October 2021

PLANET STORIES November 1952. Editor: Jack O’Sullivan. Cover artist: Allan Anderson. Overall rating: One star.

CONAN T. TROY “The Conjurer of Venus.” Novelette. The means for space flight to the stars is gained in the Dream Room of a Venusian tavern. Mysterious happenings precede the Dreamer’s noble gesture. (1)

JACK BRADLEY “The Rhizoid Kill.” A man’s greed for rare Mercurian gems leads to his death. (1)

HAYDEN HOWARD “The Luminous Blonde.” Woman outsmarts husband during space-flight. (0)

PAUL A. PAYNE “As It Was.” Novelette. An interplanetary hunter destroys an intelligent [alien] killer and saves a girl from her shipwrecked isolation. Adventure, rather the implication of intelligence, is the main theme. (1)

S. A. LOMBINO “A Planet Named Joe.” All Venusians are named Joe. (0)

D. ALLEN MORISSEY “Captain Chaos.” A space ship with a crew of four men and a woman reaches a new planet. Scientific facts are garbled at times. (1)

LEIGH BRACKETT “Shannach–the Last.” Novel. A prospector on Mercury discovers a colony from Earth dominated by the last survivor of the original inhabitants of the planet. A bit more characterization [than in the rest of the magazine], including that of the aliens. Too bad the story takes place on Mercury, of all places. (2)

-October 1967

FINGER OF GUILT. RKO Radio Pictures, 1956.  Initially released in the UK as The Intimate Stranger (Anglo-Amalgamated Films, 1956). Richard Basehart, Mary Murphy, Constance, Roger Livesey, Faith Brook, Mervyn Johns. Screenplay was written by Howard Koch as by Peter Howard. Directed by Joseph Losey, under the pseudonym Alec C. Snowden. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

   To me, Richard Basehart is one of those actors who always turned in a picture perfect performance, but who never became a huge box office motion picture star. Finger of Guilt is just another picture in which he totally absorbs himself into the part he’s playing. (I think that Tension, 1949, in which he plays a meek pharmacist who gets heavily into woman trouble, is one of his best.)

   In Finger of Guilt, another noirish film of some note, he plays an American producer who because of his past has been forced to movie to England to ply his trade, a job he loves. (He is said to have fled after being caught in a dalliance with his boss’s wife.) In the UK he’s married the daughter of the head of the studio he’s working for. Pure love, he says.

   Trouble arises with a series of letters from a girl who claims the two of them had an affair together while he had a brief sojourn between Hollywood and London. Problem is, he doesn’t remember the girl, and since blackmail doesn’t seem to be her goal, he has no idea what she wants from him. Convinced that she she is pulling some kind of fraud on him, he even confides in both his wife and father-in-law.

   So convinced, he even takes his wife up country to meet her. His next problem is that the girl (Mary Murphy) is totally convincing: names, dates, even a signed photo of him. Could he be leading a double life without knowing about it? If he has doubts, even more so does his wife.

   I leave to you to watch this to see how (or if) he works himself out of this dilemma.

   I began this review talking about Richard Basehart, who’s in the movie from beginning to end. Mary Murphy, best known for her role as the girl who redeems Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953), was the one who caught my eye the most, even though she has far less screen time than Basehart does. Her sprightly and somehow innocent acting performance here (both without and within the film) will catch yours too. I guarantee it.

   Only a cliché-ridden shootout at the end spoils this one a bit. Before then, it’s a prime example of a film noir that shows you that you don’t need murders and dead bodies to make a film noir.



FREDRIC BROWN – One for the Road.  Dutton, hardcover, 1958.  Bantam #1990, paperback, 1959. (Cover art by Barye Phillips.) A condensed version appeared earlier in The Saint Detective Magazine, February 1958, as “The Army Waggoner Murder.”

   Brown at his simple best, a short, evocative and well-paced mystery about murder in a small town and its effect on the local citizens.

   When I picked this off my shelf I didn’t remember reading it, but details of the background material (Very well evoked, by the way; Brown reconstructs the kind of crossroads-town that is no more, and makes it live again on the page.) struck a chord, so I assume I must have read it back when I was drunk, and only scraps and remnants adhered to the subconscious.

   The basic plot of a local hoyden murdered in a cheap motel, and subsequent investigation by the reporter on the weekly paper was all new to me, and it’s quite well handled: the local cops are portrayed as men of limited resources, not buffoons, the reporter is smart but not a Gifted Amateur, and the bit parts are all developed with Brown’s customary skill.

   I did, however, figure out who the killer was, and I don’t think it was because I remembered it from my previous life. Brown tips his hand late in the book, just a few pages from the end, in a scene where the reporter and another character are discussing the case, all alone, and suddenly the other character pulls a gun on him and tells him not to move.

   Now when you’ve read as many mysteries as I have, you just know a person like this will be revealed later on as the killer, and sure enough he was — in the very next paragraph. Can I pick’em or what?

   Despite this lapse though, Road offers the kind of top-notch, unforced, un-padded writing you don’t see much anymore, and reading it was a real pleasure.

   Everyone talks about apathy, but no one does anything about it.


(Give Me That) OLD-TIME DETECTION. Summer 2021. Issue #57. Editor: Arthur Vidro. Old-Time Detection Special Interest Group of American Mensa, Ltd. 36 pages (including covers). Cover image: Dust jacket of The Bellamy Trial (1927).

   With this issue of Old-Time Detection we get some fine essays on detective fiction’s Golden Age, as well as book reviews, and a piece of fiction that subverts your expectations long before that became a thing.

   Martin Edwards kicks things off with his assessment of why there’s been a renewed interest in old-time mysteries with his essay, “The Golden Age Detective Fiction Renaissance”; you’ll either be confirmed in your opinions or surprised at his conclusions.

   Michael Dirda adds his voice to Edwards’s in a piece which explains his reasoning as to why our favorite field of literature is, despite dire predictions of its demise to the contrary, still quite popular with the reading public; the title tells all: “Mysteries Provide Escapism.” To support his thesis, Dirda takes us for an interesting side trip into Japanese honkaku fiction.

   Charles Shibuk’s “Paperback Revolution” installment covers soft cover reprints from the early ’70s of not only such detective fiction stalwarts as Chandler, Christie, Gruber, Kendrick, MacDonald, Marsh, EQ, and Sayers, but also less prolific practitioner Ed Lacy, as well as thriller writer and Hollywood fave Walter Wager, who, in contrast, seemed at the time to be a ubiquitous fixture on spinner racks throughout the nation.

   Then comes Jack Ritchie’s ingenious story, “The Absence of Emily” (1981), which shows us how to commit murder for fun and profit — but especially profit.

   Next is Jon L. Breen’s account (“The Mystery of Craig Rice”) of the sad life and times of screwball mystery writer Craig Rice, who was already on a one-way decline due to drug abuse almost at the same moment her popularity was peaking.

   A companion piece to Breen’s is Arthur Vidro’s “Stu Palmer’s and Craig Rice’s Withers/Malone Team-Ups,” nicely detailing the six stories that appeared in EQMM (1950, 1951, 1954, 1955, 1959, and 1963). Vidro shows how from correspondence between Palmer and Fred Dannay you can only conclude that Palmer did most of the heavy lifting, turning out stories with only minimal input at best from Rice.

   Edward D. Hoch next explains why, if you ever win an MWA award, it’s good advice to “Never Wash an Edgar.”

   Book reviews abound: Charles Shibuk on Raymond Goldman’s The Murder of Harvey Blake (1931), Douglas G. Greene about John Dickson Carr’s The Problem of the Wire Cage (1939), Harv Tudorri on Erle Stanley Gardner’s The D.A. Calls It Murder (1937), Ruth Ordivar about Agatha Christie’s N or M? (1941), Kathleen Riley on Ngaio Marsh’s Final Curtain (1947), and Arthur Vidro about one of the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstones, Frances Noyes Hart’s The Bellamy Trial (1927), a largely forgotten classic.

   Finally come readers’ reactions and a mystery puzzle that truly is a challenge to the reader.

   You can find a review of the previous issue of OTD here.

   If you’d like to subscribe to Old-Time Detection:

Published three times a year: spring, summer, and autumn. – Sample copy: $6.00 in U.S.; $10.00 anywhere else. – One-year U.S.: $18.00 ($15.00 for Mensans). – One-year overseas: $40.00 (or 25 pounds sterling or 30 euros). – Payment: Checks payable to Arthur Vidro, or cash from any nation, or U.S. postage stamps or PayPal. – Mailing address: Arthur Vidro, editor, Old-Time Detection, 2 Ellery Street, Claremont, New Hampshire 03743.

Web address: vidro@myfairpoint.net

Reviewed by Walker Martin:


ED HULSE – The Art of Pulp Fiction. IDW Publishing, hardcover, September 2021.

   As I was reading this excellent illustrated history of vintage paperbacks, it slowly dawned on me that I have actually been collecting paperbacks longer than digest or pulp magazines! This is amazing to me because I’ve been at the fiction magazine game for 65 years, which is a long time to be collecting pulps and digests (I started in February 1956 with Galaxy).

   But I started buying paperbacks off the stands even earlier, in 1954. I still remember being absolutely stunned and falling in love with the risque and sexy covers by James Avati. The Signet paperback covers for the Erskine Caldwell novels grabbed hold of me and made me a book collector for life. How many times did the owner of Hoscheck’s Deli ask me “Hey are you going to buy that book?” as I gazed stricken at the James Avati girls. I was only 12 and back then the covers and novels were not considered suitable reading for a young boy.

   Now of course such covers are routine, but James Avati got me off and running on a lifetime of paperback collecting and I’m still at it. Over the years, many collectors wondered which is the best book on the paperbacks? Prior to 2001 there were several books that were interesting but it was hard to pick one out as the most comprehensive. Then in 2001 The Great American Paperback by Richard A. Lupoff was published and for 20 years it has been the best illustrated history of vintage paperbacks.

   Now in 2021 we have Ed Hulse’s book The Art of Pulp Fiction, and in my opinion it is now the best illustrated history of vintage paperbacks. True the Lupoff book is a bigger book at 320 pages and 600 cover photos. Plus it also rates the 600 paperbacks as to collectibility based on a rating scale ranging from one to five book icons. The higher the number of book icons, the more collectible the item.

   But 20 years is a long time and in my opinion we needed a new updated illustrated history, and I think The Art of Pulp Fiction is that book. One big disadvantage of the Lupoff book is that the essays and the paperback captions are on yellow, blue, or red paper. It was annoying and difficult to read 20 years ago and it is even more annoying now that my eyesight is 20 years older and aging. Ed Hulse’s book is mainly on white or black paper but even the white print on black background is a lot better than yellow, blue, or red paper.

   Ed and I have talked about the title of the book. Four years ago in 2017 The Art of the Pulps was published and I think some readers will assume that The Art of Pulp Fiction is a reprint of the earlier book and that they have it already. But they are in fact two different books. The 2017 book is an illustrated history of pulp magazines and this 2021 book is an illustrated history of vintage paperbacks. I’m sure Ed did not want this title, but I think the publisher insisted on it and only agreed to put a small sub title on the cover saying “An illustrated history of vintage paperbacks.”

   What exactly is in The Art of Pulp Fiction? The book is 10 by 11 inches, 240 pages, 450 cover photos, and essays on the different genres. It also has short essays by Gary Lovisi (paperback collector and publisher of The Paperback Parade), Will Murray (author and expert on hero pulps), and David Saunders (artist and expert on original pulp art). Each cover photo has an approximately 50 word discussion of the cover. Every cover is large enough to see the details with no thumbsize, small covers. There also are several photos of original paperback cover art from the collections of art collectors.

   One mistake I think the publisher made was to have the front and back cover edges look worn and ragged. The first impression is that the copy of the book is sort of beat up and perhaps defective. But it’s not, and in fact is quite a good looking book overall. Ed not only discusses many of the influential paperbacks but he also discusses the artists and the publishers.

   Many collectors contributed to this book by lending paperbacks to Ed. Also he visited several art collectors. His visit to my house can serve as an example of his methods in borrowing so many books. One afternoon several months ago, he visited me and we went through the rooms discussing and looking at my paperback collection. We started on the second floor in the room that my wife and kids call “The Paperback Room”. The entire room is devoted to detective and mystery paperbacks including what may be a complete set of the hundreds of Dell mapbacks. Also in the room is some original cover art and several paperback racks which took me decades to find. These wooden racks were made to hold paperbacks for sale and were usually destroyed or lost over the years.

   We then went to my basement where we looked and talked about my science fiction, western, and mainstream paperbacks. Ed ended up borrowing two boxes full of paperbacks, perhaps 75 to 100, of which close to 50 may have been used in the book. By the way, I noticed one paperback lacked the 50 words of comment. If there is a reprint or revised edition in the future. page 116 needs comments for Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave.

   This book gets my highest recommendation and can be obtained from Ed’s Murania Press website or from amazon.com. Price is $50.00 and worth every penny. If you read, collect, or just like paperbacks, this is a must buy.




THE BLACK RAVEN. PRC, 1943. George Zucco, Wanda McKay, Noel Madison, Robert Livingston, Byron Foulger, Charles Middleton, I. Stanford Jolley, and Glenn Strange. Written by Frank Myton. Directed by Sam Newfield.

   If the B-movies from Universal were Subversive and (as some have suggested) those from Warner Brothers were Proletarian, then the political orientation of PRC was Anarchy. The plots of PRC movies don’t so much develop as simply happen; events seem to start and stop almost at random, giving these poverty-row quickies an eerie, life-like quality that always eluded the better-written films of the big studios.

   Take the case of The Black Raven, which was advertised as a Horror movie, starts out as a Gangster film, turns into Grand Hotel, then somehow metamorphoses into a whodunit that meanders about aimlessly until the mystery is abruptly solved by the Villain of the Piece.

   The above is as coherent a summary of the plot as I can manage, and really more than the thing deserves. The story of nine characters thrown together on a stormy night, where two are killed, two set free, one arrested and one simply disappears (I think the writer forgot about him) is at one and the same time too complex and too simplistic for further explication.

   What impressed me about the tale was the obvious contrivance of putting so many bozos together (six of them have a motive for murdering the seventh) followed by the complete aimlessness of all their subsequent actions, as if it took all of writer Frank Myton’s energy just to set the thing up, and he pretty much left the actors on their own after that.

   Fortunately for the sake of High Art, the thespians in The Black Raven are an all-star lot for a B-Movie, including George Zucco, who usually managed to rise above his material (which usually wasn’t saying much), Byron Foulger, Noel Madison, I. Stanford Jolly, Charles (Ming the Merciless) Middleton — here billed as “Charlie” Middleton, playing a hick sheriff — and Glenn Strange, providing what was apparently meant to be comedy relief.

   All of them can be seen working their little hearts out, trying to lift their parts into the realm of the not-laughable. And if they don’t quite succeed, well, it’s still fun watching them try.

   They are hindered more than a little, these thespians by the apparently complete incompetence of the craftsmen around them. Myton seems to have been unable to avoid (or write around) minor details, and hence we suffer through interminable perfunctory scenes of characters deciding which rooms to take, George Zucco deciding how to dress, various criminals trying to decide who stole what, and “Charlie” Middleton trying to decide whom to arrest next. And Director Newfield, who should have known better, went ahead and milked each of these leaden scenes for its maximum deadweight.

   Thus, we are treated to three separate scenes of handyman Glenn Strange parking the guests’ cars: In fact, this being a cheapo PRC flick, one of the prop cars is slow to start, and we get to watch its headlights flicker as Strange turns the starter on and off and on and off and on and….

   So why watch this, much less write about it? Well, for one thing, it’s enjoyable having George Zucco playing a Good Guy for a change, gathering clues, dispensing advice to troubled young lovers, and even wrestling baddies and engaging in a shoot-out. Zucco himself seemed to be having fun with all this, and in several scenes he is seen smiling for no apparent reason. True, it’s rather incongruous to hear his cultured, well-modulated voice uttering lines like, “With your imagination, you could probably see the Statue of Liberty dance the Conga!” but the overall effect is charming.

   Then too, once you’ve seen it, it’s hard to forget Glenn (Frankenstein’s Monster and Sam, the Bartender on Gunsmoke) Strange doing outrageous double takes and falling up and down stairways — for such is the level of comedy here.

   In all, it’s not a movie I’d recommend, but if you’re in the right frame of mind and care at all about B-movie actors, The Black Raven can be a lot of fun.




MAN AT LARGE. 20th Century Fox, 941.  Marjorie Weaver, George Reeves, Richard Derr, Steve Geray, Milton Parsons, Elisha Cook Jr., Richard Lane, George Cleveland, Kurt Katch. Screenplay: John Larkin. Directed by Eugene Forde.

   Who are the Twelve Whistling Men?

   That’s the question in this spy comedy released just before America’s entrance into the Second World War as wanna be newspaper photographer Dallas Dayle (Marjorie Weaver) gets her shot at a real job on a New York newspaper when she’s assigned by editor Richard Lane to cover the story of a German Ace who escaped from a Canadian internment camp and is expected to cross over into the United States on his way to Canada.

   Complicating things is rival reporter Bob Grayson (George Reeves) who she thinks murdered German fifth columnist Hans Brinker (Kurt Katch) in the newspaper reception room. We know he was killed by a sinister man with a silenced gun (Milton Parsons), but when Grayson shows up at the same motel on the border as Dallas and the killer, then meets with the escaped German flyer (Richard Derr), it starts to look more than a little suspicious, especially when another German agent at the motel (Spenser Charters) who meets with the killer is murdered like Brinker. Grayson and Dallas are arrested for it by Sheriff George Cleveland while Grayson tries to steal the camera Dallas snapped a photo of the German flyer with.

   Just what are the Twelve Whistling Men the dying Brinker whispered about, and what do they have to do with the passage from “Peter and the Wolf” everyone seems to be whistling, and a pulp story that is uncannily close to exactly how the German flyer escaped in the first place and seems to be popping up everywhere? And what does that have to do with convoys carrying supplies to England being sunk?

   Following the style, and a bit more (Grayson and Dallas get handcuffed together at one point) of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, Man at Large doesn’t move, it positively gallops hardly giving the viewer a chance to breathe from the opening escape in the dark to the final clench.

   Little surprise that. Screenwriter John Larkin was one of the brightest lights of the B film of the period, penning and directing Quiet Please, Murder! an early film noir about a stolen Shakespeare Folio, murder, Nazi art collectors, and a masochistic thief. With the capable Eugene Forde directing this little gem fires brightly from Weaver’s screwball Dallas, Reeves fast talking mystery man, and a fine assortment of German agents.

   Back in New York Dallas tracks down the pulp author who proves to be wealthy Karl Botany (Steve Geray), a suave blind man whose recently hired secretary is none other than one Mr. Sartoris (Milton Parsons).

   Up to this point things haven’t been moving slowly, but now the kick into overdrive with Grayson and the German flyer tying Dallas up as they go to meet a contact, Dallas escaping with help from hotel clerk Elisha Cook Jr., the real Nazis revealed, much more confusion on Dallas part, more dead bodies, Grayson and Dallas doing a mind reading act in a run down girly show theater, and no one, including the viewer, quite sure who anyone is until the final confrontation.

   The plot, almost more than this B film can bear, manages to hold up well enough to keep you entertained without asking too many questions, and most of the ones you might ask are covered by the various reveals without bothering to explain them to the viewer.

   No one takes a long enough breather for that. Anything not covered by the breathless plot really doesn’t seem worth worrying about anyway.

   I’ve been looking for this one for years and only recently found it. Happily it is no disappointment. It’s fast, fun, attractively acted, and the polish of the B department of Fox in the period shows despite its lowly origins.

   This might have fared well as an A with a better known cast, it’s that good.

   The print I saw is flawed, and I really have no idea if a better one exists, but this is a small delight. Just buckle in and enjoy.




CLAYTON RAWSON – The Great Merlini: The Complete Short Stories of the Magician Detective. Gregg Press, hardcover, 1979. Introduction by Eleanor Sullivan. Also currently available as a Kindle edition.

   For those of us who have Clayton Rawson’s Merlini novels but who lack most of the early issues of EQMM, the knowledge that there are Merlini short stories has been tantalizing — and, over the past decade, frustrating. Around 1970, Frederic Dannay considered collecting the stories in his “Ellery Queen Presents” series; and a few years later, the Aspen Press told several of us that it planned to publish such a volume. Nothing came of these plans until Otto Penzlet and Gregg Press produced this handsome volume.

   The book is well worth the wait. But to begin negatively, several of the Merlini stories were written as EQMM contests, and these can hardly be called ingenious; indeed, the stories make me wonder how Queen was able to determine the winner from the many (I assume) correcr answers.

   Much better are the longer tales. “From Another World” is probably, the beat, short story/novelette (except for the works of Carr) ever written about an impossible crime. “Off the Face of the Earth” is the most satisfactory explanation of one of the most difficult of miracle problems — how someone can disappear from a telephone booth under constant observation. “Miracles — All in a Day’s Work” and “Nothing Is Impossible” are almost as good, though I suspect that Rawson would have altered their titles for book publication.

   In short, these four stories alone make it worth scraping up almost ten bucks for tl1e book. As Eleanor Sullivan says in the introduction (slightly misquoting Dannay) this is certainly a Queen’s Quorum book.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 3, Number 4 (July-August 1980).
Reviews by L. J. Roberts


ANNE PERRY – Death with a Double Edge. Daniel Pitt #4. Ballantine, hardcover, April 2021. Setting: Georgian England, 1911.

First Sentence: Daniel was worried.

   Jonah Drake, a senior lawyer with fford Croft and Gibson, has been murdered, his body found with Daniel Pitt’s card in the pocket of his jacket. Almost more important to the law firm than who killed Drake, is learning whether the murder was personal, or involved the legal chambers. Looking into his past cases, which were mostly financial,  but which also involved two murder cases, Daniel and colleagues are concerned about possible wrongdoing on Drake’s part, and whether Marcus fford Croft, the firm’s founder, was involved.

   The book starts off very well with Perry adroitly setting scenes that convey the transformation from the Victorian era to the Georgian period, and with the thoughts and anxiety Daniel feels traveling to the morgue. The dialogue is audible; one not only hears the words but the intonation and emotion. Perry wraps one inside Daniel, allowing one to know his thoughts.

   Unfortunately, that becomes the book’s downfall as we spend too much time with Daniel thinking and not doing. It is the protagonist making decisions and acting on them that creates a compelling read. The constant dithering of Daniel, and later even his father, Thomas Pitt, becomes repetitive and, frankly, boring.

   It was nice to have Daniel’s parents, Thomas and Charlotte, involved. Kitteridge, a colleague in the firm, is a good secondary character, but fford Croft is ill-used, and Roman Blackwell and his mother, the two most fascinating characters, were seriously underutilized, which made no sense as they were the ones with the skill and contacts to have done the on-the-street investigation.

   There are huge leaps and assumptions made with no substantiation. At the point of danger and suspense, Perry backs off since one knows the threat isn’t dire and won’t be acted upon. The situation makes no logical sense, and the character behind it could not possibly have thought the threat would work. Even so, once again, the characters sit and dither rather than act. Worst of all, the ending is abrupt making it completely unsatisfactory.

    Death with a Double Edge  is not the best representation of Ms. Perry’s fine writing. As has been noticed for other authors, this may have been a case of trying to write during a period when no one’s focus or attention was quite up to par. One must hope that the next book will be up to Perry’s usual standard.

Rating: Poor

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