December 2021

FREDERICK NEBEL “Hell’s Pay Check.” Cardigan. Novelette. Published in Dime Detective Magazine, December 1931. Reprinted in Hard-Boiled Detectives, edited by Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz and Martin H. Greenberg (Gramercy, 1992). Collected in The Complete Casebook of Cardigan. Volume 1: 1931-1932. Altus Press, February 2012).

   From the second paragraph in this story, we learn that Cardigan is “a big, shaggy-headed man with a burry outdoor look,” getting off a train wearing “a wrinkled topcoat” and “a faded fedora that had seen better days.” He’s in Indianapolis on a case, but his home office, that of the Cosmos Detective Agency, is in New York. He comes with a reputation that the local cops are aware of, but it also helps to be working with an agency that has some clout. Local cops are not at all leery about pushing around independent operators.

   His job in “Hell’s Pay Check” is to help the mayor retrieve a check that he paid to a “notorious woman” on behalf of his son, a check that she didn’t cash at a bank; she seems to have gotten paid by another party who has kept the check. If it gets into the wrong hands, the mayor’s career is over.

   The story begins with a bang, and never stops moving. He’s picked up at the railroad station, but when he gets into the mayor’s car, he quickly realizes that the chauffeur is a phoney. A subsequent car chase through the back streets of the city leaves the driver dead, shot to death by his fellow gang members, who think he has turned on them.

   If you’re looking for a hard-boiled detective at work, you need not go much farther than any of Cardigan’s cases, and this is a prime example. He has a nose for trouble, and likewise trouble is never very far behind him. Nebel’s prose has a ferocity and drive to it that simply can’t be matched. Luckily for us,  all of his cases have now been published in total by Altus Press (now Steeger Books) in four thick handsome volumes.


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Susan Dunlap


AMANDA CROSS – In the Last Analysis. Macmillan, hardcover, 1964. Avon, paperback, 1966. Fawcett, paperback, 2001.

   Amanda Cross is a pseudonym of Carolyn Heilbrun, a professor of English at Columbia University, and the play on words in the title of this novel is just what a reader might expect from one in that academic field. In the Last Analysis refers both to the analysis of a murder and to the fact that the murder was committed on a psychiatrist’s couch.

   Cross’s heroine, Kate Fansler, is also an English professor, and these popular books have fostered an interest in what might be considered a subgenre: the academic mystery. Words are indeed important to the characters in the Fansler books:

   They consider their words; they choose them with care; they admire the skill of other speakers; they are witty; they toss in quotations from a variety of authors. Not only Kate but other characters have a quoting familiarity with literature, and these quotes and their sources can be clues. For anyone who enjoys literature and finds pleasure in the exquisite tum of phrase, the Fansler series is a treat.

   Kate Fansler is described as a young woman, but she has the assurance of a more mature individual. She is the only daughter of an old New York family, in which her much older brothers did the “respectable” thing and went into business while Kate — black-sheepishly  — opted for academia. In an even more rebellious manner, Kate has also opted for solving murders.

   In In the Last Analysis, Kate refers a young woman student to psychoanalyst Emanuel Bauer, who was once Kate’s lover before his marriage. The student is killed — on Bauer’s couch, in his soundproof consultation room. As the doctor’s office is in his home, not only he but also his family are suspect. As — for various reasons — is Kate.

   Her investigation includes forays into the private lives of the Bauer and Fansler families (members of the latter seem to be surrounded by a lot of heavy mahogany furniture), as wen as less upstanding members of the academic establishment.

   Kate’s investigation — and its tidy solution — is on a par with the others in this extremely literate series, which includes The James Joyce Murder (1967), Poetic Justice ( 1970), and The Question of Max (1976).

   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.

THE MEN FROM SHILOH. “The West vs. Colonel MacKenzie.” NBC, 16 September 1970. (Season 9, Episode 1, of The Virginian). Stewart Granger (Colonel Alan MacKenzie), Doug McClure (Trampas), James Drury (The Virginian), Lee Majors (screen credit only). Guest Cast: Elizabeth Ashley, Martha Hyer, Don DeFore, John Larch. Directors: Murray Golden & Jerry Hopper. Currently streaming on the Starz channel.

   When the TV series The Virginian began its ninth series, some changes were made, starting with the title. The new owner of the Shiloh ranch also showed up: Alan MacKenzie (Stewart Granger), a British army colonel, along with his former aide-de-camp, now a combination valet and butler. As the new owner, the intent was to give the show a new perspective, that of someone unfamiliar to the West, someone who must learn its new ways and how things are done. On the job training!

   When he arrives, both Trampas and the Virginian are ready to step aside, but by the end of this first episode, they have agreed to stay. Roy Tate, a new regular to be played by Lee Majors, does not yet appear.

   Col. MacKenzie does not have long to wait to get his first crisis under his belt, that of the hanging of a suspected rustler by a gang of vigilantes. His sister claims he was innocent, and MacKenzie is inclined to agree with her. This simple act puts him in direct opposition to the sheriff and the local Cattleman’s Association. Nothing like getting off on the wrong foot with the people in power in the country you’ve just moved into.

   Given the 90-minute format the series always had, there’s plenty of time to flesh out the story without feeling that there was padding to waste, at least this time around. While I found nothing amiss in having an Englishman in charge of the ranch, I did find Col. MacKenzie a little too kind and good to be true. But kindness and goodness sometimes win out, and not very surprisingly, they certainly do here.




HELEN McCLOY – Through a Glass, Darkly. Basil Willing #8. Random House, hardcover, 1950. Dell #519, paperback, mapback edition, [1951]. Dell, paperback, date?

   This is  the eighth novel featuring psychiatrist-detective Dr. Basil Willing, recently returned from Japan after completing his military service. Willing is alerted by his soon-to-be fiancée and wife Gisela von Hohenems to the strange happenings surrounding Faustina Crayle at Brereton, a school for girls where they are both teachers — Gisela in German and Faustina in Art.

   It would appear that Faustina has been seen bilocating more than once. When she is finally released from her teaching contract, Willing decides to investigate these “supernatural” appearances which he is convinced have. their roots in reality.

   He soon learns that Faustina had been discharged from her first teaching position for the same reason. Further probing suggests that it  is  not just Faustina’s reputation that someone is out to destroy, and there are two deaths  before a final confrontation.

   This is probably the best use of the Doppelganger theme since Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Image in the Mirror. The title taken from Cor1nthians is very cleverly used here, but its significance does not become clear until the denouement.

   The novel is an expansion of Miss McCloy’s 1948 short story of the same name which appeared in the September issue of EQMM.

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


MARCO PAGE – Fast Company. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1938. Pocket Books #222, paperback, 1943. Film: MGM, 1938, with Melvyn Douglas & Florence Rice as Joel & Garda Sloane.

   Dealers in rare books and manuscripts can be as crooked as anyone else; that’s the lesson Marco Page teaches. Joel Glass, book dealer himself, turns detective to find the murderer of a dealer who is as nasty a piece of work as anyone I’ve known killed off lately in books.

   A young man who recently got out of prison after serving a term for stealing some outstanding rarities from the dead man is the obvious suspect. He knows that he was framed. And Mr. Glass is sure that he was.

   The books have disappeared. Glass thinks the dead dealer had them stashed away some place. Since there are other possible murderers with a variety of motives, there is plenty of action. The solution is satisfying, but I’d hate to think that any of the book dealers I know are at all like the ones in this book.

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

CARROLL JOHN DALY “Not My Corpse.” Race Williams. Novella. First published in Thrilling Detective, June 1948. (Cover by Rudolph Belarski.) Reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg (Carrol & Graf, 1988).

   Race Williams had a long career in the pulp magazines, ranging in time from 1923 to 1955, and he showed up in a few book-length adventures as well. He was a tough guy with both his fists and his guns, and he wasn’t afraid to show it. If Mickey Spillane didn’t read Race Williams’ adventures before coming up with the idea for Mike Hammer, I’d be awfully surprised.

   In his heyday, all through the 1920s and early 1930s, Carroll John Daly was one of the hottest PI writers around. By the time “Not My Corpse” appeared, in June 1948 issue of one of the lesser detective pulp magazines, his luster had faded considerably, and Race Williams’ antics had tamed down considerably – but not completely, and it’s still a cracking good yarn.

   After a series of young girls have been tortured and killed, Race decides that the common factor connecting them is that they inadvertently saw something they shouldn’t, and that the killer is tracking them down, one by one, going from one to the next. A solid tip suggests that one more girl is going to be the next victim, and Race is determined to stop him.

   There are flashes of good writing in this tale, with memorable turns of phrasing, and Race is his usual cocky, confidant self, which is all to the good. The plot is a little rickety, though, and there’s too much that’s never hinted at as to the killer’s actual motive; it takes a flood of details on his dying bed before the whole story is told.

   A mixed bag, in other words, but while Carroll John Daly is often given a bad rap today as a lousy writer, he wasn’t.



ONE EXCITING NIGHT. Columbia Pictures, UK, 1944; US, 1945. Also released as You Can’t Do Without Love (with slightly altered credits, according to IMDb. Vera Lynn, Donald Stewart, Mary Clare, Frederick Leister, Phyllis Stanley. Director: Walter Forde.

   During wartime, a singer becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to steal a priceless painting…

   Young singer Vera Baker (Vera Lynn) comes to London to entertain a group of RAF personnel on leave. At Waterloo Station, a pick-pocket (Cyril Smith), on the verge of getting caught, sneaks a stolen wallet into her bag. The wallet contains a cloakroom ticket to a mysterious package belonging to Michael Thorne (Donald Stewart), a former theatrical producer, which the nefarious Mr Hampton (Frederick Leister) hopes to claim as his own.

   Vera, meanwhile, has been sacked after an impromptu performance at the United Nations Welfare Service. Discovering the wallet, she tries to return it – and impress its owner with her singing abilities – yet both get set upon by Hampton’s men.

   The package, she learns, is a Rembrandt painting which has been sent to Thorne for safe keeping. Hampton then hires Vera to perform at a cabaret. On the night of the show, he captures Thorne and tries to kill him with the help of a doppelgänger. Vera’s efforts to rescue the imperilled producer leave her standing on a window ledge and in danger of dying herself…

   An amiable romp with six musical numbers (most of which are performed with a band in view), One Exciting Night is a comedy-adventure without enough laughs or thrills to justify its place in either genre. The last of three wartime vehicles for popular British singer Vera Lynn, known as ‘the Nation’s Sweetheart’ for the achingly poignant ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and patriotic ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’, it’s light on action and focuses mainly on farce.

   The plot is mildly engaging but much too convoluted, a sub-Wodehousian blend of light romance and criminal machinations which too often takes a back-seat to the songs. Lynn, here a wholesome, toothily attractive twenty-something, is charming and personable in a role which, perhaps unfortunately, requires her to be oblivious of the surrounding danger for much of the film.

   A far better version could have been made with her as an enterprising amateur sleuth in accord with the mystery, yet as it is she does no detective work whatsoever.

   Even the last-reel jeopardy is half-hearted, lacking any concerted effort to excite or surprise, while the late introduction of one of those miraculous face-masks, so often seen in the Mission Impossible films, makes things all the more outrageous. The film ends, too, on a slightly anticlimactic note as the villains aren’t arrested and – most distastefully – the male lead seems to settle on Vera because his true love is already married.

   Nonetheless, if one doesn’t ask too much of it, One Exciting Night makes for a warm, whimsical, occasionally even fleet-footed film, with at least a couple of enjoyable songs: ‘It’s Like Old Times’ is a wistful, pop-ballad sing-along while ‘You Can’t Do Without Love’, a call for household recycling in aid of the war effort, is a fun little ditty despite playing more like a public information announcement.

   Of course, it’s all somewhat unlikely, and only in the 1940s could the plot of a feature film depend on somebody returning a lost wallet. If that happened to any of us today, it really would be one exciting night.

Rating: ***


JOLT. Millennium, 2021. Kate Beckinsale, Bobby Cannavale, Laverne Cox, Stanley Tucci. Jai Courtney, David Bradley. Director: Tanya Wexler. Streaming on Amazon Prime.

   There is about half a good movie in this recent action-comedy thriller. The second half? Pure dreck. And not good dreck at that.

   Kate Beckinsale (last seen by me in The Widow, reviewed here )  plays Lindy Lewis (no relation), a woman who since she was a young girl has been afflicted with intermittent explosive disorder, which I have discovered is a real thing. Anyone having the problem is plagued by bouts of anger, rage and utter hostility toward others, expressed by outbreaks of uncontrollable violence.

   Lindy’s case is far worse than others. She barely has a life, cannot hold a job, and when it comes down to it, simply cannot get along with others. Finally, now grownup, she has found a doctor to help control the symptoms. It’s only in the experimental stages, but by wearing an intricate wire harness, Lindy can push a button and give herself a jolt of electricity to subdue her violent urges.

   Problem is, as soon as she finally meets the man of her dreams, he’s found murdered, even before they have their third date. The police are of no help. Solution: find the man responsible, and provide her own punishment.

   This first half of the movie is fun and even a little romantic and and funny. Enjoyable, even. Problem is, moviewise, from this point on, it seems that working intensively with her problem over the years, Lindy has developed what the comic books call superpowers, and there’s no way that anyone that gets in her way can stop her. Lots of action, violence, bad language and fighting ensue. All of which are boring. Even the villains of the piece are boring. Eh. Who cares? Not I, said this viewer.


JAMES YAFFE – Mom Meets Her Maker. Mom (and son Dave) #2. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1990. Worldwide, paperback, 1991.

   After appearing in eight short stories in EQMM between 1952 and 1968, Mom and her son Dave began a new career of sorts with a new series of full-length novels between 1988 and 1997. In these Dave has left his job as a NYPD police detective and moved to Mesa Grande, Colorado, to work as an investigator for the city’s public defender’s office.

   By book two (this one), Mom has decided that the big city has become too much to live in alone and has also moved to Mesa Grande. She still needs to be filled in on Dave’s cases, though, and as an armchair detective is quite a dedicated and quite welcome assistant.

   This one starts slowly. A Jewish couple have recently come under attack, if you will, by their next door neighbors, the Reverend Chuck Candy and his wife. Candy is the self-appointed pastor of Effulgent Apostles of Christ church, and for some reason this Christmas they have gone gonzo with flashing lights, brilliant decorations and carols booming from an outdoor loudspeakers. The Meyers, being Jewish, are not amused. Their son, trying to help out, goes over to see of some accommodations can be made, but instead he’s arrested for assault with a deadly weapon.

   As I say, a slow start. The first murder, that of Reverend Candy, does not occur until about seventy pages in, and for a devout reader of detective stories, the rest of the book is a doozy. Accused again is the Meyers’ son. Written on the rug where the minister’s body is found are the words “Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.”

   A brief warning, should you ever pick this one up to read. You’ll have to read this one very, very carefully. It’s about the best example of a recently published mystery (well, thirty years ago), that’s also  a “fair play” mystery I’ve had the pleasure to read recently, written in prose that’s clear and continually to the point. I hesitate telling you more about the “dying message” because why should I spoil the pleasure for you?

   There are a couple of things I can express some unhappiness with, though. The villains of the piece are little more than straw men set up only to be disliked at once, if not outright hated. And you would think the bit of a “would-be informant refusing to tell what he knows until tomorrow” would have been retired a long time ago, but it never occurs to Dave or his boss that, well, you know.

   This one shouldn’t hard to find. Undue haste is probably not necessary, but if I’ve tempted you at all, that’s exactly what I think you should do.

PostScript: A Tip of the Hat to fellow blogger TomCat, whose rave review a week or so on his blog is what prompted me to track this one down myself.

      The Mom and Dave novels —

A Nice Murder for Mom (1988)
Mom Meets Her Maker (1990)
Mom Doth Murder Sleep (1991)
Mom Among the Liars (1992)
My Mother the Detective (1997)

Reviews by L. J. Roberts


HARLAN COBEN – The Boy from the Woods. Wilde #1. Grand Central Publishing, hardcover, March 2020; paperback, June 2021. Setting: Contemporary New Jersey.

First Sentence: How does she survive?

   Thirty years ago, Wilde was found living nearly feral in the woods with no memory of his past or his family.

   This will be short. Harlan Coben’s early books were fun to read. Now, it seems, he is writing to be televised because that’s where the real money is made. They are filled with stereotypical television characters. We have the sad, outcast girl; the mixed-race teen who wants to do the right thing but isn’t strong or brave enough; the outspoken, older woman full of snarky quips; the outcast girl’s suspicious father…

    …the super-wealthy father protecting his super-bully, over-indulged kid; the nice cop who wants to help but doesn’t want to piss off the super-wealthy guy. Most importantly, we have the tall, strong, gorgeous, former ranger hero who can take on the bad guys with a pea while being desired by every woman. Did I miss anyone?

   The story is total escapism and requires a huge suspension of disbelief, including, as was pointed out by a fellow reader, Wilde having an iPhone with a data plan when he’s paranoid about security and privacy, and the ending makes no sense at all.

   The Boy from the Woods is an acceptable airplane book if one is into Jack Reacher-type superheroes, and desperate for something to read. It will hold one’s interest for the length of the flight but is then left on the plane, never to be thought of again. For pure entertainment, it’s fine, but there’s no substance.

Rating: Not Recommended.

Bibliographic Update: There will soon be a second book in the series. The Match is set to appear in March 2022.

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