September 2021



HOW DOooo YOU DO!!! PRC, 1945.  Bert (The Mad Russian) Gordon, Harry Von Zell, Cheryl Walker, Ella Mae Morse, Keye Luke, and Claire Windsor (as themselves.) Also Frank Albertson, Charles Middleton, Leslie Denison, and Sidney Marion (as fictional characters.)

   A surprisingly lavish effort from little PRC, with, the overall look of slick professionalism one seldom associates with that hard-scrabble outfit, and a surrealist bent rarely seen from any studio, major or minor.

   The frenetic plot involves Radio Stars Gordon and Von Zell slipping off to vacation incognito to get away from amorous young ladies at the studio. The notion of predatory females in relentless pursuit of these two beggars the imagination, but that’s part of the charm here. Anyway, they ensconce themselves at a luxury resort, only to find the ladies checking in right behind them.

   We pause for a bit of rom-com — comedy is never easy, especially on a low budget, but these two pros very nearly make a go of it — before the lads prepare to skip out… only to find the place under lockdown!

   At which point the perennial PRC penury starts to show. Sheriff Charles Middleton announces that a guest has been found murdered in his room, but we aren’t shown the departed guest or the room, throwing a hue of unreality onto the palette. As the story lurches on, the body disappears, then reappears at the most inopportune times, only to vanish with distressing predictability, but again, Gordon and Von Zell do what they can with the material.

   In fact, there’s a pleasantly off-the-wall sidebar to the story when The Mad Russian calls on his movie-detective friends to solve the murder, and one of them is Keye Luke, who indulges in Chanish aphorisms till someone sighs, “What a ham!”

   To discuss the plot any further would be a pointless disservice to the first-time viewer and to the film itself, which ends in a burst of surprising self-awareness. I’ll just say it showed a creative daring I hadn’t seen since Hellzapoppin.

   There was one element here that nettled my mind: Frank Albertson, playing basically the same callow reporter he essayed in Man-Made Monster   (Universal, 1941) romances Claire Windsor (playing herself) who responds enthusiastically. I kept wondering what would happen if a real person married a fictional character? Would the marriage be legal in all fifty states? And which religion would the children be raised in?

   Well, How DOooo You Do!!!   doesn’t answer these questions, nor many others, but fans of old-time radio, and movie-lovers who can let their critical belt out a notch, will find a lot to like here.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Thomas Baird


EDMUND CRISPIN – The Glimpses of the Moon. Gervase Fen #10 (of 11, including two collections). Gollancz, UK, hardcover, 1977, Walker, US, hardcover, 1978.

   Gervase Fen, Oxford professor of English language and literature, who it seems spends more time being detective than don, is the creation of Edmund Crispin, who in actual fact is Robert Bruce Montgomery. Montgomery was an organist, choral-music composer, and wrote background music for many movies. Humorous passages about the plight of composers and musicians appear in some of the Fen adventures in major and minor keys.

   The Fen tales are academic (with Latin quotations and private jokes) but markedly satirical, and sometimes tumble into farce. Julian Symons said that “at his weakest he is flippant, at his best he is witty.”

   Fen is energetic, even frenetic, and when he gets going on the case, the narrative zips right along. If you like humor mixed with your crime, then all nine Gervase Fen novels will be of interest.

   Two collections of short stories have also been praised, but they are not as good as the novels. They are fair but flat, dependent on gimmicks, and Fen doesn’t really have room to operate.

   In The Glimpses of the Moon, Fen is on sabbatical from Oxford to write the book on the postwar British novel, and is not particularly interested in hearing about a two-month old murder that the police had handily solved, getting their man. Fen’s interest in the case is finally piqued when the second dismembered body is discovered and he realizes the head he has been toting about in a potato sack is the wrong one (of three).

   Beneath an apple tree where Fen is perched, the situation comes to a head in the pandemonious collision of a hunt, hunt saboteurs, a motorcycle scramble, a burglar’s getaway, a herd of cattle driven to pasture, a scouting helicopter, and police hurrying to arrest a miscreant. The fun almost pushes the investigation into the back seat.

   Crispin writes excellent set-piece scenes where the characters make exhibitions of themselves, and Glimpses is peopled by a superabundance of eccentrics: A retired cavalry man who loathes horses, a failed foreign correspondent, an anti-popish rector in drag, a gray bureaucrat from the power board, a laconic rustic, a mad-scientist pathologist, a reclusive publican, a horror-movie-music composer, a brooding pig farmer and his nymphomaniac wife, lively and deadly policemen, even an electric power pylon come to life — all set against a background of tranquil village life in peaceful Devon.

   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.

JOHN LESCROART – Treasure Hunt. The Hunt Club #2. Dutton, hardcover, 2010. Signet, paperback, January 2011.

   When the book begins, Wyatt Hunt’s PI firm, known as The Hunt Club, is on hard times. His only employee is Mickey Dade, who works for him as his leg man and general all-around assistant. Mickey’s sister Tamara, who used to work as a receptionist for the firm has left Wyatt after the events in The Hunt Club, the first book in the series.

   But when Mickey finds the body of a noted charity director for the city (San Francisco), he comes up with an idea designed to get the firm back on its feet again. Namely, set up a reward for anyone with information that might help the police with their investigation, with Wyatt, Mickey and Tamara acting as a liaison in screening out crank calls from those that might actually be useful leads.

   Complications set in when Mickey finds himself more than attracted to the woman, the dead man’s chauffeur who gradually becomes the number one suspect by the police.

   I’ve not read too many of Lescroart’s novels, but (almost?) all of them take place in San Francisco with several series and overlapping characters. His major character, an attorney by the name of Dismas Hardy, does not appear in this one, but he is mentioned.

   In any case, what this turns out to be is a straightforward detective story, told from various points of view, including many of the suspects, an approach I don’t much care for/ At well over 400 pages, it is also well padded. Besides several repetitions explaining the basic concept of getting the Hunt Club involved, I also skipped over all of the details of meals that are cooked and the restaurants where the characters meet, greet and eat.

   Lescroart’s prose is simple – not too many long complicated words! – but effective. The leading characters don’t have a lot of depth, but in general they do get along together. I think there may be one loose end not tied up at the end, but I was satisfied enough that I haven’t gone back to check.



JANET EVANOVICH – Two for the Dough. Stephanie Plum #2. Scribner, hardcover, 1996. Reprinted many times in paperback.

   I reviewed the first Stephanie Plum, One for the Money, an [issue] or two ago, and expressed surprise that I liked it as much as I did. I didn’t think it won any awards, but it was nominated for some. Evanovich’s prose and “voice” reminded me somewhat of Sparkle Hayter’s — glib, wiseass, and profane, maybe a little rougher.

   Our girl is still working as a bounty hunter for her bail bondsman cousin Vinnie, and is surviving. Barely. Then she gets handed a pickup on Kenny Mancuso, a “burg” (Stephnie’ s ethnic Trenton neighborhood) resident recently returned from the Army who shot his best friend in the leg and then skipped bail.

   Kenny happens to be the cousin of Joe Morelli, the cop with whom Stephanie has had a love/hate relationship dating back to childhood. Naturally things get complicated, and soon she and Morelli are up to their earlobes in trouble, with Stephanie’s somewhat eccentric Granny Mazur right in the middle of it all.

   I still think Evanovich has one of the most appealing and readable voices of the new crop, and I still like the character she gives the voice to. Even more than the first, though, this is a book that you need to tum off your brain to read, and just enjoy the characters and the prose.

   If you can do that, you’ve got another winner. I had a little more trouble doing it this time, either because the plot was even sillier than before, or I just wasn’t in as accepting a mood. l think maybe she needs to be read on the same basis as Kinky Friedman, really, which is to forget about plot.

   She has a great bunch of characters, though, and I really like her style. Granny Mazur is a hoot.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #22, November 1995


Bibliographic Update: #28 in the series, Game On was published earlier this year.

FUTURE SCIENCE FICTION. June 1954. Cover by Ed Emshwiller [as by Emsh].     Overall rating: 3 stars.

IRVING COX, JR. “Peace on Earth.” Novelet. Aliens bring Earth love and peace, actually a test for galactic citizenship. Length adds little (2)

SAM SACKETT “Hail to the Chief.” Short novel. A processor of political science gets a chance to put his theories into practice. Unknown to the mass of American people, a group of the intellectually elite has been secretly ruling the country, and they ask Logan to join them. But he becomes disillusioned and attempts the murder of the Chief. Quite a fascinating hypothesis, with better than average character analysis. (4)

PHILIP K. DICK “Sales Pitch.” An unwanted self-selling robot attaches itself to a man and wife. Commuter rocket travel described exactly like freeway traffic? (1)

SAM MERWIN, JR. “The Intimate Invasion.” A bathroom is the location of a bridge between parallel worlds. Invasion through romance is foiled. (2)

GORDON R. DICKSON “Rescue.” A spaceman discovers lost colony, but the inhabitants do not plan on being rescued. (4)

-October 1967

OUT OF TIME. MGM, 2003. Denzel Washington, Eva Mendes, Sanaa Lathan, Dean Cain, John Billingsley. Director: Carl Franklin.

   Of all the movies that Denzel Washington has appeared in up to now, at least one of them must have been a time travel story, or so you’d think. In any case, though, based on the title, you might also think that this is one of them. But if you did, as I did when I came across this one just as it was leaving Showtime, you’d have been wrong.

   What it is instead is a solidly constructed crime film, with Denzel Washington as Matt Whitlock,the chief of police in a small town in Florida, a town so small that almost nothing happens for him to do, a situation which he is quite willing to take advantage of, until, of course, it does. Something does most definitely happen, that is, in a way that is almost more amusing than it should be, given the scrape he finds himself in.

   His marriage to Eva Mendez, playing the county’s chief homicide detective, is  heading for to the divorce courts, Matt has been sleeping with a long time lady friend who unfortunately has a jealous husband. Not the brightest of maneuvers, but hey, things like that happen. This particular potential pitfall is combined with nearly a half million dollars of drug money stored in an evidence locker in his office, and when the match goes off, the bodies of Matt’s erstwhile girl friend and her husband are discovered in their home, destroyed in flames.

   And who might the number one suspect be? You guessed it. Without having the advantage of his position as the chief of police and thus advance notices of the turns his wife’s investigation into the murders take, he’d be locked up in jail in thirty minutes flat. Watching him scoot just ahead of the tide coming in is what makes this fast-moving movie all the more enjoyable to follow along with, just to see what happens next.



LAWRENCE BLOCK – Sometimes They Bite. Arbor House, hardcover, 1983. Paperback editions include Jove, 1984. Avon, 1992.

   I was impressed with Lawrence Block’s Eight Millions Ways to Die. His detective, Matthew Scudder, is a fully-realized and invariably interesting character, and the suspects are sharply delineated. There are, however, some weaknesses in the book: Block’s comments about modern life have all the subtlety of a steamroller, and he doesn’t bother about fair play in clueing. But on the whole, the positive aspects of Eight Millions Ways led me to expect great things of Block’s first short-story collection, Sometimes They Bite.

   My reaction was, as they say, mixed. The volume has one fine Matt Scudder tale, one good story about thief Bernie Rhodenbarr, and two cases of that exceedingly criminal lawyer, Martin Ehrengraff.

   The other stories illustrate Block’s light touch — praised by many critics but which seems to me to trivialize tragedy. Block believes that his audience will be vastly amused whenever an attractive protagonist [sic]. This is not what Anthony Boucher meant when he said, “death and laughter are old friends.” Investigating a murder can be amusing; watching your friends in pain is not.

   With the exceptions of the Scudder, Ehrengraff and Rhodenbarr tales, Sometimes They Bite has no detection, no suspense and little mystery. Each story, it’s true, has a twist, and with a little effort some of them might have become mystery or detective stories.

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


WRONG TURN. Saban Films, 2021. Charlotte Vega, Adain Bradley, Bill Sage, Emma Dumont, Dylan McTee, Daisy Head, Matthew Modine. Director: Mike P. Nelson. Currently streaming on Showtime.

   From the trailer, you’d think that this was primarily a political film about the so-called divide between the rural and urban parts of the country. But it’s not. Not in the way one might expect. If anything, Wrong Turn – a reboot of the eponymous film series that began in the early 2000s – is a surprisingly clever backwoods thriller that upends expectations at nearly every turn (pun intended).

   Matthew Modine, who older viewers will always remember as the iconic Private Joker in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987), portrays Scott Shaw, a suburban Dad in search of his daughter Jen (Charlotte Vega). She, along with her friends, have gone missing along the Appalachian Trail in western Virginia.

   Without giving too much away, let’s just say that Jen and her friends, when they strayed from the path, found themselves amongst a bizarre mountaintop cult. With echoes of The Wicker Man (1973) and the first season of True Detective, this effectively creepy horror film plays with the viewers expectations of what is about to happen and then radically subverts them. It’s a well shot film, as well. One that imposes a claustrophobic sense of doom on the proceedings.

   Unfortunately, due to the ongoing COVID pandemic, Wrong Turn   played theatrically for only one night. It deserved better. If you happen to get a chance to see it streaming, it’s worth a look. It’s not a classic in the making, but it’s certainly well above average and doesn’t overly insult the viewer’s intelligence.

   One caveat. The first fifteen minutes or so can be exceedingly tedious. This is because one gets the sense that the entire movie will be a “hipsters versus rednecks” scenario. Trust me. It’s not. It is significantly more thoughtful than that, even if the ultimate statement the movie intends to make is ultimately muddled.




THE SNORKEL. Hammer Films, 1958. Peter Van Eyck, Betta St.John, Mandy Miller, Gregoire Aslan, William Franklyn. Directed by Guy Green.

   Several years ago, Candace ‘Candy’ Brown (Mandy Miller) saw her father drown and has always believed that Paul Decker (Peter van Eyck) was responsible. Now Candy is a teenager, Decker is her stepfather, and her mother has apparently gassed herself to death in their Italian villa.

   Candy is convinced that Decker killed her too. For one thing, there was no suicide note. Both the local police inspector (Grégoire Aslan) and British Consulate Mr Wilson (William Franklyn) believe the death was self-inflicted as the door was locked and the windows were sealed. Even her friend and nanny Jean Edwards (Betta St. John) thinks Candy is delusional.

   Unbeknownst to them, Decker is indeed the murderer and let in the gas himself before escaping through a trap door and hiding beneath the floorboards, where he donned a snorkel to prevent his own death from asphyxiation.

   Candy openly accuses him of murder, but Decker presents his passport as proof that he was across the border in France and was therefore not in the country at the time of her mother’s death.

   Undeterred, Candy investigates and soon figures out that a snorkel was somehow involved. Decker, meanwhile, becomes romantically interested in Jean and slyly suggests they have Candy committed to an American asylum while they start a new life together. However, as she moves closer to the truth, Decker decides more drastic action is necessary. He has the means, after all…

   The Snorkel is a thriller from Hammer, one of several they made which now cower in the tall, distinctive shadows of Frankenstein and Dracula. These play like Hitchcock on a lower budget and several came from the pen of Jimmy Sangster, who wrote many of their most iconic films and as such remains at least partly responsible for the company’s iconic cult status across the decades.

   The story for this one was dreamed up by actor Anthony Dawson (remembered for his superb performances in Dial M for Murder, Midnight Lace, Dr No, and an episode of The Saint), and though the murder method may lack the ingenuity of other locked room mysteries, it looks less unlikely when offered up first. An explanation at the end of the film may have seemed like a slight cheat.

   While Sangster’s later Taste of Fear would imperil a paraplegic, he focuses The Snorkel on another vulnerable female in teenager Candy, played by the slightly too old child actor Mandy Miller. This gives the film a faint Nancy Drew feel, though Candy has few deductions and no clues, while most of the developments are due to coincidence and an unshakeable conviction that Decker is the murderer.

   The detective work is limited to a furtive search of a hotel room before being dropped altogether and replaced with brassy confrontations and sullen assertions, while an inspection of the villa at night is simply there to generate some spooky atmosphere and slyly set up the finale.

   German actor Peter van Eyck (best known to English-language audiences for his appearance in Richard Burton-starring The Spy Who Came in from the Cold) acquits himself well as Decker, suave and serenely disappointed at one moment and blank-eyed and sinister in the next. He looks like a cross between Derren Nesbit and Jack Cassidy, which is fitting as this is basically an episode of Columbo (in the first few minutes, as he commits the murder, you expect to see the thick, yellow credits of that ’70s classic).

   The Snorkel doesn’t, however, offer a slyly formidable opponent, and wastes William Franklyn, potentially a perfect fit, in a negligible role. Really, though, it’s not that type of thriller in the first place, and Decker isn’t caught through any mistake of his own. This is an atmospheric, psychological thriller of the ‘damsel in distress’ variety, not a detective story.

   Though low-key, it features some excellent location work on the Italian Riviera, a tense climax that also teases something ruthlessly cold-hearted, all sewn up in a brisk, undemanding 74 minutes.

Rating: ***



JAMES MITCHELL – Smear Job. David Callan #4.  (Character based on the TV series.) Hamish Hamilton, UK, hardcover, 1975. Putnam, US, hardcover, 1975. Berkley, US, paperback, 1978.

   The last of the four novels about reluctant intelligence agent David Callan — in this one dragged back out of what he had hoped was permanent retirement.

   As always the plot, concerning the location and kidnapping of an East German girl, rattles along at a gallop, the writing is taut yet imaginative, and Callan as convincing an anti-hero as you could hope to find.

   The action scenes are once again of the highest standard. and the only wonder is why Callan doesn’t command more attention than he does.

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


      The David Callan series —

A Magnum for Schneider. Jenkins, 1969. Novelization of the TV movie.
Russian Roulette. H. Hamilton, 1973.
Death and the Bright Water. H. Hamilton 1974.
Smear Job.  H. Hamilton.
Bonfire Night, 2002.

      Short story collections:

Callan Uncovered (2014) Features 25 short stories (24 were written for the Sunday Express, and 1 for the TV Times), as well as a story treatment and the full script of an unfilmed episode, “Goodbye Mary Lee”.

Callan Uncovered 2 (2015) Features 15 short stories (all were written for the Sunday Express), as well as the full script of a ‘lost’ episode, “Goodness Burns Too Bright”.

EDITORIAL UPDATE: Quoting from Wikipedia: “Callan is a British action-drama television series created by James Mitchell, first airing between 1967 and 1972. It starred Edward Woodward as David Callan, an agent of a state secret service dealing with internal security threats to the United Kingdom. Though portrayed as having responsibilities similar to those of the real-life MI5, Callan’s fictional “Section” has carte blanche to use the most ruthless of methods.

   “Produced by ABC Weekend Television and Thames Television, the programme proved extremely popular; as well as four series between 1967 and 1972, followed by a feature-length film in 1974 and a TV movie in 1981.”

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