April 2023

STREET & SMITH’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE. May 1942. Overall rating: *

NORMAN DANIELS “Murder Nightmare.” Novella. After having dreamed of a friend’s death, Winton turns to his detective friend Taggart, only to become a murder suspect when the dream comes true. But it is only part of a complicated plot in the world of art that Taggart takes upon himself to solve. Stretches the imagination too far. (1)

W. T. BALLARD “A Toast to Crime.” [Red Drake] An investigation for the State Racing Commission becomes entangled with a mysterious bomber and antagonizes the local police. Too much running around with no purpose. (0)

WALLACE BROOKER “The Flashing Scimitar.” A ghost in a hunting lodge wields a bloody sword, but Lieutenant believes there must be a better explanation. Meanwhile, many men die with their throats cut. Wild, with a certain appeal. (2)

GARY BARTON “Will of the Devil Gods.” A Caribbean cruise, a a foreign agent, and a story of a sacred cloth. (1)

MARK HARPER “A Dead Hand Will Strike You.” Nard Jason takes on a case which has everyone shooting at him, including a dead man. Absolutely unreadable! (0)

JACK STORM “Ghost Fingers.” An inventor is murdered but his luminous paint helps capture his killer. (1)

– March 1968
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert J. Randisi


RALPH DENNIS – Atlanta Deathwatch. Jim Hardman #1. Popular Library, paperback original, 1974. Brash Books, softcover, 2018.

   In 1974, Popular Library introduced a new series called “Hardman,” by Ralph Dennis, by releasing the first two books in the series simultaneously. These were followed by five more that year, and another five in 1976. The series stands at twelve, and that’s a shame, because although Hardman was marketed as just another men’s adventure series, it was much more than that. It was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale subgenre that was filled with Executioner rip-offs.

   Jim Hardman is a disgraced ex-cop working out of Atlanta as an unlicensed PI with an ex-football player sidekick, Hump Evans. They walk a tight legal line and will do just about anything for money that doesn’t offend Hardman’ s morals — which are high for the kind of life he leads.

   In this book they are hired by a black mobster called “The Man” to find out who killed a girl he was in love with, but the plots of these novels are secondary to the actions and interactions of the main characters and the crisp writing. At its worst, Dennis’s writing is well above that of the run-of-the-mill men’s adventure series; and at its best, it is a fine example of PI writing that depends little on the conventions of the genre.

   Other novels in the series particularly recommended are Working for the Man (1974), The One Dollar Rip-Off (1976), and The Buy-Back Blues (1976).

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.

SOLDIER OF FORTUNE. 20th Century Fox, 1955. Clark Gable, Susan Hayward, Michael Rennie, Gene Barry, Alex D’Arcy, Tom Tully, Jack Kruschen. Screenplay by Ernest K. Gann , based on his own novel. Director: Edward Dmytryk.

   The wife of a photographer comes to Hong Kong to find him after he disappears, apparently a prisoner on the mainland. Clark Gable is the “soldier of fortune” who helps her, even though he falls in love with her while doing so, and there’s the crux of the story.

   This was a big budget, wide screen movie, and it drags. Gable doesn’t seem to have his heart in it, and Susan Hayward’s attraction to the kind-hearted American gangster is rather mystifying. I enjoyed the people in the bit parts more than those in the big roles.

– Reprinted from Movie.File.2, June 1980.


MICHAEL INNES – Appleby and the Ospreys. Sir John Appleby #35. Victor Gollancz, UK, hardcover, 1986. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1987. Penguin, US, paperback, 1988.

   Sir John Appleby has been comfortably retired from Scotland Yard for some short period of time as this book begins, and while he takes up the reins of the ensuing investigation with zest, it was as it turned out, his very last case. With some small quibbles, it’s a fitting end to Sir John’s career in print that began way back in 1936, over 50 years earlier, right in the middle of the Golden Age of Detection.

   Dead is Lord Osprey, stabbed to death in his library overnight. His home, a pile of a house called Clusters, is full of possible suspects, but there is also the matter of the stranger seen outside through a window before the previous evening’s dinner. Was it as inside job at all, or was the proverbial passing tramp?

   A possible motive is the dead man’s valuable coin collection, but strangely enough it is impossible to know whether it is even missing: the dead man kept its location in the huge manor house a closely guarded secret.

   Michael Innes was perhaps the most erudite mystery writer of them all, and his slightly sardonic and mocking wit makes this adventure a great deal of fun to read. Paradoxically, however, it can also provide a stumbling block to quick and easy reading, especially in the early going. Once the investigation begins in earnest, such a quibble, if it is one, gradually fades away.

   Complicating matters is the matter of the local tavern owner’s daughter, whose virtue is claimed to have been sullied by the dead man. To present day readers it may seem as though Appleby and Inspector Ringwood, whom he is assisting, take these charges less seriously than they might do today. (I don’t know if this is a quibble or not.)

   A larger one is that, in spite of the length of the investigation — which truthfully does not sag in the middle as many such investigations do — the case is wrapped up rather quickly toward the end, and maybe even a little too incongruously, depending on your own feeling toward such things. It mattered little to me. I enjoyed it, this one last great blast from the past.

Nero Wolfe on Page and (Small U.S.) Screen:
“Door to Death”
by Matthew R. Bradley.


   Like Trouble in Triplicate (1949), Rex Stout’s next Nero Wolfe collection, Three Doors to Death (1950), contains three novellas that first appeared in The American Magazine: “Man Alive” (December 1947), “Omit Flowers” (November 1948), and “Door to Death” (June 1949). In “Man Alive,” Archie informs us, “The only thing that shakes Wolfe as profoundly as having a meal rudely interrupted is a bawling woman. His reaction to the first is rage, to the second panic.” Wolfe allows that “I respect and admire Mr. Cramer,” despite his doing the former; the latter is their client, Cynthia Nieder, whom he must clear of suspicion in an haute couture murder…of a man reported to be a suicide a year earlier.

   â€œOmit Flowers” involves Wolfe’s lifelong friend Marko Vukčić, introduced in Too Many Cooks (1938; the accents appear inconsistently). Marko is “one of the only three people who called him by his first name, but there were other factors. Rusterman’s Restaurant was the one place besides home where Wolfe really enjoyed eating…Marko owned it and ran it…”

   He asks Wolfe to clear Virgil Pompa, under whom he’d worked at Mondor’s in Paris in his youth, which Wolfe does, sans fee, as a favor; Pompa, say Marko, “forfeited all claim to professional respect,” becoming the #2 of the AMBROSIA restaurant chain, and is accused of murdering the man who married the founder’s widow and tried to oust him.

   â€œDoor to Death” finds Wolfe desperately seeking a replacement for Theodore Horstmann, “tender and defender of the ten thousand orchids in the plant rooms on the roof,” called to his critically ill mother’s side in Illinois…indefinitely. He finds one in Andrew Krasicki, formerly employed—and recommended—by Lewis Hewitt, after braving wet December weather to poach Andy from the estate of Joseph G. Pitcairn in the Westchester village of Katonah. Offering to show off a Phalaenopsis Aphrodite in flower, Andy takes him and Archie to the greenhouse, conspicuously marked “DANGER-DO NOT ENTER-DOOR-TO-DEATH” due to the use of ciphogene, the deadly fumigant from “Black Orchids” (1941).

   Truer words were never painted—as those were by Mrs. Belle Pitcairn—for in addition to the P. Aphrodite sanderiana, they find her nurse and his fiancée, Dini Lauer, dead from it. Despite Wolfe’s pleading, Pitcairn’s prominence prompts Andy to be charged with first-degree murder by Ben Dykes, head of the county detectives; Lt. Con Noonan of the State Police; and Cleveland Archer, the county’s D.A. du jour after Anderson in Fer-de-Lance (1934) and Fraser in “Instead of Evidence” (1946). Well-meaning assistant Gus Treble says Dini “had given Andy the fanciest runaround he had ever seen,” and they have only Andy’s word for it that she had consented to marriage that day, so things look pretty bad.

   Archer is unable to complete a jealous love triangle with Gus, butler/chauffeur/handyman Neil Imbrie, or Pitcairn père et fils, Donald, but the p.m. shows she was knocked out with morphine, to which Andy had access, because the cook—Neil’s wife, Vera—suffers from facial neuralgia and had a now-missing box in the kitchen.

   According to Andy, they both planned to quit and head for New York after Dini broke the news to Mrs. Pitcairn, whose daughter, Sybil, helps care for her. Proving Andy innocent, Wolfe contends, rolling Dini under a bench overturned a pot in which he’d gotten a branch of Tibouchina semicandra to sport; “such a plant man” would automatically right it, as he did when she was found.

   Ordered out by Pitcairn, Wolfe sets up shop in Andy’s cottage, ostensibly to pack up his things, and probes Gus for dirt on the household (e.g., Joseph’s violent attack on paid-off ex-chippie Florence Hefferan) before Noonan ousts them. Wolfe, his mind “completely dominated by a single purpose,” has Archie summon Saul Panzer via Riverdale drugstore telephone to meet him at the Covered Porch near Scarsdale, eliciting Fritz’s disbelief that he isn’t coming home for dinner. His plan unfolds as the trio infiltrates the greenhouse in the dark—leaving Saul concealed under the bench where Dini’s body had been—then the house by the connecting door, compelling a chat with Joseph G. and children at gunpoint.

   Wolfe threatens to tell the newspapers about Florence, and how four colleges booted out Donald, whose lunge Archie has just slapped down when Belle—recovering from a back injury—appears, her $50,000 offer to shield them declined. At last allowed to inquire, he summons the Imbries as well, distracting everyone while Saul sneaks in and later makes a dramatic entrance, bearing a paper found under the Imbries’ mattress, a blackmail note to Joseph from Dini. It has, of course, been forged by Wolfe with the desired effect, leading to an attack on the father by Donald, who was threatened with disownment if he married Dini, and decided to kill her when she laughed at him and said she planned to wed Andy.

   Curiously, although Theodore was the object of the exercise in “Door to Death” (6/4/01), and a regular on the William Conrad series, he is never seen in this first-season episode—or any other—of A Nero Wolfe Mystery. Adapted by Sharon Elizabeth Doyle, it was the first directed by Holly Dale, and repertory player Kari Matchett’s first appearance as Lily Rowan, the sometime romantic interest of Archie (Timothy Hutton), not mentioned in the novella. Nicholas Campbell, who guest-stars as Andy in his second and final series role, had memorably portrayed serial killer Deputy Frank Dodd in the Stephen King adaptation The Dead Zone (1983), one of his several collaborations with director David Cronenberg.

   Right from the title illustrations by Hutton’s then wife, Aurore Giscard d’Estaing (thanks to Mike Doran for pointing that out), a cousin of former French President Valéry, much is made of Wolfe’s comical outing. In Doyle’s opening, Fritz (Colin Fox) has Saul (Conrad Dunn) summon Archie, who has been tangoing with Lily, to help out in the crisis, and the next day, he drives Wolfe (Maury Chaykin) to Westchester. Ensuing events are rendered faithfully as Andy finds Dini (Kristen Booth); Archie encounters Joseph (James Tolkan), his two children (Christine Brubaker, Boyd Banks), and the Imries (Ken Kramer, Nancy Beatty); and they are interrupted by Noonan (Beau Starr) and Dykes (Michael Rhoades).

   After Archer (Hrant Alianak), unmoved by Wolfe’s logic, takes Andy away, Archie says, “I’d like to get back to New York before Christmas…I’m getting married,” a tale told by Dale and Doyle in the next episode, “Christmas Party” (7/1/01), but not by Stout for more than seven years! A tell-tale branch moving outside the cottage window tips him off that someone is spying on them; it turns out to be Gus (Steve Cumyn), who first believes they have betrayed Andy, but is only too happy to cooperate once persuaded they really are on his side. Cast as Belle was Marian Seldes, whose collaborations with playwright Edward Albee included A Delicate Balance (1966), earning her a Tony and him the Pulitzer Prize.

   Accompanied by a droll Michael Small score, Operation Greenhouse finds Wolfe heavily bundled up; lashing out with his walking stick at “Some kind of serpent!,” the branch that trips him up; and even wading a brook. Unfortunately, with garish make-up and minimal screen time, stage legend Seldes is wasted in a role that, albeit brief, had possibilities on the page. After all Wolfe went through to secure his services, Andy is surprisingly never seen again, although the local law-enforcement officials previously figured in the Arnold Zeck Trilogy (accounting for Lt. Noonan’s apparently unpleasant but unspecified history with Archie), which will be the subject of my next post—y’all come back now, ya hear?

            — Copyright © 2023 by Matthew R. Bradley.

      Up next: In the Best Families

   Edition cited

         Three Doors to Death: Bantam (1970)

   Online source



LEE HERRINGTON – Carry My Coffin Slowly. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1951. Dell #641, paperback, date?

   Barney Moffat is an investigator out of the DA’s office. A mother comes to see him. A mother of a dead young man. A dead, drunk young man, body mangled in a crashed-up Packard, a young woman’s corpse crumpled in his lap.

   Barney just got the crash photos. And he doesn’t know what to tell the lady. In our only glimpse into Barney’s head, we hear his stream of consciousness: “Your son. Your son had a bellyful of gin and he’s behind the wheel dead and the girl is dead there under the dash and your son had the wheel in his hands and it’s like a gun and you have to shoot it and there’s a loud noise and people coming running and there’s blood and tears and even the boys on the accident squad still gag in their throats when it happens…….”

   The balance of the book is that rarest of detective novel forms: third-person objective. Like The Maltese Falcon and Interface. That is to say that you don’t get in anyone’s head. All that you see is limited to the action within the four corners of the frame. And it must be so as one of the bad guys is masquerading as a good guy. But you yourself, dear reader, aren’t sure who it is until the end.

   It turns out that there are two sets of accident photos. One set as described above. Involving nobody that matters. Another set is incriminating to all the people in town that matter: the DA, the cops, the upper crust and their pocket politicos (whose positions hang in the balance). And blackmail starts to happen. And violent death. Lots and lots of death.

   It’s a tightly told procedural, doggedly investigated by the hardboiled, wise-cracking Moffat. It’s everything you want in a hardboiled detective story. Thanks again to James Sandoe, who pretty much never steers me wrong.

   According to Jim Doherty, there was one prior Barney Moffat story in Black Mask, but this was the author’s only novel, the author passing on from this world the year following publication.

  BOB HOPE PRESENTS CHRYSLER THEATRE “The Fatal Mistake” NBC, 30 November 1966 (Season 4, Episode 10). Roddy McDowall, Arthur Hill, Michael Wilding, Marge Redmond, Laurence Naismith, Alice Rawlings. Teleplay: Jacques Gillies. Director: Mark Rydell. Currently streaming online here.

   The Chrysler Theatre, often hosted by comedian Bob Hope, a fixture at NBC at the time, was a general 60-minute anthology series which ran from 1963 to 1967. Included among its offerings were musicals, dramas, comedies and mysteries. This (not surprisingly) is one of the latter.

   The two male leads, playing off each other magnificently throughout the show, are perfectly cast. Roddy McDowall plays a smarmy “insurance agent” who comes by the home of an accountant (Arthur Hill) to pick up a monthly blackmail check. There is something in Hill’s past he does not want either his wife or 17-year-old daughter to know about, much less the rest of the world.

   Posing as a friend of the family, McDowall showers the two women in Hill’s life with small gifts and flattery, while all Hill can do is stand there and take it, all the while seething inside. The fact that he keeps a small collection of reptiles in a back room, some rather deadly, tells the viewer exactly where the story is going.

   Which of course it does, with a small mild twist in the tale, unfortunately well telegraphed in advance. It’s a perfectly acceptable story, and well acted. (Roddy McDowell is superb, as always.) It’s just not quite up to the standards of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, for example, but then again, what is (or was)?




JACK LEWIS – Blood Money. Headline Books, paperback original, 1960.

   Good old-fashioned pornography.


   Well, maybe not good, but Blood Money wears the smarmy patina of what once were Dirty Books, before Literature went the way of All Flesh. And it’s the sort of thing they used to call “Gutsy,” sub-Spillane, like the Men’s Magazines in the Barber Shop, with fights, knifings, beatings, shootings, nasty bad guys and naked ladies teeming through its crowded pages like denizens of a Turkish Bazaar.

   The story, of sorts, is set in Los Gomez, one of those fictional Latin American nations so beloved of the sweaty men’s pulps, run by a coalition of local fascists, organized crime, and the CIA. It also may be hiding Adolph Hitler, which is the crux of the plot: three ex-GIs hunting der Fuhrer for a million-dollar reward.

   I use the word “plot” very loosely, because the story consists of the narrator finding a lead, a clue, or a mysterious “meet me at…” message, then getting sapped, arrested, beat up, or tripping over a dead body and leaving his fingerprints all over it — this duly followed by a naked lady coming on the scene and flinging herself at him, knees akimbo.

   But I have to say the prose in Blood Money is serviceable — I’ve read worse in “respectable” books — the characters colorful, if familiar, and the action fast and plentiful. And the Sex… well it’s quite tame by today’s standards, but it’s written with a hard-to-define… what’s the word I’m looking for…. it sounds naughty, like the author thought he was getting away with something, and it reads like it was meant to be read under the covers with a flashlight.

   So don’t go out of your way to find a copy of Blood Money, but if you chance across it — enjoy!



THE GOLD ROBBERS. London Weekend TV, 1969; 13 episodes. Peter Vaughan, Richard Leech, Arto Morris, Maria Aitken, Louise Pajo, Fred Bartman, Peter Copely Guests: George Cole, Ian Hendry, Patrick Allen, Roy Dotrice et al. Produced by John Hawkesworth.

   When five million pounds sterling being flown into the United Kingdom by the failing government of a Middle Eastern state is met by a highly organized criminal team and stolen, an international manhunt is set off led by Detective Chief Superintendent John Craddock (Peter Vaughan) of Scotland Yard and Detective Sergeant Tommy Thomas (Arto Morris), an effort that will put their careers and lives at risk.

   The Gold Robbers is a thirteen episode closed crime series that was remarkably dark, violent, and dour for British television of its time. It marked and early part for reliable character actor Vaughan in a rare lead as an all to human but doggedly intelligent policeman. It highlighted as well a number of British stars like Ian Hendry, Patrick Allen, Roy Dotrice, and others as individuals involved in the complex heist that leads Craddock across Europe and into the worlds of high finance, international banking, smelting gold, and politics. It was  where high finance and society met low crime and criminals before the downbeat and not wholly resolved conclusion.

   Filmed in black and white, this one is well worth catching, marked by intelligent scripts and naturalistic acting. In each  episode Craddock and his team focus on some element of the heist, a driver, gunman, crooked air traffic controller, mercenary soldier and their families and loved ones while closing in on slimy crooked casino owner Victor Anderson (Frederick Bartman) who ran the operation for an unknown Mr. Big.

   Along the way, Craddock’s relationship with his son and his mistress fall apart while he is taken under the wing of charming wealthy newspaper and airline magnate Richard Bolt (Richard Leech), whose airline flew the hijacked gold into the UK.

   The ruthless gang uses money, threats, and murder to protect itself as  Craddock tightens the noose, despite setbacks and maddening interference from his superior the Assistant Commissioner (Peter Copely) that gets worse as Craddock closes in on the men behind the crime including some in the government.

   Characters weave in and out of the series, some suspects temporarily get away, some are brutally killed before they can talk, and all the time Craddock’s career is threatened as much by success as failure.

   You can currently find the entire series on YouTube (Nostalgia channel), and it is worth watching for its gritty realism, tough minded characters, sharp writing, and increasingly complex plot that builds to a satisfying downbeat ending that ties all the plot threads while leaving somethings open. It is basically a thirteen part serialized story though, minus cliffhangers and with each episode self contained.

   Among those contributing to the scripts are producer John Hawkesworth, spy novelist Berkley Mather (co-writer of the screenplay for Dr. No), and Allan Prior (Softly Softly: Taskforce and novels).

   The Gold Robbers is plotted more like a really good police procedural novel than a television series with character arcs for police and crooks, and a sense of the cost and the allure of crime. Vaughan’s Craddock is a flawed but compelling protagonist. The series holds up well and has a good mix of suspense, detection, police work, crime, and romance (even with a bit of nudity; it is British television) as the plot unfolds through the characters and not just around them.

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. Warner Brothers/First National Pictures, 1944. Humphrey Bogart, Walter Brennan, Lauren Bacall, Dolores Moran, Hoagy Carmichael, Sheldon Leonard. Screenplay: Jules Furthman and William Faulkner, based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway. Director: Howard Hawks.

   An American fishing boat captain in wartime Martinique finds himself caught between the forces of Vichy in control and the underground movement of the Free French. Complicating matters is the presence of a young woman stranded on the island without money.

   One of my favorite movies of all time. Its only flaw, as far as I’m concerned, is that it ends too soon, almost too abruptly, and (if it could be so) too easily. The movie is tough, suspenseful, and sexy – even though nobody’s clothes are ever off.

– Reprinted from Movie.File.2, June 1980.


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