April 2022

ANNIKA “Captain Ahab’s Wife.” Alibi, UK, 17 August 17 2021 (series 1, episode 1). Nicola Walker as DI Annika Strandhed, Jamie Sives as DS Michael McAndrews, Katie Leung as DC Blair Ferguson, Ukweli Roach as DS Tyrone Clarke, Kate Dickie as DCI Diane Oban, Silvie Furneaux as Morgan, Annika’s teenage daughter. Based on the BBC Radio 4 drama Annika Strandhed, created by Nick Walker, who also developed it for TV and wrote this episode. Currently streaming on PBS.

   This episode begins with Annika beginning a new position as the lead detective for a new Marine Homicide Unit in Glasgow, and as usual, she as a single mother, has her teenage daughter in tow and starting at a new school.

   If the word “truculent” didn’t exist, it would have to be created just for the daughter. Or maybe “sullen,” but who can blame her? Dragged off to a new city with no friends, just like so many shows just like this one.

   What makes this one different is the “breaking of the fourth wall” aspect, as every so often Annika turns to the camera and starts telling the audience what she’s thinking at the time. This is while action is still going on, not by having her step off to the side to do so. Many of the reviewers on IMDb hate this.

   I admit being taken by surprise the first time it happened, but I think it’s, well, almost charming and (in my opinion) certainly well done.

   On Annika’s very first day not only does she have to get used to her new leadership role, but she and her team have a murder to solve: the death of a excursion boat captain who has  been fatally stabbed by a harpoon. The case is a bit of a challenge, but she’s up to the task, in spite of the several clichés involved in the basic setup. That’s probably her bigger job, as time goes on. Thus far there has been only the one season, consisting of six episodes.




LOREN D. ESTLEMAN – Stress. Detroit #5, hardcover, Mysterious Press, 1996; paperback, 1997.

   Estleman is one of those writers who writes well enough that I generally enjoy whatever he cares to write, but I was damned glad to hear that he’s going to get back to Amos Walker. I liked the first book in the Detroit series, Whiskey River, pretty well, but it’s seemed to me that each succeeding volume has been anywhere from a little to a lot weaker than the one before it.

   Detroit is crumbling by 1972, and has richly earned the title of Murder Capital of America. As a black militant and his minions plot to kidnap the daughter of one of Detroit’s richest white families, a young black policeman finds himself caught between the demands of his conscience and his job — -and between armed Black Power and a police department that may be even more violent,

   Surely Estleman had something better to do with his time than this. Surely. I’ve said in the past that he was a born storyteller and couldn’t write anything I wouldn’t like, but he has now. I didn’t hate it, mind you, but it sure didn’t hold my interest.

   None of the characters came to life, and the newsreel technique he’s employed for the Detroit series,  just didn’t get it done this time. I don’t know what else to say  about it, other than it was just a blah job to me, and that’s something I never  thought I’d say about one of his.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #24, March 1996.

JOHN K. BUTLER “The Saint in Silver.” Steve Midnight #4. Novelette. First published in Dime Detective Magazine, January 1941. Reprinted in The Hardboiled Dicks (Sherbourne Press, 1965). Collected in The Complete Cases of Steve Midnight, Volume 1 (Steeger Books, 2016).

   I’ve said it many times, and a couple of times in print as well, that of all the stories in The Hardboiled Dicks, Ron Goulart’s  highly seminal pulp detective anthology from 1965, “The Saint in Silver” was the one that I remembered most.

   Well, “ha” on me. Now, over 50 years later, last night I finally read it for a second time, and guess what? It was like reading it for the first time.

   Nothing I thought I knew about the story was true. I even had the object in the title wrong. I remembered it as a statue. What the saint in silver really is, I won’t tell you (although there’s no reason why I shouldn’t), but nothing could be further from the truth.

   Maybe the only thing I remembered correctly is that Steve Midnight (Steve Middleton Knight) is a taxi cab driver, and he usually has an overnight shift. He’s not a PI, but there were nine stories in the early 40s in which he was the leading character, all for Dime Detective. I assume that he was generally his own client, but I could be wrong about that.

   In “The Saint in Silver,” for example, he’s out a fare of $18 if he doesn’t find the blonde and the drunken guy who smashed up their own car while in the midst of a treasure hunt. After hiring him to continue their hunt, they disappear on him when the next clue takes them to a cemetery in the rain, with Midnight ending up clocked over the head in a tomb.

   Butler was a very good writer, nothing fancy, but the first half of the story simply flows and catches the reader along with it. The second half, the tracking down of the cab’s occupants, devolves into a case that involves both a narcotics ring and a rich pseudo-evangelist, is not as compelling, but it’s still a very good yarn. (Maybe at 48 pages, it’s just a little long for its own good.)

   And yes, by the way, one of the Steve Midnight stories is titled “Death and Taxis,” in the January 1942 issue of Dime Detective.

Note: I first wrote a review of this story in 1967, and I posted it on this blog a few weeks ago. Follow the link and you can read it here.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


 LIONEL DAVIDSON – The Rose of Tibet. Gollancz, UK, hardcover, 1962. Harper & Row, hardcover, 1962. Reprinted many times (and still in print).

   Like Mark McShane, Lionel Davidson is one of those talented writers who possess a knack for seldom if ever repeating themselves from book to book. His first novel, The Night of Wenceslas (1960), is a tale of espionage set in Czechoslovakia (which won a CWA Golden Dagger, the first of three garnered by Davidson); The Menorah Men (1966) is a thriller with political overtones that takes place in Jerusalem; Murder Games (1978) is a whodunit laid in London’s bohemian art world; and The Rose of Tibet is a magnificent “quest” novel of suspense and high adventure reminiscent of the work of H. Rider Haggard.

   Set in 1950-51, The Rose of Tibet covers the perilous seventeen-month odyssey of Charles Houston. It begins in England, where Houston learns that his brother and other members of a group sent to northern India to film mountain climbing have mysteriously disappeared. At the request of the film company, he travels to India to search for information about his brother, alive or dead.

   In Calcutta, where his quest is apparently at an end, he hears talk of a Tibetan monastery that might hold the key — but the Chinese Communists have only recently seized control of Tibet, and no foreigners are being allowed into the country. Houston is not to be thwarted; he travels to Kalimpong and soon hires a Sherpa guide named Ringling, who leads him through Sikkim and Nepal, across the mighty Himalayas, and into the fabled Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

   Danger after danger plagues them en route and after they arrive at the temple of the Monkey God. But Houston survives “to enjoy the love of a goddess and to live through adventures so bizarre that almost no other man-perhaps no other man at all-has equaled them.”

   This is superb entertainment, utterly mesmerizing from first page to last. It is difficult to imagine any novelist more vividly evoking the awesome splendor of the Himalayas or the exotic people and landscapes of Tibet. High adventure as only the British can write it, and not to be missed.

   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 FULL TREATMENT.   Hammer Films/Columbia Pictures, UK, 1960. Also released as Stop Me Before I Kill. Claude Dauphin, Diane Cilento, Ronald Lewis, Francoise Rosnay. Screenplay by Ronald Scott Thorn based on his novel, with Val Guest, who also directed.

   Dr. David Prade: You know only the unsuccessful murderers disclose their crimes.

   Alan Colby: And the successful ones?

   Prade: Well, they derive their reward from a feeling of personal power.

   On their honeymoon Alan (Ronald Lewis) and Denise Colby (Diane Cilento) are involved in a terrible car wreck. Alan, a race car driver, is terribly injured and takes a long time to recover, and even when he comes out of the hospital he is still weak and suffering from nerves, tension, paranoia, and the psychological after effects of the traumatic event.

   He also fears he may be dangerous after he briefly tightens his hands around her neck during a passionate moment.

   On the Riviera to rest up they meet Dr. David Prade (Claude Dauphin … “He’s too elegant to be an aristocrat. Most aristocrats look like peasants.”) who takes an interest in them both despite Alan’s distrust and aggressive behavior (“…you’re refreshingly rude.”).

   Told by Denise about the accident, Prade reveals he is a psychiatrist, and that he fears Alan may suffer from repressed emotions that could make him dangerous to her and himself, but he overplays his hand and Alan and Denise decide to go back to London and try to start over.

   But things are no better in London, and Denise becomes increasingly concerned as she and Alan argue and he becomes more violent. When she learns Prade has followed them to London in his concern for Alan, she finally persuades Alan to see him in his Harley Street offices.

   Under intense therapy, he slowly begins to convince Alan to trust him and reveals the trauma that is causing all the problems. Alan is cured and sent home to Denise before they fly out the next day for the start of the racing season.

   But when Prade visits the next morning Denise is gone and there are signs of a violent struggle and bloody second hand medical instruments like the ones Alan described under hypnosis as the kind he would use if he was disposing of Denise’s body having killed her.

   Prade persuades Alan to let him institutionalize him before going to the police, but on the way to the asylum they are in a wreck, Prade is knocked unconscious and Alan flees.

   Hiding out on the Riviera Alan watches the London papers expecting to read about Denise’s body being found, and that he is wanted by the police, but then sitting at an outdoor bistro he sees a woman that looks suspiciously like Denise and watches as she climbs on a yacht, owned by Prade…

   The Full Treatment based on a novel by fine British suspense novelist and humorist Ronald Scott Thorn (Second Opinion, Twin Serpents, Upstairs Downstairs — the Michael Craig movie, not the Masterpiece series) was directed and co-written by director Val Guest (Penny Princess, The Runaway Bus, The Quatermass Experience, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, Where the Spies Are) for Hammer Studios.

   Though this isn’t the only suspense film made by Hammer in this period, it is closer to the Hitchcockian model than films like Maniac, Sudden Fear, and The Snorkel that all had more shocker and borderline horror elements. It’s very much a psychological suspense film and not a shocker.

   The cast is excellent: Lewis’s well controlled and believably dangerous protagonist; Cilento’s sexy (there is a brief but distant nude scene) and concerned French wife; and Dauphin’s enigmatic Prade, by turns a bit creepy and yet believably solicitous and professional, all hit their marks perfectly. The suspense is genuine and the black and white photography gorgeous and the script intelligent.

   Admittedly the movie runs a little long, and perhaps some of the early scenes before they reach London could be tightened or even eliminated, but overall it’s an effective suspense film that ties what seems like loose ends up in the final moments. What holes there are in the plot are no worse than the ones in most Hitchcock films as far as that goes.

   I don’t want to oversell this, and I am a fan of Thorn, a suspense novelist in the tradition of Winston Graham, but it is a solid entertaining and attractive suspense film done on a decent budget and well handled all around.


ANNA MARY WELLS – Murderer’s Choice. Grace Pomeroy #2. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1943. Dell #126, mapback edition. Perennial Library, paperback, 1981.

   As so few of the female detectives in mystery fiction from the 1950s and before were private eyes, it really is worth seeking out and reading about those who were. In her first book, though, Grace Pomeroy was a private nurse, and I am not clear whether in her third and final adventure she returned to her original profession or not. Nonetheless, in Murderer’s Choice she is a full-fledged private eye, whether she had any training or not. (It does not appear that she had.)

   This first case is a doozy, though. Working for the Keene Detective Agency, her client has a strange story to tell. He is one of two cousins who hated each other, from childhood on. Frank Osgood, still alive, was the weaker one, tormented by the other their whole life through. Before his death Charles Osgood, a mystery writer, told the other he was going to commit suicide but plant enough clues so that Frank would be blamed.

   But when Charles dies, his death is attributed to natural causes, he left no money behind, and there is no trace of the insurance policy he promised Frank he was going to take out on himself. Frank is waiting for the other shoe to fall, and in desperation he tells Grace the entire story.

   A story which well may be unique in the annals of detective fiction. With a beginning as intriguing as this, what follows could be a complete letdown, as far as the story is concerned, but Anna Mary Wells is fairly well up to the challenge, bringing in several other characters who are interested in knowing what happened to Charles’ money: Frank’s mother; his fiancée (and she has been for eight years); a Broadway floozy who claims she was secretly married to Charles; a housekeeper promised money in Charles’ will;and another mystery writer who claims that Charles stole many of his ideas.

   Grace gets it wrong at least once, which is probably par for the course for an amateur, but she prevails in the end. Priding herself as never having told a lie, moreover, the last line of the book is quite apt: “For a first lie,”she said judiciously, “that wasn’t bad.”

   This one isn’t a classic, but it comes close to it many ways. The hardcover is not easy to find (I found not one for sale with a jacket), but either paperback edition, one as recent as 1981, can be picked up fairly easily.


         The Grace Pomeroy series:

A Talent for Murder. Knopf 1942 [with Dr. Hillis Owen]
Murderer’s Choice. Knopf 1943
Sin of Angels. Simon & Schuster, 1948 [with Dr. Hillis Owen]

NORBERT DAVIS “Don’t Give Your Right Name.” PI Max Latin #2. Novelette. First published in Dime Detective Magazine, December 1941. Reprinted in The Hardboiled Dicks, edited by Ron Goulart (Sherbourne Press, hardcover, 1965; Pocket, paperback, 1967) and collected in The Complete Cases of Max Latin (Steeger ,Books, 2013).

   I can see why Ron Goulart picked as the lead story in his The Hardboiled Dicks. Norbert Davis had a wicked sense of humor to go with a master’s touch in telling the rough, tough, hardboiled kind of tale that both Dime Detective and Black Mask specialized in.

   “Don’t Give Your Right Name,” for example, begins with a chaotic scene at Gutierrez’s restaurant, a place that’s always hopping in spite of everything Gutierrez can do to keep customers away because they eat too fast instead of savoring their food.

   This includes paying an autograph collector to go in and annoy all of the famous people gathered there. But things turn serious when the fellow turns up dead in the alley in back, and to save his own skin, Max Latin is forced to take on the case. Latin is a not-so-honest PI who, when he calls his lawyer, the latter is all but out the door and heading to the police lockup where he assumes Latin is, and is calling from.

   The story is enormously complicated, with more than a smidgen of sexual innuendo to go with it. There lots of strings to the plot, but even with the pace as fast as it is, Davis manages to keep everything under control to the end. On his part, Latin manages to keep himself out of jail, but on their part, not everyone else survives the night. It’s a risky business, showing up in one the stories he’s in.

Note: I first wrote a review of this story in 1967, and I posted it on this blog a week or so ago. Follow the link and you can read it here.



DONALD HENDERSON CLARKE – Louis Beretti. Vanguard Press, hardcover, 1929. Grosset & Dunlap, hardcover, photoplay edition, 1929. Novel Library #19, paperback, 1949; Avon #575, paperback, 1954. Film: Fox, 1930, as Born Reckless.

   My golly. This novel is freaking amazing. I can’t believe it.

   It’s the first novel by this NYC journalist who became close to famed NYC mobster Arnold Rothstein (who appears fictionally as Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby and as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, and who was famous for, among others things, fixing the 1919 World Series).

   One can’t help but think that Rothstein’s demise in 1928 freed Clarke to publish Louis Beretti along with the nonfiction In The Reign of Rothstein, both in 1929.

   There’s an awful lot of inside mobster facts about beating prohibition in Louis Beretti (such as how to make ‘smoke’ out of a quart of denaturalized wood alcohol sold at paint shops and adding a few drops of iodine, shaking the concoction til it attains a milky hue), that give the novel an incredible verisimilitude. Also some timeless mobster advice on success with the ladies: ‘treat a whore like a duchess and a duchess like a whore.’

   The novel is pretty much an episodic look at the life of a NYC mobster from birth to ‘maturity’. Think Little Caesar meets Studs Lonigan.

   The thing is, it’s much more fun to read than Little Caesar, and for the life of me I cannot understand why Burnett’s mob novel is hailed as an important first of its kind while this one is forgotten.

   It’s possibly because the film version of Louis Beretti is mostly forgotten (directed by John Ford in 1930), while the highly regarded film Little Caesar kept the novel’s title and has that iconic, genre defining performance from Edward G. Robinson as the lead.

   In any case, don’t sleep on Louis Beretti. It’s really, really good. It also shows how natural it was for close relationships to form between alcoholic journalists and bootleggers with a speakeasy.

MICHAEL COLLINS “Dan Fortune and the Hollywood Caper.” PI Dan Fortune.  Short story. First published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, November 1983. Collected in Crime, Punishment and Resurrection (Donald I. Fine, 1992) as “The Woman Who Ruined John Ireland.” Reprinted in Silver Screams: Murder Goes Hollywood, edited by Cynthia Manson & Adam Stern (Longmeadow, paperback, 1994).

   Dan Fortune is hired by a young woman, a file clerk for a company in midtown Manhattan, who lives a life on the borderline between real life and movieland fantasy. She looks like Gloria Grahame, and there are times when she thinks she is. She is having an affair with the manager of a small used bookstore whom at times she believes he is John Ireland. When she is shot at, she comes to Dan, convinced that her lover’s wife, Grace Kelly, is the one responsible.

   Before he has solved the case, she even has Dan doing it. Here below is a list of the movie stars who play a part in the investigation, even briefly. I hope I haven’t missed any. It would make one hell of of a movie, wouldn’t it?

Gloria Grahame
John Ireland
Grace Kelly
Alan Ladd
Elliott Gould
Ingrid Bergman
Bonita Granville
Dick Powell
Robert Mitchum
Robert Ryan
Burt Lancaster
Jack Nicholson
Robert Montgomery
Dan Duryea


MY LEARNED FRIEND. Ealing, 1943. Will Hay, Claude Hulbert, Mervyn Johns, and Ernest Thesiger. Written by Angus MacPhail & John Dighton. Directed by Basil Dearden & Will Hay. Currently streaming on Plex.

   Will Hay — for reasons that escape me — was an enduring star of British stage, screen and airwaves. His observations seem obvious to me, his delivery deliberate, and his timing tortuous. Still, you can’t argue with Success (Or rather, you can, but It won’t listen,) he made a score of well-received films, and I actually enjoyed this one.

   Hay stars as Will Fitch, a former barrister brought up on charges of fraud, who easily gets himself acquitted with a flurry of wheezy old jokes, then invites the flummoxed Crown Prosecutor, fittingly named Claude Babbington, back to his digs for a drink.

   But there they are confronted by a recently released felon gone mad (a delightfully miscast Mervyn Johns, whom you may remember as Bob Cratchit to Alastair Sim’s Scrooge.) who has sworn to kill everyone who had a hand in sending him up, and just wants to give Hay a heads-up you know, because he’s last on the list.

   Duly alarmed, Fitch and Babbington set about trying to thwart the madman by getting to his prospective victims first, following clues he has thoughtfully provided them. All they manage, though, is to arrive late or at the wrong places and get themselves suspected and ultimately hunted by Scotland Yard.

   It’s a tenuous concept for a comedy, but it gets more than its share of laughs, mostly because Babbington, Fitch’s partner in not-solving crimes is played by veteran comic actor Claude Hulbert.

   Hulbert specialized in playing the Silly Ass, and even essayed a turn as Algy Longworth in Bulldog Jack (aka: Alias Bulldog Drummond). Everyone involved had the wisdom to give him free rein here, and he’s simply and completely hilarious, even when the jokes are not. Indeed, he gets a tour de force dance number that he handles with amazing gracefulness (sorry) and split-second timing.

   Friend ultimately devolves into a farcical set-to inside an explosive-laden Big Ben, but by that time I had surrendered to Hulbert’s charm and found myself enjoying this nonsense in spite of myself. You might, too.


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