August 2022



ROGER TORREY – 42 Days for Murder. Shean Connell #1. Hillman-Curl, hardcover, 1938. Mystery Novel Of The Month, nn, paperback, date? Hillman #23, paperback, 1949. Dennis McMillan Publications, softcover, 1988.

   Shean Connell, private detective, is hired by a rich dude whose wife has left him and gone to Reno for a divorce.

   The 42 days refers to the 6 weeks required for establishing Nevada residency, to take advantage of local divorce laws.

   The thing is, Mr. Moneybags can’t figure out why his wife would leave him. They loved each other, or so he thought. She never complained about a thing. And now she won’t even talk to him. He and a buddy were physically booted out of Reno by the Chief of Police after he went after her and tried to have a conversation. All Moneybags wants is a chance to talk to his wife. He’s sure that if only he can get in the same room with her and talk it over, they can work it out.

   It may sound simple, but it turns out that Moneybag’s wife has a doppelganger in a gangster’s moll, and ole mister moneybags may be worth more dead than divorced.

   It’s a tremendously confusing story in which violence is substituted for detection. Our detective, Connell, uses a similar strategy to that of the Continental OP in Red Harvest, Race Williams, and Cleve Adams’s Rex McBride: stir the pot, get everybody at each other’s throats and hope something happens.

   Something does indeed happen, as it always tends to do, and all’s well that ends well, I guess. But the writing is just okay and in the end the story is not complex enough (cf Red Harvest) to justify the messy plotting. The messiness is completely cleared up in a couple of pages of straight explication. I despise sudden thorough confessions that come out of nowhere. It’s like somebody told Torrey that the book was due and he needed to wrap it up in a hurry.




   Faster Pussycat is an American rock band from Los Angeles, California, formed in 1985 by vocalist Taime Downe, guitarists Brent Muscat and Greg Steele and bassist Kelly Nickels. The group has since gone through numerous line-up changes leaving Downe as the only constant member. They broke up in 1993, but reformed in 2001. […] They were a successful and influential hard rock band during the late 1980s and early 1990s, having sold over two million records worldwide.     [From Wikipedia.]

I’m not really too sure ’bout this conversation
There’s been a lot of talk but nothing said
And don’t you understand my French
What do I have to do to make a reservation
Just to talk to you and explain
That all you ever do is complain

I got no, I got no room for emotion, yeah
It’s like a cloud drippin radiation right on my head
I got no, I got no room for emotion
Now I’m tryin to make the best out of a bad situation
You take my heart, flush it down the drain
I’m easy baby, it’s such a shame
Now I’ve had it up to here with all your aggravation
That you put on me, such a crime
Baby, you’re just wastin my time

I got no, I got no room for emotion, yeah
It’s like a cloud drippin radiation right on my head
I got no, I got no room for emotion



ROBERT B. PARKER – Chance. Spenser #23. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, 1996.  Berkley, paperback, 1997.

   Spenser takes a job from a mob figure to find the man’s son-in-law, and quickly discovers he’s not the only one looking. Pretty soon he’s unpopular with everybody, including his employer, and he and Hawk are dodging people they didn’t know existed.

   I keep reading these, just like everybody else, and I always feel guilty about it. There isn’t any substance to them and hasn’t been for many years, and Parker’s been parodying his own brand of macho fantasy for over a decade. All that said, if Chance was the first book from a new writer it would probably be one of the better firsts of the year.

   Parker may be, is, all moves/no punch, but the moves are still slick and professional, Spenser is still the kind of character people like to root for, and Hawk is still the quintessential badass. (But Susan and the dog still and forever bite the big one.)

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

CORNELL WOOLRICH “Finger of Doom.” First published in Detective Fiction Weekly June 22, 1940. Included in Great American Detective Stories, edited by Anthony Boucher (Tower, hardcover, as “I Won’t Take a Minute.” Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, January 1957, as “Wait for Me Downstairs.” Collected in The Ten Faces of Cornell Woolrich (Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1965) as “I Won’t Take a Minute.” Radio plays: Suspense (CBS), December 6, 1945,    as” I Won’t Take A Minute” and Escape (CBS), March 19, 1949.

   It probably wasn’t the first novel or story to fit the theme, but it came early, and the movie made of it was a big hit at the time. I’m speaking of Ethel Lina White and her book The Wheel Spins (1936), and the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Lady Vanishes (1938) that was based on it.

   Nor do I believe that “Finger of Doom” was the only time that Cornell Woolrich used the story line to good – no, great – advantage. A young man picks up his girl as she leaves from work. They are in love and the wedding day is less than two weeks away. He has an evening of fun planned for them, but first she must do a small errand for her employer. There is a small package she has to drop off for someone living in an apartment building which is on their way.

   She rings the bell, she is allowed in, she goes up – and she doesn’t come down. He waits outside, shifts his feet, walks up and down a little, and waits some more. The young man’s thoughts go from a vague unease, to worry, and finally to near panic.

   Although he has doubts, a policeman comes to help, but no one in the building has seen her, the room she was to deliver the package to is empty, and the final blow comes when they return to her place of work, and another woman working there says her name is the same as the young man’s girl.

   Cornell Woolrich is the out-and-out master of this kind of “everyday gone wrong” type of story, and even so, this is one of his best. The smallest details fit perfectly, especially in describing the young man’s thoughts standing outside the apartment building where his girl has vanished into. I suspect that everyone reading this has gone through situations similar to this, although perhaps never so serious as this. It must explain why his panic as it grows and grows is so very very contagious.

Rating: 5 stars.



P. B. YUILL – Hazell and the Menacing Jester. James Hazell #4. Macmillan, UK, hardcover, 1976. Penguin, UK, paperback, 1977. No US edition.

   I had long thought that there was no way in which the private eye novel. could be successfully translated to the British scene. But here is Mr. Yuill (in reality novelist Gordon Williams and pro association football manager Terry Venables) proving me dead wrong.

   In fact I’d go as far as to say that Yuill is just as enjoyable as either Robert B. Parker or Andrew Bergman (my :favorite Americans) and rather better than the other. American PI writers currently practising. Ex-copper James Hazell has what to me is the one essential ingredient for any PI in literature:the gift of witty repartee. Spenser has it, LeVine has it, Hazell has it.

   This is the second Hazell adventure I’ve read (the third in the series) and in it our anti-hero is called upon to identify a practical joker whose jokes are becoming increasingly unfunny. he victims are Philip Beevers {fat middle-aged entrepreneur) and his wife Simone (twenties, sexy, sensational), What more could a good PI ask?

   There’s plenty of action for Hazell {in more ways than one) and a couple of superbly described dust ups. What’s more, the plot twists and turns beautifully so that you don’t know until right at the end who’s responsible for what.

   Excellent work, Mr. Yuill. I don’t know how you could better it, but why nothing since. your third collaboration? Now don’t go all coy on us.

Footnote: British  ITV has recently  staged a couple of series based on the Hazell characters. Those I saw were original scripts (not by Yuill) and although much of the wit was retained, the plotting tended to falter. Well worth watching, however, when compared to most fare served up these days on television.

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


      The James Hazell series —

The Bornless Keeper. Macmillan 1974.     [Hazell is only a minor character.]
Hazell Plays Solomon. Macmillan 1974.
Hazell and the Three Card Trick. Macmillan 1975.
Hazell and the Menacing Jester. Macmillan 1976.



SIMON CLARK – Night of the Triffids. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1991. New English Library, UK, paperback, 2001. Cemetery Dance Publications, US, hardcover, 2015.

   So we must regard the task ahead as ours alone. We think now we can see the way, but there is still a lot of work and research to be done before the day we… will cross the narrow straits on the great crusade to drive the triffids back…

   So ends John Wyndham’s classic disaster novel The Day of the Triffids about an inadvertent invasion of predatory man killing plants that came to earth in a meteor shower and that become a threat to mankind when another meteor shower blinds most of the people on the planet. That story was told by Bill Masen, a sailor, who by chance was in hospital temporarily blinded when the meteor shower came and who awakens to find himself one of the few sighted people in a terrifying world.

   In Simon Clark’s sequel to Wyndham’s classic thirty years have passed and our narrator is David Masen, Bill’s son, one of the survivors from the original colony on the Isle of Wight where humanity is rebuilding and where David is a pilot who helps keep contact with the scattered outposts of survivors around around the world and keep track of the deadly triffids.

   It is not a safe world, and it becomes even more unsafe when the skies are plunged into darkness in a shocking turn that threatens the tenuous hold of humanity to their former place as masters of the world much less as survivors.

   That plunge into darkness will send David Masen on a quest to unite the small colonies of mankind that survive, especially to New York where he finds a semi fascistic state led by the father of the beautiful Kerris, and ends up joining a revolution against the slave state as he learns more disturbing facts about growing signs of intelligence among the deadly triffids and the intentions of the King of New York.

   John Wyndham was the rare Science Fiction writer who broke out of the relative ghetto of the genre to critical acclaim and popularity. It didn’t hurt that books like The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos (filmed as Village of the Damned with George Sanders) were made into popular films or that his shorts stories like “Consider Her Ways” were adapted for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

   Wyndham came out of the British tradition of Social Science Fiction sometimes called Cozy or Gothic Science Fiction founded by H. G. Wells and popular in serials like the Strand Magazine’s Doom of London series, that was as much about what the disasters that befall mankind in its pages reveal about the social strata and man’s tenuous hold on civilization as about aliens, disasters, and invasions.

   Wyndham brought a breath of fresh air and modernity to the somewhat heavy-handed style of later Wells novels and inspired a new generation of writers that included not only suspense and SF writers like John Christopher, L. P. Davies, Christopher Priest, and Charles Eric Maine, but also more experimental writers like J. G. Ballard and to some extent Michael Moorcock. Wyndham’s novels, including The Kraken Wakes (Out of the Depths), Re-Birth, Chocky, and The Chrysalids, were often adapted on BBC Radio and received far more attention than most standard SF in the UK and here.

   Simon Clark, the author of several genre novels including Judas Tree, King Blood, and The Fall, is no Wyndham, and I know how many of you, and sometimes I, feel about sequels and continuances, but this one does a fine job of continuing the story, staying in the same general mode of the original and expanding logically from that work. My chief complaint is that the novel ends anticipating a sequel that was never published as far as I know, and I would have much preferred a one time follow up rather than an attempt to capitalize on Wyndhams creation.

   It is no easy task to follow a writer like Wyndham whose vision of somehow cozy and still frightening disasters was unique among his contemporaries. Like Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury he was as comfortable in the slicks as in the SF digests or pulps where he began. Clark mostly does a good job of it, managing to avoid too obvious modernization’s of Wyndham’s style or subject matter.

   And once in a while he hits a very Wyndham like note:

   While the scattered remnants of humankind made war on each other, the wider universe ran according to the eternal laws that govern its own celestial mechanism…I can’t with any certainty write the end.

   Instead on the threshold of a new world and new adventures I can — and I will — write with total confidence:

   This is the beginning…

   You will have to forgive me but I’m still a sucker for this sort of thing.

LARRY NIVEN “All the Myriad Ways.” Short story. First published in Galaxy SF, October 1968. First reprinted in Worlds of Maybe, edited by Robert Silverberg (Thomas Nelson, hardcover, 1970). First collected as the title story in All the Myriad Ways (Ballantine, paperback original, 1971). Nominated for a Hugo, 1969.

   â€œThere were timelines branching and branching, a mega-universe of universes, millions more every minute. Billions? Trillions? Trimble didn’t understand the theory, though God knows he’d tried. The universe split every time someone made a decision. Split, so that every decision ever made could go both ways. Every choice made by every man, woman and child on Earth was reversed in the universe next door. It was enough to confuse any citizen, let alone Detective-Lieutenant Gene Trimble, who had other problems.”

   Thus begins one of SF writer Larry Niven’s better known short stories. One of Niven’s strong points as a writer has always been to take complicated scientific ideas and incorporate them into stories that make the commonplace and easy.

   (If you were to ask me what science is involved in the concept of parallel worlds such as outlined above, I’d have to shrug my shoulders and say, “Quantum physics? Maybe??”)

   No matter. The idea of alternate realities branching off from each other has been around for a long time and not only in SF stories. What makes this one kind of unique is that Niven places it in a world in which an epidemic of suicides is taking place. The latest of these is that of the head of Crosstime Corporation which has found a way to transverse these myriad worlds and bring back inventions in those worlds which haven’t yet come to fruition in his own, making him fabulously wealthy.

      [WARNING: Plot details ahead.]

   Niven postulates that faced with worlds in which every choice made in making a decision of any kind, mankind is beginning to feel that there is no point in making choices of any kind, and that suicide is the only solution.

   It’s an interesting idea, but I’m not so sure about that. Right now, in this world, we don’t have the option of traveling across time, but the likelihood of me, say, jumping off a tall building because I no longer feel as though any decision I make is moot, is awfully slim, to say the least. But as food for thought, “All the Myriad Ways” really has me thinking about it. It’s too bad that I’m not a SF writer to put some of these thoughts into words. But I’m working on it.

Rating: Five stars.



THOMAS B. BLACK – The 3-13 Murders. Al Delaney #2. Reynal & Hitchcock, hardcover, 1946. Bestseller Mystery #151, paperback, date? Jonathan Press Mystery, paperback, date?

   Al Delaney, a private detective, is hired to clear a bank president of murder when a Jane Doe is found stabbed to death in his home.

    The “3-13” in the title refers to the numbers that dealers use to refer to cocaine and morphine. The third letter of the alphabet is ‘C’ for cocaine, and the 13th is ‘M’ for morphine.

   There’s a quack of a religious leader, “The Great I-Give” who has a team of proselytizers distributing copies of his religious newspaper through town. For a reason that seems more than just coincidence, a trail of drug addiction and murder follows the same trail as the newspaper distribution of the “The Great I-Give”.

   The feds, the cops and Delaney converge with guns a-blazing on the mobsters, the junkies and the religious freaks that have brought mayhem to town.

   It’s an enjoyable hardboiled romp with all the trimmings. Another off of James Sandoe’s reliable 1952 hardboiled checklist. at The physical copies of the Delaney books are scarce, so I read the book online at

   More at


      The Al Delaney series —

The Whitebird Murders. Reynal, 1946.
The 3-13 Murders. Reynal, 1946.
The Pinball Murders. Reynal, 1947.
Four Dead Mice. Rinehart, 1954.



DANGEROUS CORNER. RKO, 1934. Virginia Bruce, Conrad Nagel, Melvyn Douglas, Erin O’Brien-Moore, Ian Keith, Betty Furness. Based on the play by J.B. Priestley. Director: Phil Rosen.

   Phil Rosen was around in pictures almost from the beginning through the 40s for no apparent reason, a director whose oeuvre included everything from distinguished silent films to the very dregs of the Charlie Chan series at Monogram. In 1934, RKO trusted him with a mildly prestigious effort called Dangerous Corner, based on a J.B. Priestly play, lavished with a very distinguished cast, including Virginia Bruce, Betty Furness, Conrod Nagel and Melvyn Douglas.

   It’s a well-written, if terribly contrived bit of work involving larceny, suicide (or was it?) infidelity and what-all, and up to the chicken-out ending it turns up some very deft and nasty surprises, as the lead characters, reflecting on the mysterious death of a disgraced friend, find their relationships suddenly spinning this way and that.

   A director with a sense of Drama, like William Wyler, could have made this a classic. A director with a sense of Style, like Mitchell Leisen, could have made it a devastating tragedy-of-manners. Alas, all Phil Rosen knew how to do was photograph actors talking, so the fine Priestly lines, delivered flawlessly by a superb cast, just sort of flops out and lies there, cluttering up the screen till someone decides this thing’s run on long enough and puts THE END to it.

   A damn shame.


Reviews by L. J. Roberts


SHELDON SIEGEL – Last Call. Mike Daley/Rosie Fernandez #13. Sheldon M. Siegel, Inc., hardcover/paperback, January 2022. Setting: Contemporary San Francisco.

First Sentence: At ten-thirty a.m. on Tuesday, December first, Judge Elizabeth McDaniel was running an hour behind schedule.

   As every lawyer knows, representing a relative is a bad idea. But DA Mike Daley finds this is a rule made to be broken when his nephew, Joey Dunleavy, is accused of killing a cop behind the family-named bar he manages. Joey and the victim, police officer Eddie Corcoran, were seen arguing in the bar. Later Corcoran’s body is found in the alley behind the bar. Joey is covered in Corcoran’s blood and a knife engraved with Joey’s name is found next to the body. When Joey is charged with first-degree murder, Mike and his PI brother Pete must find the real killer to clear Joey of the charges, before the case goes to trial.

   Siegel begins with a courtroom scene imbued with humor. This serves to introduce the protagonists as well as the author’s use of Mike’s internal dialogue. While some may find the inclusion of the latter to be distracting, it provides an honest look at the steps of the legal process. With Siegel’s use of realistic dialogue, one always learns aspects of the law from his books. The author’s summary of the characters is helpful to new readers and a nice reminder to followers of the series.

   The author’s love of San Francisco is apparent and presents an accurate picture of it being a town of multi-generational families, made of up neighborhoods and great places to eat. For the foodies, there’s a temptation to make a list and eat their way around the City. And for locals, it’s fun to see mentions of places one has been and learn of new places to go. The one thing of which one may be assured is the accuracy of Siegel’s geographic representations. Although Mike’s family plays a significant role, it is nicely balanced and doesn’t overwhelm the plot. Even so, there is a wonderfully emotional scene toward the end and a nod to the impending pandemic.

   The plot is interesting and informative. There is the usual frustration with the police and the realization that their rush to convict is politically motivated, rather than ensuring they have the real killer. The information as to what it takes for Mike to go from working for the DA’s office to handling Joey’s case pro bono is fascinating. The investigation is laid out step-by-step and filled with unique, fully-developed characters. The sense of working against the clock effectively heightens the suspense and the twists are effective.

   Last Call is a very good legal mystery without all the oft-times histrionics of other writers. Far from making it dull, the accurate depictions of an investigation and trial provide plenty of interest and excitement.

Rating:   Excellent   [A Plus]

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