September 2021

Reviews by L. J. Roberts

DAVID HOUSEWRIGHT – From the Grave. Rushmore McKenzie #17. Minotaur, hardcover, July 2020.

First Sentence: The young woman who identified herself as a psychic medium moved with almost absentminded confidence among the fifty people who had paid forty dollars each for a seat in the community center lecture hall with the hope that she might help them connect with a dead mother or father, uncle or aunt, a dead child — but no promises.

   From a friend who attended a psychic reading, former cop Rushmore McKenzie learns of a threat placed on his life by the spirit of Leland Hayes. McKenzie killed Hayes after Hayes escaped the scene of an armored car robbery leaving his son Ryan to take the fall. The money was never recovered. Now, more than 21 years later, a highly skeptical McKenzie becomes involved with two psychic mediums to find the money and, due to one of the mediums, to locate a missing woman.

   To add a bit of light to the dark, McKenzie’s partner, Nina owns a jazz club thought to be haunted. Nina’s concern about the influence her late mother had her present actions gives both history and insight into the character.

   Set in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, Housewright creates a strong sense of place, even for something as basic as Nina’s condo. The interplay between the two characters is easy and natural— “I like your outfit.” “Really? Last night you couldn’t wait for me to take it off.” —and a particular conversation between them provides good background and an explanation of their relationship. McKenzie’s unpleasant neighbor provides a touch of normalcy. Mackenzie has an inner monologue that is used sparingly and effectively, often with a touch of humor. Housewright has also given him an excellent playlist.

   It is always fun when an author references other authors. Because of the psychic aspect, he also references a number of popular paranormal investigation shows, but it is McKenzie’s skepticism which keeps things grounded, until his skepticism is tested. Learning what goes on in the making of such shows is both interesting and demystifying without taking away from the possibility of actuality.

   The other characters are well presented, with a couple of inside jokes. It is hard to say much about some of them, except that Housewright’s approach to his characters is refreshing. There are several people out to find the missing money. And some are what one might expect.

   As the 17th book in the Rushmore McKenzie series, this book is somewhat lighter and less suspenseful than some. In this time of COVID-19 when many are having trouble concentrating, that’s not a bad thing. Even so, the story does not lack for twists and red herrings.

   From the Grave, at its foundation, is a solid mystery, well-constructed and enjoyable. One may, or may not, accept the paranormal aspect, but it does provide an extra layer of creativity. However, best of all, is the ending that makes one smile.

Rating: A minus.



  STEPHEN KING – Christine. Viking, hardcover, 1983, 526 pages, $16.95. Film: Columbia Pictures, 1983, directed by John Carpenter.

   A haunted car, right… Stephen King expects readers to believe in a 1958 red and white Plymouth Fury that’s haunted no less. Well, yes, he does — and they will. For that is the magic writing quality that makes his talent so special. Stephen King can make even the most ordinary and unlikely object an item of horror.

   In Christine, King attempts to invoke the terror.that permeated ’Salem’s Lot  and the chilling fright of The Shining. The time is 1978, in a suburban community outside of Pittsburgh, On their way home, Dennis Guilder and Arnie Cunningham drive by a parked car — a 1958 Plymouth — with a ‘for sale’ sign in its window. Arnie falls firmly and unquestioningly in love with the car and determines to possess it at all costs, The present owner, Roland Le Bay, tells him the car’s name is Christine.

   With Arnie’s purchase of Christine, no one who knows him remains untouched by the evil force that sits behind the wheel. And Arnie is a loser (“Every high school has to have at least two; it’s like a national law,”) and is frequently tormented by the school bullies. Christine quickly begins to exert an unnatural hold on Arnie, Not only does Arnie exhibit an abnormal affection for his car, but Christine’s rusty old exterior and worn mechanical parts mysteriously begin improving.  Not that Arnie doesn’t spend many hours working on her, but his efforts don’t seem as methodical and orderly as her improvements indicate.

   As Christine nears mint condition, Arnie acquires a girl friend, Leigh Cabot, As their relationship grows, strange and gruesome deaths happen to four bullies who inflicted damage on Christine. The story’s progression charts Christine’s increasingly diabolical hold over Arnie, and her acts of revenge towards anyone who tries to come between her and Arnie.

   Although the horrific events do not fully terrify or render the reader aquiver with fright, there are some tense moments. The final duel between Christine and Dennis and Leigh showcases King’s writing skills superbly as he makes a potentially laughable and unbelievable scene ring with credibility and anxious moments.

   By the time the last page is turned, it’s nearly impossible not to think of the ’58 Plymouth as “she” — as Christine — and not just an old car.

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

THE IRON MISTRESS.  Warner Brothers, 1952. With Alan Ladd, Virginia Mayo, Joseph Calleia, Phyllis Kirk, Douglas Dick, Anthony Caruso, Nedrick Young, and Jay Novello. Screenplay by James R Webb, from the novel by Paul I Wellman. Directed by Gordon Douglas.

   A bit flabby, but it has its moments.

   The flabbiness is due mainly to lapses in James Webb’s script, which takes entirely too much time rolling out the action, cruising along the Upper Crust of New Orleans society, drawing rather labored parallels between the effete rich and backwoodsy Bowie, until one wonders if this is going to be a comedy of manners. Eventually though some action just can’t be avoided and here….

   Well here is Director Gordon Douglas, one of the most proficient action men in the game, with rip-snorters like TONY ROME, THE FIEND WHO WALKED THE WEST, KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE, and RIO CONCHOS on his resumé, and he makes the most of every fist-swinging, gun-smoking, sword-sticking moment in the picture.

   Producer Henry Blanke (Whose credits include THE MALTESE FALCON and TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE) also took care to populate the cast with worthy opponents for Ladd’s Jim Bowie to come up against. Joseph Calliea, Jay Novello, Nedrick Young, and Anthony Caruso all comport themselves with creditable nastiness, and we get a fair share of excitement from scenes like:

   â— A Duel that turns into a massacre when the seconds start firing on the opposing principals;

   â— A knife fight with the Ladd and Anthony Carusos’ left arms strapped together;

   â— A woodland ambush that becomes a prolonged stalk-and-kill;

   â— And best of all, a duel in a darkened room with Bowe’s knife against Nedrick Young’s saber, choreographed by the great Fred Cavens.

   Nedrick young, by the way, is best remembered as the gunman in black who faces off against Sterling Hayden and a harpoon in TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN.

   Moments like this pack real excitement, and on the balance, IRON MISTRESS is well worth your time. But keep a finger on the fast-forward button.



   I remarked in a review for somebody or other not too long ago that I thought I was out of step with the field, and I feel that way more every day. With very few exceptions, the crime fiction that makes the best-seller lists and even the books that sell the best at mystery bookstores are of types I don’t care for at all, or at least nearly as much as I do others.

   The bestsellers are more often than not slick, superficial, and padded in my estimation, and the most popular ones seem to be the literary equivalent of slasher movies. And if you took lawyers, thrillers, serial killers, and cozies off the mystery bookstore shelves you wouldn’t have enough books left for a good yard sale, and two-thirds of those would be historicals — and while I like the category, they’re getting to be a glut on the market.

   Trash proliferates, while many of my favorite series sell just enough to keep being published, and often make it to paperback late or never; e. g., Bill Crider’s Dan Rhodes, John Riggs’ Garth Ryland, Jonathan Ross’s George Rogers, John Malcom’s Tim Simpson, Jill McGown’s Lloyd & Hill, Jon Cleary’s Scobie Malone, Michael Bowen’s Richard Michaelson, Eric Wright’s Charlie Salter, Les Roberts’ Milan Jacovich, John Brady’s Matt Minogue, Michael Collins’ Dan Fortune, Stuart Kaminsky’s Porfiry Rostnikov, David M. Pierce’s V Daniel, James Sallis’ Lew Griffin, and a bunch of et cetera‘s.

   It just seems like anything between big/bloody and cute/ frothy doesn’t have too much of a chance any more. Oh well, hell, at least I’m better off than [some of you]  — nobody even writes classic detective stories any more.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #22, November 1995

MELODIE JOHNSON HOWE – The Mother Shadow. Claire Conrad & Maggie Hill #1. Viking, hardcover, 1989. Penguin, paperback, 1990.

   The story is told by Maggie Hill, who is not a PI when the story begins, nor if I read it right, not even when it ends. But in between, she does find herself doing a lot of the legwork for Claire Conrad, who is a PI, albeit one of the more eccentric ones you may ever come across in a mystery novel before.

   That includes even a certain Nero Wolfe, who you probably have come across and who I’ll get back to shortly. Claire Conrad is tall, brilliant, dressed all in black – or all in white – depending on which of every alternate day it happens to be. She does not believe in love, she tells Miss Hill, and in fact (she also tells her), she has had all her lady parts removed.

   Maggie, on other hand, is a young, jaded, yet brassy temp worker based in Los Angeles. As the story begins, she has plenty of attitude and is not afraid to show it, but as the story continues, it is clear that she has met her match with Clair Conrad. See above.

   She has been working with a wealthy man helping him catalog his coin collection, but one morning their routine is changed. With a lawyer present, he asks Maggie to type up a codicil to his will, one in which he directs his coin collection to be left to a mysterious Clair Conrad, a name she does not recognize. More importantly, he specifically states that his family – mother, brother, sister – are not to receive any proceeds from it. When done, the lawyer (a TV personality with all the charm of a snake) leaves, and Maggie’s employer goes upstairs and shoots himself.

   What’s more, you guessed it, the codicil, left in Maggie’s possession, has – in the confusion – disappeared, and here is where the mystery begins. One involving a host of family secrets, some of which are quite salacious indeed, and hardly ones to mentioned in polite society. The mystery is solved more by legwork than out-and-out deductivity, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Unfortunately I did not find any of the other players involved in the tale all that interesting, and their problems even less so, for whatever that’s worth.

   At the time the book was published, much was made of the Conrad/Hill relationship as compared with the Wolfe/Goodwin one. While it is of course at once obvious, I’d have to pass on that until I’ve read another one. This is only a first book, after all, and the interaction between the two is an edgy one. They’re still getting to know another.

   This first book was nominated for an Edgar, and a long series was expected, but for unknown reasons, it never developed. There was only one more book featuring the two of them, that being Beauty Dies, published in 1994. After that the slate on the two was closed forever.



UTAH BLAINE. Columbia, 1957. Rory Calhoun, Susan Cummings, Angela Stevens, Paul Langton, Max Baer, George Keymas, Ray Teal and Gene Roth. Screenplay by Robert E Kent, from a novel by Louis L’Amour. Produced by Sam Katzman. Directed by Fred F. Sears.

   A Western brought to you by the producer-director team that gave us The Giant Claw.

   And actually, it’s not bad. The keynote here is action, plentifully supplied in Robert E. Kent’s screenplay, and briskly directed by Fred Sears, an old, old hand at this sort of thing, who moved easily from the Durango Kid series to Sam Katzman’s B unit at Columbia. Sears knew how to make a B-Western: fast pace and plenty of fightin’, and he keeps Utah moving violently along, starting with Blaine (Rory Calhoun) rescuing an old rancher from a lynching, through gunfights, chases, fistfights, and a few seconds of mushy stuff so we can get our popcorn.

   The plot is a standard thing: Big Rancher Ray Teal wants the surrounding spreads and has hired a band of ne’er-do-wells who pose as vigilantes and mete out “justice” to the offending landowners. Enter our Hero, looking a bit threadbare and unkempt after an unprofitable sojourn in Mexico. Rory saves a rancher from a slow hanging, hires on as foreman, and sets about putting things to right.

   But Rory Calhoun was always on the side of Right more as a matter of convenience. In this case, Ray Teal’s hired boys include a fast-gun (Sepulchral George Keymas) who, the script hints, was responsible for putting him in Mexican Jail. Give credit to writer Kent again. He never tells us what went on South of the Border (That would slow down the action.) just drop hints that Rory wasn’t on his best behavior back in them days, and his grudge against Keymas is a matter more of revenge than justice.

   The actors move easily through this familiar territory, and while I can’t say Utah Blaine is anything outstanding, it offers the unpretentious gracefulness true professionals bring to bear on even forgettable projects like this.


by Walker Martin

   A group of about five collectors have been making this trip out to Chicago for over 10 years but this year only three of us made the two day drive out to the convention. One of our group could not make it due to pandemic restrictions and one hurt his back moving bookcases just prior to the show. This injury was especially sad since he always looks forward to the pulp shows and has been attending them since the second Pulpcon in 1973.

   We had nice weather driving to and from the show and enjoyed several meals together, especially the ones at the Outback and Longhorn Steak House. The three of us discussed several topics during the drive, including memories of past Pulpcons and my adventures at the first one in 1972, a mere 50 years ago. Somehow it feels like only the other day that I drove out to St Louis and discovered so many great friends and great pulps.

   In fact we often hear about people entering their second childhood if they live long enough, and the same rule applies to pulp and book collectors. For instance back in the 1980’s I got rid of my almost complete set of G-8 and His Battle Aces and here I am 40 years later buying a complete set of the 110 issues again. I imagine I will dislike Nippy and Bull just as much as I did decades ago, but I also love the great insane covers just like I did so long ago. Thanks Doug. Just what I needed, another set of G-8 to complain about.

   What else did I buy? I have an almost complete set of Sea Stories, over 112 issues and I’ve always wanted an original cover painting. Thanks to Doug (again!) I bought the painting for the cover of the June 20, 1923 issue. True, this is not a great one like the ones Anton Otto Fischer painted, but then again I probably cannot afford such great art anyway.

   I’ve been buying paperback cover art by Larry Schwinger for over 30 years, starting in 1989 with two Cornell Woolrich covers. This convention I bought another one, a real bargain at only $100. But my old pal Scott Hartshorn beat me to another bargain by Schwinger, the cover to Hombre by Elmore Leonard. I tried to immediately buy it from Scott, but he’s so greedy that he refused my offer.

   I also bought some books including 3 volumes of the R.A. Lafferty collections presently being published by Centipede Press. They plan to publish 12 volumes but the print runs are only 300 each, so they go out of print fast and are expensive to find. Speaking of books, Ed Hulse had an advance copy of his new history of vintage paperbacks. Go to the Murania Press website to order. The book has over 450 paperback covers in color and will be shipping starting September 28. The title is The Art of Pulp Fiction: An Illustrated History of Vintage Paperbacks.

   There were some paintings I wanted to buy but I talked myself out of buying them because I have no space and I don’t want to add to the stacks of art leaning against the walls and bookcases, a common problem that collectors face as they accumulate art. Fred Taraba had a great Frontier Stories cover painting from 1925 and Craig Poole had a McCauley from Amazing Stories but I manage to escape the show without adding to the stacks of art.

   During the old days of Pulpcon in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s, there were often what we called “feeding frenzies”, where the entire dealer’s room seems to swarm around certain tables with rare and desirable pulps. This no longer happens that often but it did at this Windy City show. Andrew Zimmerli had several tables crammed with hundreds of rare old pulps.

   To give you an example of what happened, Matt Moring missed the first day of the feeding frenzy but still managed to find around 50 old Adventure’s that he needs, mainly from the hard to get teens. He now only needs 40 or 50 issues to complete the set of 753 pulp issues, 1910-1953. Non-collectors may not understand this but believe me it is a major achievement.

   Doug Ellis mentioned to me that attendance was 500 and there were 168 tables. Despite the pandemic, these are excellent numbers. Masks were required, maid service limited and restaurant hours limited. The auction was the main event for Friday and Saturday evening. In the old days’, Rusty Hevelin believed the comic book dealers should by banned from Pulpcon, but we live in The Brave New World today and so the comic book influence was evident. For instance the so called “bat girl” cover of Weird Tales sold for $11,000 and there were conversations about “slabbing” pulps.

   This is the future where we will see rare and expensive pulps slabbed like many comics in plastic. Readers Beware!! I guess we will have to change the old saying, “So many books, so little time” to “So many books, but since they are enclosed in plastic, we have plenty of time”. The “slabbers” say only the expensive books will be slabbed and there will be reprints to read but to me slabbing books is still sacrilege. I get it about slabbing baseball cards but pulps and books?

   The auction also included over 300 lots of other Weird Tales, rare pulps, Robert Howard items, and correspondence, including some great letters from Farnsworth Wright, the editor of Weird Tales. Most of the items were from the estates of Robert Weinberg and Glenn Lord.

   There were two panels. The Friday night panel discussed upcoming books by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Saturday night panel discussed the magazine, Black Mask. I talked about how I managed to complete a set of the 340 issues back in the 1970’s and fellow panelists also discussed the Joseph Shaw era and the Ken White years of 1940-1948. The other three collectors on the panel were long time collectors John Wooley, Will Murray, and Matt Moring. We had to be tough and hard boiled to talk about such a subject in only 45 minutes!

   There was the usual art show and films. This year Ed Hulse ran the films only during the day and not at night or after the auction. As usual Sunday was New Pulp Sunday with panels discussing the subject. The 20th edition of Windy City Pulp Stories was excellent and all 158 pages dealt with Black Mask and Dashiell Hammett. This is a must buy if you have any interest in pulps or Hammett.

   The next Windy City Pulp show will be May 6, 2022 through May 8, 2022. Same hotel and hosted as usual by Doug Ellis and John Gunnison. Thank you for your efforts. I know a lot of work went into this convention. Thanks too to Paul Herman and Matt Moring for allowing me the use of the photos they took for this report. I hope everyone survives the plague and that we all meet again next year!

JOHN BRUNNER – Threshold of Eternity. Ace Double D-335, paperback original, 1959. Cover by Ed Emshwiller. Published back to back with The War of Two Worlds, by Poul Anderson. Previously published in New Worlds SF #66, December 1957.

   Two people of the 20th Century, a sculptor from California and a London nurse, are caught up in a space-war encompassing all of space and time. The enemy is intent on destroying the Being, located in the Solar System, and existing in four dimensions. But as time itself is no barrier to the being, dedicated to the welfare of Man, parallel time-streams can sculpted for that purpose.

   Truly large-scale action, but someone not used to sf concepts would give up early, as the true story becomes clearer only gradually. Brunner takes his concepts seriously, but this is not one of the better works on the structure of time and space. Explanatory material is presented through dialogue and actions of the characters, as they too struggle through the mysterious happenings, and hence is only partial. All scenes are neatly tied together, but the reader merely goes long for the ride.

Rating: **

–October 1967

SCORPION “Pilot.” CBS, 22 September 2014. Elyes Gabel (Walter O’Brien), Katharine McPhee, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jadyn Wong, Ari Stidham, Robert Patrick, Riley B. Smith. “Based on the life and case files of Walter O’Brien.” Director: Justin Lin. Currently streaming on Paramount+.

   It is no secret that as a series Scorpion was generated by the huge success of Big Bang Theory, also on the same network. Take a diverse bunch of geeky, high-IQ twenty-somethings, add an ordinary female for them to interact with on a weekly basis, but instead of playing for comedic effect, have them solve all kinds of problems the country if not the entire world is facing.

   We’re introduced to the team in the first episode, all young and all with IQ’s well over 150. None though have much in the way of people skills: a computer genius, a recently graduated Harvard-trained psychiatrist, a gifted mechanical engineer, and a mathematician/statistician. Add a waitress in a diner which becomes the base for the group’s first adventure together. She’s young, no genius, but her very young son is obviously a budding one.

   Their job in this initial episode is to find backup computer code for LAX’s traffic control center. If they fail, planes full of people will soon run out fuel. This they do, but the show is a lot more exciting than watching fingers typing away at keyboards, although there is quite a bit of that, too. A jumbo jet has to fly so low to the ground that a black box can be transferred by hand to a car racing precisely below it at 200 miles per hour. Personally I found that one of more unlikely things I have seen on TV all month, but it was still fun to watch.

   The series was on for four years, so others must have enjoyed the show as much as I generally did this one. None of the characters or their players are all that memorable, but they did everything they needed to in this one. Will I keep watching? The jury’s out on that. Right now, my plate of things to watch is overflowing. I’d say the odds are at least fifty-fifty. Maybe better, but maybe less.


ONE SHOE MAKES IT MURDER. CBS, 06 November 1982. Robert Mitchum as Harold Shillman, Angie Dickinson as Fay Reid, Mel Ferrer as Carl Charnock, José Pérez, John Harkins, Howard Hesseman, Cathie Shirriff. Teleplay by Felix Culver, based on the novel So Little Cause for Caroline, by Eric Bercovici. Director: William Hale.

   Truth be told, Harold Shillman (possibly Schillman; sources vary) is not a PI. He’s an ex-cop from LA, who’s hired to do the kind of job that PI’s do in all of the books I’ve read with PI’s in them. Which is to say, he’s hired by a suspended casino owner in Lake Tahoe to find his wife, who’s gone missing.

   That’s the story he’s told, anyway. If you’ve read as many books with PI’s in them – and yes, I know: you’ve probably read more than I have – you know right away that there’s more to the story. The surprising thing is that right after he’s found her, he sees her falling from one of the top floor windows in the hotel where she was staying.

   Finding her was easy. Maybe too easy. But what the police suspect is that her death was not a suicide, which is what they were supposed to believe, but murder. How do they know? She landed with only one shoe on. The other is still in her room, several feet from the terrace where she supposedly jumped. What woman would walk across a room with only one high-heeled shoe in order to jump out on her own.

   Tagging along with Shillman, played by a world-weary Robert Mitchum at his aging world-weariest, is Angie Dickinson as Fay Reid, who as a twice-married call girl who, as it turns out, is one of the perks of the job. Both she and Shillman have issues behind them, but more than that, it somehow also happens that she knew the dead woman in their mutual past.

   There is a bit of romance involved as well, as well as a light easy tone to the tale that makes the whole affair go down very easily. And who can resist Robert Mitchum playing yet another PI, even though the detective part of the tale is not the primary reason I’m going to ahead and say that if you like PI movies but haven’t seen this one yet, you should.

   No, the real reason you should watch this is Robert Mitchum. No surprise there, I’d say.

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