May 2022



JOHN CUNNINGHAM – The Rainbow Runner. Tor, hardcover, 1992; paperback, 1993.

   The partners always kept locked the half-glassed doors of their office. Neither of them had ever been shot at, Jacko thought as he felt in his pocket for his key, but it was always a possibility.

   West Pointer and former Rough Rider Jacko O’Donohue of O’Donohue and Horton Export/Import has good reason to worry about being shot at. He and his partner Mike Horton are more private detectives than importers, and Jacko’s life is complex by any standards.

   His family owes money they can’t raise or they will lose their California vineyards, his wife married him expecting riches and comfort that Jacko couldn’t give her, his old “friend” and partner Mike Horton is blackmailing clients according to the D. A. (“Where’d they get the idea of blackmail? They don’t like me, never did.”), and Mike and Jacko’s wife May are having an affair.

   So when the Mexican Consul in Los Angeles, Manuel Palafox, a frequent client of O’Donohue and Horton for whom they spy on local anarchists, offers Jacko a considerable fee to escort a religious artifact that was smuggled out of Mexico by would-be anarchists, a monstrance worth a quarter of a million dollars stolen from the church in San Luis Potosi, back to its rightful place it seems like a solution to all his problems.

   But that may not be as simple as it seems, not with Palafox’s dangerous half-brother Herculano, the revolutionaries in L.A. who stole the relic in the first place and moved it out of Mexico, the forces of the Pancho Villa’s army in Mexico, and the treacherous Mike and May simply surviving may be all Jacko can manage.

   Jacko went over his Tactical Rules. Number 1: the most effective offense as well as the most difficult is to take the enemy by surprise from the rear. Number 2: in the rear from an elevated position. Number 3: in the rear by enfilade. All these West Point abstractions were subsumed under the general heading of Backshooting.

   While this may sound like a private eye novel (there was never all that much difference between the two), and a fairly hard-boiled one at that, The Rainbow Runner, is, in fact, a Western (though one that would not have been out of place in Black Mask), and by a fairly well known Western writer, John Cunningham, a highly praised master of the form well known for his fine novel of the trail drives, Warhorse, and a little story called “The Tin Star” filmed under the more familiar name of High Noon.

   The high quality of the writing (… his small feet adventuring timidly, one after the other, like a pair of old married mice out of a hole.) the well-developed characters, and the sense that everything arises naturally from the characters and plot as set in motion mark this as a classic adventure story as Jacko gets involved reluctantly with Becky (“I can see you, scuttling along behind me, terrified because you think you might have to protect me.”), Mike’s wife and tries to survive against a background of treachery and violent terrain.

   Everyone is out for themselves and everyone has a hidden agenda. No one can be trusted, and Jacko isn’t all that sure of himself or his own motives. All he knows is his life has come apart and now delivering that religious relic may mean the end of it.

   Here he evokes the divided border town of Nogales as sharply as Berlin divided by the Wall:

   They came out onto International the broad double width of street cleared like a tornado straight east to west across the town. Down the center ran a line of telephone poles as though to mark the line. Where Grand crossed south into Mexico stood an obelisk, a little taller than the sentry posted next to it. Three others of the U. S. Infantry patrolled the line with Springfields at shoulder arms, looking professional in their wrinkled bloomers. On the other side of the telephone poles two Mexicans in bedraggled shirts and pants, one with a jacket half torn off his back, shuffled slowly back and forth, carrying captured Mausers across their shoulders as if they were shovels.

   Cunningham is often ranked with writers like Jack Shaefer and A. B. Guthrie as a Western writer, and here blurbed by Guthrie, Elmore Leonard, Alan LeMay, Douglas C. Jones, and reviewed in The New Yorker. His bona fides as a writer of Westerns are top notch.

   This and his novel Starfall came along late in his career and are both well worth finding. Four novels and a classic short story aren’t a prolific career, but when they are all this good quality weighs far more than quantity.



TIMOTHY FULLER – Three Thirds of a Ghost. Jupiter Jones #2. Little Brown, hardcover, 1941. Popular Library #81, paperback, [1946].

   This is the second of the Jupiter Jones adventures It is somewhat of a relief to see a more mature sleuth than in the earlier Harvard Has a Homicide to which there is a reference in this present work as well as to Jupiter’s having been “an eccentric graduate student” who “interfered with the Cambridge Police.”

   The scene this time is Boston. and Jupiter, who is now a recently appointed instructor in Fine Arts at Harvard, cooperates almost fully with the police after witnessing with some two hundred others, the shooting death of Pulitzer Prize author George Newbury during the latter’s talk at Bromfield’s Bookstore on the occasion of its 150th Anniversary.

   The book purports to be an intimate and humorous roman a clef in miniature with Newbury representing John P. Marquand, social satirist and creator of a well-known Oriental detective (cf. Newbury’s Chinese detective “Parrot” and Marquand’s Japanese Mr. Moto).  On this score, Timothy Fuller himself says in his author’s note: “Some of the  characters in this book bear a singular resemblance to persons now living, not dead… Let us say that the resemblances are too close to be “coincidental and hope they are too inaccurate to be libelous.”

   When Police Captain Hogan is  killed during a sudden basement fire at the bookstore, Jones realizes that he had already found evidence sufficient to incriminate Newbury’s killer. Jupiter’s fiancee Betty Mahon, to whom he proposes in a cab, is naturally on hand  throughout the book. The disappearance of the supposed murder weapon is cleverly manipulated as is the cat-and-mouse play between Jones and Newbury’s Oriental secretary, Lin.

   It takes a bogus seance and a full ghost in the person of Jupiter Jones to trap the killer in an interesting denouement which, with apologies to Van Dine, is very well handled. The few red herrings were quite enough to distract my attention from the real killer. Lighthearted and unpretentious fun.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 2, Number 5 (Sept-Oct 1979).


DEAD PIGEON ON BEETHOVEN STREET. Episode 25, Season 1, of Tatort, Germany, 07 January 1973. Original title: Tote Taube in der Beethovenstraße. Glenn Corbett, Christa Lang, Sieghardt Rupp, Anton Diffring, Stephanie Audran, Eric P. Caspar. Screenwriter-director: Sam Fuller. Novelization: Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street, by Samuel Fuller (Pyramid V3736, paperback original, 1974).

   To point up the difference between Promise and Genius, there’s Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street, written and directed by that certifiable madman Sam Fuller, auteur of Shock Corridor, Underworld USA and I Shot Jesse James.

   When he made this, Fuller hadn’t had control of a film since The Naked Kiss, seven years earlier, and it’s wonderful to see him right back in form, taking a standard plot (Glenn Corbett as an American Pl in Germany out to avenge the death of his partner . and retrieve incriminating photos of a client), pumping it full of energy and suffusing it with his own perverse artistry.

   There are some brilliantly edited action scenes, jarringly surreal tnise-en scene, and a story that stubbornly refuses to stay in its accustomed place. Fuller throws in some nifty extras as well, including bits of Rio Bravo in German, a cameo by Stephane Audran, and a wonderful turn from veteran character actor Alex D’Arcy.

   With his oily hair, vacuous leer and pencil mustache, D’Arcy was a Hollywood Fixture from the Silents through the Golden Age and well beyond, specializing in worthless heirs, effeminate gigolos and brainless fortune hunters (Remember him swapping derbies with Cary Grant in The Awful Truth?), and it’s a pleasure to see him once more, strutting his gaudy Nothing as amiably as ever, and kissing Glenn Corbett.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #7, May 2000.


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

DOROTHY SALISBURY DAVIS – Tales for a Stormy Night.  Foul Play Press, hardcover, 1984. Avon, paperback, 1985.

   In this collection, which spans more than thirty years, Davis draws heavily upon her country childhood, as well as the city streets of her longer fiction. Her younger years on Midwestern farms provide rich material, which Davis details in her informative introduction, also acknowledging the part that youthful crisis plays in shaping a writer’s work: “The soul is marked with childhood’s wounds, and I am grateful for mine. As a writer, I don’t know what I’d have done without them.”

   Those wounds, perhaps, are why these stories show such depth; the characters and settings. are fully developed, and the endings, while offering clever twists, are entirely plausible. “Backward, Turn Backward,” for instance, is about the investigation of a murder; only two suspects exist, and the solution must come directly from the character of one or the other of them. In “Spring Fever,” Davis gives us a haunting picture of a woman on the desperate brink of middle age and shows how such restlessness as hers can indeed become deadly. “Old Friends” reminds us how little we may know of those closest to us.

   While these three stories are set in the country, Davis has not deserted her “mean streets” in her short fiction. “Sweet Wilham” takes a whimsical look at what can happen to foreigners caught up in the vicissitudes of Manhattan living. And while the heroine of”The Purple Is Everything” is described as living in a “large East Coast city,” one is certain the peculiar events that happen to her could occur only in New York.

   This is a well-balanced, entertaining, and sometimes chilling collection that shows the best of Davis’s work over her long and distinguished career. Three of the stories included here were nominated for Edgars: “Backward, Turn Backward,” “Old Friends,” and “The Purple Is Everything.”

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.

ARTHUR LYONS – The Dead Are Discreet. Jacob Asch #1. Mason & Lipscomb, hardcover, 1974. Ballantine, paperback, 1976. Henry Holt & Co, paperback, 1983.

   If you’ve read as many PI novels as either you or I have, you know without my telling you that there are very few plots to match up numberwise with all of the PI novels that have been written over the years. So when I tell you that in the first appearance of PI Jacob Asch in a detective novels he is hired by a lawyer whose client is accused of murdering his wife and her lover when he unexpectedly walks in on them, you may be reminded of the current TV series of The Lincoln Lawyer, in which, guess what? Mickey Haller inherits another lawyer’s caseload after he’s murdered, and the big one he’s tasked with has to do with a client who…

   And of course a good defense in such situations is to find someone who wanted the lover dead, not the wife. Bingo, right again. Not that that’s the case in either book or TV show, but it does provide for a lot more story to tell.

   There are variations on this. What’s different about this one is that the wife is into matters of the occult, hence the cover of the paperback edition, and so there’s that angle to be investigated, and it doesn’t matter one bit that the setting is Los Angeles, primarily Hollywood, although the movie-making aspect of one of the town’s major industries isn’t really a factor.

   I didn’t realize it while I was reading it, but as it so happens, it was a re-read. I’d read this one before. That’s not a fact that matters much, but in my review of Castle Burning, the fifth book in the series and reviewed here, I mentioned I didn’t care for this one and that I had given it a “D”. I haven’t come across the full review from back then, but sad to say, I wouldn’t rank much higher this time around either.

   Lyons’ writing style is smooth enough and doesn’t call attention to itself, which is a good thing, and he knows his way around even the seediest parts of town, but I don’t get the sense that he’s as hardboiled as he wants to be.  I’m also always unhappy when a detective in a detective story doesn’t do any detecting. Asch, in this case, at least, simply goes with his gut feeling. Sorry, my friend, that’s simply not good enough. Not for me, it isn’t.



BORREGO. Saban Films, 2022. Lucy Hale, Leynar Gomez, Jorge E. Jimenez, Nicholas Gonzalez, Olivia Trujillo. Written & directed by Jesse Harris. Currently streaming on Netflix.

   The opening is exceedingly promising. Working alone in the empty desert under the hot California sun, botanist Elly (Lucy Hale) is both focused and distracted. While she is squarely devoted to her botanical survey, she’s also lost in her own thoughts and mourning the loss of her younger sister. But the desert has its own plans for her.

   Unbeknownst to her, she’s not the only one who is toiling in semi-solitude in the great emptiness of eastern San Diego County. Also out there is Guillermo (Jorge E. Jimenez), an enforcer for an unnamed Mexican drug cartel and father-and-daughter duo, local sheriff Jose (Nicholas Gonzalez) and Alex (Olivia Trujillo).

   The inciting event that interrupts Elly’s solitude is the type of thing that happens mostly in the movies: a plane crash. While out in the desert examining local flora, she bears witness to a small plane going down in the desert. The pilot – the only one on board – survives. But he’s not an innocent traveler. Far from it. Rather, he is also working for the drug cartel and is ferrying highly dangerous fentanyl across the California-Mexico border.

   The movie thus changes course and the narrative thrust comes into focus. Tomas (Leynar Gomez), the pilot, takes Elly hostage and demands she take him and the remaining pills to the Salton Sea in Imperial County. What follows is a survival thriller that runs out of steam well before the movie ends. While Elly and Tomas bond over their shared life struggles and tragedies, Guillermo seeks to retrieve the drugs and to kill all who get in his way. And the sheriff is trying to stop any further bloodshed. It’s all rather predictable and formulaic and doesn’t really offer the viewer anything refreshingly new.

   The best parts of the movie are those that utilize the stunningly empty landscapes of the California desert. The cinematography, especially in the first thirty minutes or so, is quite good and the movie is effective in transporting the viewer to a land that is equally enchanting as it is dangerous. Like Budd Boetticher’s minimalist westerns with Randolph Scott, the landscape is as much as character as any of those portrayed by the actors.

   But unlike Boetticher’s films, the characters in Borrego aren’t complex, multilayered, or particularly compelling. This new release, at its best, is a decent adventure yarn. At its worst, it’s a socially conscious message film that doesn’t seem to have anything more compelling to say other than drugs are bad and that they will not only ruin your life, but the lives of those you love.



RICHARD SALE – For the President’s Eyes Only. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1971. Bantam, paperback, 1972. British title: The Man Who Raised Hell (Cassell, hardcover, 1971).

   There was a dead leopard on the runway at Embakasi Airport. The flamboyant carcass was in plain sight yet nobody had spotted the chui until the South African flight arrived. The laddybucks in Air Traffic Control had celebrated the chief dispatcher’s birthday the night before at all the watering holes of Nairobi, they were all whacked out…

   Still, a dead leopard on the runway didn’t make sense.

   Sam Carson, ex U.S. Navy genius electronics expert an, part Sioux Indian, currently working at McMurdo Station helping communications studies done on Weddell seals is surprised when Air Force One shows up on the landing strip bearing Admiral John Jeremiah McCabe, acting chief of the National Security Agency and looking for him. It’s his own dead leopard on the runway and even when it is explained to him it doesn’t quite make sense.

   â€œCarson… Seems the United States has a problem and circumstances have singled you out for the mission.”

   Intelligence has uncovered something called Keyhole, a Club that deals in extortion, blackmail, murder, and high level espionage and Carson is the only man who can help, not because he is Sam Carson, but because he is a physical match for 6’ 3” inch wealthy playboy, rakehell, and alcoholic half Crow Simon Kincade, and Kincade is the kind of target Keyhole likes. He’s also dead, but so far as the world knows is only missing.

   When he is “rescued,” he will come back as Sam Carson whose job is to get himself blackmailed by the murderous Keyhole operation.

   Keyhole has already killed, and a wealthy but shady Australian named Charlie Ravensmith is a key but too obvious suspect. A wider trail of possibly linked kills makes it imperative Keyhole be uncovered, and not surprisingly it’s invaluable blackmail information made available to Western Intelligence agencies.

   They aren’t half as interested in exposing Keyhole as managing it.

   The President of the United States himself is interested in this one.

   In short order Carson finds himself going under the knife to make him closer to Kincade (James Bond never had his appendix removed for king and country) and introduced to his wife, Melisande Kincade, who he falls in love with while he has surgery and prepares for the mission in the Fiji islands in a savage kind of paradise.

   Newly rescued and back on a rampage, Simon Kincade shows up in Nairobi with his entourage, mistreated wife Melisande, and Carson’s old friend now bodyguard full blood Shoshoni Willie Littlesky about to go on safari.

   From that point on the plot moves swiftly with more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel, coming to one stunning climax in Africa on safari before moving to England for an even more shocking turn as Carson/Kincade and Littlesky dig deeper into the secrets of Keyhole, the duplicitous Charlie Ravensmith, and a curious group known as the Seven Needles, a cartel with offices around the world and in a gambling club called the Montebank in London.

   Lady Darla Henley, code name Stitch is Chairman of the board, a randy and eccentric beauty; Dickerson a former New York newspaper columnist is code named Dart; Monty Wyndham a ghostly Canadian known as Scissor; Vittorio Tarantella, a former body guard for Lucky Luciano who runs the casino and is known as Seam; a phony French designer named Henri Dieu known as Hem with his killer lover Bane; Ninji Fukimora a lesbian half American half Japanese woman code named Tuck; and, Buffy Pristine, a black woman who may have murdered her wealthy Arab husband, code named Gore.

   Stitch, Dart, Scissor, Seam, Hem, Bane, Tuck, and Gore. As Carson says, “Like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

   Not satisfied to do a mean Ian Fleming, Sale also does a mean Hemingway and Robert Ruark in the African sections all the while keeping his cards firmly up his sleeve with a bit of Richard Condon and James Michener thrown in the mix while the reader never quite knows which way the plot will twist and who, if anyone, can be trusted.

   Even the writer is an unreliable narrator in this one.

   Sale, of course, was a successful pulp writer (creator of Daffy Dill and Major Deen, the Cobra) turned mystery novelist, bestselling writer, screenwriter, film director, producer, and bestselling writer again. He directed and produced movies and television, and was married to Mary Loos, niece of the legendary Anita Loos (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes).

   He was also an entertaining writer who penned at least three classic mystery novels, the scewball Lazarus #7 that James Sandoe called a “gay Hollywoodian gambol” (read it anyway the twist ending is a doozy), Passing Strange, and Benefit Performance. His mainstream novels include Not Too Narrow Not Too Deep, The Oscar, and White Buffalo, all made into films.

   I don’t usually quote from other reviews, but The New York Times summed this one up pretty well:

   If it’s escape reading you’re after cuddle up with For the President’s Eyes Only… (the) book has more slinky women, more super criminals, more tough heads of intelligence departments, and more apparatus all around, than anything since the great days of Ian Fleming.

   That should tell you everything you could possibly need to know about this wild ride of a spy novel that is by turns, wry, witty, thrilling, smart, sophisticated, and tragic. Best of all it is all these globe trotting adventures are done tongue in cheek without ever laughing at itself or the reader but still keeping it clear that nothing is to be taken too seriously.

   It is not particularly politically correct, though it pales before the likes of Joe Gall pr Matt Helm in general attitudes.

   Now that I’ve re-read all of the stories in Ron Goulart’s anthology The Hardboiled Dicks, and posted reviews of each of them on this blog, I’ve decided to rank them, not in terms of how much I liked them, but in terms of their relative hardboiledness, if such were really a word. Your opinion may vary:

LESTER DENT “Angelfish.”
NORBERT DAVIS “Don’t Give Your Right Name.”
JOHN K. BUTLER “The Saint in Silver.”
FRANK GRUBER “Death on Eagle’s Crag.”
RICHARD SALE “A Nose for News.”
ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “The Bird in the Hand.”

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “The Bird in the Hand.” Lester Leith n#33. First published in Detective Fiction Weekly, April 5, 1932. Reprinted in The Hardboiled Dicks, edited by Ron Goulart (Sherbourne Press, 1965).

   Outwardly Lester Leith appears to be nothing more than a wealthy man of leisure, complete with a man servant he derisively calls Scuttle. Fully known to him is that Scuttle is in reality an undercover operative named Edward Beaver who works for the New York City Police Department.

   Why? Because while not a crook, exactly, Lester Leith takes great delight in reading about various crimes in the newspaper and finding exceedingly clever ways to relieve the real crooks of their ill-gotten gains.

   And always right under the watchful eyes of Beaver and his superior officer, the very irascible Sgt. Ackley. Boiling over, in fact, the latter is, at the end of every story, having been fooled again, and badly. He never learns, to the delight of the thousands of Gardner’s readers.

   In “Bird in the Hand,” the question is, what happened to a murdered man’s trunk, which has completely disappeared from his hotel room, along with five expensive pieces of stolen jewelry – the dead man known to have been a notorious fence and having had the gems in his possession.

   Among the items Leith gathers together to obtain the jewelry for himself is a skilled female pickpocket and a large cage containing a bird he describes as a “Peruvian bloodhound-canary.”

   The Lester Leith stories are wickedly clever, and this one is one of the better ones. One can only wonder how Gardner was able to come up with so many plots for them all – over 70 of them. I have read enough of them to think of them as formulaic, but the formula is a doozie of one.

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.

LESTER DENT “Angelfish.” Oscar Sail #2. First published in Black Mask, December 1936. Reprinted in The Hardboiled Dicks, edited by Ron Goulart (Sherbourne Press, 1965).

   Miami-based PI Oscar Sail thinks his latest case is a screwy one, and it surely is. His client is a pretty girl named Nan Moberly who needs him to fake an attack on her, complete with gunfire, phony blood and a doctor who’s ready to swear she’s been shot. Sail complies, but stunts like this one seldom work out as planned.

   What follows is a complicated melange of stolen aerial photos, lots of bad guys after them, a cab driver with a wooden leg named John Silver, several deaths, Nan’s kidnapping, and a race by small boat through the wind-raged fringes of a hurricane to save her – one of the most detailed such voyages I’ve ever read.

   This is by far the most hardboiled story in all of Ron Goulart’s anthology. Dent always had a way with words, and he’s at his absolute best in this one. The ending in particular is as chilling a conclusion to a story you will read anywhere. It really is a shame hat he wrote only the two tales of Oscar Sail.

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.

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