June 2021

ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION November 1961. Edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. Cover by Schoenherr for “Science Fact: Gravity Insufficient” by Hal Clement. Overall rating: 2 stars.

CHRISTOPHER ANVIL “No Small Enemy.” Short novel. A force invading Earth is defeated, but only under purely fortuitous circumstances. A rather unorthodox company happens to have an experimental steam-powered car and a newly-invented viewing device that gives the user telekinetic powers. Fun, if you can accept this. (2)

JIM WANNAMAKER “Attrition.” Novelette. An obnoxious Interstel agent discovers the reason for the disappearance of an exploration crew, a mutant plant throwing poisonous seeds. Being told in the first person doesn’t help. (1)

HARRY HARRISON “Sense of Obligation.” Serial, part 3 of 3. See later report.

–September 1967


“SAPPER” The Best Short Stories. Edited and selected by Jack Adrian. J. M. Dent & Sons, hardcover, 1984. ‎ Orion Publishing Co. paperback, 1986.

   Herman Cyril McNeile, best known by his pseudonym Sapper (chosen because soldiers in uniform at the front weren’t supposed to write fiction during WW I when he started writing) is best known, or perhaps in some circles most infamous for the novel Bulldog Drummond (1919) and its sequels and the plays, movies, and radio series they spawned. In his lifetime though he was equally well known for his short fiction which rivaled Somerset Maugham, P. G. Wodehouse, and Conan Doyle in magazine sales.

   In some cases Sapper’s name on the cover actually outsold those notable names in the same way Carroll John Daly once boosted Black Mask sales over Hammett and Chandler. Literary merit doesn’t change all that much, but popularity does.

   This 1984 anthology contains ten of his best short tales chosen by Sapper historian Jack Adrian, and the five Bulldog Drummond short stories that appeared in The Strand before his fairly young death in 1937.

   Sapper, as mentioned, began writing from the trenches in the First World War, and his stories rapidly gained popularity being quickly reprinted in volumes like Sgt. Michael Cassidy, John Walters, and others. They are perhaps too trite, too simple today, but in their time they were a sensation at home, abroad, and in the trenches themselves.

   Adrian, in his introduction, addresses the elephant in the room, McNeile was a man of his time, a middle class Englishman of limited experience outside his social class prone to the prejudices of this time, and far from a subtle writer at his best. He was also, despite his simple class assumptions, comfortable Edwardian views, and simplistic world of clubbable men, simply topping women, absolute cads, and slinky femme fatales, a born storyteller with a gift rivaling O Henry for a twist in the tale.

   These stories are among his best. Personally I would have included the very dated but entertaining “Man in the Ratcatcher,” “Fer de lance,” “When Carruthers Laughed,” the Jim Maitland story “Temple of the Crocodiles,” and the Ronald Standish mystery “The Horror of Stavely Manor,” but it is a solid collection with “The Hidden Witness” notable for a fine double twist in the last line, “Out of the Blue” with its black humor, and the ghostly “House by the Headland.”

   Sapper’s gift as a storyteller was simple, introduce a drama or problem, a mystery if that is the form, involve your characters, cast as much doubt as to the outcome as possible, and then turn the whole business over with as sharp a twist as possible in the last lines of the story, all the better if that twist turns everything on its head that came before including where needed unreliable narrators worthy of Agatha Christie.

   Subtlety is not Sapper’s style, but as involving short stories go despite their class conscious smug assumptions they are often strong entertaining stories,

   The five Drummond short stories were written late in Sapper’s career at the suggestion of his friend writer and fellow writer Gerard Fairlie and intended for a collection of Drummond shorts tentatively titled The Exploits of Bulldog Drummond. It was a natural for the acknowledged master of the short story to finally deal with his most famous creation in that form, and it mostly works with Drummond much easier to take minus some of the blathering of the early works from the Twenties.

   The best and most often reprinted of the Drummond shorts is “Thirteen Lead Soldiers” (also the title of a Drummond film with Tom Conway) in which Drummond attends a peace conference at a manor house and cleverly uncovers an assassin whose plot he upends based on a child’s toy soldiers and a clever code involving them. It is a solid performance and worthy of its inclusion in many anthologies.

   Of the others I recommend “The Lonely Inn” and “The Mystery Tour” which both feature Drummond and crew at their best. “The Oriental Mind” has an unfortunate Asian character who speaks pidgin English, but who at least proves heroic if one of those loyal ‘pukka sahib’ type servants so common in the stories of the time. “Wheels Within Wheels” features an almost Queensian (Ellery that is) play on words.

   Depending on your tolerance for the popular fiction of this era, and I fully understand anyone who cannot get past the problems rife in much of it, I would also suggest the anthology of Jim Maitland stories in the book of that title which are excellent adventure tales despite their flaws and the two books of stories about amateur golf enthusiast, government agent, and amateur sleuth Ronald Standish (who also appears in two Drummond novels and in Tiny Carteret).

    For all his flaws Sapper was a master of the short form and one of the most popular short story writers of his age.


· The Hidden Witness · nv The Strand Dec ’28
· A Hopeless Case · ss The Strand Mar ’27
· The House by the Headland · ss The Sovereign Magazine Mar ’20
· Lonely Inn [Captain Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond] · ss The Strand Aug ’37
· The Man with His Hand in His Pocket · ss The Strand Dec ’20
· Mark Danver’s Sin · ss The Strand Feb ’23
· Mrs. Peter Skeffington’s Revenge · ss Hutchinson’s Magazine Sep ’25
· The Mystery Tour [Captain Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond] · ss The Strand Feb ’37
· The Old Dining-Room · ss Hutchinson’s Magazine Dec ’20
· The Oriental Mind [Captain Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond] · ss
· The Other Side of the Wall · ss Hutchinson’s Magazine Mar ’25
· Out of the Blue · ss McClure’s Jul ’24
· Thirteen Lead Soldiers [Captain Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond] · nv The Strand Dec ’37
· Wheels Within Wheels [Captain Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond] · ss The Strand Nov ’37

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


GEORGE HARMON COXE – Murder with Pictures. Kent Murdock #1.  Knopf, hardcover, 1935. Dell #101, paperback, mapback edition, 1945; Dell #441, paperback, 1950. Perennial Library, paperback, 1981. Film: Paramount, 1936, with Lew Ayres as Kent Murdock.

   This is Coxe’s first novel and introduces news photographer Kent Murdock, who works for the Boston Courier-Herald and moves with seeming ease through the various strata of that city’s society — stumbling over corpses with predictable regularity. As this first adventure opens, the jury has just delivered an acquittal in the Nate Girard murder trial.

   Murdock is on the job, snapping pictures; but later his concern with Girard turns personal, when he encounters his estranged wife, Hestor, with the former liquor racketeer at a celebratory party. Hestor won’t give Murdock a divorce, in spite of a year’s separation; Murdock wants out of the marriage, and he calls on Jack Fenner to help him.

   But before that situation even begins to be resolved, Girard’s attorney, Mark Redfield (who is to receive a $50,000 fee for his client’s acquittal), is murdered, and Murdock finds himself sheltering a girl he has noticed at the victory party — a stranger who bursts into his apartment while he is taking a shower and jumps in with him.

   Quickly Murdock is back on the job at the scene of the lawyer’s murder. And he soon uncovers a tangle of lies, infidelity, and intrigue that involves the dead man’s wife; a “man-about-town” named Howard Archer; Archer’s sister Joyce; gangster Sam Cuslik (whose brother Girard was accused of murdering); a “cheap punk” named Spike Tripp; Girard; and Hestor herself. By the time he has untangled this mess, Murdock has found the solution to more than one killing — and a unique way to resolve his marital problems.

   This is a typical Coxe novel, with multiple threads that all tic together in a satisfactory manner at the end, and a love interest spiced with sex that seems oddly innocent by current standards.

   Kent Murdock is also featured in, among others, The Camera Clue (1937), Mrs. Murdock Takes a Case (1941), The Fifth Key (1947), Focus on Murder (1954), and The Reluctant Heiress (1965).

   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.

VINCENT STARRETT “Footsteps of Fear.” First published in The Black Mask, April 1920. Collected in The Quick and the Dead (Arkham House, hardcover, 1965). Reprinted in The Big Book of Rogues and Villains, edited by Otto Penzler (Black Lizard, softcover, 2017).

   Dr. Loxley has it made, or so he thinks. He has killed his wife Lora, but the police are not on his trail – not as the killer, that is. He made his plans well in advance, and to all intents and purposes is considered dead as well, as he (under his own name) has completely vanished. But under a new name and a new profession, he is doing quite well: as the frosted glass door outside his outer office says, he is now William Drayham, Rare Books, Hours by Appointment.

   He is friends with his neighbors on the same floor, and he does not need to leave his building. It has all the amenities he needs: restaurants, barber shops, and so on. And as a big plus, the sign on the door was “formidable enough to frighten away casual visitors.”

   This may have been an inside joke included here on the part of the author, a well known bookman of his era. Stories in this very first issue of Black Mask were far from the hardboiled fare for which it later became famous.

   It is, however, reminiscent of one that magazine’s better known writers, Cornell Woolrich, with a twist in the ending that brings a severe comeuppance to the former Dr. Loxley. In spite of the new name and facial features, he becomes more and more convinced that his plans have fallen short, and a zinger of an ending worthy of a story on Alfred Hitchcock’s television show ensues, well thirty or forty years ahead of its time.

   Here below is a list of the other stories in that same issue of Black Mask, taken from the online Crime Fiction Index. Only Harold Ward’s name, he being a long time pulpster, is vaguely familiar to me. I’m going out on a limb here, without reading any of the other tales, but I suspect none of the others have anything very much to offer modern day readers. This one by Starrett may be the only one that’s ever been reprinted.

      The Black Mask [Vol. I No. 1, April 1920]

Who and Why? · J. Frederic Thorne
The Stolen Soul · Harold Ward
The House Across the Way · Sarah Harbine Weaver
The Peculiar Affair at the Axminster · Julian Kilman
The Puzzle of the Hand · Stewart Wells
Piracy · Harry C. Hervey, Jr.
The Mysterious Package · David E. Harriman & John I. Pearce, Jr.
A Small Blister · David Morrison
Hands Up! · Ray St. Vrain
Footsteps of Fear · Vincent Starrett
The Dead and the Quick · Gertrude Brooke Hamilton
The Long Arm of Malfero · Edgar Daniel Kramer

BREAKDOWN. Paramount Pictures, 1997. Kurt Russell, J. T. Walsh, Kathleen Quinlan, M.C. Gainey, Jack Noseworthy, Rex Linn. Director: Jonathan Mostow.

   Movies have changed since this picture was made. I don’t pay much attention to new films, so if I’ve speaking from ignorance, you don’t need to tell me. What I think is happening is that new movies are either Marvel/DC/etc superhero pictures or what I’ll call agenda flicks. Yawn on both. Movies are meant to be fun to watch, ones like this one. Breakdown is its title, and there’s the short review, right there.

   Here’s a longer one, though. An attractive but rather brainless couple (when you think about it) are driving from Boston to San Diego, and once they hit the desert, they decide to take the scenic route. Two lanes of highway, one each way, straight through nothingness. You take the Interstates, and yes, it’s still nothingness, for miles on end, but you’re not alone. Your car breaks down, help is not far away. Alone in the desert, the friendly driver of an 18-wheeler (J. T. Walsh) offers you a lift, do you hop in? The wife does, the husband decides to stay with the car.

   The truck driver says he’ll take her to the next town – really only a truck stop and a bar – where he’ll leave her. When the husband gets there, no wife. No one’s seen her. A cop offers to help, but there’s no sign of her. What would you do, if this were to happen to you?

   An unfair question. The worst is yet to come. And that’s where the fun comes in. The action and the predicament the husband gets into is way over the top, ending with the 18-wheeler hanging off over a bridge, creaking precipitously with the wind. I suppose none of the story line makes any sense, if you start to think about it, but why put yourself to the effort?

   In any case, I’m glad Jon suggested we watch this after our 3000 mile ride from CA to CT together, not before.

Reviews by L. J. Roberts


DANA STABENOW – No Fixed Line. Kate Shugak #22. Head Of Zeus, hardcover, January 2020; paperback, February 2021. Setting: Contemporary Alaska.

First Sentence: Anna was a warm, heavy weight against his side, her eyes closed, her breathing deep, her tears drying in faint silvery streaks on her cheeks.

   Matt Grosdidier and Laurel Meganack are spending New Year’s’ Eve at Kate Shugak’s cabin bolt hole at Canyon Hot Springs. Their romantic interlude is interrupted by the sound of an engine, and the crash of a plane. What they didn’t expect to find was two young children, belted together in a seat. Further investigation reveals a body buried in the snow, and a whole lot of drugs. Meanwhile, Erland Bannister, who tried to have Kate killed more than once, has died. But why did he make her the trustee of his estate and the head of his foundation?

   Stabenow captures one’s interest from the very first sentence. Her writing is evocative and visual. It captivates, involves, and becomes real. And it moves, no long narratives here; just writing which keeps one turning the page. One also realizes just how timely are the themes of her story. But it’s the details of dealing with Alaska that make one’s eyes widen. For those who follow the series, this is an Alaska very different from the state as it was in the beginning, which only adds to the interest.

   The story is perfectly balanced between the action, the pastoral, and the wonderfully normal, human moments. The transition between these elements segues perfectly, one to the next. It’s fascinating to see how Kate’s mind works; how she walks through the possible scenarios of traps Bannister may have set for her. Her comparison of a modern minimalist office lobby, using the term “dead perfection” from a Tennyson poem and comparing it to a columbarium is identifiable.

   One can’t but love the references to other writers: Dick Francis, Ellis Peters, Damien Boyd, Adrian McGinty, John Sandford, and even Tennyson. Such things make the character seem real– “To quote the late, great Dick Francis, life keeps getting steadily weirder.” —along with references to food– “…caribou steak with loaded baked potatoes and canned green beans fried with bacon and onions.”

   Stabenow weaves the issues of poverty, drugs and government cutbacks seamlessly into the story through the conversations of the characters. She offsets that by observing the way people in the park care for one another. The plot meanders a bit between the characters and the mystery involving the children, but doesn’t life?

   There is romance and a bit of erotic heat, but it then stops before becoming too graphic. Quite satisfying is Kate’s justifiable anger at law enforcement not having gone after someone they knew was a criminal. Valid and significant points are made about the status of things without being preachy, and the suggestion of a future threat is intriguing without being an end-destroying cliffhanger.

   No Fixed Line is a great pleasure to read. It has everything a really good book should: well-developed characters, a compelling plot that keeps one turning the pages, excellent dialogue, a touch of humor, well-done suspense, well-placed twists, and a perfectly executed ending. Thank you, Dana Stabenow.

Rating: Excellent.

PETER CORRIS – White Meat. Fawcett Gold Medal, paperback, 1st Ballantine edition, September 1986. Originally published in Australia: Pan, 1981.

   On a recent visit to the Yale Co-op bookstore, I picked up a large stack of mystery paperbacks with Pl Cliff Hardy starring in them, and this is one of them. I hadn’t bought them when they first came out, and while the reason is kind of silly, I’m going to tell you anyway: Both Peter Corris and his creation are Australians, and I was temporarily working under the delusion that PI novels are strictly an American form.

   Of the 10 books with Hardy in them that I know about, this is the second. I’m missing three of them. There may be more, either ones that were never published here, or ones published later that I just haven’t caught up with yet. I haven’t seen any in a while, although as I say, l hadn’t been looking. What’s remarkable, in retrospect, is that two of the books (Heroin Annie and The Big Drop) are collections of short stories, and what other PI character in recent memory has had a collection of short stories published about him?

   On the basis of this limited sample of size one, I’ll be looking for the ones I’ve missed, but I’d also have to add that I’m not yet a full-fledged Hardy fanatic yet. The case he’s involved with here is a good one, and it even comes close to being great. So close, as a matter of fact, that it put my teeth on edge when it wasn’t.

   It involves the missing daughter of a well-to-do bookie, and why he wants her back, the trouble she’s been in all her life, only blood could say. Bank robbery, blackmail, and boxing are also involved, along with a few dead bodies along the way, If you’d thought that Australia was a nice peaceful land, this book would greatly disillusion you.

   Australia’s cities have their own rundown section, their own squalor, their own hopeless despair of some of the people who live there. The country is also wracked with racial tensions between the whites and the mostly black Aborigines as well, and this has a good deal to do with the story that Cliff Hardy finds himself digging into.

   Corris has a nice descriptive flair for the various parts of the countryside Hardy travels through, as well as for all the inhabitants of it. Where he fails – or where he did as far as I was concerned — is in, umm, for lack of a better word, let’s call it “logistics” — getting people from one spot to another, locating them· precisely in the story, and just generally answering any questions that are raised in doing so. (I’d gladly go into details, but this review has probably gone on too long already.)

   There are two threads to the tale, and unfortunately, I thought the more interesting one was wrapped up first. It might also be my own built-in bias against boxing,) Otherwise, the book has a nice solid feeling to it, and as for me, I’m certainly game for another.

– Slightly revised from Mystery*File #30, April 1991.

      The Cliff Hardy series —

1. The Dying Trade (1980)
2. White Meat (1981)
3. The Marvellous Boy (1982)
4. The Empty Beach (1985)
5. Heroin Annie (1984)
6. Make Me Rich (1985)
7. The Big Drop (1985)
8. The Greenwich Apartments (1986)
9. Deal Me Out (1986)
10. The January Zone (1987)
11. The Man in the Shadows (1988)
12. O’Fear (1990)
13. Wet Graves (1991)
14. Aftershock (1991)
15. Beware of the Dog (1992)
16. Burn (1993)
17. Matrimonial Causes (1993)
18. Casino (1994)
19. The Washington Club (1997)
20. Forget Me If You Can (1997)
21. The Reward (1997)
22. The Black Prince (1998)
23. The Other Side of Sorrow (1999)
24. Lugarno (2001)
25. Salt and Blood (2002)
26. Master’s Mates (2003)
27. The Coast Road (2004)
28. Taking Care of Business (2004)
29. Saving Billie (2005)
30. The Undertow (2006)
31. Appeal Denied (2007)
32. The Big Score (2007)
33. Open File (2009)
34. Deep Water (2009)
35. Torn Apart (2010)
36. Follow the Money (2012)
37. Comeback (2012)
38. The Dunbar Case (2013)
39. Silent Kill (2014)
40. Gun Control (2015)
41. That Empty Feeling (2016)
42. Win, Lose or Draw (2017)

T-MEN. Eagle-Lion Films, 1947. Dennis O’Keefe, Mary Meade, Alfred Ryder, Wallace Ford, June Lockhart, Charles McGraw, Jane Randolph. Narrated by Reed Hadley (uncredited). Director of Photography: John Alton. Directed by Anthony Mann.

   Although the continual narration turns off some viewers, or so I’ve been told, T-Men is one of the better semi-documentary noir films of all time. It’s the US Treasury Department which takes its place in the spotlight, with gang of counterfeiter the target of the agents working there. The story may be a little long in the telling, as the two men working undercover work their way through the world of the underground by starting in Detroit to establish their “credentials” before heading to the West Coast to match their superior plates with the gang’s top-notch paper, imported from China.

   Both Dennis O’Keefe (as one of the agents) and Wallace Ford (an aging hanger-on with the gang) turn in fine performances, but the star of the show is John Alton, as head cinematographer, along with director Anthony Mann. Between them they came up with a film perfectly shot in pristine black-and-white, using lot of unusual angles and closeups that add immensely to the story, not distract from it.

   I do not know why Mary Meade, playing a nightclub photographer received second billing. She was on the screen only for a few minutes total. It’s mostly a men’s affair. On the other hand, June Lockhart makes the most of her very short appearance, while Jane Randolph makes a even greater impression as a villainess close to the top of California gang’s hierarchy.

   If you are a fan of film noir and have not yet seen this, please do. You can thank me later.




GIDEON’S DAY. Columbia Pictures, UK, 1958; US, 1959, as Gideon of Scotland Yard. Jack Hawkins (Chief Inspector George Gideon), Anna Lee, Anna Massey, Andrew Ray, Howard Marion-Crawford, John Loder. Based on the novel by John Creasey. Director: John Ford.

   I don’t always enjoy police procedurals. To me, they’re either grim or boring. I was interested, though, in seeing this offering from the late ‘50s, as such slice-of-life films can lend us a window into another era. Sure enough, we get to see a lot of London in the year of Britain’s first motorway, the launch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and – most importantly, of course – Cliff Richard’s debut single.

   It’s a very English film, full of military types with stiff moustaches and even stiffer upper-lips. Despite all the red buses and clear class divisions, however, it was actually directed by the American Oscar-winning director John Ford. After all those gunfights, this must have been quite the change of pace.

   The excellent Jack Hawkins plays the stolid and dependable Detective Chief Inspector George Gideon, known as Gee-Gee to his colleagues. A middle-aged, middle-class family man, Gideon struggles to balance his home life with the demands of a high-ranking man of the met. We follow him through a single day, as he discovers that a colleague has been accepting bribes, an escaped mental patient is at large and that a violent gang are stealing payrolls.

   Throughout the film, Gideon is reminded that he must return home in time to enjoy tea with his wife’s aunt and uncle and accompany them to a concert in which his daughter will be giving a violin recital. In a recurring gag, Gideon is frustrated with a young, officious constable who fines him for running a red light. Such humour is needed, as the mental patient kills a young woman in a sexually-motivated attack and the colleague with the bribes is murdered by the gang.

   Based on a novel by John Creasey, one of Britain’s most prolific writers, but now forgotten, Gideon’s Day is a fairly grim, mundane affair with an episodic structure and a day-in-the-life gimmick which isn’t always plausible and often contrived. The situations are clearly harrowing for the Chief Inspector, but his wife doesn’t seem to understand. Frustratingly, the film doesn’t deal with this and Gideon only ever apologises.

   There are some decent actors on the bill: Anna Massey, in her first film, and Cyril Cusack and Laurence Naismith, and a brief role for John Le Mesurier and erstwhile Holmes and Watson Ronald Howard and Howard Marion-Crawford, appearing separately.

   It’s good to see 1950s London in colour, but there’s little else to recommend this one.

Rating: **


WILLIAM JOHNSTON – The Affair in Duplex 9B.  George H, Doran, hardcover, 1927. Previously serialized as “Duplex Nine” in six installments in Flynn’s Weekly between January 8 and February 5, 1927. Also published in the Sunday newspaper supplement for the Philadelphia Inquirer Public Ledger, dated Sunday, December 16, 1934.

   According to Hubin, William Johnston wrote a, total of nine mystery-novels published between 1910 and 1928 (he died in 1929), but if I were to say he is unknown today, it would be the understatement of the year. Pulp collectors might like to note that this particular novel was previously serialized in Flynn’s Detective Fiction Weekly in early 1927, however, and this is probably the only reason I picked this one up when found it in a used bookshop not too long ago.

   Johnston is no Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, though, and you needn’t go out of your way to find any of his other books, either. (Still, he also wrote a book called The Fun of Being Fat Man, and while it’s not one of his mysteries it does sound interesting.)

   His hero in this book is Hugh Chilton, a young assistant district attorney who is on the scene when a famous diplomat mysteriously collapses and dies at a party, It is there that Chilton also falls in love (at first sight) with the equally young (and pretty) singer who otherwise should have been the chief suspect in the case. Hard as nails, he’s not.

   And he’s no detective, either. Every so often the action stops as he (and the author) go over the case and clues that have been gathered up to that point, and no matter how he shifts them around, he never does come up with a satisfactory theory for the affair. Only a grizzled old reporter named Taylor seems to be actively pursuing the case, as he keeps coming up with stories for his paper, using facts that the police have just gotten to themselves.

   The underworld in the late 20s was a glitzy sort of place that the rich and famous flocked to in droves, and dope smugglers are  eventually  discovered to be the key to the crime. If it weren’t for the only slightly stilted way of telling the story, it would be nearly as up-to-date as today’s newspapers.

   But as a detective story, it lacks a strong finale. Chilton is outwitted by Taylor at nearly every turn, and he’s not likely to ever have been given such a big case again — but on the other hand, he does end up with the girl. More than that, maybe it’s impolite to ask.

– Slightly revised from Mystery*File #30, April 1991.

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