July 2022

MICHAEL AVALLONE – Dead Game. Ed Noon #3. Henry Holt & Co., hardcover, 1954. Permabook M-3012, paperback, August 1955; James Meese cover art.

   This one starts quietly enough. Manhattan-based PI Ed Noon is hired by a woman to follow her husband, an antiques dealer by profession, whom she suspects is cheating on her. But where does he go? To a baseball game. The Polo Grounds, as a matter of fact, the home of the New York Giants before they absconded off to San Francisco. They’re playing a pre-season exhibition game with a makeshift (semi-pro?) team called the Providence Ravens.

   Where Mr. Arongio (Noon’s prey) has eyes only on that other team’s third baseman. If ever one guy could wish another guy dead just staring at him, that first guy would be Mr. Arongio. And guess what? Before the game is over, while it’s still being played, the other guy, the third baseman, is in fact dead, face down on the ground. And the first guy to reach him? No guesses. Mr. Arongio.

   The baseball setting may or may not be unique in the annals of PI fiction, but the action simply does not let up from this point on. Suspects include Mrs. Arongio (who is a looker), Mr. Arongio and his girl friend (Mrs. Arongio was right, and she’s another looker), and several other members of the Ravens. (The dead man was no pal of the rest of the team.) And somewhere along the way a diary supposedly having belonged to Edgar Allan Poe comes into play, along with a missing $20,000 that Mr. Arongio paid for it.

   It is easy to picture Ed Noon, who tells his own story, to have been played the movies by none other than Mike Avallone himself, just as Mickey Spillane once took the leading role in one the Mike Hammer movies. And in a way Dead Game reads somewhat like a Hammer novel, but without the higher intensity and crudeness, and the prose a tad more polished. A more family-friendly sort of PI, you might say. Noon is simply a nice guy who’s playing a slightly dirty – but definitely dangerous – game.

   Those of us who knew Mike Avallone in real life will find a lot to like in this one. Even though Ed Noon is just another member of a long list of now-forgotten PI’s who began their careers in the the 1950s, I’d like to think others might too.



J. JEFFERSON FARJEON – Seven Dead. Inspector Kendall #3. Collins, UK, hardcover, 1939. Bobbs-Merrill, US, hardcover, 1939. Poisoned Pen Press / British Library Crime Classics, US, trade paperback, 2018.

   When journalist and yachtsman Thomas Hazeldean who has come ashore to post a letter spots Ted Lyte fleeing from a house on a remote part of the coast he and a constable catch him with silverware in his pockets, but Lyte is uncommunicative.

   Something has scared the wits out of him.

   They take him to police headquarters where Detective Inspector Kendall is on duty. A few inquiries prove that Haven House where the Fenners live has been mysteriously quiet for some time and no calls have gone through though several have been made. Kendall resolves to find out why and with two constables, a police doctor, and Hazeldean in tow goes to investigate.

   Here there is a nice bit of a jump scare involving the “howler,” an intrusive device the phone service has to notify customers a call is being made to them.

   What they find is six men and a woman in man’s clothes (“She might have been attractive once. She was not now.”), all roughly dressed, all obviously worse for wear, and all dead.

   The doctor can’t say from what, though they have been dead too long to have been Ted Lyte’s work. Mysteries abound, including a painting of a young girl with a bullet hole in it, a gun fired one time, a dirty cricket bat on the mantle where a clock had stood, a dead cat outside, rubber tubing, a mysterious underground work shop that smells strange, and a note with an odd address that says the Suicide Club on the other side.

   Hazeldean makes for an attractive and believable co-sleuth who actually contributes to Kendall’s job as the two, apart and together, pursue answers to what happened. Why would seven strangers come to an empty house, the owners are away, and kill themselves, if it was suicide? Who are they, how did they come, and what is the meaning of their dirty worn clothing, the men are dressed like sailors, and emaciated looks. What ordeal did they face before killing themselves or being murdered?

   Joseph Jefferson Farjeon, who also wrote as Anthony Swift, was a popular writer from a distinguished family who penned several books with Kendall as sleuth and even more about Ben the Tramp, a charming hobo who sometimes assists Scotland Yard. His books were admired by Dorothy L. Sayers, and it isn’t hard to see why. His characters are and smart and attractive, his plots move swiftly, his murders are less contrived and more natural than they first seem, his criminals kill for believable motives, and even when he throws in a romance (as he does here) it is between attractive and likable people the readers cares about.

   In an era where bright young things could be an absolute pain to deal with in an otherwise good mystery novel Farjeon manages to keep them attractive and this side of believable. Hazeldean becomes fascinated by the girl whose picture has a bullet hole (who proves to be Dora Fenner, the now grown daughter of the owner, shades of Laura) in it, and follows a clue across the Channel to Boulogne where more mystery awaits.

   Seven Dead gives us a classic Golden Age puzzle, good dialogue and by play between Hazeldean and Kendall, the latter smart without being unlikely (as Hazeldean says, “…he didn’t play the violin or have a wooden leg or something…,” and only a shade acerbic in an attractive way, and more importantly a reasonable solution that ends in a nice bit of melodrama that nevertheless develops from the plot and characters and doesn’t strain credibility.

   It doesn’t hurt that Farjeon isn’t afraid to throw in thriller and adventure elements and blend them with the puzzle (he wrote several good chase novels too, including one filmed by Alfred Hitchcock, Number 17), meaning his books often seem less dated and formal than many of the greater lights of the genre. I suppose for some that is a drawback, but for this reader it is a definite plus.

   The British Library Crime Classics version of this has a fine introduction by Martin Edwards and an attractive cover and is available reasonably. All the Ben the Tramp books are available currently and several of Farjeon’s others, and all the ones I’ve read have been entertaining, though not necessarily classics.

   He’s not another Christie or Sayers, but he is great fun to read which isn’t always true of writers from his era. His books are old fashioned enough to fill that bill while written in a straight forward modern enough style not to leave the reader gritting his teeth, for a solid fast entertaining mystery novel of the era you could do a lot worse than Farjeon.



RICHARD S. PRATHER & STEPHEN MARLOWE – Double In Trouble. Shell Scott #19 & Chester Drum #9. Gold Medal #d926, paperback original, 1959.

   Shell Scott, an L.A. private detective, gets a knock on his door in the middle of the night from a beautiful but icy buxom blonde in distress. He is of course in the nude when he answers the door, causing some brief embarrassment.

   Her dad, a famous labor law professor, has been kidnapped by the Teamsters right before he was scheduled to testify in front of a Senate Subcommittee about Teamster racketeering. Please find him, she pleads, before it’s too late!

   The buxom blonde then flies to D.C., where she is nearly kidnapped by a splinter group of Teamsters who are trying to use the Senate investigation as a coup opportunity. She just happens to be the wife of the current head of the Teamsters — a Jimmy Hoffa clone.

   But the highway kidnap is foiled by the serendipitous interference of D.C. private detective Chester Drum, who happens to be out on loan to the Senate Subcommittee investigating the Teamsters!

   Shell Scott messes with the Teamsters on the west coast whilst Chet Drum does ditto on the east.

   Each detective alternates chapters, developing the story from their own unique point of view

   And they clash. Boy do they clash. They hate each other. For the first 245 pages of this 290 pager, they hate each other.

   It’s funny because they are near mirror images of each other, with Drum the shadow side, more restrained and conservative and negative; Scott the irrepressibly exuberant show off. But they’re both very tough and hell with the ladies.

   They hate each other because they’re the same person. They are fiercely independent, they’re cagey about revealing who their client is, and they’ll beat the crap out of you if you don’t cooperate with them. So they beat the crap out of each other each time they meet, allowing the bad guys to escape, allowing their girlfriends (each of whom were picked up by Drum/Scott in prior coordinated chapters) to get abducted.

   It’s a heavyweight and blood soaked keystone cops caper as Drum and Scott each suspect the other is a Teamster thug, and nearly screw up everything before finally becoming pals and partnering up to save the day starting at page 245.

   It’s an enjoyable diversion, with an ending promising more tandem Drum/Scott adventures to come that I believe never came to be….

by Matthew R. Bradley


   Akira Kurosawa’s Tengoku to jigoku (Heaven and Hell, aka High and Low; 1963), based on Ed McBain’s tenth 87th Precinct mystery, King’s Ransom (1959), epitomizes a pair of fascinating, complementary trends. One was the penchant of Kurosawa, arguably Japan’s greatest filmmaker, to adapt writers as diverse as William Shakespeare (Throne of Blood, 1957; Ran, 1985), Fyodor Dostoyevsky (The Idiot, 1951), and Maxim Gorky (The Lower Depths, 1957). The other is the use of McBain’s all-American romans policiers for films from France (La soupe aux poulets, 1963; Sans Mobile Apparent, 1971; Claude Chabrol’s Blood Relatives, 1978), Czechoslovakia (87. Revír, 1970; Panenka, 1980) and elsewhere.

   As McBain, Salvatore Albert Lombino (aka Evan Hunter) was the acknowledged master of the police procedural, the series comprising 55 books over half a century, and possibly inspiring Hill Street Blues. Its innovations included a “conglomerate hero in a mythical city…[that] was like New York but not quite New York,” with analogs for each borough; he had planned that “one cop can step into the spotlight in one novel, another in the next novel, cops can get killed and disappear from the series, other cops can come in, all of them visible to varying extents in each of the books…” The novel was faithfully adapted by McBain himself as “King’s Ransom” (2/19/62), an episode of the 87th Precinct show.

   It opens in the home of factory owner Douglas King as he confronts an attempted coup by investor Frank Blake, sales head George Benjamin, and fashion co-ordinator Rudy Stone, members of the board of directors of Granger Shoe Company who seek his voting stock to override the “Old Man” and abandon quality shoes for the more profitable low-priced field. Unknown to them, King plans to send assistant Pete Cameron up to Boston with a check for $750,000 so that his lawyer, Oscar Hanley, can sew up sufficient stock to effect a counter-coup. King gets a call demanding $500,000 for son Bobby, snatched while playing in the back woods with Jeff, son of widowed chauffeur Charles Reynolds.

   Then, Bobby bursts in, and it quickly becomes clear that Sy Barnard and Eddie Folsom — whose wife, Kathy, was waiting at a rented farmhouse, thinking they were pulling a final bank job before the couple can head down to Mexico for a fresh start — have grabbed the wrong victim. Eddie has cobbled together a Rube Goldberg contraption out of equipment from a series of radio-supply thefts and monitors the police frequencies, learning of their error. Phone company man Cassidy sets up a wiretap, yet the next call, to say they want the ransom paid regardless, is too brief to be traced; needing the money for Hanley, King refuses to pay despite Diane’s threat to leave, his son’s pleas, and any adverse publicity.

   Adrian Score, who tells King he knows who the kidnappers are and can get the boy back for a fee, is recognized by Det. Meyer Meyer as a con man and ejected; in the squadroom, Det. Hal Willis and Artie Brown, Sgt. Dave Murchison, and even commander Capt. John Frick have their hands full with well-meaning calls. Kathy warns Eddie that Sy plans to kill Jeff either way, but is caught trying to sneak him out, and after Folsom drives off to phone King with his instructions, the boy leaps to her defense when Sy threatens her with a switchblade, interrupted by Eddie’s return. Doug learns that Pete (whose duplicity was presaged by an extramarital affair with Diane’s friend Liz Bellew) has sided with the rest.

   Det. Steve Carella advises King to tell the kidnappers he has the money, just to buy time, so he departs in his Cadillac with a carton full of newspapers — and Carella on the floor in back. At the King estate, Det. Peter Kronig and Cotton Hawes find a tire track and paint scraping that enable the police lab’s Sam Grossman to identify their car as a stolen gray 1949 Ford, but Sy uses the radio to avoid road blocks. Eddie transmits to the car phone, giving King directions piecemeal to avoid pre-emptive police action, and plans to have him drive past a remote spot where Sy waits to pick up the carton, dropped out of view of any possible pursuit, and make off with it before anybody realizes King no longer has it.

   At a toll booth, Steve hands Patrolman Umberson a note pinned to his badge, alerting him to the situation, and he calls the precinct, but Kathy is determined to extricate herself and Eddie from what she fears may turn into a capital crime, so she shouts both their location and Sy’s into the open mike. As Carella and King surprise Sy in the woods, with Doug battering him into submission despite knife wounds, police raid the farmhouse to find Jeff safe and sound. Repaying Kathy’s kindness, he stubbornly insists he’s been alone since Sy — who corroborates his story to avoid the mark of the squealer, shielding the Folsoms’ presumed Mexican getaway — left; Doug mounts his takeover, and reconciles with Diane.

   High and Low features Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura, seen separately or together in almost every film from the first phase of Kurosawa’s directorial career, up through Red Beard (1965). The co-scenarists were Hideo Oguni, his collaborator on a dozen projects from Ikiru (1952) to Ran; Eijirô Hisaita, who’d worked with him as early as No Regrets for Our Youth (1946); and Ryûzô Kikushima, who produced the film for Toho Co., Ltd., with Tomoyuki Tanaka, the driving force behind the Godzilla and other kaijÅ« eiga (giant monster) films for which the studio is best known. Composer Masaru Satô was another kaijÅ« mainstay, as were Shimura and supporting players Jun Tazaki and Yoshio Tsuchiya.

   Baba (Yûnosuke Itô), sales and operations; Kamiya (Tazaki), marketing; and Ishimaru (Nobuo Nakamura), design, ask Kingo Gondo (Mifune) to join his 13% of the stock with their combined 21% to vote out the Old Man, holding 25%, and replace him as president of National Shoes with Baba. Kurosawa adds a marvelous visualization as Gondo tears their flimsy prototype to pieces with his bare hands, then is threatened that they can vote with the Old Man and throw him out. As right-hand man Kawanishi (Tatsuya Mihashi) shows them out, they offer to make him a director if he helps them, and here we first see Jun (Toshio Egi) and chauffeur Aoki’s (Yutaka Sada) son, Shinichi (Masahiko Shimazu).

   Playing sheriff vs. outlaw, they switch outfits, accounting for the confusion after Kingo tells wife Reiko (Kyôko Kagawa) that Kawanishi will be off to Osaka with a deposit of Â¥50 million to bring his holdings to 47%. Chief Inspector Tokura (Tatsuya Nakadai) and his men arrive in a delivery van, aware that with a telescope, the house is visible from the streets below, literalizing the film’s U.S. title. Resetting it from a frigid “Isola” October (weather features prominently in many of the books) to a sweltering Yokohama summer, Kurosawa sharply contrasts Gondo’s air-conditioned hilltop home with the slums, where much of the action occurs, an “inferno” that, per the kidnapper, “feels like 105 degrees.”

   Refusing to pay the Â¥30 million, Gondo says the kidnapper seems obsessed: “He wants to humiliate me, see me suffer.” Using the Tohoscope wide-screen image to great effect, Kurosawa tracks in and out of a single three-minute cut to capture, in the same frame, all the drama of Reiko consoling Aoki as he debases himself to beg for help, Jun plaintively asking when Shinichi will return, and the conflicted Gondo telling Kawanishi to postpone Osaka, with the police listening awkwardly in the foreground. The chief sets up a special investigation, placing the whole prefectural police force at Tokura’s disposal with a clear mandate (“Save the child first, then catch the kidnapper”) paralleling the film’s structure.

   After a night of soul-searching, Gondo remains obdurate, unwilling to sacrifice his future and all he’s worked for, and tells Kawanishi to proceed, but when he balks, citing Reiko’s wishes and public opinion, Kingo intuits that he has been sold out. Equally at home as a samurai or an aspiring footwear tycoon, Mifune brings his trademark intensity to the role, grappling with his betrayal and no-win situation. Knowing he is being watched, he says he’ll pay, demanding to see Shinichi, and then — in the first significant departure from the novel — calls the bank for the cash, to be taken aboard the Kodama No. 2 express train in two briefcases, a deliberately conspicuous style that the kidnapper will have to get rid of.

   They contain powders emitting a putrid smell if gotten wet or pink smoke if burned; after the police record as many non-consecutive serial numbers as possible, Gondo is told, via rail phone, to toss the cases out the narrow washroom window between Kozu and Atami, where the boy will be at the foot of the Sakawa River bridge. Tokura has Chief Detective Taguchi (Kenjirô Ishiyama) — nicknamed “Bos’n” due to his work at the harbor — and the others snap still photos and 8mm footage from the train, and Shinichi is duly released by a female accomplice. True to the spirit, if not the letter, of McBain, with more than half the 143-minute running time to go, Kurosawa meticulously details the ensuing manhunt.

   Gondo elicits national acclaim but unsympathetic creditors threaten to seize his collateral. Meanwhile, a farmer who saw the cash picked up leads to skid marks and paint scrapings from a stolen gray ’59 Toyopet Crown, and Shinichi recalls being at a house with a view of the sea and Mt. Fuji, yet he was doped with ether, and the kidnapper wore a mask and dark glasses. The abandoned car is found with large amounts of fish blood and oil, and the distinctive sound of the Enoshima trolley is detected in one of the taped phone calls, narrowing their search; at the nearby Koshigoe fish market, the Bos’n learns of a cape in front of Enoshima whose view matches the one drawn by Shinichi, who leads Aoki there.

   As Taguchi and a colleague, arriving just behind them, chide Aoki for playing detective, Shinichi spots the house, where caretakers “Uncle and Auntie” (the de facto Folsoms) are found dead of heroin overdoses. At a news conference held by his boss (Shimura), taking a leaf from McBain’s The Pusher (1956), Tokura posits that the kidnapper silenced them with unexpectedly pure heroin, apparently after a blackmail attempt, and requests a press blackout to let him believe the addicts may still be alive. Instead, they report on Gondo’s ouster from National Shoes, provoking a boycott, and run a planted story about a Â¥1,000 note from the ransom having been spent, complete with a photo of an identical briefcase.

   Â¥2.5 million is recovered from the accomplices and returned to Gondo, who refuses to be an “ornament” when Kawanishi claims he’s fought to change the board’s mind; Shinichi draws a picture of the kidnapper that, despite the facial coverings, reveals a handkerchief worn around his wrist. In a striking visual touch, Jun draws their attention to pink smoke in the monochrome image, rising from an incinerator used by hospital personnel, where a possible medical intern brought a cardboard box. Ginjirô Takeuchi (Tsutomu Yamazaki), spotted with a wrist wound, has an apartment in Nishi Ward facing Gondo’s house, next to a suspect pay phone, and had treated the addicts for pulmonary edema and withdrawal.

   Tokura sends him a facsimile (made from a tracing on the pad) of their note demanding more heroin, so Takeuchi, forced to make a buy, is followed to “Dope Alley,” where — menacing in his reflective shades — he picks up a junkie and takes her to a flophouse as a fatal guinea pig. Nailed at the hideout, he’d spent only Â¥20,000 on heroin, so Gondo gets back the rest of the ransom…too late to save his house. Condemned, Takeuchi insists on speaking with Gondo, now making shoes again for a small company, and says, “From my tiny room, your house looked like heaven,” hatred and resentment giving him a reason for living; he summoned Kingo in a last show of defiance, but his arrogance turns to hysteria.

   No mere acorn, King’s Ransom gave Kurosawa the solid foundation for a more nuanced moral exploration and one that, for Gondo at least, has the opposite outcome. Reducing the accomplices to ciphers — glimpsed only in long shot, filmed from the train, or via the legs of their corpses — enables him to focus completely on Gondo’s relationship with the kidnapper, whose impersonal motive in the book was purely profit-driven, and on a more elaborate investigation that is nonetheless wholly in the McBain style. The Japanese title is also made explicit, particularly in the almost Dantean horrors of “Dope Alley,” whose hopeless denizens, grasping at any passerby, anticipate Night of the Living Dead (1968).


MURDER ON THE BLACKPOOL EXPRESS. Gold, UK, 11 November 2017. Johnny Vegas (Terry), Sian Gibson (Gemma), Sheila Reid, Katy Cavanagh, Una Stubbs (her final performance), Nina Wadia, Kimberley Nixon , Matthew Cottle, Nigel Havers, Javone Prince, Susie Blake, Mark Heap, Griff Rhys Jones, Kevin Eldon. Written by Jason Cook. Directed by Simon Delaney. Currently streaming on BritBox.

   As I’ve always firmly maintained, humor is a funny thing. The viewers’ comments on IMDb about this recent comedy mystery from England are all over the place. What this is, in a way, is a takeoff on Murder on the Orient Express, except that the train is a British tour bus, taking its passengers to each of the murder scenes in the list of a famous mystery writer’s novels. He, David (Griff Rhys Jones) is of course along to squeeze every last shilling from their wallets and purses, what with gifts and souvenirs at each stop.

   It is also a takeoff from those “old dark house” movies that were all the rage in the 30s and 40s, without losing track of the fact that every so often they’re still popular today. Except that the passengers are trapped in a bus, and every time it stops, someone gets killed, and in a fashion very reminiscent of the murder in David’s books.

   In charge of this disaster on wheels are driver Terry (Johnny Vegas) and tour guide Genna (Sian Gibson), whose joint venture this is is about to go bust if the tour is not a success. The passengers are a motley lot. Many are elderly and/or suffer from dementia, secrets, or other mental failings. Dotty, you might say. All of them. Some more than others.

   Gradually, though, as the ranks thin out — either having become victims or having decided that staying on this wholly unexpected mystery tour is a whole lot more than they signed up for, bail out early – each of them unexpectedly begin to flesh out. Not in any Dostoevsky sense, mind you, but more than the caricatures of living, breathing people merely taking up seats they began as.

   The mystery is not bad, either, with a killer whose motive makes sense, even though there may not quite be enough clues to allow the viewer to solve the case ahead of time. (Red herrings, though? by the bucketful.)

   I enjoyed this, even as over the top as it often is. It was successful enough on its first showing to produce not only two sequels, Death on the Tyne (2018) and Dial M for Middlesbrough (2019), but a three-part miniseries, Murder, They Hope (2021), in which Gemma and Terry have given up the tour business and set up shop as private investigators. I see no reason why not.


ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION March 1967. Editor: John W. Campbell. Cover art: John Schoenherr. Overall rating: 2½ stars.

HARRY HARRISON “The Time-Machined Saga.” Serial, part 1 of 3. [Reprinted in book form as The Technicolor® Time Machine (Doubleday, 1967).] Review of full novel to be posted later.

MACK REYNOLDS “Radical Center.” Novelette. A Pulitzer Prize winning reporter discovers that the flood of anti-heroism, anti-patriotism, and cynicism, the symptoms of which are present today, is part of a plot to take over the US by apathy. Again, SF is the platform for sounding off; some entertainment value. (3)

MICHAEL KARAGEORGE “In the Shadow.” Novelette. A physics story about a shadow world entering the solar system, giving investigating scientists a chance for freedom Mostly unreadable or incomprehensible. (0)

[UPDATE: I have just discovered that Michael Karageorge is one of several pen names used by Poul Anderson.]

CHRISTOPHER ANVIL “The Uninvited Guest.” Rrichard Verner, heuristician, feeds an alien onions. (2)

R. C. FitzPATRICK “The Compleat All-American.” Two federal investigators discover a truly indestructible football player. The loose prose intrudes a bit too often. (3)

–January 1968
Time Travel and the Hardboiled Detective Novel,
by Tony Baer.


   So the question is, why am I so into the hardboiled detective novels of the 20’s-70’s?

   Nobody asked. So I asked myself.

   And what it is kinda first dawned on me on an art exhibit I saw in Montreal about “Streamlining” as American culture.

   Streamlining in American culture, the sleek aerodynamic look of toasters, Airstream campers, vacuum cleaners, radios, cars, planes, became ubiquitous sometime after the end of World War I. The design dominated American design throughout the 30’s and 40’s.

   It dawned on me that at the same time that American design was being streamlined, so was American prose, by such folks as Hemingway, Hammett and Jim Tully. Each of Tully, Hammett and Hemingway got their hardboiled everyman voice honestly. Hemingway as a war correspondent and army medic, Hammett as a soldier and Pinkerton, and Tully as a bindlestiff. Cheap pulp magazines and paperbacks made reading affordable for the masses. And they didn’t want to read the long-winded labyrinthian pages of Henry James. They wanted everyday language, terse and to the point.

   At this zenith of American culture, folks were confident that they knew who they were, knew right and wrong, and knew what they were saying and how to say it. There was very little existential angst. And I have to say, I envy them.


   So, the point?

   I’m not sure. But it may be helpful to illustrate what I’m talking about with some quotes and examples:

1. “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” William Faulkner

2. “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Albert Einstein

3. In the 80’s made for TV movie, Somewhere in Time, Christopher Reeve is staying at a B&B when he falls madly in love with a woman in an old 1800’s photo. He obsessively finds out everything he can about her, and then surrounds himself with period clothes, coins and culture. After passing some threshold of obsession, he is able to traverse the space/time continuum, meet his fair lady and consummate his love.

4. In “Pierre Menard, Author of Quixote” by Jorge Luis Borges, a contemporary man decides he wants to spontaneously write Don Quixote, word for word. So he moves to the same area that Cervantes lived, builds himself a similar hovel, eats the same foods, drinks the same drinks, reads the same medieval chivalric romances, dresses the same, buys an old suit of armor, and, after passing some threshold of obsession, he is able to traverse the space/time continuum and spontaneously write Don Quixote, word for word.

5. “What you yourself can suffer is the utmost that can be suffered on earth. If you starve to death you experience all the starvation that ever has been or ever can be. If ten thousand other women starve to death with you, their suffering is not increased by a single pang: their share in your fate does not make you ten thousand times as angry, nor prolong your suffering ten thousand times. Therefore do not be oppressed by “the frightful sum of human suffering”: there is no sum: two lean women are not twice as lean as one nor two fat women twice as fat as one. Poverty and pain are not cumulative: you must not let your spirit be crushed by the fancy that it is. If you can stand the suffering of one person you can fortify yourself with the reflection that the suffering of a million is no worse: nobody has more than one stomach to fill nor one frame to be stretched on the rack.” George Bernard Shaw

6. In “A New Refutation of Time” by Borges, he argues that all that exists are experiences. The experiences exist regardless of ‘time’. You watch a cardinal as it sits on a fence. The experience of seeing the cardinal on the fence is all that there is. There’s no ‘you’. There’s no ‘time’. There’s just the experience of watching a cardinal on a fence. This experience has occurred millions of times, over millions of years. The experience is neither past nor future, neither true nor false. It simply is. All that we hope and all that we fear will never come to pass, because hope and fear always happen in a future that never comes. Rather, we are in an eternal present. An eternal flow of experiences, repeated eternally regardless of whether a single individuals may cease to be.

   So, the idea seems to be that the main thing is ‘time’. The main thing is the experience. What makes us grieve our loss is the unbreachable breach between present and past.

   But is it unbreachable? I beseech you: it is not.

   So how do I time travel? I read the books of the hardboiled era. I read Hammett, Cain and Chandler. I read Hemingway and Tully. I read the Macdonalds, I read the Bart Spicers, the Deweys, the Steinbecks, the Howard Brownes, the Tom Kromers, the Jack Blacks, the Norbert Davises, the Raoul Whitfields, the Harry Whittingtons, the hardboiled peeps. I read them and become an experience. An experience where I know who I am, I know right from wrong, I know what to say and how to say it. All is clear. There is no angst.

JACK DONAHUE – The Lady Loved Too Well. Harlan Cole #2. McGraw-Hill, hardcover, 1978. No paperback edition.

   Those of us who mourn the fact that there can be no more Perry Mason stories now have reason to rejoice once again! Here’s the second of a new series starring Houston attorney Harlan Cole, who, believe it or not, comes complete with an utterly devoted secretary and his own personal private detective.

   And of course there’s a flashy final courtroom solution climaxing the trial of his client, a famous woman’s lib author accused of killing her lover. As in all of Erle Stanley Gardner’s writing, the prose is purely functional, but with the added plus of modern bluntness and sexual candor. While it may be true that the murderer is guessable, that’s part of the fun, isn’t it?

Rating: B

– Slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, September/October 1978.
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

TECH DAVIS – Full Fare for a Corpse.  Aubrey Nash #2. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1937. No paperback edition.


   The central premise of Full Fare for a Corpse is irresistible: Four days after Christmas, a transcontinental Union Pacific passenger train runs into a blizzard on the Wyoming Great Divide and comes up snowbound at a whistle-stop station in the middle of nowhere. Snowbound with it is a freight full of supplies, and nearby is a sheep ranch, so the 130 passengers and crew on board the ten-car train don’t need to worry about provisions.

   What they do need to worry about is that one of their number is a murderer. (If this premise sounds familiar, it may be because you — and Tech Davis — happened to read Agatha Christie’s  Murder on the Orient Express, which is about murder on a snowbound train in Yugoslavia and was published three years earlier than Full Fare for a Corpse.)

   Victim number one is an unidentified stranger who isn’t even on the passenger list, but is found in his robe and slippers in one of the compartments, shot to death under very unusual circumstances. Victim number two turns up not quite dead in the baggage car, laid out next to the remains of number one. There is also a victim number three. The task of unraveling all these events falls to suave, “semiprofessional” New York sleuth Aubrey Nash, with the help of an ex-Wyoming sheriff named Sargent. And unravel them they do, but not before the murderer strikes again at an impromptu New Year’s Eve celebration put on by the passengers to “ease the tension.”

   The handling of all this isn’t bad, although the novel does have its drawbacks: Davis’s prose is somewhat overblown, full of words like parturition and expatiated; Nash owes his origins (and methods) not to Hercule Poirot but to Philo Vance, though without Vance’s more obnoxious qualities; and more could have been done with the howling blizzard outside the train.

   On the plus side, the plot is tricky enough to keep one reading and guessing, and Nash’s piecing together of the puzzle is logical and well clued. There are also some good characters, some witty dialogue, and more action than you might expect in this type of whodunit. The whole thing is reminiscent of the better of those delightfully campy B-movie melodramas of the same period .. A good evening’s entertainment.

   Davis published two other novels featuring the exploits of Aubrey Nash: Terror at Compass Lake (1935), which has an upstate New York setting; and Murder on Alternate Tuesdays (1938), set in New York City.

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.



BART SPICER – Black Sheep, Run. Carney Wilde #3. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1951. Bantam #1049, paperback, 1952.

   Carney Wilde is one of the top private eyes in Philadelphia. He just opened his brand new office that he can’t afford and a cop he knows busts in on the office-warming party and urgently needs to talk to him.

   The police superintendent committed suicide a week back, but he left a note confessing to graft and naming names. New Jersey gamblers had been paying off cops to look the other way when shuttle services shipped Philadelphians to and fro from Jersey to enjoy an evening of debauchery. The list included the name of a mutual friend, the most honorable homicide detective on the force. The cop hires Carney Wilde to clear his name.

   Wilde heads to Jersey to try to figure out the payoff structure. He ends up getting tailed by another P.I. hired by a reform group of mugwumps aiming to clean up corruption in the City of Brotherly Love. But before Wilde knows it, he’s been framed for the murder of the mugwumps’ P.I., and now the law is after him too. Now Wilde not only has to vindicate the cop, but vindicate himself whilst uncovering the deep dark twisted conspiracy behind the framing of the innocent by the grifters themselves. Who’s behind the conspiracy? And why are the mugwumps so embedded in the swamp?

   Hopefully I’m not giving too much away by saying that the story’s a bit reminiscent of One Lonely Night and The Manchurian Candidate.

   Carney Wilde is a believable, likeable, very human detective, with all the frailties and passions of an everyday guy. He’s no hero. He’s just trying his best. Which is generally good enough.

   I enjoyed the book, as I did the only other in the series I’ve tried (The Long Green). I think he deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as Ross Macdonald and Thomas Dewey and William Campbell Gault. Which is to say that, to apply Somerset Maugham’s self-denigrating quote: “in the very top rank of the second rate.”

      The Carney Wilde series

The Dark Light. Dodd 1949.
Blues for the Prince. Dodd 1950.
Black Sheep, Run. Dodd 1951.
The Golden Door. Dodd 1951.
The Long Green. Dodd 1952.
The Taming of Carney Wilde. Dodd 1954.
Exit, Running. Dodd 1959.

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