October 2023

Reviewed by TONY BAER:


ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Case of the One-Eyed Witness. Perry Mason #36. William Morrow, hardcover, 1950. Pocket #1041, paperback, 1954/5?. Other later reprint editions, both hardcover and paperback.

The Rap Sheet blog recently posted the following:

   “• Speaking of Mason, a video games and sports Web site called JStationX has posted a piece about the 1960 Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Violent Village.” It’s pretty bland, overall, but mentions that Mason “made appearances in other novels written [by] Erle Stanley Gardner, such as the Cool and Lam series.” What? Thanks to an extraordinary bit of luck, I own all 30 of the Bertha Cool/Donald Lam detective novels. And though I haven’t worked my way through every single one of those yet, nowhere have I come across a cameo appearance by Los Angeles’ best-known fictional defense attorney. Can anyone tell me in which book Mason figures, if he does?”


   Intrepid googler that I am, I found more specificity regarding the alleged Cool/Lam/Mason crossover in the same site. Mainly:

   â€œThere have been crossover novels featuring Perry Mason and other prominent detective characters, such as  The Case of the One-Eyed Witness  with Donald Lam and Bertha Cool.”


   Thus spurred, I immediately galloped and gulped the cited book, eagerly awaiting the appearance of Cool & Lam in this Perry Mason book.

   Spoiler Alert: They aren’t in it.

   But, since I read it, I might as well put down my thoughts on it.

   It starts out with Perry and Della having a swanky meal at a night club. They are interrupted by a frantic call on the club phone begging for help, referencing an envelope, followed by a shriek and a hangup. On cue, the envelope is delivered. The envelope contains $500 and asks Perry to contact a man living at a specified address and to show him a newspaper cutting referencing a blackmail.

   Mason, struck by the authenticity of the shriek, and decides to take the case — even though he has no idea who his client is.

   He and Della show up at the man’s house, the man acts kind of shady, denies any knowledge, and they leave. A couple of hours later, his house burns to the ground, the crusty smoking remains of his burnt corpse found within.

   Mason continues his sleuthing, clams to the cops, and gets in deep when his trail leads to another murder. It’s a bit surprising how far out on a limb Mason puts himself for a client he doesn’t know, who has signed no retainer, and who (when he finally finds her) denies that she retained him.

   The sleuthing part is fairly hard-boiled and very little courtroom stuff shows up til the end. The action is swift and violent, and ESG could write the trunk off an elephant, he’s so smooth. He could sell a set of luggage to the Brooklyn Bridge.

   Anywho, unfortunately the thing completely falls apart at the end. Like the man says, if you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em. And Perry & ESG certainly do their damndest to confuse you into thinking there’s a there there. But there ain’t. It doesn’t come together, and the whole thing falls apart in an apocalypse of word salad.

DANIEL BOYD – Aesop’s Travels: A Crackerjack Tale of the Old West. Montag Press, trade paperback, July 2023.

   Let me say right here at the start that in your eyes, you may not consider this an unbiased review. I know the author personally, and if you stop by this blog even only every so often, so do you. Under his own name, he goes by Dan Stumpf, and his book and movie reviews that are posted here are even better than mine, if that were at all possible, not to mention all of the most cogent comments he leaves on posts of others here.

   But since I believe that this is the book I most enjoyed reading all year, I thought I’d at least tell you some more about it, and you can make your own decision from there.

   It is a western, of the traditional variety, but I cannot give you another author to whose work you might compare it to. It is very nearly unique in many ways, and hopefully what I say here will explain further. It takes place in the 1880s, perhaps, in Dakota Territory, and the small town of Greenfield, where Beefy Beaumont, the narrator of the tale, now owns the Queen of Egypt saloon.

   And as the story opens, a good friend of his, Charlie Greenfield, a gambler who holds down a table in the saloon nearly every night of the week, is in jail and is destined to be hanged by the end of the week. There is more to the story than that, but it comes out only gradually and you’re be better off reading it on your own anyway.

   I hope I will not spoil things too much by saying the hanging does not happen, and when it doesn’t, Part Two of the book takes off from there. What I do need to tell you is something about Little Aesop, the young waif Beefy finds hunkered down in the saloon when he takes over. Little Aesop, by the way, is the new name Beefy gives him (from Billy Boogers, as I recall, based on the snot that continually flows from his nose, and whom Beefy teaches how to clean himself up.)

   Little Aesop, being only one step up from being the village idiot, so to speak, also needs to learn how to handle life, and to that end, Beefy tells him stories every evening from Aesop’s Fables.

   Now I admit that this may not seem like much to base a 300 page novel on, but it is the starting point that you may be wondering about as to the what and wherefore of the title, at least, and Part Two of the tale is a rip-roaring tale of retribution and revenge. You will read the last two chapters in perhaps thirty seconds or less.

   Participating in this second-half journey are: the Bartender, the Old Scout, the Outlaw, and Gambler, and of course, Little Aesop. They do not all come back alive, but while you, the reader, have no idea all along where the story is headed, it does come to an end in due course to the spot where it was headed all along.

   Daniel Boyd has a voice all his own, consistently humorous and folksy and real. If you like westerns which go off the beaten path as much as I do, then I think you’ll enjoy this one as much as I did.

Trick AND Treat:
The Halloween Tree on Page and Screen
by Matthew R. Bradley.


   When I interviewed Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) in 1994, he explained the genesis of his novel The Halloween Tree (1972), whose youthful protagonists were based directly on his own childhood experiences and friends, “In many ways, or experiences I had later in Mexico. It’s an amalgam of memories and my interest in Halloween. I painted a picture [in 1960] called The Halloween Tree, a large tempera painting, it’s about three feet by four feet…I was having lunch with Chuck Jones, the animator, one day…It was the day after Halloween and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown [10/27/66] had been on, which I hated, and all my children ran over and kicked the TV set because they promised you the Great Pumpkin and [then] he never appeared.

   â€œWell, you can’t do that to kids, you know. You cannot promise them something that exciting, you’ve got to have [him] appear. Maybe it’s an illusion, maybe it’s a trick, whatever, the children think they see [him] and we the audience know that they don’t see him. But nevertheless, one way or the other [he’s] got to show up.

   “So I was complaining about this to Chuck [who made the classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (12/18/66) for MGM], and he said, ‘Well, hell, why don’t we do our own film on Halloween and do it right?’ [So] I brought him my painting and lugged it over to the animation studio and he said, ‘My God, that’s it, that’s the genetic tree, that’s the family tree of Halloween.

   â€œâ€˜Let’s go back in time to the caves and the Greek and Roman myths, and come on up through Europe with the Druids and into Ireland and Scotland and England and America and Mexico. You write the screenplay,’ which I promptly did in the fall of [that year], I believe.

   “And in about two months I had the thing ready to shoot, at which point MGM tore down all of its animation studios and fired everyone. We were all out on the street suddenly. I peddled the screenplay around and optioned it to various animation studios off and on for many years, and it took a good part of twenty years to finally get someone else interested,” during which he converted it into a novel illustrated by Joseph Mugnaini.

   In “a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small northern part of a Midwest state,” Tom Skelton and seven other boys dressed for All Hallows’ Eve are perplexed by the absence of Joe Pipkin, “the greatest boy who ever lived.” Emerging from his home pale, unmasked, and holding his right side, he pledges to catch up with them at “the place of the Haunts” in the inevitable ravine, whose tall, black-clad resident, Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, slams the door with a “No treats. Only — trick!”

   Behind the house, they see the titular tree hung with 1,000 jack-o’-lanterns, and after rising from a pile of leaves in the guise of a skull, he offers to reveal “all the deep dark wild history of Halloween…”

   For this, they must travel to the Undiscovered Country (i.e., the Past), and when they say they must await Pip, he appears, feeling unwell, but in the ravine, his pumpkin light goes out, and he vanishes. Moundshroud says Death has “borrowed” Pipkin, “perhaps to hold him for ransom,” and taken him to the Undiscovered Country, so the lads can “solve two-mysteries-in-one.”

   He has them build a kite out of circus posters covering an abandoned barn, a pterodactyl with the boys (including Ralph Bengstrum and Wally Babb) as its tail, followed by a scythe-carrying Moundshroud, his cape serving as wings; they fly over the town and into Egypt, 2000 B.C., where food is left on doorsteps for homecoming ghosts.

   Deducing that the youthful mummy in the funeral procession they are watching is Pip, his friends are eager to save him, but Moundshroud cautions patience, proceeding to explain how fire got the cavemen through the night, wondering if the sun would rise the next day. Atop a pyramid, they see similar offerings being made in ancient Greece and Rome; from there, the wind blows them off to the British Isles to see “England’s own druid God of the Dead,” Samhain, who turns the dead to beasts for their sins. A dog amidst this maddened menagerie, Pip eludes them again before they watch animal sacrifices being made by the druid priests, cut down by Roman soldiers who themselves are cut down by Christians…

   In the Dark Ages, the boys are carried off by brooms, prompting a lesson in how “anyone too smart, who didn’t watch out,” was accused as a witch; they “liked to believe they had power, but they had none…”

   In Paris, Pip is chained as the clapper of a bronze bell on a huge scaffolding, and as they ascend to free him, Notre Dame builds itself beneath their feet, its giant shadow banishing the witches. Reaching the top and finding Pip gone, they whistle for gargoyles to ornament the cathedral, realizing that one figure is Pip, who says he is not dead yet, with parts of him in the places they’ve been and “a hospital a long way off home,” but a lightning bolt knocks him off before Pip reveals how they can help him.

   Moundshroud says they must reassemble the Autumn Kite and fly to Mexico, the night’s “last grand travel” and a place of powerful association for Bradbury, who was frightened by the mummies in the catacombs of Guanajuato and set several stories there.

   On El Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead Ones), the boys see the graveyard filled with people singing and placing flowers, cookies, sugar skulls, candles, and miniature funerals on the graves of their loved ones. Opening a trapdoor in an abandoned cemetery, Moundshroud says they must bring Pip up from the catacombs below, where they find him at the end of a long hall, both he and they too terrified to run the gauntlet with 50 mummies on a side.

   Moundshroud proposes a bargain: breaking a sugar skull bearing Pipkin’s name in eight pieces, he says they can ransom him if each gives a year from the end of his life, so they agree and eat the bits. Freed, Pip races right past them and disappears, so Moundshroud transports them back to Illinois, noting that “It’s all one…Always the same but different, eh? every age, every time. Day was always over. Night was always coming….Summer and winter, boys. Seedtime and harvest. Life and death. That’s what Halloween is, all rolled up in one.” The boys learn that Pip’s appendix was taken out just in time and, after decorating his porch with lit pumpkins to await his return, drift back to their own homes.

   Continued Bradbury, “finally David Kirschner…of Hanna-Barbera, came into my life. We talked about it for a year or so, and then finally two years ago he came back and said, ‘Hey, we got the money, Ted Turner’s one of our new bosses, and we want to buy The Halloween Tree. Will you freshen up your screenplay?’ I said, ‘I sure will.’

   “So I spent a couple of months [on it]…and that was it…Nothing was changed after that. We added a little more narration…They said, ‘Look, you’re ignoring your own best qualities here. Let’s add more of your individual voice, and let’s have you read it, hunh?’ And by God they were right. I went into the studio and read the narration, and it’s a nice addition.”

   The film halves the trick-or-treaters to Jenny (voiced by Annie Barker), replacing Henry-Hank Smith in the Witch costume, Tom (Edan Gross; Skeleton), Ralph (Alex Greenwald; Mummy), and Wally (Andrew Keegan; Gargoyle).

   Backed with evocative music by John Debney, an Oscar nominee for The Passion of the Christ (2004) who’d also worked with producer — and in this case director — Mario Piluso on Jonny’s Golden Quest (1993), the narration is almost verbatim from the book. After seeing Pip (Kevin Michaels) taken off in an ambulance, they find a note urging them to “Go ahead without me,” but seek to visit him instead; a shortcut through the ravine takes them to Moundshroud (Leonard Nimoy).

   Pip’s ghostly form takes a pumpkin bearing his likeness from the titular tree, vanishing in a tornado; this becomes a concrete cinematic MacGuffin rather than his peripatetic person or spirit, continually eluding Moundshroud, who seeks his soul.

   After the kite takes them to ancient Egypt, a more kid-friendly druid episode — sans Samhain, sacrifices, or Roman soldiers to “Destroy the pagans! ”— is set in Stonehenge, segueing via the Broom Festival to Notre Dame, which Moundshroud says, echoing Quasimodo, offers “Sanctuary!” The gargoyles’ connection with the monster mask worn by oft-aghast Wally (a drinking game based on each time he gasps, “Oh, my gosh!” would imperil the liver) is now established.

   Evoking Bradbury’s Playboy story (September 1963) and Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode (10/26/64) “The Life Work of Juan Diaz,” the final stop finds a more assertive Tom braving the mummies to reach Pip, taking the blame for wishing that something would happen to make him the group’s leader. But at the moment of forgiveness, Moundshroud grabs the pumpkin: “Children, it’s business. With his illness, his rent came due, and there was no payment. He’s mine now,” leading Tom to suggest the bargain instead. Pip flies off with his pumpkin and they are all whisked home, where it is found adorning his porch rail, Pip having narrowly survived the surgery, while Moundshroud delivers his summation about the universality of Halloween, and flies away with the remaining pumpkins from the tree.

   â€œ[I]t’s a nice film, and I…won an Emmy for it [it was also nominated for Outstanding Animated Children’s Program]. I had a wonderful relationship with the studio, and no problems, no friction. The film is…available…so people can buy it, and it’s been on two years running…It’s hard to find the damn thing. They’ll have it on in the middle of the afternoon or late at night, and I hope maybe next year they’ll have it at a decent hour.”

   But I’ll leave the last word to his literary characters: “They were stopped by a final shout from Moundshroud: ‘Boys! Well, which was it? Tonight, with me — trick or treat?’ The boys took a vast breath, held it, burst it out: ‘Gosh, Mr. Moundshroud — both!’”


         — Copyright © 2023 by Matthew R. Bradley.


   Excerpted from the forthcoming (God willing) The Group: Sixty Years of California Sorcery on Screen.

      Edition cited:

The Halloween Tree: Bantam (1974)

      Online source:


Being Towards Death & Hardboiled Lit
An Essay by Tony Baer.


   So, Heidegger has this concept called ‘being towards death’. It basically is just a fancy way of saying: constant awareness that you are going to die. (There are a lot of examples, of course — but one I fancy is kerouac’s poem:

Those birds sitting
Out there on the fence —
They’re all going to die.)

   Speaking and acting conscious of your imminent mortality. ‘The only thing worth reading is what’s written in blood’, Nietzsche cautions. It is the reason that there is a hearsay exception for ‘dying declarations’. There is a presumption of authenticity for your very last words. ‘Rosebud’ is the key to the meaning of Kane’s life. In O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find the Misfit tells us:

   â€œShe would’ve been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”


   So what is hardboiled lit? What is it that ties together slave narratives, prison memoirs, John Brown and Eugene Debs’s statements to the court, Gold Medal paperbacks, proletarian lit, Hammett with Hamlet, Whitfield with Whitman, Dennis Wilson with Charles Manson, Mozart’s Requiem with Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads, the Diary of Anne Frank with The Inman Diary, the last words of Dutch Schultz with William S. Burroughs, the book of Revelations and the Tibetan Book of the Dead?

   It’s this: when you’re at your rope’s end, your last cigarette has turned to ash, your dream at Owl’s Creek Bridge is nearly waked, and you are given your final words; you ain’t gonna waste your precious breath on bullshit words, on idle chatter, on echolalia that just don’t matter; your gonna say what you mean and say it quick, and say it with words that cut to the quick, while you sink in the sand that pulls you under, your book turns to flames, your words burned asunder.

   And this is why I only read hardboiled lit. I hate small talk in life. Life is too short. Say what you mean, or forever hold your peace.

   You are what you eat. Adorno says every time you read a newspaper you become less of a unique individual. There’s a homogenizing effect to consumption of mass culture.

   But homogenization ain’t necessarily bad as long as we’re homogenizing an amazing product. Wanna make me great, go right ahead. But I fear the homogenization is towards mediocre mendacity, mendacious mediocrity. Hence my lack of alacrity.

   When you watch and read and write and speak and act in less hardboiled ways, you establish habits of how you will be, the way you will think and live and love and act now and into the future. And in the end it is these very small choices added ad infinitum that comprise a life.

   If you want to live authentically: speak from the heart, read what’s written in blood, listen to final words, listen only to those who are trying to tell you something. But listen with all of your heart. The time is nigh. Read hardboiled, write hardboiled, speak hardboiled. Or forever hold your peace.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


TODD DOWNING – Vultures in the Sky. Hugh Rennert #4. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1935. Coachwhip Publications, paperback, 2012. American Mystery Classics, hardcover, 2020.

   Hugh Rennert, special investigator for the U.S. Customs Service, is on his way from Laredo, Texas. to Mexico City by train. One of his fellow passengers reports to him a sinister conversation overheard by his wife the night before, in Laredo, in which a threat to “blast the train” was made and there was a cryptic comment about earrings and cuffs and “don’t forget the extra edition.”

   While Rennert ponders the meaning of this, the train enters a long tunnel through El Paso de Los Muertos-and when it emerges, he finds one of the other passengers dead in his Pullman chair.

   Who was the dead man and why and how was he killed?

   And which of the odd group of remaining passengers is responsible? Was it the drunken reporter, the badly sunburned man who hides behind dark glasses, the religious fanatic, the novelty supply salesman, the girl traveling under someone else’s name, or the strange woman who seems totally devoid of emotion and who looks at life with the eyes of a spectator at a play?

   Rennert’s job is made all the more difficult by a strike of Pullman employees of the Mexican National Railway, soldiers sent out by the government to keep order, the kidnapping of the three-year-old son of a wealthy Anglo-American family, another murder, and an unscheduled stop deep in the Mexican desert. But matters take their deadliest turn when the Pullman containing Rennert and the suspects is mysteriously uncoupled, stranding them-with the murderer in their midst-in the middle of nowhere.

   This is an expertly crafted whodunit, well-written (except for a mildly annoying overuse of commas where there should be periods) and offering a vivid, detailed portrait of Mexico in the mid-l 930s. Although an American (and one-quarter Choctaw), Todd Downing lived in Mexico for many years and his work reflects not only intimate knowledge of the country but a deep love and respect for it and its people. Anyone who likes his mystery plot enlivened by frequent glimpses of another culture both old and new is certain to find Downing’s work enjoyable.

   All but one of his nine whodunits are set in Mexico (the one exception has a Texas border background), and all are well worth investigating. Among the best of the other six featuring Hugh Rennert are The Cat Screams ( 1934), which deals with a tide of eerie suicides in the American colony at Taxco; The Case of the Unconquered Sisters (1936), in which Rennert investigates a railway freight wreck and murder at an archeological dig on the edge of a huge sea of lava; and The Last Trumpet (1937), which has a bull fighting background. Downing’s remaining two novels feature Texas sheriff Peter Bounty: Death Under the Moonflower (1938) and The Lazy Lawrence Murders (1941). The latter title, like Vultures in the Sky, deals with murder and mystery aboard a Mexican train.

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.

From A Reader’s Guide to the American Novel of Detection  (1993) by Marvin Lachman, and posted previously on the Rara Avis Internet group by Tony Baer:

The Shudders, Anthony Abbot

Charlie Chan Carries On, Earl Derr Biggers

Wilders Walk Away & Hardly a Man is still Alive, Herbert Brean

Triple crown, Jon Breen

The Junkyard Dog, Robert Campbell

Hag’s Nook, 3 coffins, crooked hinge, case of the constant suicides, Patrick butler for the defense, the burning court, John Dickson Carr

Kill Your darlings, Max Allan Collins

The James Joyce Murder & death in a Tenured Position, Amanda Cross

The Hands of Healing Murder, Barbara D’Amato

A Gentle Murderer, Dorothy Salisbury Davis

The Judas Window, The reader is Warned, The Gilded Man, She Died a lady, He wouldn’t Kill Patience & Fear is the same, Carter Dickson

Method in Madness & who Rides a Tiger, Doris miles Disney

Old Bones, Aaron Elkins

The horizontal Man, Helen Eustis

The case of the Howling Dog, …the counterfeit eye, ….lame canary, …perjured parrot, …crooked candle, …black eyed blonde, Erle stanley Gardner

What a Body!, Alan Green

The Leavenworth Case, Anna Katherine Green

The Bellamy trial, Frances Noyes Hart

The Devil in the Bush, Matthew head

The Fly on the Wall, Tony Hillerman

9 times 9, Rocket to the Morgue, H.H. Holmes

A Case of Need, Jeffery Hudson

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late, Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry, Harry Kemelman

Obelists Fly High, C. Daly King

Emily Dickinson Is Dead, Jane Langton

Banking on Death, Accounting for Murder, Murder Makes the Wheels Go Rounds, Murder Against the Grain, When in Greece, Emma Lathen

The Norths Meet Murder, Murder Out of Turn, The Dishonest Murderer, Frances and Richard lockridge

Through a Glass Darkly, Helen mcCloy

Pick Your Victim, Pat McGerr

Rest You Merry, Charlotte MacLeod

Paperback thriller, Lynn Meyer

The Iron Gates, Ask For Me Tomorrow, vanish in an Instant, beast in View, Margaret Millar

Death in the Past, Richard Moore

Murder for Lunch, Haughton Murphy

The 120 Hour clock, Francis Nevins, Jr.

The body in the Belfrey, katherin Hall Page

The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla, stuart Palmer

Remember to Kill Me, Hugh Pentecost

Generous Death & No Body, Nancy Pickard

Unorthodox Practices, Marissa Piesman

The roman Hat Mystery, the French Powder Mystery, The Greek Coffin Mystery, The Egyptian Cross Mystery, The Chinese Orange Mystery, Calamity town, Cat of Many Tails, Ellery Queen

Puzzle for Puppets, Parick Quentin

Death from a Top Hat, Clayton Rawson

The Gold gamble, Herbert resnicow

8 Faces at 3, Craig Rice

Strike Three You’re Dead, Richard Rosen

The Tragedy of X, The Tragedy of Y, Barnaby Ross

The Gray Flannel Shroud, Henry Slesar

Reverend Randollph and the wages of Sin, Charles Merrill Smith

Double Exposure, Jim Stinson

Carolina Skeletons, David Stout

Fer de Lance, The rubber band, too many cooks, some buried Caesar, the silent speaker, in the best families, the black mountain, the doorbell rang, a family affair, rex stout

Rim of the Pit, Hake Talbot

The Cut Direct, Alice Tilton

The Greene Murder Case, SS van Dine

   News came early this morning of the death of Marvin Lachman, mystery fiction scholar and historian extraordinaire. He was also a long time friend of mine, although I remember meeting him only once. We were members of DAPA-Em together, and he contributed greatly to the second print version of Mystery*File as well as the M*F website that preceded the blog.

   The blog does contain many of Marv’s reviews, especially in its early days, but these were reprinted from early mystery fanzines such as The Poisoned Pen and The MYSTERY FANcier. I asked if he’d care to do more, and he declined, saying he had too many other projects he was either working on or committed to, and he was in his 80s at the time.

   I have cut back dramatically the number of obituaries I’ve written and posted on this blog, deciding to let other (younger) bloggers take care of “newsier” items, but this time is an exception, and only on a short personal basis.

   For more of Marv’s many many contributions and awards in the world of mystery fandom, please visit therapsheet.blogspot.com/2023/10/a-fan-and-scholar-like-no-other.




WAYNE V. WELTY – The Evil Place. Manor Books, paperback original, 1979.

   Every year there’s an Old Weird Movie convention here in Columbus. Every year, I attend. Every year, there’s a guy there who sells a small but choice assortment of old books, and every year I pick up an obscure old scary book I’ve never heard of to read at this time of year; something that looks promising, but about which I know nothing. And somehow it’s always fun and forgettable.

   Until this year.

   This year’s book was thoughtful, fast-paced, colorful, rich in characterization and deftly executed. In short, a book that deserves to be better known, and I hereby urge everybody within the sound of my writing to run out and find a copy.

   Evil starts out like many ghost stories, with a framing device. Sid White is an American grad student studying Art in the Lombard region of northern Italy, Pietro is a young Italian who runs the boat rental nominally owned by his aging, superstitious father, and the Evil Place is the fog-shrouded ruin of a once-mighty city a few miles upriver from the village of Pavia, near Milan. Sid ventures upriver, gets lost and oddly frightened in the fog, and returns to Pavia, where Pietro’s father gives him a joyous welcome back, and a stern warning against ever going near the Evil Place again. So Sid heeds the warning, never goes there, and it all ends like a Henry James novel.

   No it doesn’t. Of course not! Turns out Pietro has actually been in the Evil Place, knows the whole story, and will be only too happy to take Sid there for a show-and-tell — as long as they leave before dark.

   Once they get to the ruins, the story proper begins, and it’s a real gem of a thing, filled with evil barons, minor wars, murder, persecution, and a cast of colorful and well-observed characters: priests, nobles, spies, the Devil himself… and an old blind shoe-maker who wants only to be left alone, and so becomes the busiest character and focus of a fascinating and ultimately chilling story.

   But good as it is, that’s just the story-within-the-story. And once it ends, we get back to the framing device: the two young men in the ruins of a once-great city where night is beginning to fall, and something very scary is waiting in the dark.

   And good as that is, once the frame-story is finished, a logical follow-up ensues, just as compelling and scary as what has gone before. This is one book that gives you a lot for your time and money.

   Which in a way is a damn shame, because I don’t find any worthwhile references at all to the book or its author, although Evil seems to command pretty high prices at Abebooks. And Wayne V. Welty deserves to be remembered, just as The Evil Place deserves to be read. And enjoyed!

GUNS, GIRLS AND GANGSTERS. United Artists, 1959. Mamie Van Doren, Gerald Mohr, Lee Van Cleef, Grant Richards, Elaine Edwards, John Baer, Paul Fix. Director: Edward L. Cahn. Currently streaming on YouTube (see below).

   A heist movie, and everyone reading this knows exactly how heist movies, go, if not having possible scripts already in mind and ready to go, if only someone would come along and offer you the money to start filming it tomorrow. In this one, Gerald Mohr’s character has just been released from prison and has a armored car hijacking all figured out.

   He hooks up with a night club owner (Grant Richards) who could use a sizable cut of the loot (somewhere in the two million range) to help finance the robbery. Working for Richards is a singer (Mamie Van Doren) who, as it happens, is/was (I’m not clear on this point) married to Mohr’s cellmate (Lee Van Cleef), who is still in prison.

   I won’t go into how the heist goes wrong, but the movie certainly picks up its rather slow and sluggish pace when Van Cleef breaks out of prison, even with only a few months before he is due for a parole. Livens the movie right up, it does.

   Unfortunately, while Gerald Mohr had a great tough-sounding voice for radio (Philip Marlowe), he has been rather stiff in any of the movies I’ve ever seen him in. Mamie Van Doren is always easy to look at, but in this movie her voice is harsh and bitter-sounding. Lee Van Cleef’s eyes brighten up with glee whenever he can do some damage to whatever the plot is that he’s walked in on, and he walks away with full acting honors in this otherwise lackluster black-and-white crime film.


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


DONALD McNUTT DOUGLAS – Rebecca’s Pride. Harper, hardcover, 1956. Pocket Books. #1178, 1957. Avon PN321, paperback, 1970. Carroll & Graf, paperback, 1984.

   Rebecca’s Pride is a great home that was formerly a mil1 in the middle of the cane fields on an unnamed Caribbean island; and the man who must investigate the strange events that happen there is police captain Bolivar Manchenil. Manchenil is the “nasty” surname chosen by his grandfather when he was freed from slavery, and it comes from the “lovely, curiously shaped but poisonous tree.”

   Although the captain does not understand why his grandfather would choose to call himself after a tree that has been an agent of death to many, he does not trouble himself about it; he is a man who more or less accepts the world around him at face value.

   When a report comes in that there are “woolies” (ghosts) at the mill, Manchenil must investigate. The owner, a wealthy man named Fordyce (“Dice”) Wales, has not been at his island retreat for many months, and the place is supposedly closed up.

   But there is a light on the third floor, and when Manchenil and two U.S. Treasury men who have been looking for Wales investigate, they find his maggot-infested corpse in the central supporting column where the machinery once was — a place that only a person familiar with mills of this type would have known about. Moreover, when the autopsy is performed, it turns out Wales was poisoned with the juice of the manchenil tree — a method that a native of the island is likely to have used.

   The captain’s inquiries begin with the Von Schook family, to whom the Pride once belonged — and in whose home, coincidentally, Manchenil was raised. There seems to have been some connection between Wales and a Von Schook daughter-in-law, Estralita (who is no paragon of virtue), and surprisingly also with Hannah, a daughter who is an actress living in New York.

   When Manchenil learns that Hannah not only was Wales’s fiancee but also is due to inherit some $40 million now that he is dead, his loyal ties to the family who raised him are strained nearly to the breaking point. Manchenil continues his investigation, however, in his typical low-key manner, until the events set in motion by Dice Wales’s death escalate to an exciting conclusion.

   Rebecca’s Pride, which won a deserved Edgar for Best First Novel of 1956, has recently been reissued in paperback by Carroll & Graf. Douglass wrote only two other books, both featuring the likable, contemplative police captain: Many Brave Hearts (1958) and Saba’s Treasure (1961).

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.

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