January 2023

ANTHONY BERKELEY – Top Story Murder.  Roger Sheringham #7. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1931. Published previously in the UK as Top Storey Murder (Hodder & Stoughton, hardcover, 1931).

   Novelist and part-time criminologist Roger Sheringham follows along, as Scotland Yard puts together a case against a burglar who added murder to his last job. These were the leisurely days when the professional criminals were all known and readily identifiable by their characteristic methods of operation.

   But Roger finds flaws in their· theories and strikes off on his own investigations, which increasingly point to an inside job. He also adds a secretary — the murdered woman’s niece — who mysteriously disclaims her rightful inheritance, and whom Roger finds secretly provoking in other ways as well.

   A nice bunch of clues and theories, which Roger conveniently lists at appropriate intervals, and which do provide a fitting solution to the discerning reader. But I think it’s the underlying happy twinkle which provides the most pleasure in this tale, well told.

Rating: A.

– Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, January 1977 (Vol. 1, No. 1)

TAKE TWO. “Pilot.” ABC, 28 June 2018 (Season One, Episode One). Rachel Bilson (Sam Swift), Eddie Cibrian (Eddie Valetik). Created and written by Andrew W. Marlowe and Terri Edda Miller. Director: John Terlesky. Available for purchase on Amazon Prime Video.

   After her long-running cop show on TV (eight years) has been cancelled, and finished now with rehab (I didn’t catch the why), actress Sam Swift, still young and attractive, hopes to make a comeback in another series, one in which she would play a private eye. How to prepare for the role? Have her agent call in a favor and have real-life PI Eddie Valetik let her follow him around for a week to watch and learn.

   Eddie agrees, but only under protest. Who needs a washed up former TV star underfoot all day? Well, you know how that goes. Lots of sparks fly, but it is only inevitable that after they partner up like this for a while, Eddie grudgingly agrees that maybe, just maybe, she is more than a pretty face.

   Their first client? A man who thinks his daughter, on her own in L.A., may have been murdered.

   This first episode has all the depth, ambience, and wholesome charm of a Hallmark Channel TV mystery, and I doubt I need say a whole lot more than that. It isn’t bad, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be remembered, even by those who watched it. The series was apparently a summer replacement on ABC, and when the summer was over, so was the series, 13 episodes in all.




JIM TULLY – The Bruiser. Greenberg, hardcover, 1936. World, hardcover, 1943. Bantam #67, paperback, 1947. Pyramid #53, paperback, 1952. Kent State University Press, softcover, 2010.

   â€œHe was a broth of a boy — as weak as water and strong as a broken dam.”

   What a quote, right? Tully can really turn a phrase.

   The book’s about the rise and rise of Shane Rory, from hobo to heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

   There are terrifically vivid, livid scenes of the fights and the backstory, the training, the gambling. And the language rings true. Truly wonderful vintage vernacular, written by a road kid and pugilist of his own experiences and things he’d heard.

   The problems come when Tully tries to weave in a typical Hollywood melodrama. Shane Rory dreams of a pure midwestern maiden from his youth — and she of him. And at the end their shy romance finally blossoms — just as he wins the heavyweight belt. He immediately cedes the belt (to a hobo friend from his youth, no less) and leaves with the maiden for her pure and fertile farm she has just inherited from her grandmother. Fade to black with violins. Roll credits. Yech.

   Anywho, the getting there is still worth the trip for the clipped true prose of the street.

   Some more pith from the book:

   â€œYou’re a nice looking kid — how long you been a bum?” “Ever since I can remember,” was the answer. “And you?” He turned to Negro.” “Afore that.”

   â€œI hits ’im so hahd I jes’ blas’ his brains right outta de top o’ his head—if dem ropes haden been deah — he’d be a rollin’ yit.”

   â€œI’m just oozin’ out of the picture like I oozed into it.”

   â€œIt’s a rough world Shane — as warm as the very devil when the referee’s raisin’ your hand, and cold as a hangman’s heart when he ain’t.”

   â€œHis brains begun to rattle like dry peas in a pod.”

   â€œLet it be forgotten like a flower is forgotten; forgotten as a fire that once was singing gold.”

   â€œNow you’ve got everything — but for God’s sake don’t develop brains. That’s what kills people.”

   â€œWhen life itself is a lie one more or less won’t matter.”

   â€œEven the hangman’s under sentence of death.”

   â€œWhere was Moses when the lights went out? Sitting in the window with his shirt tail out.”

   â€œWe’re both Irish and we have traditions: a kindlier race never tore a man to bits.”

   â€œYour mother’s ghost — if you weren’t hatched out of a buzzard’s egg — would haunt you.”

   â€œAll you have to do is wring the diapers of your mind.”

      Liam Neeson as Philip Marlowe:

      What do you think?

EDMUND COOPER – All Fools’ Day. Berkley X1469, US, paperback, 1967. Cover art by Hoot von Zitzewitz. Previously published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton, hardcover, 1966, and in the US by Walker, hardcover, 1966.

   Beginning in 1971, solar radiation cause the world’s suicide rate to increase sharply. Ten years later, only the Transnormals are still alive – the creative, the fanatic, and the crazy [have] inherit[ed] the Earth. The book follows the life of Greville, a former advertising executive, in this new world as he searches for love, purpose, and direction.

   Perhaps written for a wider audience than the usual SF one, the story loses impact simply because of the overuse of its theme, particularly by [British] writers. Frustrating in its deliberate irrationality, the civilization of this savage world seems doomed, but Greville forms the basis of a new world from a group of anarchists.

   The sudden optimism of the ending comes as a relief from the previously established tone, but it is not altogether satisfying. One point of disagreement: mathematicians are among the first to die (page 17), symbolizing [the loss] of normality and supreme stability, but mathematicians can be as crazy as anyone.

Rating: ****½

–February 1968
The 87th Precinct TV Series, Part Two
by Matthew R. Bradley.


   In Part Two, I continue the episode-by-episode description of the 1961-62 television series, The 87th Precinct, based on the characters created by mystery writer Ed McBain in a long list of very popular police procedurals. If you missed Part One, you can find it here.

   â— Interestingly, two episodes were based on works by other authors, with Helen Nielsen adapting “The Very Hard Sell” (12/4/61) from her own story (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, May 1959). An apparent suicide, a salesman is found shot dead in the car whose prospective buyer (Leonard Nimoy) duped him into transporting drugs during a test-drive; getting wind of this, he tried to make a citizen’s arrest with his own gun, which was then turned on him. Nimoy has little screen time, and his scam is convoluted and far-fetched, making this one of the less satisfying episodes.

   â— “Feel of the Trigger” (2/26/62) was adapted — again minus its initial article — from one of Donald E. Westlake’s Abe Levine stories (AHMM, October 1961), collected in Levine (1984); Hawkins gives Abe’s obsession with heart health to Meyer. During a confrontation with a youthful killer, Meyer faces him mano-a-mano and, after subduing him with judo — mentioned frequently in the novels, particularly as a defining characteristic of Det. Hal Willis — suddenly feels fine. Neither of McBain’s minority detectives, African-American Arthur Brown or Puerto Rican Frankie Hernandez, was seen on the show, but this episode gets points for matter-of-factly including black Officer Kendal (Bernie Hamilton) without making an issue of his race.

   The show’s original teleplays largely maintained the style and spirit of the books, periodically introducing a lighter tone, as did McBain. Obviously excepting Havilland 2.0, they captured both the personalities of and the dynamics among his characters, stressing the grindingly methodical, sometimes tedious nature of police work; the frequency with which luck and coincidence played an equally large role in the outcome; and the important contributions of the police lab, with which the detectives enjoy a pleasant raillery. Also like McBain, the scenarists populated the squadroom with colorful characters whose vignettes enlivened the proceedings.

   â— McBain contributed “Line of Duty” (10/23/61), which he later recycled for Ironside as “All in a Day’s Work” (2/15/68), and uses his character of stoolie Danny Gimp (Walter Burke). Bert sees a theater held up, then kills the perp who fires at him while the other drives away, described as a good boy by all who knew him; when Carella and Kling are given a lead by Danny, Bert freezes and is wounded before Steve shoots the fugitive, who reveals the “good boy” was his accomplice on 14 jobs. Unsurprisingly, McBain does an excellent job of focusing on Kling’s maturation as a detective, struggling to cope with the first time he is forced to kill.

   â— Cinematographer James Wong Howe directed Finlay McDermid’s “The Modus Man” (10/16/61), with Havilland and ex-detective Bill Brewster (John Anderson) — now a used-car salesman — recognizing the m.o. of a smash-grab as Maxie Greb’s … but he’s in prison. Carella’s investigating a second-story job, unmistakably the work of Blinky Smith…whose alibi checks; Roger and Kling raid the apartment of Greb’s former partner…who died a week ago. Brewster has microfilmed their m.o. cards, but slips up by telling a victim to shut up while impersonating a crook who can no longer speak.

   â— Winston Miller’s “Occupation, Citizen” (10/30/61) concerns a Hungarian refugee (Ross Martin) whose pregnant wife, fearing reprisals, stops him from identifying two mob killers, but after a second killing, he agrees to serve as bait. Immigrants feature prominently in McBain’s precinct, whose population, per Killer’s Wedge, “was composed almost entirely of third-generation Irish, Italians, and Jews, and first-generation Puerto Ricans.” This episode has a valuable lesson in citizenship applicable to all Americans, yet especially these aspiring citizens, with Steve reminding them of their civic duty to their unborn child’s adoptive country.

   â— The first of two teleplays by David Lang, “The Guilt” (11/13/61) finds Meyer clobbered by childhood friend Artie Sanford (Mike Kellin), who is bitten by a used-car salesman’s guard dog while trying to make a getaway. Dismissing news reports that it is rabid as a trick, he persuades sometime girlfriend Estelle Vernola (Norma Crane) to transport him in her uncle’s truck. Meyer records Blaney’s warning about the urgent need for treatment, and Estelle plays it for Artie in the back of the truck, prompting a spectacular, eye-rolling freak-out by Kellin before she drives him to the Emergency Hospital, where Meyer awaits.

   â— In Lang’s “Ramon” (4/9/62), the eponymous boy (Danny Bravo) can’t stop showing his appreciation after Havilland sends flowers to his mother’s grave, while his father, Villedo Morales (Edward Colmans), is conspiring to assassinate a visiting Central American prime minister, who plans to address his people in front of the precinct house. Roger collects $20 to send Ramon to camp, but Villedo, reconsidering when Havilland touts ballots over bullets in another of the show’s solid moral lessons, pulls Ramon from camp to leave town. Fearing he won’t see Roger again, the boy eludes him, his destination obviously the 87th, and Villedo, arriving just before the speech, fingers the conspirators.

   â— In Anne Howard Bailey’s “My Friend, My Enemy” (11/27/61), a woman lies to alibi her son, Andrew Mason (Dennis Hopper), who strangled a classmate in the park, and the suspicious Carella has an undercover Kling befriend him. Daniels urges caution when Bert risks the jealousy of Claire — killed off in Lady, Lady, I Did It! (1961) — to make a double date with two policewomen. With Hopper providing an early taste of the manic energy he brought to Apocalypse Now (1979), the unbalanced youth learns that Kling is a cop, and threatens him with his own gun before being disarmed.

   â— The first of four scripts by Donn Mullally, “Run, Rabbit, Run” (12/25/61) marks Paul Genge’s debut as Lt. Jim Burns (Peter Byrnes in the novels). The only surviving witness to testify against an executed mobster, Toots Brendan (Alfred Ryder) is betrayed when he tries to sell his interest in “the operation” to help finance his disappearance. Not above deception, Steve tells secretary Yvonne English (Barbara Stuart) — who is sweet on Toots — that he’s been killed, so she reveals her duplicitous boss’s address, enabling the detectives to intervene.

   â— Pete Rugolo and Jerry Goldsmith, respectively, pinch-hit on Mullally’s “Man in a Jam” (1/8/62) and Katkov’s “Step Forward” (3/26/62) — both directed by Twilight Zone vet James Sheldon — for Goldsmith’s protégé, Hawaii Five-O legend Morton Stevens; all three scored Thriller, another Hubbell Robinson Production. “Jam” concerns a man who claims he killed his fiancée during a drunken black-out, in reality a premeditated crime for which he forged I.O.U.’s from her to fictitious other men of whom he was supposedly jealous. Unfortunately, the Byzantine nature of his scheme threatens credulity.

   â— A somewhat whimsical departure, “Step Forward” finds the underpaid Carella accepting a job as a bank’s security chief; he chafes at the symbolic post, humoring rich clients, but provides two of them with valued advice. Kling drops in as the Carellas and Meyers enjoy cocktails, nicely showing how the detectives remain friends off-duty, and when he gets a tip on a payroll robber, the three head out to pick him up. Despite the extra money and the prestige of his own staff, Steve admits policing is “more fun,” his new job obviously forgotten as they question the suspect.

   â— Kling asks local baseball hero Larry Brooks (Michael Dante) to start a baseball clinic to get the local kids on the right path in Mullally’s “Idol in the Dust” (4/2/62). Larry tries to extricate his parole-violating brother Joe (Al Ruscio) from a crooked poker game, and in the ensuing mêlée, Joe pushes one crook out the window to his death; for their mother’s sake, Larry confesses to involuntary manslaughter, upholding the code of silence. This makes him a hero to the local punks, but when Bert assembles them and the clinic kids to see Larry, Carella brings Joe, who agrees to take his own rap, advising them to avoid his fate — guidance that could also serve viewers well.

   â— In Mullally’s “The Last Stop” (4/23/62), Mike Power (Victor Jory) is scapegoated after being shot in a taxi by Stu Tobin (Bern Bassey) while the latter silences a squealer, then asked by long-ago partner Burns to run out the retirement clock at “the Eight-Seven.” In an effective performance by Jory, he rubs everyone the wrong way, but his hunch is borne out that a rash of crimes by a shotgun-wielding woman is a hoax. Correctly confident that he won’t be recognized, Stu brazenly sits beside Powers in a bar; as Mike accosts him to return a lighter left behind, a departing Stu misconstrues and shoots it out, but Powers survives again and is retired, effective immediately.

   â— Written by Alfred Hitchcock Presents mainstay William Fay, “Main Event” (1/1/62) has Meyer’s pal “Sonny” Fitzgerald (Brad Weston) beset by a booby-trapped punching bag and spiked rubbing solution. The culprit is revealed as gofer Bobo Felix (Arch Johnson), an ex-pug who was used up and thrown away by — and is trying to frame — a notoriously crooked rival manager, resenting Sonny’s success. But the subtleties of Bobo’s plan seem at odds with his punch-drunk persona, making this another problematic episode.

   â— In Jonathan Latimer’s “Out of Order” (1/22/62), ex-con Jerry Curtis (Charles Robinson) is suspected of bombing a phone booth when his construction foreman reports a dynamite theft, and although cleared when another blast goes off during questioning, he decides to cash in, believing it’s useless to try going straight and voicing a familiar complaint about persecuted parolees. Bombing a café and emptying its register, he adds theft to the m.o., but Meyer finds evidence in the phone company’s crank letter file that helps identify the original bomber, who denies the thefts. Jerry is apprehended after shooting a man with a gun concealed in his “bomb” while bluffing a betting parlor.

   â— Rik Vollaerts received a story and shared script credit (with Raphael Hayes) on “The Pigeon” (1/29/62), with Peter Falk well suited to the typical oddball role of Greg Brovane. Coincidentally, the 87th entries So Long as You Both Shall Live (1976) and Jigsaw (1970) were respectively repurposed into his Columbo episodes “No Time to Die” (3/15/92) and “Undercover” (5/2/94). Aspiring to the big time like his father, Greg has been hypnotized to think he made it, confessing to two killings in a supermarket heist he didn’t pull and fingering three nonexistent accomplices.

   â— James Bloodworth also had story and shared script credit (with Collins) on “A Bullet for Katie” (2/12/62), the new bride of cop Bill Miller (Ed Nelson). Gantry (Harold J. Stone) excoriated Bill when left by his wife while in prison, but a co-worker recants his alibi for Katie’s shooting after Gantry refuses to be blackmailed into concealing factory theft. Providing extra nuance, Bill is well portrayed as abrasive and hot-headed, gunning for vengeance when he learns that Gantry is about to be picked up, but just in time, a boy admits wounding Katie while playing with an “unloaded” gun borrowed from a friend.

   â— In Sheldon’s “Square Cop” (3/12/62), written by Robert Hardy Andrews, Otto Forman (Lee Tracy) is suspected after the weapon that killed his partner is identified as his, reported stolen, and the description of the wounded perp matches his estranged son. When Burns says, “he fell down, failed, right in his own family,” Steve replies, “that happens to a lot of fathers,” alluding to Larry Byrnes, revealed as an addict and murder suspect in The Pusher. Tracy brings a nice gravitas to the role, dramatizing the classic duty vs. family conflict, with the viewer uncertain which way he leans until he decks the youth, who had tried to force his father’s help.

   â— Collins wrote the last episode, “Girl in the Case” (4/30/62), in which a millionaire dies after dictating a will to stenographer Cheryl Anderson (Janis Paige), offered $100,000 to swear that he was not of sound mind. It’s revealed that an ex-member of his law firm had planned to split $3 million left to a family member in a previous will. Havilland wines and dines Cheryl, but is chagrined to learn that she plans to marry the man’s ne’er-do-well son, who might actually become something with her help; this makes her a nicely complex character, seeming far less like a mere gold-digger.

   The “conglomerate hero” device aided the scenarists in mixing and matching characters from any book after Killer’s Choice to circumvent Roger’s absence. A Casanova, McBain’s Hawes often bedded any babe he saw, an aspect that not only was downplayed on the show but also ruled out the married Carella and Meyer and engaged Kling, leaving Havilland his default stand-in, e.g., romancing Cheryl. Roger’s literary successor, Andy Parker, fought with Steve over racist remarks to Hernandez, who is slain in See Them Die (1960) while trying to prevent a besieged killer’s becoming a barrio martyr.

   The 87th has since had mixed success onscreen, although as with noir authors David Goodis and Cornell Woolrich, French filmmakers, e.g., Claude Chabrol, favored these romans policiers. With Burt Reynolds (Carella), Jack Weston (Meyer), and Tom Skerritt (Kling) relocated to Boston, Richard A. Colla’s Fuzz (1972) was a misfire, despite being adapted by McBain-as-Hunter. His 1968 novel had brought back the Deaf Man — Yul Brynner, like Vaughn one of The Magnificent Seven (1960) — and Det. Eileen Burke (aka McHenry; Raquel Welch); the latter, unseen since The Mugger, became a major character starting with Ice.

            — Copyright © 2023 by Matthew R. Bradley.

      Editions cited —

The Mugger: Warner (1996)
Killer’s Choice: Avon (1986)
All others: Signet (1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1989)

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by John Lutz


LEN DEIGHTON – The Billion Dollar Brain. “Harry Palmer” #4. Jonathan Cape, UK, hardcover, 1966. Putnam’s, US, hardcover, 1966. Dell, US, paperback, 1967. Film: Lowndes, 1967 (with Michael Caine as Harry Palmer and Karl Malden as Leo Newbigen).

   Len Deighton’s first novel, The Ipcress File (1962; later filmed with Michael Caine), marked the debut of one of the major stars of espionage fiction. Since then this former photographer, illustrator, teacher, and occasional cookbook author has written a string of stylish and tightly plotted espionage novels that are thoughtful commentaries and reasoned examinations of society as well as first-rate thrillers.

   One of Deighton’s chief concerns is the morality of the world of espionage, but his treatment of this theme is never ponderous or heavy-handed. Instead he chooses to examine the ethics of the characters about whom he writes with an ironic wit; his prose has a lightness that further leavens this rather weighty subject. The books are also full of vivid description — of places, people, meals, natural wonders — that give the stories an air of authority; his use of documents and appendixes further convinces the reader that the espionage world is really as described. Along with John LeCarré, Deighton is one of our foremost contemporary writers of espionage novels.

   The billion-dollar brain of this novel’s title is a remarkable computer owned by a Texas mogul who has assembled his own private espionage network. This wild-card covert agency poses a grave threat to just about every government on earth, and what makes it tick is the incredibly complex computer, the quintessential technical-wonder successor to man’s own reason and self-asserted destiny.

   Deighton’s insubordinate, deceptively tough, unnamed first-person spy is given the task of neutralizing this menace, and along the way meets some fascinating characters. There is sensuous, champagne-swilling Signe Laine, a Finnish beauty who favors expensive underwear and has a knack and passion for besting males; Dawlish, the fumbling Intelligence chief who runs the show; Colonel Stok, of Red Anny Intelligence; Harvey Newbegin, the neurotic American agent who is in on the chase; and the maniacal General Midwinter. The action is on an international scale, swinging from Helsinki to London, Texas, Leningrad, and New York.

   This is a tightly constructed, imaginative, high-tech sort of thriller. Space Age espionage, in which Colonel Stok makes the disturbingly relevant observation “Two not very clever men will have to decide whether to extend a hand or pull a trigger.”

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.



KATE WILHELM – Malice Prepense. Barbara Holloway #3. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1996. Reprinted in paperback as For the Defense (Fawcett, 1997).

   Kate Wilhelm is the· author of over 30 books, and is well known in the fields of both mysteries and science fiction. She’s married to one of the leading science fiction critics, anthologists, and writers, Damon Knight.

   Teddy Wendover is a grown man in body, but because of an accident 20 years ago an eight-year old in mind. Everyone agrees that he’s a lovable man-child, but the police suspect that he’s a killer. The Oregon senator who led the field trip where Teddy’s accident occurred has been murdered-with a rock very similar to the ones that Teddy plays with and collects.

   Lawyer Barbara Holloway is uneasy with mentally challenged people, and wants no part of the case, but her father and partner takes it. It is, of course, more complex than it seems, and before it’s over, Barbara is in the courtroom fight of her life and struggling with an unwanted romance.

   Wilhelm is one of the few writers doing lawyer books that are also courtroom dramas, and are not Big Lawyer silliness à la Grisham. I liked the first two in the series, Death Qualified and Best Defense, and I liked this one. Holloway and her father are both likable and realistic characters, drawn in enough depth to engage the reader without the plethora of detail that sometimes overwhelms today’s crime fiction.

   The courtroom scenes are realistic and pertinent, and Holloway’s opponent is for once not portrayed as an evil and ambitious villain. This isn’t a sensational book and hence won’t garner the sales of inferior but more lurid brethren, but it is a very readable and enjoyable one.

   Try Wilhelm — you’ll like her.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #25, May 1996.




ON THE NICKEL. Rose’s Park Productions, 1980. Donald Moffat, Ralph Waite, Hal Williams, and Penelope Allen. Written and directed by Ralph Waite.

   I hate to review, much less rave about, a movie this hard to see, but I just watched it again last night, and enjoyed it so much I had to share it.

   Or perhaps “enjoyed” isn’t quite the right word….

   Writer/producer/director/star Ralph Waite gets top billing, but Donald Moffatt carries the film (and most of the cast at one time or another) as Sam, a recovering alcoholic who helps an old drinking buddy (Hal Williams) get into a mission shelter on LA’s skid row (5th Street, called “the nickel” by its habitues.) and goes in search of another former crony, the elusive “CG” (Ralph Waite.)

   Sam’s search slowly morphs into a bizarre odyssey, by turns nostalgic, monotonous, and horrifying, as he revisits the people and places of his old life and rediscovers the appeal of a nomadic, bombed-out life, and the oppression, freedom, friendship, and dependency that come with it.

   As you may have gathered, this is a complex film. It’s also a very moving one, played to perfection by actors who look and speak like genuine derelicts. Penelope Allen in particular gives a truly moving performance as a mentally impaired street-dweller with a smile that embraces all of humanity – and two shopping carts that contain her worldly goods.

   Amid all this, Ralph Waite’s showy performance as the flamboyant “CG” fits in very well indeed, with quiet moments of reflection followed by fits of the DTs and a powerfully done moment as he sees his approaching death (called “the Pillow Man” for reasons shown later) and reacts with a totally bizarre and convincing air of startled detachment — or maybe just numbed surprise.

   I was disappointed by a comic interlude toward the end, but that may be just a personal thing. There are those who find the whole film funny. The ending as it stands is curiously upbeat — or at least it tries to be, but it’s hard to dispel the poignant ninety minutes that preceded it.

   So what we’ve got here is a remarkable film in many ways. It’s also practically impossible to see. On the Nickel doesn’t show up on any of the streaming services, and the DVD is rather pricey if you can find it at all. For me, it was a lavish birthday present, and one I’ll revisit.




A. A. FAIR – The Knife Slipped. Donald Lam & Bertha Cool. Hard Case Crime, paperback, December 2016.

   Written in 1939, this was supposed to be the 2nd Cool and Lam book, following The Bigger They Come.

   Unfortunately, the publisher nixed it due to Bertha Cool’s tendency to “talk tough, swear, smoke cigarettes, and try to gyp people.” The afterward wonders how different the series would have looked had the publisher allowed Bertha to be as cool as she is here.

   Bertha is really quite wonderful in the book. And probably would have been considered a more historically important figure in mystery fiction had the publisher green lighted it.

   Donald Lam, Bertha’s operative at B. Cool Detective Agency, is a runt of a disbarred lawyer. He is a complete wimp. Not by inclination but by physique. He’s a 90 pound weakling. And unarmed.

   Bertha, on the other hand, is both the brains AND the brawn of the organization. Donald Lam is Bertha’s miniature Archie Goodwin. Anytime Donald finds himself outmatched mentally OR physically, Bertha is there to bail him out. She’s tough. And she punches people. And because she’s a woman, she’s able to gut punch deserving vamps with impunity — and without the PTSD triggering machismo of a Mike Hammer.

   In this adventure B. Cool Detectives get hired to track a cheating husband by his flabby wife and her overbearing mother. But after tracking him down, Donald Lam discovers that the cheating hubbie is not only cheating his wife! He’s also the point person in a massive New York State Civil Service Exam fraud scheme. Cheatin’ Hubbie is the point person for cops and firefighters to go to if they want to buy the answers to the civil service exam.

   When Donald finds out, he immediately wants to go to the authorities. When Bertha finds out, she wants to ‘cut herself a slice of the cake. She has no interest in turning anybody in. She feels that corruption is as American as apple cake. And that it will always be here. So the only question is: Who gets a slice of the cake. And the answer is: Bertha!

   Unfortunately, while trying to cut herself a slice of the cake, “The Knife Slipped”. Sadly I don’t recall any knives used as murder weapons — so no double entendre. The metaphorical slipping of the knife while trying to grab a piece of the graft is simply that: a metaphor.

   As a result of Bertha’s knife slipping, complications ensue. Naïve, wimpy Donald gets beaten up a bunch, fooled and tricked and beaten up some more, and Bertha comes to save the day.

   It’s an entertaining book, if slight. It’s main importance is perhaps in reminding us that the absence of hardboiled female detectives of the 30’s and 40’s may have less to do with writers than with publishers.

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