November 2023

Reviewed by TONY BAER:


GLENDON SWARTHOUT – The Shootist. Doubleday, hardcover, 1975. Bantam, paperback, 1976. Signet, paperback, 1986. Berkley Books, paperback, 1998. University of Nebraska Press, softcover, 2011. Film: 1976. Directed by Don Siegel; starring John Wayne (his last movie) and Lauren Bacall.

   J. B. Books, 51 years old, of Creede, Colorado, is the last of the legendary gunfighters. It’s 1901. John Wesley Hardin? Dead. Billy the Kidd? Dead. The James brothers? Dead. Wild Bill Hickok? Same. The time of the gunfighters is gone. But Books remains, a dinosaur that survived the asteroid.

   He’s been feeling pretty run down lately, so he sees a doctor. The doctor tells him he’s dying of prostate cancer. But he doesn’t believe him.

   There’s only one doctor he’ll believe: Dr. Hostetler of El Paso, Texas, who saved Books’s life 11 years prior, expertly extracting a bullet from his liver and sewing him up before he could bleed out.

   So he rides horseback 10 days straight to El Paso on his bloated, contorted underside, comforted only by “a soft pillow of crimson velvet trimmed with golden tassels” he’d stolen from a whorehouse.

   Dr. Hostetler confirms the worst. He’s got about 6 weeks to live — if he wants to die in bed, screeching in pain, unable to move, soiled in filth and wretched incapacity. But, Dr. Hostetler suggests, perhaps that’s not the way he’d prefer to go out.

   The e.e. cummings epigraph is the best summary of the story:

            We doctors know
            a hopeless case if — listen: there’s a hell
            of a good universe next door: let’s go

   So Books decides to go. But go his own way.

   Books asks the town Marshall for the names of the baddest gunmen in town. The Marshall gives him 3:

   1: Jack Pulford: “Runs the faro layout at Keating’s….straightest shot I’ve ever seen, and cool as a cucumber. Couple years back he got off one round here, under fire, through the heart, and they measured. Eighty-four feet. Through the heart.”

   2: Serrano: “El Tuerto they call him, ‘Cross-eye.’ He’ll rustle a bunch of cattle over the river, sell ’em on this side, then rustle ’em back and sell ’em to the same outfit he rustled ’em from in the first place. A real cutthroat. I wouldn’t turn my back on him in church.”

   3: Jay Cobb: “Cobb’s only twenty or so, but I’ll hang him before he’s thirty, or somebody will. Gun crazy–been toting one since he was big enough to lift it.”

   Books invites all three to meet him at 4:00 p.m. at the nicest tavern in town. May the best man win.

   “They were like actors on an empty stage….The curtain had risen, the hour come. But they had no audience, save for one another, and even more bewildering, they had no play. They were assembled to take roles for which no lines had yet been written, to participate in a tragedy behind which there was no clear creative intent, to impose upon senselessness some sort of deadly order.”

   The deadly order comes, but comes too pat for my tastes. It’ll smack you right between your thousand-yard stare.

   It’s a good concept for a story. But at the end of the day, it didn’t do anything for me. You can tell by the last line that Swarthout thinks he’s written a freaking masterpiece. A tour de force of the first magnitude. Self-congratulations are clearly in order. Just no congratulations from me.

         A TV/Cinema Question from Lazy Georgenby:

   You all know how Dick Powell –- as Phil Marlowe –- is lounging in his office one night, sipping scotch, gazing out his window at the lights of Los Angeles. He’s got no active cases. No dough coming in.

   It’s all part of the opening sequence in Murder My Sweet. Suddenly –behind him –the ghastly face of Moose Malone (Mike Mazurki) looms over him in the darkness, reflected by the neons winking on his windowpane. Powell sits up and turns around.

   So far so good? Okay so, I’m talking to someone lately who wants to know whether there is any crime, mystery, noir, hard-boiled detective movie-or-TV-series which incarnates the archetype above: keeping everything exactly the same as the above, except that ‘the detective turns around’ because of a knock at his door. He bids the visitor to enter and the newcomer is a beautiful femme fatale in need of his help. Via voice-over, his mental patter is the usual, “…she looked like trouble right from the start…” or words to this effect.

   He swears this is the opening scene in a classic crime flick. I’ve racked my brains trying to pin this down. A lot of candidates were easily eliminated; I’m fairly sure that it’s not the opening scene in any of the really famous P.I. movies.

   Currently, I’m hunting through old episodes of Mike Hammer on TV (Darren McGavin’s run), Lloyd Nolan’s Mike Shayne movies, the early Spillane movies like Girl Hunters, and even the Bob Hope parody movies like My Favorite Brunette.

   The maddening aspect of it all, is that this ‘trope’ could literally be from anywhere: TV commercials, graphic novels, SNL skits, cartoons. It might not have ever been filmed at all. Could be found only in homages or pastiches. Might not even be from the majors era, could be something from the ’70s.

   So as a last resort, I am throwing myself on the mercy of this court. What say ye? Thx thx thx!

Nero Wolfe on Page and (Small U.S.) Screen:
Might As Well Be Dead
by Matthew R. Bradley


   In Rex Stout’s Might as Well Be Dead (1956), James R. Herold hires Nero Wolfe to find his son after learning that he had wrongly accused Paul — who has been sending birthday cards to his mother and sisters, postmarked New York, for 11 years — of stealing $26,000 from his Omaha hardware wholesale business. Because people often select an alias using the same initials, Wolfe places an ad directed at “P.H.,” only to have it widely assumed as a reference to Peter Hays, on trial for first-degree murder. This seems like a coincidence, until attorney Albert Freyer pops in and reveals that he knows nothing of his client’s past, and while headed down to the courtroom for a look, Archie realizes he is being followed.

   Freyer disbelieves that they have no interest in Hays when he sees Archie, who becomes certain that he matches Paul’s graduation photo by his defiant look after the guilty verdict is announced, which Freyer says is inconsistent with a despairing view that “he might as well be dead.” Convinced that Hays was framed, he gets Archie in to see him, and Hays begs them not to tell his father; since Archie’s tail suggests that someone is threatened by the possibility of his being cleared, Wolfe agrees to postpone informing Herold as Freyer starts the appeal process and he investigates the murder. The advertising copywriter had allegedly killed real-estate broker Michael M. Molloy because he loved his wife, Selma.

   Hays denied shooting him, but offered no explanation for the key to their building and the pistol — both found on him — or anything else, while Selma testified that the abusive Mike falsely accused her of infidelity, refusing to grant a divorce. Freyer reports Hays’s claim that he found Mike dead after an anonymous caller said he was beating her, opining that he is shielding Selma, who has an alibi that may not be airtight but in turns believes Hays guilty. Giving the ’teers and occasional operative Johnny Keems various jobs, Wolfe has Archie pump Delia Brandt, Selma’s successsor as Mike’s secretary, for information, with the pretext of gathering material on his last days, for an article to appear under her byline.

   Mike rented a safe-deposit box as “Richard Randall” and died intestate, but Selma refuses to be his administrator; she proposes his friend Patrick A. Degan, head of the Mechanics Alliance Welfare Association, and accepts Wolfe’s suggestion of Nathaniel Parker as her lawyer. As the conference is winding up, Stebbins calls to tell them Johnny was killed by a stolen car while investigating Selma’s theater companions that night, Thomas L. Irwin and Jerome and Rita Arkoff. She’d been asked to fill in for Fanny Irwin, benched with a headache, and Wolfe thinks that the killer not only knew she’d be out of the way but also may have engineered her absence, yet what Johnny might have learned is not yet known.

   Selma asks the couples to come to Wolfe’s, noting that Rita — also a former model, who wed TV producer Jerry — thought Fanny and Pat “were snatching a snuggle,” and Tom’s company did printing for MAWA; they are preceded by Delia’s fiancé, William Lesser, whom Archie assures they can vet the article before publication. Johnny saw all four of them, and Rita reports that she had asked Selma at the suggestion of Tom, but Fanny says the idea was originally hers, “because I could trust him with her.” They leave Wolfe with “no gleam anywhere,” and are followed by Cramer, who provides a list of the contents of Johnny’s pockets, missing the $100 given him for expenses, presumably used for a bribe.

   Watched by Archie, Parker, and an agent of the New York State Tax Commission, Degan finds $327,640 in cash in the safe-deposit box, and agrees to try to learn its source. Saul tentatively i.d.’s the body found bludgeoned behind a lumber pile on 140th Street as Ella Reyes, the Irwins’ maid and the likely bribee; Archie has Selma confirm that — which she does under an alias without alerting Donovan, the morgue desk sergeant from The Black Mountain (1954) — and stay with them for safety. Cramer arrives, “fed up,” unwilling to concede Hays’s innocence, and deduced to have led Lieut. Murphy of Missing Persons to spill the beans about his true identity to Herold, who briefly fired and then rehired Wolfe.

   Mike had invited Delia on a “business trip” to South America, and since Archie intuited that she’d been receptive, which she denied, he and Saul go to her apartment in search of anything he might have stashed there, finding it rifled and, on her strangled body, the key to a Grand Central locker. Documents from the suitcase therein cause Wolfe to convene the interested parties and finger Degan, who’d conspired to embezzle funds from MAWA with Mike, and killed him to forestall his betrayal. Johnny and, in turn, Ella died because she told him Fanny did not develop her “headache” until after a call from Pat, suggesting that she forego seeing Julie Harris in The Lark, ostensibly to discuss some private matter.

   Directed by series mainstay George McCowan, “Might as Well Be Dead” (2/13/81) was the only episode of NBC’s Nero Wolfe series featuring William Conrad to be scripted by Seeleg Lester, a longtime writer-producer on Perry Mason. Natalie Wood’s sister, Lana, who played Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever (1971), guest-starred as Delia, with John de Lancie, best known as Q in the Star Trek franchise, as Tom. It simplifies the plot by establishing Hays (A.C. Weary) as innocent from the outset, as the audience actually sees him get the anonymous call, hear shots from outside the apartment, find Mike dead with no sign of his wife, Maggie (Gail Youngs), and pocket the gun before he is caught.

   Lester efficiently interpolates exposition by dramatizing testimony in the trial, and before they meet with Herold (Stephen Elliott), news vendor Charlie (Ralph Manza) tells Archie (Lee Horsley) that Hays, refusing to take the stand in his own defense, must be guilty. In looking at the front-page story, Wolfe immediately notices a similarity in the photos, the identical initials, and the fact that Paul refused to defend himself of embezzlement, all of which he terms “synchronicity.” Stymied by Hays’s lack of cooperation, Freyer (Michael Currie) gives Archie a transcript of the trial and thinks Wolfe could help; streamlining the plot yet again, Pat (Bruce Gray) had been Mike’s lawyer and agrees to serve as Maggie’s.

   The Arkoffs are now Jerry (John Findlater) and Tina Nelson (Deborah Tranelli), and with Saul out of town, Johnny (Herb Braha) is assigned to investigate them, Tom, and Fanny (Karen Montgomery). The death of a recurring character dating to the second book, The League of Frightened Men (1935), lacks resonance with his televised appearances limited to two quick scenes here. After Ella is killed, Cramer (Allan Miller) brings a warrant for Maggie, whom he believes Hays is shielding; Lester borrows an incident — mentioned by Purley in the novel — from The Rubber Band (1936), as Wolfe conceals her in the plant rooms, hidden underneath some seedlings he and Theodore (Robert Coote) are spraying.

         — Copyright © 2023 by Matthew R. Bradley.

Up next: “Immune to Murder”

Edition cited: Might as Well Be Dead in Seven Complete Nero Wolfe Novels: Avenel (1983)

Online source [link mislabeled as “Blue Ribbon Hostage”]

NANCY DREW… TROUBLE SHOOTER. Warner Brothers, 1939. Bonita Granville Bonita Granville (Nancy Drew), Frankie Thomas (Ted Nickerson), John Litel (Carson Drew), Aldrich Bowker. Charlotte Wynters. Based on the girls’ novels written by Carolyn Keene. Director: William Clemens. Currently streaming on You Tube (see below).

   This was the third in a series of four Nancy Drew movies produced by Warner Brothers, and while this is the only one I’ve  ever seen (so far), I think there should have been more. (After all, how many Andy Hardy movies were there?) I have no idea how fans of the series would rank Troubleshooter, but let me warn you (if you need warning), that this is a movie that’s as much a comedy as it is a detective story.

   Nancy and her father go up in the country in this one in order for Carson Drew, a lawyer by profession, to represent a old friend of the family who’s been accused of murder, and the sheriff and all his buddies aren’t budging an inch.

   Complicating things, as far as Nancy is concerned, is that her father is making eyes at their new neighbor, and when she calls on her boy friend Ted Nickerson for help in that regard, he starts making moon-eyes at her as well. (By some strange coincidence, Ted and his family are on hand as well.) Determined to show her father she can do the cooking for their dinner, Nancy is confounded by the difference between a wood stove and a gas one, and several minutes are spent (though not wasted) watching her make like Lucy Ricardo in the kitchen.

   The whole thing hangs on coincidence, if you ask me, what with the murder victim found buried under a tropical flower Nancy happens to spot growing in a field, and then asking handyman Apollo Johnson (Willie Best) to dig it up for her.

   Oops. Full apologies for telling you more than you want to know, and I haven’t even gotten to the best part, with Nancy and Ted up in the air in a crop-dusting plane at the end of the film with no pilot. No matter how silly all this may sounds, the players pull it off with plenty of panache, and Bonita Granville displays just the right amount of perkiness and young girl confidence to make the whole affair a most entertaining one.

LOREN D. ESTLEMAN “The Used.” First published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, June 1982. Reprinted in The Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction, edited by Edward Gorman (1987) . Collected in Desperate Detroit: And Stories of Other Dire Places (Gallery Books, softcover, April 2016).

   Ed Gorman’s Black Lizard anthology cited above is an unabashed homage to Black Mask magazine, and although this story was written as a standalone without a series character in sight, I think it would have fit right in. The protagonist is an accountant who is the star witness against a gangster he used to work for, and who has been promised protection and a new identity by the Feds.

   Not an uncommon situation, especially in mystery stories like this one. But, what if something goes wrong and the defendant gets off? The Feds are no longer interested in him, and he’s on his own, up sh*t creek without the proverbial paddle, that’s where he is.

   The prose is as smooth as silk, told seemingly effortlessly and building in tension as it goes. This may be the best story I’ve ever read by Estleman, terse, taut and stretched to the breaking point. That’s a statement that’s saying something, since Estleman is also the author of 31 top of the line adventures of Detroit-based PI Amos Walker, starting with Motor City Blues in 1980, and still counting.

Rating [on my H/B = Hardboiled Scale]: 8.5

Reviewed by TONY BAER:


GRAHAM GREENE – Brighton Rock. William Heinemann Ltd,. UK, hardcover, 1938. Viking Press, US, hardcover, 1938. Reprinted numerous times. Film: Produced and directed by John and Roy Boulting, UK, 1948. It starred Richard Attenborough as Pinkie, with Carol Marsh as Rose. Released in the US as Young Scarface.

   So I’ve been a bit of a jingoist when it comes to hardboiled lit. My default take has been that it was originally an American phenomenon and that British hardboiled was generally pastiche (save for later writers like Derek Raymond and Ted Lewis, for example). I’ll admit it. I was wrong. I wasn’t necessarily wrong about Peter Cheyney and James Hadley Chase. But I was wrong for thinking that Cheyney and Chase were representative of British hardboiled.

   In America anyway, hardboiled lit was clearly part of the zeitgeist in the 1920’s-30’s. The amount of amazing stuff from a host of different writers is simply astounding. And the more I read stuff from the era, the more convinced I am that the hardboiled era of lit in America is not simply a matter of a couple of exceptional artists that randomly appeared (e.g. Hemingway and Hammett). Rather, there was really a hardboiled aesthetic movement of some kind.

   (See, for example, Geoffrey O’Brien’s Hardboiled Checklist, link hopefully to follow. UPDATE: See comments.)

   Not a conscious or organized movement (except perhaps as a result of Cap Shaw’s admonitions to would be Black Mask authors to pattern their stories on Hammett); but rather simply a matter of a confluence of factors enabling a market for underworld vernacular and blue collar speech patterns to make their way into popular literature. The combination of cheap paper production capacities (e.g. ‘pulp), literacy of the masses, leisure time (whether due to limited working hours or high unemployment), and other factors seem to have generated a perfect storm enabling a commercial space for hardboiled literature.

   In any case, contrary to my initial instincts, this does not seem to just be an American phenomenon. See, for example, this terrific list of British hardboiled lit:

   So, anyway, I recently read Brighton Rock. And I’m here to tell you, the book is a freaking masterpiece of hardboiled lit. It is pretty much perfect in every way: expertly plotted with a perfect ending, credible, earthy underworld prose, crime, murder, detection and rough-hewn justice. It was messy, dirty, unshaven and soused, and it didn’t care who knew it. It was everything the well-dressed hardboiled novel ought to be.

   There’s a gang war happening in Brighton. Kite’s gang has the rough and tumble street kids shaking down the local businesses offering ‘protection’ for a monthly fee. Take it or be damned. The other gang is slicker, run more like the mob by a ‘Mr. Colleoni’. He handles the slots and table gambling.

   But capitalism must always grow. Burroughs says: ‘When you stop growing you start dying’. So Kite tries to take the slots and Colleoni the shakedowns.

   Kite loses and is killed. And ‘Pinkie’, a 17 year old punk with the morality of a crushed stone, takes over Kite’s gang.

   First piece of business is revenge for Kite. Pinkie sets his eyes on Kite’s finger man — a pretty low level member of the Colleoni mob. Name of Hale.

            â€œHale knew they meant to murder him before he had been in Brighton three hours.”

   So Hale tries to hide from Pinkie and the rest of Kite’s crew. He figures if he can pick up a woman and stay with her that he’ll be safe. So he does. Her name is Ida Arnold. She’s a husky, maternal, buxom bosomed broad with a deep laugh, who loves to sing and dance and drink a draught or two of bitter stout.

   Hale feels safer under Ida’s large wing. I have to go to the toilet, though, she says. Oh please don’t, he begs. It’ll just be a minute, says Ida — why so clingy? Oh, it’s nothing. I’ll be right here, Hale says. Don’t be long.

   And Ida’s not. She’s not long. But Hale’s not long for this world. And when Ida returns from the pot, Hale’s gone. No where to be found. Til the morning.

   So Hale’s washed up ashore. And Ida feels really bad about it. She feels a bit responsible for Hale—and she resolves to find his killer.

   The cops are corrupt — and Colleoni doesn’t want Hale’s death classified as a murder, lest his reputation take a hit. So the cops rule it a natural death.

   Ida ain’t satisfied. So she becomes the de facto sleuth.

   She haunts Pinkie and his gang. She won’t give up until she finds out what happened and brings Hale some justice.

   Not to give anything away — but Ida isn’t somebody to bet against. She’s a terrific creation, all gumption and strength. A whirlwind of wine, bosom and song. Pinkie in her sights.

   There’s also some interesting morality in the background, as is Greene’s wont, about right and wrong versus good and evil. Turns out Pinkie was raised Catholic. And as soon as he’s committed a mortal sin, he figures he’s damned anyway so nothing matters. Once he commits his first mortal sin, he’s free to commit as many more as he likes. As long as he seeks absolution ‘between the stirrup and the ground’, he’ll be saved.

   Ida, on the other hand, doesn’t believe in good or evil. She only believes in right and wrong. She thinks that killing Hale was wrong, and she’s there to right it. Ida won’t give up until she does. Nor will you.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Edward D. Hoch


ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE – The Hound of the Baskervilles. George Newnes Ltd., UK. hardcover, March 1902. McClure Philips & Co, US, hardcover, 1902. Originally serialized in The Strand Magazine from August 1901 to April 1902. Reprinted numerous times. Adapted to radio, TV and the movies even more countless times.

   Unlike the first two Sherlock Holmes novels, The Hound of the Baskervilles is successful in every way, a book that would be a classic even without the buttressing of the Holmes short stories. The legend of a gigantic hound that stalks the members of the Baskerville family on the moor near their ancestral home forms the background for the only Holmes novel to tell a complete story without recourse to a lengthy flashback following the solution.

   The book opens with Holmes’s deductions about Dr. James Mortimer, drawn from a walking stick he had left the night before. Mortimer himself soon returns, and tells Holmes and Watson of the legend concerning the Baskerville family. Sir Charles Baskerville has been killed recently, apparently by the gigantic hound of the legend.

   Holmes and Watson begin their investigation, with Holmes disappearing for a time to live in disguise on the moor itself. An escaped convict named Selden is in the area, as are a band of Gypsies. Sir Henry Baskerville seems destined to be the next victim, but the convict is killed instead, apparently by mistake. In the end Holmes and Watson face the hound themselves, and find a logical solution to the baffling case.

   The Hound of the Baskervilles represents one of the few occasions in the Holmes canon when Doyle uses seemingly supernatural events to heighten the atmosphere of mystery. It is also more of a whodunit than most Holmes stories, with the sort of shifting suspicion that readers came to expect from later writers.

   The book can be criticized (and has been. by John Fowles and others) for its marked shortage of pure detection. But it has its clues and its red herrings-and best of all, it has Holmes and Watson, in a story that shows Doyle at the peak of his powers. Neither he nor Holmes would ever be quite so good afterward.

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.

   For your amusement and edification. (Well, mine, anyway.)

WILFUL AND PREMEDITATED—Freeman Wills Crofts—Dodd, Mead ($2). Poison is the weapon; the motive, gain. The author first shows the victim’s death, then the murderer’s modus operandi. Inspector French is brought forward on the trail. In the ensuing hunt the reader feels himself the quarry. Explanation of detection follows, with Inspector French being raised in rank once again.

BOMBAY MAIL—Lawrence G. Blochman —Little, Brown ($2). Death and fast action take place on the crack Trans-Indian Express. First victim is the Governor of Bengal, second the Maharaja of Zunjore. Inspector Prike, sorting suspects, encounters rubies, secretaries, cobras, priests, spies. Village scenes of India, butterflies, toxicologist and acrobat flit past before the inspector brings conclusion to a crime that beat the book to the Screen.

THE VENNER CRIME—John Rhode— Dodd, Mead ($2). The insatiably curious Dr. Priestley correlates a “death from natural causes,” an “ordinary disappearance” and a bill for electricity into a solution for one of the Yard’s unsolved cases.

THE MANUSCRIPT MURDER—George Limnelius—Crime Club ($2). A lifelong association of four men culminates in the murder of the most despised among them. Reading a detective story with these men as characters brings forth the killer.

THE SECOND BULLET—Lee Thayer— Sears ($2). Peter Clancy, with his incomparable “gentleman’s man” Wiggar, falls into a first-class murder case when they stop for gasoline at the mansion in the New Jersey hills. Concealment of his identity and the dexterity of Wiggar enable Clancy to mingle with the neighbors, to make friends with a half-crazy animal trainer, to see justice done.

MR. DEATH—Carlton Wallace—Crime Club ($2). The extortioner’s slogan is “pay or die,” and so successful is he that Superintendent Bendilow of the Yard leaves job and pension, even simulates death to catch him.

MURDER OF A MISSING MAN—Arthur M. Chase—Dodd, Mead ($2). With a carload of near-witnesses, including a New York detective, it takes a sharp-eyed little spinster to ferret out both the identity and the murderer of the corpse in the end compartment. The voluble Mr. Goldstein helps.

THE DEATH WISH—Elisabeth Sanxay Holding—Dodd, Mead ($2). Long Island society, his neighbors and his rich wife are too much for poor, ponderous Delancey. Had it not been for the calm young guest next door, he might have been convicted of two murders.

TWO O’CLOCK COURAGE—Gelett Burgess—Bobbs-Merrill ($2).

MURDER COULD NOT KILL—Gregory Baxter—Macaulay ($2).

MURDER RUNS IN THE FAMILY—Hulbert Footner—Harper ($2).

   And how many of these have you read? (How many would you care to?)

ALLEYN MYSTERIES “Artists in Crime.” BBC1, 23 December 1990 (pilot episode). Simon Williams (Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn), Belinda Lang (Agatha Troy), William Simons (Inspector Fox), Ursula Howells (Lady Alleyn). Based on the novel by Ngaio Marsh. Director: Silvio Narizzano.

   There was a three year gap between this one-shot pilot and the series that eventually developed from it. In the meantime, actor Simon Williams became unavailable, and his role as Inspector Alleyn was taken by Patrick Malahide, while Simons and Lang continued in two seasons of eight additional TV films of Ngaio Marsh’s mysteries.

   I can’t comment on the latter actor in the part (not yet, that is), but I had a difficulty time at first with Simon Williams in the role. Not because he wasn’t more than acceptable. The problem was that while I’ve read about half of the Alleyn mysteries, I had only a general idea of what he looked like. The same is true about his wife-to-be, Agatha Troy, and his second-in-command “Br’er” Fox.

   This is the story in which Alleyn first meets Agatha Troy, and in the film at least, he is smitten immediately. The problem he faces is that she is intimately involved in the mystery, and she in fact is for some time an actual suspect. She is the artist overseeing a group of paying clients trying to learn to paint and living together in the same large home if not mansion. Dead is a sexy model, and in strange fashion, impaled by a knife sticking upward from the bed where she has been posing.

   She, as it turns out, and not surprisingly, is also a blackmailer. This means that Agatha Troy, whom Alleyn’s mother looks favorably upon, is hardly the only suspect. The film is beautifully filmed, a period piece set in the late 40s, but I found it difficult to keep in mind who the other suspects were, and what their involvement might be. Remembering the book only vaguely, I believe the killer’s identity was the same, but they changed the motive.

   Overall, almost more a very tentative romance than a detective story, but as we know Alleyn and Agatha Troy did eventually marry. Oh, one more thing. In this TV version, at one point Alleyn goes into a deep silent mood, and his mother explains he’s been that way since the war. Never happened in the books, nor (so I’ve been told) in any of the TV episodes that followed.


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Edward D. Hoch


ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. George Newnes Ltd., UK, 14 October 1892. Harper Brothers, US, hardcover, 15 October 1892. Stories previously published in twelve consecutive monthly issues of The Strand Magazine from July 1891 to June 1892. Collection reprinted numerous times. Stories adapted to radio, TV and the movies even more countless times.

   The most famous book of short detective stories, and one of the best, remains this collection of the first twelve short stories about Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal sleuth Sherlock Holmes. It is doubtful that the two earlier novels about Holmes would be remembered as more than curiosities today had it not been for the short stories that followed.

   Judged strictly as a writer of detective stories, Doyle rarely played fair with the reader: In many of the stories, key facts are withheld and we have no opportunity to match Holmes’s brilliant feats of deduction. But it is not the plots so much as the characters of Holmes and Dr. Watson that have kept the stories alive for nearly a century. Doyle hit upon the perfect way to popularize the formula with which Poe and others had experimented, and his detective remains justly popular.

   As many readers, both children and adults, have discovered to their pleasure, the stories in this first collection fully justify the book’s enduring popularity. All twelve are worthy of note, beginning with “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the least typical story in the Holmes canon. In it we meet Irene Adler and accompany Holmes on a delicate mission.

   It was the second story in the book, “The Red-Headed League,” that really set the tone for those that followed. Here we have the client calling upon Holmes, the brilliant deductions by Holmes regarding the man’s background, the statement of the problem, the investigation by Holmes, and the solution. It was a pattern that rarely varied but almost always entertained the reader.

   In “The Red-Headed League,” a critical and popular favorite among the Holmes stories, a man is hired because of his red hair to copy articles from the encyclopedia every day in a small office. Holmes discovers the real motive for this odd undertaking.

   The crime in “The Five Orange Pips” has its roots in the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, and “The Man with the Twisted Lip” takes us inside a London opium den, showing Holmes as a master of disguise. “The Blue Carbuncle,” one of literature’s great Christmas stories, is about a missing jewel. “The Speckled Band,” about a woman frightened to death in a locked room, is a story almost everyone knows. and is probably the most popular Sherlock Holmes tale of all. “The Copper Beeches” is about a young woman hired to carry out an odd set of instructions at a country home.

   Also in the volume are “A Case of Identity,” “The Bascombe Valley Mystery,” “The Engineer’s Thumb,” “The Noble Bachelor,” and “The Beryl Coronet” all typical of the cases from Holmes’ s most rewarding period.

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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