April 2024

THE UPTURNED GLASS. General Film Distributors, UK, 1947. Universal-International, US, 1947. James Mason, Rosamund John, Pamela Mason (as Pamela Kellino), Ann Stephens, Brefni O’Rorke. Screenplay: John Monaghan and Pamela Kellino, based on a story by the former. . Director: Lawrence Huntington. Currently streaming on the Criterion Channel as part of their “gothic noir” collection.

   Dr. Michael Joyce, played quite earnestly and effectively by James Mason in one of his last few films he made in the UK, is not only a noted brain surgeon, but he often gives lectures at the university as an expert in criminology. It is in the latter role that the movie begins. The theme for his presentation is that murders can be done for rational reasons by people who are quite sane. To demonstrate the point, he tells the students of just such an instance.

   It quickly becomes apparent to the viewers that the killer in the story he tells is himself, related almost entirely in flashback. It’s an unusual structure for telling a tale, narrating as he does how it all came about, with himself playing the primary character. After he saves a young girl from going blind, he finds himself falling in love with the child’s mother, whose husband’s job keeps him long distances from home for long periods of time.

   Realizing the probable folly of their ways, they break off the affair. Soon thereafter, however, the woman in the case is found dead, having jumped to her death (possibly an accident) from a second floor window to a brick courtyard below. Joyce has another thought. Could she have been pushed? And could the pusher be the dead woman’s sister-in-law? And if so, should Joyce take matters into his own hands?

   All of the above takes up perhaps the first two-thirds of the movie, which while academically interesting is also as slow as molasses on a chily day. But with thirty minutes to go, the story suddenly shifts, catching the unwary viewer by surprise (me), and the noir nature of tale clicks in.

   It’s almost good enough to make the first hour or so worth the wait. I’m still thinking about that. If it hadn’t been James Mason in the part, twenty minutes would have more than enough time to start thinking about finding something else to do.

   And in any case, the ending does make a good fit with the beginning. Go back and read the first paragraph of this review again.

   Various reviewers on IMDb have tried to explain the title, with varying but probably futile success. The movie began its life as a story about the Bronte sisters, but when they decided it wasn’t working, they scrapped the whole thing and rewrote it from scratch, keeping only the title.




KURT STEEL – Murder for What? Hank Hyer #2. Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1936. Select Publications, digest-sized paperback, 1943. Also published, perhaps in abridged form, in Detective Mystery Novel, Fall 1948.

   McRae cultivated an English accent… it was like gold leaf on a slot machine.

   McRae is a gambler who is in a poker game with Hank Hyer when the subject of Kip Shannon comes up. Hyer, a NY based Private Eye in the Sam Spade/Michael Shayne tradition hasn’t got much use for Shannon, who married Broadway star and Hyer friend Lilith. It seems Shannon is back in New York and wanted for questioning in the murder of a policeman in his cabin upstate, though another man has been arrested for the crime. Nonetheless McRae seems unusually interested.

   Shannon is pretty much a washout, playing around on Lilith and blowing a career as a screenwriter in Hollywood before getting involved in some shady business with some shady people while wandering around the Pacific and Taos, New Mexico (already a well known artists retreat in 1936).

   “I’d be tickled to help keep Ken Shannon in a jam as long as it wouldn’t hurt Lilith. But nothing’d give my conscience more rheumatism than to lift him out of one.”

   But Hank barely makes it out the doorway with his winnings (hanging on to the money in his wallet is a running theme here) when reporter Corey Hilton shows up, the third wheel in the Shannon/Lilith relationship, dragging Hank to his apartment where Shannon is hiding out.

   “Corey picked Shannon for a roommate and Lilith picked him for a husband, neither of ’em took a sanity test.”


   Hank can avoid anything but trouble and for Lilith’s sake agrees to help Shannon against his better judgment, and barely gets out of Hilton’s door before he his sapped and kidnapped by two hoods mistaking him for Shannon.

   His “ride” is interrupted when the weather causes the car to wreck, and an annoyed Hank with a broken wrist finds himself near where Shannon is wanted by the police just south of Woodstock and does some investigating when Lilith shows up and on the train back both of them find themselves ducking the hoods that kidnapped Hank and followed Lilith looking for Kip.

   And what does sexy blonde siren Mrs. Venice Malinkell, one of the great femme fatale’s in the genre, friend of the gambler McRae, have to do with it all and what does she want when she shows up with a gun at Hank’s apartment where Shannon has been hiding out?

   Then too, why did Shannon’s father hire Hank to investigate Kip anonymously through a shady cousin

   Then Kip Shannon shows up in Hank’s apartment murdered…

   Kurt Steel, Rudolph Hornaday Kagey, wrote nine fast moving Hank Hyer novels about the tough, tight with a dollar, New York PI much in the style of Brett Halliday and Cleve Adams (though Hyer is more likable than any Adams protagonist). The books did well and were often reprinted in the pulps (as this one was in Detective Novels). They are fast paced and well written with Hyer one of the more believable private eyes with a nice balance of action, plot, and colorful characters.

   Hyer debuted in 1936, this was his second entry, and had a good decade long run before Kagey died in 1946 at forty-two bringing the Hyer saga to an end just as the paperback era was starting.

   As in any of the Hyer novels Hank finds things getting complicated as the case develops with multiple murders (Shannon’s father), gangsters, the Feds, and a fortune in counterfeit money and plates involved before Hank and a state patrolman storm Shannon’s snowbound cabin filled with heavily armed hoods and shoot it out with blazing tommy-guns and Hank wraps it all up neatly back in his apartment in New York nailing the murderer behind it all.

   Steel writes well and has the rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, tight plotting, and colorful characters of the genre down to a science. Along with Richard Reeves’ Cellini Smith, he is probably one of the last great eyes of the era deserving to be resurrected and rediscovered and less well known because he didn’t have a presence in the major detective pulps.. My favorite of the Hyer novels is Judas Incorporated from 1939, perhaps the only one to appear from a major paperback publisher (Dell).

   Murder for What? is a surprisingly good second effort that reads as if it were written by a veteran of the genre. I give it the highest recommendation for any lover of the classic hard-boiled novel of the period.

         The Hank Hyer series

Murder of a Dead Man (n.) Bobbs 1935
Murder for What? (n.) Bobbs 1936
Murder Goes to College (n.) Bobbs 1936 [
Murder in G-Sharp (n.) Bobbs 1937
Crooked Shadow (n.) Little 1939
Judas, Incorporated (n.) Little 1939
Dead of Night (n.) Little 1940
Madman’s Buff (n.) Little 1941
Ambush House (n.) Harcourt 1943

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Ellen Nehr


MARGARET ERSKINE – Give Up the Ghost. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1949. Mercury Mystery #163, digest paperback, 1953. Ace, paperback, 1970s? [published as part of Ace’s line of Gothic paperbacks].

   Margaret Erskine wrote the same book about Scotland Yard inspector Septimus Finch twenty-one times. In each one Finch is described as having a nondescript face and a proclivity for dressing all in gray. This repetition doesn’t enhance the inspector’s limited charms, although it could be argued that his stolidity and matter-of-factness are positive character traits.

   In Give Up the Ghost, crude and rather nasty drawings have been sent to the Camborough constabulary, but have been more or less ignored until the elderly housekeeper of the pompous Pleydon family is found murdered with another drawing pinned to her body. None of the Pleydons can suggest any reason for their household’s being singled out, yet several days later another woman connected with them is killed, another drawing near her body. A band of vigilantes is formed to prowl the streets.

   Meanwhile Finch, in spite of the Pleydons’ interference, investigates the family’s history and discovers their convoluted, almost forgotten web of financial skulduggery — just in time to prevent further murders. There arc moments of humor amid the gore, such as when Finch installs young Constable Roark in the Pleydon household as a butler.

   Erskine — who has stated that writing thrillers was a revolt against her highbrow family — specializes in eccentric British families with long-held secrets, social pretensions, and heads of household who possess streaks of cunning.

   As a Scotland Yard officer. Finch solves crimes in Sussex, several seaside towns, and provincial villages. He remains as colorless through his last case, The House on Hook Street (1977), as he was in his first adventure, The Limping Man (1939). Erskine’s novels are definitely an acquired taste.

   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.

ROBERT SILVERBERG – Thorns. Ballantine U669, paperback original, 1st printing, August 1967; cover by Robert Foster. Walker, hardcover, 1969. Bantam, paperback, 1983. Nominated in 1968 for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel of 1967.

   A manipulated love affair, between Minner Burris, starman disfigured by aliens, and Lona Kelvin, virgin but mother of one hundred children, Mutual sympathy was the original reason for their attraction. But their obvious differences were bound to lead to the emotional conflict that Duncan Chalk, dealer in public entertainment, could feed on.

   Tries a bit too hard to be literary, and what story there is suffers. Message abounds. People with power tend to make themselves into gods; aliens remake a human body without explanation, doctors take the product of a young girl’s ovaries without regard to her feelings, and of course Chalk, who lives on stolen emotions.

   And thorns? “They stick you.” (page 83). “To be alive … to feel pain – how important that is.” (page 222).

Rating: ****

— July 1968.


PHILIP KETCHUM – Death in the Library. Timothy Y. Crowell, hardcover, 1937. Dell #1, paperback, 1943.

   This has some historical importance, to collectors anyway, since it was the first of what came to be the Dell Mapbacks. Curiously enough, though, it doesn’t have a Map on the Back, but a blurb announcing this as the first in a series of Mysteries selected by the editors of America’s Foremost Detective Magazines. Pity, because this one could have used a map — this one could have used all the help it could get.

   Steven Barth, Denver PI, returns to his home town because he senses from a recent letter that something is troubling the man who raised him. When he gets there, he discovers (WARNING!) the latter’s body, complete with suicide note and gun-in-hand. Not long after, he concludes (WARNING!) the death was really Murder and (WARNING!) the Police suspect him of it.

   Not bad, really, aside from the plot, characterization and dialogue, but it’s hard to believe that this is the best that America’s Foremost etc. could come up with:

   Not a credible character nor a fresh twist in the whole thing. Those with an allergy to cardboard should avoid this at all costs.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #46, August 1990.



PAUL GALLICO – Too Many Ghosts. Doubleday, hardcover, 1959. Pocket/Cardinal #C-426, paperback, 1961. Intl Polygonics Ltd, softcover, 1988.

   Lord Paradine was running short of funds to keep Paradine Hall open in the Post War economic slump in the United Kingdom so it seemed like a good idea to open up part of the place as a sort of residential country club to invited guests and residents, but some uninvited guests of the kind that play strange harp music, blow out candles, make weird noises in the night — including a nebulous nun — are now sharing the digs and something has to be done.

   That’s when Sir Richard Lockerie, who went to Cambridge with a curious fellow, recalls his old friend Alexander Hero.  Hero is a sort of private detective of the supernatural, doing psychical research with the aid of science; in short, ghost-busting and doing quite well at it in Post War England.

   Alexander Hero featured in two novels by Paul Gallico, this and The Hand of Mary Constable, in which Hero investigates Professor Constable’s haunting by his dead daughter, plus suspiciously competent mediums, and a Russian plot to convince him to defect. When filmed in the US as a made-for-television movie titled Daughter of the Mind, the venue moved to this country. Don Murray played Hero and was  hired by Fed Ed Asner to prove what Ray Milland was seeing wasn’t his daughter’s spirit.

   Even if you are largely unaware of Alexander Hero, you likely have heard of his housekeeper, Mrs. Harris, or as she says in her Cockney accent, ’Arris, who you might have recently followed on her trip to Paris, and in other adventures to New York, Rome, and even Parliament. It is a rare occasion of Mrs. Hudson outshining (and selling) Mr. Holmes.

   Paul Gallico’s rather remarkable career began as a noted sports writer, his book on Lou Gehrig filmed as Pride of the Yankees with Gary Cooper. In fiction he started out pretty strong with the elegiac haunting wartime tale, The Snow Goose, moved on to the popular Adventures of Hiram Holliday in the slicks and an early television series with Wally Cox, The Small Miracle, Ludmilla, Coronation, the basis for the film Lily, Thomasina, The Abandoned, the Cold War thriller Trial by Terror (filmed as Assignment Paris), the best-selling The Boy with the Bubble Gun, The Zoo Gang (which became a television series), and among others something called The Poseidon Adventure and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. Ten of those were either filmed or made into television series, not counting short stories adapted on screen.

   Brilliant, high handed, and with an eye for the ladies, Alexander Hero is pretty much a Great Detective, and while the books flirt with the supernatural they tend to come down hard on rational explanations of supposed miracles, quite human villainy, and for all the chills and suspense, logical solutions to impossible mysteries.

   Too Many Ghosts is a classic manor house mystery of the Golden Age variety where haunting and not murder is the game afoot, though Gallico makes the stakes just as high, and those not fond of the supernatural in mystery fiction may enjoy it in that Gallico has it both ways in terms of detection and thrills while still keeping both feet on the ground.

“A Clever Little Woman,” by the author of “Nick Carter.” Nick Carter. First published in the New York Weekly, 24 November 1894. (Real author unknown.) Reprinted in The Great American Detective, edited by William Kittredge & Steven M. Krauzer (Mentor, paperback original, October 1978).

   Of all the dime novels and other fictional exploits of Nick Carter (“Master Detective”) it is unclear why the editors of The Great American Detective chose this one to lead off their anthology of … guess what? Stories about great American detectives. But it’s not bad and in fact, it’s quite readable and only slightly stilted and not at all as fusty as you might expect a non-literary piece of fiction written in 1894 might be.

   Nick is hired to learn who forged a check purported to have been signed by an old man with heart trouble. Only indeed by accident and happenstance was the deed discovered. Filling Nick Carter in on the details is the daughter of a distant relative from upstate New York who is currently living with the family, a bright young lady who has brought a good deal of recent cheer to the household.

   Only someone with uninterrupted access to Mr. Brandon’s checkbook could have forged the check, so all of the recent callers to the house must be investigated. Nick Carter does a good job of it, but today’s readers will know who the guilty party at once. (I assuming that those of you reading this are as good a detective in these matter as I am, which is a very low bar to hurdle, I assure you.)

PIERS ANTHONY – Chthon. Ballantine U6107; paperback original; 1st printing, 1967. Cover artist unknown. Berkley, paperback, 1975. Ace, paperback, 1987. Nominated in 1968 for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel of 1967.

   Because of his love for the creature known as a minionette, Aton Five is sentenced to imprisonment in the underground caverns of Chthon, from which no escape is known. But the image of his nymph drives Aton to find a way out, no matter the consequences to his fellow inmates.

   He must find the key to his own behavior, buried in his memory, before he can fight his evil birthright and love normally. For the minionette he loves is his mother, for whom inversion of love is natural, but who sacrifices herself to swing the balance in his inner conflict. Chthon is more than a place, It is an intelligence seeking to use Aton to destroy man, but all it has seen before [has been] man’s unsanity.

   A story of love, and of cultural conflict, on many levels. The very structure of the novel demonstrates this, as it is told in flashbacks and flashforward parallel to — and symbolizing — Aton’s adventures in Chthon’s caverns. A highly effective way of presentation, as parts which are obscure [at first reading] will be clarified by continuing on, but the significance [of which] would be decreased if told in the usual chronological fashion.

   Hence the story is more than a tale of love; it is also one which requires time and effort [to reach the depth it offers].

Rating: *****

— June-July 1968.
Reviewed by TONY BAER:


RUDOLPH WURLITZER – The Drop Edge of Yonder. Two Dollar Radio, softcover, 2008, 2017.

      “Elk’s elk and meat’s meat, son, and nothin’ matters, and to hell with the rest of it.”

   Wurlitzer, descendant of the jukebox maven, wrote a screenplay about Zebulon, a mountain man stuck between this life and the underworld, to be filmed by Sam Peckinpah. The screenplay can be found here: https://thescriptsavant.com/movies/Zebulon.pdf

E. BAKER QUINN One Man's Muddle

   Unfortunately, Peckinpah died before filming it. Then Hal Ashby was going to direct it. And died. Then Jim Jarmusch was going to direct it — but couldn’t agree with Wurlitzer on the script. So, instead, Jarmusch filmed Dead Man, lifting many of the same themes without crediting Wurlitzer. (For an interview discussing this stuff, see https://arthurmag.com/2008/05/21/on-the-drift-rudy-wurlitzer-and-the-road-to-nowhere/).

   Giving up on the film, Wurlitzer reworked the screenplay into a novel: Drop Edge of Yonder.

   Zebulon, mountain man, fur trader, outlaw, shootist, gold digger, horse thief, and gambler, gets shot in the heart during a card game gone wrong. But he doesn’t die. He should be dead. But he ain’t. At least not hardly. Maybe a little bit — but with one foot in this world and one foot in the other.

   So he wanders. “Quien es,” he keeps asking. Going from town to town, from card game to card game, always losing to a royal flush with the queen of hearts pulled off the bottom of the deck.

   He hooks up with Delilah, African courtesan to a Russian Count. But she’s just like him, cursed to meander this earth, neither of this world nor the other. Condemned to wander til they fathom this, that:

      “All trails are dreams and there was never anything to try for or do; only to be.”



ERIC NEWBY – The Last Grain Race. Secker & Warburg, UK, hardcover, 1956. Reprinted several times, including Lonely Planet, softcover, 1999.

   There are authors you hear about and mean to try, but never get around to until some fortuitous turn at a local book store or the generosity of a friend puts them in your hands. Thanks to such a friend, I came across The Last Grain Race.  Eric Newby. In 1938, in the shadow of war, the eighteen year old Newby shipped as an apprentice seaman on one of the last cargo sailing ships still operating, and his account of circling the world on this floating anachronism makes a vivid testament to a forgotten way of life.

   Vivid perhaps, and certainly engaging, but not at all romantic. Newby’s description of the squalor, tedium, filth, hard work and bad food makes me understand better why sailors used to be recruited with press gangs, and his lively depiction of his crew-mates (mostly people you’d cross the street to avoid speaking to — even in the face of oncoming traffic) brings out the ugly, erratic nature of men who choose this kind of life.

   It’s a thoroughly engrossing tale, spiked by Newby’s light, lucid prose (his description of a storm at sea is one of the best I’ve ever read), and I rather think he’s an author I ‘ll return to.

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

Next Page »