December 2023



JOSEPH CONRAD – Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard. Originally published serially in monthly installments of T.P.’s Weekly. First published in book form, 1904. Reprinted many times.

   I got into reading Joseph Conrad, and though I’ve yet to find anything as good as Victory, he remains a source of interest. Almyer’s Folly (1895) and Chance (1913) are relatively uneventless; there’s action in them — piracy, gun-running, swindles, murder — but it all seems to happen at one remove, like an artifact the reader discovers rather than an event happening to the characters.

   Nostromo (1904), on the other hand, offers an epic of Flashman proportions, with wars, plots, betrayals, treasure, hair’s-breadth escapes and a thoughtful ending splashed across a colorful Latin-American background.

   Amid all this struts the eponymous Nostromo, officially little more than the foreman of dock loaders in a small coastal town of a banana republic, but a local hero of some stature — the book opens with his cargadores putting down a riot and saving the lives of his old friends, then parading through the town in triumph. Nostromo, though, is a bit more than just a B-movie swashbuckler, and as he finds himself smuggling a barge full of silver out of the nation before the Revolutionaries can get it, then riding recklessly cross-country to fetch help for his beleaguered employers, he begins to wonder just what he’s doing all this for.

   Had Nostromo just revolved around its hero, like any sensible adventure story, it would have been — well —  just any sensible adventure story. Nostromo, however, remains just a piece of the complex and colorful canvas that is Nostromo, as Conrad evokes a host of three-dimensional characters to play off its hero (Obsessive miner, mysterious doctor, boulevardier activist, local outlaw, etc), and provides them with detailed histories of their own.

   I should add, perhaps, that this does not exactly produce an easily readable tale: there are flashbacks within flashbacks, flash-forwards and (I think) flash-forwards within flash-forwards, all of which make for a — um — challenging read. They do not, however, vitiate the power of the action scenes or obscure the haunting irony of Nostromo‘s — and Nostromo’s — end.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #7, May 2000.

NOTE: Dan’s review of the 1997 BBC TV miniseries based on the book can be found here.



LARCENY, INC. Warner Bros., 1952.  95 min. Edward G. Robinson, Broderick Crawford, Jane Wyman, Jack Carson, Edward Brophy, Anthony Quinn, Harry Davenport, John Qualen, Grant Mitchell, Barbara Jo Allen, Jackie C. Gleason. Based on the play The Night Before Christmas by Laura and S. J. Perelman.  Director: Lloyd Bacon.

         “Weepy, I don’t like the idea of going into a bank through the front door.”

   Edward G. plays J. Chalmers Maxwell, known to his associates as “Pressure.” He and his not-so-bright pal Jug Martin (played to lunk-headed perfection by the greatly underrated Broderick Crawford) have just been released from prison and plan to go straight. All they need is some money to buy a dog track in Florida, but when Pressure applies for a loan at the bank. he is turned down — the “c” word: collateral. (Those were the days when bankers actually considered such things.)

   Pressure figures that to get the dough he needs for his enterprise, why he’ll just have to extract it from the very bank that turned down his application, nyah. But he’ll need a cover and finds it in a luggage shop located right next door. He buys the shop, not realizing until later that he has acquired a cash cow.

   Oddly enough, in spite of a plethora of criminals, some with guns, nobody dies in this movie.

   The entire cast is great, but this is still very much Edward G.’s show.

MANNIX “The Name Is Mannix.” CBS / Desilu. 16 September 1967 (Season 1, Episode 1). Mike Connors (Joe Mannix). Joseph Campanella (Lew Wickersham). Guest Cast: Lloyd Nolan, Kim Hunter, John Colicos, Barbara Anderson. Created by Richard Levinson & William Link. Developed & written by Bruce Geller. Director: Leonard J. Horn. Current streaming on Amazon Prime.

   Anyone who’s a fan of old TV private eye shows from the 1960s and 70s (and hopefully that includes you in amongst them) knows that the first season was an anomaly. It featured Mannix as a PI all right, but the gimmick was that he was a square peg in a round hole, as the old saying would have it. He worked for a corporate outfit called Intertect, whose approach to PI work was the use of computers, — punch cards and all, back in the Stone Age. Mannix, on the other hand, was a hands-on kind of guy when he was working, just like every other PI who had come along before him.

   That whole premise didn’t last long. After just one season, Mannix moved on to having his own office, complete with his own secretary and his own cases.

   The only reason he didn’t get fired from Intertect sooner was that he was the best guy they had working for them. Which is why he’s the one who’s called on to work on a case of kidnapping, that of the stepdaughter (Barbara Anderson) of a retired gangster (Lloyd Nolan).

   At which point the whole computerized company facade presented to the public goes out the window. Mannix does his own thing, no matter what the case is, or what the client may think he wants. A kidnapping case is always a good one for a pilot episode of any PI ever shown on TV or the movies and this is a good one. Using the scenic beauty of the area in and around Palm Springs as a backdrop, Mannix tackles this new case with vim and vigor — and brains — a most worthy combination.

   At which next point it can be noted that Mannix gets clocked on the head once, the first of many such incidents as the series progressed.

   I thought I knew which way the story line was going, and wow was I surprised when it didn’t go that way. Until, that is, another twist in the tale decided that my ending was OK after all. Maybe that, or I’ve been watching TV shows such as this one for as long as I can remember.

   As for the premise, no matter which one, Mike Connors’ ruggedly handsome screen presence was more than satisfactory for the series to stay on the air for eight full seasons. You can’t argue with success like that.


Reviewed by TONY BAER:


JOHN EDWARD BRUCE – The Black Sleuth. Northeastern University Press, hardcover, 2002. Edited by John Cullen Gruesser. First serialized in McGirt’s Magazine, circa 1907 to 1909.

   Sadipe Okukenu is a black sleuth, working for the International Detective Agency at the first turn of the 20th Century, chasing down jewel thieves.

   The majority of the book though is I guess what edumacated people call a bildungsroman. That is to say, we start off in West Africa, with Sadipe as a young man. He is from a family of scholars and excels in mathematics and languages.

   To further his education he decides to sail to Maine to learn what he can of America. He gains even more facility in math and languages, and the town decides to pay his way to a Tuskegee lookalike to study with a Booker T. Washington ringer.

   On the train down South, once they pass the Mason-Dixon line, Sadipe starts to be treated as sub-human, despite his purchase of a 1st class ticket. He’s not allowed in the dining car. And the conductor tries to force him back into the stinking back car reserved for animals and Blacks (though ‘Blacks’ is not the word used by the conductor — as Sadipe is fond of pointing out, the N-word has two g’s in it because the imbecilic whites who use the term think that ‘negro’ has two ‘g’s.).

   A retired general happens to be in the car, and decides to lend Sadipe a hand. And a revolver.

   Sadipe tells the conductor that he purchased a 1st class ticket, and that if he wants to force him back to the Black car, he’ll have to kill him first and move his corpse back there. At this, the black porters turn on the conductor, and the northerners traveling south start cheering. The conductor gives up and lets Sadipe be.

   The retired general is suitably impressed by how Sadipe handles himself — and says if he ever gets sick of Tuskeegee, to let him know: He’s got friends in interesting places.

   Arriving at Tuskegee, greeted by the Booker T. clone, Sadipe is shocked by the racial epithets hurled their way by the rednecks as they make their way to campus. Booker T. says it’s always best to ignore those folks. Sadipe says he’s not so sure he can do that. It’s the first sign that this matriculation is in trouble.

   At the Saturday service at the church, a white Methodist pastor who served an African missionary, gives a sermon about the heathens and savages of Africa and how lucky the world is to have white Christians to save their putrid souls.

   Sadipe has heard enough:

   “[T]he so-called ‘heathens’ of Africa are not nearly so barbarous and inhospitable to the stranger within their gates, nor are they as inhuman and bloodthirsty as the so-called civilized white Christians of the South, who burn Negroes at the stake and hang them from trees and telegraph poles….The African, heathen or civilized, is hospitable and generous to strangers. Your white Christians whom I have met in this section are most inhospitable and insulting to strangers if their faces like mine, happen to be black. I am at a loss to understand why the white Christians of America, with all their prejudices to race and color, persist in sending missionaries to Africa and the islands of the sea to civilize and Christianize the heathen, as we are called, when there are so many heathen at their own doors who need the light of the Gospel, and to be taught good manners.”

   Sadipe’s address is published in the white paper in an emergency edition, insinuating that a lynching must quell the uppity in the town’s midst. Sadipe is able to escape with his life to Washington D.C., where the general from the train arranges for a job with the International Detective Agency.

   Sadipe, with his intelligence, his multilingualism, and his black skin is a perfect fit for the Agency. White criminals are just as racist as anyone else. And their casual racism blinds them to the fact that the Black servant in their midst might comprehend their blueprints, their use of French and German. Playing up to Jim Crow might just be a perfect disguise for a savvy detective. And Sadipe’s out to prove it.

   And prove it he does, enwebbing and ensnaring four near-smart international jewel grifters in the act. Probably…..

   Yet this is where it ends. Weird. Because the book isn’t advertised as ‘unfinished’. But it appears that that is just what it is: Unfinished. The story was published serially in a small circulation newspaper between 1907-1909. Was there more? Not that anyone has been able to find.

   I sought out this book after reading Kevin Burton Smith’s Thrilling Detective entry on Three Gun Terry:

   “Carroll John Daly’s THREE GUN TERRY is the very first hard-boiled private eye.


   “Because, of course, with any such statement, there are bound to be differences of opinion. A case could certainly be made for Octavius Roy Cohen’s private eye Jim Hanvey, the slick hick gumshoe who was already detecting in The Saturday Evening Post at least a year earlier, although Cohen’s style tended to run more to con men and their rich victims. Or John E. Bruce’s Sadipe Okukenu, a black detective working for a large agency, who first appeared fifteen years earlier than that, in 1907.”

   However, Sadipe is no hard boiled detective. He’s too intelligent and speaks English in far too literate a fashion to fit in much with Sam Spade, Mike Hammer and their ilk. Perhaps he fits in better with Marlowe and Spenser. But still, his prey are international gentlemen (and a gentlewoman) thieves, and he has little time or inclination to hang with the salty underbelly of the criminal world and to engage in their hardboiled vernacular.

   The book was fairly enjoyable. But I would have been both less likely to have read it and less disappointed to have done so had there been a fair warning that the story was incomplete. As it is, it’s a good reminder that Jim Crow existed long before Rosa Parks. The groundwork for a pretty good international detective is laid here. But laid here merely to rest for over a century — with nary a crime to solve.

   So yeah. Disappointed? Yeah — a bit. But still I’m glad to have read it. And if I had read ahead of time that the thing was only of historical interest I would not have read it. Because I don’t read for history. I read for fun.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


DAPHNE Du MAURIER – Rebecca. Victor Gollancz Ltd., UK, hardcover, August 1938. Doubleday, US, hardcover, September 1938.  Reprinted many times. in both hardcover and paperback.

   The title character of this immensely popular novel never appears “on stage,” since she is dead long before the story starts. Her persona, however, is the moving force behind the narrative, and she is so well realized that the reader comes to feel he has met her many times. The other characters, including the protagonist, fail to measure up to Rebecca, and this creates a peculiar imbalance that makes one wonder why one is reading about them when she is obviously much more fascinating.

   The heroine of the story — referred to after her marriage as only “Mrs. de Winter” and before that as nothing at all — holds a position as lady’s companion for an American woman who is vacationing on the Cote d’Azur. Invoking a distant connection, the old woman, Mrs. Van Hopper, strikes up an acquaintance with Maxim de Winter, owner of the grand English estate of Manderley and recent widower.

   When Mrs. Van Hopper becomes ill, her companion continues the acquaintance and falls in love with de Winter. They marry and return to Manderley, where the hostility of the housekeeper, who was devoted to Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca, and continual reminders of the beautiful, strong-willed woman she has succeeded cast a pall over the marriage.

   The new Mrs. de Winter fears she can never compete with such a paragon as Rebecca, but gradually the truth about the woman emerges, and she must confront a greater, unexpected horror. There is an irony about the ending, which leaves the heroine stronger and wiser, yet immersed in a sorrow from which she will never escape.

   Rebecca was made into an excellent film in 1940, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson. Du Maurier’s 1951 novel My Cousin Rachel was also filmed (1953). In addition, she produced such popular books as Jamaica Inn (her first novel and also a Hitchcock film, in 1936) and The House on the Strand (1969).

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.




(Give Me That) OLD-TIME DETECTION. Autumn 2023. Issue #64. Editor: Arthur Vidro. Old-Time Detection Special Interest Group of American Mensa, Ltd. 36 pages (including covers). Cover image: The White Elephant Mystery by Ellery Queen, Jr.

   If you like detective fiction in any or all of its permutations then you can’t go wrong with Old-Time Detection. The new mingles with the old (which means, in most cases, the classic), leaving plenty for the reader to feast on.

   Among the delectations: an interview with a science fiction/fantasy/detective story author; plenty of well-researched background on the creator of the world’s most famous criminal lawyer; the latest (at the time) paperback reprints from the seventies; a review of a collection of stories by the master of noir; a long-lost Dr. Poggioli story and a witty and amusing self-assessment by its author; a view of the “master conjurer” of fair play detection and a look at how he lived; news about the creator of Poirot and Marple and how the current generation is handling (and, in too many cases, mishandling) her works; a glance at how today’s publishers seem to be on some sort of nostalgia kick, which is good news for detec-fic aficionados; words about the undisputed “king of the classical whodunit”; and the editor’s appraisal of a kids’ novel that even adults can enjoy.

   In it you will find:

(1) A 1976 interview with Isaac Asimov in EQMM: “I was the comic relief …”

(2) Francis M. Nevins gives us the first part of a multipart essay (2010) about Erle Stanley Gardner; however: “Those wishing to read about Gardner’s Perry Mason character must wait for Part Two.”

(3) Charles Shibuk continues his summary (1973) of the “paperback revolution” in detective/mystery publishing that was occurring half a century ago, focusing on Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, Amanda Cross, Carter Dickson (otherwise JDC), Erle Stanley Gardner, Frank Gruber, Ngaio Marsh, Bill Pronzini, Rex Stout, Julian Symons, and Charles Williams.

(4) This is followed by Shibuk’s review (1975) of Nightwebs (1971), a collection of Cornell Woolrich’s “mainly unfamiliar works,” edited by Francis M. Nevins, Jr.: “Some of these stories are of extremely high quality, but alas, there is also much dross.”

(5) The issue’s centerpiece story is T. S. Stribling’s “The Mystery of the Paper Wad” (EQMM, 1946), which hasn’t been seen generally since first publication, followed by Stribling’s own “The Autobiography of an Ingenious Author” (1932): “The criminologist smiled at the illusion held by every man that with him all things, crimes and virtues, are possible.”

(6) In “The Full Mandrake” (2023), Rupert Holmes offers us “an appreciation of John Dickson Carr”: “If the classic fair play detective story is the magic act of literature, then John Dickson Carr is forever its master conjurer . . .”

(7) Douglas G. Greene’s assessment (1995) of JDC’s A Graveyard To Let (1949) (“. . . still, the swimming-pool gimmick is beautifully handled”), as well as Carr’s lifestyle as a New Yorker: “While he wrote in his attic study, Carr smoked continuously and tossed the cigarette butts on uncarpeted parts of the floor . . .”

(8) Dr. John Curran’s “Christie Corner” (2023) looks at what’s happening to AC’s heritage and finds all is not well, warning us about one project: “AVOID IT AT ALL COSTS.”

(9) Michael Dirda’s survey of the current scene, “Classical Mysteries Are Having a Moment” (2023): “. . . for devotees of old-time detection, recent publishing does seem surprisingly retrospective, even nostalgic.”

(10) Jon L. Breen’s article “Edward D. Hoch: King of the Classical Whodunit” (2008): “He practiced the increasingly lost art of the classical detective short story better than all but a handful of writers in the history of the genre.”

(11) There’s a mini-review of The White Elephant Mystery (1950) by Arthur Vidro: “It’s well-plotted and well-written . . .”

(12) As usual there’s a puzzle (and it’s a dilly).

(13) The issue ends with the sad news of Marvin Lachman’s passing: “Without Marv, we [at OTD] would have lacked the participation of leading professionals.”


   Subscription information:

   Published three times a year: spring, summer, and autumn. – Sample copy: $6.00 in U.S.; $10.00 anywhere else. – One-year U.S.: $18.00. – One-year overseas: $40.00 (or 25 pounds sterling or 30 euros). – Payment: Checks payable to Arthur Vidro, or cash from any nation, or U.S. postage stamps or PayPal. – Mailing address: Arthur Vidro, editor, Old-Time Detection, 2 Ellery Street, Claremont, New Hampshire 03743.

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THE MANDARIN MYSTERY. Republic Pictures, 1936. Eddie Quillan (Ellery Queen), Charlotte Henry, Rita La Roy, Wade Boteler (Inspector Queen), Franklin Pangborn, George Irving, Kay Hughes, William Newell. Based on the novel The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen. Director: Ralph Staub. 

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime and YouTube (see below, but I think the running time on the latter has been cut).

   Remarkably enough, the actor who plays Ellery Queen in the bottom basement of a movie has the same initials, but alas he has absolutely no other credentials for playing the role. Eddie Quillan had a long successful career in making movies and in television, but in The Manadarin Mystery he plays the part of Ellery Queen as a brainless twit, more interested in getting a date with the girl in the leading role than solving a mystery.

   The girl being Charlotte Henry as Josephine Temple, owner of a rare, one-of-a-kind Chinese stamp worth thousands of dollars, and that was back in 1936. Obviously with a small piece of paper worth that kind of money, there are many others who wouldn’t mind having their hands on it, and one of them does so badly that they don’t mind committing a couple of murders to accomplish it.

   The movie follows the book, sort of, with a dead man found in a room with with his jacket on backwards and held upright with two long poles through his clothes. But with a running time of just over an hour, there’s no way to stuff all the complexities of the original text in, and the whole affair ends up being, in technical terms, a muddled mess.

   I can’t tell you to whom this movie was meant to appeal to, but it certainly wasn’t those who read and enjoyed the early day Ellery Queen books, written about strange mysterious affairs, true, but with clues and alibis that really meant something.

   Nothing at all like that here. Only cheap banter and little more. When I say “avoid,” I mean it.


   Have a wonderful day everyone!

BEHIND GREEN LIGHTS. 20th Century Fox, 1946. Carole Landis, William Gargan, Richard Crane, Mary Anderson, John Ireland, Charles Russell, Roy Roberts, Don Beddoe, Bernard Nedell. Screenplay: W. Scott Darling & Charles G. Booth. Director: Otto Brower. Currently streaming on YouTube (see below) and Amazon Prime.

   There really is a PI in this movie, but his part is so small that the actor who plays him (Bernard Nedell) does not even get on-screen credit. Besides being a PI, he also dabbles in blackmail on the side, which makes him an ideal victim of a blackmailee as well, making his role in the film exceedingly small.. Quite remarkably his body is found in a car left in front of the local police station, which causes the lieutenant in charge (William Gargan) all kinds of problems.

   It seems as though a young girl (Carole Landis), who is the daughter of the reform candidate for mayor in an upcoming election, had an appointment with the dead man just before his body was found, and all kinds of political pressure is placed on the cops to book her, at least for being under suspicion, if not for the murder itself.

   The pacing is fast. I think the whole movie takes place all in one night, without much of a letup. It’s a black-and-white crime movie, so it’s probably called a noir film by viewers who don’t know better, but it isn’t. Well, I’ll take that back. The lighting and the camera work is often the same as in true film noir.

   What makes the movie really enjoyable, though, is the acting and story line, both glossier and more professional than for any of the so-called Poverty Row productions. That’s what having a movie produced by 20th Century fox will do for it. As for the two leads, I confess I do not see William Gargan as a leading man in any film that has a hint of romance in it (and yes, it’s there), but any movie graced by the presence of Carole Landis in it makes it very easy to recommend this one.

PostScript: I do not know from whence the title comes. Perhaps the lights in the globes beside the front door of the police station are green, but who would know in a black-and-white movie?

   This is not really a review because what use is there of talking about a good old-fashioned game of charades? On one side are the challengers: Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Hopper, and William Talman, versus the Stump the Stars All-Stars: Sebastian Cabot, Hans Conried, Beverly Garland, and Ross Martin.

   A good time was had by all, including me, when I watched this last night.

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