May 2022

HOLBY/BLUE “Episode One.” BBC, 08 May 2007. Cal Macaninch as DI John Keenan, Richard Harrington as DS Luke French, Elaine Glover as PC Lucy Slater, and large recurring ensemble cast. Created by Tony Jordan as a spin-off from the established TV medical drama Holby City; also screenwriter. Director: Martin Hutchings. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

   This BBC series might be categorized as police procedural/soap opera drama. It takes place in a small overworked police station in the fictional town of Holby, somewhere in England. This, the first episode of the first of two seasons opens with the well-worn concept of a new copper arriving (DS Luke French) and being introduced (and learning to adjust to) his new partner (DI John Keenan). At the same time, it is also the first day that a crop of new recruits are on the job, including a PC Lucy Slater, a young eager-to-go but klutzy blonde.

   It’s a day like all others, or is it, the new guy wonders. A known pedophile is about to be released for lack of evidence; a husband with a compulsive disorder is convinced that his wife is cheating on him; and Keenan – a maverick who hates playing my the rules — smashes the tail light of the car of the new male friend of his soon to be ex-wife. French bears up to all this with calmness and remarkable composure; and Lucy Slater is able to redeem herself in the eyes of her colleagues.

   It’s done well and at the same time completely by the book. Very slick, in other words. I probably won’t watch another, but then again, I might.  On the other hand, I never watched but one episode of Hill Street Blues either.



THE ROVER. United Artists, 1967. Released first in Italy as L’avventuriero. Anthony Quinn, Rosanna Schiaffino, Rita Hayworth, Richard Johnson, Ivo Garrani, Luciano Rossi, Anthony Dawson. Based on the novel by Joseph Conrad. Director: Terence Young.

   It was with some bemusement I watched The Rover, a film based on Joseph Conrad’s novel, a cheap-jack multinational production/tax write-off which captures nothing at all of Conrad’s ethos and even less of the brooding excitement of his writing at its best.

   What we’re left with is Anthony Quinn — that charismatic actor whose career had more bad steps than a derelict lighthouse — as a Napoleonic-era trench privateer returned to his country with all too little to show his head-hunting bosses. He falls in love with a mysterious young woman, tries to refit a derelict ship and slip past a British blockade, but by that time, everyone’s pretty much lost interest in this shabby show.

   How tacky is it? Well, aside from the perfunctory photography and poor dubbing, it’s set in a rather sparsely-populated France (well, maybe everyone was off fighting the wars) with few buildings, one or two streets, and maybe four horses. And the scene of a British ship chasing the privateer was very obviously filmed with One ship photographed from different angles, edited to try and make it look like Two — which don’t work.

   Sad to see talents that once showed some promise stuck in this movie-mire: The Rover was directed by Terence Young, who made movie history a few years earlier launching the James Bond series; aside from Quinn, it features Rita Hayworth and Richard Johnson (who at various times embodied Bulldog Drummond and Lord Nelson) and, in a teeny-tiny part, tucked off in a corner somewhere, movie-goers with long memories will spot Anthony Dawson and wonder what became of the promising actor so memorable as the unlucky Cpt. Lesgate in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder.

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


CAROLYN WELLS – The Wooden Indian. Fleming Stone #41. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, US, 1935.

   While obviously a mystery novel, maybe even a work of detective fiction, The Wooden Indian is very nearly a fantasy, simply because its resemblance to reality is so razor slim.


   At least, I *think* it’s slim. It takes place in the Connecticut of the 1930s (New London County), and the country club set is very much a part of it. It’s not a world which I was ever a part of, then or now, and maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I just don’t recognize how close to reality it really is (or was).

   At any rate, David and Camilla Corbin are valued members of the Pequot Club, but they are not very happily married. He is wealthy, a stamp collector, and an amateur historian specializing in local Indian legends. She is serenely beautiful, subject to scathing comments from her husband, and every other unattached male in the neighborhood is attracted to her like moths to a flame.

   Wait. There’s more. Legend has it that a curse is upon the Corbin family, and every 100 years one of them will die at the hands of the spirit of a vengeful Indian chief, with bow and arrow. This is the year — and this the stuff of which detective stories are made. It’s no wonder that a friend of Fleming Stone, noted criminologist, calls him in, even before the first murder occurs. As stated on pp.26-27: “Bob’s wire didn’t promise a case exactly, but it held out interesting hopes …”

   In other words, what we are playing here is a game. The rules are fixed. The victim has no say in the matter, even though his identity is known 80 pages in advance. [WARNING: Major Plot Alerts in the Paragraphs ahead.] There is a ghost at hand, there is even what is described on p.191 as a “locked room”, even though the murder took place 80 pages before that and this is the first (and last) time it’s mentioned.

   The solution, by the way, describes (in some detail) the trick the killer used to get in, and yet the only thing blocking the doorway was the red cord used by the dead man to signal that he was listening to the radio and did not want to be disturbed. When Stone came upon the scene earlier, he “lifted one end of the red cord from its hook and went in,” (p.109)

   While the book is listed in Bob Adey’s book on Locked Room mysteries, I must have missed something.

   The killer is not the secretary, as Fleming Stone first surmises. (Apparently the last mystery Stone has read was The Leavenworth Case, and evidently, in that one the secretary *was* the killer.) Instead it’s a trivial variation on the “person most likely” — in other words, a person so obvious that I thought that that was the gimmick. Sorry. No such luck.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 31, May 1991, considerably revised.


NOTE: Obviously forgetting I first read this book back in 1991, as above, I read and reviewed it again on this blog here in 2009. These comments followed Bill Pronzini’s take on it here,  a 1001 Midnights review.



STUART KAMINSKY – Murder on the Yellow Brick Road. Toby Peters #2. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1977. Penguin, paperback, 1979.

   This is the second in Stuart Kam1nsky’s historical series starring his 1940’s Hollywood private investigator, Toby Peters (a.k.a. Tobias Leo Pevsner), who made his own debut last year in Bullet for a Star.  This second entry is  far superior to the first. Once again, Hollywood stars join the fun in both major and minor roles.

   In this vehicle Toby is summoned from the Warner Brothers lot (where he helped Errol Flynn in Bullet) to M.G.M by an urgent call from Judy Garland, who has just discovered the body of a murdered Munchkin on the still-standing publicity set of Munchkin City from The Wizard of Oz, released more than a year earlier. Peters is hired by Louis B. Mayer himself to keep the investigation quiet and protect Judy, whose own safety seems at stake.  Toby’s interview with the “little” suspect arrested in connection with the murder convinces him of his innocence.

   Peters, of course, whose wife has already walked out on him and who shares office space with a dentist, is a progeny of the classic Hammett/Chandler tradition:

   “My nose is mashed against my dark face from two punches too many. At 44 I’ve a few grey hairs in my short sideburns, and my smile looks 1ike a cynical sneer even when I’m having a good time, but there are a lot around town just as tough and just as cheap. I fit a type, and in my business I was willing to play it up rather than try to cover.”

   And again:

   “I was doing what private detectives are supposed to do. I was walking the mean streets. I was acting like a damn fool.”

   Indeed, Raymond Chandler also has a bit part as himself in the novel. He spots Toby while doing research on flophouses and decides to shadow him, but is waylaid for his efforts. Since Toby is the first real detective he has ever met, our investigator lets him tag along on the case so he can drink in some local color and dialogue first hand.

   A second fatal stabbing, a defenestration., and two attempts on Toby’s life all ensue before the climax, in which even Judy has a hand (or an elbow, to be more exact).

   Murder on the Yellow Brick Road is a well-paced and very neat yarn, indeed, even if it doesn’t require a wizard to spot the culprit. The dialogue is crisp and lively, especially between Toby and his antagonistic brother, LAPD Lieutenant Philip Pevsner, whose boiling point is nil whenever he runs up against his younger  brother.

   Add Clark Gable in a minor role as a prospective witness and several other M.G.M. stars in walk-through parts and it all adds up to quite a pleasant stroll down memory lane as well. Unfortunately, there was a very careless printing job by St. Martin’s Press on the first edition which will hopefully be corrected in subsequent printings, including that  scheduled for the Mystery Guild.

   Kaminsky’s third work is already in progress and will involve Toby Peters with the Marx Brothers.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 1, Number 3 (May 1978).


TWO WAY STRETCH British Lion Films, UK, 1960. Peter Sellers, David Lodge, Bernard Cribbins, Wilfrid Hyde White, Maurice Denham, Lionel Jeffries, Irene Handl, Liz Fraser. Director: Robert Day.

   I don’t often review comedies on this blog – though I do love ’em – but I’m making an exception for this as it is both old and involves a crime. It’s basically Porridge fifteen years earlier, with Peter Sellers as crafty, cockney career criminal (and guest of Her Majesty’s) ‘Dodger’ Lane. He and his cell-mates ‘Jelly’ Knight (David Lodge) and Lenny the Dip (Bernard Cribbins) treat the prison like a hotel, with a newspaper and fry-up every morning.

   The staff, meanwhile, are gullible and good-natured, with the governor (Maurice Denham) more interested in growing prize-winning vegetable marrows than keeping his convicts under control. Unsurprisingly, with such an easy life, Dodger and co have no wish to escape.

   This, however, is just what their old conspirator ‘Soapy’ Stevens (Wilfred Hyde-White) asks them to do. Disguised as a gentlemanly prison chaplain, he recognises that the trio’s imprisonment affords them the perfect alibi and enlists their help in a diamond heist. All they have to do is break out of prison, carry out the theft and break back in again.

   With the prison’s security almost non-existent, the plan is bound to succeed. However, a problem arrives in the shape of Dodger’s old nemesis, the irascible and sadistic prison warder ‘Sour’ Crout (Lionel Jeffries). With this guy around, there’s no way our trio can figure out a way to escape … surely?

   Caper comedies were popular at this time with The Big Job (1965), Too Many Crooks (1959) and Make Mine Mink (1960) showing that we Brits may be rubbish criminals but do make pretty good comedies. This was one of the most popular British films on the year of release, and it’s easy to see why. Schoolboys, in particular, must have loved the silly fun found here, and Jeffries makes for a terrific pantomime villain as the gestapo-like Crout, screaming his lines (“Silence when you’re talking to me!”) and sadistically determined to make every inmate suffer. There’s excellent support too from Liz Fraser and Irene Handl, the latter urging her son Lenny to escape jail like everyone else in their family.

   The break-out attempts in the middle of the film tip the hat to both The Wooden Horse (1950) and Danger Within (1959), spoofing another popular genre of the time, though both are episodic and unsurprisingly focus more on comedy than logistical analysis. The eventual theft of the diamonds from an army vehicle is a little underwhelming, however, though Thorley Walters shows how he could have played Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army (a role in which he was considered).

   This was probably the most casual performance Sellers ever gave, lacking as it does the multi-character revue of The Mouse That Roared (1959), Dr Strangelove (1964) and Soft Beds, Hard Battles (1974) or the intensity of I’m Alright, Jack (1959) and Being There (1979). It is also one of his most charming and accessible films, proving that not only Ealing could do Ealing.

   Fans should also check out The Wrong Arm of the Law (1962) (another Sellers caper and something of a spiritual successor to this), POW spoof Very Important Person (1961) and, more recently, the starry but sadly neglected prison comedy Lucky Break (2001).

Rating: ****


MICHAEL BISHOP “Allegra’s Hand.” Novelette. First appeared in Asimov’s SF, June 1996. Collected in At the City Limits of Fate (Edgewood Press, hardcover, 1996).

   I called this a science fiction story, and it is that, but it’s far from a space or planets story. A young girl new to her school catches the head counselor there, as well as a host of bullies. It’s not difficult to see why. She wears a glove on her left hand, a long-sleeved one that goes up her arm to almost her elbow.

   Why? What is she hiding? Why won’t she tell anyone? She is clearly intelligent, perhaps more than her years. But taunted one day too far, she punches the boy bullying her in the stomach with the hand in the glove, leaving a huge circular bruise. I won’t tell you her secret, as the mystery is a major factor in the first half of the story, one her counselor (female, and a first person narrator) works to unravel.

   Which she eventually does, gaining Allegra’s trust at last, slowly and carefully. It is quite an affliction, shall we say, that Allegra has to face. Luckily she has her father on her side, and she doesn’t have to face her future alone, not for a while yet.

   It’s in essence a quiet, melancholy story and I think a memorable one. But as Mrs. Hewit tells a colleague, “Beth, I go bump against more hopeless, intractable cases than Allegra’s almost very week. None more unusual, I grant that, but many sadder and a few even harder to envision tuning out acceptably.”

   As for me, I agree. It won’t be easy, but I think Allegra is a survivor.

   Michael Bishop has been writing SF since 1970, and his work has won or has been nominated for any number of awards. Even so, his stories are not flashy, and I don’t believe they’ve ever gained the attention they should have.



BLACK EYE. Warners, 1974. Fred Williamson (PI Shep Stone), Marie Cheatham, Rosemary Forsyth, Teresa Graves, Floy Dean, Richard Anderson, Richard X. Slattery, Bret Morrison. Based on the novel Murder on the Wild Side (Gold Medal, paperback original, 1972). Director Jack Arnold. Available for rental at Vudu/Fandango.

   The nicest thing you can say about Black Eye is that it will probably do no lasting harm to Jack Arnold’s reputation. In his hey-day, Arnold directed solid-if-minor classics like Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Tarantula, and The Tattered Dress. He directed Orson Welles in Man in the Shadow and some sources credit him with parts of Touch of Evil. Sad to see him, twenty years after, wasting his time and ours on a lackluster “blaxploitation” pie like this.

   Not that Black Eye is terrible — it’s just not very interesting. In fact, it has some pretty good credentials: based on a Gold Medal Original by Jeff Jacks; starring ethnic auteur Fred Williamson, with help from Teresa (Get Christie Love) Graves as his sexually ambivalent girlfriend and Brett Morrison (Radio’s The Shadow) as a sleazy suspect.

   There are one or two passable fight scenes, and a car chase of flickering interest, but by and large this story of… of … what’s it about? … oh yeah, something about drug dealers and a fancy cane stolen from a dead movie star. Well, it leaves one wondering why they bothered.

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


FREDERICK NEBEL “Winter Kill.” Kennedy of the Free Press & Captain Steve MacBride #32. Novelette. First published in Black Mask, November 1935. Reprinted in The Hardboiled Dicks, edited by Ron Goulart. (Sherbourne Press, 1965). Collected in Winter Kill: The Complete Cases of MacBride & Kennedy, Volume 4: 1935-36 (Altus Press, 2014).

   Russ Parcell is a cad, no way to get around that. A rich father’s son who drinks a lot, gambles a lot, and although married, runs around with cheap floozies a lot. He owes one gambling boss over $8500, which in 1935 would have been considered a lot of money, and the gambling boss is anxious to collect. It doesn’t make sense, then, for him to have killed Parcell, does it? The latter was found in the street,hid body frozen to death and covered with snow.

   It is Kennedy of Free Press who figures out it was murder. Someone had poured water on him and sent him wandering out in the cold in a drunken stupor. It is also Kennedy who does most of the investigative work on the case, although Captain Steve MacBride is there for police backup whenever he’s needed.

   It is also Kennedy who shows any personality in this particular story. He’s short and thin, and at times he can be almost invisible in a room, almost a shadow on the wall so that others also in the room can easily forget he’s there. He also drinks a lot, but whether he’s ever actually drunk is not easy to tell. He often learns a lot by pretending he’s had few too many.

   MacBride, on the other hand, could just as well be another generic cop. Luckily for Kennedy, he doesn’t mind putting up with the latter’s various foibles.

   The case, unfortunately, while long and involved, is not a particularly gripping one, and most of Kennedy’s legwork is done off screen, or with the motives for what he does do not revealed to the reader. The Kennedy-MacBride series was both a long one and very popular with the readers at the time. This particular story may not show them at their best.

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.

Reviews by L. J. Roberts


PAUL DOIRON – Dead by Dawn. Game Warden Mike Bowditch #12. Minotaur Books, hardcover, June 2021. Setting: Contemporary Maine.

First Sentence: The hill is steep here, and there is no guardrail above the river.

   Some love books and take great care of them: don’t write in them, or bend down corners. Hardcovers are put in mylar archival covers as soon as they arrive, and  the spines are not broken. But not this one. With a print, rather than an e-copy of this book, one would be tempted to rip out the pages out with abandon so they could be reordered in chronological order.

   You see, the author decided to write the story alternating between the present, and the very recent past; truly a gap of an hour, perhaps. The story is jumping back and forth like the ball in the championship ping-pong tournament and tends to drive one crazy.

   One assumes at some point, the past will with meetup with the present, but one may not wait that long before becoming screamingly frustrated. Not only does the style make the story nearly impossible to read, but it also removes most of the suspense which would have been otherwise palpable. Perhaps if one had a paper copy, they’d skip to the end just to see how it comes out. Frankly, however, no reader should feel the need to do that.

   For pity’s sake, what happened to the idea of starting the story at the beginning and carrying it straight through to the end; no prologue, no flashing back and forth, no portents: just tell the bleeding story!

   One could nearly conclude that many books written in 2020 were subject to the pandemic rendering too many authors incapable of editing, not rambling, including far more extraneous information than remotely needed, muddling the plot, including every character they can imagine, and falling prey to using devices that drive some readers mad with frustration. Sadly, this is one of those.

   Dead by Dawn is heartbreaking. Paul Doiron’s other books with his great characters, information about Maine and being a game warden there, are wonderful to read. Others will love this book and it well may win awards. However, others may find it gimmicky and annoying, and hope his next book returns to telling a cracking story in a straight timeline fashion.

Rating: Not Recommended.

      Note: Part one of this three-part review can be found here.

FREDERICK NEBEL “Winter Kill.” Kennedy of the Free Press & Captain Steve MacBride #32, Novelette. First published in Black Mask, November 1935. Collected in Winter Kill: The Complete Cases of MacBride & Kennedy, Volume 4: 1935-36 (Altus Press, 2014).

   Newspaperman Kennedy of the Free Press gets beaten up quite a bit but manages to capture a murderer whose victim is found frozen to death on the streets. Complicated story, with lots of characters to keep straight. Not really as satisfying [as the first two stories in this anthology]. (2)

RAOUL WHITFIELD “China Man.” Jo Gar #18. Published under the name Ramon Decolta in Black Mask, March 1932. Collected in West of Guam: The Complete Cases of Jo Gar (Altus Press, 2013).

   The servant of a Philippines importer is suspected of killing him, but Jo Gar has difficulty in obtaining proof. The flavor of the Orient comes through clearly. (3)

–December 1967

« Previous Page