September 2021

IF SCIENCE FICTION. January 1967. Cover by Gray Morrow [as by Morrow]. Edited by Frederik Pohl.     Overall rating: 3 stars.

ALGIS BUDRYS “The Iron Thorn.” Serial, part 1 of 4. See review to be posted later.

J. F. BONE “A Hair Perhaps.” A radar technician in a captured station defeats aliens by introducing hair into their ventilation system. (2)

D. M. MELTON “The Scared Starship.” Novelette. A Mars exploration team discovers a starship cowering in a cavern and must sneak up on it to discover its secrets. (3)

ROBERT SILVERBERG “By the Seawall.” Mysterious story of man’s flight to a sea full of strange monsters. Ballardesque. (4)

ROBERT MASON “On the Shallow Seas.” Novelette. Convicts are sentenced to a prison planet and released only when they find a golden “oyster.” Amateurish. (1)

C. C. MacAPP “The Impersonators.” An inspector hunts for a criminal on a planet whose inhabitants can take on any shape. (2)

J. T. McINTOSH “Snow White and the Giants.” Serial, part four of four. See review of the complete novel soon.

-October 1967


THE SAINT. Motion Picture Corporation of America/Netflix, 2017. Adam Rayner as Simon Templar, Eliza Dushku as Patricia Holm, Sir Roger Moore as Jasper, James Remar as Arnold Valecross, Ian Ogilvy as The Fixer/older Xander, Adam Woodward as Xander, Enrique Murciano as Inspector John Henry Fernack. Based on the characters created by Leslie Charteris.  Director: Ernie Barbarash.

   A few years back saw the return of a character who had once been famous worldwide. Simon Templar, a.k.a. The Saint, was followed by many in film, television, radio, comic strips and books. First and foremost a literary character, he featured in fifty books between 1928 and 1983. The Saint was a suave, witty, ruthless adventurer, known as ‘the Robin Hood of Modern Crime’ for his tendency to rob from the wealthy corrupt and help those who needed it most.

   He is best known today for the television series starring Roger Moore, which aired 118 episodes between 1962 and 1969. It was a global hit, turned Moore into British television’s first millionaire, saw him mobbed wherever he went in the world, and won him the role of James Bond.

   Return of the Saint, with Ian Ogilvy, followed ten years later, but was a short-lived success. Since then, the most high-profile attempt to revive the character was a 1997 blockbuster movie starring Val Kilmer. It was an unwatchable mess, flopped hard and Kilmer’s career never fully recovered.

   There was nothing more until a television pilot was filmed in 2013 with Adam Rayner and Eliza Dushku. It wasn’t picked up for a series and the pilot remained on the shelf for four years. Now, it has been dusted down and reassembled as a full-length film for a digital release, with more than forty minutes of new footage and a beefed-up story. The short shooting schedule did not allow for the return of the pilot’s director, Simon West, so Ernie Barbarash was enlisted instead, while no less than twenty producers are credited.

   So, was it worth waiting twenty years for a new Saint adventure? Well, Rayner is excellent as Simon Templar. He has the sense of impish fun that the character should always possess. Dushku plays Templar’s (sort of) girlfriend Patricia Holm, who featured in many of the early stories but hasn’t been seen onscreen since 1943. This version of the character is high-kicking, tech-savvy and knows her way around a gun.

   Cannily, the antagonist of the story is played by Return of the Saint’s Ian Ogilvy, who gets much screen time as a mysterious and callous manipulator of international affairs. The plot sees him and his right-hand man, Arnie Valecross, steal $2.5 billion intended to help a third world country. Valecross, however, suffers a crisis of conscience and diverts the funds. In response, his daughter is kidnapped with the threat that she will be killed in two days unless the money is returned.

   Valecross enlists The Saint, who plans to get the money, retrieve the girl and double-cross the kidnappers. Meanwhile, the FBI and LAPD are on his trail. Things get even more intense when his girlfriend Patricia is captured too.

   This could have been an awkward salvage operation but, happily, the additional material synchronises smoothly with the pilot footage. The only way to discern between the 2013 and 2017 material is Adam Rayner’s beard. He was contractually obliged to keep it between seasons of the FX series Tyrant and retains it for the first half hour of the film (in other words, much of the new stuff). Fortunately, it does not hamper things and it could even be said that the character needs to change his look at times to avoid being recognised. It all works, therefore, as a legitimate television movie.

   The script is surprisingly funny and there is some decent action too, although it could never be mistaken for a theatrical release. Fans of the 1970s series will particularly enjoy seeing Ogilvy again, while genre favourite Greg Grunberg has a minor role. There are numerous flashbacks to Templar’s childhood which seek to establish the character’s backstory, although there’s very little point when this is strictly a one-off.

   The plot itself is convoluted and not distinct enough from other cyber-theft stories. Indeed, the project’s lack of distinction is perhaps its problem. Although many of the Saint stories were set in America, placing a potential series there makes it indistinguishable from White Collar, Leverage, Burn Notice, MacGyver and other G-man series of recent years.

   The Saint property was once in the lead – a champion, if not a trail-blazer – while here it looks like it is simply trying to merge in with the crowd. Nonetheless, despite being unoriginal and unmemorable, this is a fun, undemanding 116 minutes which is worth seeing.




DONALD HONIG – The Sword of General Englund. Captain Thomas Maynard #1. Scribner, hardcover, 1996. No paperback edition.

   Honig has written a number of novels, but the only two I’ve read are his historical baseball stories, The Plot to Kill Jackie Robinson and Last Man Out. I thought both were quite good. Honig is a former professional baseball player himself.

   In the year of the Little Big Horn, 1876, not too far from there in the Dakota Territory, another General was killed. This one had a Bowie knife driven up to the hilt in his back, on the same night a Corporal was stabbed and killed. An investigation by the Post command failed to find the killer, but came to the conclusion that one of the command staff was probably guilty.

   From Washington, a young Captain, an up-from-the-ranks veteran of the recent War Between the States, is dispatched to find the truth. He eventually does, but it is not what he — or anyone else — expected.

   This is one of the better books I’ve read this year; maybe not a ’96 Edgar nominee, but a very good book. The investigator, Captain Maynard, is a very believable and interesting character, and Honig’s third-person narrative is excellent. The book is about people and their relationships, but also about the horrors of war and the minds and mindsets of the professionals who wage it.

   Hornig does a fine job of recreating the spirit of the times, and the atmosphere of a godforsaken army post in the middle of desolated Sioux country. The only flaw I found in the book was the use of a couple of flashbacks early on at seemed awkward and out of place when never repeated. The infelicity (if it was one) was soon forgotten, however. Honig has consistently delivered in his three books that I’ve read.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #22, November 1995


BIBLIOGRAPHIC UPDATE: A second and final novel featuring Captain Maynard was The Ghost of Major Pryor (Scribner, 1997).



LESLIE CHARTERIS – The White Rider. Bill Kennedy #2. Ward Lock, UK. hardcover, 1928. Doubleday Doran, US, hardcover, 1930. No paperback editions known.

   Leslie Charteris broke into print in 1927, .with the publication of a non-Saint book, X Esquire [the first Bill Kennedy novel]. QUIRE. The following year saw two more books published; one was the first “Saint,” Meet the Tiger, the other a non-Saint novel, The White Rider.

   Today this book is a collector’s item as an associational piece, rather than a book many would enjoy reading. There are some Saint-like qualities in the story: a young lady in distress, some young men who are either doing amateur detection or who are in league to steal a large sum of money, a masked rider, an upper-class British atmosphere with an American or two thrown in.

   The story goes on, and on, and on. Length is a major defect. Not yet has Charteris learned to write concise short stories. There is a great deal of action,  with men falling dead hither and yon, sometimes by quite normal knifing and shooting, sometimes by exotic and not very believable means. It’s as if Charteris had been trying to put everything into one novel.

   Briefly the plot is this: Seldon, a bank robber, dies without divulging the hiding-place of his loot; apparently it is somewhere  about the house at Sancreed where his wife (who is not seen) and his daughter (a major character) live. A masked “White Rider” has been  seen by people living in the vicinity, riding at night and acting mysteriously. Assistant Commissioner Bill Kennedy and Jimmy Haddon, an American policeman, go down, to Sancreed to head off criminals also anxious to get their hands  on the. loot.

   Eventually the money is saved, young love has its way, and the head criminal is captured, though only after many thoroughly confusing events and murders. This may be what used to be called “a rattlin’ good yarn.” I consider it interesting historically, but little in any other way.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 3, Number 4 (July-August 1980).

MEG O’BRIEN – The Daphne Decisions. Jessica James #1. Bantam, paperback original; 1st printing, March 1990.

   Jessica James blames her mother for her name. Sometimes things like that happen. She’s a hard nosed reporter for a small but influential newspaper in the Rochester NY area in the spunky Kinsey Millhone vein – not a PI but the closest thing to it without quite being one. The closest she has to having a client is an elderly woman who had something important to tell her, but she put her off one day too late. Mary Burghof is dead.

   The opening scene is rather unique. Jess wakes up in a hospital covered with bandages, and a local influential judge is under the belief that she is his missing daughter-in-law, Daphne, who had disappeared. The story Jess had been working on has to do with learning more about a mysterious real estate company who she suspects has been forcing elderly people off their property and buying their land cheap. Mary Burghof is/was one of those people.

   I suggested that Jessica James is a heroine in the Kinsey Millhone fashion, but in truth she has a darker edge than Kinsey had, which includes a drinking problem. The case begins as detective story, but the surprise twist about 60 percent of the way through completely reveals who her adversary is, turning the tale into a thriller more than a mystery. Only until the end, that is, when she discovers that it was a detective puzzle all along.

   Not the most skillfully told one, but I’m always glad to read a book with a detective puzzle ending, even if I wasn’t expecting one.
      The Jessica James series —

1. The Daphne Decisions (1990)
2. Salmon in the Soup (1990)
3. Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow (1991)
4. Eagles Die Too (1992)
5. A Bright Flamingo Shroud (1996)



COLIN WATSON – Snobbery with Violence: Crime Stories and Their Audience. Eyre & Spottiswoode, UK, hardcover, 1971. St. Martin’s Press, US, hardcover, 1972. Eyre Methuen, UK, hardcover, revised edition, 1979. Mysterious Press, US, softcover, 1988 Faber and Faber, UK, paperback, 2009.

   I could never quite understand why one of my favorite books about the crime genre incited such violence in some readers, who bore a grudge against Watson for his informed and informing book on mystery and thriller fiction between the Wars that seemed completely out of proportion to anything he actually wrote.

   Watson, after all, was the popular author of the Flaxborough/Inspector Purbright novels that revealed the darkly comical reality beneath the English village setting of Agatha Christie and others.

   Yes, he was opinionated. Even I disagree with him on some points and authors, but he is never less than succinct in his arguments, and there is no malice in them. He merely sets out to deal with the social history behind the genre in that important era and to explain its origins and nature, and does so brilliantly, with delightful cartoons from Punch, that reflect the subject of many chapters.

   If nothing else he coined a phrase to describe the village mystery so common to Agatha Christie that has stuck because it is so apt: Mayhem Parva.

   Julian Symons’ Mortal Consequences seemed much more controversial to me, Kingley Amis’s James Bond Dossier more eccentric. Just what nerve had Watson struck?

   The book opens with an epigram from Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On: “…that school of Snobbery with Violence that runs like a thread of good class tweed through twentieth-century literature.”

   Snobbery with violence hardly seems an unfair description of the genre from Agatha Christie to Bulldog Drummond, and indeed to James Bond who Watson defends from the charge of “sex, snobbery, and sadism” by simply pointing out Ian Fleming was no more blatant nor vicious on that count than anyone else.

   So what is it exactly about this well organized and argued book that upset so many. I confess on rereading I was trying pretty desperately to discover that when I ran across the following passage on Bulldog Drummond, Sapper, and the rise of Fascism in England.

   Popular fiction is not evangelistic; it imparts no new ideas. Fascism sprang, in Britain as elsewhere, from frustration caused by economic chaos and political ineptitude. That same frustration had made readers susceptible to improbable heroics, but acknowledgement of a common source is not the same as saying Moseley’s Fascism derived from McNeile’s fiction.

   And there it was, the passage that set forth Watson’s “controversial” theme that inflamed what Amis once called “little old maids of both sexes”, the thing that enraged many of his critics. Watson had dared to suggest that popular fiction, far from the monster poisoning the minds of readers, was not actually the source of all societies ills, but merely reflected the prejudice and opinions of the average man, that people indeed got the entertainment they wanted and would accept in popular fiction, and were not swayed to prejudice by the blathering of a Bulldog Drummond or to snobbery by a Lord Peter Wimsey, nor to sexual obsession by James Bond, but that H. C. McNeile, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Ian Fleming were merely highly successful at hitting on what the audience wanted and would accept at the time.

   An audience that, as he quotes Margaret Lane Edgar Wallace’s biographer, audiences wanted “excitement without anxiety, suspense without fear, violence without pain, and horror without disgust,” to which Watson added crime without sin and sentiment without sex.

   If there is a better description of the mystery novel and thriller in the between the Wars years, I don’t know what it is. He goes on to point out that the reader was an active participant in the game being played, not ignorant of reality enough to buy the sophistication of an Oppeheim drawing room or casino or a Christie great house where a murder will soon occur, but “able to disregard the voice of experience and reason in interest of his own entertainment.”

   In short the reader was not being plied with clever drugs, but willingly seeking the stuff out, rewarding a Sax Rohmer who confirmed his own fear of foreigners and foreign sorts, a Sapper or Sidney Horler catering to the average man’s self doubts with their “splendid” sportsman manly man heroes and slim topping women pitted against wealthy unsporting master criminals, slinky foreign women, inscrutable Easterners, and low East End types. The writers weren’t even prostituting themselves, they had merely stuck upon a gold vein of public prejudice and opinion.

   This was the era of the lending library and the newly literate middle and lower middle classes equally prejudiced against the very rich, the foreign, and the poor. The era in England when an entire generation of young vital men had died in the trenches in Europe and the world no longer made sense and people were desperate to make sense of it. The writers who succeeded, who prospered were not preaching, but merely reflecting, and the more accurately they reflected their audience the more successful they were, and when they could do so with minimal disturbance of the social order they were rewarded.

   Watson touches on the strangely clipped and emotionless language of the era, the blathering of a Drummond, Wimsey, or Campion, the topping girls, the sometimes silly language, even the bloodless violence.

   Many of course had been through the 1914-1918 war themselves. What seems to a later generation to be a slightly comic affectation might well have been a defensive mannerism born of an experience so appalling that it rendered millions emotionally emasculated.

   Again, the audience and not the writers determined the voice. The sheep were not led, but leading because to go against the prejudice of the flock was to risk a blow to the pocketbook. “Foreign was synonymous with criminal in nine novels out of ten, and the conclusion is inescapable that most people found that perfectly natural.”

   What Watson is saying that really hits home is that when we are condemning a popular writer like Rohmer, Horler, Sapper, or Edgar Wallace we are actually condemning grandpa and grandma or mom and dad, who read this because they believed this, not because they were being force fed prejudices they had not been schooled in well before they read thriller fiction.

   The same was true of Ian Fleming, of Mickey Spillane, of Stephen King, or Lee Child today. We get the popular literature, the movies, the music we support that reflects what we believe and what we value. Pretending we are led down the garden path by what we consume is like blaming the apple tree because some of the apples aren’t ripe yet.

   Charging commercial institutions with failing to educate the public taste is an indulgence from which intellectuals (*) will only be deterred when they grasp that a non-existent contract can neither be breached nor enforced. If commerce is to be indicted for anything, it can only be for commercialism, and whether that is a crime or not is a political question.

   Watson also makes a good argument for the value of this kind of fiction which, as he points out, reflects the material life of its time in a way more serious literature does not down to the smallest detail of daily life in its need to be grounded in recognizable worlds familiar to the less than sophisticated reader. He also points out that during the heyday of the lending library readers had something like 180 to 210 books a week to choose from across all genres, but certainly in the mystery genre. Even figuring a reader reading one book a week the competition was fierce for the reading dollar. Readers, not writers dictated what was acceptable in their chosen reading with their money.

   I’ll leave with Watson at his most cogent. If you disagree with this conclusion, and I don’t discount any disagreement, please quote a single legally and psychologically proven case and not apocryphal accusations or criminals and their representatives seeking an out by unfounded claims of victimhood is all I ask.

   The influence of books is of a more subtle and involved nature. The most lasting, and therefore the most serious, harm they can do is to confirm — to lend authority to, as it were — an existing prejudice or misconception. During the long and lively discussion of the influence of “undesirable” literature upon behavior, there has come to light not a single case in which a formerly normal person (my italics) has been induced by his reading to commit a violent crime.

(*) Intellectual in England does not only connote the Left alone. There are equally those on the Right condemning the taste of the “common man” and the Middle Class.

POUL ANDERSON – The War of Two Worlds. Ace Double D-355, paperback, 1959. Novella. Published back to back with Threshold of Eternity, by John Brunner (reviewed here ). Cover by Ed Valigursky. Reprinted in The Worlds of Poul Anderson (Ace, paperback, 1974).

   Aliens forced from Sirius instigate the Earth-Mars war by taking the form of top leaders of both sides, so that after the defeat of Earth by Mars, the conquest of both planets will be easier. An ex-spaceman returns to Earth after the war and becomes the object of a countrywide hunt after he learns the truth. The aliens are exposed after they believe he and his Martian friend have been killed.

   A clever but obvious idea that ends much too easily. The best scenes are those of a conquered Earth under Martian rule. After the introduction of the aliens and their story, there is little left but the usual chase-and-hunt. Somehow should have been better.

Rating: ***



RAIDERS OF OLD CALIFORNIA. Albert C. Gannaway Productions/Republic, 1957. Jim Davis, Faron Young, Arlen Whelan, Marty Robbins, Lee Van Cleef, Louis Jean Heydt, and Douglas Fowley. Screenplay by Samuel Roeca and Tom Hubbard. Directed by Albert C. Gannaway.

   Let’s get one gripe out of the way first: This thing is set around the time of the Mexican-American War, but the uniforms, firearms and clothing date from almost a generation later. Don’t let it bother you. This is just a B-Western, and a pretty good one.

   Story-wise, the usual thing is afoot here: a cattle baron (Jim Davis) in old California (hence the title of the piece) is trying to grab all the land he can from surrounding farms, using a Spanish land grant he extorted from a Mexican General (Lawrence Dobkin) at the end of the war. Enter Judge Ward Young (Louis Jean Heydt) and his son Faron (Faron Young) who set about putting things to rights by … well, that would be giving away one plot twist too many.

   It may be worth mentioning that Faron Young played a character named Faron Young in Hidden Guns (reviewed here),  where Richard Arlen played Sheriff Ward Young. Or maybe it’s not worth mentioning, in which case forget I mentioned it.

   The dialogue is rudimentary, and some of the sets look more like cardboard boxes than adobe walls, but Raiders still has a lot going for it, starting with superior stunt work and a script that emphasizes action. The players go through their familiar paces with authority born of long practice (though neither Faron Young nor Marty Robbins sings a note) and Douglas Fowley is a real surprise as a grizzled ad hoc sheriff.

   Best of all, Raiders gives Lee Van Cleef the kind of part he was born for and lets him show off his type-cast malevolence with real flair. I’d venture to say he gets more screen time than any of the principals, and he eats it up with a spoon, whether quietly threatening his victims, or administering a beating with psychotic pleasure.

   Lee Van Cleef was one of the real pleasures of 1950s movies, and his euro-stardom in the 70s only proved that he was better at supporting a picture than starring in it. His presence in Raiders of Old California is a reminder of just how effective he could be.


LONGMIRE “Pilot.” A&E, 03 Jun 2012. Robert Taylor (Sheriff Walt Longmire), Katee Sackhoff (Victoria ‘Vic’ Moretti), Lou Diamond Phillips (Henry Standing Bear), Bailey Chase, Cassidy Freeman, Adam Bartley, Louanne Stephens. Screenplay by   Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny,  based on the characters created by Craig Johnson. Nominated for an Edgar by the Mystery Writers of America. Director: Christopher Chulack. Currently streaming on Netflix (all six seasons).

   It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally gotten around to this long running series, based on the even longer running series of books by Craig Johnson (seventeen so far, and counting). I’ve read only one of books, perhaps luckily so, as I had no preconceptions or hopes to be dashed, or vice versa.

   This, the pilot to the series, does a very good job of introducing the primary players and the ongoing plot line, both of this one and things to come. Walt Longmire is the long-time sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. A large chunk of the country is a Cheyenne reservation, an area over which Longmire has no jurisdiction. Sometime in the recent past his wife has died, and since then his staff of three deputies has been covering for him while he recovers from the loss. One of them, though, a fellow named Branch Connally, thinks Walt is over the hill and is running in the next election against him.

   The characters are well drawn, no surprise there, since they are (more or less) based on the books. You will have to tell me more about the “more or less.”  As I said above, the story is little more than ordinary, mostly because it has to take second place to identifying the characters, who they are and so on. It involves a man shot to death in the snow, a stranger with no obvious reason for being there. In fact his wife, back in Colorado, thinks he is somewhere else altogether. Some conflict with the tribal police eventually ensues, foreshadowing, I suspect, similar situations in further story lines.

   I don’t know the actor who plays Longmire, Robert Taylor, but he plays the part he’s asked to play perfectly. He’s craggy, terse if not out-and-out taciturn, rough, crude, and, as when telling the man’s widow the bad news, also quite eloquent. The series depends on him, obviously so, and a six-year run suggests he repeats the crackerjack job he does in the pilot all the way through.


J. RANDOLPH COX (1936-2021).


   It is with much sadness that I pass along news of the death of Randy Cox, a long-time correspondent and friend. He died in a nursing home on September 14th, just over a week ago. We met many times at various conventions over the years, starting in the 1970s. These include Old Time Radio Conventions and Pulpcons. The list below of awards, publications (only partial) and other achievements demonstrate full well his many interests, all of which are aligned with mine.

   Before his hospitalization earlier this year, he was a frequent commenter on this blog, many of them (but hardly all!) pointing out various typos and other corrections, always to my dismay. His one actual post was entitled “A Discussion: THE FUTURE OF TV WATCHING, by Michael Shonk and Randy Cox.”  which appeared here on 14 March 2015.

   In person, Randy was a delight to talk to. Not only did we have many interests in common, but he’d also met and/or corresponded with many famous writers and had many stories to tell about them. In groups of other people, I heard some of these stories several times, but they were just as delightful and enjoyable each and every time. One thing’s for sure. I’m going to miss him.

● Long time librarian at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.

● Editor of The Dime Novel Round-Up for over 20 years.

● Editor of Masters of Mystery and Detective Fiction (Scarecrow Press, 1989)

● Author of Man of Magic and Mystery (Scarecrow Press, 1989; a biblio-biography of Walter Gibson, the creator of The Shadow)

● Author of The Dime Novel Companion (Greenwood Press, 2000)

● Co-author (with David S. Siegel) of Flashgun Casey, Crime Photographer (Book Hunter Press, 2005)

● Recipient of the Munsey Award presented at PulpFest in 2014.

   Thanks to Jiro Kimura at The Gumshoe Site for much of the information above.


Next Page »