December 2021

CONFLICT. “The Man from 1997.” ABC/Warner Brothers, 17 November 1956 (Season 1, Episode 6). 60m. Jacques Sernas, Charlie Ruggles, Gloria Talbott, James Garner, Stacy Harris. Screenplay: James Gunn, based on the story “Of Time and Third Avenue” by Alfred Bester (F&SF, October 1951). [See comment #2.] Producer: Roy Huggins. Director: Roy Del Ruth.

   Conflict was an anthology series for ABC that generally provided straight dramatic shows featuring characters in “conflict,” for lack of a better word. One of these shows, however, was something special, at least for science fiction readers: a time-travel story that covers all of the tropes of that particular subgenre rather well, particularly when you consider how poorly SF stories were generally presented on TV back in 1956.

   The story begins as a young janitor (Jacques Sernas), only two months in this country, buys several large books in a used book shop, hoping they will help him learn English. When he returns to his basement apartment is that one of them is a comprehensive almanac for the year 1997. (A book published over 40 years in the future, I hasten to add.)

   He’s no dummy. He looks up to see which horse will win a race the following day, and he asks the brother (James Garner) of the girl of his dreams (Gloria Talbott) to place a ten dollar bet on the winner for him.

   Thinking that this is throwing money away, the brother bets on the favorite instead, which animal of course loses. But all this attracts the bookie’s attention, not one of the more savory of gentlemen in the world.

   In the meantime a mysterious man dressed all in white (Charlie Ruggles) is frantically trying the locate the book, naturally afraid that in the wrong hands, the future could easily be drastically altered.

   Since the episode is available on YouTube, you can watch it yourself from here. In your own time machine, in other words, without changing the past or present one iota. This is the thrust of the story, though: how to persuade the young couple to give up their dream of making a fortune from the book and do the right thing.

   Besides being a still entertaining relic from the past, also of note is the fact that seeing James Garner in this episode led producer Roy Huggins into casting him the very next year as Maverick, and the rest, as they say, is history.


UPDATE: David Pringle reminds me that “…the James Gunn who wrote the script is *not* James Gunn the sf writer, as some people might expect to be the case.

   “J. E. Gunn the screenwriter was born in 1920 and died in 1966, whereas J. E. Gunn the sf guy was born in 1923 and died, as many of us may remember, at the age of 97 in 2020.”



ARCHER MAYOR – The Dark Root. Joe Gunther #6. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1995; paperback, 1996.

   Mayor is one of the best of the latest wave of writers, to my eye.  I thought  so from his first book, Open Season, and I thought that his last, Fruits of the Poisonous Tree, was his best to date. He’s overdue for an award in my opinion.

   An Asian family is brutalized, and won’t talk to the police. A local gangster is tortured, then killed. What began as an Asian-style “home invasion” is becoming a town invasion, and Lieutenant Joe Gunther of the Brattleboro, Vermont police finds himself immersed in a form of crime and gang warfare new to him. Other deaths follow, and Joe must join forces with much larger agencies to find the killers.

   This was in one sense and perhaps the primary one a police procedural, and a damned good one, maybe even superb. I haven’t read a more realistic-seeming description of a large-scale, multi-jurisdiction operation. It’s also a portrait of how Asian gangs operate in this country, and again, a very realistic seeming one. (I’m often amused by reviewers, myself unfortunately included, who use the stand-alone “realistic” in contexts in which they haven’t the foggiest idea of what reality consists of.)

   Where Mayor’s last book dealt heavily with Gunther and his lover’s emotions — while at the same time also being an excellent procedural — this is the story of a hunt, and the “personal” material is kept to a very proper minimum. Mayor is a fine narrative storyteller, and his pacing here is excellent. Of the male writers to appear in the last few years, I’d place him second only to Connelly, and not that far back.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #22, November 1995


HENRY CECIL – A Woman Named Anne.   Michael Joseph, UK, hardcover, 1967. Harper & Row, US, hardcover, 1967. Academy Chicago, US, trade paperback, 2005. House of Stratus, UK, softcover, 2008.

   The whole of this book revolves around a divorce case. Most of the action takes place in court and deals with the questioning of various witnesses in the case or Amberley v. Amberley. The cross examination is mainly directed (by Charles Coventry, Q.C., one of the most brilliant of his calling) at very attractive Mrs. Anne Preston, as he seeks to trap her into admitting that she did commit adultery with the defendant, Michael Amberley.

   Not much or a plot for a mystery novel, you might suppose. But you would be wrong. The dialogue alone is well worth twice the price of admission., and just when, towards the end, you think that the truth  has finally emerged., the author applies another, final, deft twist, and bowls you over.

   Quite the most enjoyable book I’ve read in months.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 3, Number 3 (May-June 1980).

STEVE FISHER “You’ll Always Remember Me.” Short story. First published in Black Mask, March 1938. Reprinted in Best American Noir of the Century, edited by James Ellroy & Otto Penzler (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010).

   When you think of “juvenile delinquents,” what probably comes to your mind first (well, it does mine) are the gangs of young hoodlums who obsessed the country everywhere in the 1950s, largely in big cities but small towns in the middle of nowhere as well.

   Well, what this this story does is to remind you that kids could be bad in earlier time periods as well, but maybe only without the accompanying gangs. The young 14-year-old narrator of “You’ll Always Remember Me” is, for example,  as bad as they come.

   It seems that the older brother of the girl that Martin Thorpe is seeing is about to be hanged for the killing of their father, and he’s run out of appeals. It won’t matter if I tell you that it won’t long for you to decide who really did it. The only question is, is he going to get away with it?

   You’d think that another mysterious, unexplained death would be enough for one story that’s only 18 pages long (in the hardcover reprint anthology), but what I found really chilling was the death of a very sick kitten. I guess it’s all in perspective. One thing’s for sure. The title is absolutely right on.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


JOHN CROWE – Bloodwater. Buena Costa County #3. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1974. No paperback edition.

   John Crowe is one of Dennis Lynds’ several pseudonyms — others include William Arden, Michael Collins, Mark Sadler — and his Buena Costa County is fictional, a synthesis of many of the places and characteristics of Lynds’ home state of California. That, however, is as far as unreality figures in these excellent novels. The characters are deeply and well drawn, the procedure is accurate, the plots are plausible and logical.

   A prominent citizen of Monteverde, one of the county’s elegant suburbs, is found dead of gunshot wounds in a seedy motel room. The gun is his own; the name he registered under is not. Detective Sergeant Harry Wood of the Monteverde Police Department has a special interest in the case, since he and the dead man, Sam Gamet, were both on the force together before Garnet climbed through the ranks of the security department to the vice-presidency of a local corporation.

   Wood’s investigation takes him into the homes of the rich and socially prominent of the area; into the offices of powerful corporation executives; and into the past of a family that is desperately attempting to conceal a secret. The satisfying solution links diverse aspects of the case, both from the past and the immediate present.

   Other titles in this series: Another Way to Die (1972), A Touch of Darkness ( 1972 ), Crooked Shadows ( 1975), When They Kill Your Wife (1977), and Close to Death (1979).

   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.

FREDERICK C. DAVIS – Deep Lay the Dead. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1942. Thriller Novel Classic #26, digest paperback, circa 1946.

   When he wrote for the hardcovers, Davis had two different sets of series characters: first, a psychology professor named Cyrus Hatch (eight books) and then the private eye team of Schyler Cole and Luke Speare (six books). The others (several dozen) were standalones (not counting those he wrote under other names). This is one of the latter.

   But before getting to Deep Lay the Dead, I should also mention that Davis was one of the more prolific of pulp writers, with his career for the detective pulps extending from 1921 all the way to 1956, publishing several hundred stories along the way. Among the series characters he came up with for the pulps were the never-to-be-forgotten Moon Man, who solved crimes wearing a fish bowl on his head (I may be exaggerating, or am I?), and Bill Brent, a newspaper reporter who’s forced to write an advice to the lovelorn column under a female alias.

   Deep Lay the Dead was his fifth hardcover mystery, and while its hero, a young math whiz named Rigby Webb might well have appeared up a second time, this seems to have been his only case. Forced under semi-duress to work for an expert in codes and ciphers in an isolated house in rural Pennsylvania, he discovers that the latter is trying to create an unbreakable code to help in the war effort; Webb’s job: see if it can be broken.

   The problem is, a courier is expected from Washington, but the house is completely snowed in. The power is out, and someone has cut the phone lines. The long-delayed agent finally makes his way in by foot, but as he is seen approaching the house, the same unknown someone shoots him with a rifle from inside. The house is filled with weekend guests. Which of them is the killer?

   Davis tells the story cleanly and smoothly, with no particular flourishes, but the tale can be read in long gulps at a time. And before writing the book, Davis obviously boned up on the basics of codes and how to break them, using info dumps of jargon used by those in the trade to make his story as authentic as possible. (It all sounded good to me.)

   The basic framework of the tale is that of a detective story, so I was a bit disappointed in the ending, which turns out to be more an action thriller than a mystery with clues, fair play and all that. There is also more than a soupçon of romance in the mix. Something for everyone, in other words, and none the worse for it. I liked this one.



CHARLES WILLIAMS – The Wrong Venus. New American Library, hardcover, 1966. Signet Signet T4158, paperback, 1970. Perennial Library, paperback, 1983. Film: Universal, 1967, as Don’t Just Stand There! (starring Mary Tyler Moore & Robert Wagner).

   Boarding a commuter from Geneva to London, Lawrence Colby, freelance fixer, is libidinally drawn to the seat next to leggy Martine Randall, a smoother operator than he.

   â€œI beg your pardon,” he said, after he had fastened his seat belt and verified his first appraisal of the legs, “but aren’t you Pamela McCarthy?”

   She smiled shyly. “Not really, I’m afraid. Pamela’s my roommate. I just borrowed her leg.”

   Slapstick hijinks ensue as hundreds of Colby’s smuggled self-winding Swiss watches, concealed in his multipocketed sweater, spontaneously self-wind via turbulence and start ticking like timebombs and tinkling their alarms.

   She helps him out of the jam, neutralizing the watch mechanisms by dipping them in a pool of crème de menthe clogged in the airplane bathroom basin.

   In exchange, he agrees to help her with a problem of her own.

   The world’s best-selling romance writer has finally had sex. Now she can’t write romance novels anymore. She thinks they’re silly.

   Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Miss Romance, her agent has embezzled her money and was counting on the big advance on the next novel to cover it up. So now he needs a ghost writer to write it.

   He’s hired a retired 30’s hardboiled pulpster, who’s completed the manuscript. But the sex writing is too terse for the romance spinster set. So a second ghostwriter has come in to fix it. A blonde bombshell PR pro who has disappears right before she finishes the edits.

   Bringing back the bombshell ain’t easy, as she’s kidnapped, chased by the mob, and is constitutionally anarchic, nonchalant, and impossible to control.

   â€œWhat was the last thing you did worry about? Whether you’d be a forceps delivery?”

   â€œColby, doll, you’re on this ledge, on this bank and shoal of time. You reach your hand around a corner, and there’s a little bird that puts a new day in it. You use it up, throw the rind back over your shoulder, and stick your hand around again. He puts another day in it, or he craps in it and you’re on your way to the showers. Who worries?”

   The novel approaches postmodern territory when Charles Williams lay bare the writing process whereby the hardboiled manuscript is massaged into Harlequin romance before the reader’s very eyes.

   Very entertaining caper novel. Has anyone seen the movie?


ROBERT LESLIE BELLEM “Diamonds of Death.” Dan Turner #2. Published in Spicy Detective Stories, July 1934. Reprinted in Hollywood Detective, August 1950, and in The Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg (Carrol & Graf, 1988).

   I think that the best way to review a Dan Turner story may also be the easiest. It could even reflect the only reason for anyone to read a Dan Turner story. Simply quote passages from the story, taken here and there at random. Like this:

   Mitzi was a gorgeous taffy-haired morsel, dainty as a Dresden doll in a combed wool ensemble. It was about ten-thirty at night when she ankled into my apartment, making with the moans regarding an alleged fortune in sparklers which she said had been glommed from her dressing bungalow on the Supertone lot. Now, as I slipped her the brush-off, her blue glims puddled with brine.


   I fastened the speculative focus on her; wondering if she was leveling or feeding me a line of waffle batter.


   The defunct ginzo lay sprawled behind a big wheel-of-fortune on the far side of the set, where you wouldn’t notice him unless he was pointed out to you. … [He’d] been handsome until some sharp disciple carved in his cranium with a blunt instrument. Now his scalp was messy with shattered bones and coagulated gravy, and he was deader than canceled postage.


   Max took a wild swing at the wren’s rod. Maybe she actually hadn’t meant to discharge it, but the impact of Murphy’s mitt made her trigger finger jerk. Ka-Chow! and a tongue of flame licked at the prop man, a bright orange flash of fire that streaked across the set and stabbed him in the thigh. He staggered and went down in a writhing heap.


   Maybe he wasn’t planning to paste a haymaker on my dimple; I couldn’t tell. But I remembered the last dose of knuckle tonic he’d doled me; my bridgework still ached from it, all the way to the shoestrings. On a lug like Max you couldn’t afford to take chances.

   Me again. I submit to you that prose like this is the work of genius.



OPERATION DIPLOMAT. Nettlefold Films, UK, 1953. Guy Rolfe, Lisa Daniely, Patricia Dainton, Sydney Tafler, Ballard Berkeley. Story by Francis Durbridge. Director: John Guillermin.

   Surgeon Mark Fenton (Guy Rolfe) is leaving St. Matthew’s Hospital in London one evening when an ambulance pulls up and a nurse jumps out. Urgently, she tells him that there is a patient on board who needs his help, yet when he steps inside there is only an armed man (Sydney Tafler).

   Fenton is escorted to a secluded house where he is instructed to operate on an unknown male with the assistance of a disgraced doctor named Schröder (Anton Diffring) and a woman (Lisa Daniely) whose dark eyes peek bewitchingly over a surgical mask. The patient is half-conscious at first and mutters deliriously about a “golden valley”.  Afterwards, Fenton’s drink is spiked and he later awakes on a park bench.

   Determined to forget the incident, he returns to the hospital, where he encounters a woman with the same distinct eyes as the one who worked alongside him the night before. He demands she visit him at his flat that evening – yet she doesn’t turn up. Instead, within minutes of arriving home, he receives two other, separate visitors: Colonel Wyman of the Foreign Office (Eric Berry), who asks about Schröder, and then Schröder himself.

   Apparently, the patient was Sir Oliver Peters, the chairman of the United Western Defence Committee, known as “the man who knows all the secrets”. A bullet makes things even more alarming, yet Inspector Austin of Scotland Yard (Ballard Berkeley) is suspicious of Fenton and his tale of abduction, death, and disappearing diplomats, forcing the surgeon to mount his own investigation.

   The only clues are “the golden valley” and a brand of cigarettes which repeatedly appear, yet with the aid of colleague Sister Rogers (Patricia Dainton), Fenton follows a treacherous trail to the kidnapped Sir Oliver, all the while wondering just who could be behind such a sinister, international scheme…

   One of several British television serials of the 1950s to be remade as a feature, Operation Diplomat was originally penned by Francis Durbridge, the popular and prolific thriller writer best known for the Paul Temple radio series. The character of Mark Fenton had already appeared in another such effort, The Broken Horseshoe, in which Robert Beatty had played the part for cinemas.

   Here, the tall, tanned and almost skeletally gaunt Guy Rolfe leads, and he makes for a likeable, though somewhat saturnine, amateur sleuth trying desperately to keep track of events. The audience will sympathise, as the mystery in this one is particularly tangled. A couple of things could have been clarified, but all the information is mostly present (or at least can be intuited).

   The pace is the selling point, with compelling developments occurring every ten minutes or so, as may be expected from something adapted from a serial – particularly one from Durbridge, whose tried-and-tested tropes appear again in an every-man hero, a cryptic word clue, casual and quite accidental conversations which turn out to be crucial, and a culprit apparently picked at random from an unwieldy stock of suspects.

   The seventy minutes not only go by swiftly but the cast make it even better. Berkeley, later to become familiar to British audiences as the muddle-minded Major in John Cleese’s legendary sitcom Fawlty Towers, is on fine avuncular form as the inspector, while the ever-reliable Sydney Tafler is always a pleasure to see, and professional-foreigner Anton Diffring is briefly afforded something other than a sinister bad guy role. Look out, too, for Desmond Llewelyn (Q in the Bond films) as a silent extra at the end.

   Despite final dialogue teasing further adventures with the intrepid Mr Fenton, there was to be no other sequel. Durbridge wouldn’t create another recurring character until giving us TV’s Tim Frazer the following decade. A pity, as more fast-paced adventures would have been just what the doctor ordered.

Rating: ****











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