators (1975)
3. The Black Widower (1975)
4. The Silver Puma (1975)
5. The Bullet-Proof Man (1975)
6. The Killer with the Golden Touch (1975)

Note: Among other fictional work Alan Riefe might also be noted for writing a dozen or more adult westerns as J. D. Hardin, and a large number of romance novels as Barbara Riefe.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Barry N. Malzberg


AGATHA CHRISTIE – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Hercule Poirot novel #3. Collins, UK, 1926. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover. 1926. Reprinted many times. Film: Twickenham, UK, 1931, as Alibi  (with Austin Trevor as Poirot). TV Movie: BBC 2000 (with David Suchet as Hercule Poirot).

   This novel, Hercule Poirot’s most signatory case, is the work on which not only Agatha Christie’s reputation but that of the mystery of murder and manners, that which might be called the British “high tea school,” may be said to rest. Narrated by James Sheppard, trusted family physician and self-appointed confidant to Poirot during his investigation, the novel tracks the events leading up and then subsequent to the murder of Roger Ackroyd, a gentleman of some means and too much knowledge, “an immensely successful manufacturer of (I think) wagon wheels … a man of nearly fifty years of age, rubicund of face and genial of manner … He is, in fact, the life and soul of our peaceful village of King’s Abbot.”

   King’s Abbot is deeply shaken, as well it might be, by the murder of Ackroyd, and the distinguished Belgian detective M. Poirot, now in residence incognito and in retirement in the village, comes in to investigate. As in all fair-play puzzles of detective fiction’s Golden Age, Poirot deduces Ackroyd’s murderer through the gathering of carefully planted clues, accuses that person, and resolves the tragic case. The murderer’s identity is a stunning revelation, however, owing to a narrative device so simultaneously audacious and obvious that it may be said to have altered not only the deductive mystery but the novel form itself. (It is impossible to believe that Vladimir Nabokov did not study this work before composing Pale Fire.)

   Arguably the finest cerebral detective novel ever published, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is inarguably Christie’s finest work. If she had done nothing else, her place in the literature of crime would be secure; if Poirot had done nothing else, his “little grey cells” would have been forever noted. In fact, it is possible that if Christie had written only this novel (and perhaps The ABC Murders and And Then There Were None), her reputation would be much higher than it is (if not the accounting of her estate). But every writer is entitled to be judged by his or her strongest work, and this novel stands alone.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.




RAFFLES. United Artists, 1939. David Niven (Raffles), Olivia de Havilland, Dame May Whitty, Dudley Digges, Douglas Walton (Bunny), E. E. Clive. Based upon the celebrated adventures of “The Amateur Cracksman” by E. W. Hornung. Directors: Sam Wood and William Wyler (the latter uncredited).

   A gentleman jewel thief who routinely baffles Scotland Yard decides to retire. This is because the thief – really A.J. Raffles, famous cricketer – has fallen in love with a girl called Gwen and has vowed to end his career of safe-cracking. However, when his friend Bunny is unable to pay off his debts, Raffles decides to help by stealing Lady Melrose’s necklace. He manages to wangle an invitation to a weekend party she is hosting at her estate and anticipates an easy success. However, Inspector McKenzie attends the party to prevent the theft and another burglary is set to go down the same night…

   Today, we’re in an era of Hollywood studios remaking films which aren’t yet twenty years old. Well, this one certainly kicks them to the curb. This is a remake of a nine-year old film from the same country, same studio, same director and same script. And, as David Niven replaces Ronald Colman, it could even have the same moustache too. But, this isn’t a criticism. For one thing, in 1939, they didn’t have DVDs (imagine!), so it had been nearly a decade since people had seen the first film. Also, this has David Niven. Also, this has David Niven. Also, this has … well, it does.

   Niven was born to play the role, and it’s a shame that he didn’t make a bigger splash with it. This could easily have been a series, like the Universal set of Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone. Of course, the war happened and Niven, quite honourably, left Hollywood to fight. And maybe the idea would have been redundant, as this was the same year in which the Saint movies started.

   With his easy charm and suavity, Niven is the best thing about this version. The plot is solid and – though set in a house for most of its run-time – features much of the cosily exciting wandering-around-the-house-at-night stuff that I love so much. It heads towards farce, at points, but you won’t read me complaining about that, as it’s all so lightly amusing and even quickens the pulse at times.

   Dame May Whitty (she of The Lady Vanishes – surely one of the best films in the history of moving pictures) plays the dowager-type part of Lady Melrose and there’s some mild comedy to be enjoyed with her oafish aristocratic husband who is straight out of a Blandings novel.

   The whole thing about giving Raffles a love-interest is non-canonical, as that never happened in the original stories by E.W. Hornung (brother-in-law of Arthur Conan Doyle). In fact, Raffles himself is softer here than he is supposed to be and Bunny’s suicide pledge is only alluded to, while it was properly depicted in the story which inspired it.

   At this point, the character had enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in the British pulp magazine The Thriller, with stories written by Barry Perowne, in which the character was updated to the ’30s. This film is also set in those times (though, confusingly, there’s a scene in a Victorian hansom cab) and there’s even a television, before the invention was really popular.

   Unfortunately, this spirited film is marred by a hasty ending which, jarringly, tries to include a daring escape, a Golden Age of Hollywood romantic ending and the obligatory reminder that crime does not pay.

   The character would again find success in a 1977 television series for ITV with Anthony Valentine in the role. A one-off adaptation, titled The Gentleman Thief, was aired in 2001 and starred Nigel Havers. It was a role he was surely also born to play but, unfortunately, was not followed up on, and hasn’t even had a DVD release. Considering the original books are still in print and remain classics of the genre, it would be great to see them adapted again at some point.

Rating: ***

S-F YEARBOOK: A Treasury of Science Fiction, Number One, 1967.     Overall rating: 2½ stars.

JOHN D. MacDONALD “Ring Around the Redhead.” [First published in Startling Stories, November 1948.] An inventor discovers a doorway to other dimensions, then must defend himself in court when it proves dangerous. Readable in spite of weak plot. (2)

CHARLES L. HARNESS “Fruits of the Agathon.” [First published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1948.] Novelette. Agathon is a word from the Greek meaning death of an individual planned for the good of society. Confusing, disturbing, and unreadable, but much better than average. (4)

MARGARET ST. CLAIR “The Unreliable Perfumist.” [First published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, February 1953.] Intrigue between a family of Martian perfumists. (0)

GORDON R. DICKSON “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” [First published in Startling Stories, December 1952.] Two Cuperians need the help of a talking at to escape Earth. (1)

RAY BRADBURY “The Irritated People.” [First published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1947.] Warfare is conducted by radio music, confetti, and mosquitos. (2)

MARGARET ST. CLAIR “The Stroller.” [First published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1947.] About strange creatures from Venus. (0)

GEORGE O. SMITH “Journey.” [First published in Startling Stories, May 1948.] Space pilot has to come up with FTL theory to prove he traveled to Alpha Centauri. (3)

EDMOND HAMILTON “The Knowledge Machine.” [First published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1948.] Two men take over an inventor’s discovery that speeds learning electronically. (3)

THEODORE STURGEON “The Sky Was Full of Ships.” [First published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1947.] Strange visitors to Earth are concerned about the use of atomic power. A famous last line. (3)

– August 1967

HONEST THIEF. Briarcliff Entertainment, 2020. Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh, Jai Courtney, Jeffrey Donovan, Anthony Ramos, Robert Patrick, Jasmine Cephas Jones. Directed by Mark Williams.

   For an action movie that benefits from the presence of several great character actors, Honest Thief is surprisingly dull and lifeless. Which is somewhat surprising. After all, the film has an intriguing premise – a veteran bank robber decides to go straight and turn himself into the FBI – and a solid lead in Liam Neeson. It’s just the execution that is lacking. The movie just plods along from scene to scene without the kinetic energy that the movie demands.

   Neeson, in yet another outing as a grizzled, world-weary man with a special set of skills, portrays Tom Dolan, a Marine veteran turned bank robber. Called the “In and Out Bandit” by the press and the feds (a term he loathes), Dolan eventually decides to go straight. Why? He meets a woman he adores and figures he wants to settle up his past debts before beginning a new life with her in suburban Boston. So far so good. But things don’t go as planned. (do they ever?) As it turns out, the two FBI agents who follow up on Dolan’s request to turn himself in in exchange for a lighter sentence are themselves corrupt. You see, they are interested in his stashed loot, not his newfound conscience.

   As I said earlier, an intriguing premise. But alas, it mostly doesn’t work. Part of that has to do with how formulaic and derivative it all feels. There’s very little in the movie that hasn’t been done – and done better – before. Also hampering the production is the fact that the movie, while set in Boston, was filmed in Worcester, Massachusetts. Nothing against Worcester, but it so obviously doesn’t look like Boston that it only serves to make the movie look more downmarket than it actually is.

   Final thought. Although his late career as an action hero may be coming to a close, Liam still could do a lot better. So can you.



ANTHONY BERKELEY – The Mystery at Lovers’ Cave. Roger Sheringham #3. Simon & Schuster, US, hardcover, 1927. Jacobsen Publishing Co., US, reprint hardcover (shown), 1927. Originally published in England as Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery (Collins, hardcover, 1927).

   “You are getting ready to be Roger Sheringham,” Tommy remarked to Tuppence in Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime. “If you will allow me to make a criticism, you talk quite as much as he does, but not nearly so well.”

   As befits someone whose early works were sketches for Punch, Anthony Berkeley excelled at light, witty dialogue. He began writing about Roger Sheringham to satirize the great detectives of literature, and this book, like the later and more famous Poisoned Chocolates Case, emphasizes the detective’s foibles rather than his brilliance. The plot is relatively simple. A nasty woman has been pushed off a cliff,. and Roger hies off to investigate the case for a newspaper.

   He sometimes makes clever deductions, sometimes misreads the evidence, and always has the amused attention of the official policeman, especially after Roger’s cousin falls in love with the chief suspect.

   Berkeley handled physical evidence and setting well, but the book is worth reading primarily for the dialogue. As Agatha Christie pointed out, Roger talks constantly but always entertainingly.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 4, Number 5/6 (December 1981). Permission granted by Doug Greene.


BLOOD ORANGE. Hammer Films, UK, 1953. Released in the US as Three Stops to Murder (Astor Pictures, 1953). Tom Conway, Mila Parély, Naomi Chance, Eric Pohlman, Andrew Osborn, Richard Wattis. Screenplay: Jan Read. Director: Terence Fisher. Currently available on YouTube (embedded below).

   This low budget private eye mystery has a surprisingly decent plot going for it, though it never quite amounts to much, despite a good cast.

   Far from Film Noir it’s more in a minor Peter Cheyney key as a designer fashion house in London is robbed of the jewels used by their models, jewels on loan from vaguely foreign Mr. Mercedes (Eric Pohlman, the voice of Blofield in the early Bonds and a noted character actor), whose personal investigator arrives at the same time as Inspector McLeod of the Yard (bespectacled Richard Wattis as an unlikely Scotland Yard Inspector).

   That private detective is former FBI agent Tom Conway (and yes, Tom Conway plays Tom Conway in this one, no doubt in an attempt to connect in British viewers minds with his role as Tom Falcon in the Falcon series).

   Helen Pascall (Mira Parély) owns the shop and is the designer, and blonde Gina (Naomi Chance) is her top model. Partner in the business is suave but broke clubman Captain Simpson, a ladies man (Andrew Osborn, and I suspect like me you will be hard put to see what the fuss is about though all the women are devoted to him).

   At the shop the morning after the robbery is a middle aged peeress who claims when she was there the day before she saw two of her own jewels among the stones in Mercedes collection, and shortly after that Mercedes decides he doesn’t want Conway wasting time investigating the theft.

   Conway, being American, and a private eye, doesn’t listen and is there the night of the upcoming show when one of the models plunges to her death wearing a blood orange gown designed by Helen Pascall from a defective railing Conway saved Simpson from earlier in the day.

   When the woman who claimed to have seen her stolen jewels is murdered, also in a blood orange gown, after a visit by Conway it starts to look bad for him since bodies keep showing up at his feet, and when he finds a third model murdered again in a blood orange gown his relationship with reserved McLeod deteriorates further.

   The police are suspicious of Mr. Mercedes (Pohlman is subdued, but not bad in the closest thing to a colorful performance in the film save for the killer who I won’t give away), and Conway is getting too close to something so his own boss ends up kidnapping him only for a police raid to throw Mercedes off. Mercedes fakes having a bomb and escapes, and Conway ends up in custody suspected of being in with Mercedes who it turns out was an international crook with a record across the world using his business interest in the fashion house to launder money and re-cut stolen jewels.

   Then Mercedes is murdered, no doubt by an unsuspected partner, and Conway has to set a dangerous trap for a killer who has killed four people and who is willing to kill again.

   And in fairness, it is a pretty good trap, replete with a twist that I admit I did not see coming, and which made complete sense. In fact that is why I bothered to review this one at all.

   Jealous lovers, criminal conspiracy, and a ruthless killer are the key ingredients here.

   Admittedly Conway is tired by this point in his career (and drinking heavily), and while he still wears a trench coat well, he is not at his best. While there are some good scenes, especially between Conway and Naomi Chance as the sophisticated model Gina, there is nothing here that really clicks though the plot is more than serviceable for the short running time.

   A tighter script, and less tired leading man, and a few touches of directorial flare would have boosted this immensely. As it is it kills an hour not unpleasantly even if it is instantly forgettable.

   Probably the most interesting thing about this film is the studio where it was made, legendary Hammer, well before its horror days, and the director, Terence Fisher, who would helm many of the horror films that put Hammer on the map. Beyond that it is little more than a B programmer with a better than usual cast and some decent sets.

   Frankly, while still a pro, Conway often looks as if he would prefer to sit down and have a drink, giving his brother George Sanders a run for bored and indifferent.

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