February 2022



JACK O’CONNELL – The Skin Palace. Quisigamond #3, Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1996. No paperback edition.

   O’Connell has written two of the strangest pieces of   crime fiction I’ve come across in the last few years, Box 9 and Wireless. Both set in the decaying Massachusetts town of Quinsigamond, each featured a cast of characters that could charitably be described as “strange”, and were written in a tone that approached the apocalyptic at times. I mostly liked them, but there’s been little discussion of them in the mystery press that I’ve seen.

   Here there is Sylvia, a strange young woman obsessed with celluloid images who has drifted from one phase of her life to another. Then, there’s Jakob, the son of a Polish immigrant gangster equally obsessed with film-making, who has trouble seeing the world through anything but a lens. There’s Schick, a porno film-maker with visions of cinematic grandeur. And there’s Propp, a mythical (?) photographer and cult figure. Like gas molecules in a pressure chamber, they heat and move and ricochet off each other until critical pressure is reached, and then . . .

   He’s written three strange ones now.  This really isn’t a book to try to review in a paragraph or so; either you just say “it’s strange,” or you should spend a page or two on it. It’s full of impossibilities, improbabilities. and off-center characters, and though you may wonder what it was  all about as much at the end as all the way through, it’s at least partially about taking pictures and making pictures, and ways of looking at life.

   It’s totally non-genre in its approach, and in the storytelling, and how much you like it will depend on how deeply you can immerse yourself in O’Connell’s flickering, out-of-focus world.  Easy read? No. Worthwhile for you? You won’t know until you’re done.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #22, November 1995


MICHAEL ARLEN – The Green Hat. Collins, hardcover, 1924. George H. Doran, US, hardcover, 1924. Reprinted numerous times.

   Few remember today, but in its time The Green Hat was ranked as a masterpiece, a best-seller, and — not incidentally — a steamy shocker that smoothed the road for The Great Gatsby (1925) and The Sun Also Rises (’27) where the antics of Daisy Buchanan and Lady Brett Ashley paled in comparison with the exploits of Hat’s Iris Storm.

   But what is so dull as last year’s scandal? The Green Hat has faded into obscurity, and that’s kind of a shame because it offers some dark, saturnine prose, and a twisty, half-hidden story line that seems driven by passion, but….

   But that would be telling. Let me just say that it starts very fittingly on a squalid street in London in the dead of night, when a mysterious woman in an expensive car calls on the narrator for help. It turns out she is the notoriously promiscuous Iris Storm, and she needs the author to let her in the apartment building he shares with her drunken brother. And to help her up the dark and treacherous stairway. And see if the brother is in any shape to receive company….

   He isn’t, and the two of them talk into the small hours of a new day, forging some sort of relationship, not love, but a mutual regard — this despite the fact that Iris has a reputation that would have shamed Lord Byron.

   The plot, such as it is, develops slowly, with many digressions along the way, but The Green Hat isn’t about Plot; it’s about Mood, and this one is like Huysman’s La Bas set to the beat of the Jazz Age and turned in upon itself.

   I mentioned Gatsby above, and I have to say that lovers of that novel (I’m one) may find Hat uncomfortably similar, even down to the scene where the lovers confront the forces of Convention, and one of them pushes too hard…

   But again, that would be telling. I’ll just note for the record that Fitzgerald submitted The Great Gatsby to his publisher in 1924, the year The Green Hat swept the book stalls, and was urged to re-write it. And I’ll add that if Fitzgerald “borrowed” from Arlen, he also improved what he took. Hat ends on a note of high melodrama that was an octave too high for my taste, but that doesn’t spoil the unique atmosphere of the work.

   And yes, this was the same Michael Arlen who created that mainstay of RKO’s B unit, The Falcon!



J. T. McINTOSH – Take a Pair of Private Eyes. Ambrose and Dominique Frayne #1. Frederick Muller, UK, hardcover, 1968. Doubleday, US, hardcover, 1968.

   The most interesting thing about this book is that it’s a novelisation of a television play (BBC, 6 episodes, 1966; much broadcast, apparently, although I certainly never saw it) by Peter O’Donnell, creator of Modesty Blaise.

   The sleuths are the almost omniscient, omnipotent husband and wife team, Ambrose and Dominique Frayne, who together with Frayne senior, a retired master criminal, investigate the theft of the Mineptah Coffin, the biggest single chunk of gold in the world.

   Very much a caper type novel, there’s not a great deal of ratiocination but the action moves along at a fair old pace.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 3, Number 6 (December 1980).


UPDATE: There was one followup adventure of the Fraynes, that being A Coat of Blackmail (Muller, 1970; Doubleday, 1971). This second does not seem to have been based on an O’Donnell work. McIntosh himself is much better known as an SF writer. These two books are his only entries in Hubin.

THE DROWNING POOL. Warner Brothers, 1975. Paul Newman (Lew Harper), Joanne Woodward, Tony Franciosa, Murray Hamilton, Gail Strickland, Melanie Griffith, Linda Haynes, Richard Jaeckel. Based on the novel by Ross Macdonald. Director: Stuart Rosenberg.

   Well, for one thing, they changed to location from sunny, hot southern California to sultry, swampy Louisiana, that much I know. I’m not sure, but I think the facility where the title scene takes place fit in better in the book. It seemed to me that came from nowhere in the movie, but I’d have to watch the movie again to state that as a fact. I watched this movie when it first came out, and I thought I remembered it, but the only scene that came back to me was the one in the pool, with the water rising and rising and still rising, with Harper and his lady companion trying to keep their heads above water.

   Harper is hired by a former girl friend, Iris Devereaux (Joanne Woodward), to find out who’s been blackmailing her about an affair she’s been having. It’s not her husband she’s worried about. It’s his mother who runs the estate where they live with an iron hand. When’s she found murdered, it’s the chauffeur who’s the immediate suspect. (He was also suspected of being the blackmailer.) A ruthless oil developer who wants the property is also involved.

   For a while after seeing this movie for the first time, I keep seeing Paul Newman as Lew Archer as I read the books. He’s very good in the role, but as time went on, the mental  image  I had of him gradually faded away. Joanne Woodward has a nothing part and makes very little of it. It was Melanie Griffith as her teenage sexpot daughter who made a bigger impression on me this time around.

   How much the story resembles the book I wish I could tell you, but I can’t. Considering it on its own, story-wise it doesn’t stack up all that much higher than many an episode of a PI show being shown on TV around the same time. It’s Paul Newman’s presence that makes it what is , though, and he’s quite good at it.



PAUL TEMPLE – The Tyler Mystery. Paul Temple #6. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1957. [In this case, author Paul Temple is the pseudonym of Francis Durbridge & James Douglas Rutherford McConnell.] Reprinted as by Francis Durbridge: Hodder, UK< paperback, 1960. Based on the radio serial Paul Temple and The Tyler Mystery by Francis Durbridge.

   This one happens to involve two writers not known as well on these shores as as they should be, Francis Durbridge was an international rival to Agatha Christie in the mystery genre whose radio and television plays have been adapted in multiple languages and countries and was best known here as the creator of mystery writer/detective Paul Temple and his ex-journalist wife Steve who adventured in sixteen radio serials on the BBC from the thirties on solving crimes in the Nick and Nora manner. Three films and a television series followed in England and several German television serials of the Temple adventures.

   The Temple films are available on the gray market, while most of the Temple radio serials are easily found on YouTube since they are still rebroadcast on BBC radio or can be purchased on DVD. The complete television series can be found easily but requires a multi region player.

   You can find the film of Durbridge’s novel and serial Portrait of Alison with Robert Beatty and Terry Moore fairly easily. A few Durbridge BBC serials are available on YouTube, and several German serials as well.

   Durbridge wrote numerous radio and television series, also creating reporter detective Tim Fraser in two books and a series as well as at least one German movie. Durbridge’s plays were hugely popular in Germany and other Western European countries, with Rossano Brazzi even starring in one Italian serial.

   Douglas Rutherford, who ghosted this Temple novel and East of Algiers for Durbridge is a top flight mystery adventure writer who has been called the Dick Francis of the Grand Prix circuit. His novels tend to be set against Formula 1 racing, Motorcross, and Motor Rally racing and often have drivers as the protagonists. His style is, like Dick Francis and John Anderson (who was to sailing small boats what Rutherford and Francis are to their fields), simple, accessible, and smoothly written featuring solid plotting, believable heroes, suspense, and colorful action.

   The Tyler Mystery opens with the body of a young woman found, the second in two weeks. Paul and Steve have just moved into their new flat with Steve fussing with the ambience of the new place when Sir Graham Forbes and Inspector Vosper show up consulting Temple about the murders. Sir Graham is Temple’s friend and connection to Scotland Yard who was even a suspect in Temple’s first adventure (Send for Paul Temple). Both he and Inspector Vosper have been known to consult with Temple before though reluctantly since there is no controlling him once he gets the scent.

   And Paul and Steve have hardly agreed to help before someone tries to run them off the road in their Humber.

   â€œThe link between Jane Dallas and Betty Tyler was established. We cannot assume, though, that Jane Dallas was killed because she knew something that pointed to the other girl’s murderer. She may have been killed for the same reason as Betty Tyler.

   â€œThat reason being?”

   â€œSir Graham, when we know that we’ll be in sight of our murderer.”

   It all involves a mysterious conspiracy, a bit of smuggling, a horse doping scheme, and evasion of the Inland Revenue, the British tax system, before Temple uncovers the culprits in a classic gathering of the suspects.

   The Tyler Mystery is an entertaining read. Its serial origins can’t help but show, but the cliffhangers are often as not suspenseful and not physical and the joints don’t show too badly.

   Many of the original Temple serials were lost but recreated later for BBC broadcasts. Though Paul Coke was the longest running Paul Temple others included Barry Morse (Lt. Gerard of The Fugitive) and Howard Marion-Crawford (Dr. Watson to Ronald Howard’s Sherlock Holmes on television and Dr. Petrie in Christopher Lee’s Fu Manchu films). Francis Matthews was Temple on television and John Bentley in two of the three films.

   And as one mystery is solved Sir Graham admonishes Steve about their upcoming trip to Rome: “Haven’t you heard that the daughter of an Italian Cabinet Minister has just been kidnapped? I’m pretty sure if your husband goes to Rome…”

   â€œBy, Timothy” (Paul’s favorite exclamation), warm up the radio set. I hear the faint sound of Coronation Scot playing and variations on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Time to settle back with Paul and Steve Temple for another evening of thrills and mystery. It may not be great art, but audiences have been entertained since before the War and still are on radio, in print, on film, and on television.

THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH.  Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, Kathryn Hunter, Brendan Gleeson.  Screenwriter/Director: Joel Coen.  Based on the play The Tragedie of Macbeth by William Shakespeare. [See also Comment #20.] Currently streaming on AppleTV+.

   I’m going to be lazy and not spend any time outlining the plot. (You can check it out for yourself via Wikipedia by going here.) All in all, this new movie version follows the main story line exceedingly well. It’s the production values that interested me as I was watching. (I confess that I wasn’t able to follow the dialogue all that well. Except for many often exceptions, Shakespeare’s characters talk a language quite foreign to me. This doesn’t bother me. I can always follow his plays well enough without knowing exactly what they’re saying.)

   My impressions. The movie is in black-and-white. Not many movie are any more, but in this case, it was a good choice; it adds immensely to the sheer eeriness of the tale. All the scenes take place in indoor sets. Nothing was filmed out of doors. The camera shots were taken at all angles and from all distances, with close-ups used whenever needed. Walls and hallways are stark, with very little adornment. Stripped down to its essence, the play’s the thing, to repeat a previously invented phrase.

   All of the performers are excellent. They should take pride in a job well done. I would like to think this filmed version of the play would do well in actual theaters, and that’s where I would love to see it, given the chance to do so. (It’s a film that well deserves a second viewing.) As it is, it’s a good time for streaming services to have been invented, to give movies such as this the opportunity to have the largest possible audiences they deserve.


Reviews by L. J. Roberts


KERRY GREENWOOD – Death in Daylesford. Phryne Fisher #21. Poisoned Pen Press, hardcover, June 2021. Setting: Australia-1920s.

First Sentence: It was a lazy, late summer’s morning in St. Kilda.

   Miss Phryne Fisher and her ever-loyal maid, Dot, are off to visit the Spa at Hepburn being run for shell-shocked veterans of the Great War. Their visit coincides with the Highland Games, but it is not much of a celebration as people begin dying. And what about the women who have been disappearing? And with Phryne away, her two adopted daughters, Jane and Ruth, along with handyman Tinker, join forces with DS Hugh Collins to solve the murder of the girls’ classmate.

   Ah, the joy of the Honorable Phryne Fisher of 221B, The Esplanade, in Melbourne, Australia in this multi-plot story where all the characters are fully developed and wonderfully realized. Phryne is a strong, independent, character with a view of relationships that is more traditionally male, yet completely accepting— “Phryne made a mental note to the effect that medical opinions stating that women who were same-sex attracted must be neurotic were so much ill-informed drivel.”

   Those new to the series are introduced not only to Phryne and learn of her family history, but meet her current family and those who are associated with her. With the secondary characters, Greenwood cleverly and oh-so-subtly includes a soupçon of doubt as to their honesty.

   Greenwood begins each chapter with an excerpt from a poem or literature, adding a certain grace to the story. She paints verbal pictures; places, things, and most of all, people become three-dimensional through her words. “A generalized sense of doom hung in the atmosphere…  ‘I don’t know how this farm strikes you, Dot, but it’s a little bit too Thomas Hardy for my liking.'”

   This is not a book to read when hungry as even the simplest meal leaves one salivating– “fish, beef, and chicken pies.”— and–  “broccoli has a sauce made of lemon juice, garlic and butter, and the carrots have fresh ginger, sesame seeds and honey. Oh, and butter.'”

   No light, fluffy cozy is this. The murders are numerous, the issues, whether related to the crime being solved by the group in Melbourne, or by Phryne and Dot, are stark. Greenwood makes it clear that issues of today are not new but were relevant in the 1920s as well.

   Death in Daylesford is chock full of mysteries all of which are solved in yet the coziest of manners. There are numerous characters to keep straight, so it’s best to keep each mystery separate in one’s mind. No matter what, it is wonderful to have Phryne and the gang back again.

Rating: VG Plus.

JOE DAKOTA. Universal-International, 1957. Jock Mahoney, Luana Patten, Charles McGraw, Barbara Lawrence, Claude Akins, Lee Van Cleef, Anthony Caruso, Paul Birch. Screenplay: William Talman and Norman Jolley. Director: Richard Bartlett. Currently streaming on Starz.

   When Jock Mahoney’s character rides into the small western town of Arborville, at first he finds it totally deserted. No one in the street. No one in any of the stores. No one anywhere. Until at last he discovers a girl (Luana Patten) sulkily standing near the general store. That she is not forthcoming as to where all the townspeople are is an understatement. Shrugging, he rides off.


   Whereupon he finds the answer. A short way from town all of the men who live there are drilling an oil well. By hand. The women are sitting in the shade at the equivalent of a picnic table, watching. Jock Mahoney’s character asks if he can watch. After some discussion with the man in charge (Charles McGraw), it is agreed that no harm would be done if he did.

   Pushing the boundaries of the agreement he has just made, Jock Mahoney’s character enters the small shack near where the men are working. This seems to annoy them, and Jock Mahoney’s character winds up in the oil pool next to the drilling site. Covered in black, he unceremoniously leaves. The next we see him, he is taking a bath back in town in their watering trough, with the girl secretly watching.

   As it so happens, Jock Mahoney’s character is looking for an old Indian who calls (or called) himself Joe Dakota. It was his shack there near the oil well, but what he is told is that he sold right to the property just before leaving town.

   If you stop and think about it right about here, you will probably know where the story is going from here, and you’d probably be right. You may even think of another earlier movie with a plot line that would be along the same lines as this one, and you’d be right about that, too.

   It doesn’t mean that this one is not fun to watch, because it is. Nor can it be bad, not with a cast like this, and a storyline that’s clean and efficient and basically well told. Jock Mahoney makes no attempt to overplay his role; quite the opposite. The villain, of course, is Charles McGraw’s character, and Claude Akins and Lee Van Cleef play a pair of local louts for all they’re worth, as only they could.


STEVE LINDLEY “Man Buries Man.” Kubiak #? Novelette. Published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, June 2014. Probably never reprinted.

   Kubiak (no first name known) is an ex-Chicago cop who maintains good relations with the members still on the force or also retired. He also has a long list of contacts who come in handy whenever he needs them, which is rather often, given of course he’s no longer on the job.

   It’s his wife Denise, though, who takes the lead on this one. A downstairs neighbor in the apartment building they live in has noticed that the appearance of an unidentified body found in Belmont Harbor matches the sudden disappearance of a homeless man who until then could be seen everyday sitting on the same bench in the park. He was a gentle man who liked to talk but with whom no one did because, well, of his odor.

   To that end, though, he always had a supply of sausages he’d offer to passers-by. It takes a while for the officer in charge of the body in the bay to agree, but yes, it turns out that he and the homeless man are one in the same. More than that, he’s not interested. Kubiak leaves Denise in charge of her investigation, but soon he’s interested, too.

   It’s a classic casebook of both detective work and footwork by the two, and before long the miscreants in the case, totally convinced they’d gotten away with something, are proven wrong. Nicely done.

      The Kubiak series   [as presently known] —

Hallway Dog. AHMM, April 1998
Death Takes Center Stage. AHMM, January/February 2008
Small Favors,. AHMM, March 2011
Man Buries Man. AHMM, June 2014
A Matter of Trust and Surveillance. AHMM, January/February 2019.

● Kubiak’s Daughter, as by Stephen Lindley. Novel. Thomas & Mercer, November 2012.

« Previous PageNext Page »