June 2021

STEVEN FRIMMER – Dead Matter. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, hardcover, 1982. Detective Book Club, hardcover, 3-in-1 reprint edition.

   The beginning writer is often admonished to “write what you know,” sometimes over and over again. Steven Frimmer is an editor at a New York publishing house, and he’s probably had occasion to give this same advice to a good many fledgling authors over the, years — and all of them more or less receptive, I’m sure!

   But if it’s so, he certainly practices what he preaches, as he most capably demonstrates here.

   This is Frimmer’s first venture into mystery fiction. Involved in this tale is a senior editor at a small New York publishing house (surprise!) and lots of dastardly doings in the world of books: in-fighting, back-stabbing, and love-making, plus a totally unexpected spy trip to Istanbul, courtesy of the CIA.

   All the makings, in fact, of a truly funny and engaging little thriller.

   Back in New York a murder is also committed, and a new detective emerges on the scene: British personality-host Hartley Dobbs — sort of a David Frost with an affinity for crime.

   For those who pride themselves on their armchair detecting ability, too much of what happens is forced to take place offstage, and the reader is left to learn about it too late to do any good.

   The fascinating world of editing and publishing offers more than mere background, however. Tied up and neatly integrated into both the crime and its solution is the psychology of the people who work with books — and the way they think. It’s a plus, and it’s nicely done.

Rating: B

– Reprinted and slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, September/October 1982.

Bibliographic Update: This was, alas, Steven Frimmer’s only venture into the world of detective fiction.

TWILIGHT. Paramount Pictures, 1998. Paul Newman (PI Harry Ross), Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman, Reese Witherspoon, Stockard Channing, James Garner, Giancarlo Esposito, Liev Schreiber, Margo Martindale. Written by Robert Benton & Richard Russo. Director: Robert Benton.

   After an unfortunate incident in picking up a runaway daughter in Mexico (he is shot in the upper thigh, but rumor has is that the shot was higher), PI Harry Ross goes into semi-retirement working exclusively with the girl’s parents as a live-in troubleshooter and jack of all trades. The parents (Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon) are (or were) movie stars of an earlier era, and the most recent job Harry must do for Jack Ames smells lot like a blackmail payment to him.

   Which of course it is, and Harry suspects – and rightly so – that it has something to do with the disappearance of Catherine Ames husband just before she married Jack. It turns out that a lot of water assumed to have gone under bridge has not. It has been backed up for nearly twenty years, and Harry is right in the way when the dam finally bursts.

   In spite of the super superb cast, the movie did not do well at the box office. (Wikipedia describes it as a bomb.) This may be because it’s somewhat derivative of a lot of other PI movies you may yourself have seen, and it’s slow moving without a lot of action. What it does have, is nudity, swear words, smoking, gunplay, dead bodies, terrific dialogue, beautiful photography, and of course Paul Newman, and on the basis of the last three (and in spite of the first three) I have no hesitation in recommending the movie to you.


ARTHUR C. CLARKE – The City and the Stars. Frederick Muller Ltd, UK, hardcover, 1956. Harcourt, Brace & Co, US, hardcover, 1956. Signet S1464, US, paperback, December 1957. Collected in From the Ocean, from the Stars (Harcourt, Brace & World, US, hardcover, 1961). Note: This novel is a revised and extended version of Against the Fall of Night (first published in Startling Stories, November 1948; then in book form from Gnome Press, hardcover, 1953).

   The city of Diaspar, a tremendous achievement of social engineering, stood isolated from the world for billions of years. Machines maintained mankind in a permanent environment, protected from their fears of invaders.

   Alvin, a Unique, the first child to be born in ten billion of those years, was designed for the welfare of the race and to return humanity to its place in the universe. He leaves the city for the community of Lys, and then to the stars. There he finds a mental being once created by man, and which has memories that will free Earth from the myths and legends of the past.

   The story has as a basic flaw the lack of any suspense, for in spite of the quite poetic style, there is little to persuade the reader to keep turning the pages. It is not a struggle to read, but a matter of indifference. One scene is rather sappy, that of Alvin’s first view of Lys, but the feeling of loneliness and smallness when he reaches the stars is overwhelming. Toward the end there is a most appropriate description of what makes an explorer.

Rating: 3½ stars.

– September 1967




LURE OF THE SWAMP. Regal Films/20th Century Fox, 1957. Marshall Thompson, Willard Parker, Joan Vohs, Jack Elam, Leo Gordon, and Joan Lora. Screenplay by William George, from the novel Hell’s Our Destination, by Gil Brewer (Gold Medal, paperback original, 1953). Directed by Hubert Cornfield.

   No great shakes, but a solid bit of pulp from a director with a feel for two-bit paperbacks.

   Marshall Thompson stars as Simon Lewt, a good ol’ boy making a meager living on the Florida bayou. As the film, opens, he’s approached by a furtive-looking city-slicker (Willard Parker) with a heavy suitcase, who wants a guide into the swamp — only so far and no farther. The stranger goes on ahead a short distance, and when he returns his suitcase is noticeably lighter.


   The plot quickly thickens when Simon goes into town a few days later and sees the stranger’s face on the front page of a newspaper, above the headline BANK ROBBERY SUSPECT MURDERED. About the same time, strangers hit town: A businessman on vacation, looking for good fishing (Burly Leo Gordon) a mysterious blonde (Joan Vohs) and ratty-looking Jack Elam, who just wanders out of the swamp and moves in with Simon. All three are obviously at odds with each other, all three know Simon can lead them to the stashed loot, and Simon finds himself holding low cards in a game that makes its own rules.

   There are no surprises here, but Director Cornfield moves it right along, and evokes a real sense of claustrophobic angst out of Marshall Thompson (never the most electrifying of actors) finding himself mired in a crime that just seems to go on and on.

   The ending is entirely too pat, but here, as in The Third Voice, and whatever he did of Night of the Following Day, Hubert Cornfield showed a feel for the essence of the classic paperback that was decades ahead of fashion.




CANDACE M. ROBB – The Nun’s Tale. Lucie and Owen Archer #3. St Martin’s, hardcover, 1995; paperback, 1996. First published in the UK by William Heinemann Ltd, hardcover, 1995.

   I think this is one of the best of the plethora of British historical series to come out in the last few years, Robb knows her period, and writes well about interesting times and people.

   In the year 1365 a nun runs away, then returns, in poor health and suffering from delusions, and speaking of miracles. Her story is intertwined with political intrigues involving the throne of Spain, and the Archbishop of York (also Lord Chancellor) has great interest in both aspects of the story. He calls upon Owen Archer, once Captain of Archers for the Duke of Lancaster before losing an eye in his service, now an apprentice apothecary to his wife Lucie and occasional spy for the Archbishop, to see if he can find his way along the strange paths the nun followed while she was gone.

   I’m a little more impressed by Candace Robb with each book, and I was quite impressed by her first (The Apothecary Rose, 1993). In my opinion the two best writers of historical mysteries — though differing greatly in approach and subject — are Ellis Peters and Ann Perry; but Robb is gaining ground fast. She, as they, has the dual knacks of creating and sustaining believable and intriguing characters, and bringing the historical milieu thoroughly to life as she does so. She combines these with an enviable skill in using the storyteller’s tools of pacing and narration, switching back and forth between the viewpoints of Owen and Lucie.

   Her prose is storyteller’s prose — straightforward, never drawing attention away from the narrative. The line between a good read and an exceptionally good one is hard to pinpoint, but there’s no doubt in my mind which side of it Robb’s books fall.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #21, August-September 1995
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Susan Dunlap & Marcia Muller


GEORGE HARMON COXE – Fenner. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1971. Manor Books, paperback, 1974.

   George Harmon Coxe was an extremely prolific writer whose early work appeared in such pulp magazines as Black Mask, Dime Detective, and Detective Fiction Weekly. His news-photographer hero, Flash Casey, first appeared in Black Mask in the early  1930s, and later Coxe used him in a number of novels, among them Silent Are the Dead (1942) and Error in Judgment (1961).

   His other news-photographer sleuth, Kent Murdock, appears in many more novels than Casey, and is a more fully realized character than the creation of Coxe’s pulp-writing days. Coxe also created series characters Paul Standish (a medical examiner), Sam Crombie (a plodding detective), Max Hale (a reluctant detective), and Jack Fenner (Kent Murdock’s private-eye sidekick who starred in several novels of his own).

   Many consider Fenner the most entertaining of Coxc’s later novels. Although published in 1971, it has the feel of the Forties. (Indeed, the hippie reference seems an anachronism.) Coxe has a simple formal style; he describes his characters but seldom invites the reader to identify with them. Action-oriented readers may find Coxe’s work dull; there is virtually no violence, but rather a charming concern for decorum (another hint of bygone days).

   In Fenner, Coxe begins with heiress Carol Browning’s escape from a state mental institution. (Her husband committed her.) The scene shifts to Fenner’s office, where the husband, George Browning, hires the detective to find his wife. Why, with all her money, did he send her to a state hospital rather than a more tolerable private one? Fenner asks. Browning’s answer is unconvincing. Before Fenner can get to the bottom of this, Browning is murdered-in his wife’s apartment. There’s the hook; expect some good twists and a plausible conclusion. No more, no less.

   Jack Fenner reappears in The Silent Witness (1973) and No Place for Murder ( 1975), as well as playing a role in many of the Kent Murdock novels.

   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.



THE DANCE OF DEATH. 1960. Originally released as Le Saint mène la danse (The Saint leads the Dance); also known as  Le Saint conduit le bal (The Saint leads the Ball). Felix Marten, Michèle Mercier, Jean Desailly Screenplay. Albert Simonin, Jacques Nahum, Yvon Auduard. Based on the story “Palm Springs” by Leslie Charteris. Directed by Jacques Nahum.

   It will come as a surprise to no one that actor Felix Marten (Elevator to the Gallows), a singer and composer, capable as he was at playing action heroes and suave tough guys, is exactly no one’s idea of Leslie Charteris’s Brighter Buccaneer Simon Templar, the Saint. It will come as a greater surprise that he is damn good at it and easy to see as the Saint even in the English language version under another name.

   This unauthorized 1960 film, was the first Saint film since the Louis Hayward The Saint’s Girl Friday, was filmed, but after author and creator Leslie Charteris went to court to have any reference to Simon Templar expunged outside of France, the hero was given a new name.

   Ironically the film is a better adaptation of the original story than the George Sanders outing The Saint in Palm Springs previously filmed in the RKO series, and Marten’s much closer in style to Charteris’s hero than Sanders had been, at least to the tougher Post-War Saint.

   Curiously Marten does look a bit like the John Spangler/Doug Wildey version of the Saint in the long running comic strip though minus the spade beard.

   Marten is at least not diffident to women or violence in the Sanders manner and has a positively saintly smile in action. He even breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience at the end of the film,and whistles what I am willing to bet was the original Saint theme written by Charteris in the French version.

   Despite being unauthorized this is an expensive and well made production. It clearly wasn’t made hurriedly or on the cheap.

   A scene in a restaurant where he disposes of two punks bothering Gina (a sub-plot that complicates the action) is mindful of the well-staged fights from the Moore series and shows off Marten’s physicality. (I can find no reference to it at IMDb but I seem to recall he had served in the French Paratroops, the old Foreign Legion, before coming to the screen.)

   Stuart Thompson (Felix Marten who in some movies plays a character simply called Felix Marten), is a private eye hired in Paris by Fred Pellman, an avid hunter and millionaire who a year earlier helped in the capture of a public enemy in Boston. Now he’s receiving death threats and afraid the police can’t handle them. At a $1,000 a day Thompson agrees to take the job protecting Pellman at his villa where he lives with three beautiful women, his secretaries (late in the film it comes to light one of them may have a motive for killing their boss).

   And when the women are Norma (Françoise Brion), Gina (Nicole Mirel), and Dany (Michèle Mercier star of the five “Angelique” historical epics with Robert Hossein and one of the notable beauties of the era in an early role and a brunette here) that is pretty good company, even if the cat claws are out and any and all of them might be involved in the plot to kill Pellman which Thompson isn’t sure is tied to the Boston incident after all, at least not gangland revenge.

   Ten million dollars is a lot of motive for murder, even the servants are suspicious.

   A guard dog dies, a knife (meant for Pellman) nearly misses Dany (who proves to be a crack shot) while Gina is putting moves on Thompson, and Commissar Richard of the Surete supplies information casting doubt on Pellman’s chauffeur who ends up killed by the fan blades of a car.

   It is a solid Euro-Thriller, as much gothic horror as mystery, replete with Marten finding himself entombed, and more than worth catching. Handsomely and atmospherically shot it is a small gem of a mystery with more than enough horror if not supernatural elements to make it interesting, with the caveat that Euro-thrillers can be something of an acquired taste, and the dubbing is standard.

   The ending, a car chase through spooky woods and final reckoning in a hunting lodge puts a final and satisfying twist on the proceedings.

   This ranks with The Saint in New York and The Saint’s Girl Friday as probably one of the best Saint outings on film before the advent of the Roger Moore series. Like The Steel Key, another non Saint outing of the Saint, it is better than most of the previous Saint films with Sanders and Hugh Williams. Leslie Charteris could have done worse than to let this one be released in English as an exploit of the Saint, and if you want to watch the dubbed version and just ignore Marten’s new name you might enjoy it as a different kind of Saint movie.

   But enjoy it you likely will with an attractive cast, intelligent script, good direction, a jazzy score, and handsome cinematography it is a tasty mix of mystery and horror, and certainly one of the most offbeat interpretations of a Saint adventure ever attempted.

   You can usually find it on YouTube, and it is available from Sinister Cinema.

Jon and I are halfway home, driving from CA to CT. We’re now in Nebraska. Expected day of arrival Thursday. Will post as I can but can’t depend on motel Wifi connections. I am doing this from my phone. All is well.



THE SCARF. Gloria Productions, US, 1951. John Ireland, Mercedes McCambridge, James Barton, Basil Ruysdale, Emlyn Williams, David Bauer (as David Wolfe) and King Donovan. Written by E A Dupont, Isadore Goldsmith, and Edwin Rolfe. Directed by E A Dupont.

   Robert Bloch contended that The Scarf was ripped off from his book of the same name, but the spirit of the thing comes closer to Goodis than Bloch, and aside from the title and a bit of 40s pop-psychology, it’s an original film — not a complete success, but strange enough to keep watching.

   John Ireland, a couple years after All the King’s Men and struggling to achieve leading-man status, stars as an amnesiac escapee from a state mental hospital who makes his way across the desert and onto the poultry farm of philosophical turkey-rancher James Barton, who asks him not so much about his crime as about his place in the universe.

   Okay, that caught me by surprise. As did a too-clever cop who turns up to trade quotations from the great thinkers with Barton. Later on we get David Wolfe (an actor who spent most of his career in uncredited bit parts) as Level Louie, a thoughtful bartender, and Mercedes McCambridge (also of …King’s Men) as “Cash ‘n’ Carry Connie” a torch singer in one of the seediest bars in the B-movies. The sight of McCambridge slinking awkwardly about this poverty-row dive trying to be Lizabeth Scott is hysterical in every sense of the word, but somehow it’s not without a certain desperate charm, as one studies the actress and the character and wonders how a woman could fall so low.

   All this is directed by E.A. Dupont, himself once a director of note, now fallen on harder times, who focuses more on the characters than the plot, which is a good thing because the story is a rather silly affair of murder supposedly committed by a mental patient but actually done in a moment of mad passion by the most obvious suspect in the film. I don’t mean to sound dismissive, though; The Scarf, for all its faults and pretensions, carries enough loopy appeal to keep lovers of strange movies happy enough for its brief running time.


Reviews by L. J. Roberts


ALEXANDRA SOKOLOFF – Huntress Moon. Matthew Roarke #1. Thomas Mercer, paperback, November 2014.

First Sentence: FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental.

   Waiting for his undercover agent to cross a busy street, Agent Matthew Roarke’s attention is captured by a woman standing behind the agent. Moments later, the agent is dead and the woman has disappeared. As he tracks the woman, he discovers several deaths at which she was present. Is she that most rare of killers: a female serial killer? She is canny, and always one step ahead leaving bodies behind as Roarke begins to piece together her motive and her objective.

   What an intriguing book, and one where readers are kept off-guard from start to end. It’s also a hard book to review without spoilers. Matthew Roarke is a driven character who we come to know in small bits. He is intuitive, yet logical; a perfect balance for someone in his job. But it’s the female character who keeps us going. Initially, we don’t know the identity of the killer until the “ah-ha” moment, and the tension builds from there.

   Information on the main characters is provided in bits as the story progresses. It is that information which then provides motive for their actions. Damien Epps, Roarke’s second, is the breath of fresh air.

   That the story is told in days heightens the suspense. The story alternatives between Roarke and the woman, and it works. The introduction of a man and his 14-year-old child raises the stakes even higher. The author has an ability not only to set the scene, but to convey the underlying emotions of it— “He steps through the open doorway, past the carved wooden door, into the entry hall with its white painted brick walls and tiled floor. … The terror has turned every cell in his body to ice; his feet can barely move him forward.”

   Just as Sokoloff has not given the investigators anything definite they can track, she leaves the reader directionless. It is clear the moon has significance, but what is unknown. However, evil, the sense of it, is a prevalent and effective theme.

   As the story progresses, the killer takes on the identity first as “Huntress,” and finally her name and background are revealed with a powerful twist. The author’s skill is clear in the killer’s progression. I don’t recall another author being able to transition one’s attitude toward a killer in the way Sokoloff does.

   This is not a perfect book. There are some plot holes and weaknesses such as the description of the Tenderloin, which is not nearly as grim as portrayed. The primary thing which did not ring true is Roarke, an FBI Agent, seemingly surprised by the idea of a female serial killer. He just couldn’t be that naïve. Another slight miss was the inference of a supernatural element which was not developed.

   Huntress Moon, the first in a series, is rather a first chapter in one long book with an arching theme: Evil. It is a page-turner and truly a popcorn book in that no one will be able to read just one. If you like the first, chances are you will want to continue.

Rating: VG Plus.

      The Huntress/FBI series

1. Huntress Moon (2013)
2. Blood Moon (2015)
3. Cold Moon (2015)
4. Bitter Moon (2016)
5. Hunger Moon (2017)
6. Shadow Moon (2019)

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