August 2021



STEPHEN SOLOMITA – Damaged Goods. Stanley Moodrow #6. Scribner, hardcover, 1996.

   Solomita writes New York City crime novels that are as down and dirty as you’re likely to find. His protagonist, Stanley Moodrow, was a Big Apple cop for the first few books, but is now a private eye of sorts. At nearly 60 he’s still a pretty bad dude, too.

   Jilly Sappone was one of the wiseguys who was a little too much of a mad dog for them, even, and they allowed him to be sent to prison. His wife testified against him, and he hasn’t forgiven them or her. Now he’s been paroled after 14 long ones, still crazy after all these years, and he starts off by putting his wife in the hospital with a beating and then kidnapping her child by another man.

   A woman’s organization comes to Moodrow for help in finding the child before Sappone kills her, and soon he’s tracking through his old East Side haunts in hot pursuit. Jilly’s just starting, though, and the dying’s about to begin.

   I keep reading these because I like Stanley Moodrow. He’s violent and profane — which is a pretty good description of the books — but still one of the good guys. Solomita does really good over-the-top psychos and hoods, and peoples his stories with characters that you wouldn’t want to know but are fun to read about These aren’t for the delicate of sensibilities or the faint of heart, but I like ’em. Sometimes, anyway.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #22, November 1995


      The Stanley Moodrow series

1. A Twist of the Knife (1988)
2. Force of Nature (1989)
3. Forced Entry (1990)
4. Bad to the Bone (1991)
5. A Piece of the Action (1992)
6. Damaged Goods (1996)



MARGARET MILLAR – A Stranger in My Grave. Paperback edition with new introduction by the author,  International Polygonics, Ltd., 1983. Originally published in by Random House, hardcover, 1960.

   It is good to have this classic available in paperback, even if it is at the inflated price of $5.00. Millar is a great hand at suspense. This one builds very slowly, starting with a young woman’s dream of her own grave.

   Persistently she tracks back to the date given on it of her death, four years previously. With the help of a private detective, Steve Pinata, Daisy Harker goes back in time to the events and people who made that day what it was. They find Nita, a promiscuous young Mexican woman with six kids by different men; her mother, a religious fanatic; a drifter who committed suicide by the railroad tracks.

   Slowly.they build connections: to Daisy’s father, an alcoholic who left her mother years ago; to Daisy’s mother , who lives near the Harkers; to Daisy’s husband. Extracts from a letter to Daisy head every chapter, and gradually they are linked to the people we come to know.

   The climax is inevitable, sad, and also happy, as Daisy finds out what her mother, father, and husband had tried so hard to keep her from knowing.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 6, Number 1 (Spring 1984).

ELIZABETH PETERS – The Copenhagen Connection. Congdon & Lattes, hardcover, 1982.  St. Martin’s Press, paperback, 19Critics Choice, paperback, 1985.  Tor, paperback, 1990.  Warner, paperback, 1994.  Avon, paperback, 2001.

   What happens when a female publicist working for a large New York City publisher accidentally meets one of her firm’s most profitable authors while traveling alone on a vacation trip to Denmark? Elizabeth Jones is the one alone, that is; the author is Nobel Prizewinning historian Margaret Rosenberg, and she is traveling withher son, Christian.

   Should I add that Margaret Rosenberg is, let us say, eccentric? On page 36, Christian himself calls her looney. Bonkers. On her end, by page 81 Elizabeth is still thinking of Christian as a pompous snob. She is also, by this time, in their employ, their previous secretary having been disabled in a mysterious accident with a large, heavy trunk at the airport.

   And Margaret herself has disappeared by this time, and soon after comes a demand for ransom. And what do the kidnappers want but Margaret’s bathrobe. While it might not
sound like much, and truth to say, this is about all the plot there is. And yet, this book is still compulsively good reading, and funny too, in case you hadn’t surmised as much.

   But let me go back to that first paragraph. [WARNING: Small plot alert.] Here’s the answer. In spite of first impressions, totally unfavorable on each side, but (apparently) due to their constant proximity in the calamities that follow, Elizabeth and Christian fall in love.

   Gee. You could have hit me with a two-by-four, and I couldn’t have been more surprised.  (Picture Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas in their respective roles, if you will, and maybe Margaret Rutherford as the ditsy old lady, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s going on here.)

   Incidentally — small question — in the closing scenes there promises to be more adventures ahead for Elizabeth and her new companions, but so far as I know, none have been forthcoming. Am I right, or have I missed something?

– Slightly revised from Mystery*File 26, December 1990.


FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY – Crime and Punishment. Translation from the Russian of Prestuplenye i Nakazanye.  First published in the literary journal The Russian Messenger in twelve monthly installments in 1866. Vizetelly, UK, hardcover, 1886. Crowell, US, hardcover, 1886.   There have been over 25 film adaptations of the book.

   Just finished this book, but I don’t Intend to review it here; I get the feeling all the best things have already been written about it, and besides, it’s pretty easy to spot the killer. One major problem I had with it, though: the story is supposed to be set in St. Petersburg, but this guy doesn’t write like he’s ever even been to Florida. Descriptions, names. even the money are all wrong. If I were giving him advice, I’d say, “write what you know, Fyodor.”

NEW WORLDS SCIENCE FICTION. September 1966.    Overall rating: ***½ stars.

MICHAEL MOORCOCK “Behold the Man.” Novella. An English bookseller and amateur psychiatrist travels in time to observe Christ’s crucifixion, but becomes Christ himself. It is hard to imagine that this was not written for controversy-in-itself, for it seems deliberately offensive. Much is made of the conflict between religion and science, but there seems to be no real point, as Moorcock cannot justify his version either.    ****

ARTHUR SELLINGS “The Evening Sun Go Down.” The future society of a conquered Earth, maybe. (0)

JOHN CALDER “Signals.” The memoirs of an interatomic signals physonomist, or communications expert. Nothing really new. (3)

CHARLES PLATT & B. J. BAYLEY “A Taste of the Afterlife.” Novelette. To aid in the the skirmishes before WWIII, scientists devise a way to separate the electronic afterlife from a man. Far-out, but chillingly real. (3)

J. G. BALLARD “The Atrocity Exhibition.” Supposedly this means something. (0)

BRIAN W. ALDISS “Another Little Boy.” A parallel between the Bomb and the Pill is made, at a time 100 years from Hiroshima when the associated guilt feelings exists no more. Light treatment is terrifying. (4)

THOMAS M. DISCH “Invaded by Love.” Novelette. How Love can conquer the world, especially when brought by invading aliens. Only the Secretary-General of the UN resists, but he waits too long for his triumph. Powerfully portrayed. (4)

–September 1967


THE STREETS OF LAREDO. Paramount Pictures, 1949. William Holden, Macdonald Carey, Mona Freeman, William Bendix, Stanley Ridges, Alfonso Bedoya, Ray Teal, Clem Bevans. Directed by Leslie Fenton.

   I was no more than fifteen minutes into The Streets of Laredo when I began to have the distinct impression that I had seen the movie before. The thing is: I was nearly certain I hadn’t. I’m pretty good at remembering which movies I’ve seen and which I haven’t. I also was pretty sure I would have remembered William Holden portraying an outlaw turned Texas lawman.

   As it turns out, this late 1940s Technicolor western was a remake of The Texas Rangers (1936), which I reviewed here some seven years ago. Turns out that I liked the movie well enough, although it doesn’t seem like I felt like it was anything exceptional.

   In many ways, the same good equally be said for The Streets of Laredo. The film strives to be something of an epic tale about friendship, love, and good vs. evil, but ends up being something less than that. It’s just a solidly made western, albeit one that is assuredly better than many of the clumsy westerns from the late 1940s. Notably, it doesn’t include a single Native American character or a notably goofy sidekick.

   William Holden portrays Jim Hawkins, who along with friends Lorn Reming (Macdonald Carey) and Wahoo Jones (William Bendix) is in the stagecoach holdup business. After the trio gets separated, Lorn (Carey) continues to pursue a life of crime, while Hawkins and Wahoo sign up with the Texas Rangers. Two men, former amigos, end up on the opposite side of the law.

   But that’s not all. Both Jim and Lorn have similar romantic intentions toward Rannie Carter (Mona Freeman), a young woman they had rescued years ago. Add in a devious extortionist by the name of Charley Calico (a scenery chewing Alfonso Bedoya) and you’ve got yourself a solid ninety minutes of cinematic entertainment.

   Although it’s been a while since I’ve seen The Texas Rangers, I somehow have the impression that the original was better than the remake. There’s nothing remotely memorable or artistic about the direction or cinematography in The Streets of Laredo. Aesthetically, it’s about as average as you can get. And from what I can tell from my review of King Vidor’s 1936 film, that one was “worth viewing for its good direction, plot twists, and some rugged, well choreographed, frontier action. There’s an especially harrowing sequence involved Indians rolling boulders down a hill in order to maim and murder some Rangers that is really something to behold.” I can’t think of any such equivalent action sequence in Leslie Fenton’s film.




THE VOICE OF MERRILL. Eros Films, UK, 1952. Released in the US as Murder Will Out (1953). Valerie Hobson, Edward Underdown, James Robertson Justice, Henry Kendall, Garry Marsh. Director: John Gilling.

   When convicted blackmailer Jean Bridges is murdered, Inspector Thornton of Scotland Yard narrows the list to those suspects who are without alibis: Jean’s boyfriend, failing author Hugh Allen; publisher Ronnie Parker, who Jean was blackmailing; and the egotistical and obnoxious playwright Jonathan Roach, who had seen her that day.

   Roach suffers with a poor heart, though continues to work and is due to read a series of stories on BBC radio. His dissatisfaction with the material, however, makes him reluctant to do so and his glamorous wife Alycia suggests that he find someone else to read them instead. She recommends Hugh, who has just become her secret lover. Roach agrees and gives Hugh the pseudonym ‘Merrill’.

   The show becomes a success and, over the many weeks it is broadcast, the public begin to speculate just who penned the stories. It is likely that Roach will not live for much longer and Alycia suggests to Hugh that he should claim the stories as his own after her husband dies. The sensation, she believes, will boost his career. However, Roach realises what the pair are up to and devises a plan of his own.

   Director John Gilling co-wrote this 1952 film for Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman’s Tempean Films. Both would make many B-movies throughout the ‘50s and this was supposed to be one of them. Though made for £25,000, however, it impressed its distributor enough to be promoted to co-feature status when aired in cinemas. Perhaps the BBC allusions and the A-list talent of Valerie Hobson convinced them that there was more here than the usual cops and robbers thriller.

   It is certainly easy to forget that it is supposed to involve murder, as much time goes by in which it is not even mentioned and more emphasis is given to the fraud plot involving the radio stories. Indeed, despite the noir-style beginning, most of it plays out like a melodrama and the balance is not always maintained. It does, however, stay within the bounds of the genre and, despite the lack of detecting, the secret romance of Hugh and Alycia is compelling and the character of Roach is as sharply observant as any detective.

   James Robertson Justice, as Roach, brings his usual gravitas to a role which recalls the other abrasive intellectuals he has given us, mainly in comedies such as Very Important Person, Crooks Anonymous and, of course, the “Doctor” films. Despite the witty lines on offer, however, he managers to keep the performance on the right side of comedic.

   Edward Underdown, meanwhile, is suitably lugubrious as a man who is led by the hand to somewhere he does not want to go. With his quiet suavity, it is easy to imagine the actor in the role of a gentleman detective, like Paul Temple. The character he plays here is tortured both by his conscience and a love for a woman with more nerve than he would even want. He also put me in mind of a young John Le Mesurier.

   Valerie Hobson has the showiest part and gets to be everything from cunning, worried, flirtatious and sardonic to desperate, dreamy and hysterical. In one particularly effective scene, she is visibly conflicted as Roach suffers a heart attack and she considers whether or not she should help or let him die.

   On an historical note, this actress, though only thirty five, had been in films for twenty years by this point but would soon quit acting and become embroiled in the infamous Profumo affair.

Rating: ***



NIGEL MORLAND – Mrs. Pym of Scotland Yard. Mrs. Palmyra Pym #13. Vallancey, UK, hardcover, 1946. No US edition.

   In his anthology The Female of the Species, Ellery Queen disapprovingly quotes some unnamed “students of the genre” to the effect that “Edgar Wallace never wrote a first-rate story.” Whatever the case about Wallace, I think that the criticism is valid for Wallace’s friend and follower Nigel Morland. I have yet to read a memorable story by Morland, but he did maintain a high level of competence — despite having written one novel that received attention in Bill Pronzini’s Gun in Cheek.

   Mrs. Pym of Scotland Yard   contains nine short stories in very small type — Vallencey press seems to have continued the “raid” pamphlets in cloth, and with the post-war paper shortage Vallencey crammed as many words as possible onto each page.

   The first two stories, though not first rate, are quite clever. In “The Perfect Valet,” Mrs. Palmyra Pym (Scotland Yard’s only woman Inspector) uses her knowledge of bath-salts and syphons to solve a case of drowning. “The Rotherhithe Miracle” explains how there can be constant sounds of commotion in a room occupied only by a paralyzed woman. The other tales are less original.

   What is most interesting about Mrs. Pym of Scotland Yard is Morland’s contribution to the concept of a female detective. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the idea that a woman would actually lower herself to become a professional  sleuth was almost unthinkable.

   Many authors, therefore, said that their female detectives had been forced into that occupation by family reverses or by unfair accusations against a husband; certainly they wouldn’t have detected if they had any other choice. In this pattern, we have among others Mrs. Paschal (1864), Lady Molly (1910), and Constance Dunlap (1916).

   The main exception is Fergus Hume’s Hagar Stanley, the gypsy detective (1898). The authors emphasize the femininity of their detectives, as the cases are solved by intuition or, as in F. Tennyson Jesse’s Solange Stories (1931), by an innate feeling for the presence of evil. (Not even Jesse’s writing ability masks the silliness of that concept.)

   Much more convincing and perhaps the best woman detective of all time is Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple (1930). All of these sleuths are distinguished by, as Mrs, Paschal’s anonymous chronicler put it, their “ladylike conduct.” Mrs. Pym represents the other extreme from these feminine ferrets, intuitive investigators, and ladylike Lecoqs.

   When Nigel Morland, with Edgar Wallace’s assistance, invented Pym around 1930, the detective was first a “he,” one “Ignatius Pym.” “Ignatius” became “Palmyra,” but his/her masculine characteristics still predominated. Although Morland mentions her “dormant maternal instincts” and “feminine illogicality,” it is difficult to find any stereotypical womanly characteristics in her actions.

   She is “as hard as nails” and “her tongue’s rough on both sides.” She uses such phrases as ”Let’s grill Ma Forrest; she looks like a talker,” and when she is disgusted she “snorts malevolently.” She obtains a confession by threats of torture, and she allows an innocent suspect to be executed because she is certain that he is guilty of unpunished crimes. It is difficult to know why Torquemada in The Observer described her as “that perfection of a woman.”

   In his article about Mrs. Pym in Murderess Ink, Morland describes “her often ruthless ways” as “a curious sign-post to a slowly emerging woman’s lib.” Certainly Mrs. Pym needs no assertiveness training.

   Mrs, Pym is indeed an important development toward the modern female sleuth, but her aping of men seems to me less a signpost than a detour. The current direction is toward capable women who have not given up all womanliness, by whatever definition.In the traditional detective story we have finally gotten the proper balance in P.D. James’ Cordelia Gray, and in the private-eye story a similar balance is maintained in Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski. Neither of these sleuths would be cowed by Mrs. Pym.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 6, Number 1 (Spring 1984). Permission granted by Doug Greene.


   Contents (alphabetically) —

The Curious Death
The Golden West
The Hungry Duchess
The Missing Forger
The Obvious Flaw
The Perfect Valet
The Rotherhithe Miracle
The Sorrowful Duke
The Stolen Heart

BOSCH. “Chapter One: Tis the Season” Amazon Prime Video, 06 February 2014 (Series One, Episode One). Titus Welliver (Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch), Titus Welliver, Jamie Hector, Amy Aquino, Annie Wersching, Mimi Rogers. Based on the novels City of Bones, Echo Park, and The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly (also co-screenwriter). Director: Jim McKay.

   As this first episode opens, Harry Bosch, working for the LAPD Homicide division, fatally shoots a fleeing suspect as he reaches for and takes something from his pocket. Although cleared by the department, he still must face civil proceedings in court. Wishing to stay busy at the same time, he finds himself working on a case involving the death of small boy whose battered bones are found by a dog in a heavily wooded area.

   I’m way behind. This is the only episode I’ve watched so far. I don’t know if a serial killer is at work, but it definitely clear that during his short life the boy was badly abused. It is also already clear that Bosch is taking it personally.

   As the actor playing Bosch, Titus Welliver has taken the role and made it his own. I wouldn’t have cast him in the part, but he does it very well. To me he’s a little too craggy and time-worn and subtly too arrogant for my liking. It will be interesting to see when I next read the next book in the series, whether I picture Welliver in the role. (I’ve read only four or five of them.) Either way, I will continue both reading and watching.

Reviews by L. J. Roberts


CYNTHIA HARROD-EAGLES – Cruel As the Grave., DCI Bill Slider #22. Severn House, hardcover, February 2021.

First Sentence: Atherton was singing in his Dean Martin voice.

   Personal fitness trainer Erik Lingoss is found murdered in his flat by a young woman who fancied herself in love with him. A box full of cash in his closet, 700 pounds under his pillow, and his missing mobile phone indicates things may not be as indicated. The more Slider and his team investigate, the more suspects emerge. Under pressure to clear the case, they work to find the who and why of the murder.

   Beginning a new book by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles is akin to being given one’s favorite dessert. First, there is no prologue, not even one masquerading as a first chapter. The story begins on page one and continues to the end. Second, wonderful dialogue filled with wry humor— “Let he who is without sin bore the pants off everybody else.”

   Last, the sense of time and place. Her evocative descriptions employ all the senses. The characters are alive– “…Atherton stretched, catline. Tall, elegant, sartor’s plaything, he was as out of place at a dreary crime scene as an orchid in a vegetable patch.”

   The balance is Slider, not a Lone-Ranger cop, but respected by a team where each has their role to play. The plot may initially present itself as straightforward, yet one knows it won’t stay that way long— “Thirteen thousand pounds. …Normal people don’t keep large amounts of cash in the wardrobe.”

   Including characters’ families in the story adds humanity and dimension. Unlike the questionable stability of Atherton’s relationship, Slider has an extended family of his wife, son and a child on the way, a daughter by his first marriage, a father and his partner. A wonderful hospital scene touches the heart.

   The author’s use of language, including the chapter headings, is a pleasure. One small caution, or treat, is that it is very British, meaning there are numerous British terms and idioms. It can be confusing, but the meaning is easy enough to glean from the context— “The bathos almost made him smile.”

   The use of malaprops— “Putting the cat before the horse, aren’t you?”— and literary references are fun to spot. The banter between Slider and Atherton realistically reflects that of friends/colleagues who know each other well.

   The plot focuses on the real police work of identifying the many suspects, following leads, and looking for evidence. What drives Slider as much as finding the killer is discovering the motive which is poignant.

   Cruel As the Grave is such a good read. Harrod-Eagles is a skilled writer who evokes empathy for the killer. It was truly the dessert’s finishing touch.

Rating: Good Plus.

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