February 2022

TALMAGE POWELL – Corpus Delectable. Ed Rivers #5. Pocket Cardinal paperback original; 1st printing, 1964. Prologue Books, softcover, 2012.

   Ed Rivers was a Tampa-based PI who was head agent for the Nationwide Detective Agency’s Southeastern Division. For all intents and purposes, however, he seems to have largely worked on his own, an independent operator but one with the backup of the head company whenever he needs records and other information. He’s a rough-looking fellow, but that seems only to attract good-looking women all the more. He’s also a fellow with a good set of ethics – always above board in everything he does, in spite of the opportunities he’s offered.

   Corpus Delectable takes place during Tampa’s annual Gasparilla Festival, a real event something akin to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, named after a local early 20th century pirate by the name of José Gaspar. This means that all of Rivers’ investigation takes place against a backdrop of partying, fireworks and people wearing slinky dresses or bushy beards (one to a customer).

   Dead very early on is a girl who calls on Rivers with a case for him before she heads to one of those parties, but on arrival she dies at the foot of his stairs with a knife in her back. Conveniently she had mentioned who was hosting the party, giving Rivers a very handy foot in the door in terms of what follows. Which involves the death of natural causes of a wealthy woman who had fled her native Venezuela along with her son-in-law (a cad) and granddaughter (spoiled), and a hired assassin who has Rivers in his sights, for fear the dead woman told him something.

   It’s a complicated plot, but it goes down smoothly enough. Powell’s writing roots were in the detective pulp magazines, so by 1964, he was a grizzled old pro at this sort of thing. Which somewhat unexpectedly involves a certain amount of detective on Rivers’ part, and all of the clues, save one, fit together rather well. Unless I missed something, the “save one” involves a massive coincidence that paradoxically I might swallow more in real life than I can in fiction. Go figure.

       The Ed Rivers series –

The Killer Is Mine. Pocket Books, 1959
The Girl’s Number Doesn’t Answer. Pocket Books, 1960
Start Screaming Murder. Permabooks, 1962
With a Madman Behind Me. Permabooks, 1962
Corpus Delectable. Pocket Books, 1964

JOE GORES – Gone, No Forwarding. DKA Associates #3. Random House, hardcover, 1978. Ballantine, paperback, 1981. Mysterious Press, paperback, 1993.

   The specialty of the Dan Kearny Agency is skip-tracing, but when a hearing to remove their license is initiated by a California bureau for consumer affairs, they discover that finding honest people can be just as hard as finding dead-beats.

   This kind of private investigating is rather dull work, but the pace improves considerably as the courtroom maneuvering begins and as it becomes clearer who and what are behind this scheme to get DKA.

   Lots of minor characters to keep straight as the various trails twist through the gamut of all San Francisco has to offer. Remarkably they all stand out as individuals during the brief t1me they are on stage.

Rating: B plus.

– Slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, September/October 1978.

(Give Me That) OLD-TIME DETECTION. Autumn 2021/Winter 2022. Issue #58. Editor: Arthur Vidro. Old-Time Detection Special Interest Group of American Mensa, Ltd. 36 pages (including covers). Cover image: A Rumpole Christmas.

   This issue of Old-Time Detection continues to maintain the usual high standards for the publication, being replete with perceptive book reviews and features that would be of interest to any mystery fan.

   “Mystery Reviews” by Jon L. Breen has Breen, one of the sharpest detective fiction critics, finding R. D. Rosen’s Strike Three, You’re Dead a most agreeable mix of baseball and amateur detection — “may be,” he says, “the ultimate sports mystery.” For fans of Wall Street mysteries, there’s a “more-than-adequate British equivalent” in David Williams’ Advertise for Treasure.

   In “The Paperback Revolution,” Charles Shibuk covers a lot of classic detective fiction ground with short but pithy assessments of some of the works of Eric Ambler (Journey Into Fear, 1940), Leslie Charteris (The Saint in New York, 1935), Agatha Christie (The Moving Finger, 1942), Joseph Harrington (Blind Spot, 1966, and The Last Doorbell, 1969), Baynard Kendrick (Out of Control, 1945), Ross Macdonald (The Underground Man, 1971), Ngaio Marsh (Overture to Death, 1939), Ellery Queen (There Was an Old Woman, 1943, and Calamity Town, 1942), Dorothy L. Sayers (Murder Must Advertise, 1933), and Rex Stout (The League of Frightened Men, 1935, and The Rubber Band, 1936).

   Dan Magnuson offers us his tribute to the late J. Randolph Cox, not only a close friend but also a Nick Carter expert, and, among other good things, the author of books about Walter Gibson and Flashgun Casey.

   A fine addition to the issue is an “Author Spotlight” by Michael Dirda focusing on Edmund Crispin, more often than not one of the most delightful detective fiction authors of the Golden Age. You’re not likely to find a more comprehensive yet concise essay on Crispin than this one.

   In the “Christie Corner” by Dr. John Curran, the foremost living expert on the works of Agatha Christie, comes news of the publication of a non-Christie book (The Invisible Host, 1930), the plot of which some would say Agatha “borrowed” for And Then There Were None (1939); Curran, however, is more than a little skeptical and offers good reasons for his doubts. Since 2022 marks the 90th anniversary of The Thirteen Problems (USA title: The Tuesday Club Murders), a publisher has decided to “re-imagine” Miss Marple, even commissioning some non-crime writers to do the bloody deed — I mean, give us their interpretations of the character. Curran finishes by briefly noting a computer game featuring Hercule Poirot and yet another scrambled up short story collection “culled from throughout Christie’s career.”

   This issue’s fiction selection is T. S. Stribling’s “The Mystery of the Choir Boy” (EQMM, January 1951), in which Dr. Poggioli gets involved in a scheme meant to hoodwink the public but which culminates in murder.

   “‘Count the Man Down,’ A Nero Wolfe Pilot” by Bruce Dettman illumines the experimentation that Hollywood in the ’50s was performing in adapting well-known — meaning “hopefully it’ll make money since everybody’s heard of it” — quantities to the small screen. Inspired by the huge success of Perry Mason, the producers tried  — and failed — to bring Rex Stout’s famous detective and his “assistant” to life (“pretty much a botched effort”). Only the actor playing Archie gets a thumbs up from Dettman, a rookie thespian who in a few years would become a TV icon.

   “The Life and Death and Life of Sherlock Holmes” by Richard Lederer compactly outlines the career of the Sage of Baker Street and the adience-abience dilemma that confronted his literary creator.

   Then come more in-depth book reviews of John Mortimer’s A Rumpole Christmas (2009), reviewed by Ruth Ordivar, a collection of five stories whose “quality more than makes up for the thin quantity”; Anthony Berkeley’s Murder in the Basement (1932), reviewed by Harv Tudorri, in which Roger Sheringham seeks “to get to the bottom of a problem and to prove it to my own satisfaction”; Agatha Christie’s Crooked House (1949), reviewed by Sheila M. Barrett, a story whose “elements are laid forth as the reader might expect from Christie’s expert hand”; Jon L. Breen’s Listen for the Click (1983), reviewed by Arthur Vidro, a sports/mystery novel that works just right; and Christie’s Murder in the Mews (1937), reviewed by Trudi Harrov, containing four stories that collectively manage to “hit the spot.”

   “The Non-Fiction World of Ed Hoch” has the all-time master of the short detective story “Seeking the First Mystery Magazine,” from possible candidates like Old Cap. Collier Library and voluminous Nick Carter publications in the late 19th century through Detective Story and Mystery Magazine and, of course, Black Mask in the early years of the 20th century. As Hoch tells us, however, designating what was actually the first mystery magazine could come down to a matter of categorization.

   “The Readers Write”: “Thanks for continuing to do this labor of love for all of us who enjoy the Good Old Days!”

   . . . and finally there’s the Puzzle Page—and it’s a doozy.

   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



BIZARRE, BIZARRE. Pathé Consortium Cinéma, France, 1937, originally released as Drôle de drame.  Françoise Rosay, Michel Simon, Louis Jouet, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nadine Vogel, and Jean-Louis Barrault. Screenplay by Jacques Prévert and Marcel Carné, from the novel by J. Storer Clouston. Directed by Marcel Carné.

   A fun and funny farce in the tradition of Arsenic and Old Lace or The Trouble with Harry    —  both of which it predates.


   Molyneux (Michele Simon) a meek botanist who secretly augments his income by writing crime stories under the name Felix Chapel. First seen at a public lecture given by his cousin,

   Bishop Soper, the most sinister churchman since Claude Frollo, who inveighs against writers of crime novels in general and Felix Chapel in particular.

      Also at the lecture is:

   William Krantz, a serial killer known as “The butcher of butchers” who vows to hunt down and kill Felix Chapel.

   Soper invites himself to dinner at Molyneux’s. Distraught, Molyneux goes home to

   Mme Molyneux (Françoise Rosay) his socially conscious wife, who, for reasons too farcical to recount, decides to fake a disappearance and pose as a servant, along with the remaining maid,

   Eva (Nadine Vogel) who gives Molyneux all the ideas for his books, which she gets from

   Billy, the story-telling milkman.

   Bishop Soper grows suspicious of Mme Molyneux’ absence — particularly as the botanist’s feeble explanations fall apart — and vaults to the conclusion that Molyneux has killed her. Minutes later, the Molyneux house fills with cops, The Missus has booked, and Molyneux and the maid wisely follow suit, leaving only the imaginative milkman for the police to arrest as the botanist/writer becomes the center of a well-publicized manhunt.

   And so it goes, in the best manner of one-damn-thing-after-another: the street fills with mobs demanding blood, the house fills with screwball reporters inventing stories, Molyneux disguises himself as Felix Chapel, Krantz falls in love with Mme Molyneux, he and Chapel get drunk together, Billy seduces Eva…. Bringing Up Baby  (which came out the next year) has nothing on this one!

   I should add that all this is elegantly directed with Marcel Carné’s signature fluid style, sparklingly photographed by Eugen Schüfftan, who later chalked up credits like The Hustler and Eyes Without a Face.

   In short, this is the veritable Mère of screwball comedy, a film of style, wit and imagination, and one not to be missed.


by Francis M. Nevins


   Back when first Hammett, then Chandler, then Spillane were the dominant figures in their field, the standard term for the kind of novels they wrote was hard-boiled. Today we rarely if ever see that word. The standard term has become noir, which in the past was used to describe the work of Cornell Woolrich and a few others like him who even in a pea-soup fog couldn’t be mistaken for Dash, Ray and the Mick.

   One evening when I was doing a guest presentation at Washington University, the young professor who had invited me insisted that there were two kinds of noir, hard and soft, with the former represented by people like Hammett and Chandler, the latter primarily by Woolrich. I’m not at all sure that noir is the right word for most PI novels but it certainly is for those of the foremost living practitioner in that field, Lawrence Block. As witness his final contribution to that type of novel in the 20th century.


   One of the strongest arguments for identifying Hammett with noir is the parable of the falling beams in THE MALTESE FALCON with its pervasive motif that we live while blind chance spares us. That would have been a fitting title for the fourteenth of Block’s novels about Matthew Scudder, EVERYBODY DIES (1998), which is also a perfect title since in this powerful book it’s almost literally true.

   Now happily married and sober and a licensed PI, Scudder is asked by his unlikely best friend, stone killer Mick Ballou, to help dispose of the bodies of two of Ballou’s minions, shot to death in a New Jersey storage shed where Mick had been stashing a huge shipment of stolen whiskey. Soon after the corpses are buried on Ballou’s upstate New York farm,

   Scudder is stopped on the street and beaten by two lowlifes who warn him to stay out of the situation, which he intended to do anyway. On reporting the incident he learns that Ballou has come to suspect that an unseen enemy is out to destroy him, and without any desire to get involved our PI finds himself in the middle of a savage war.

   That’s just about all the plot there is in EVERYBODY DIES, a succession of ultra-violent bloodlettings almost in the manner of James Ellroy, with a pile of casualties best described as collateral damage, two of them recurring characters in the series, people Scudder cared about deeply.

   Interspersed with the carnage are reflections on death, with one chapter consisting of dozens of variations on the theme Hammett expressed in seven words of one syllable each, and dark allusions to religion, including a reference to pedophile priests. Scudder’s illegal activities in this one threaten to cost him his license.


   The next novel in the series, HOPE TO DIE (2001), is set and was apparently written during the late summer of 2000, a few months before the Bush-Gore election, almost a year before 9/11.

   Scudder is now 62, perhaps a bit too old for the hard action of books like EVERYBODY DIES. He’s surrendered his PI license but is still sober and married to the ex-call girl Elaine and rather well off financially, making large contributions to arts causes like Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. One evening after a complimentary dinner and concert for donors, another couple who attended, a prosperous attorney and his wife whom Scudder and Elaine never met, are brutally murdered on returning to their brownstone on 74th Street.

   Several days later two more bodies are discovered, this time in Brooklyn, and the police conclude that these men perpetrated the first double murder, after which one killed the other and then himself. But there remain a couple of loose ends: How did the perps get into the brownstone and how did they know the code that would turn off the house’s alarm system?

   After what seem too many pages devoted to domestic drama — Scudder’s ex-wife dies suddenly and he discovers one of his grown sons has gotten himself in trouble — we return to business when the murdered woman’s niece, a grad student at Columbia, asks Scudder to look into her suspicion that the couple’s daughter, who lived with them and inherits the brownstone and everything else, was behind the double murder. When Scudder goes to interrogate the daughter, she in turn hires him to investigate the murder of her parents.

   It’s at this point that something happens which is unique in a Scudder novel: we switch from the detective’s first-person viewpoint to that of the murderer, a viewpoint that we get to share in several chapters to come including the last. What he learns leads him to commit another murder, but not before the victim leaves Scudder a phone message that sets him on the trail.

   Eventually there are seven more deaths. Scudder and the police hope the serial killer himself is among the final casualties but, thanks to the last chapter, which returns us to the perp’s point of view, we know better.

   Perhaps that chapter means only that the monster has escaped and is free to kill again, but Block leaves open the possibility, and I would say the probability, of a sequel. He even hints at the madman’s next targets when the perp takes Scudder’s card from the fifth (or is it the sixth?) victim. And might those chapters of domestic drama not be irrelevant after all? Might the future targets include Scudder’s family?

   It’s also possible that a sequel, if any, might explain what seems to be a colossal blunder on Block’s part. The weapon in the first four murders described in HOPE TO DIE belonged to a psychiatrist named Nadler, who claims, and reported to the police at the time, that it was stolen during a burglary. Then, on page 246, Scudder and the police decide that Dr. Nadler must be innocent of the quadruple killing because, as he can prove, he’d been vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard for the past eight days.

   But in fact this proves less than nothing: the murders clearly took place much longer than eight days before page 246! In addition, Scudder had had a face-to-face interview with the shrink less than eight days before that pesky page. Doesn’t this demolish Nadler’s alibi? In the immortal words of Sportin’ Life from Gershwin’s PORGY AND BESS, it ain’t necessarily so.

   Perhaps it would all become clear if there were to be a sequel. But it was only after a long hiatus that the next Scudder novel appeared.


   It’s not billed as a sequel, but whoever reads it without having read HOPE TO DIE has to absorb some tightly compressed summaries of what happened in the earlier novel. ALL THE FLOWERS ARE DYING (2005) takes place a few years after 9/11, “our watershed; everything in our lives is before or after that date.” Scudder is at least 65 years old and more or less retired, Elaine still runs her art shop.

   In the early chapters we learn nothing important except that Monica, Elaine’s best girlfriend, has become involved with a mystery man. At this point we move to third-person narration and Greensville, Virginia, where a psychologist calling himself Arne Bodinson has gotten permission to interview Preston Applewhite, who is about to be given a lethal injection after being convicted of the brutal rape and murder of three teen-age boys.

   The next several chapters are devoted to the conversations between these two men and Applewhite’s execution. Meanwhile in New York, a woman Scudder knows from AA has hired him to investigate her current lover, who is also something of a mystery man. Eventually it becomes clear that the viewpoint character of the third-person chapters is the serial killer from HOPE TO DIE, and that he raped and murdered those three boys and framed Applewhite for the crimes.

   We are also told that this sociopath has unfinished business in New York, and start wondering whether he could be the same man Scudder has just been asked to investigate. In due course Elaine’s girlfriend is sadistically murdered, and it becomes increasingly certain that the murderer in another identity has invaded the lives of the Scudders and is out to kill them horribly too.

   Like HOPE TO DIE, this sequel abounds in technology, forensics, violence and brutal sex, but Block lightens the mood a trifle with a number of jokes, most of the quips more or less sexual including one taken from SEINFELD.

   The sociopath is probably Block’s most powerful attempt to create a demonic character in a godless world. He’s gifted with uncanny intuitive certainties that always turn out right (as are Scudder and Elaine), and we never learn his name or the source of the money he needs to maintain his various identities and perform his obscene acts.

   The novel is steeped in thoughts about death. “I think [life] ends…like a movie after the last reel runs out,” says Applewhite not long before his execution. “I think the rest of the world goes on, the same as it does when anybody else dies…. It’s hard at first to accept the notion that you’re not going to exist anymore, but it gets a little easier when you think of all the centuries, all the millennia, when you hadn’t yet been born and the world got along just fine without you.” And here are Elaine’s reflections after her friend Monica’s pain-wracked death.

   â€œPeople die all the time….It’s what happens. The longer you live the more people you lose. That’s how the world works….[Monica is] in the past tense now, isn’t she? She’s part of the past, she’s gone forever from the present and the future….I can’t stand that she’s gone….But I’ll get used to it. That’s what life is, getting used to people dying.”

   She and Scudder get their revenge, if you want to call it that, in a fight to the death with the serial killer, which is as graphic as anything in a Peckinpah or Tarantino film. The scene is so powerful that we almost suspend our disbelief that a man in his late sixties with a knife being twisted in his guts could take on this sociopath who, though wounded, is at least a quarter century younger.

   I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that at one point Block intended to end the book with Scudder and his adversary killing each other in the struggle, but changed his mind and added the final chapter, whose last line of dialogue is a joke, borrowed from the last line, the one delivered by Joe E. Brown, in the iconic Marilyn Monroe-Jack Lemmon-Tony Curtis sex comedy SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959).

   Scudder is still alive (though he’s come closer to death than in any previous novel), but in a very real sense the series winds up with ALL THE FLOWERS ARE DYING, and the rest is endnotes. Which we’ll explore later this year.

   This Welsh singer, songwriter, actress and dancer first came to fame appearing in the 2019 season of The Voice:

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